Monthly Archives: December 2017

2017 in review: polar bear prophesies of doom more at odds with current reality

Tales of doom and gloom about polar bears reflect what some people think might happen in the future, not what is happening right now.  Currently, polar bears are doing just fine despite the low summer sea ice coverage they’ve experienced since 2007 (Crockford 2017a; York et al. 2016). In other words, there has been no global population decline as predicted: officially, the numbers were 22,000-31,000 (or 26,500 average) in 2015 (Wiig et al. 2015) but about 28,500 when estimates published since then are included (Aars et al. 2017; Dyck et al. 2017; Matishov et al. 2014; SWG 2016), up from about 22,500 in 2005).

Wrangel Island bears on whale_29 Sept 2017 SUNThis increase might not be statistically significant but it is most assuredly not the decrease in abundance that was predicted by ‘experts’ such as Steve Amstrup and colleagues (Amstrup et al. 2007), making it hard to take subsequent predictions of impending catastrophe seriously (e.g. Atwood et al. 2016; Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015).

The doomsayers can’t stand to have someone provide the public with unbaised evidence of this failure so they attack my scientific integrity with an academically weak and aggressively vindictive ‘peer-reviewed’ paper (Harvey et al. 2017, in press) that you’ll hear more about in the new year.

Wiig to Laidre_9 May 2014 follow up to Lunches with Resit_first part_redacted highlighted

Bottom line: 2017 saw abundant good news stories about polar bears, which I’ve summarized below. See also Crockford 2017b: Twenty reasons not to worry about polar bears, the 2017 update and my 2017 block-buster video, Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon:

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Two technical critiques of the Harvey et al. polar bear Bioscience attack paper

Not much time for blogging, but two technical critiques  of the Harvey et al. paper have recently been posted, which you might like to read at your leisure. I will update this post when I can if more critiques appear plus I’ve provided a list of previous posts (my and others) on this issue.

Polar Bears, Inadequate data and Statistical Lipstick (18 Decemeber 2018, RomanM writing at ClimateAudit)

McIntyre guest blog on Harvey paper photo led_RomanM 18 Dec 2017

Polar bear attack paper invalidated by non-independent analysis” (Cross posted 14 December 2017 at ClimateScepticism from the blog of Shub Nuggarath, 12 December 2017).

UPDATE 19 December 2017: Richard Tol has posted a draft of his critique, which was itself updated 20 December “Lipstick on a bear” in which he concludes:

“In sum, Harvey et al. (2017) play a statistical game of smoke and mirrors. They validate their data, collected by an unclear process, by comparing it to data of unknown provenance. They artificially inflate the dimensionality of their data only to reduce that dimensionality using a principal component analysis. They pretend their results are two dimensional where there is only one dimension. They suggest that there are many nuanced positions where there are only a few stark ones – at least, in their data. On a topic as complex as this, there are of course many nuanced positions; the jitter applied conceals the poor quality of Harvey’s data. They show that these is disagreement on the vulnerability of polar bears to climate change, but offer no new evidence who is right or wrong – apart from a fallacious argument from authority, with a “majority view” taken from an unrepresentative sample. Once the substandard statistical application to poor data is removed, what remains is a not-so-veiled attempt at a colleague’s reputation.”

UPDATED 20 December 2017: Lead author of the Bioscience attack paper Jeff Harvey talked to an Amsterdam newspaper about the backlash to the paper, original Dutch and English translation here.

Fig 3 Sea ice prediction vs reality 2012

Predicted sea ice changes (based on 2004 data) at 2020, 2050, and 2080 that were used in 2007 to predict a 66% decline in global polar bear numbers vs. an example of the sea ice extent reality experienced since 2007 (shown is 2012). See Crockford 2017 for details.

Read a short summary of the paper that Harvey et al. don’t want you to know about here:

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

The paper they don’t want you to read is here:

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access.

The paper being criticized (Harvey et al. 2017, in press: “Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy”, Bioscience, open access) is available here.  There is a supplementary data file available here and the data for the principal component analysis is available here  and (h/t to R. Tol), the R code is available here

More on this after Christmas but for now a list of previous blog posts of mine and others is provided below. Continue reading

Bioscience editor tells journalist he won’t retract Harvey paper

I shouldn’t be surprised that a journal editor who would publish — and then staunchly defend — a paper that deliberately trashes the reputation of a respected scientist would tell the media before anyone else of his decision regarding a retraction request.

