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.

Starving polar bear

I’m really disappointed but not surprised that it is now six (6) days after the disturbing polar bear video was first made public and not a single polar bear specialist has made a public statement refuting this “starving polar bear caused by climate change” nonsense.

These folks happily and easily contact the media to get their opinions into the mainstream media when it suits them (see press release issued by co-author Steve Amstrup at Polar Bears International about the Harvey et al. paper), but when the public really need their expertise to counter a bogus claim being used to manipulate public opinion, they are conspicuously silent.

They complain about my wide internet influence (discussed here and here) but when the time comes that the public need a real scientist to step up, they are nowhere to be found.

I waited until December 9th to post a comment, waiting for one of the big guns to speak out but eventually couldn’t wait any longer. That post has been viewed by well over fifteen thousand people and counting.

Amstrup at PBI published an unreferenced blog post the same day (not a press release) that pretty much said that the bear might not have starved due to climate change but that showing the public “what starvation looks like” due to their concerns about future global warming justified Nicklen’s actions.  See for yourself.

In contrast, two days ago (4 days after the video hit the internet), Arctic seal biologist Jeff Higdon had many sensible things to say on twitter (also added to my previous post here in an update), all the kind of thing one of the polar bear specialist should have said. But it was too little, too late to stem the tide of misinformation that has now saturated the system.

While his reminder that aggressive cancers often cause this kind of emaciation (in humans and bears), his most apt comment was this:

“What the Sea Legacy crew should have done was contact the GN Conservation Officer in the nearest community and had this bear put down. And necropsied.

Amstrup said nothing of the kind.

[“I try to avoid commenting on stuff like this, at least for the first couple days when emotions are high. But since you asked…” 12:30 PM – 9 Dec 2017]

[“Now, for what I think (“think” being the operative word, because I def don’t know with any certainty) is going on with this particular PB – it has an aggressive form of cancer.”
12:37 PM – 9 Dec 2017]

[“Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, has been recorded in PB (griz too). Source is “Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human”, a 2012 book by Dr. B.N. Horowitz and K. Bowers (you can see this section via a Google Books preview if interested).” 12:38 PM – 9 Dec 2017]

The next one is most important:

[“What the Sea Legacy crew should have done was contact the GN Conservation Officer in the nearest community and had this bear put down. And necropsied. The narrative of the story might have turned out quite different if they had.” 12:43 PM – 9 Dec 2017]

Higdon also pointed out that the Baffin Bay subpopulation from which this bear originated is not in trouble due to sea ice loss, as I reported earlier this year.

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