Columnist admits video on polar bears and global warming contained a serious error

Since mid-August,  Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has been filing a series of articles from an expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage for a feature called “Above the Arctic Circle”. One of these appeared on August 18, along with a video called “What to know about polar bears and global warming” and it contained an egregious error that should have stood out to any educated person as being wrong by several orders of magnitude:

What to know about pbs GW_Video_screencap 2_SUN_18 Aug 2016 marked

We are not talking about a difference of opinion or interpretation but a simple fact that was outrageously wrong by a wide margin. You see it, don’t you?

Canada’s polar bear population dropped more than 40% between 2001 and 2010touts the video – a “fact” that suggests a decline of thousands and thousands of bears over ten years.

[Assuming a global total of 26,500 (average of 22,000-31,000, which is the official estimate given by the IUCN Red List 2015), 2/3 of that (approx. number of bears in Canada) is 17,649 – and 40% of that is 7,060]

In other words, the video states as fact that more than 7,000 bears in Canada were lost in a single decade – which is not only false but ludicrously false. It is so wrong it should have raised a red flag with the producers of this video. But it didn’t.

I may not be the only person who caught this blunder, but it appears I am the only one who spoke up.

I left a comment below the piece at the Sun but since I saw the video was also carried at other media outlets across the country, I also emailed Bramham and her Sun colleagues about the error.

Just yesterday afternoon (September 1), I received the following email from Bramham (emphasis mine), almost two weeks after the video was published:

Dear Dr. Crawford [sic],

Sorry for my slow response to your email, but I was not able to receive my office email while I was in the Arctic.

Your outrage at the statistics is entirely understandable.

I had nothing to do with the video that was put together independently by one of my colleagues while I was in the Arctic.

I had left behind a fact box about polar bears that included this: The southern Beaufort Sea population on the west coast of Canada dropped more than 40 per cent between 2001 and 2010.

I did read the study and was aware that it was a single sub-population.

I have forwarded your email to the person who did the video and asked that it either be corrected or the video taken off the website.

Meantime, I apologize on her behalf for the error.


Vancouver Sun

As of this afternoon (September 2), the video has been corrected (see screencap below) but with no mention of the correction noted.

What to know about pbs GW_Video_screencap 3 corrected_2 Sept 2016

So, for almost two weeks, readers of at Postmedia outlets were told that Canada’s polar bear population had declined by 40% but Bramham and her colleagues at the Sun didn’t seem to think it was necessary to let them know that “fact” was an appalling error.

Unless readers happen to re-view the corrected video (or happen to read my comment), most likely believed it to be true, because too many of them have been led to believe that polar bears are already in danger of extinction. That may be why it didn’t seem out of line to the producers.

As a consequence, I have to say to Ms Bramham that an apology to me and a correction of the video is simply not enough.

You and the Sun owe Postmedia readers a formal, public correction.

If readers don’t get that, you will reap the distrust this incident has sown.

Not making a formal correction tells readers that your global warming advocacy is more important than accurate scientific information.

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