Category Archives: Advocacy

Polar bear specialists double-down on message of future starving bears

The really significant content of a new paper being heavily-hyped by the media1 is what wasn’t said rather than what the authors discovered about metabolic rates and weight maintenance of a small sample of nine Southern Beaufort Sea bears in 2014 to 2016 (Pagano et al. 2018; Whiteman 2018).

Pagano et al. 2018 photo released to press 2

This paper does not document starving or dying bears but merely found some (5/9) that lost weight when they should have been gaining, given that early April is the start of the ringed seal pupping season (Smith 1987) and the intensive spring feeding period for polar bears (Stirling et al. 1981).

The question is, why were Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears off Prudhoe Bay (see map of the study area below), still hunting and capturing only adult and subadult ringed seals from sea ice leads when newborn ringed seal pups and their mothers should have been plentiful and relatively easily available in their birth lairs on the sea ice (see below)?

Ringed seal lair_snow and ice thickness_PolarBearScience_sm

“Using video collar data, we documented bears’ hunting behavior and foraging success. Bears used sit-and-wait tactics to hunt seals 90% of the time, and stalking comprised the remaining 10% of hunts (movies S1 to S4) (19). Bears that successfully killed and ate adult or subadult ringed seals either gained or maintained body mass, whereas bears that only scavenged or showed no evidence of eating lost mass.”

There was no discussion in the paper of ringed seal birth lairs, or sea ice conditions at the time of the study, but several mentions about what might happen in the future to sea ice and potential consequences for polar bears. The press release did the same.

However, as you’ll see by the sea ice thickness maps below, there may be good reason for the lack of ringed seal lairs, and a general lack of seals except at the nearshore lead that forms because of tidal action: the ice just a bit further offshore ice looks too thick for a good crop of ringed seals in all three years of the study. This is reminiscent of conditions that occurred with devastating results in the mid-1970s and mid-2000s (Burns et al. 1975; Cherry et al. 2009; Harwood et al. 2012, 2015; Pilfold et al. 2012; Stirling 2002, Stirling et al. 1987). Those events affected primarily bears in the eastern half of the Southern Beaufort and were almost certainly responsible for the recorded decline in SB bear numbers in the 2001-2010 survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015; Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2018).

It seems very odd to me that Pagano and colleagues suggested no reasons for the unexpectedly poor showing of polar bear hunting success during their study except a bit of hand-waving about higher-than-we-thought metabolic rates in the bears. For years, I’ve worried that the inevitable next episodes of thick Southern Beaufort spring ice would cause problems for polar bears and seals but we wouldn’t know it because whatever effects were documented would be blamed on reduced summer ice: I suspect that time may have come.

Pagano et al. 2018 polar bear fat and energy fig 1

Figure 1 from Pagano et al. 2018 cropped to show only the study area off Alaska.

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Blog uses my polar bear info but no link to PBS means they are ‘science-based’

According to Harvey and colleagues (2017), any internet posting that discusses polar bears without a link to PolarBearScience or a mention of my name can be considered a ‘science-based’ blog. But they missed an obvious catch: bloggers who use my content without attribution.

Churchill Polar Bears dot org_header

For example, so-called ‘science-based’ blog Churchill Polar Bears, written by Churchill polar bear guide Steve Seldon, used text and two of the four figures provided in a 15 February 2017 post at PolarBearScience to create a Churchill Polar Bears post on 17 February but did not include a single link to PolarBearScience indicating that’s where he got his information (Wayback machine link here).

Churchill polar bears blog headline 17 Feb 2017

A few would not consider this plagiarism but most do. That is to say, failure to attribute a source when work or information is not your own is a big no-no in science, as it is in all of academia.

Consider this evidence: Continue reading

Polar bear numbers not declining despite media headlines suggesting otherwise

In scanning comments generated by the recent flurry of internet interest in polar bears and blogs I noticed that a good many people, fed alarming media stories, are still convinced that polar bear numbers are declining rapidly when nothing could be further from the truth.

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

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Failed Amstrup polar bear predictions have climate change community in a panic

Polar bear experts who falsely predicted that roughly 17,300 polar bears would be dead by now (given sea ice conditions since 2007) have realized their failure has not only kicked their own credibility to the curb, it has taken with it the reputations of their climate change colleagues. This has left many folks unhappy about the toppling of this important global warming icon but ironically, consensus polar bear experts and climate scientists (and their supporters) were the ones who set up the polar bear as a proxy for AGW in the first place.

Cover image_Twenty Reasons_polarbearscience

I published my professional criticisms on the failed predictions of the polar bear conservation community in a professional online scientific preprint journal, which has now been downloaded almost 2,000 times (Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2017).

