Just when you thought that all the ‘gates’ had rusted off their hinges, another one has blown open!

Welcome to “Reef Gate” as created by diving enthusiast Walter A Starck who has taken issue with GBRMPA scientist, Lawrence McCook, and 20 other leading marine scientists.  Dr. McCook and his colleagues published a scientific review of the impact of marine protected areas within the Great Barrier Reef which shows “major, rapid benefits of no-take areas for targeted fish and sharks, in both reef and non-reef habitats, with potential benefits for fisheries as well as biodiversity conservation.”

As background, Dr Walter Starck has spent a good deal of time diving on the Great Barrier Reef and regularly contributes to the highly compromised Institute of Public Affairs claiming that the Great Barrier Reef is in good shape and that concerns of scientists and reef managers otherwise are sensationalised and overblown.  While he has not published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper for over 30 years, Dr. Starck is a regular contributor to popular magazines including one, the Golden Dolphin,  which he edits and funds himself.

Starck also does not believe in anthropogenic climate change (see under his signature under “Science and Technology Experts Well Qualified in Climate Science” on an open letter UN Secretary General His Excellency Ban Ki Moon BUT DOES BELIEVE in ‘crop circles’ which many enthusiasts of his ilk believe are caused by extraterrestrials.

Walter Starck began the exchange on April 16 by addressing an open letter to Prof Russell Reichelt, Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  In his letter, Starck complained to Prof Reichelt that McCook et al. 2010 had not declared serious conflicts of interest arising from their employment and funding by GBRMPA. He also suggested that McCook et al. paper was slim on evidence and deliberately missed key evidence that would otherwise have told a different story about marine protected areas. Curiously, he did not reveal these other papers and data sets.

Not giving Prof Reichelt much time to reply, Dr Starck wrote two weeks later to Hon Min Peter Garrett to complain about GBRMPA’s failure to deal with the allegations.   This prompted a careful response in the form of a GBRMPA press release and letter of reply from Prof Russell Reichelt.

In his letter, Prof Reichelt carefully addresses each of Dr. Stark’s claims and makes a number of important points which lead to quite different conclusions to those of Dr Starck:

For example, Prof Reichelt points out that the paper by McCook et al has been reviewed and accepted by a prestigious international scientific journal. As with any publication in a leading journal, the McCook et al. paper would have had to go through rigorous and independent review. As part of this process, the paper’s data sources, methodologies and conclusions would have been scrutinized by 2-4 independent and anonymous expert reviewers. Given that GBRMPA had no control over the journal’s quality assurance process (the journal being no less than the Proceedings of the US Academy of Sciences!), the idea that GBRMPA would have been able to influence the paper such that  it would erroneously support GBRMPA’s desired position without the burden of evidence is, simply, far-fetched.

The second major point is that, contrary to Starck’s claims, McCook et al. 2010 did list their sources of support for the study. Among those listed were GBRMPA and the Pew Foundation.   Given that all authors had also clearly indicated their address and association with their employers, it doesn’t look like much of a cover-up! At this point, the claim of ‘serious misconduct’ seems a bit of a stretch at best!

The third major point that Prof Reichelt makes is that McCook et al is actually a review paper not a research report and hence builds on the results, methodologies and conclusions of many other papers (all listed at the back of the paper). That is, the claim by Dr Starck that McCook et al precariously rests on the conclusions of a single figure or data set is at odds with the actual contents of the paper.

In a reply to Prof Reichelt’s letter, Walter Starck tries unsuccessfully to keep the issue alive.   Further unsubstantiated accusations of cherry-picking and of misconduct follow – as well as claims that there was he was being prevented from accessing the data.  Again this is curious given that Dr. Starck makes this claim without having ever asked anyone for access to the data. As far as I understand, no one has any problem with him accessing the data.

Perhaps the greatest irony here is that Dr. Starck is well known for making claims about how great the health of the Great Barrier Reef is without a single shred of scientifically published evidence.  It seems that he has one standard for reef science and another one for the basis of his own conclusions about the Reef and, dare I say it, crop circles.  Perhaps if Dr Starck wishes his concerns to be taken seriously, he should publish his ideas through the peer-reviewed scientific literature rather than proffer unsubstantiated opinions and allegations that do little to further the otherwise careful science that has and is being done to understand and preserve our Great Barrier Reef.

 

31 Responses to Starck raving Reefgate?

  1. Phillip Brown says:

    I thought that the fact that the paper has been published in a prestigious peer review journal is part of why Walter Stark claims that this issue is such a scandal. To merely state that because it is peer review it must be beyond reproach is a bit of a non argument. As is dragging in his alledged views on crop circles and global warming. On top of that OveHG hasn’t addressed any of Walter Starcks points of science except dismiss them as ‘unsubtantiated’. A pretty lame rebutal I think.

  2. Phillip Brown says:

    Further to so called ‘rigorous peer review’ in major journals it would seem that OveHG is not aware of Prof Ray Hilborn’s (of the University of Washington) paper, ‘Faith Based Fisheries’. Here he makes the case for a complete break down of proper peer review in major journals on the subject of marine parks. To quote:

    “This faith-based fisheries movement has emerged in the last decade, and it threatens the very heart of the scientific process—peer review and publication in the top journals. Two journals with the
    highest profile, Science and Nature, clearly publish articles on fisheries not for their scientific merit, but for their publicity value.

