Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Professor Phillip Williamson, NERC Science Coordinator, University of East Anglia has written a long whiny piece in The Conversation, complaining that the British Government didn’t do enough to silence James Delingpole’s criticism that the Ocean Acidification scare is nonsense.
Science loses out to uninformed opinion on climate change – yet again
Ocean acidification is an inevitable consequence of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That’s a matter of fact. We don’t know exactly what will happen to complex marine ecosystems when faced with the additional stress of falling pH, but we do know those changes are happening and that they won’t be good news.
The journalist James Delingpole disagrees. In an article for The Spectator in April 2016, he took the sceptical position that all concerns over ocean acidification are unjustified “alarmism” and that the scientific study of this non-problem is a waste of money. He concluded that the only reason that the study of ocean acidification was ever funded at all was because there was insufficient (and decreasing) evidence for global warming and it acted as a “fallback position”.
Having had the role of science coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification research programme and being involved in relevant national and international projects for around ten years previously, I know such claims – which Delingpole presented as facts – to be false. I also spotted a range of other errors and inaccuracies in his piece.
At the end of a long and frustrating process IPSO’s final ruling was published on January 5 and it doesn’t seem we are much further forward. My complaint was rejected on the basis that the article was “clearly a comment piece” and that it was not IPSO’s role to resolve conflicting evidence for contentious issues.
The Delingpole article which triggered this complaint;
Ocean acidification: yet another wobbly pillar of climate alarmism
A paper review suggests many studies are flawed, and the effect may not be negative even if it’s real
There was a breathtakingly beautiful BBC series on the Great Barrier Reef recently which my son pronounced himself almost too depressed to watch. ‘What’s the point?’ said Boy. ‘By the time I get to Australia to see it the whole bloody lot will have dissolved.’
The menace Boy was describing is ‘ocean acidification’. It’s no wonder he should find it worrying, for it has been assiduously promoted by environmentalists for more than a decade now as ‘global warming’s evil twin’. Last year, no fewer than 600 academic papers were published on the subject, so it must be serious, right?
First referenced in a peer-reviewed study in Nature in 2003, it has since been endorsed by scientists from numerous learned institutions including the Royal Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the IPCC. Even the great David Attenborough — presenter of the Great Barrier Reef series — has vouched for its authenticity: ‘If the temperature rises up by two degrees and the acidity by a measurable amount, lots of species of coral will die out. Quite what happens then is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be good.’
No indeed. Ocean acidification is the terrifying threat whereby all that man-made CO2 we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere may react with the sea to form a sort of giant acid bath. First it will kill off all the calcified marine life, such as shellfish, corals and plankton. Then it will destroy all the species that depend on it — causing an almighty mass extinction which will wipe out the fishing industry and turn our oceans into a barren zone of death.
Or so runs the scaremongering theory. The reality may be rather more prosaic. Ocean acidification — the evidence increasingly suggests — is a trivial, misleadingly named, and not remotely worrying phenomenon which has been hyped up beyond all measure for political, ideological and financial reasons.
The key findings of the ruling;
Findings of the Complaints Committee
19. The article was written in the first person, and sought to challenge what it made clear was the consensus view on ocean acidification. Before the article set out its criticisms, it referred to there being an extensive academic literature on the subject, and made clear that the theory had been endorsed by scientists from a number of institutions. The article referred to the author as being one of a group of “sceptics”, and a “denier”, and the final sentence of the article suggested it was “time our supposed ‘conspiracy theories’ were taken more seriously”. The article was clearly a comment piece, in which the author was expressing sceptical views on ocean acidification, and describing sceptical views expressed by others, that were contrary to the academic consensus. The Committee’s role is not to make findings of fact or to resolve conflicting evidence in relation to matters under debate. Rather, it assesses the care taken not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and establishes whether a distinction is clearly made between comment, conjecture and fact, in determining whether the Code has been breached.
20. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that no experts in the field had expressed concern that ocean acidification could cause a “mass extinction”. However, it was not in dispute that many considered ocean acidification to be a matter of concern, and some believed it posed a serious threat to marine life. In this context, the claims the article made in support of its position that it was a “scaremongering” theory were not significantly misleading. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the evidence did not “increasingly suggest”, that ocean acidification was “trivial”. The article went on to make clear what this evidence was, which the author was entitled to select in support of his position. In addition, the article made clear that this view was contrary to the consensus. The article was not misleading on this point.
21. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the article misrepresented the paper reviewing the academic literature on ocean acidification. It was not misleading to claim that the paper was a “review of all the papers published on [ocean acidification]”, in circumstances where the paper described itself as “providing a brief overview of the history of research on [ocean acidification]”. The paper in question did refer to there being a publication bias towards papers which report negative effects of ocean acidification, and referred to a paper which highlighted methodological problems in research in the area. The manner in which the article presented the author’s interpretation of the paper was not significantly misleading.
22. The article reported that two named individuals had omitted historical data on oceanic pH from their research on ocean acidification, but that another named individual had incorporated this data into his own chart. The fact that the article misdated one of the charts referred to in this debate was not a significant inaccuracy in this context. While the Committee noted that the complainant agreed with the decision to omit this data, such that he considered the conclusions derived from its use to be invalid, the article was not a significantly misleading report of this scientific debate. It was not significantly misleading for the article to express the view that the omission of this data represented a flaw.
23. In support of the position that ocean acidification “wouldn’t be a disaster”, the article referred to reasons put forward by Patrick Moore. The Committee noted that the complainant disagreed with these reasons, and referred to research by other scientists which suggested that ocean acidification would harm the marine eco-system. The article had previously made clear that many were concerned by the possible consequences of ocean acidification, and it was not misleading for it to describe the alternative point of view, as put forward by Mr Moore. It was not disputed that this individual had been involved in the early days of Greenpeace movement, and whether or not he was “co-founder” was not significant in the context of the article.
24. It was not in dispute that the ocean acidification research programme had received public funding. Which government department had provided this funding, and whether it was provided directly, or via a research council, was not significant. The article’s claim that it looked “increasingly to be the case” that global warming theory was a “busted flush”, the claims about the reasons why research has been conducted on ocean acidification, and the claim about the ease with which the issue of ocean acidification could have been “resolved”, were matters of comment, and were clearly presented as the author’s opinion. The Committee did not establish that the article failed to clearly distinguish between comment and fact. It did not establish that the article contained any significant inaccuracies or misleading statements, such as to demonstrate a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article under the terms of Clause 1 (i), or such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1.
In my opinion this entire sorry episode goes straight to the heart of the difference between the way alarmists like Williamson see the world, and the way normal people view the world.
Alarmists seem to want their models, theories and opinions to be accepted as established fact. But the reality is their shaky theories are full of poorly supported conjecture and extrapolation.
Nothing bad has happened to the oceans due to alleged ocean acidification, and given vast and rapidly changing natural variations in ocean pH in key marine environments such as continental shelves, it seems unlikely that any plausible change in average ocean pH will ever have any noticeable impact on marine ecosystems.