[Coral-List] political arguments on coral-list

Richard Plate richarp33 at gmail.com
Wed May 21 09:30:26 EDT 2014

As a social scientist, I subscribe to this list as one tool to help me stay
abreast of scientific discussions about corals.  Much of my work is at the
intersection of politics and science, and I agree with Gene, Dennis, and
others that it can be an awfully fuzzy line.

So, I agree that some political discussion is expected and appropriate.

That said, I am a little surprised by the general lack of response to
postings of the unsound scientific reports and the all-science-is-political
comments.  Steve Mussman refers to it more eloquently as the "reticence and
quietude" of the list regarding these posts.

If you are concerned about the failure of scientists to convince a
significant portion of society (including many US policy makers) that
climate change is a vitally important issue, then I suggest that this
reticence and quietude is part of the problem, and I encourage those
scientists who have the necessary expertise not to be reticent or quiet
when it comes to reports like the NIPCC.

Dennis Hubbard describes that report as incredibly valuable because
the "bibliography
of mis-used papers was still a collection of great sources, many of which I
had not seen before."  I think that's a healthy attitude to take and I
agree the report has value as an educational tool for identifying faulty
logic and bad science. This type of assessment, preferably in as direct
response to the postings of report involving bad science, ie important to
distinguish the NIPCC report from papers that are not mis-using sources.
 Dennis provides some great detail in his posting about where specifically
the NIPCC report runs off the rails.

Failure to identify the NIPCC report (or others like it, usually by the
same set of authors) as bad science (i.e. science that mis-uses credible
sources in order to support conclusions used to justify complacency
regarding our policy response to climate change) suggests tacit approval by
the thousands (I'm guessing at the number) of scientists on this list.

I realize that this list is not designed as an outreach tool and that
scientists have other demands on their time that preclude responding to
every report or posting that's using cherry-picked data to conclude climate
change is not an important issue.  But I hope you will begin to view
calling out the faulty logic in such reports as an important part of
increasing the impact that science has on policy.

-Richard Plate

On Tue, May 20, 2014 at 11:29 AM, Dennis Hubbard <dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
> wrote:

> Doug, Steve and others:
> I apologize for a long post. However, If I add up all the short, bulleted
> submissions I've read on this one topic I'd challenge an encyclopedia
> volume.
> I have to admit that I found Steve's most recent post a bit troubling.
> First, I'm not sure that Gene was holding the authors of the
> IPCC-look-alike up as saints, but rather was pointing out that science (and
> scientists) is not the totally objective and apolitical affair that we'd
> all like to believe. I had decided to be uncharacteristically quiet until
> Doug's most recent post.  I very carefully looked over the two posts by
> Gene and frankly find nothing that particularly worries me. Steve argues
> that scientists "don't seem to be particularly inclined to group think" and
> Doug obviously feels that politics and science do not mix - at least they
> shouldn't on this list-serve... and asks for opinions. So, here is mine.
> Let me start with a couple of stories (sorry, I was born in Maine and rocks
> tell stories, so it's in my DNA). Not too many years ago, a colleague
> published a carefully researched and written paper that compared isotopic
> measurements from opposire calical walls. Along one wall, the traditional
> drilling method was used for sampling. Along the other, the wall was
> manually scraped away using a dental pick until a small spire of aragonite
> was left for sampling. Which side was which was determined by a coin toss.
> In 19 out of 19 pairs, the one sampled by micro-drill showed an isotopic
> shift consistent with both heating and pressure from the drill; these
> shifts rivaled the temperature shifts we have been arguing about for years.
> Also, back-scatter showed neomorphism to calcite. The alpha value was 0.01
> (i.e., at medical levels of confidence). The manuscript was submitted to
> Science and was declared "not newsworthy" (i.e., it never even went out for
> technical review). Consider this sa "conspiracy theory" if you wish, but I
> can just see all those paleo-climate folks seeing the gravy train pulling
> out of the station if their main tool was questioned in Science (just for
> the record, I am a huge believer in climate change and a fan of isotope
> geochemistry"). Anyway, the paper ended up in Geology and predictably was
> repudiated by an "unbiased" researcher who used this particular isotope
> widely. Arguments ranged from "the sample size is too small" (if I remember
> my stats correctly, sample size is built into that confidence level) to
> "maybe, but not in my lab". The published retort was simple, "if you walked
> into a casino in Vegas and rolled craps 19 straight times, would you ask
> for a new set of dice?"
> Going back further, when Wegner proposed what eventually became plate
> tectonics in the 20s, he was basically laughed off the continent. The
> "skeptics" were not some band of right-wing non-believers, but the
> mainstream scientific community. Then, in the 60s it started to gain
> traction. There were still skeptics, but because the scientific community
> was increasingly buying into "continental drift", albeit with
> miogeosynclines and the like, the skeptics were now portrayed as gnomes
> turning big wheels in the center of a hollow earth. Yes, the data were
> better, but the idea essentially gained traction because the scientific
> community was ready to accept it. My point here is simply that skepticism
> is not limited to non-believing right-wingers; it is the basic underpinning
> of the scientific method. At the same time, "objective scientists" let what
> we want to see get in the way of objectively collecting, analyzing and
> interpreting the data - in effect, the strategy behind the report that
> started all of this.
> So, on to that NIPCC report. I read Gene's comments to argue that, whether
> we believe in the overall conclusions (and I don't), don't just toss it in
> the trash (and I didn't). The report reflects a typical and transparent
> strategy.... take legitimate scientific articles and package them together
> in a way that casts doubt.... "so, you think corals just bleach from
> warming - they have done so due to cold as well." The stated message is
> that it's not just "global warming". The irony is that they are right;
> that's why we now use "climate change" to reflect the inherent instability
> associated with net warning. They also argue that solar insolation is the
> main driver of climate change.... and again, they are absolutely correct.
> Of all the possible drivers, solar insolation is the gorilla in the room.
> However, what they ignore is that, as insolation stabilizes near the tops
> an bottoms of the SL curve, things like GHGs come to the fore, even without
> the insane contributions we are presently making via emissions. The report
> does not cite the reality that insolation has been either flat or
> declineing recently - it's a problem for their argument. So.... the
> skeptics are absolutely correct about the longer-term solar forcing, we've
> spent a lot of time proving that since Milankovitch's initial calculations.
> However, they conveniently leave out recent trends - that's the strategy.
> Nevertheless, both a scientist and an educator, I find the report very
> useful. First, despite all of its considerable warts, the NIPCC report is
> better sourced and written than many papers I am asked to review for
> publication. Arguments are made about differential reef damage based on
> hurricanes spinning the wrong way. The reply to my review comes back that
> I, and not the author, do not understand atmospheric dynamics. When I
> provide a basic paper for the author to read, the response is, "well, maybe
> you're right, but that doesn't matter".
> To put this into context, read Gene's autobiography. In a manuscript that
> won "paper of the year" he argued for submarine cementation. Despite the
> award, the paper was widely criticized - not by wacko left-wing skeptics
> but by the mainstream and "objective" scientific community - it just
> couldn't be so. Now, marine cement is paradigm and if one were to question
> it, would be labeled as extremist. I'm not sure whether it was this
> incident or one of the several others where Gene's whacky ideas came to be
> true, but he describes the "three stages of discovery": 1) you can't be
> right and I can prove it" 2) "well maybe, but not in my area", and 3)
> "heck, we knew that all along, so what's the big news there?" (sorry if
> these aren't verbatim quotes, Gene).  Way back when I was a new, out-of-the
> box scientist, we wrote a paper that challenged traditional views of reef
> building. As was the case with Gen'e publication, it received a "paper of
> the year" award but was widely challenged and pretty unpopular. People
> argued that we didn't have enough cores.... then that we were drilling in
> the wrong places... then that "maybe it works where you cored, but not in
> most places." Then, one day, a colleague sent me an email from the Bathurst
> Conference. It contained an abstract that started with, "Building on the
> long-accepted concept that most Holocene reefs contain as much sediment as
> coral...." Voila, the idea that Holocene reefs are trash piles had reached
> stage 3.
> So, what do we do? We can declare that the scientific method makes us
> impervious to huge leaps of "faith". We can also argue that dealing with
> things like the NIPCC report is a waste of time. I disagree on all points
> and read Gene's posts as making that same argument. For me, this report is
> an incredibly valuable document. The bibliography of mis-used papers was
> still a collection of great sources, many of which I had not seen before.
> Also, I ask my students to look at the arguments and to counter them. I
> don't want them growing up as citizen scientists who simply brand reports
> like this as right-wing propaganda and feel that by refusing to read them
> they are in a position of superiority.
> It has been an eye-opening and incredibly useful exercise to ask them to