    Beginning in at least 1993 with an article I co-authored (Ludwig et al. 1993), Science and Nature have published a long string of
    papers on the decline and collapse of fisheries that have attracted considerable public attention, and occasionally gaining
    coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post. I assert that the peer review process has now totally failed and many of these papers are being published only because the editors and selected
    reviewers believe in the message, or because of their potential newsworthiness.

    A community of belief has arisen whose credo has become “fisheries management has failed, we need to abandon the old approaches and use marine protected areas and ecosystem-based management.” I fear
    that this belief has shaded the peer review process so badly that almost any paper showing a significant decline in fish abundance
    or benefits of marine protected areas has a high probability of getting favorable reviews in some journals regardless of the
    quality of the analysis. Critical peer review has been replaced by faith-based support for deas and too many scientists have become
    advocates. An advocate knows the answer and looks for evidence to support it; a scientist asks nature how much support there
    is for competing hypotheses.”

  3. Phillip Brown says:

    I just noticed this gem in OveHG’s post:

    “In his letter, Prof Reichelt carefully addresses each of Dr. Stark’s claims and makes a number of important points which lead to quite different conclusions to those of Dr Starck.”

    The fact is that Prof Reichelt addressed none of Walter Starcks criticism of the paper. Instead, like OveHG, he made an ‘appeal to authority’ argument. Perhaps both should realise credibility comes not from authority but a well made argument.

  4. janama says:

    I would have thought it polite to address him as Dr Walter Starck as he has a PhD in marine science including post graduate training and professional experience in fisheries biology. That’s a bit more than a “diving enthusiast”.

    Peter Scott has written an article on the case.

    http://www.goldendolphin.com/WSarticles/Reefgate-GoBoating.pdf

  5. Phillip Brown says:

    It just reflects OveHG’s bias, janama. Certainly if there is misconduct he has done nothing to disprove it with his no content missive.

  6. Phillip Brown says:

    Since Walter Stark has a PhD in Marine Biology his comments amount to a peer review, OveHG. Furthermore he has made a number of very specific points of science which neither you or Prof Reichelt have even attempted to address. Yes, Ove, red herrings such a crop circles don’t rate.

    Your appeal to authority argument regarding journals is a rather circular one. Also it is negated by Prof Ray Hilborn’s ‘Faith Based Fisheries’ article describing a complete breakdown in proper peer review in scientific journal regarding marine parks!

  7. Thomas Moore says:

    Since Walter Stark has a PhD in Marine Biology his comments amount to a peer review

    Either you have no idea how peer review works, or you are being wilfully ignorant. Let’s get this out of the way straight up: Having a PhD does not amount to peer review.

    As for Walter Starck and ‘faith based’ science (as you are claiming the Hilborn paper applies to), you can easily apply the reverse to Starck himself: the claims that the Great Barrier Reef is ‘doing fine’ is not on evidence and analysis, but simply on Starck’s opinion and belief. In fact, it runs counter to what the actual hard data on the GBR says. Here’s the opinion of 250 coral reef research scientists who disagree with Starck, and seemingly with good reason. Starck’s appeal to authority is a) i’ve been out diving and it looks fine, and b) “I have a PhD, and even though I haven’t done any research or science in almost three decades I must be right because I have a Dr in front of my name”. Looks like you’ve been sucked into b) already. I really don’t understand – it’s the same as the whole climate change debate… ignore the opinion of 95% of people (yes, a consensus) and adopt the views of someone who either a) isn’t an expert in the field, or b) isn’t actually doing any research in the field, c) doesn’t publish in peer review journals d) holds fringe beliefs or is a minority and consistently believe everything they say without question. It seems in this case Starck fits all of these criteria and you’ve waved away every point except for c), which you’ve already justified as being Ok because he has a PhD. I just finished reading this soft-science piece by Starck – It’s an opinion piece (hence published by the ‘Golden Dolphin’ and the IPA), there is no science here.

    As for Hillborn, you seem to be painting a one-sided picture, which is understandable if you aren’t familiar with the literature or topic at hand and just pick soundbites to fit whatever argument you are making. Here’s a conclusion from one of those Science papers he co-authored in 2009, which definitely wasn’t based upon ‘faith’ (unlike Starck and those crop circles):

    “In 5 of 10 well-studied ecosystems, the average exploitation rate has recently declined and is now at or below the rate predicted to achieve maximum sustainable yield for seven systems. Yet 63% of assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, and even lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species. Combined fisheries and conservation objectives can be achieved by merging diverse management actions, including catch restrictions, gear modification, and closed areas, depending on local context… Unfortunately, effective controls on exploitation rates are still lacking in vast areas of the ocean, including those beyond national jurisdiction”

    Onto the Starck vs Reichelt debate: do you really want to debate this, or are you just throwing stones? It takes a fair amount of effort to actually respond to stuff like this, much like when I responded to MarcH the other day, who instead of debating just threw up roadblocks when challenged and then went silent. If you’re interested on debating specifics, then go right ahead, but if all you want to achieve here is “OveHG you are wrong here’s another fringe minority scientist that disagrees with you!!!! Invest lots of your time arguing against us and we’ll still disagree!!!!”, then there’s little point in going any further. The ball is in your court, Phillip.

