- Plankton decline across oceans as waters warm (BBC, 28 July 2010)
- The Dead Sea: Global warming blamed for 40 per cent decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton (The Independent, 29 July 2010)
- Scientists warn of global warming threat to marine food chain (The Guardian, 29 July 2010)
- Are Our Oceans Dying? Phytoplankton has declined 40% in 60 years as figures reveal Earth has been getting hotter since the Eighties (Daily Mail, 30 July 2010)
I took a lot of flak last year for my post saying that the global 50% drop in phytoplankton claimed by Boyce et. al was an illusion. I had said:
In other words, I took my chances on my experience and went way, way out on a limb with my statements. And of course, people didn’t let me forget it.
Now we get these two “Brief Communications Arising“, from Nature magazine (emphasis mine).
Along with this one:
OK, so I was right. The Boyce paper was nonsense, the claimed trend was spurious, plankton biomass is holding somewhere near steady or even increasing, and a number of independent records show that the Boyce et al. paper is garbage built on bad assumptions.
I bring this up for three reasons. The first is to show the continuing shabby quality of peer-review at scientific magazines when the subject is even peripherally related to climate. Nature magazine blew it again, and unfortunately, these days that’s no news at all. It’s just more shonky science from the AGW crowd … and people claim the reason the public doesn’t trust climate scientists is a “communications problem”? It’s not. It’s a garbage science problem, and all the communications theory in the world won’t fix garbage science.
The second reason I posted this is just because I enjoy it when it turns out that I’m right, particularly on a risky statement made with no data and in the face of opposition, and I wanted to enter that fact into the record. Childish, I know, but at least I’m adult enough to admit it.
The third reason is a bit more complex. It is to emphasize the value of actual experience. I didn’t disbelieve Boyce et al. because I had any data. I had no data at all.
What I did have was a lifetime spent on and under the ocean. Phytoplankton form the basis of all life in the ocean. If the phytoplankton had actually gone down by 50%, all life in the ocean would have gone down by 50% … and my experience said no way that was true. Fish catches haven’t gone down like that, numbers of species on the reef and along the coast haven’t gone down like that, I would have noticed, people around the world would have been screaming about it.
So I put my neck on the chopping block, and I trusted my experience … and in the end, despite the people who laughed at me and abused my claims, my experience won out over Boyce’s “science”.
Does this mean that we should always trust our experience over science? Don’t be daft. Science is hugely valuable, and often shows that our experience has misled us completely.
But far too many scientists forget to check the obvious – their own experience. Not one of the Boyce authors thought “Wait a minute … since the oceans live almost entirely off the phytoplankton, if plankton is down by half why haven’t I seen oceanic populations from krill to whales and octopuses dropping by half?” Or perhaps they just didn’t have the experience to check the obvious.
The moral of this story? Well, the moral for me is that trusting my experience over the “science” of high-powered scientists living in an ivory tower far above the ocean worked out well … this time.
But the real moral is that scientists need to pay more attention to the “laugh test”. I know when I first heard the Boyce claim, I busted out laughing … and when our experience is that strong in saying that science is wrong, it’s likely worth checking out.