I want to have a go at analysing the World’s Worst Scientific Paper one of these days, but first there’s the question: Who among the fourteen listed authors actually wrote it?
Obviously lead author Jeffrey A. Harvey must take responsibility. But who actually penned it? Harvey is a researcher in terrestrial ecology with expertise in 1) Life history strategies in parasitoids and hyperparasitoids 2) Plant-herbivore-parasitoid interactions 3) Community ecology 4) Science and advocacy. Only the latter area of expertise is relevant to this paper, and on his University blog he says:
Scientists are currently faced with the immense challenge of better informing the public and policy makers as to the underlying causes and potential consequences of human-induced simplification of the biosphere. Although our knowledge of factors shaping the evolution, assembly and functioning of ecosystems is poorly understood, we do know that over large spatial and temporal scales, conditions and processes which nurture life and humanity are generated. [???] At the same time, sophisticated techniques are being employed around the world by powerful, vested interests that are aiming to change the way the public thinks about the environment. For example, a number of dubious sources are invoking science as a tool to influence and reshape public opinion, to attack the consensus view held amongst the scientific community, and to ultimately influence politicians into reducing environmental regulations. In the face of this new threat from the political right, scientists are faced with the immense challenge of better informing the public and policy makers as to the underlying causes and potential consequences of human-induced changes to the biosphere and their consequent effects on the delivery of ecosystem services. Over the past several years I have become actively involved in discussions based on bridging economics and ecology, in an attempt to stem the relentless flow of disinformation emanating from a number of surprisingly well-endowed think tanks and public relations firms that are distorting science to support a political agenda and pre-determined worldview on environmental issues.
There’s material there for a half a dozen articles on climate denialism, a lot of it pure Dunlap (cited four times in the paper) or Conway & Oreskes (cited six times.) Harvey is certainly the driving force, since he makes his activism perfectly clear in a post about his new article on the Amsterdam Free University website:
‘Scientists, climb down from your desk and start to counter the misinformation on social media directly – and via the traditional media as well. Engage with the public via the blogosphere or citizen science for example. And very importantly, adjust your focus to what is clear instead of all the uncertain things still to be studied.’
Accentuate the positive, as Richard Feynman might have said.
Five other authors are ecologists working in the Netherlands. From the same Amsterdam Free University website we learn that Peter Roessingh, researcher at the UvA Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, contributed to the statistical analysis. He explains:
‘Although it seems almost silly to apply statistics to a dataset with such a clear signal as this, we thought it was important to stay as objective as possible in this highly ‘polarised’ field. A large fraction of the information available to the general public has no scientific basis. The main message of the paper therefore is that scientists should get more vocal in the public domain and directly counter misinformation.’
So he is presumably responsible for the four pie charts and the scatter diagram which form the meat of the argument. In the scatter diagram it is clear that “in a principal components cluster analysis using Manhattan distances and Ward’s clustering,” the green triangles are very far from the yellow squares.
This is science for the nursery school.
No it’s not. That’s unfair to five-year-olds. They deserve better than this.
Jacintha Ellers is professor of evolutionary ecology, and head of the animal ecology section. She is “interested to understand how an individual’s phenotype is shaped by the joint interplay of its genes, genome, and environment [combining] molecular, physiological and experimental tools with evolutionary approaches to link the underlying mechanisms to adaptive explanations.”
Daphne van den Berg is in the school of behavioural ecology. She looks very young and has published no papers.
Rascha J. M. Nuijten is a PhD student working on ‘Unravelling the annual cycle of an Arctic migrant (Bewick’s swans) in search of the cause of its decline.’
Thomas Crowther is an ecosystem ecologist. He is interested in “the influence of soil biota on large-scale carbon and nutrient dynamics. He focusses on organism interacting to mediate carbon losses from soil, and the responses and feedbacks to climate change.”
Four more authors work in biology departments in North America.
Meena Balgopal of Colorado State is part of a research group “…interested in how people make meaning of natural science concepts. We explore meaning making (interpretation) and learning (storing and recalling information) by studying how people speak, read, and write about science.” She has authored many studies e.g. “Fuel for fun: A cluster-randomized controlled study of cooking skills, eating behaviors, and physical activity of 4th graders and their families.”
Nothing on blogs or polar bears though.
Eric Post is a professor at the University of California conducting “research on ecological dynamics in time and space, and across levels of biological organization… All of this work is empirical, and most of it combines meticulous, long-term field observation with field experimentation conducted in the Arctic… Focal taxa include tundra plants, large herbivores, some birds, and a few invertebrates.” (No polar bears then.)
Ian Stirling is a member of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group but he retired ten years ago.
Steven Anstrup is a polar bear expert. “Having observed the effect of climate change on polar bears and their Arctic habitat during his career as a researcher, he now works as an advocate for polar bears and promotes climate change mitigation.” He retired seven years ago.
Of the four non-biologists, Remko Kampen seems to be the author of “Climate Justice from a Club Good Perspective” which he coauthored while attending the Wroclaw School of Banking, Poland.
