Tag Archives: ethics

An embarrassment to science: BioScience editor formally rejects retraction request

After four long months of waiting, late last week I finally received an official  response from the editor of BioScience regarding my retraction request for the Harvey et al. paper (Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy), which I sent 5 December 2017.

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

From the sounds of it, the wait took so long because the paper went through a tedious process of parsing words just so among the 14 co-authors (akin to that used by the IPCC in constructing the Summary for Policy Makers), to convey the authors meaning and retain as much of the original insult as possible. In reality, we know the decision was made barely two weeks after I sent the request (16 December 2017) because that day, BioScience editor Scott Collins told a reporter he had no intention of retracting the paper.

In the end, the authors were compelled to make two small word changes. The editor insists that:

“…prior to publication, the article was peer reviewed by highly reputable scholars with expertise on the topic as per our standard procedures.”

So he says.

But all we can do is judge by the results the reviewers approved: a paper with two prominent spelling errors (“principle” component analysis; “Refereces” cited) as well as several serious errors in the supplemental material that were brought to the editors attention (which does not even break the surface of the statistical errors described in detail by others or the additional errors found after my retraction request was filed, including a case of plagiarism of my blog content by a so-called “science” blog used in the paper).

Harvey et al. hardly needed much analysis for savvy folks to judge its quality: on the day of release, climate scientist Judith Curry’s scathing remark on twitter said it all:

“This is absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published.”

Among the co-authors of the paper are polar bear specialists Steven Amstrup and Ian Stirling, as well as Stephen Lewandosky and Michael Mann (who now writes for children, competing with my popular polar bear science book for kids):

The online version available today (26 March) did not contain the changes described by the editor in his 23 March 2018 email nor were the spelling errors fixed (pdf here). Errors in the supplementary data file remain (here), although these were identified months ago.

The entire fiasco, start to finish, is an embarrassment to science but apparently, the editor does not care. As I’ve said before, this paper says more about the editor of the journal, the journal’s publishers, and the authors of the paper than it does about me or any of the bloggers discussed within it.

If published as is by the journal, it will go down in history as a low point for science and BioScience will have the dubious honor of being complicit in its production, as will all 14 co-authors. I encourage you to read the paper and see for yourself.

The same morning I received the response from the BioScience editor (text below), Dr. Richard Tol received a rejection notice for the critique of the Harvey et al. paper he and co-author Anand Rajan submitted 25 January 2018 (“LIPSTICK ON A BEAR: A COMMENT ON INTERNET BLOGS, POLAR BEARS, AND CLIMATE-CHANGE DENIAL BY PROXY”), with two reasons given:

“First. author guidelines state that letters are limited to 500 words and must be considered to be constructive. Secondly, and more importantly, your letter has already been published verbatum on line and therefore does not merit re-publication in BioScience.” [my bold]

Odd timing and a bit ironic, isn’t it? Preprint server publication is damned as ‘prior publication’ even though it is dismissed out of hand by vocal champions of scientific virtue because it hasn’t been through a journal-orchestrated review process (as opposed to simply being reviewed by peers).

Such a “dismissal” has occurred with my paper that shows how and why Amsturp and colleagues 2007 polar bear predictions failed so miserably (Crockford 2017), now downloaded more than 2300 times (see a shorter summary in Crockford and Geist 2018, and here). This is the paper Amstrup and Stirling don’t want the public to read.

I’ll let readers decide for themselves if they agree with Collins on whether the changes agreed to by all parties to this sham of a paper come anywhere close to addressing the insult to science and dedicated scientists everywhere.

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Scientists and media continue to spread misinformation about polar bears & walrus

“Lies” might be a better word to characterize the misinformation that scientists and the media have been busy spreading to the public over the last few weeks. The information is either known to be false (by scientists whose job it is to relay facts honestly) or is easily shown to be false (by journalists whose job it is to fact-check their stories).

