Guest essay by Bob Fernley Jones
This essay is based on an earlier WUWT post but with increased emphasis to reflect on an important reason behind the recent resignation of Judith Curry from Georgia Tech, as posted in this WUWT account:
“…the deeper reasons have to do with my growing disenchantment with universities, the academic field of climate science and scientists… I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science.”
See this from three Australian universities:
Here is a screenshot of the headline image for the public release in the university-partnered blog The Conversation, of a death story for coral reefs in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (‘the article’). It contained some astonishing claims, one of which (red underlined) went globally viral:
It focussed not on the GBR, but on record high Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) in the vast Coral Sea (CS) in the month of March in 2016, which coincided with a “Super El Nino”, unlike anything seen for nineteen years. However, SST’s in the CS (and GBR) are typically at their coolest in that month in the “Southern hot season” (Jan Feb March)!
Of major concern is that a Google advanced search as in this cropped screenshot on 4/Oct/2016 revealed thousands of hits on the combined exact phrases as seen default bolded:
After extensive email exchanges with the University of Melbourne (UniMelb), they advised that the study at the heart of the article is to be enhanced for future journal publication as follows (my emphasis shows the major additions):
“In the more comprehensive study, we analyse observational data for the narrow coastal GBR sea temperatures and the larger Coral Sea region in March and in Jan-March, as well as climate model simulations and palaeoclimate reconstructions”
However, the big issue remains that the public domain is still globally misinformed with implied high authority in acceptance of the original lesser study and UniMelb has refused to correct the “Fake News”.
The scary 175x forecast was not based on water temperature of the narrow Continental Shelf on which the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is located, but was hastily applied to SST data for the CS, presumably because GBR data were not easily accessible at that time (but did exist). Among other inadequacies was that average monthly data were used, however, it is well known that severe bleaching can occur with short temperature spikes that are only detectable with daily data. There is also strong evidence that unusually rapid rate of change in temperature can cause bleaching, and rapid rate of change in those spikes (shock) may inherently be part of the cause.
‘The study’ was not peer-reviewed study (the study) and employed complicated statistical theory to establish the ‘175x’ worse claim, but for the purpose here it is not necessary to consider it’s methodology. Instead, (and thus avoiding any controversy over statistical methodology) an empirical approach alone provides overwhelming rebuttal with incontrovertible data and observations, as elaborated later.
That aside, the primary consideration here, that echoes Judith’s lament is:
A question of honesty and diligence:
The five authors included the media-popular Professors Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and David Karoly.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg of University of Queensland is described in their website as: “…[an] expert for media…” and, as “…the inaugural Director of the Global Change Institute… … is deeply-motivated by a desire to communicate science effectively…”. Amongst many of his public performances, he has appeared on TV demonstrating a scientifically laughable “experiment” claiming to prove that our oceans are acidifying by blowing air from his lungs through a tube into a container of water and reading a pH meter! But……quickly moving on:
This review focuses on the University of Melbourne’s (UniMelb) involvement in which Professor Karoly has taken the lead WRT the study and its headline claim of: “Coral bleaching … 175 times more likely…”. Oddly though, the Head of Science at UniMelb has advised me that the true author of the modelled statistic is Dr Andrew King, who has remained conspicuously silent throughout my lengthy enquiries.
It is not the first time that Professor Karoly has taken the mantle in co-authorship in a field where he has no apparent expertise. For instance, he was co-author in a UniMelb biology paper ‘Early emergence in a butterfly causally linked to anthropogenic warming’ (my bold). It found from development of their eggs in a lab, that when the (unnatural) steady state data were transcribed to the temperature record for the Melbourne suburb of Laverton, the poor creatures allegedly emerged ten days too early. Good enough for Biology Letters of the UK Royal Society of course!
Amusingly, Professor Karoly’s email reply to my enquiries included, with my emphasis on spelling: “…our study on the temperature trends and the changes in phOnology of the common brown butterfly…” I then expressed doubt that increasing carbon dioxide emissions could change the voices of butterflies but he claimed it was a typo (intending E not O). However, the two vowels are normally well separated under opposite hands on most keyboards. He was also surprised to learn that Laverton is an officially declared Urban Heat Island and that the insect has a vast range and habitat from South Australia to Queensland. And, there’s the famous ‘Gergis et al’ Austral hockey-stick saga, Part 1, such as is discussed here, where Prof Karoly took the public lead again; only to be embarrassed.
Back to the GBR: After several months of evasions by Professor Karoly, my enquiries became futile so I approached higher levels at UniMelb and after yet more evasions a total dismissal eventuated firstly from Professor Phillips, then parroted two days later by Professor Day:
· From Head of Science Prof Phillips on 27/July: I believe that Prof Karoly has addressed the issues raised in your various emails. Consequently, we consider the matter closed and will not be providing further responses.
· From Dean of Science Prof Day on 29/July: Thank you for your email. I believe that both Professors David Karoly and David Phillips have responded to you. Consequently, I consider the matter closed and will not be providing further responses.
But, their responses totally evaded the empirical facts presented to them, which multiply proved that the study had wrong foundations. This including various key graphics similar to some of those below and related Excel spreadsheets and data sources. I even suggested that their PhD student (a co-author) should validate the spreadsheets, but none of their advice makes any reference to the spreadsheets or the graphics with their elaborations. Proof of that is in the email archive; Click here to open PDF 1.
Apart from that issue of denial, and of great importance:
In academia, there is insistence on peer review of any study for it to be treated as valid. However, two Principals at the University of Melbourne have dismissed a request to retract a provenly wrong non-peer-reviewed and highly sensationalized study or to tolerate its proper review in the same Public Domain wherein it was launched.