Bart Verheggen is an atmospheric scientist, a specialist in atmospheric aerosols and particularly interested in science communication. He has a blog article about the paper here.
Michael Mann is a climate scientist.
Stephan Lewandowsky is a psychologist.
So that’s ten biologists, including two specialists in polar bears (both retired) two climate scientists, one banker and a psychologist. But who did what?
We can certainly attribute the general strategy to Michael Mann, since he invented it. It’s called the Serengeti Strategy, and it involves picking off the strongest members of the herd that you’re attacking. The classic analysis of it is by Brad Keyes and it’s here. (Where else?)
…avoiding the runts, gimps and weaklings, the big cats set their sights on the best, most robust and reproductively-fit “alpha stud.” Enter Mike Mann.
When it comes to attacking denialist blogs, the favoured target is Susan Crockford since:
– she’s a scientist who knows what she’s talking about
– she’s been proved right by the data
– she’s made a couple of the authors of this paper look silly
Michael Mann may also be responsible for the references to Mann et al 1998, Mann in hardback “The Climate Wars,” and M.E. Mann in the New York Times:
The overwhelming consensus … a fringe minority … an irrational rejection of well-established science … virulent strain of anti-science …climate change is real … 97 percent agree … it is no longer acceptable for scientists to remain on the sidelines. I should know. I had no choice but to enter the fray. I was hounded … threatened with violence and more … it is our moral obligation …our children and grandchildren … in climate change, we see a clear and present danger … drought … wildfires … withering record summer heat …rapid Arctic warming …strange weather patterns, like the recent outbreak of Arctic air across much of the United States … the future children of my 8-year-old daughter …the threat …the stakes.
[That’s enough Mann —Ed.]
I detect the hand of Stephan Lewandowsky in the second section, “Using hot topics as “keystone dominoes.” That concept has the odour of the Lew about it, and the mention of “keystone” inevitably recalls COPs 21 to 23, and the uncanny resemblance of John Cook to Fatty Arbuckle.
Unusually, there are no conclusions to this article. Instead, the final section is entitled: “Overcoming reticence: Scientists as advocates in countering AGW denial” which is not so much a title as a call to arms. With a title like that, the only possible conclusion is the total overcoming of all reticence. “Surrender, O Three Percent. You’re outnumbered.”
The first paragraph of the final section, shorn of references and examples, says this:
Pimm and Harvey (2000) provided three criteria with which to evaluate the credibility of scientific studies. First and most importantly, follow the data… Second, follow the money… Third, follow the credentials… These criteria confirm that many denier blogs are deliberately distorting science to promote predetermined worldviews and political or economic agendas … A fourth criterion that we can add here is to follow the language. ..those who deny AGW do not hesitate to attack their opponents with insults, and have smeared scientists by calling them names such as “eco-fascists,” “fraudsters,” or “green terrorists” or by accusing them of being part of a global “scam” or “hoax.”
I’ve left out a couple of libellous remarks about Susan Crockford, but left in enough for 45 blogs to sue the authors if they want. But note the novel principles of scientific enquiry established here (of judging the science by the funding, the qualifications, and the language used) and the source cited, co-authored by Jeffrey Harvey himself.
I’ve only a screencap of the first page of the article, but a quote will give the flavour of the sole source cited for this radical new definition of the criteria for scientific credibility.
The World at our Fingertips, by Stuart Pimm and Jeff Harvey
Saturday mornings, I get up before dawn, grind the coffee beans, toast my bagel, sit down to breakfast, and make a very large number of people unhappy. Saturday is the day I do my reviewing for Science. I terminate four fifths of the papers on my desk denying them the chance of further review. Five or more manuscripts a week, fifty issues a year, multiple authors per manuscript, and seven years on the job and I estimate that I’ve rejected papers by ten thousand ecologists. That could be everyone in our profession; it’s likely to include you…
You’ll have noticed that I have a co-author for this essay. Harvey used to do much the same job for Nature, but we’re not writing this together because there’s safety in numbers. Rather, we share a common concern about how we all learn and how that “how” has changed dramatically – and surely forever – by the Internet. […]
Our hypothesis is that an idea is born with the life expectancy of a newborn oyster. Most ideas die minutes after exposure to the harsh environment of the graduate students during the departmental coffeee break; more die as soon as colleagues get wind of them. Those that survive get worked into draft manuscripts, where the full fury of collegial scrutiny eliminates yet more, including those with fatal statistical flaws. For those that survive, the author sends the idea to someone in the field who actually knows something about the subject. More serious mortality follows. Only then does a manuscript venture to a journal; even there, the majority (the vast majority at Science and Nature) die. Some of those that succeed are deprived of offspring by the letters to the editor that follow publication. Our prediction follows: the more brutal the selection, the better the ideas that survive. The data support our hypothesis.
Read the last paragraph quoted from that article co-authored by Jeffrey Harvey seventeen years ago. Then read (Harvey et al., 2017)—and weep.