Researchers: Never Let the Press Office Quote You

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

 

misquotation_featured_imageThere are many ways that today’s researchers can have their work misrepresented in the press, often in embarrassing ways.  The most common origin of these embarrassing gaffs is the university or institutional Press Office or as it is called in some organizations, the Office of Public Affairs.

The latest absurd misquotation by a Press Office has been sent out to the world to be echoed again and again in the popular press by the Press Office of University of Exeter, Devon, South West England, United Kingdom.   Screen shot of their latest entry in the contest for the Least Accurate Headline:

exeter_headline_800

There have been many fine blog posts, here and elsewhere, about the nonsense and non-science being promulgated about Ocean Acidification — or the slight  lowering of surface ocean water pH caused by the rise of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  There is quite a bit of concern in oceanic biology departments that this lowered pH will affect the nervous systems, breeding and growth of aquatic species.  There are some experiments that seem to show changes in fish behaviors under higher CO2/lowered pH conditions.

Remember that almost all early work on Ocean Acidification and its potential effects has to be carefully re-evaluated in light of the 2015 work of Christopher Cornwall and Catriona Hurd: “Experimental design in ocean acidification research: problems and solutions”.  [ See my essays on the topic:   Ocean Acidification: Trying to Get the Science Right and Dr. Christopher Cornwall Responds to “Ocean Acidification: Trying to Get the Science Right” ] More recent studies are getting better and follow more rigorous experimental designs.

The Headline:

Acidic oceans cause fish to lose their sense of smell

The Press Office of Exeter doubles down with a [mis]quote from lead author Dr. Cosima Porteus

“Our study is the first to examine the impact of rising carbon dioxide in the ocean on the olfactory system of fish. First we compared the behaviour of juvenile sea bass at CO2 levels typical of today’s ocean conditions, and those predicted for the end of the century. Sea bass in acidic waters swam less and were less likely to respond when they encountered the smell of a predator. These fish were also more likely to “freeze” indicating anxiety.

pH_Scale-600

Well, I bet they would too — if only it were actually possible that the ocean, or oceans as stated, could or would ever become acidic.  Alas, it is physically impossible (maybe only extremely highly improbable —  the Earth could be struck by a solid giant CO2 meteor or comet) that the Earth’s oceans will ever become acidic.  Currently the average pH of the oceans (if such a averaged metric makes any physical sense, which I doubt) is generally considered to be about 8.0.   More recent measurements have found that the open ocean pH can range from 8.2 to 8.0 (some say the open ocean pH is between 8.01 and 8.08) — in shallow tide pools or reef structures, sea water pH can range daily and seasonally from 8.4 to 7.8.   The European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) projects that free ocean pH will be as low as 7.8 by 2100, based on IPCC CO2 projections.

For now, however, as we see by our little chart intended for middle school children, Sea Water is listed at pH 8.0, well on the basic side of neutral — and on the basic side it will remain, even if humans were to burn every last bit of coal and oil on the planet.

Now, it is obvious to everyone that the research did not involve testing sea bass juveniles in “acidic waters”.   The experiment involved controls in water with a pH of 8.1 (more basic than human blood, less basic than baking soda in water) and for the “treatment group” (higher CO2/lower pH) sea water with a pH of 7.8 (still more basic then human blood).  This range is shown in the illustration, on the left, yellow-highlighted in a red box.  Both the control and treatment pH are well in the basic (not acidic) range.

I am always interested in the journalism aspects of cases like these.  I wonder how the educated Press Officers at the University of Exeter could write such a misleading (actually false) headline.   I assume that to be employed in the university’s Press Office, staff would have to had graduated at least middle school, in which basic chemistry principles, like pH, are taught (at least here in the US).

I wrote and asked the authors of the paper — (quoting from my email, leaving out the pleasantries):

“I read the Exeter press release on your study “Near-future CO2 levels impair the olfactory system of a marine fish”  found here:  https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_672112_en.html in which you are quoted saying:

“Sea bass in acidic waters swam less and were less likely to respond when they encountered the smell of a predator.”

Have they quoted you accurately?

As we know, the ocean are not likely to become “acidic” anytime soon — if ever — and your study did not involve acidic sea water.  (Control pH 8.1 — Elevated CO2 pH 7.8 as I understand the Supplemental Information).”

The reply, from co-author Dr. Rod Wilson,  answering for Dr. Porteus who is on vacation, was as follows:

“Regarding the term “acidic” you are right that the oceans are unlikely to reach a pH lower than 7 by the end of the century, and so will not be strictly “acidic” within that time frame. However, due to rising CO2 levels the oceans are becoming more acidic (and therefore less alkaline, i.e. the pH value is dropping) than they have been in the past. So a more accurate quote would have been “Sea bass in more acidic waters swam less well….”, or you could instead say “Sea bass in water with higher CO2 swam less well…”. The important point is that the changes in CO2 and pH that are predicted to occur in our oceans during the rest of this century are found to cause surprisingly large effects on the behaviour, physiology and gene expression in fish. Furthermore, these effects are very often negative in terms of how we predict they might influence future populations.

