[Coral-List] political arguments on coral-list

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Tue May 20 11:29:19 EDT 2014

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

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

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/
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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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