    Footnote: “Dr Walter Starck as he has a PhD in marine science including post graduate training and professional experience in fisheries biology” – post graduate training is a PhD. What ‘professional experience’ does Starck have in fisheries biology?

  8. Phillip Brown says:

    Thomas, your post amounts to a political construct rather than any sort of science based reply. It says somthing about your mindset that you have resorted to propaganda devices such as false appeals to authority or bandwagon effect, projection, strawman arguments and labeling of opponents – rather than taking up Dr Starks very specific points of science. Until you do so the ball is in your court.

    Actually your right ‘having a PhD does not amount to a peer review’, but of course this is a strawman. What we are dealing with is having a PhD in the relevant field (plus experience) and offering a detailed, logical and referenced review. Are you saying that it’s only peer reviewed if it’s in a journal? What about Prof Ray Hilborn’s contention that peer review in the major journals has failed on the subject of marine parks?

    As to your reference regarding 250 marine scientists you are being more than a bit tricky. It is actually a letter from the President of the ACRS which happens to have 250 members. The letter tries to contest Walter Starck’s claims, but like you it it long on opinions and rhetorical devices and short on facts.

    You are also being tricky regarding Prof Ray Hilborn. Yes some of the World’s fisheries are overexploited but he was not refering to the Great Barrier Reef or even Australian fisheries. He pointed out that these problems tend to relate to areas beyond national jurastictions or in underdeveloped countries where people rely on fish for subsistance. In his ‘Faith Based Fisheries’ article he pointed out that countries such as the US and Australia have done the best in making their fisheries sustainable and that they didn’t use marine parks as the main management tool! If anyone is not familiar with the topic it is you. In fact Australia has the most regulated and least exploited fishery in the World.

  9. Thomas Moore says:

    It says somthing about your mindset that you have resorted to propaganda devices such as false appeals to authority or bandwagon effect, projection, strawman arguments and labeling of opponents

    I’ll ignore all of this on the grounds that you’ve done exactly the same here and elsewhere.

    Actually your right ‘having a PhD does not amount to a peer review’, but of course this is a strawman.

    Are you saying that it’s only peer reviewed if it’s in a journal?

    Do you understand what “peer reviewed” means? (Hint: reviewed by peers)

    >Are you saying that it’s only peer reviewed if it’s in a journal?

    You really don’t understand this, do you? This isn’t a ‘strawman’.

    >What about Prof Ray Hilborn’s contention that peer review in the major journals has failed on the subject of marine parks?

    You’ve systematically ignored every other paper by “Prof Ray Hilborn”, along with every other scientific article on marine parks, because this soundbite fits your interest.

    >As to your reference regarding 250 marine scientists you are being more than a bit tricky. It is actually a letter from the President of the ACRS which happens to have 250 members. The letter tries to contest Walter Starck’s claims, but like you it it long on opinions and rhetorical devices and short on facts.

    It’s not ‘tricky’, it’s pretty straightforward: I’m highlighting that Walter Starck is a fringe minority who believes in crop circles. It’s uncanny how similar this is to Monckton, the fringe minority climate change skeptic who belives he has a cure for aids.

    >You are also being tricky regarding Prof Ray Hilborn. Yes some of the World’s fisheries are overexploited but he was not referring to the Great Barrier Reef or even Australian fisheries. In his ‘Faith Based Fisheries’ article he pointed out that countries such as the US and Australia have done the best in making their fisheries sustainable and that they didn’t use marine parks as the main management tool! If anyone is not familiar with the topic it is you.

    There isn’t a single reference to Australia or the Great Barrier Reef in Hilborne’s paper. He criticises four specific examples. Go back and re-read the case studies he cites.

    >In fact Australia has the most regulated and least exploited fishery in the World.

    Again, citation (other than something published on the ‘Golden Dolphin’)

    Back to the beginning of your post:

    > Dr Starks very specific points of science. Until you do so the ball is in your court.

    You seem to be part of this bandwagon of “So and so said this, and they are right, so you’d better respond to it!”. If you believe it, you must understand the science behind what you are believing, so again: if you have a point to make, let’s talk science. Make your points and we’ll discuss them. You can’t just state “Starck is right so there!”. There’s nothing tricky about this.

  10. Phillip Brown says:

    Here is Walter Stark’s explanation of his credentials (from his website):

    Who is a “Scientist” and Does it Matter?

    At the WAFIC AGM of 23 October the Minister made some remarks implying doubt regarding my qualifications as a “scientist” (with the quotation marks his addition). This deserves some comment as it seems the Minister may not understand that matters of science are determined by reason and evidence, not by consensus or pissing contests over credentials. In fact, some of the most important advances in science have come when relative unknowns challenged prevailing expert opinion with an explanation which proved to be a better one. In scientific disagreements, attacks on personal qualifications are an implicit admission of defeat. They are invariably only resorted to when there are no credible answers to a better argument.

    Although largely irrelevant, as the Minister apparently thinks my qualifications important enough to concern himself with, I will fill in a bit on my background. If nothing else, this might provide some small reduction in the ignorance under which he is so obviously labouring in this respect.