A common problem when we write press releases is that those that use them often shorten the text without realising how this can alter the meaning, sometimes creating inaccuracies.

Dr. Wilson is a very understanding and patient man — I would have read the Press Office the riot act over such a silly error — it makes the researchers look bad in the eyes of the public and their colleagues.  And reflects very poorly on the University of Exeter — my high school newspaper would not have made such a elementary science error.

ADVICE TO RESEARCHERS:

Always require your personal pre-publication approval on all press releases issued by the institution about your work.

# # # # #

About the study:

The actual study, “Near-future CO2 levels impair the olfactory system of a marine fish”,  is fairly interesting, until it veers off into the esoteric world of gene expression. I know so very little about “electrophysiology measurements, transcriptomics and γ-aminobutyric acid receptors”, there’s no sense me writing anything about that portion of the study, but will quote Dr. Wilson, co-author, on that later on.

The juvenile sea bass were placed in tanks with water either in the control conditions (pH 8.1 —  CO2 400 μ atm), or treatment conditions (pH 7.8 — CO2 1000 μ atm).  It is important to note that this is an acute (sudden) change, and not a slow acclimation.  After 2, 7 and 14 days, the fish are tested in a number of different ways to see if their responses– both physical and electrophysiological — to a variety of different “smells” (chemical cues mixed into control water or treatment water).  The results are detailed in the paper and supplemental materials.

fig_S5_800

Basically, for our purposes, it appears that juvenile sea bass have differing responses to water borne chemicals (we could call this “smells” or “odors”) under lowered pH (and higher CO2).  Some of these differing responses could be considered detrimental to survival. Higher CO2 exposed fish swim less and freeze (quit moving) more.  They seem to respond less readily to olfactory predator cues.  Given the experimental set-up shown in the illustration from the paper (above) ones is free to wonder if their responses are anything near those that would be found in the wild.

Of course, the rub is:  If the pH and CO2 concentrations change in tiny increments over the next 80 to 100 years, will the same effects be seen or will the gene pool of sea bass adapt themselves to the changes, as apparently, they have adapted to past changes?

I’ll let Dr. Wilson have the last word.   Regarding these issues, Dr. Wilson gives us this:

“It is possible that the results may have been different if the juvenile sea bass had been hatched and raised in the elevated CO2 environment. However, various studies have shown similar findings in terms of disrupted behaviour even in fish that have been maintained in similar elevated CO2 levels over several generations. For this reason it seems very unlikely that the rate of change of CO2 in the water was the cause of the effects we saw rather than the effect of the CO2 itself. Secondly, we know that physiologically (in terms of blood chemistry) fish acclimate to elevated CO2 within 24 hours, and gene expression changes are usually complete within 2 to 7 days. So 14 days should be plenty of time for fish to reach anew steady state in terms of their behaviour and physiology. Of course, the rise in CO2 that is occurring in our atmosphere and oceans now is slow compared to any experiments we can carry out in the lab. So it is possible that the changes that occur over of many many generations (i.e. adaptation over the next 80 years or so) may be sufficient to overcome the negative effects that are so often observed in laboratory experiments. However, that is very difficult to know for sure, as we don’t have time to wait and see. That’s why short term experiments like these are a very useful starting point.”

# # # # #

Author’s Comment Policy:

This essay is not about Ocean Acidification itself, but about poorly written and misleading  headlines and dodgy information contained in the Press Releases sent out by institutional Press Offices.

No researcher should ever allow the Press Office to mention his/her work or quote them without demanding the right of prior approval of the final copy of the press release.

I have yet to query a researcher on a press quote and have them respond “Yes, they have that quote right.”  It is always “That’s not exactly what I said.” and/or “That’s not really what I meant.”

When will they ever learn?

# # # # #

Quick Links:

University of Exeter Press Release

Experimental design in ocean acidification research: problems and solutions

Ocean Acidification: Trying to Get the Science Right

Dr. Christopher Cornwall Responds to “Ocean Acidification….”

Acidic oceans cause fish to lose their sense of smell

EPOCA

Near-future CO2 levels impair the olfactory system of a marine fish

the paper and its supplemental materials

# # # # #

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93 thoughts on “Researchers: Never Let the Press Office Quote You

  1. Maybe the bass “freeze” more because they are looking for the predator they smell ?
    What do prey do when they sense a predator , but can’t see it ?

    • Or maybe the lower alkalinity intensified the smell so that they thought the predator was right on top of them, and thus they played possum as a final desperate attempt to avoid being eaten. I don’t think this study can answer any of these questions. Personally I’m happy with letting natural selection sort things out. It’s worked well for millions of years, why would anyone believe it won’t work now? Oh yes, because us filthy humans have interfered with the system (which is so delicately balanced that it is ready to crash at the slightest perturbation).

    • I was going to ask: Did they put a real predator in the tank with the Sea bass?