> critically review the argument made in the report, find possible faults and
> make up their own minds. Many of them find it difficult to argue against
> the findings based on what they actually know (remember that while they are
> some of the most talented undergraduates in the country, that is often a
> lot less than they think they know) and this sends them an important
> message - *you have dismissed this report out of hand, but do not
> understand the science well enough to actually tell me why they are wrong.
> So... all you are left with is a belief structure*. We probably "know" more
> than they do, but are not impervious to the syndrome. I again think that
> this is imbedded in Gene's posts and argues that if we are going to to just
> dismiss the report and replace it with our opinions, we are going to
> continue to get our collective butts kicked in debates, be they over
> climate change or evolution.
> Insert your favorite political ideology here and we come (finally) to my
> answer to Doug's survey question. Science today is all about politics and
> ideology. We can all sit in a room and poke fun at right-wing skeptics -
> and we will have no impact. This also goes for the populist stage.
> So, I have commented on Gene's assertions. I don't totally agree, but I
> don't see oil company money an cronies lurking in the background either.
> These come from a healthy skepticism of a talented scientist who has been
> dismissed too many times for what eventually became our dogma. And,
> remember that, more often that not, his skeptics have been the folks who
> write all those objective scientific papers. Are we here to argue politics
> or discuss coral reefs? My answer is either "both" or "how are they
> separate".
> Dennis (the other geologic curmudgeon)
> On Mon, May 19, 2014 at 5:42 PM, Douglas Fenner <
> douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Coral-listers,
> >
> >      Below you can read two recent postings by Gene Shinn.  The most
> recent
> > talks more about ideology and religion than about the climate change
> > argument.  The previous one appears to be completely about politics, I
> > couldn't find a mention of coral reefs.
> >       If I think Gene is spreading things that aren't true, I think it is
> > incumbent on someone to respond to his assertions, or else he gets to
> > spread things that appear to be untrue, unchallenged.  (Same goes for me,
> > by the way)  If no one else will respond, I feel I must.   Gene has a
> > history of posts on geology of coral reefs or other aspects of reefs, and
> > posts that argue about climate change and politics.  I appreciate his
> > geology and reef posts, I learn from them, I thank Gene for them.  I
> think
> > they are totally appropriate for coral-list.
> >
> >        The question is, do coral-listers want to see lots of messages
> > arguing about politics?
> >
> >        What do people think, is coral-list the best place to argue over
> > Gene's political views?  Or would "coral reef free-for-all" be better, or
> > perhaps a political discussion list-serve?  Are we here to argue politics
> > or discuss coral reefs?
> >
> >        What do people think?
> >
> >
> > Gene wrote:
> >
> > "Steve, Have you ever met a scientist that did not have an ideology? In
> > my experience with thousands of scientists both industry, government,
> > and academia, I can't recall any who did not have an ideology of one
> > sort or another be they Christians, Moslems, Buddists, Hindu, atheist,
> > etc. A scientist can always claim his or her  results are statistical
> > correct and pure but remember the scientist still decides what subject
> > to work on in the first place. It can work both ways. We both pretty
> > much know where most coral reef scientists heads are. I would not expect
> > them to read the
> > NIPCC report even thou it has a large coral reef section based on peer
> > reviewed literature. You can find that in chapter 6
> > http://climatechangereconsidered.org/  The reader should be remindned
> > that all the media buzz about the IPCC report is based on the Summary
> > for Policy Makers which was not written by the scientists who wrote the
> > IPCC report.  Gene"
> >
> > --
> >
> >
> > No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> > ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> > E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> > University of South Florida
> > College of Marine Science Room 221A
> > 140 Seventh Avenue South
> > St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> > <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> > Tel 727 553-1158
> > ---------------------------------- -----------------------------------
> >
> >
> > "Richard asked why I had not addressed several posting. Well, one has to
> > wonder if these rants gets us anywhere? I am reminded of the following
> > lines I pirated from a recent blog. " The crisis we face is not one of
> > politics in just one sphere, that of government. Even more sinister
> > politics have long been afoot in the scientific sphere from whence this
> > whole knowing of the matter of anthropogenic carbon sprang. The world of
> > science is a most unpleasant guild-like, politically active, and
> > aggressive world. It has its warring sides and those sides have
> > territories they claim and fiercely defend." This rang a bell because I
> > have seen many hypotheses come and go. By the time one is gone few even
> > remember it.
> >      Back to one of the postings which asked, Is the Pew foundation any
> > different than the Heritige foundation? Of course its like night and
> > day. One is left wing and the other on the right. Both have lots of
> > money. You believe what you want to believe. Its like comparing Mother
> > Jones magazine to the Wall Street Journal. Take your pick. I have come
> > to believe there really are two kinds of people and it is not simply
> > Male and Female. We are wired differently from birth and yes it helps to
> > follow the money. Education seldom changes the wiring.
> > Regardless of what one might feel about Craig Idso people should
> > evaluate the papers he cited in the Heritage website I posted and stop
> > the ad hominem/kill the messenger attacks. Those were peer reviewed
> > papers. IPCC papers are peer reviewed (mainly by each other). An IPCC
> > member writer would not send his coral reef paper to Idso for review and
> > visa versa. The lines have been drawn. Gene"
> >
> > --
> >
> > No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> > ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> > E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> > University of South Florida
> > College of Marine Science Room 221A
> > 140 Seventh Avenue South
> > St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> > <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> > Tel 727 553-1158
> > ---------------------------------- -----------------------------------
> > --
> >
> >
> > Douglas Fenner
> > Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
> > PO Box 7390
> > Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> >
> > phone 1 684 622-7084
> > website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
> > Blog:
> >
> >
> http://cctus.org/conservation-science/2014-expedition-scholar/2014-expedition-scholar-douglas-fenner-ph-d/2014-expedition-scholar-blog/
> > _______________________________________________
> > Coral-List mailing list
> > Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> > http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
> >
> --
> Dennis Hubbard
> Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
> (440) 775-8346
> * "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
>  Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"
> _______________________________________________
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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