Churchill_Polar_Bear_2004-11-15 Wikipedia

From a story at this morning’s Climatewire (From threats to tears — polar bears polarize both sides” 15 December 2017), my bold:

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Bioscience paper and starving polar bear follow-up

Between the two stories (the attack by my colleagues and the starving polar bear hype), views at my blog have gone through the roof and one Arctic biologist speaks out on what SeaLegacy folks should have done when they saw a starving polar bear on Baffin Island this summer.


For the two weeks prior to the release of the Harvey paper (rounding to the nearest 100) the number of page views was 11,400 while for the two weeks since the Harvey et al. paper was released views were at 72,300 (with 14,900 views yesterday, 23,300 views the day before, and 12,500 the day before that). Prior to the Harvey et al. incident, my highest-ever one day blog view tally was 10,400 (a walrus haulout post!).

Several blogs were discussing the Harvey et al. paper and its implications from the first day (29 November) and a few have contacted me to say their blog views are way up as well. Terry Corcoran at the National Post wrote a supportive column, here.

So much for shutting down non-conforming opinion and criticism, especially mine. Now folks know exactly where to go for an unbiased take on polar bear issues.

One reader contacted me via my ‘contact me’ page and insisted he wanted to make a cash donation to support my blogging efforts:

“First, I apologize for adding to your (probably) overflowing inbox, but wanted to let you know that I have followed recent developments and applaud your response to these ignorant accusers.

I would be happy to assist you with monetary support in order to help defray any expenses you have incurred recently, or anticipate soon. If there is a method to do that, please let me know.

The stress and time away from your regular work is precisely what prompted me to contact you. To me this attack on your work is similar to a person that has had a fire in their home. Everything is put on hold while they tend to all of the mitigation, insurance response, etc. It takes time, energy and money.”

I wish I could have said “it’s not necessary” but he’s absolutely right. I’ve had to take time off work to deal with the issue, and it’s not over yet. Christmas is fast approaching. I don’t have a donate button here at PolarBearScience but we figured out a way to make it happen. His generous contribution is much appreciated. I’ve had dozens of emails of support, from known colleagues to people I’ve never heard from before.

Comments on the starving polar bear below.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: shortly after posting, I came across James Delingpole’s just-published column on the starving polar bear issue, read it here.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: I forgot to say that I have yet to hear back from the editors of Bioscience regarding my retraction request, except they did respond to my second email on Friday asking for confirmation that they received the letter sent three days earlier. I shouldn’t have had to prompt them: confirming receipt of such document is common courtesy and good business practice.  (h/t Anthony Watts)

UPDATE 11 December 2017 7:00 PM PST: Finally, after the damage has been done, polar bear specialists have spoken out (sort of) on the SeaLegacy “starving polar bear as victim of climate change story.” An article in the National Post was published in the early evening and features an interview with Andrew Derocher, with comments from Ian Stirling and Inuit representative Terry Audla (“What everybody got wrong about that video of a starving polar bear“). CBC covered a similar change of tune here. Too little, too late, I say. And over at the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente has a hard-hitting piece today on why this kind of exaggeration is bad for everyone.
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One starving bear is not evidence of climate change, despite gruesome photos

We finally have this year’s example of the new fad of claiming every polar bear that died of starvation (or on its way to starving to death) — and caught on film — is a victim of climate change: a young bear on Somerset Island near Baffin Island, Nunavut filmed in August during its last angonizing hours by members of an activist conservation organization called SeaLegacy.

‘I filmed with tears rolling down my cheeks’: Heart-breaking footage shows a starving polar bear on its deathbed struggling to walk on iceless land.” [actual title of article in the DailyMail Online, 8 December 2017]. CBC Radio (8 December 2017) jumped on it as well, as have others. National Geographic ran a similar story, like others, that compliantly emphasized the future man-made global warming threat the photographers were touting.

Baffin Island starving pb headline_GlobalNews_8 Dec 2017

This is no different from Ian Stirling’s “bear that died of climate change” back in 2013, or several others since then: here, here, and here (one of these incidents also involved the same photographer as this incident, Paul Nicklen). I’ve called this practice of filming dead or dying bears and splashing the photos across the pages of newspapers and the internet “tragedy porn” — a kind of voyerism that leaves people open to emotional manipulation. The internet laps it up.

UPDATE 9 December 2017: a quote from another source shows photographer Paul Nicklen’s “expertise” in polar bear biology, see below.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: an Arctic seal specialist, Jeff Higdon, has weighed in via twitter about the possible cause of death of this bear and also what the SeaLegacy team should have done when they found the bear in this condition. See below

UPDATE 12 December 2017: See my update to this post here.

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Retraction request to Bioscience: FOIA emails document another harsh criticism of Amstrup’s 2007 polar bear model

Today I sent a letter to the editors of the journal Bioscience requesting retraction of the shoddy and malicious paper by Harvey et al. (Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy) published online last week.