Churchill polar bear and walrus 2017

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IUCN Specialist Group now rejects polar bear numbers it used for 2015 IUCN Red List review

Is there a mutiny in the works between the IUCN Red List and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) over polar bear population estimates or has there simply been a breach of ethics? What else explains the fact that some of the subpopulation estimates used by the PBSG to support the status of ‘vulnerable’ for the IUCN Red List in 2015 are unacceptable to them in 2017? And why are the PBSG refusing to embrace the Red List global estimate of 22,000-31,000?

2015 IUCN Red List estimates vs IUCN PBSG 2017

The latest version of the IUCN PBSG status table was posted online 30 March 2017 without fanfare or even a note on their home page. It seems the result came from much discussion at their official meeting last summer (June 2016) that they say continued into early March 2017.

2017 population status update early March headline

PBGS members voted to reject four subpopulation estimates used in the 2015 Red List polar bear status review  — even though the inclusion of those numbers was required in order for the Red List status of ‘vulnerable’ to be upheld. The group has also chosen not to update their global population page with the Red List estimate of 22,000-31,000.

And surprise, surprise — now that only one subpopulation out of nineteen worldwide has shown a recent decline, the PBSG have removed the “trend” columns from their summary table for subpopulations.

Welcome to conservation ‘science’ practiced by IUCN polar bear specialists.
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Why is polar bear conservation such a contentious issue?

Are polar bears in decline or not? Who is to blame for the fact that there is no clear answer about how polar bears are doing? Apparently, everyone except polar bear specialists are at fault for the way polar bear issues have been handled in recent years (including me), at least according to one northern journalist.

UpHere Magazine_July 2016 cover cropped

Back in February, I wrote a rather critical review of an exclusive interview with polar bear researcher Ian Stirling that was published in the February issue of UpHere Magazine called, He speaks for the polar bears – with this lede under the title:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

I said “Yeah, well – judge for yourself,” and pointed out some rather critical inaccuracies and obfuscations in Stirling’s answers that I backed up with references.

Well, the editor of that magazine, Tim Edwards, emailed me a few days later and said:

“...we wanted to try to clarify the issues and just talk hard science, no rhetoric. Lo and behold, we’re learning that even his opinion is by no means universally agreed-upon. So thank you for your criticism.”

In May, I was contacted by UpHere writer Dan Campbell, who spoke to me several times before writing this month’s article (15 July 2016), Lost in the numbers: The polar bear is getting more attention than ever, but that may be harming the animal more than helping. Have a look and decide if it clarifies any of the polar bear issues for you. Continue reading

WWF and the International Bear Conference

The 24th International Conference on Bear Research and Management is coming up mid-month (12-16 June, 2016) in Anchorage, Alaska, and local media outlets are already gearing up. This conference is about all species of bears but the Arctic icon is apt to get most of the attention.

APM_The Science of Bears_June 7 2016 radio screencap_at 5 June marked

 

First up on the media roster appears to be an APRN Talk of Alaska radio talk show entitled The Science of Bears that will feature, among others, Steve Amstrup (spokesperson for Polar Bears International, of “Save Our Sea Ice” fame) and Margaret Williams (WWF, with a Masters in Environmental Studies), scheduled for Tuesday, June 7 at 10:00 AM Alaska time (that’s 11 AM Pacific).

Calls will be taken from the public and comments via email are invited (see below). It could be worth a listen, so mark your calendars. I’ll post a link to the audio podcast here if and when one gets published.

As for the ethics of such a close relationship of international bear scientists with the environmental activists at WWFone of the richest ‘charities’ around (and one might suppose, plans to stay that way), you’ll have to make up your own mind. Maybe the radio host will ask…

UPDATE 8 May 2016: Here’s the link to the podcast of this Talk of Alaska program from yesterday, which is provided in iTunes format (if you don’t have an iPhone or Apple tablet, you’ll need to down the iTunes program to your PC – a link for which is provided automatically. I did it and it works just fine. On the list of programs provided at the link, just click on the forward arrow to the left of “The Science of Bears”): https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/talk-of-alaska/id264469515?mt=2
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