|Adult polar bear on the look-out.|
Source: Ian Sterling
The paper was by Jeffrey A Harvey and a bunch of other leading scientists. When I say a bunch, there were fourteen scientists listed as authors, comprising rising stars and heavyweights in the climate science world.
It's fortunate I wasn't able to write about this paper when it was first released because it allowed time to see the numerous articles about it on denier blogs. However, before looking at deniers' various reactions, how about a quick summary of the paper. It's open access and is easy to read. It may help if you understand the analytical techniques used, though that's not essential.
The nuts and bolts of the research won't surprise anyone familiar with the antics of science deniers of any persuasion, whether it's evolution denial, HIV denial or climate science denial.
There are a number of characteristics that differentiate science blogs and science denying blogs. Two that were mentioned in the paper are:
- Framing: Science blogs frame the scientific content in their articles so as to inform and educate readers. Science denying blogs frame science so as to mislead their readers. As the authors write: "scientific blogs provide context and associated evidence, whereas denier blogs often remove context or misinterpret examples".
- Keystone dominoes: Science blogs will report science that interests the blogger and blog readers. Science denying blogs tend to pluck out topics that the public relate to easily. From the paper: "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.” Proponents of creationism and intelligent design use the same strategy..."
I'll add two more techniques, of the several others that I've seen:
- Circular Self-Referencing: Science blogs are typically littered with links to scientific papers and other reputable sources of information across a wide spectrum. Science denying blogs typically link to each other rather than to scientific articles. In that way, the deniosphere is a self-contained echo chamber, with few linkages with real science.
- Attacking scientists instead of science: Science articles on science blogs tend to focus on research - observations and analysis - more so than personalities. Science denying blogs by contrast put little stock in evidence, or claim it is "fake". They often prefer to attack scientists as people rather than discuss the fruits of their efforts.
Analysing science and science denial blogs
To illustrate how science denying blogs use framing and "keystone dominoes" to mislead their readers, the authors analysed 90 blogs that mentioned both polar bears and sea ice, 45 science and 45 science denial. (The 90 websites listed in the supplementary information were described as blogs, however there were a few that I wouldn't describe as a blog. Not enough to quibble over.)
From the paper (my formatting):
If you're not familiar with principal component analysis, there's a neat article by by Victor Powell, with text by Lewis Lehe, which is illustrated with interactive demonstrations.Each blog was coded for stated positions on these two topics (Arctic ice extent and polar-bear status). The six codes identified were the following:
- sea-ice extent is on average declining rapidly in the Arctic;
- sea-ice extent is decreasing only marginally, is not decreasing significantly, or is currently recovering in the Arctic;
- changes in sea-ice extent in the Arctic are due to natural variability, and it is impossible to predict future conditions;
- polar bears are threatened with extinction by present and future AGW;
- polar bears are not threatened with extinction by present and future AGW; and
- polar bears will adapt to any future changes in Arctic ice extent whether because of AGW or natural variability.We also collected every peer-reviewed scientific paper that we could find that investigated both polar bears and sea ice in our search process (92 papers) and scored their positions for the same six statements. The scores for both blogs and papers were analyzed, and a principal component analysis was used to visualize their relations.
The diagram below is Figure 2 from the paper, and shows the results of the principal component analysis.
What the authors found won't surprise you. Science blogs reported what the published literature reports: sea ice is declining and therefore polar bears are threatened. Denier blogs claims were inconsistent with scientific evidence, and reported that bears aren't threatened and sea ice isn't disappearing or if it is, it's natural (naturally).
What's more, rather than drawing on evidence from published scientific work, about 80% of the denier blogs promoted the writings of one person, Susan Crockford, who rejects the notion that polar bears are threatened, to bolster their denial. You'd think that remarkable given that many deniers appear to think that most scientists reject science (get your head around that). If you've spent any time on denier blogs you'll have realised that reliance on one person is not uncommon for science deniers. What is more remarkable is that Dr Crockford hasn't published anything in the peer-reviewed literature about the impact of declining ice on polar bears. (Her PhD thesis, which puts forward some, um, novel ideas about pulsating thyroid hormones and evolution of domestic vertebrates, mentions polar bears in passing.)
As I said, this promotion of a single source and rejection of evidence and the overwhelming majority of scientific research is one of the tactics science deniers use to misinform. Think Willie Soon and "it's the sun", Nils Axel-Morner and his sea level rise denial, and former resident WUWT pseudoscientist Bob Tisdale and his "it's El Nino". The former two have some publications on their subjects, unlike Susan and Bob.
