Reef Heresy? And the Importance of Asking Questions

Reposted from Jennifer Marohasy’s blog

December 20, 2020 By jennifer 

I am so privileged to have written the introduction to Peter Ridd’s new book, ‘Reef Heresy?’. In it I explain that it is of great concern to both Peter, and myself, that those who claim the Great Barrier Reef to be in terminal decline are so unwilling to engage in any form of debate.

Sometimes the quickest way to the truth is through argument, by which I mean disagreement between two or more people with each side given opportunity to present their case and their perspective.

The word ‘heresy’, which is the title of Peter’s book, means ‘opinion profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted’. The heresy is that Peter is not committed to the right political dogma. It is not that he is wrong.

It is interesting that the ‘other side’ won’t debate. They would prefer everyone just believed that the reef is in terminal decline, and that we have catastrophic global warming. And how profoundly sad would that be, if it were true!

The establishment, by which I mean the science managers at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), know that it might not be quite so straightforward, and that there could be some issues with some of the science. But, in general, they are convinced that they are right – or at least on the side of right, even if that means being ‘left’. (Ha ha.) They certainly don’t want to have to get into the detail – or have to keep coring the massive old Porites corals from which an overall coral growth rate for the Great Barrier Reef used to be calculated.

Some of this is explained in a discussion I had with Peter when we were last together in Townsville – a discussion hosted by John Roskam and that included some 400 members of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) via Zoom.

In this discussion, and more generally, I suggest we should all (both sides) be less quick to lecture and more interested in asking questions.

Peter Ridd suggests towards the end of his book (page 184) that asking questions in science could be made more legitimate through the establishment of explicit ‘Red Teams’ at organisations like AIMS. Yale University professor, Irving Janis, was detailing the inherent problems with working towards a consensus – and labelled this Group Think – back in the 1950s. Professor Janis explained in his important book by the same name, how this will inevitably generate systematic errors. The conclusion of that long book is that it is critical groups encourage scepticism in order to find the possible errors in their favourite theory or plan. I would have thought this to be a no-brainer in a civilization as sophisticated as our own, and one in which being able to forecast the weather day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year is so important especially for the proper management of water infrastructure and water allocations for hydro-electricity as well as growing food crops.

Despite a plethora of history and data suggesting that ideas should always be tested, we live during a time when it is so unfashionable to ask the hard questions. John Roskam ends the YouTube discussion quoting from my new book ‘Climate Change: The Facts 2020’: It is so much better to have questions that cannot be answered, than to live and do science according to answers that cannot be questioned.

Here are a few questions I have, from flipping through the page of Peter’s new book:

1. When was the last major event that caused catastrophic global climate disruption? (see page 200 of ‘Reef Heresy?’)

2. What does Peter think is the second most important environmental issue in Australia? (see page 201 of ‘Reef Heresy?’)

3. Which are the two sources of ‘new nitrogen’ into the Great Barrier Reef? (see page 84 of ‘Reef Heresy?’)

4. When have major outbreaks of Crown-of-Thorn starfish (COTS) occurred on the Great Barrier Reef? (see page 35 of ‘Reef Heresy?’)

5. When did AIMS last publish a Great Barrier Reef average coral growth rate? (see page 7 of ‘Reef Heresy?’)

Jen kneeling beside a massive Porites at Myrmidon Reef on 1st December 2020. These are the corals that AIMS used to core to calculate an average growth rate for Great Barrier Reef corals.

The feature image at the very top of this blog post is of Cheryl Ridd, Bill Lindquist, Anne Carter, me and Peter (left to right) on the back verandah in Townsville, one Sunday, just a couple of weeks ago.

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December 20, 2020 10:04 pm

in general, they are convinced that they are right – or at least on the side of right, even if that means being ‘left’ “

Money does that to people … especially those of the ‘left’.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Streetcred
December 21, 2020 5:06 am

And it is always other people’s money.

