Skip to content

Polar Bear Specialist Mitch Taylor On Accountability In Polar Bear Science

Polar Bear Science

‘The loss of credible information is the real harm that has resulted from turning scientific inquiry into an agenda driven exercise … even for a good cause.’

Polar bear specialist Mitch Taylor emailed me and others his response to the New York Times article that appeared Tuesday (10 April) about the Harvey et al. (2018) BioScience paper attacking my scientific integrity. Here it is in full, with his permission, and my comments. Don’t miss the footnote!

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size


It has become a lot more difficult to talk about polar bears since they became an icon for climate change as a cause. The information has become secondary to the mission for a number of people who were formerly chiefly concerned with research and management of polar bears. The mission is nothing less than saving the planet by saving the polar bears. Ironically the biggest obstacle to this initiative has been the polar bears themselves.

The real story has been the extent to which polar bears have managed to mitigate the demographic effects of sea ice loss so far. In retrospect this is perhaps not so surprising because polar bears have been around since the Pliocene which means they have persisted through not only glacial cycles, but also through all the natural climate cycles during the glacial periods and interglacial periods.

Did Susan misrepresent the predictions from Amstrup’s “Belief Network” [Amstrup et al. 2007]? Has she misunderstood the population estimates provided by the various technical committees and specialists groups? That is easy to check, because these papers are published. They are part of the record. I have been active in polar bears since 1978. I didn’t recognize 12 of the 14 names on the paper written criticizing Susan for publishing an article about polar bears because she does not have any direct experience in polar bear research or management. Does anyone need to point out how hypocritical this is? Since when does anyone need to tag a polar bear to compare what was predicted to what has happened, based on published information?

It is also germane that the IUCN Redbook authority was unwilling to continue listing polar bears as a “vulnerable” species based on current population estimates and Amstrup’s Bayesian Network model expectations. This was somehow not mentioned in the article criticizing Susan. Polar bears remain an IUCN “vulnerable” species, but now that is based on a Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) polar bear population model that is also driven by speculation and also presented as “expert” predictive.

The new model [Regehr et al. 2016] guarantees that polar bears will decline by decoupling the model’s population projections from climate model forecasts of sea ice conditions … and just using the time-series regression of sea ice decline since 1980 to forecast sea ice (index for polar bear carrying capacity) forward.1

And the IUCN went for it.

Full post