    I grew up on an island in the Florida Keys in a family of fishermen and began catching and selling fish off the family dock at age 5. At age 6 I got my first boat and a castnet. During high school I dived for crayfish to earn pocket money and would regularly catch between 50 to 200 pounds in a day’s diving. I attended university at the University of Miami and on completing my BSc scored in the top one percentile in the national Graduate Record Examination. I went on to graduate school at the Institute of Marine Science under a National Science Foundation Fellowship, one of the highest academic scholarships in the U.S. The IMS (now Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences) was and is among the top marine science research institutions in the world. I completed my PhD studies in record time and was awarded the degree in early 1964.

    Since then I have worked independently. This has included research grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, National Geographic Society and various private foundations. For twenty years I owned and operated my own 104 ton research vessel exploring widely from the Caribbean to the S.W. Pacific including 10 years on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea. I have often worked in cooperation with various research organizations. In such capacity I have been a Research Associate of the Institute of Marine Science, The Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, The Australian Museum in Sydney and the Western Australia Museum.

    My research experience has included studies in over two dozen countries and resulted in numerous articles, books, scientific reports in peer reviewed journals and documentary films which have been(broadcast in over 50 countries. It has also resulted in the discovery of over 100 species of fishes that were new to science, numerous new invertebrates and over 100,000 specimens now in the reference collections of major museums. One, a rare slit shell, became a gift of state from the U.S. Government to the Emperor of Japan on the occasion of his visit to the U.S.

    In addition to basic research, I have worked extensively in development of marine technology and hold two patents in this area. This design and development experience includes several boats, an amphibious aircraft, various underwater photographic and lighting equipment and the first
    successful closed circuit mixed gas electronically regulated breathing apparatus. The photographic equipment included original development of the optical dome port now used universally for wide angle underwater photography. The electronic rebreather was manufactured and sold to NASA, the U.S. Navy, the Israeli Army, some nameless government agencies and the Edwin Link Foundation among others. In Australia it was regularly used by one of the leading commercial dive companies involved in the early development of the Bass Strait oil field. Over the years I have frequently been a professional consultant on various matters relating to marine research and technology.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say I probably have enough qualifications to be deemed a scientist without the need for quotation marks. Like most gratuitous comments on other people, Mr. Moore’s remarks in this regard reveals more of their source than of their subject.

  11. Phillip Brown says:

    *It says somthing about your mindset that you have resorted to propaganda devices such as false appeals to authority or bandwagon effect, projection, strawman arguments and labeling of opponents

    I’ll ignore all of this on the grounds that you’ve done exactly the same here and elsewhere.

    >I have done nothing of the sort – it’s pretty mindless to just project your own faults back on to me.

    *Actually your right ‘having a PhD does not amount to a peer review’, but of course this is a strawman.

    *Are you saying that it’s only peer reviewed if it’s in a journal?

    Do you understand what “peer reviewed” means? (Hint: reviewed by peers)

    > Are you saying Dr Starck is not a scientist – see above!

    *Are you saying that it’s only peer reviewed if it’s in a journal?

    You really don’t understand this, do you? This isn’t a ‘strawman’.

    > Why don’t you just answer the question?

    *What about Prof Ray Hilborn’s contention that peer review in the major journals has failed on the subject of marine parks?

    You’ve systematically ignored every other paper by “Prof Ray Hilborn”, along with every other scientific article on marine parks, because this soundbite fits your interest.

    > There are plenty of other papers and reviews along similar lines to ‘Faith Based Fisheries’. Just because I have started with one doesn’t mean I have ‘ignored’ others.

    *As to your reference regarding 250 marine scientists you are being more than a bit tricky. It is actually a letter from the President of the ACRS which happens to have 250 members. The letter tries to contest Walter Starck’s claims, but like you it it long on opinions and rhetorical devices and short on facts.

    It’s not ‘tricky’, it’s pretty straightforward: I’m highlighting that Walter Starck is a fringe minority who believes in crop circles. It’s uncanny how similar this is to Monckton, the fringe minority climate change skeptic who belives he has a cure for aids.

    > Thanks for explaining your labeling device. By the way you are not even close. Monckton is not a scientist like Dr Starck but is a journalist.

    *You are also being tricky regarding Prof Ray Hilborn. Yes some of the World’s fisheries are overexploited but he was not referring to the Great Barrier Reef or even Australian fisheries. In his ‘Faith Based Fisheries’ article he pointed out that countries such as the US and Australia have done the best in making their fisheries sustainable and that they didn’t use marine parks as the main management tool! If anyone is not familiar with the topic it is you.

    There isn’t a single reference to Australia or the Great Barrier Reef in Hilborne’s paper. He criticises four specific examples. Go back and re-read the case studies he cites.

    > Duh, that’s my point – your reference lacks relevance.

    *In fact Australia has the most regulated and least exploited fishery in the World.

    Again, citation (other than something published on the ‘Golden Dolphin’)

    > I already mentioned Ray Hilborn’s point that Australia is among the World’s leaders in sustainable fisheries and we didn’t use marine parks to get to that situation. Also rankings of World fisheries are freely available. I am surprised that you try to contest this point.

    Back to the beginning of your post:

    *Dr Starks very specific points of science. Until you do so the ball is in your court.

    You seem to be part of this bandwagon of “So and so said this, and they are right, so you’d better respond to it!”. If you believe it, you must understand the science behind what you are believing, so again: if you have a point to make, let’s talk science. Make your points and we’ll discuss them. You can’t just state “Starck is right so there!”. There’s nothing tricky about this.