Fight Climate Fear. Warmer is Better.

December 20, 2020 10:14 pm

” I suggest we should all (both sides) be less quick to lecture and more interested in asking questions.”

I have a question. How much of the GBR is ”dead”?

Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 12:51 am

Cumulatively, it’s close to 1,882.73% (+/- not very much)

The real question is how much of that regrew within 10 years?

Which is much more straight forwards.

100% regrew, 100% of the time (+/- not very much).

Reply to  WXcycles
December 21, 2020 5:43 pm

So not 60% then? 🙂

Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 12:59 am

How much of the GBR is ”dead”?

15,000 years ago it was all dead!
The entire reef was above sea level.

Ron Long
Reply to  KAT
December 21, 2020 2:08 am

KAT, the entire GBR would only become dead 15,000 years ago (which is toward the end of the last glacial cycle of the Ice Age the Earth is currently in) only if there was not enough gradually-deepening sea to the east where the reef could migrate to adapt to its favorite environment. If the seabed plunged downward abruptly is would migrate as a narrow, restricted reef (see my comment on Sequence Stratigraphy, below in the Caribbean Corals article.

Reply to  Ron Long
December 21, 2020 7:09 am

But there is no massive drowned reef offshore. The sea-level during glaciations is too unstable for massive reefs to form. GBR only exists because the last 7 interglacials reached practically the same sea-level.

All really large reef complexes seem to be about the same age, c. 800,000 years.

Ron Long
Reply to  tty
December 21, 2020 11:16 am

tty, I never said there was a massive drowned offshore, instead there will be temporary establishments of reefs offshore which are an attempt to adjust to shallowing (low stand tract) events. See “Inter-reefal Seabed Sediments and Geomorphology ofthe Great barrier Reef, a Spatial Analysis, by Mathews, Heap and Woods, 2009. It is 212 pages, but look at fig. 2.10 Bathymetry of the reefs… which clearly shows patch reefs started outside (offshore) the GBR which are growing vertically trying to to stay in shallow water as sea level went up and favored the centered GBR. Anytime there is a healthy reef and sea water level goes up or down the reef will re-establish at a more preferred water depth, which was my point.

Reply to  tty
December 21, 2020 6:52 pm

Just east of the GBR is a rifted-off submerged part of the continental landmass called the Queensland Plateau. It does have large submerged reef complexes on it, plus near-surface reefs, which also maintained fringing reefs around them during the last glacial. Reef persisted around the edge of higher exposed reef platforms, and their canyons. There was plenty of vertical substrate around these for the reef to persist on, and change location continuously with sea level changes. Most corals grow on steep surfaces, not on relatively baron flat tops of atolls and lagoons.

Reply to  KAT
December 21, 2020 7:04 am

What a series of beautiful island paradise it must have been 15k years ago putting current day Maldives to shame. Any studies on what happened to the Climate refugees that fled this place in the not so distant past?

Reply to  RelPerm
December 21, 2020 2:25 pm

There was also another big “island paradise” further offshore about halfway to New Caledonia which is due for re-surfacing during the next glaciation.Though not as big as the GBR this is still a <b>huge</b> reef complex that practically nobody seems to visit or even be aware of, though it is easily seen when flying between Queensland and New Caledonia:,154.9766105,1470210m/data=!3m1!1e3

The Barrier Reef around New Caledonia/Kanaka is pretty impressive too as a matter of fact.

Reply to  RelPerm
December 21, 2020 2:37 pm

And the GBR wasn’t at all like the Maledives at that time. It was a low range of limestone hills, probably overgrown by semi-arid scrub.
If you want to see what it would have looked like, take a look at the Napier Range around the Kimberley craton. it is a Devonian counterpart of the GBR

And by going through the Windjana Gorge or Tunnel Creek you can even get to see a cross-section though a large barrier reef!

Reply to  KAT
December 21, 2020 1:35 pm

Technically correct, however the coral would have followed receding sea levels. So realistically the reef never died, just changed form.

Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 1:57 am

You need to drill even deeper into that question, how much of the dead isn’t crown of thorns starfish (natural), tropical cyclone damage, tourism damage, shipping damage, farming runoff damage before you start to try and attribute to climate change.

Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 6:59 am

What GBR?

Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 10:33 am

Do you think that the people who would normally be doing the surveys, would do an honest comprehensive census ? And, if they did, that they would be allowed to publish if the figures did not match the narrative ? What’s been lost in this last generation is trust in the academy.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Mike
December 21, 2020 11:20 am

Your question implies that there is some sort of definitive description of the exact extent of the GBR, however there is not. The reef is constantly changing over any meaningful time scale, and just like any other living organism, it goes through healthy and no-so-healthy periods. It would be just as valid to ask “How much of Mike is dead?”

Patrick MJD
December 20, 2020 11:20 pm

Griff will be along soon with a link to a Guardian article and post from Loydo about IPA funding proving them all wrong! In 3…2…1…

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 21, 2020 2:02 am

Last time Loydo tried she did a Griff and kicked an own goal as her link actually showed only the northern reef survey showed any degrading. You also saw that there is no data pre 1985 and the survey methods have changed over the years so it’s hard to analyze the data and sort other influences from any climate change issue.

Reply to  LdB
December 21, 2020 3:27 am

I cited this

Only on WUWT could posting a link to the data showing all three sections with reduced hard coral cover be considered an own goal. No, instead lets just credulously lap up data-free opinions of a shill.

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 4:47 am

Your link appears to show the GBR recovering steadily, contrary to your claims.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 5:00 am

From the article…

Data are the modelled median differences between no-take marine reserves and fished reefs with associated 95% uncertainty intervals and are expressed as a percent difference between no-take marine reserves and non-reserves (Effect size). Effect sizes were averaged over all surveys since the re-zoning in 2004.”

Models all the way down!

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 21, 2020 8:42 am

Loydo doesn’t get the claim in the article is about a model but the raw data shown doesn’t match the claim … it looks like she just reposts any junk without even reading or trying to understand it.

Reply to  LdB
December 21, 2020 11:40 am

“Junk”. Only on WUWT does the most comprehensive on-going survey of the condition of the GBR – 492 reefs surveyed between 1985 and 2020 – get called junk and heresay that confirms the bias preferred instead.

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 12:25 pm


they “survey” tiny patches of reefs.

“Surveys were undertaken at 3 sites per reef, with 5x50m transects surveyed per site.”

The rest is models.

The “selection” of which sections to survey.. hmm.

Obviously NOT the patches where there is masses of good coral.

You are always so easily CONNED, aren’t you Loy-dumb.

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 5:04 pm

What we have learned from all this is you don’t even have the skills of a year 11 or 12 student. Do and analysis of the data you dropkick and show it to us.

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 5:14 am

Again as the others have said analyze the data in the link … it does not support your view.

Reply to  LdB
December 21, 2020 11:20 am

But Loydo’s handlers have modeled this study, and the model assures them that the study proves the output of the model, therefore questions are not permitted.

Reply to  LdB
December 21, 2020 11:41 am

Bullshit it doesn’t.

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 12:11 pm

Loy-dumb yet again putting modeled garbage above actual REALITY

You poor pathetic twit !

Reply to  Loydo
December 21, 2020 5:05 pm

Stop dribbling show us your analysis and that you have an IQ slightly above special needs.

December 20, 2020 11:42 pm

Whoa. Where am? Love the clean interface and the searching power!

Science with forbidden opinions is science no longer…

Peta of Newark
December 21, 2020 2:20 am

“”those who claim the Great Barrier Reef to be in terminal decline are so unwilling to engage in any form of debate””

We know other people who debate like that.
OK OK, they do ‘debate’ but, if they don’t win *you* get your face smashed in

“”They would prefer everyone just””
We know them as well don’t we?
Buck-passing lazy types who want to rule the world without taking any personal responsibility.