    • One other “Thing”: Where did they get juvenile Sea bass? From the oceans I hope. At lease they would know what was a predator fish. If they were raised in tank the juvenile Sea bass may not know smell belonged to a predator fish.

      • We had a queen conch hatchery running the the Florida Keys. Staff would release tiny little conchs in chosen areas and try to monitor their survival in the wild. The mortality rate was close to 100% the first 48 hours. They noticed that the baby conch that were there made no attempt to bury themselves when approached. Staff had to teach the conchs how to avoid predators before releasing them. Increased survival dramatically.

    • Does it occur to them that the predators are similarly affected and that the net effect will be zero?

    • SeanC ==> One wonders how they know that “freezing” means the fish are anxious. Maybe one of the researchers speaks “sea bass”.

      • Living in Northern Canada, I assumed that they are just really cold !!

        i don’t move too quick either when I’m cold ……Old bones and all !

      • Surely we are all sympathetic to the poor fish that they found to be anxious. At the very least we should be funding therapy for these distressed fish. Perhaps though it might difficult to establish why the fish are feeling anxious, it might be more about the researchers looking hungry?

    • they found a way to waterboard a fish now?
      btw- Kip- the doctor dismissed your argument as a semantic quibble and gave you okie.doke.

  2. “Remember that almost all early work on Ocean Acidification and its potential effects has (TO ?) be carefully re-evaluated in light of the 2015 work of Christopher Cornwall and Catriona Hurd: ”

    Sorry for being a nit picker but I hate to give the “trolls” ammunition !!

    • Marcus ==> Thanks for reading closely enough to see errors like that. I appreciate good readers.

      • Every book that I have ever read has at least 3 errors per 100 pages ( and I read a lot of books)
        Right now I am reading ” Game of Thrones 4″ (1,000 pages each) and the errors are even higher !! Unfortunately the mind see’s what is expected. not what is seen (and “spell check sucks)

        • Marcus

          I have often considered approaching the CEO’s of global international companies with just a few examples of the gaffes that appear in every page of their web sites, and propose I do some proof reading for them.

          I recently worked with a transport manager of a company. He was probably 30 years old and didn’t know what a comma represented, what full stop does, nor (obviously) a sentence. He had no idea what a paragraph is and capital letters are an alien concept.

          An email from him was just complete and utter nonsense. Like a 5 year old child, he would write a cascading babble of words extracted from his head with no concept of actually communicating with others. Then he would click send.

          Now, I’m no great shakes at the English language but the quality accepted by organisations today makes me grateful that I’m now semi retired.

          [Edited to remove the unnecessary apostrophe…because the mods like you. -mod]

          • Airlie Beach Illusion

            Spell check.

            “Now, I’m no great shakes at the English language”

            I admit my failings.

          • a good spallchucker will make illiterate nonsense look like a press release! indispensable!

          • Back in ’03 I was talking to a co-worker whose daughter had just graduated HS. Wanting to go onto college she took the entrance exams at our local college where she scored at an 8th grade level. Congratulations, she just wasted all 4 years at HS! According to her father the HS was one of those who passed people for just “trying”. He kept trying to talk her into learning more but she would just point to her A’s and tell him she’s doing fine at school.

            Today this girl is in her 30’s, wonder if her and the manager you mentioned attended the same school?

          • Darrin

            And whilst our parents probably said the same about us, it’s a sad indictment of our times.

            However, I have faith that the exception is rarely the rule and that there are more children out there with the moral fortitude and the work ethic to prevail.

            Shit happens. The human race marches on.

  3. I rather doubt that referring to going from 8.1 to 7.8, linguistically can be considered becoming “more acidic”. This means language has NO precision. I argue that language DOES have precision. The only comparison I can make to illustrate this ABSURD and INSULTING use of the English language would be to say, “Lady So-and-So was observed to have lost 4 pounds last week, therefore indicating she has become less pregnant.” Point being, if the water were at pH 6.9999999 and went to 6.9999998 one could say it had become “more acidic”. Although perhaps only if it was a PURE water solution with only something that generates an H3O+ in solution. (For any solution with the dissolved elements as Sea Water has, it would be a BUFFER solution, and arguments about CO2 absorption making it go “acidic” are almost always MOOT, on the basis of known solution chemistry.

    • Max ==> The term Ocean Acidification has passed into common usage both in the press and scientific circles, even if there could have been a far better choice. It was chosen for propaganda purposes taken from the language of chemists — had it been confined to chemical journals, it would have been fine — but it escaped and we are now we are stuck with it.
      You are quite right — the ocean will never become so unbalanced to be truly acidic — pH lower than 7 without something like a giant ball of frozen CO2 or other acidic substance crashing down from space (an unlikely scenario).

      • So let me get this straight. Even though it is the language used by actual chemists, and that’s where people heard it, you genuinely believe that people would be using the term “less basic” if they weren’t deliberately choosing words for their dramatic effect?

        I’ve never heard a lay person use such terminology, and I’m old enough to remember the days before global warming was a big deal.