    > Dr Stark made the points – why is it so hard for you (or anyone else) to make a response?

    • OveHG says:

      The only difference here is that the information I depend on to make my points has been scientifically vetted through the peer review system (no mean feat), while those you mention are either opinion pieces or not heavily cited in the scientific literature. This is an important point which you need to take on board.

  12. Phillip Brown says:

    “There isn’t a single reference to Australia or the Great Barrier Reef in Hilborne’s paper. He criticises four specific examples. Go back and re-read the case studies he cites.”

    Here’s a reference to Australian fisheries (note that he has made similar comments elsewhere:

    By Kevin Howe and Sarah C.P. Williams
    The Monterey County Herald
    (MCT)

    MONTEREY, Calif. – The sky isn’t falling and the fish will still be around in mid-century, according to fishermen and critics of a recent article that forecast a bleak future for the fishing industry.
    The article, published Nov. 3 in the magazine Science, predicted the collapse of all of the world’s fisheries by 2048, based on declining fish harvest numbers and other research. It also sparked a firestorm of controversy, generating headlines nationwide in newspapers and news magazines, spinning off into an elaborately illustrated feature in Time magazine.
    Among critics like Ray Hilborn, a peer review scientist at the University of Washington, the article was “probably the most absurd prediction that’s ever appeared in a scientific journal regarding fisheries.”
    Hilborn called the Science article findings “silly,” but also worried that they “will become completely accepted in the ecological community. They have no skepticism.”
    -
    -
    Hilborn said many of the world’s fisheries are not well managed and are getting worse, but the United States, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia and others have successfully pursued strategies to keep fisheries sustainable. For instance, those countries are getting rid of a fishing industry race that led fishermen to build and operate ever-bigger boats to bring in ever-bigger catches.
    Lowering the take, he said, is the key.

    • OveHG says:

      Again, this flies in the face of 99% of the peer-reviewed literature. Interesting opinion but just that. An opinion. If I has a medical issue, I know where I would be getting my opinion from – the 99% of other medical scientists who have carefully considered the matter. Not the one dissenter.

  13. Phillip Brown says:

    “Again, this flies in the face of 99% of the peer-reviewed literature. Interesting opinion but just that. An opinion. If I has a medical issue, I know where I would be getting my opinion from – the 99% of other medical scientists who have carefully considered the matter. Not the one dissenter.”

    It’s a scientific opinion, Ove. Ie it’s backed by relevent credentials, experience, examples and references. The 99% figure is just a number you have pulled out of the air in any case. Also Walter Stack is saying the paper in question gives opinions which aren’t actually supported by the research it cites.

    Your appeal to authority device is a rather self negating one in any case and if that is the only way you can respond I suggest you have lost the argument. For a start the scientist who strongly support marine parks tend to be ecologists who have a rather different world view. Also they are lacking expertise in fisheries and the management thereof. If you look at experienced fisheries biologists such as Hilborn, they are far more circumspect in their views regarding the benefits of marine parks. He can’t simply be fobbed off as a ‘lone voice’ either. Just in Australia I can name the likes of Prof Colin Buxton, Dr Julian Peperell, Dr Ben Diggles and Prof Bob Kearney, who have expressed similar views.

    Also Prof Riechelt’s and you own responses aren’t peer reviewed either so by you own standard they sould be disregarded. You have come up with a self negating argument.

    • OveHG says:

      Thanks Philip. That is a bit more like it. Discussion with reference to the peer reviewed literature. Much better than publishing opinions in one’s own web site/journal (as seen with most of Stark’s case) about how you feel about a topic. And yes, we must be careful to verify the conclusions of models … No disagreement there.

      As for Russell and my responses not being peer reviewed -no, I didn’t get this opinion peer reviewed … Funny that given this is a blog and it (the idea in question) has been published in the peer-reviewed literature. I am (like Russell) pointing to the peer reviewed literature on the matter, however. Not to just one article but the sum total as much as possible. And not just the on-line grumbling of some over 50 year old arm chair expert.

      • Phillip Brown says:

        “Thanks Philip. That is a bit more like it. Discussion with reference to the peer reviewed literature. Much better than publishing opinions in one’s own web site/journal (as seen with most of Stark’s case) about how you feel about a topic.”

        > Dr Stark’s crticism also has references to peer reviewed journals.

        “And yes, we must be careful to verify the conclusions of models … No disagreement there.”

        >’Burdens of Proof’ is pretty damming of the amount of rigour regarding marine park science in peer review journals. I would have thought this would make it hard for you to just keep falling back to your ‘if it’s in a peer reviewed journal it must be beyond reproach’line. When you pull figures like 99% out of the air you are saying there is no room for debate or questions because the matter is already decided. I think the papers I have put up show this is definitely not the case.

        “Not to just one article but the sum total as much as possible. And not just the on-line grumbling of some over 50 year old arm chair expert.”

        > I don’t think you had much idea of the the ‘sum total’ on this topic with comments such as your 99% claim.

        PS: It is a bit snide to comment on someones age. In the case of Walter Stark age equal a lot of experience, as you can see from the bio I put up.

        • OveHG says:

          If you look at the references, you will find that they are pretty light on. The reference to age is not re: Starck (he is much older). It is the arm-chair experts that populate the denialosphere that seem to have a lot of time on their hands. Not that fifty year olds don’t have something to add to the equation (afterall, I am one of them)!

