Open response to a polar bear researcher who objected to me ‘attacking’ their colleagues

Last week, I got an email from a polar bear scientist I have interacted with a few times. Not one of the big names but aside from that, I’ll leave their identity private. The email was polite and I tried to respond in kind. I have copied it here because others may have had similar concerns.

This was the email:

Looking at your website, and taking a step back, it seems you are more interested in attacking polar bear researchers than the well-being of polar bears as a species. It seems there’s something personal going on. I’m genuinely curious. No hidden agenda on my part. Also, I’d like to know how much time you’ve spent in the field with these marvelous animals. Again, just curious. No intention to inflame matters.

My response is below.

Dear X,

Thanks for getting in touch with your feedback. I appreciate you trying to understand my position.

There is nothing personal about my criticisms: my concern is, and always has been, the lack of scientific integrity I’ve been seeing from some of your colleagues. Bear with me (no pun intended).

What I take from your enquiry is that I should be more concerned about “the well-being of polar bears as a species” and that I should have more appreciation for how “marvelous” these animals are.

Those two things suggest to me that you may be too emotionally invested, that you may lack the necessary detachment to be the best scientist you can be. I suspect this is true for all your colleagues, to various degrees. I say that not to slander but as a caution you may never have heard.

There is a potential bias that comes from caring more about the well-being of polar bears than the integrity of the science being presented (whether in print, relayed to journalists or posted on social media). Perhaps you don’t see this, which I understand.

But I am convinced that part of what makes me an essential part of the polar bear science community is that I haven’t worked in the field with bears and haven’t had my picture taken cuddling newborn cubs. It keeps me focused on the science being presented.

Biologically speaking, I consider polar bears one of the most fascinating animals on the planet. I want to see as much good, solid research on them being done now and in the future as happened before ‘climate change’ became such an all-consuming focus.

As a scientist, there have been a few issues in your field that I’ve found deeply disturbing and in most cases, my criticisms relate back to these (perhaps what you perceive as being ‘personal attacks’):

1) the almost total failure by Amstrup and others in recent years to acknowledge the huge die-off of Southern Beaufort bears during the 1974-1976 thick spring ice events (described in detail in the scientific literature), especially in relation to the similar events that took place in 2004-2006 – which are now disingenuously implied to have been caused by lack of sea ice. As far as I can see, there has been no real attempt to work with sea ice specialists to understand why such phenomena would have occurred repeatedly there (and nowhere else, as far as I can determine), or how this has shaped the physiology, behaviour and demography of the population: just a total focus on presenting ‘evidence’ to blame on global warming.

2) the repeated statements to journalists (particularly by Amstrup, Stirling and Derocher) that Western Hudson Bay females over the last few years continue to lose weight and cubs suffer declining survival when there are no data confirming this in the published literature. There have been no data on these metrics published since 2004, although it is clear the data exist. Why hasn’t it been published? I have made this criticism many times and still nothing changes, so I am left to conclude the data do not support their statements. If there are valid reasons for not publishing the data, I’d love to hear them: the world should hear them.

3) related to point 2, the insistence that the decline in body condition in WH bears is a new phenomenon related to changes in sea ice (1980s to 2000s) when a previous decline in condition not related to sea ice (from the 1960s to the 1980s) is documented in the literature but now never mentioned. In fact, body condition and cub survival dropped twice but only the second drop is discussed (and blamed on sea ice changes). I suspect it’s because Stirling and Derocher have no explanation for why the first decline occurred so would rather just forget it. However, there will be no advancement of a true big-picture understanding of WH polar bear survival over time in relation to different ice and snow conditions unless all of these data are considered.

4) the insistence that breakup and freeze-up dates are critical to understanding WH and SH polar bear survival, yet in 2022 the most recent ‘official’ data (i.e. used by your colleagues in their assessments) are from 2015. Is there any reason why can this data cannot be calculated after fall freeze-up and reported every year for everyone to see? The Norwegians do this and they have my utmost respect and admiration for doing so (which I have stated publicly).

To keep this from being an even longer essay, I have attached a copy of the final chapter of my 2019 polar bear book in which I explain “why I do what I do”. Perhaps that will help as well.

Respectfully and sincerely,


Comments are closed.