      • Kip,

        You claim, ” It was … taken from the language of chemists.”

        From my article, “Interestingly, their list of formal definitions does not include ‘Ocean Acidification’ or ‘OA,’ and it unconventionally claims pH is the acidity of a solution instead of the original, long-standing, hydrogen-ion concentration. That is, Krauskopf (1967), and others, formally define pH as follows: “The negative logarithm of the hydrogen-ion concentration.” (I was pleased to find that a current, local high school chemistry text (Sarquis & Sarquis, 2015) uses the conventional definition.)

        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/09/15/are-the-oceans-becoming-more-acidic/

        I find no evidence that respected chemistry references or texts support the concept of reducing the pH of an alkaline solution is considered becoming “more acidic.” The reaction of a base with an acid is formally called neutralization. Therefore, it should not be called acidification, UNTIL the point of neutrality is reached, at which point there is no longer a base present to react with.

    • While I agree the term was selected for its propaganda aspects, here is an analogy that may make it not wrong.

      Even when the weather is -40, we say it ‘warms up’ to -20. Neither are warm, but -20 is warmer than -40 (and we do use those terms).

      But maybe warm is a poor analogy to acid. Maybe hot is a better analogy. We wouldn’t say is the ice is melting (-40 to -20) or that it is more liquid.

      “Climate change is causing polar meltification of the ice at the South Pole” This would be a completely wrong inaccurate statement. Ice temperature moving from -60 to -58 is not meltification, nor is it becoming more liquid.

      • While I am certain “ocean acidification” was chosen for sensationalism, this meltification is a poor analogy because of the phase change involved. Were I doing a titration, one drop too many would instantly move me from basic to acid, or vice versa, but in melting I could get the ice up to 32 degF, but still have to add a whole bunch of BTUs to get the entire ice cube to the liquid state.

      • You are citing careless use by laymen, not scientists. Personally, when it goes from -40 to -20, I say it is not as cold. At -20, it is still bitterly cold!

  4. ““Sea bass in more acidic waters swam less well….” ??

    Is it just me or is this comparable to “Climate Scientists have become more stupider ??

    D’OH !!

    • Marcus ==> Quality of swimming is a bit subjective…..
      These folks are trying to find things out — whether or not changing ocean pH will harm fish. It appears acute changes in pH can affect olfactory cues….we have no idea if tiny changes spread over decades will have any effect or whether any effects it does have will benefit or harm fish survival.
      If ALL fish are affected equally, maybe the whole issue will be a wash.

      • I’ve fished all my life with various “Red Devil” lures ( without any scent ). In my lifetime of fishing experience, fish are attracted by “Shiny objects”, not smell !! I’ve caught a 2 lb Northern Pike with nothing more than a piece of tinfoil !!

        • Join the club. I was diving for gold on the American River when I noted that there were a number of very large bass in a pool, which had swum up from the reservoir. I hadn’t planned on having fish for dinner. However, I looked around and found some mono-filament fishing line, with a hook attached, tangled in some driftwood. I untangled it. I then found some aluminum foil left behind by a ‘considerate’ camper. I tore off a small piece of the foil, hooked it onto the line, tied the line to a short stick and laid down on a large flat rock on the edge of the pool. I dropped the foil lure over the edge jigged it a few times, and had my dinner on the line. I wrapped the fish in the aluminum foil and tossed it in the hot coals at dinner time. It was a delicious diversion from my usual Raman when I camped on the river.

    • …and after we removed the last leg, and said, “Jump, Froggy! Jump!” The frog didn’t jump at all. Conclusion: frogs with no legs can’t hear.

      The point is, how did they know the increased lassitude had anything at all to do with the ph of the water? Or vice versa?

  5. It won’t be corrected, of course. Or if it is, it’ll be like a retraction in a newspaper. What was headlines on the front cover, will be quietly retracted in a small box on p18.

  6. I would love to ask one of these scientists why they just can’t use the term “less alkaline”, which is more informative, instead of “more acidic”. Of course, like many here, I suspect that is because to the ignorant masses, “more acidic” is scarier. But I would still love to get them to admit it, or at least see what kind of verbal gymnastics they employ to avoid that admission.

    • Paul ==> There is no doubt that the use of the term and references to “more acidic” is based on its “scare factor”. “Less alkaline” just doesn’t have that scary ring to it……

    • Paul Penrose,
      I have actually had such an email exchange with a marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He admitted that “acid acidification” was a poor choice, but he apparently doesn’t care to buck the system and hasn’t done anything to try to correct what has, unfortunately, become part of the lexicon of scientists of this generation. Hopefully, when the fraud is exposed, people will again become reasonable and resort to an accurate use of the English language.

