PolarBearScience has been ‘Carbon Briefed’ – success at last!

Not just anyone warrants the attention of the European rapid response team: only those who get media attention and refuse to stay ‘on message’ about global warming issues get the Carbon Brief treatment.

Pidcock tweet on polar bears at 5 March 2015 6_20PM Pacific

After years of being ignored, I have finally been acknowledged as a worthy adversary [a force to be reckoned with] by those who spin the science of polar bears.

Carbon Brief folks got their knickers in a knot over my “Twenty Good Reasons Not to Worry about Polar Bears” blog post that the Global Warming Policy Foundation released as a Briefing Paper (pdf here). All timed for release on International Polar Bear Day (27 February 2015), which got mainstream media attention galore in the UK.

Journalist Ben Webster over at The Times responded to the GWPF press release with a few of my points (“Ice is melting but the polar bears are fine, say skeptics”), without contacting anyone to knock down the GWPF, my summary – or me (subscription only). He simply reported the gist of what was said.

February 27, 2015

February 27, 2015, The Times.

Due to The Times piece, the BBC gave it a mention on the 6 am radio news, preceded by a caveat that this good news about polar bears came from “a group” (GWPF not mentioned by name) that “disputes mainstream thinking on climate change” (listen here, starts at 10:14, but only available for another 15 days). Even James Delingpole, a fabulously witty commentator who writes over at Breitbart London, devoted uncritical column inches to the polar bear issue — uncritical of me, I mean.

The next day, (Sunday (March 1), Peter Hitchens gave the good news about polar bears centre stage in his one-page commentary, titled “Bear warning is just hot air,” screencap below from the pdf of the hard copy provided by the Pidcock.

From the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens comment (March 1 2015).

From the hard copy of the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens comment (March 1, 2015), online here. Click to enlarge.

Only the Express, another UK newspaper, felt the need to contact a dissenting voice from the World Wildlife Fund [is a WWF spokesperson an actual “authority” on anything but impending doom?]. He insisted that there’s no reason to be optimistic, as the future for polar bears is dismal, but didn’t actually say any of my 20 points were wrong.

Well, you can see that the folks at Carbon Brief really had no choice! They could not let such mainstream media exposure stand unopposed; this upstart zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford had to be taken down. After a mention by Carbon Brief the day The Times article appeared (27 February), Roz Pidcock got the assignment to dismember my briefing paper summary and me personally. Her piece appeared on March 4 (Polar bears and climate change: What does the science say?”).

[Why do scientists (she’s an oceanographer) think that when they explain science to the public, it is OK to use such phrases as “the science says”? I presume by “the science,” she means “facts.” But every scientist worth their salt knows that facts need to be analyzed and interpreted. Ah well…]

Pidcock got so carried away with her criticisms of my supposed “inaccuracies” that she made a number of major gaffs herself. The most egregious of these was using a polar bear conservation status map from 2010, four years out of date (here). This meant that when she had to replaced it a few hours later (after someone else noticed the error), she also had to replace some 3-4 inches of text, because it was plain and simply wrong. [pdf of before and after versions of her blog post, for comparison; h/t to PM for alerting me to the change]

Her first image is below:

Original map with caption: Polar bear subpopulations across the Arctic. Source: CAFF. 2010. Arctic Biodiversity Trends: Selected indicators of change

Original Carbon Brief map with caption: “Polar bear subpopulations across the Arctic. Source: CAFF. 2010. Arctic Biodiversity Trends: Selected indicators of change

The replacement image, which appeared later that day, was the one below (redrawn from the IUCN PBSG map here by the Norwegian Polar Institute):

Replacement caption: "Polar bear subpopulations across the Arctic. Source: IUCN/PBSG."

Replacement Carbon Brief caption: “Polar bear subpopulations across the Arctic. Source: IUCN/PBSG.”

Pidcock also contacted polar bear biologists Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta) and Stephen Amstrup (Polar Bears International) for comment.

Pidcock reported:

“The argument that recent conservation efforts have been successful “doesn’t address the globally recognised current threat to polar bears from climate change”, notes Derocher.

He also tells Carbon Brief the Environment Canada report was “heavily flawed”. The presentation of polar bear status contained biases that were based on keeping polar bears off the threatened list, he says.” [my bold]

Rather says it all, doesn’t it? Derocher does not see that his insistence on polar bears being on the threatened list, because of something that might happen in the future, reflects his own bias. PBSG biologists are furious that Canada won’t bow to their exalted “expert” opinion.