Participation of the five authors (from three universities) in the article’s 143 blog comments was minimal. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick (Research Fellow) of University of NSW) and Prof David Karoly, University of Melbourne, each made three comments when it was easy, but remained silent in other “inconvenient” questioning. Prof Hoegh-Guldberg of University of Queensland was conspicuously absent despite being called five times. BTW, 43 of the 142 comments were deleted, but highly partisan comments were retained that included strong abuse of the no longer visible inconvenient comments.
A further aspect of the decline in academic standards is in the M.O. of The Conversation, the academic’s popular university-only-author website, particularly in the Environment + Energy Chapter. Plebs are allowed to comment unhindered, prior to highly partisan moderator review. Deletions can be extraordinarily savage, and for instance here is an earlier post of mine at WUWT; “Cooking” up Denialism in some universities? where in one example of a John Cook article, 60% of inconvenient comments (including 11 of mine screen captured) were deleted. Amongst other editorial policies, if a comment is linked to any website that is considered “unreliable” such as WUWT, the whole comment is deleted, not just the link.
Technical synopsis debunking the GBR scare-story:
The focus of the study was on a record high SST in March 2016 which was clearly substantially driven by a “Super El Niño”, only three of which natural events have occurred in the past thirty-five years. (Although the first of 1982/3 coincided with the El Chichon volcanic cooling). Adoption of March is at odds with long term average data which show that month to be typically the coolest in the hot season (JFM). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) had reported the new March record at 29.5 0C, which in real terms is comparable to February twelve years previously at 29.4 0C when unremarkably, March was significantly cooler at 29.0 0C.
This BoM figure for February shows that monthly averaged data are so volatile (noisy) that focus on an individual year’s month is invalid. For instance, whilst it was extraordinarily hot in 2015/16, the average of the preceding eight years was 0.5 0C cooler, which is quite massive compared with the centennial trend of only 0.9 0C. But, remember, this is for the CS, not the GBR.
Another concern is that the study was focussed on revelation of mass coral bleachings as found in aerial surveys in late March 2016. Then, in late April with remarkable alacrity and before the 2,300 Km (1,400 miles) x ~3,000 reefs could be properly surveyed by divers, the five co-authors from three universities coordinated their opinions (and accepted the statistical stuff from Dr Andrew King) and released the article into the public domain. At that time, it was not possible to determine when the bleaching had occurred (or its mortality levels), but they asserted that it was in March 2016!
The study utilized averaged SST’s for only the whole of the vast CS because GBR data were lacking at the time. It was thus appropriate to make validation checks against authenticated records on the GBR itself. Of eight major GBR observations over the past twenty years, there were no CS SST correlations with seven of them, and the only one that was a fit was arguably accidental because many global “Super El Nino” indicators also correlated.
Additional major empirical conflicts were found in other data not included and show that even if the study were to pass peer review and be found to be internally correct for projecting future SST’s in the Coral Sea, that would not be relevant for the shallow waters of the GBR.
That is not to dispute that later definitive surveys by divers in May and June reported localized very high coral mortality in the far north, but that the study as was launched in April was not founded on relevant evidence (and was unconditionally assertive, misleading, and excessively alarming).
Brief Summary Results:
Multiple problems are revealed in the use of March monthly average CS SST’s rather than GBR data:
[a] Long-term, the hottest month in both the CS and the GBR is February, not March. These modest February warming trends are not indicative of sudden change on the GBR due to global warming.
[b] The 2015/16 El Nino global bleaching event did not reach GBR waters in 2015, they being more distant from the warming El Nino regions than the bulk of the CS. The CS ideation failed badly.
[*] GBR average SST’s were erratically much cooler than the CS in some years.
 GBR mass bleaching #1. GBR February data correlated well with the global El Nino driven bleaching event, but March in the CS was a poor indicator.
 March CS ideation should have caused greater bleaching than the two earlier mass bleachings but did not, and GBR SST’s were far below trend showing a CS disconnect from the GBR.
 GBR mass bleaching #2. This reported mass bleaching is paradoxical; absent globally and not driven by an El Nino, yet has been ranked as stronger than in 1998 despite lower average GBR SST’s.
 &  Paradoxically high SST’s but serious bleaching not reported. (Scope of survey’s?).
 Severe bleaching reported only in the far south, especially around the Keppel Islands.
 CS ideation should have caused severe bleaching but did not, and GBR SST’s were cool.
 No reported bleaching on the GBR despite 2010 being a big El Nino year with global mass bleaching, and when GBR average SST’s were warmer than with the local 2002 mass bleaching.
 CS ideation dictates mass bleaching but increasing coral cover recorded 2013 through 2015.
 GBR mass bleaching #3 CS in March (and other global indicators) correlated per expectations!
Additionally, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have daily water temperature records for the GBR which are compared in the Full Empirical Analysis that follows. This finds additional conflicts with the study and identifies inabilities in the monthly data above which may explain the several paradoxes therein.
Optional Fuller Empirical Analysis:
Click here to open PDF 2 containing nine graphics and 2,300 words etcetera. It incorporates daily water temperatures at nine sites along the GBR and BoM SST data for the whole of the GBR that are not employed in the study. These data provide many additional incontrovertible findings against the use of CS monthly SST to predict bleaching on the GBR.
· The analysis proves that month-average data for March in the Coral Sea does not predict coral bleaching on the GBR. Typically, water temperatures are higher in February and daily data are required to detect dangerous spikes.
· The authors should admit to errors and bad assumptions, and retract their article and its study with the same high level of publicity as occurred following its public release on their academic’s website The Conversation.
Bob Fernley-Jones (Mechanical engineer retired, Melbourne Australia)
(Note: when first published, somehow none of the embedded images that were part of the essay transferred incorrectly. This has been rectified – Anthony)