          Again, have a look at the peer-reviewed literature – not just a single review – there are now hundreds of very credible scientific papers out there. They come to very different conclusions than Dr Starck.

          • Phillip Brown says:

            “Again, have a look at the peer-reviewed literature – not just a single review – there are now hundreds of very credible scientific papers out there. They come to very different conclusions than Dr Starck.”

            >’Burdens of Proof’ looks at the peer reviewed literature on marine parks. It found the ‘hundreds of papers’ to be light on rigour!

          • OveHG says:

            Philip, go do some study and try and understand this issue effectively. I can’t really help you any further.

  14. Phillip Brown says:

    So much for the peer reviewed literature, Ove and Thomas. Take a look at this!

    Environmental Conservation 30 (2): 97–103 © 2003 Foundation for Environmental Conservation DOI:10.1017/S0376892903000092

    Burdens of evidence and the benefits of marine reserves:
    putting Descartes before des horse?

    An extensive literature has appeared since 1990 on the study of ‘no-take’ marine reserves and their potential to make significant contributions to the conservation and management of fisheries, especially in tropical environments (see Polunin 1990; Roberts & Polunin 1991; DeMartini 1993;
    Roberts 1997; Allison et al. 1998; Guénette et al. 1998). The literature describes many potential benefits of marine reserves to fisheries, including increases in spawner-biomass-per-recruit and
    increases in larval supply from protecting ‘source’ populations ( Jennings 2000). The important word here is ‘potential’. Some claims made by advocates of marine reserves might be regarded as optimistic, whereas critics of reserves might sometimes have been unduly harsh. Conservation
    goals for marine reserves are often poorly defined, and differences of opinion regarding the efficacy of reserves for fulfilling any of their stated goals can frequently be attributed to a lack of good
    information with which to predict their effects. Here, we critically examine the literature from 1990–2001 to determine (1) the relative effort put into empirical and theoretical approaches to
    predict reserve effects, and (2) the quality of empirical evidence available to support theoretical predictions. It is not the purpose of this article to single out particular studies for criticism
    (although this is sometimes inevitable to provide examples), nor to draw conclusions concerning the efficacy of marine reserves.
    Our purpose is to examine the science, rather than politics, of the field of ‘marine reserves’. We examined the relevant peer-reviewed primary literature from 1990–2001 by searching the Current
    Contents and Science Citation Index (ISI) databases using the keywords ‘marine reserve’ found anywhere in a paper. Also included were papers that were not in the search databases but were
    cited in papers that were (these included refereed proceedings of symposia, but excluded book chapters and unpublished reports). Only studies that directly investigated the effects of reserves
    were included. Many articles that explored specific biological issues mentioned marine reserves incidentally in the discussion. These were removed from the analysis, as were those concerned
    solely with policy, management or advocacy. The remaining papers (n  205) were classified into three groups, namely empirical (presenting field data from existing reserves), theoretical (conceptual
    or numerical modelling studies) and review (including notes and ideas papers based on other literature). With few exceptions, empirical papers reported some positive impact of the marine reserve or reserves under study, so these were carefully examined to determine (1) the robustness
    of the survey design, and (2) the effect size.

    Approaches to reserve study: trends in the literature
    We found that the number of empirical field studies has been climbing at a fairly consistent rate over the last ten years, but has recently been lagging behind the combined publication rate of reviews and theory (Fig. 1). Reading the latter papers, it is apparent that much of their raison d’être is advocacy for the establishment of marine reserves in parts of the world that lack them, rather than real attempts to contribute to the science of the field. The difference between science and
    advocacy in this field is becoming increasingly blurred (Polunin 2002), and we may soon be in the unusual situation of being faced with a greater number of reviews than there is reviewable material.
    The amount of attention given to theoretical work has also increased markedly since 1997. Despite the increasing number of fisheries models that infer potential consequences of marine reserves (see Polacheck 1990; Dugan & Davis 1993; Rowley 1994; Allison et al. 1998; Bohnsack
    1998), published evidence to empirically judge these models and their underlying assumptions is considerably rarer than might be expected. We regard science as a process for learning about nature in which competing ideas about how the world works are tested against systematic observations and experiments (Feynman 1985; Hilborn & Mangel 1997). Unfortunately, because of this dearth of data the models have little opportunity to compete against one another under the scientific process. Furthermore, the proliferation of models and reviews has resulted in model
    assumptions evolving into accepted paradigms, a case of ‘What everybody says must be true’
    (Simpson 1993).

  15. Phillip Brown says:

    cont.

    The speculative conclusion that marine reserves will be effective management tools can be obtained from simple behavioural and demographic assumptions. These include:
    (1) Where movement range of individuals is small relative to the size of the reserve, those individuals
    are spatially isolated from fishing mortality, and density within the reserve will be higher than in comparable fished areas.
    (2) Elevated densities within the reserve will result in net emigration of biomass from the reserve to fished areas, either by random diffusion (Beverton & Holt 1957) or density-dependent
    processes (specifically ‘spillover’) (Kramer & Chapman 1999).
    (3) Unfished populations of fishes are composed of relatively larger individuals, which have greater fecundity, and hence reserves will act as more productive sources of gametes than comparable fished areas.
    The magnitude of the effect may also be speculated on in some cases. For example, if adult fish are sedentary then it could be postulated that density in reserves will increase to carrying capacity (see Hastings & Botsford 1999).