If you want to know more about the study and its findings, I suggest you read it.
No support for the lone polar bear foe on denier blogs
The protests from deniers came thick and fast. As usual, in writing their articles they amply illustrated the reliability of the findings.
In all the denier articles I looked at, not one of them provided any scientific support for the ideas promoted by Susan Crockford. Not one could find any scientist who agreed with her. Thus providing further evidence supporting the findings of the authors of Harvey17.
Slime from Anthony Watts at WUWT
At WUWT, Anthony Watts posted not one, not two, but three articles. In his first, he mostly ignored the lead author, skipped over the next eight authors, and chose to promote the 10th and 14th authors - Drs Stephan Lewandowsky and Michael Mann respectively. He adopted the "attacking scientists" technique I mentioned above. Anthony knew those two names would resonate with his readers, who haven't heard of most scientists. They are favourite "Serengeti strategy" targets at WUWT. (I swear that some of Anthony Watts readers think there are no more than half a dozen climate scientists in the world.) Anthony posted a photo of each of them, overlaid with the word "slimed", which is what Anthony does for a living (slime scientists).
Deniers are ashamed of their denial
Naturally, it's all about Anthony. I can't for the life of me figure out why he's offended at his blog being called a denier blog. Deniers are his target audience, the more hard-core and conspiracy-theorising the better. You'd think he'd welcome the publicity. Perhaps he does. He wrote:
...for a science journal to use the word “denier” is quite troubling. It is mind-blowing to me that a journal would publish “denier” used as a pejorative label with a broad brush. They expose themselves to legal issues of defamation in doing so.Anthony Watts, owner of the "the world's most viewed" climate scientist defaming blog, was worried about a journal exposing itself to defamation? For calling deniers "deniers"?
WUWT validates the results of Harvey17
The evidence Anthony Watts offered to show Harvey17 was all wrong in fact did the opposite. It corroborated Harvey17. His evidence was, you guessed it, Susan Crockford! Ha! the very same unpublished source that the authors said was the main source for 80% of the denier blogs they analysed! Her biggest complaint was that none of the authors had commented on her recent not peer-reviewed paper. In fact as I write this, only one person in all the world has made a comment under her paper.
It strikes me that her paper was based on a flawed premise. What Susan was arguing was that because polar bears haven't yet shown a substantial decline in numbers (according to Susan), the estimate of their decline over the next 30 to 50 years won't happen.
That is also typical of science deniers. You'll recall WUWT from time to time has articles claiming that because [insert projection to 2100] hasn't yet happened, it will never happen.
I'll add that I cannot find where Susan got her hypothesis from. I've looked at the references she quoted but it doesn't stack up with what she claims. She seems to have got her basic premise wrong by substituting a September Arctic sea ice average (or maybe even the September minimum) for summer Arctic sea ice average. She seems to be claiming that from 2007 to 2016, the sea ice area was what was projected for 2050 and polar bears haven't disappeared off the face of the northern Earth, therefore they won't. That's just silly - on all counts.
That sloppiness is typical of Susan apparently. In the self-defense she wrote at WUWT, she said (my emphasis):
The long list of co-authors joining in on this attack includes several psychologists, one of whom has written similar papers before, as well as serial-litagator [sic]/climate change champion Michael Mann:Wrong. I don't know where she got the "several" from. I saw only one cognitive scientist in the list of authors. Most of the fourteen were scientists who do research in climate, ecology, or other environmental sciences. You'll also have noticed, if you were in any doubt, how that statement from Susan Crockford puts her fairly and squarely in the science denying camp.
Larry Kummer, dominoes, and the case of the wrong Crockford
The second protest at WUWT was an article by Larry Kummer. He too was basing his protest on Susan Crockford and her "kill off the polar bear" meme. He too showed that the authors of Harvey17 were spot on. It seems that nobody at WUWT could find anyone to support Susan's notion that polar bears won't suffer when the summer ice disappears and takes their food supply with it. He too takes exception to the author's use of the term denier. Apparently deniers don't just deny science, they deny themselves (and prefer euphemisms).
The other thing that Larry does is just what the authors point out that deniers commonly do. He picked out some random predictions (not from scientific papers, but from media reports or blogs), and used them as "keystone dominoes" to imply that because someone once said something or the other in a newspaper article, all of climate science published in scientific journals can be rejected!