  7. The whole concept of ocean acidification is absurd. The oceans contain almost fifty times as much CO2 as the atmosphere, and volume of the oceans is a lot less than that of the atmosphere. (The oceans cover 70% of the globe and have an average depth of 3.8 km, or about 12,500 feet. You do the math.) Consequently the oceanic concentration of CO2 is over one hundred times that of the atmosphere (if anyone would like the detailed calculation, I will post it here). Yet with all this dissolved CO2, the oceans are comfortably alkaline, with a pH of about 8.0. This can only occur if the oceans are independently buffered so that the dissolved CO2 has little or no effect on its pH value.

    Atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by less than 50% in the last half century. Since oceanic concentration is over 100 times that of the atmosphere, this increase can only increase the oceanic concentration by a few percent at most. Since we know the oceans must be buffered, this will have an insignificant effect on pH, and one that will in any case be buried in the natural variation of oceanic pH.

    The concept of ocean acidification probably arose in 1979 when someone accidentally dropped a factor of a million in a scientific paper. In the 1970s the US ran a program called GEOSECS that chemically analysed seawater from all over the globe, summer and winter, from the ocean surface to the ocean floor. The results for CO2 (and incidentally pH value) were presented in a 1979 conference paper (https://dge.carnegiescience.edu/SCOPE/SCOPE_16/SCOPE_16_1.5.07_Takahashi_271-286.pdf). In this paper the authors correctly derived a value for the average global concentration of oceanic CO2, then calculated the total amount of CO2 in the world’s oceans by multiplying this figure by the volume of the oceans. Unfortunately, the figure they used for the volume was 1370 cubic km (see p.279), when in fact it should have been 1370 *million* cu km. As a result, their CO2 total was a factor of a million too low.

    To compound the error, this erroneous CO2 total amount was stated in the abstract at the top of the paper, but not the (correct) average concentration. As a result, people read the abstract but not the whole paper, and used this figure to derive an average concentration which was a factor of a million too low. Under this scenario, there is only a trace amount of CO2 in the oceans, which contain only about 1/20,000 of the amount in the atmosphere, and any increase in atmospheric levels will presumably have a significant effect. But put the factor of a million back in, and atmospheric levels once more become insignificant.

    • Roger ==> As far as I know, it is widely acknowledged that the seas contain the overwhelming majority of CO2 on the planet. I’ve never seen it said otherwise.

      • Kip ==> nor have I seen it said otherwise. However, something must have started the concept of ocean acidification, and I suspect that it began shortly after the 1979 paper I cited. Since then it has simply been a case of conceptual inertia. Once an idea (such as CAGW, for example) has entered the general consciousness, it is very difficult to get rid of it, even if, as I pointed out, it is fundamentally absurd. There is also a lot of research grant money to be made out of it, which also accounts for the longevity of a fundamentally absurd idea.

        • As I mentioned above, the best analogy I could come up with is water temperatures where there is a name for above, below, and at the freezing point.

          When frozen water is warmed from -1.2 to -0.8 (analogous to a pH change from 8.2 to 7.8) it would be incorrect to say it has undergone melting (or meltification as I like to call it, analogous to the term acidification). Yes, it is now closer to the melting point (analogous to neutral pH), but still not melting or melted.

    • Here is what Nylo said 5 years ago on WUWT

      “What perhaps may be not so true, is that this outgassing affects the atmospheric concentration of CO2. There will be more CO2, yes, but I’m guessing that the oceans will NOT ONLY release CO2. There must be other gasses dissolved as well. So it outgasses CO2, and maybe O2, N2, Argon… as well. So concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere MAY NOT change as a result of the outgassing.
      But wait! We have paleoclimatic records showing more atmospheric CO2 when warmer! Isn’t that proof of CO2 release by the oceans? Well, it may perhaps be proof of more CO2 PRODUCTION in the ocean, increasing the amount of CO2 that is dissolved in the water just because of biological productivity (more O2 consumers than CO2 consumers), making the concentration greater than there is in the atmosphere as your calculation here has shown… and then by outgassing, transferring some of this difference in CO2 concentration to the atmosphere.
      That’s the only explanation I can think of right now. But it brings interesting conclusions if it happens to be true, doesn’t it? To begin with, all the story about ocean acidification crumbles. Ocean acidifies, yes, but not necessarily because of our emissions, but because of its own biological processes as a result of the warming… And part of the accumulated CO2 in the atmosphere would have been released by the oceans, not us.”

  8. I’ve read chemists who argue that “ocean acidification” is technically correct, but I’m pretty sure “Acidic oceans…” is not correct.

    • Roy ==> Thanks for stopping by — I’m “pretty sure” you’re right…

      For chemists who work in labs and never see the light of day, their pocket protectors full of different colored pens and pencils and a tiny ruler (this description is of a personal friend) “ocean acidification” is correct terminology. It should, however,be confined to chemical journals.

      • Yeah, just like money, if you bank balance is decreasing but still above zero it’s obvious you are increasing your debt.

      • “For chemists who work in labs and never see the light of day, their pocket protectors full of different colored pens and pencils and a tiny ruler”

        OK, and that would not be the most bigoted, inflammatory, defamatory, and utterly insulting thing we have seen at WUWT all day.

