Category Archives: Advocacy

Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor on accountability in polar bear science

Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor emailed me and others his response to the New York Times article that appeared Tuesday (10 April) about the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience paper attacking my scientific integrity. Here it is in full, with his permission, and my comments. Don’t miss the footnote!

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Steve Amstrup is lying to the media about my critique of his 2007 model

Until now, my scientific paper post at PeerJ Preprints for review, about the failure of Steve Amstrup’s 2007 USGS polar bear survival model (Crockford 2017), has been formally ignored by Amstrup and his colleagues. But now Amstrup and his colleagues have taken to lying to the media about my analysis because he can’t refute it in a scholarly manner.

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

Amstrup was quoted by Erica Goode in her New York Times article on the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience attack paper published Tuesday (10 April 2018: “Climate Change Denialists Say Polar Bears Are Fine. Scientists Are Pushing Back”):

“Dr. Amstrup, however, said that according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the average September sea ice extent for the years 2007 to 2017 was 4.5 million square kilometers, “nowhere near the low levels projected it would be by the middle of the century.”

“To say that we already should have seen those declines now when we’re not early [sic] to the middle of the century yet is absurd,” he said.” [my bold]

And over at the online outlet Mashable (11 April 2018: “Climate scientists fight false polar bear narrative pushed by bloggers”), reporter Mark Kaufman quoted Jeff Harvey, lead author of the BioScience paper on the issue, although Harvey is hardly an authority:

“(Harvey noted Crockford misunderstood and then mischaracterized this prediction).”

Amstrup also presented a lame critique of the portion of my Financial Post 27 February 2018 op-ed that dealt with his 2007 predictions, published 2 March 2018 by Climate Feedback (self-proclaimed “fact checkers”), that is easily refuted because it’s a blatant lie. He’s saying 2015 sea ice models are relevant to his 2007 predictions that used 2005/2006 sea ice models.

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Polar bear population numbers are for kids, says specialist Andrew Derocher

Polar bear specialists made global population numbers the focus of the world’s attention when they predicted a dramatic decline and possible extinction of the species. But now that the numbers have increased slightly rather than declined, the same scientists say global numbers are meaningless: the public should give those figures no credence and anyone who cites global population numbers should be mocked.

NBC 2015_3 there will soon be a big decline in polar bear numbers snap

See the screen shot from a 2015 NBC news video above and another from the science journal NATURE in 2008 below (Courtland 2008):

Courtland 2008 headline

Yet, below is a recent message from one of the world’s most vocal polar bear specialists, four years after a similar incident raised the public’s ire:

Derocher tweet 2018 Feb 28 quote

However, you can’t make a plausible prediction of future survival without an estimate of present population size: not even today’s worst journalists would buy it, nor should they.
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Correction notice for Harvey et al. BioScience paper retracted due to error

You just have to laugh: the promised miniscule changes were finally made to the embarrassing Harvey et al. 2018 BioScience paper last week but today were retracted.

Retraction Watch headline 3 April 2018

The corrigendum was erroneously published 28 March 2018 at the journal Neurosurgery. And that blunder attracted the attention of the folks at Retraction Watch.

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Coffee house discussion about polar bear science & conservation in Toronto on Tuesday

In conjunction with the launch of my State of the Polar Bear Report in Toronto next week, Benny Peiser (from the Global Warming Policy Foundation) and I will be participating in a coffee house discussion about polar bear conservation and survival issues on the evening of Tuesday, 27 February 2018 at 8:30 pm.

If you’re in town, come and celebrate International Polar Bear Day with a frank discussion about polar bear science.

Grounds for Thought at GreenBeanery_Feb 27 2018

I am very much looking forward to meeting the public at this evening discussion and to chat with media representatives and colleagues at the press luncheon in the early afternoon. Journalist/opinion writer Terry Corcoran recently billed the luncheon as part of a Polar Bear Battle since conservation organization Polar Bears International (where biologist Steven Amstrup, co-author of the Harvey et al. Bioscience paper and developer of the failed 2007 polar bear survival model, is employed as chief scientist) is holding a gala fundraiser dinner the same night, just a block away.

In addition to Benny Peiser from GWPF, a number of familiar names will be at the State of the Polar Bear launch and press luncheon, including Terry Corcoran,  Larry Soloman, Joe Oliver and Conrad Black (all journalist/opinion writers at the Financial Post and/or National Post), journalist/writer Donna Laframboise who blogs at No Frakking Consensus, as well as science colleagues Chris Essex, Ross McKitrick, and Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit fame. Details below.

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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