In trying to defend Susan's tattered reputation (when it comes to polar bears and climate change), Larry wrote:
The authors fail to mention her Ph.D. in zoology (her dissertation mentions polar bear evolution) and her peer-reviewed publications (details here). She is even cited in a paper published in Bioscience.Go on, follow the first link. The "details here" link shows that just as the authors wrote, Susan does not claim any peer-reviewed publications on the topic of polar bears.
Now follow the second link to the claimed citation through to its origin. It's not Susan Crockford's paper that was cited, it was authored by Nicola Jane Crockford of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds · International, and the paper has nothing at all to do with polar bears.
Crockford, N., R. Green, G. Rocamora, N. Schäffer, T. Stowe, and G. Williams. "Action plan for the Corncrake (Crex crex) in Europe." BirdLife International (1996).Susan Crockford made three comments under Larry's article, but didn't correct his mis-cite. She did ask that people buy her "fundamentally cracked" book about pulsating thyroid hormones, however.
Larry even went so far as to compare Susan Crockford, of little fame (except on denier blogs) with Charles Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould.
He also pointed out that the authors found what I found when I read her not peer-reviewed article that she put so much weight upon. He quoted them:
A primary approach of Crockford’s and other denier blogs is to frame uncertainty by focusing on the present and to question the accuracy of future predictions — implying that the rapid loss of Arctic ice recorded over the past 40 years induced by AGW cannot serve as a guide to future conditions.Well, in my view the authors were being kind. As I wrote earlier, her work is basically arguing that because what is expected to happen over the coming several decades hasn't happened yet, it won't happen over the coming several decades.
Josh's trench warfare against scientists
The third WUWT protest was a cartoon by Josh, who gets a bit of publicity by having Anthony Watts promote his efforts. It was something about trench warfare mixed with wishful thinking that research funding is going to stop. The misplaced argument he was making was that scientists are only in it for the money and will flee when it dries up. The implication being, of course, that global warming would stop if only scientists would stop studying climate. His cartoons depicted Professors Mann and Lewandowsky, using the "attack the scientists" fallback tactic of climate science deniers.
You'll notice Josh is very hung up on money. Fear of losing it is one of the main reasons stated for opposing science. (It doesn't make sense to me either, given that most of the wealth and well-being today is because of science, not in spite of it.)
Tom Fuller, sexism and the GWPF
There have been other protests, but the only other one I'll mention is from a bloke of dubious reputation called Tom Fuller who used to pester people on science blogs. He chose the equally dubious Global Warming Policy Forum to promote his article. (It was originally posted on another dubious but more obscure and even sillier blog run by half a dozen adolescent types who erroneously fancy themselves as clever deniers.)
Tom apparently couldn't find anyone to support Susan's claims that polar bears don't need protection and will survive without sea ice. Instead he took a different tack. As you know, there has been a flurry of claims that prominent figures have a history of sexual harassment and predation and worse - some with basis, some probably without. Tom saw the bandwagon and decided to hitch a ride. Because Susan Crockford's work was found to be the main source of polar bear denial abounding in cyberspace, he would mount his trusty steed and gallop in to defend her honour. He alleged that the authors were guilty of sexual harassment.
What he's effectively saying is that women are the weaker sex and need big brave men like Tom Fuller, and the GWPF (and half a dozen puerile adolescents) to come to their rescue - but only if they are science deniers. (The GWPF must be one of the more sexist organisations around. Its Forum has no women on its board. The Foundation has no women on its 25 member advisory panel, and only one woman on its board).
It's all a bit rich, particularly given that sexist men are grossly over-represented in climate science denier ranks.
I must point out that Tom Fuller also uses a variation of the technique that the authors referred to - the "keystone domino". He picked out quotes various scientists and climate bloggers have made about the work of men and women - carefully selecting mild criticisms of male deniers and stronger criticisms of female deniers. (He included a quote from one climate blogger who was not an author of the paper for some reason. I guess he had to stretch to fill his silly article.)