        If It Is War You Want, Then It Is War You Shall Have.

        • Hey… You forgot racist / sexist / white straight male … did you not get your progressive “talking points” this month ??

        • TonyL ==> My apologies to any working chemists — this happens to be an accurate description of a dear friend of mine…a chemist (as noted in the original comment).

  9. They caught Sea Bass and placed them in ‘acidic’ waters?
    Pointless and cruel experiment.

      • I heard that they separated them from their parents first and put them in cages and fed them only a bag of chips once a week and subjected them to listening to Fox News and refused to give them free sex reassignment surgery. But at least it was a case of catch and release, as mandated by our Living Constitution.

  10. I would have thought that if they want to record valid responses to their experiment, that confining & drugging the fish is not going to help their cause.

    Let the poor fish swim free.

    • The paper said they sedated the fish, and then noticed the fish swam slower. What did they think would happen?

      SR

  11. As changes in alkalinity occur in shallow vs deep waters it is entirely possible that the behavior is predicated by a response to this…ie lower alkalinity = shallow water which means not much space to swim away into, or is associated with safe zones that a predator can’t swim into, so they stay still, whereas higher alkalinity of water means deeper water so there is more space to swim in and they may also view this as an area a predator can get into to catch them…

    There are numerous potential responses to any situation and assuming a simple, single cause in behavioral experiments generally leads to incorrect conclusions.

  12. This is a study in how fish behavior changes when you stick electrodes in their heads and drug them with water containing an anesthetic. Outstanding!

    In other news:
    We have thought it poor practice to “conduct science by press release”. That is, a research group deliberately puts out a press release which contains dramatic statements which are wholly unsupported by the underlying research.

    By the same token, WUWT often has feature posts based, not on a recent paper, but on a press release about said paper. Often we find said press release is shoddy or poorly written. Nonetheless, people criticize the press release thinking they are criticizing the paper or the research itself.

    A waste of time and bandwidth all around.
    Please, skip the PR, and post on the actual paper, or not at all.

    • TonyL ==> If we wish to learn how it is that the general public get stupider and stupid from reading the popular press on science topics, we must trace back the “stupid” to its origins. Thus, I often write about Science Journalism and its foibles.
      In this case, I write about the Press release itself — then separately about the science paper it is supposed to describe — which it does erroneously.

      • I agree that there is merit in keeping an eye on what the other side is up to, although it can be overdone.
        I note that this post reviews both the press release and the paper itself, allowing direct comparison. This is truly the better way to do things. If only it was always this way.

  13. My usual mantra is that most published research findings are false. It’s a result of perverse incentives. link

    Here’s a quote that sums up one of the problems:

    This kind of data is basically so costly, so expensive, and so good,” he said, that nobody would ever share it. “You collect one batch of data and you can mine it for the rest of your career.” link

    You’d have to be a brain dead sea slug to not see how that’s bad for science. The heart of the scientific method is, after all, replication.

    The linked article examines the idea that the scientific paper itself may be obsolete. It suggests a couple of interesting alternatives. The best, IMHO, is Project Jupyter. It is an interactive environment aimed at better conveying ideas and data.

    Anyone who has struggled for hours grinding through a scientific paper to finally realize, “But that’s trivially simple.” will appreciate the need for a better way of communicating.

  14. Another example of “Science Communications” aka “Sexing Up” aka Marketing/Advertorialising.

    In common parlance it is just BS.

  15. Ocean Acidification: You Are Doing It Wrong!

    “So how might we do it right?”, you may ask.
    Attend, gentle reader, and I shall elucidate.
    First we need to select a bit of ocean which is somewhat isolated or at least geographically constrained.
    Next we need a source of acid.
    We need to convert the entire United States electrical system to the use of high sulfur coal for all electrical generation. All of the sulfur and as much NOx as possible is captured at the generation stations. The captured mix is shipped to Boston where it is fully oxidized to Nitric and Sulfuric acids. The acid stream, in industrial quantities, is piped into the outer Boston Harbor. From there, the acidified water can mix with the larger Cape Cod Bay. Prevailing currents will carry the acid waters northward. It may thus be possible to acidify the Western Atlantic from Cape Cod Bay across the Gulf of Maine clear up to Nova Scotia.
    If the experiment proves successful, other suitable areas can be considered. The Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Arabia, the Sea of Cortez, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mediterranean Sea all recommend themselves.

    And Now You Know.

  16. When a solution is referenced to a neutral 7.0 pH – values above are alkaline and become more or less alkaline, values below are acidic and become more or less acidic.

    The ocean’s pH is about 8.1. That’s alkaline. Variations are more or less alkaline, not more or less acidic. The obvious reason for incorrectly using the term “ocean acidification” is a propaganda gambit to scare the gullible and uninformed who associate acid with bad, like alien blood and spit.

