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NOAA scientists admit in private that they can’t name any place affected by ocean acidification

Posted By Joanne Nova On January 4, 2016 @ 2:40 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

There’s the truth, then there’s the whole truth.

From a climate expert at NOAA, the study of ocean acidification is so young “they don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health” and they can’t name any place in the world that is definitely affected by it.

Steve Milloy at Junkscience.com FOI’d emails among NOAA scientists discussing a NY times op-ed draft.The editor was serving up an apocalyse:

NY Times, ocean acidification, headline

…and he wanted all the dirt:

Can the authors give us more specific, descriptive images about how acidification has already affected the oceans?

Tony Thomas writes that Dr Shallin Busch, who works for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program discussed the draft of the article with fellow scientist Ms Applebaum. She warns that they can’t say that OA (Ocean Acidification) was definitely a problem anywhere at the moment:

Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist. As I said in my last email, currently there are NO areas of the world that are severely degraded because of OA or even areas that we know are definitely affected by OA right now. If you want to use this type of language, you could write about the CO2 vent sites in Italy or Polynesia as examples of things to come. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful on this!

Busch admits that ocean acidification studies are immature, and the evidence is not there “yet”:

2) I think it is really important to resist the NYT editor’s impulse to say that OA is wreaking all sorts of havoc RIGHT NOW, because for ecological systems, we don’t yet have the evidence to say that. OA is a problem today because it is changing ocean chemistry so quickly. The vast majority of the biological impacts of OA will only occur under projected future chemistry conditions. Also, the study of the biological impacts of OA is so young that we don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health or trajectory. Best, Shallin..[4]

It’s good that Busch is trying to make the article more accurate, but when she does public Q and A’s on ocean acidification  she doesn’t say things quite the same way:

NF: What is the single most important thing for people to know about ocean acidification?

SB: That ocean acidification is a problem for today, not just for the future. We know from earth’s history and from experiments that we’re doing in the lab that many marine species are sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry. So, acidification is a problem for marine ecosystems. We can take that a step further and say, well, why should we care about marine ecosystems? First of all, many societies value biodiversity.  Furthermore, acidification’s potential effects on marine ecosystems are an economic concern. Acidification may impact fisheries and the jobs and revenue that depend on fisheries. This may raise food security issues. Ocean acidification is an environmental problem, it’s a potential economic issue, and it’s a potential food security issue. And it’s all those things today, not some distant day in the future.

Busch is probably speaking only her honest convictions, but we need more from scientists. It’s not enough to be technically correct, we need scientists who convey what we don’t know, what the present state is, and provide the uncertainties in the same terms, no matter who the audience is.

If scientists think headlines are gratuitous and exaggerated, they need to say so publicly. If editors are not publicly shamed for the hype, they will keep doing it.

Art Robinson discussed the special kind of honesty required for science:

At Caltech, in the 1950s and 1960s, intellectual honesty was rigorously taught – by example. There were no courses in this. The student was simply surrounded by people who always approached their work with complete honesty. Dishonesty in any action meant immediate expulsion from the campus by one’s peers. Sadly, this is no longer the case at Caltech today.

When a true scientist makes a statement to his nonscientist fellow citizens, he speaks only the truth as he perceives it and as it has been verified – not by hypothesis or by computer simulations, but by actual experiments and observations. Moreover, he strives to simultaneously express all of the weaknesses his statement may have as a result of the always limited data available and the ever present chance that his hypothetical interpretation of that data may be in error.

What was science is now grantmanship:

Gradually, over the next two generations, the private capital that had heretofore funded science, endowed scientific institutions and provided the intellectual freedom that is crucially important to successful scientific enquiry was seized through taxation and part of it was then passed to scientists in government “grants” and contracts.

Grantsmanship gradually became the most important “scientific” skill, and the amount of grant money a scientist commands is now, in most institutions, the most important parameter that determines his advancement. The new “scientist” rushes from meeting to meeting, furiously writes grant proposals, and strives to obtain news coverage of his latest “discoveries,” while leaving the actual research to technicians and students.

If scientists were telling the whole truth all the time, they wouldn’t mind if the public saw more of their emails.

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