The letter reveals information about the workings of the polar bear expert inner circle not known before now, so grab your popcorn.

Harvey et al. 2018 in press climate denial by proxy using polar bears_Title

I have copied the letter below, which contains emails obtained via FOIA requests to the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, E&E Legal, and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (USFWS request; USGS request) and sent to me by lawyer Chris Horner in 2014, unsolicited. I reveal some of them now, with his permission (most of the emails are boring, involving mostly technical topics not relevant to anything, as might be expected).

The emails in question, sent in 2014, pertain to preparations by three members of the Polar Bear Specialist Group for the IUCN Red List assessment due in 2015 (Kristin Laidre, University of Washington, Eric Regehr, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Østein Wiig, Museum of Natural History, University of Olso), and Steven Amstrup (formerly head of the polar bear research at the US Geological Survey, now “head scientist” for conservation organization Polar Bears International.

They include frank discussions about a harsh critique of Amstrup et al.’s 2007 report and 2008 paper used to support listing polar bears as ‘threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List. The criticisms come from modeling expert and chair of the IUCN Red List Standards and Petitions Subcommittee (which develops guidelines for threatened and endangered species assessments, and evaluates petitions against the red-listing of these species), H. Resit Akçakaya. The IUCN is the world’s leading conservation organization, of which the PBSG is a part.

These records are a damning indictment that the “best available science” was not used to assess conservation status of polar bears under the ESA in 2008 and 2014 and show that I am not the only scientist who thinks Amstrup’s model is fatally flawed. The letter is copied in full below, the emails are copied at the end. A file of all of the entire pertinent email thread is available as a pdf below. Here’s a sample:

Wiig to Laidre_9 May 2014 follow up to Lunches with Resit_first part_redacted highlighted

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Bioscience article is academic rape: an assertion of power and intimidation

Characterizing a professional, respected scientist as an unqualified vengeful opinion writer is the same kind of power attack as rape. It’s meant to humiliate and intimidate.


I said this as part of a response to a comment at WUWT late yesterday (copied in full below). The picture above shows Steven Amstrup holding polar bear cubs against their will — not for any scientific purpose, just for a photo that shows he can.

Also yesterday, Tom Fuller at ClimateScepticism wrote a hard-hitting critique of the Bioscience article that similarly noted the sexist nature of this harassment and the fact that this is the way Michael Mann and his colleagues behave toward female scientists who cross them or their supporters. He concludes:

“The purpose of these papers is not to communicate.

It is to excommunicate.”

As I said when this paper first came out, this response is all about my reasoned and fully referenced criticisms of Steve Amstrup’s work in particular (although I have taken issue with some of Stirling’s recent work as well).

The evidence that Steve Amstrup is willing to lie in order to publicly degrade me and my work in retribution for not taking everything he says as the gospel truth comes from an article at Motherboard yesterday. In it, Amstrup was quoted as saying:

 “You don’t have to read far in her material to see that it is full of unsubstantiated statements and personal attacks on scientists, using names like eco-terrorists, fraudsters, green terrorists and scammers,” Amstrup said.

I wrote Motherboard and asked for clarification that this was indeed what Amstrup said because I know it to be a lie. Check for yourself using the search function on my blog, it’s easy to do. I have never used any of those terms to refer to anyone, let alone a fellow scientist.

Late in the day, I got this response from the writer of the piece:

“Thank you for your note. A clarification has been added to the article. (my emphasis)

“You don’t have to read far in her material to see that it is full of unsubstantiated statements and personal attacks on scientists, using names like eco-terrorists, fraudsters, green terrorists and scammers,” Amstrup said. In a follow-up email on Friday, Amstrup clarified that these statements to Motherboard were meant to reflect the climate denier community as a whole, rather than Crockford in particular.

Except Amstrup specificially referred to my work. I insisted further clarification was necessary but rather than noting that I had, in fact, never used those terms on my blog, the author added this statement:

“In an email to Motherboard, Crockford denied using those terms on her blog.”

So, the author of the Motherboard piece was willing to take Amstrup’s word for an egregious accusation and when Amstrup was caught in a lie, was unwilling to make that clear. And the media wonder why they have lost the public’s trust.

However, this is all a day late and a dollar short. The cat’s out of the bag regarding Amstrup’s failed predictions. My critique (Crockford 2017) is a thorough scientific exposé of his unsuccessful model (which used assumptions based on Amstrup’s expert opinion) and people in power are taking it seriously. The Bioscience paper says more about its authors than it says about me.


Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access.

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