    Highly alkaline compounds such as caustic soda can be just as dangerous as acidic compounds, e.g. concentrated bleach, sodium hypochlorite, pH 9 to 13. On the other hand: rain has a pH of 4.5, lemon juice has a pH of 2.0, tomatoes a pH of 4.5, and vinegar a pH of 2.2. If they get on your hands the flesh doesn’t melt and they don’t burn a hole in the kitchen counter. (Might etch that granite, though.)

    A solution goes from pH 0.0, dangerous acidity, to pH 7.0, neutral/safe, to pH 14.0, dangerous alkalinity. pH is chemical shorthand for the negative logarithm of H+ ion concentration.

    pH = -log[H+] (1)

    A pH of 9 represents 10^-9 or 1 part per billion H+ ions. A change from pH 8.2 (6.31 ppb M/l) to pH 8.1 (7.49 ppb M/l) is a -26% change (-1.18 ppb M/l) in the direction of lower alkalinity, not more acidity. Every whole number change is power of 10, a factor of 10. In a change in pH from 9 to 8 the H+ concentration increases by a power/factor of 10 or 1,000%!!!!!!! Makes the 26% look pretty trivial – which anything in ppb is.

    Applying percentages to a logarithmic scale/function is very dicey, but that’s what you get when food and life style editors write science articles.

    So, pH 8.1 is moving a YUGE 1 ppb in the direction of slightly more neutrality from pH 8.2 which is not much to begin with.

    Improperly using the term ocean “acidification” to scare the public over bogus CAGW is a disgrace to science. Spit out the Kool-Aid and grow a backbone.

    • Hey Everybody, I have GREAT IDEA!
      Let’s all have another round of the Great WUWT acidification/basification FOODFIGHT!

      As a sideshow, we can have a roaring good debate over the use of the despicable term “Celsius” for the Centigrade temperature scale.

  17. Fake news writers faking up the news. The usual thing…. The real shock is when they actually quote something correctly.

  18. “However, various studies have shown similar findings in terms of disrupted behaviour even in fish that have been maintained in similar elevated CO2 levels over several generations.”

    It appears to me that the behavior changes are due to being moved into an unfamiliar environment (new tank)?
    Am I misunderstanding this?

  19. Having dealt with the news media at all levels over 30+ years and way more than I ever desired with “press offices” that we ever get anything close to reality has always amazed me. When I was brought our state capital our chief press officer came in and announced to me that I would not talk to the press without running everything through them and unless the press office requested I talked to no one in the media. We were a very technical division. Over a couple of years I bailed our press office out more than a few times where they got our agency and division in serious trouble in the news media and therefore with the public. For one of their “mistakes” I had to hold public hearing around the state to straighten out the misunderstanding. “Funny” even though we would have their press release in hand and often the mistake was a direct quote from the release, the press office would blame the news media for getting it wrong.

    Note: many in press office are trained to “dumb” down to about the eighth grade level anything they put in a release.

  20. If the prey fish have a diminished response to a predator smell, would a predator fish have a diminished response to a prey smell?

    When 99.9999% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, why should anyone care about this contrived, inadequate experiment trying to extrapolate fish behavior hundreds of years in the imaginary future?

  21. They were thisclose to properly publicizing their research. Instead, they should have said these fish wouldn’t bite a fisherman’s bait as quickly.

    They could have forever duped millions of anglers into jumping on the AGW bandwagon, alas they went for the Ig Nobel goofball headline instead.

  22. I don’t know the PH of plain soda water and don’t care, but I got some egg shell (calcium carbonate) and put it in fresh soda water in a sealed bottle for a month and the shell didn’t dissolve.

    They spend squillions of our dollars on their “sciency” experiments, expending massive amounts of time, energy and words on their “scientific papers”, and none of them did my simple experiment, which cost nothing.

  23. Kip,
    Thanks for the report.

    We had an issue with an “intended” press release from a university.
    We were going to take students on a field trip and the person wanted to
    make a press release and told us what he thought it should say.
    We told him if it came out that way he might need to be looking for a new job.
    We told him we would write something to be printed exactly as written — or print nothing.
    Never heard from him again.

    • Ok – I should have looked at the paper myself. It’s the European sea bass.

      This species of “Sea bass” isn’t always in the sea.

      “The European bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) is a primarily ocean-going fish native to the waters off Europe’s western and southern and Africa’s northern coasts, though it can also be found in shallow coastal waters and river mouths during the summer months.

      How do they survive the highly variable pH of a river mouth for months?

      • Khwarizmi ==> If you have details of their lifestyle that might add to the story — post them here. Thanks.

  24. Speaking from experience with writers in a university publications office, I can say that they try hard and usually are under deadline pressure. Even with basic enrollment statistics they struggle with understanding details because of unfamiliarity with what the number mean. It’s up to the researcher to educate the publicists, and maybe even write half the story, if they expect it to be accurate.

    • Gary ==> I don’t disagree…and they MUST have the right of final approval of the final press release product — otherwse they will be blindsided over and over.

