Dr Susan Crockford has committed the cardinal sin for a scientist. She did some science.
The sceince that she did, as all her previous scientific enquiry, was done to her usual professional standard. In fact it was to the standard that all scientists, regardless of their field of expertise, should strive to attain.
Her previous work has met the rigorous standards demanded by science for publication in peer-reviewed journals. As a zoologist, she is entitled to research any of nature's creatures, and to review and test the work of other zoologists, even to test the findings of published papers by specialists in the research of specific species. That is what science demands. Reproducibility and falsifiability are CRITICAL in science. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and a fraud.
So when Dr Susan Crockford tested the findings of the the research on polar bears (polar bear survival model (Amstrup et al. 2007)) she found the predictions they made of polar bears decline to be different, or in disagreement with, reality. (note to any budding scientists out there... that is how you are supposed to do science, but more on that later...) It should have been accepted without fuss, and the scientific community should have reacted as the science demands, to recognise a failing and do more research and move on...
I remember the original paper being produced in a show of global media publicity, with images of a thin polar bear floating on tiny block of ice in the middle of a vast ocean, doomed to starfe to death.
The methodology for coming to the original predicted massive fall in polar bear numbers, was, at best, ridiculous. It was a computer model which merely extrapolated utterly useless and misleading data to reach a politically acceptable conclusion. Nothing more.
They looked at a tiny area of ice and counted the polar bears. Then they went back later and counted again, noting a big decline in numbers (spoiler alert polar bear experts... polar bears migrate over huge distances and they were not in the same location anymore) based on that decline in numbers they built a computer model to extrapolate that decline into the future. It would be the equivalent of me sitting looking out of my office window at the town square at lunchtime and counting people, then returning at 3:00am and counting again, and extrapolating the end of humanity based on the decline in people in the town square. Yes it was utter rubbish, but it gave the media and the politicians what they wanted to hear. Also, my rubbishing of their methodology, does not mean that their prediction was wrong. Only time itself could tell if the prediction would turn out to be true.
So, if I rubbish their work, so what? I am not a scientist at all, so scientists can label me the utterly false, delusional and extremely sloppy ad hominem "Climate denier" (note, I do not deny there is a climate, and anyone who uses that term at all, in a serious manner, is utterly stupid as NOBODY denies there is a climate) and safely ignore me.
Whatever the validity or otherwise, the paper had been submitted for peer review and passed that process and was published.
Science is not a person. Science is a method, and the heart of that method are rules. One of those rules, which is pertinent here is best described by one of the greatest physicists the world has ever known. Professor Richard P. Feynman
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." - Richard P. FeynmanThat paper predicted a sharp decline in future population size of polar bears.
So, was the prediction correct? Or was it wrong?
Susan Crockford is a serious scientist, and her work was conducted in accordance with the highest of scientific standards. It was irrefutable. The prediction was wrong! She published that the prediction is wrong. There is no disputing the prediction is wrong and the "scientists" who published the work could not refute her science at all.
So in addition to creating a seriously rubbish paper, based on completely unscientific principles which a first year science student (in school, not college, but school) should be able to dispute, the prediction off the back of that very shoddy science was wrong too and a serious scientist using scientific methods falsified it.
How did the esteemed scientists react? did they act like scientists and refute the findings according to scientific principles? or did they act like a mafia gang of fraudsters and gang together with other similarly piss poor scientists and use their elevated reputations (being world leaders in their fields) to attack her, and attempt to destroy her character, her reputation and scare anyone else in science from even referincing her work in future?
They did the latter.
They claimed she is not an expert in Polar Bear study. She had never been and tagged Polar Bears, so her "opinions" and "theories" are invalid.
Many othe polar bear specialists also piled in to the character assasination, and they brought in other Climate science "stars" to further do damage.
One does not have to be an expert in anything to look at any prediction from an expert in that thing, and compare that prediction with reality.
Now here comes the football.
if David Beckham had made a prediction that Manchester United would win this year's Premier League in England. I do not have to be a better footballer than him to know he would have been wrong. I do not have to be a footballer at all, or even know anything about football to know that he was wrong. Does that make me saying he was wrong any less valid?
At the start of a season, before a ball is kicked, David Beckham predicting that Manchester United would win the Premier League would carry more wieght than my prediction that Manchester City would win it, and that is understandable and correct, for David Beckham is much more of an expert on football than I am. Other people would naturally take David Beckham's word over mine and that is exactly as it should be. But after the season, when Manchester United did not win the Premier League, and Manchester City did, Then I would be justified in being correct and David Beckham wrong, in that hypothetical situation.
It is the same in the world of science. World leaders in scientific positions of authority use those elevated positions to give credibility to their work, and understandibly so. Who am I (a non-scientist) to question the work of global leaders in their fields, who have hundreds of peer reviewed papers to their names, and awards coming out of their ears?
There is a logical fallicy called the appeal to authority. They are authority figures. They are experts, but that does not mean that they are always correct, or that they are immune from having their work questioned by non-experts. (how are non-experts supposed to learn, if they cannot question experts???)
Science is a method. It is a group of steps taken to validate or falsify ideas, based on collecting data in a testable and repeatable manner. ANYBODY can do that. science is NOT a person, or a personality, or a reputation or a lifetime's body of work by any one individual or group. Science is a method of discovering truth.
It is like football. It is a thing that one does. The person doing that thing does not make that thing any more or any less of that thing.
Imagine Ronaldo on the pitch as the kick off whistle is blown. Nobody disputes that Ronaldo is a footballer. He has played for, scored goals for, won games and trophies and cups for the best teams in the world.
But what if Ronaldo, as he heard the whistle blown to start a football match, sat down and had a picnic on the pitch. Would he be playing football? No. Just because he is amongst the greatest footballers alive, does not mean that everything he does is football.
Even if he started the game, and then part way through, He went and got a cricket bat and started hitting the ball, would he still be playing football? No. What if he picked up the ball in his hands and started running with it? Is he still playing football? No.
Likewise, if a fat, 43 year old, unfit man, gets up on a Sunday afternoon, goes down to the park and takes part in a "sunday league" football match, and.within the written rules of football, helps score a goal, is that man playing football? Of course. He does not have to have helped win the Champions League to still be considered as playing football.
I am not a footballer, but if I was by some fluke, (winning a competition for example), allowed to take part in a football match for Liverpool vs Manchester United, and within the rules, I scored a goal, that goal would be just as valid as any scored by any real footballer.
Science is a method of doing something, that ANYBODY can do, and so long as they do that method, then they are doing science properly.
Once they stray from that method, and engage in data tampering, using rubbish data, ommitting data, cherry-picking data, character assasination, bullying other scientists, ad hominem attacks, then it matters not how many advanced degrees they have, how many fellowships or awards they have, or how world leading they are, they are Ronaldo having a picnic on the pitch! They are not DOING science anymore. ANYBODY who follows the scientific method rigourously, IS doing science.
Those who stray from the scientific method, to keep their papers valid and avoid having to make retractions, are no longer doing science, but are science deniers. They are anti-science. They may as well be creationists.