Like the other articles, Tom claims the authors lied when they wrote:
Notably, as of this writing, Crockford has neither conducted any original research nor published any articles in the peer-reviewed literature on polar bears.However, also like the others, Tom was unable to provide any evidence to the contrary. Susan hasn't done any original research on polar bears, or published any articles on polar bears in the peer-reviewed literature. Any polar bear research she has done is not published in any peer-reviewed journal, is based on other people's original research and only resulted in blog articles (fodder for science deniers) and one "not peer-reviewed" paper. (Even her PhD, which mentions polar bears very briefly and only in passing, is nothing more than highly speculative thyroid hormone notions in among a literature review.)
Deniers made me do it
Frankly, I didn't intend for this article to focus on Susan Crockford. Deniers made me do it :)
It was quite unavoidable, given the way the denier blog articles spent so much time on Susan Crockford and her articles in an apparent attempt to disprove the finding that denier blogs predominately rely on Susan Crockford's blog and articles to bolster their case that polar bears should be left to rot. (You can breathe now.)
Some of the denier bloggers were upset that they didn't see their blog listed as supplementary information. I've been informed that it was meant to be posted with the article, and will be put on the web in a data repository in the near future (if not already). It's already available on the website of one of the coauthors, Bart Verheggen. It lists all 90 blogs/websites and all the 92 scientific publications referred to in the paper. It also has a bit more detail about the methodology.
This year the sea ice is too far away for the mother polar bears
As I was finishing this article, I came across this tweet from Prof Andrew Derocher, who has been studying polar bears for 34 years.
Svalbard sea ice cover 3rd lowest on record. Hopen Island, where female #polarbears used to den, won't be available to them this year. Sea ice is too far away. They can use areas further north but the options are fewer over time with so little ice. pic.twitter.com/46MrjRU5n5— Andrew Derocher (@AEDerocher) December 5, 2017
It's not bad news everywhere for the bears this year, however.
From the WUWT comments
Please excuse me for reposting this horrible WUWT "thought". In the light of Tom Fuller's article in particular, I figured it's relevant. Joel O'Bryan is one who gets his kicks from what he probably regards as titillating, and arguably defamatory, comments. (He's AC/DC, and has written in a not dissimilar vein about me, too.)
November 29, 2017 at 4:55 pm
"Another strategy is to selectively attack prominent lines of research providing compelling evidence of AGW. Mann and colleagues’ (1998) “hockey-stick” graph (see also Mann 2012), in which temperature reconstructions have been made over the past millennium, is a prime example of the latter. “
So when your research is crap and filled with little statistical tricks…. yeah… you’re little [pruned] Mann.
I think Little Mann is still smarting from how M&M showed he and his hockey stick were a complete fraud. He got spanked, He continues to get spanked. Everyone in the field surely must know that by now. Those that don’t care are simply as dishonest as Little Mann.
Man’s day of reckoning is coming.
Like Matt Lauer’s.
Like Harvery Weinstein.
Like Jerry Sandusky.
Most of the rest of the comments are too silly. Among the worst are accusations of bullying a poor little innocent girl - from deniers who do nothing but bully on the blog of someone who specialises in defaming scientists, a blog dominated with comments from sexist men. Here's an example from some random bot using the name of Dave Fair:
December 2, 2017 at 2:02 pmThe sort of personal attacks and lack of evidence contained in this peer reviewed “paper” is one of the reasons I began questioning CAGW.I mean how unaware does one have to be to ignore all the personal attacks on denier blogs, ignore the evidence in this particular paper, and write utter nonsense. That comment goes way beyond confirmation bias, it can only be described as utterly delusional or pure bottery.
Jeffrey A. Harvey Daphne van den Berg Jacintha Ellers Remko Kampen Thomas W. Crowther Peter Roessingh Bart Verheggen Rascha J. M. Nuijten Eric Post Stephan Lewandowsky Ian Stirling Meena Balgopal Steven C. Amstrup Michael E. Mann. "Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy" BioScience, bix133, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix133 (open access)
- Supplementary information
- Polarised debate: polar bear blogs reveal dangerous gap between climate-change facts and opinions - press release from NIOO
- Critique of the related book at Amazon
- There once was a polar bear – science vs the blogosphere - by Bart Verheggen (a coauthor)
- 80 Percent of Climate Denier Blogs Reference This One Canadian Zoologist - by Stephen Leahy at Motherboard
- How do you Spot a Climate Science Denial Blog? Check the Polar Bears - By Kyla Mandel at DesmogUK
- New study uncovers the 'keystone domino' strategy of climate denial - by Dana Nuccitelli at The Guardian
- Polar Bears and Arctic sea ice - by …and Then There's Physics