A new paper published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science puts the issue of “ocean acidification” to the test, and finds that there has been significant exaggeration in the issue. The paper is:
Applying organized scepticism to ocean acidification research
“Ocean acidification” (OA), a change in seawater chemistry driven by increased uptake of atmospheric CO2 by the oceans, has probably been the most-studied single topic in marine science in recent times. The majority of the literature on OA report negative effects of CO2 on organisms and conclude that OA will be detrimental to marine ecosystems. As is true across all of science, studies that report no effect of OA are typically more difficult to publish. Further, the mechanisms underlying the biological and ecological effects of OA have received little attention in most organismal groups, and some of the key mechanisms (e.g. calcification) are still incompletely understood. For these reasons, the ICES Journal of Marine Science solicited contributions to this special issue. In this introduction, I present a brief overview of the history of research on OA, call for a heightened level of organized (academic) scepticism to be applied to the body of work on OA, and briefly present the 44 contributions that appear in this theme issue. OA research has clearly matured, and is continuing to do so. We hope that our readership will find that, when taken together, the articles that appear herein do indeed move us “Towards a broader perspective on ocean acidification research”.
Excerpts from that paper:
Scientific or academic scepticism calls for critical scrutiny of research outputs before they are accepted as new knowledge (Merton, 1973).Duarte et al. (2014) stated that “…there is a perception that scientific skepticism has been abandoned or relaxed in many areas…” of marine science. They argue that OA is one such area, and conclude that there is, at best, weak evidence to support an OA-driven decline of calcifiers. Below, I raise some of the aspects of OA research to which I contend an insufficient level of organized scepticism has been applied (in some cases, also to the articles in this theme issue). I arrived at that conclusion after reading hundreds of articles on OA (including, to be fair, some that also raise these issues) and overseeing the peer-review process for the very large number of submissions to this themed issue. Importantly, and asDuarte et al. (2014) make clear, a retrospective application of scientific scepticism such as the one that follows could—and should—be applied to any piece of/body of research.
Many early studies on OA applied treatment levels that greatly exceeded even worst-case climate change scenarios and did not report water chemistry in sufficient detail to determine if the treatment mimicked future OA-driven seawater conditions. Although most recent work has improved with respect to treatment levels, mimicking future water chemistry remains tricky.
A rationale commonly used to justify high CO2/low pH treatments is the need to identify at what levels organisms are affected. However, the limits to making inferences about how an organism or ecosystem will respond to a climate-change scale variable (i.e. one that changes over decades–centuries) from their response during a short-term challenge experiment (i.e. hours–days–weeks) has not been adequately addressed—or even mentioned—in most studies. This is reflected in a confusion of terms common in OA studies—when describing the outcome of a short-term CO2 challenge, authors often make the inferential leap and use “OA” when discussing their results, without any caveats. Oddly, incorporation of the extensive toxicology literature is almost entirely missing from OA studies, either when it comes to adopting established exposure protocols or to framing the inferences that can/cannot be drawn from short-term experiments. Also missing from most studies is anything more than a superficial statement about the possibility for acclimation, adaptation, or evolution, something that is necessary to extend the outcome of a short-term challenge experiment into an inference about the effect of a long-term driver.
Negative results—those that do not support a research hypothesis (e.g. OA will have detrimental effects on marine organisms)—can provide more balance for a subject area for which most published research reports positive results. Negative results can indicate that a subject area is not mature or clearly enough defined, or that our current methods and approaches are insufficient to produce a definitive result. Gould (1993)asserted that positive results tell more interesting stories than negative results and are, therefore, easier to write about and more interesting to read. He calls this a privileging of the positive. This privileging leads to a bias that acts against the propagation of negative results in the scholarly literature (see also Browman, 1999). Further, it is also important to recognize that studies showing no effect of OA are less equivocal than those that do, for all of the reasons noted above. Following from this, it is essential that authors writing about possible effects of OA present and discuss research that is inconsistent with their results and/or their interpretations—openly, honestly, and rigorously. Readers should be duly sceptical of articles that do not do this.
Read more here: http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/73/3/529.1.full
From an article in The Times:
An “inherent bias” in scientific journals in favour of more calamitous predictions has excluded research showing that marine creatures are not damaged by ocean acidification, which is caused by the sea absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It has been dubbed the “evil twin of climate change” and hundreds of studies have claimed to show that it destroys coral reefs and other marine life by making it harder for them to develop shells or skeletons.
The review found that many studies had used flawed methods, subjecting marine creatures to sudden increases in carbon dioxide that would never be experienced in real life.
“In some cases it was levels far beyond what would ever be reached even if we burnt every molecule of carbon on the planet,” Howard Browman, the editor of ICES Journal of Marine Science, who oversaw the review, said. He added that this had distracted attention from more urgent threats to reefs such as agricultural pollution, overfishing and tourism.
Dr Browman, who is also principal research scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, found there had been huge increase in articles on ocean acidification in recent years, rising from five in 2005 to 600 last year.
He said that a handful of influential scientific journals and lobbying by international organisations had turned ocean acidification into a major issue.
“Such journals tend to publish doom and gloom stories . . . stated without equivocation,” he said. The bias in favour of doom-laden articles was partly the result of pressure on scientists to produce eye-catching work, he added.
“You won’t get a job unless you publish an article that is viewed as of significant importance to society. People often forget that scientists are people and have the same pressures on them and the same kind of human foibles. Some are driven by different things. They want to be prominent.”
Dr Browman invited scientists around the world to contribute studies on ocean acidification for a special edition of his journal. More than half of the 44 studies selected for publication found that raised levels of CO2 had little or no impact on marine life, including crabs, limpets, sea urchins and sponges.
In the article from the Times, the lead author also has this to say:
“In some cases it was levels far beyond what would ever be reached even if we burnt every molecule of carbon on the planet,” Howard Browman, the editor of ICES Journal of Marine Science, who oversaw the review, said. He said that a handful of influential scientific journals and lobbying by international organisations had turned ocean acidification into a major issue. The bias in favour of doom-laden articles was partly the result of pressure on scientists to produce eye-catching work, he added.
read more by Ben Webster at: The Times, 1 March 2016
h/t to The GWPF