“”believed that the reef is in terminal decline, and that we have catastrophic global warming””
We know them too – Chronic Depressives and Magical Thinkers.
Same thing(s) really
Drunks do that

But but but, *Shirley* they cannot be drunk *all* the time, so what goes on?

Maybe its something ‘In The Water’
Maybe its something they/we/almost everyone eats, drinks or smokes.
Maybe its the same thing that’s wasting their/our minds & bodies with Covid, cancer, obesity, diabetes, dementia and auto-immune disorder

Maybe *that* is the *Real* Problem here
The Zombie picture up here a few days ago spoke volumes. We actually DO know what’s going on, without realising it.
The human animal cannot lie, remember?

December 21, 2020 8:57 am

There are 10 minutes in the movie “World War Z” (ya a zombie movie, but an intelligent one) where an Israeli Mossad chief explains to Brad Pitt how Israel knew the zombies were coming, and built a wall. It’s 10 minutes well worth watching.

He describes how after the denial mindsets of the holocaust, and the surprise attacks of the Yom Kippur War, They instituted the “Tenth Man Principle”. Even if everyone in the ten with the same data came to conclusion A, it was the tenth man’s duty to pursue, press, and fight for conclusion B.

None of the climate cabal in Government, the academy, nor the mdia will tolerate for a moment, any criticism, or opposition to the basic tenets of the CO2 Climate Warming premise. Or, of the assumption that Covid is another existential threat.

The economies of the world are crumbling as a result of this hubris. The numbers of people who will perish in the downstream consequences of this this will dwarf WW2’s casualties by a couple of magnitudes.

December 21, 2020 9:40 am

Now one might wonder why academics go on producing bullshit reports about the GBR dying, instead of studying the astonishing coral regrowth that has taken place in the Bikini Island lagoon (after being obliterated by atom bomb tests in the 1950s).

Shirley it has nothing at all to do with taxpayer funded research grants?

Mike Lowe
Reply to  Mr.
December 21, 2020 10:03 am

Surely, you are correct! Not sure about Shirley!

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Mr.
December 21, 2020 11:27 am

Surely you are right. And stop calling me Shirley. 😀

Paul in uk
December 21, 2020 4:21 pm

Until I watched this video I hadn’t realised what Peter Ridd meant when he talked about quality control etc, now I understand better what he is saying and realise it is very similar to the main message I am trying to get across. To my mind this has got to be the number one priority for us all, we all need to understand, discuss and be trying to address this issue urgently:

I spent my career as an engineer in product development. I’m seeing two kinds of checking applied in many areas of engineering that I think must both be present to avoid dangerous mistakes. From what I can make out both are absent in many areas of science including climate: 1) A system of learning from mistakes and implementing procedures, independent audit, certification, e.g. as we do in aviation and aircrash investigations. 2) Supplier/customer interactions where the customer needs to be very careful or sceptical it will do what it says on the tin, usually making sure 1, above is applied plus doing their own checking.

My suggestion to help get the message across is to get people to think what we do in other situations where we need the product but if the product fails we might have been better off without it. E.g. food hygiene certification, kite marks for household goods, the large system of procedures, independent audit, certification etc for aviation etc. I think aviation is a particularly good example of why we need such a system. I think if climate science has it wrong we are potentially in a very dangerous situation because we do not know what is really going on, may miss a very different weather/climate disaster(s), fail to fix real problems, waste most valuable time and resources fixing non problems.

I think governments and scientific institutions urgently need to realise the importance of these ways of working and checking and be reminded that they already apply them for other areas so why not climate science etc, and urgently need to make the necessary changes; learning lessons from mistakes, procedures, independent audit, certification, supplier/customer checking, not put so much faith in the apparent consensus of approved experts, peer reviewed papers system, precautionary principle. And of course we must be encouraged to question.

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