    While such speculations are intuitive, they often appear in the literature as logically true assertions. However, these deceptively reasonable speculations are each dependent on underlying assumptions about behaviour, ecology and the fishery. It is logically true that preventing fishing in
    particular areas will eliminate direct fishing mortality and stop the destruction of habitat caused by contact fishing gears (Collie et al. 2000). However, it is imprudent to make untested assertions
    about the primary consequences of reserve protection on fish population dynamics, and then to extrapolate those effects to fishery-level predictions. Typical predictions of fishery enhancement could be invalidated for a number of reasons, including displaced fishing effort around the reserve boundary (Parrish 1999), recruitment limitation (Doherty & Fowler 1994), self-recruitment rather than larval export (Leis 2002), irreversible changes in species assemblages, and any number of
    unknown causes due to the underlying complexity of the ecosystem. Without empirical substantiation,predictions of fishery enhancement are deductions based on circumstantial evidence and ancillary information. Furthermore, even if model assumptions are logically correct, it is not sufficient
    to test only for the existence of reserve effects. Of real relevance is the magnitude of an effect and the certainty (or lack thereof ) that surrounds estimates of it.
    We use the issue of recovery of density within reserves (assumption 1 above) as an example of how little evidence exists to substantiate the basic responses of fish populations to reserve protec-

  16. Phillip Brown says:

    tion. We note here that this does not mean to imply that reserves fail in their objectives (we have ourselves documented large responses of exploited fishes to reserve protection), but that the quantity
    of good scientific evidence is not as extensive as a cursory examination of the literature might indicate.
    The quality of empirical evidence for recovery within reserves
    Many recent papers contain statements within their introductions along the lines of ‘It is well known that exploited species exhibit increases in density and mean size within reserves’, supported by a number of citations. A closer look at the cited papers shows that many are review
    articles (which themselves rely on reference to earlier reviews such as Roberts & Polunin 1991; Rowley 1994). Of the empirical studies cited, most present ambiguous evidence for recovery (see Jones et al. 1993; Rowley 1994; Edgar & Barrett 1997).
    Detection of recovery of fish density in marine reserves often suffers from lack of rigour in the design of field surveys (Hurlbert 1984; Stewart-Oaten et al. 1986; Underwood 1990, 1993). As Underwood (1990) pointed out, studies lacking replication cannot be logically interpreted. In the
    marine reserve context there are many reasons why researchers might have limits on their sampling designs. However, a critical evaluation of the experimental designs employed by many published studies brought to light the following problems with replication and lack of control sites:
    (1) insufficient sample replication (for example only one site sampled inside and outside a reserve, or no control sites sampled at all);
    (2) spatial confounding (for example all control sites located only at one end of the reserve, so that comparisons are confounded by unknown location effects);
    (3) lack of temporal replication (most studies consist of surveys done at only one time);
    (4) lack of replication at the reserve level limiting the generality of results (although in many cases this reflects the number of reserves available); and
    (5) non-random placement of reserves, i.e. often reserves are sited to include ‘special’ or unique
    features, which causes difficulties in selecting valid control sites (this is obviously no fault of the researchers).

  17. Phillip Brown says:

    To date, there are no well-designed studies that avoid the above problems as well as possessing a time series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ data. However, some might be used as examples of attempts to fulfil good design criteria (Table 1). In addition, the power to detect effects can be affected by the
    choice of sampling method (Willis et al. 2000), especially when the target species are large carnivores that can exhibit fishing-related behavioural plasticity between sites (Cole 1994; Jennings & Polunin 1995; Kulbicki 1998).
    Traditional approaches to fisheries stock assessment are often unable to provide useful predictions because of the lack of information in the data, and the resulting inability to verify model assumptions or to accurately estimate model parameters (Ulltang 1998). Indeed, such models can
    not reliably estimate sustainable levels of harvest without first overexploiting the resource, and this arises from the impossibility of performing controlled and replicated experiments on a large scale
    (Ludwig et al. 1993). There seems to be a trend to approach the issue of marine reserves in a similar fashion, partly because most countries so far have few of them. This is unfortunate, because a marine reserve is a large-scale manipulation that can be assessed in a more rigorous, less
    equivocal fashion. It will, however, require good lines of communication between management agencies and scientists; studies should begin well in advance of reserve implementation, and there must also be a commitment from management agencies to ensure compliance with reserve regulations
    (Paddack & Estes 2000).
    How many studies unambiguously demonstrate significant within-reserve increases in the density of exploited species? Edgar and Barrett (1997) recognized that, with a sufficiently large sample size, a statistically significant difference between two sites (separated either spatially or
    temporally) can almost always be obtained due simply to true natural biological variability between the sites. That is, the null hypothesis of no difference between two biological entities is necessarily
    false. They therefore proposed a 100% increase in density as a minimum criterion for claiming the existence of a ‘reserve effect’. This type of approach is more generally known as bio-equivalence testing, in which an effect is not considered biologically significant unless it exceeds a pre-specified threshold (McBride 1999). If we use the 100% threshold, and ignore flaws in sampling design, then there were only a handful of instances where differences in density of individual species
    between reserve and fished areas can be regarded as biologically significant