  25. Um, a reminder. Blood pH, as usually cited, is for arterial blood. Venous blood pH is about 0.2 units less alkaline and tissue pH, particularly working muscle tissue, is about 0.2 more units less alkaline. Yes, that’s right, tissue pH is about neutral and swings from very slightly acidic to very slightly alkaline. There is a reason for that, at least for mammals. Due to the pH sensitivity of hemoglobin’s binding of oxygen, this gradient helps load oxygen when the blood passes through the lungs and helps unload it in the tissues. This pump works in reverse for carbon dioxide, and if we didn’t have it, our bodies wouldn’t work very well, if at all.

  26. Kip,

    Two comments. First, though not precisely the same thing, in the industrial world we are very concerned with what gets reported, and how. That is, we have often provided data, models, material, components, and etc, to national labs performing this or that study/research. Often, the most difficult point to negotiate in the contract for such is the right to review and comment on the report prior to publication. The national labs are rightly reticent in handing over editorial control to a 3rd party, we understand this quite well, but the 3rd party (us) is reluctant to provide “stuff” for the lab to play with which could potentially come back and bite them.

    (Example…we had a lab once reach and report somewhat different results than our own testing…mostly due to differences in how they treated the “stuff” in question…and it cost years and millions to re-validate our original conclusions.)

    So, yeah. In the commercial world, when we provide something to a lab, my experience is that we’re more worried about mis-reporting than anything else. Again, not quite the same thing as your point above…but similar.

    My second point is that this seems like a tragic waste of good sea bass! There are few things as good as fresh sea bass…

    Kindest Regards,

    rip

  27. The notion of ocean average pH7.8 in 2100 arises from AR4 WG2. Their calculation is simply wrong, because seawater is a vastly buffered solution. Taking 8.1 (Station Aloha) as the present pH, the most that could actually happen under the AR4 bau CO2 projections is about 7.95. Wrote this up with details as part of a much larger exposure of outright ocean acidification ‘fr*ud’ in illustrated essay Shell Games in ebook Blowing Smoke.

  28. Epilogue:

    This is a fine example of why we should not judge a study by its Press Release — or by press stories about the study. There are lots of ways for things to get misunderstood and mis-communicated between the study and the general public. When possible — Read The Original Study.

    This is also a lesson to journalists: when you see something that doesn’t make sense in a press release, or in a story in another news outlet, contact the original researchers/authors of the study. Almost all studies have a “Corresponding Author” who has accepted the duty of answering questions. I have about a 90% success rate at getting polite responses — and I suspect that most of the missing 10% is due to shifting email addresses and changes of institutional association.

    This applies to authors on blogs such as WUWT as well. Be professional in your journalism. Be collegial with those your contact. They will respond in kind.

    Thanks for reading.

    # # # # #

  29. KIP
    This is an interesting paper and as you point out it could be the press. The paper text is pay-walled so it is hard to know if they understand acidity/alkalinity. [“However, due to rising CO2 levels the oceans are becoming more acidic (and therefore less alkaline, i.e. the pH value is dropping) than they have been in the past.” Also, “…as we don’t have time to wait and see.”]. In supplementary materials table S-13 there is very little difference between control and experimental alkalinities. You can have a real acid pH in a high alkalinity, good old well buffered ocean. pH does not measure either alkalinity or acidity directly. There is also the question of proper odorants, a complex where they are unequal in effect, and the species reliance on smell, less important in clear waters.

    In graduate school (before pC*) I worked with researchers dealing with CO2 in high salinities and did some work on olfaction on an estuarine species where it was more important than for an oceanic fish. pH fluctuated so much it was difficult to study which is maybe why it didn’t get worked on a lot except for extremes. The proper experiment would have been to also increase the pH to remove some of the unknown factors that might have been important. Just like T they only want to known what happens when it goes one way, proper physiology looks both ways.

    Been sometime since I looked much at it but would be interesting to see what these works covered about the subject. (Hay, M. E. 2009. Marine chemical ecology: Chemical signals and cues structure marine populations, communities, and ecosystems. Annual Review Marine Science 1:193-212; McClintock, J. B. and B. J. Baker. 2001. Marine Chemical Ecology. CRC Press. )

    *pC= necessary equation coefficient for grant proposal.

    • HDH ==> Drop me am email at my first name at the domain i4 decimal net and I’ll email you back a copy of the paper and its supplement.

  30. Kip,
    Considering that the good Dr. Wilson chose the standard alarmist verbiage of “the oceans are becoming MORE acidic” when he knows full well that the oceans are alkaline, and it is illogical to claim that something is becoming more of what they aren’t, perhaps he isn’t all that concerned about the press release.

    From the perspective of the meaning of words, it is actually more defensible to claim that the oceans are becoming acidic, based on the assumption that recent trends continue, than it is to claim that the oceans are becoming MORE acidic. That is, it is appropriate to talk of the oceans either becoming more alkaline or less alkaline, because the oceans are currently alkaline. But it is grammatically incorrect to say that if a measurement changes from +10 to +9 that it is becoming MORE negative. It is all part of the game plan to condition people to become accustomed to falsehoods that support the political dialogue.

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