Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Eight fish studies were double-checked. Not one was accurate.
Science proves… Science says… Research shows…
Every week, the above phrases are employed by TV personalities, newspaper journalists, coworkers, friends, and family. When these phrases are uttered, certain ideas get elevated above the fray, enthroned on a pedestal.
Science has spoken. Who are you to be arguing with SCIENCE?
The problem, of course, is that scientific research is conducted by human beings. Who not only make mistakes, but are susceptible to peer pressure, group think, intellectual fads, and noble cause corruption.
The fallibility of ‘science’ is splendidly illustrated by a paper published last week in Nature. It concludes that not one, not two, but eight previously published studies about how climate change affects the behaviour of coral reef fish are unsound.
When a second team of researchers conducted the same experiments, the results were startlingly different. Here’s a quote from the abstract in Nature:
we comprehensively and transparently show that…ocean acidification levels have negligible effects on important behaviours of coral reef fishes…we additionally show that …[results] that have been reported in several previous studies are highly improbable. [bold added]
Extending back to 2010, many of these studies were highly publicized at the time they appeared. Physicist Peter Ridd points out they were all produced by Australia’s James Cook University. Ridd, remember, was fired by James Cook after raising concerns about research quality.
Responsibility appears to lie squarely with ecologist Philip Mundy, who investigates “the effects of climate change on reef fish populations” via “a range of laboratory and field-based experiments.” Thanks to Mundy’s team, a good chunk of what the world thinks it knows about coral reef fish and climate change has now been shown to be dead wrong.
Zero out of eight. How many other James Cook research papers should we be taking seriously?
To be continued…