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

My paper demonstrates that the polar bear/seaice decline hypothesis, particularly the one developed by Steven Amstrup, is a failure. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as emails obtained from the US Fish and Wildlife Service show. The argument the paper lays out and the facts it presents have not been challenged by any one of the consensus polar bear experts who object to it so strenuously. Instead, they have chosen to misrepresent my work, and publicly belittle my credentials and scientific integrity in the published literature (Harvey et al. 2017) and online.

Harvey and colleagues suggest in their paper that I and others use polar bears as a proxy for AGW as part of a deliberate plan to undermine the public’s confidence in global warming.

Harvey et al. state:

“…the main strategy of denier blogs is therefore to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as “proxies” for AGW in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are  strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by association.” [my bold]

I do not recall ever stating or implying that if polar bear predictions of doom were wrong, then general climate change models must also be wrong. But if any other bloggers have done so, they can hardly be blamed.

A bit of reflection shows it was the climate science community itself — in collaboration with Arctic researchers and the media — who by the year 2000 (below left) set the polar bear up as an icon for catastrophic global warming. They made the polar bear a proxy for AGW.

Al Gore used the polar bears on an ice flow image (above right) to seal global warming icon status for the polar bear in his 2007 movie, An Inconvenient Truth (see National Post March 2007 article here).

As Harvey et al. co-author Michael Mann said only a few years ago (24 March 2014):

“We are now the polar bear.”

A clear association was made between polar bear survival and AGW, time and time again, as recently as last February (2017):

Stroeve 2017 we are all ice dependent species

So, when the polar bears failed to die by the thousands as polar bear models predicted, after years of lower summer ice than any sea ice models predicted (see graphic below), some people may have logically stated or implied that perhaps general climate models are similarly flawed.

In essence, Mann’s “we are now the polar bear” statement came back to bite him and his colleagues in the ass, Amstrup and Ian Stirling included.  Predictably, they would like to blame someone else for their failure and embarrassment, so they wrote a sloppy tantrum paper that pretends my polar bear/sea ice decline document doesn’t exist.

I guess we all should have seen it coming.

UPDATE 8 January 2018: Forgot to add that Mann’s upcoming children’s book depends on the polar bear being an appealing icon for global warming: he uses the bears as a hook to grab the interest and sympathy of naive youngsters so that he can sell them his scary modeled prophesy of the future. In contrast, my children’s book Polar Bear Facts & Myths deals with the current status and science of polar bears, sea ice and Arctic ecology and draws no parallels between global warming predictions and polar bear survival.

Mann_tantrum that saved the world Dec 2017 cropped

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 67% 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.

References

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf 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. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Harvey, J.A., van den Berg, D., Ellers, J., Kampen, R., Crowther, T.W., Roessingh, P., Verheggen, B., Nuijten, R. J. M., Post, E., Lewandowsky, S., Stirling, I., Balgopal, M., Amstrup, S.C., and Mann, M.E. 2017. Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy. Bioscience. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/bix133

Harvey et al. attack article mum on real selection process for polar bear papers used in their analysis

The Harvey et al. Bioscience article that attacks this blog and others that link to it — a veritable tantrum paper that took 14 people to write — included a sciency-looking analysis of peer-reviewed articles said to have been retrieved by the database “Web of Science” using the search terms “polar bear” and “sea ice.”

Temper-Tantrum graphic

“Consensus science pounds the floor and chews the carpet in angry frustration.” [mpainter, 25 December 2017]

Other critics have pointed out that the Harvey paper used 92 such references:

“Of the 92 papers included in the study, 6 are labeled ‘controversial.’ Of the remaining 86, 60 are authored or co-authored by Stirling or Amstrup, or Derocher. That is, close to 70% (69.76%) of the so-called ‘majority-view’ papers are from just three people, 2 of whom wrote the attack paper themselves.” [Shub Niggurath, crossposted at Climate Scepticism, 14 December 2017]

The bias of co-author papers used to represent the “expert consensus” on polar bear biology is only one problem with this particular attempt at making the Harvey paper look like science: in fact, the short list of papers used for analysis is a far cry from the original number returned by Web of Science for the search terms the authors say they used in the supplementary information.

How that large original number (almost 500) was whittled down to less than 100 is not explained by the authors. As a consequence, I can only conclude that the “methodology” for paper selection was likely defined after the fact. While the method of paper selection sounds simple and reasonable, apparently not one of the Harvey et al. paper’s co-authors checked to see if it was plausible (or didn’t care if it was not).

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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. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

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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