More of that, as Pidcock continued:

“The Environment Canada conclusions are at odds with official reports released by the IUCN/PBSG, Dr Steven Amstrup, researcher and past chairman of the group, tells Carbon Brief. In 2008, the IUCN designated polar bears as “vulnerable”, meaning the global population has declined by more than 30 per cent in 40 years.” [my bold]

I suggested a few months ago that the PBSG had outlived its usefulness: here you see two of the group’s members defending the first real challenge to the  authority of the PBSG by none other than the government of Canada, the country that is home to 2/3 of the worlds polar bears. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? In addition, I don’t know whether this statement is meant to be attributed to Amstrup or if Pidcock herself wrote it, but it’s wrong: “In 2008, the IUCN designated polar bears as “vulnerable”, meaning the global population has declined by more than 30 per cent in 40 years.”

The last IUCN assessment was in 2006, not 2008, and it was based on a predicted decline of more than 30 percent in 40 years, not an actual decline, which I described in detail here, based on actual documents I read thoroughly and cited. Another blatant error for Pidcock.

She then goes on to repeat the polar bear spin provided by Derocher and Amstrup, giving particular emphasis to Amstrup’s critically-flawed predictions of polar bear demise (covered here).

Then, Pidcock objected to me mentioning the results of the Kara Sea population count, because:

“It’s worth noting the study estimates the number of polar bear in the Kara Sea by scaling up the number of sightings from less than one per cent of the total area. In fact, between April 1997 to May 2013, the scientists in fact only counted 277 individuals.”

Is she really implying that extrapolation from a subsample of counted individuals is not how all population estimates are made, for virtually all species? See my original summary of the Kara Sea study here, which includes a map of their survey (copied below): I’d say they surveyed much more than 1% of the Kara Sea area, wouldn’t you? I’d call that another obvious Pidcock error.

Figure 1 from Matishov et al. 2014, showing the study region and tracks of ice-breakers used to count bears. Original caption: “Position of ice-breaker routes providing the count of polar bears in the Kara and Barents seas from 1997 until 2013 for 32 counted routes. The dashed line indicates the approximate boundaries of habitat of the subpopulation of polar bears of the Kara Sea [4].”

Figure 1 from Matishov et al. 2014, showing the study region and tracks of ice-breakers used to count bears. Original caption: “Position of ice-breaker routes providing the count of polar bears in the Kara and Barents seas from 1997 until 2013 for 32 counted routes. The dashed line indicates the approximate boundaries of habitat of the subpopulation of polar bears of the Kara Sea [4].”

She then goes on to quote the most vocal proponents of polar bear doom (Amstrup and Derocher) regarding their low opinions about me. These actually say more about them than me.

“The scientists we spoke to tell us Crockford has never led any research on polar bears, nor has she published any papers on the topic. Amstrup tells Carbon Brief:

“[The GWPF report] is a collection of statements [Crockford] has made and conclusions she has drawn without any support from the refereed literature.”

Are you surprised that field biologists like Derocher and Amstrup think only people who work with animals in the field can possibly know anything about polar bears? I dealt with that ignorant, self-serving notion yesterday.

Amstrup’s comment simply shows he has reading comprehension problems and/or was too lazy to read the briefing paper carefully before criticizing it: the introduction to the briefing paper states clearly that the links provided lead to detailed blog posts that contained background, maps and extensive references. The links in the pdf are hot – they go directly to the blog posts cited on each topic.

As for Derocher’s opinion:

“Derocher points out Crockford’s specialism [sic – another error] is not, in fact, in the field of polar bears:

“[Crockford’s] expertise is the archaeology of dead dogs and the identification of animal remains … In general, her views are tainted by a lack of understanding of polar bear ecology, Arctic marine ecosystem, and sea ice.”

Derocher used the lamest put-down in the book, suggesting that because I am an expert in “dead dogs” (a phrase used primarily by internet trolls), I cannot possibly be an expert on polar bears as well, a nonsensical notion I also dealt with yesterday.

Pidcock’s last sentence adheres to the official polar bear message:

“And with the impacts of warming on polar bear habitat and feeding practices well documented, scientists who work in the field are clear that polar bears face a profound threat to their survival in the coming decades.”

This is an admission that polar bears are doing fine right now. The fact of the matter is, these folks depend on predicted declines in population health and size, that might occur decades from now, to make their case. You could believe the computer model prophesies of doom – or, you could acknowledge that that polar bears are much more resilient than PBSG biologists give them credit for, which is what recent studies summarized in my briefing paper indicate.

Funny, I don’t feel taken down by this lame Carbon Brief effort and doubt if many readers were convinced either. Actually, I doubt that many people even read it.

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