  18. Phillip Brown says:

    (Polunin & Roberts 1993; Francour 1994; Harmelin et al. 1995; Russ & Alcala 1996; Edgar & Barrett 1997, 1999; Willis et al. 2003). In many other cases, slight trends towards higher reserve densities were
    described, but these were of insufficient magnitude to confidently attribute them to reserve effects, rather than real biological variability at the spatial or temporal level (Roberts & Polunin 1992; Chapman & Kramer 1999; Paddack & Estes 2000). If we consider only those studies that are
    replicated in both time and space, to our knowledge there are only a few that establish increases in excess of 100%: Ferreira and Russ (1995), Wantiez et al. (1997), Edgar and Barrett (1997,1999), the long term studies of McClanahan (for example, McClanahan & Arthur 2001), and
    Willis et al. (2003).
    Several theoretical studies have indicated that marine reserves can provide increases or equivalence in yield under the assumed model and parameter values (Polacheck 1990; DeMartini 1993; Attwood & Bennett 1995; Sladek Nowlis & Roberts 1999). However, if management decisions are
    based upon models built on unquestioned assumptions then we may find ourselves making costly errors. We reinforce this point by noting that the model of Parrish (1999) produces a contrary result; it suggests that the large reserves that are believed to be required to contribute to the
    Californian groundfish fishery might actually be to the detriment of the fishery, due to the displacement of fishing effort onto the remaining fishing grounds. In contrast, Horwood et al. (1998) conclude that reserves will have little effect on fishery yield. Yet, the model of Hastings and
    Botsford (1999) concludes that, even with arbitrarily high fishing effort outside of large reserves, marine reserves will return fisheries yields equivalent to traditional fisheries management for a wide variety of groundfish. Taken together, the conflicting conclusions from various plausible models lead us back to the beginning, where we must admit that, at present, we cannot predict what the effects of marine reserves might be.

    Concluding remarks
    It is ironic that we must appear to bemoan the proliferation of marine reserve comments and reviews by writing yet another comment. However, the intention is not so much to complain about such activities (very useful ideas have been published in this way), but to highlight the imbalance
    in research effort brought about by a lack of rigorous empirical science. Theoretical models (mathematical or not) are useful in developing our ideas, but they are just that: ideas. Returning to the philosophical reference in the title, just because ‘we think’, does not mean ‘they are’. Indeed, it would appear that a lot of thinking has gone into specification of competing models of marine reserves. That is, the models and prior hypotheses about the nature of marine reserves have beenput forward in abundance. It is now time to test them with data.

  19. Phillip Brown says:

    “Philip, go do some study and try and understand this issue effectively. I can’t really help you any further.”

    Ove, your condescending put down is rather ironic seeing that you have had nothing of sustance to say on this thread. If you think ‘Burden of Proof’ has nothing to say about the rigour of marine park studies, and by implication the effectiveness of peer review, then what do you make of these quotes:

    Reading the latter papers, it is apparent that much of their raison d’être is advocacy for the establishment of marine reserves in parts of the world that lack them, rather than real attempts to contribute to the science of the field. The difference between science and advocacy in this field is becoming increasingly blurred (Polunin 2002), and we may soon be in the unusual situation of being faced with a greater number of reviews than there is reviewable material.

    Furthermore, the proliferation of models and reviews has resulted in model
    assumptions evolving into accepted paradigms, a case of ‘What everybody says must be true’.

    Taken together, the conflicting conclusions from various plausible models lead us back to the beginning, where we must admit that, at present, we cannot predict what the effects of marine reserves might be.

    • OveHG says:

      Apologies – I didn’t mean to sound condescending. But look at it from my angle, after 30 years studying the subject area I find it frustrating that you insist on cherry picking a paper here and there to confirm your beliefs. I also think that if you are convinced that practicing scientists like me have got it wrong, then you should write a scientific review of the evidence and publish it in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. At that point your opinion will go from just that, an ‘opinion’, to having scientific credibility within a skeptical system that has delivered us breakthroughs in medicine, biology, engineering, microbiology, climate change science, and many other important fields.

  20. Phillip Brown says:

    “Apologies – I didn’t mean to sound condescending. But look at it from my angle, after 30 years studying the subject area I find it frustrating that you insist on cherry picking a paper here and there to confirm your beliefs.”

    > Actually I was ambivalent on marine parks until I looked into more. I have seen the cost to coastal communties, the bureaucratic empire building of the marine park authorities, the hoodwinking with regards to the science. On the other hand I have seen the improvements in our fisheries resulting from traditional fisheries management input reductions as Ray Hilborn described.

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but I don’t get the impression that you are an expert in fisheries or marine reserves as they relate to fisheries. What makes you more expert than Prof Hilborn, Prof Colin Buxton or Prof Bob Kearney for instance? Why is quoting them cherry picking and accepting your opinions not?

    “I also think that if you are convinced that practicing scientists like me have got it wrong, then you should write a scientific review of the evidence and publish it in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.”

    > I am not about to embark on a new career at my stage in life (though I a not ignorant in scientific matters). However I have every right to quote scientists who have done exactly what you have suggested. It’s a bit ‘thin’ to just dismiss this as cherry picking.

    ” At that point your opinion will go from just that, an ‘opinion’, to having scientific credibility within a skeptical system that has delivered us breakthroughs in medicine, biology, engineering, microbiology, climate change science, and many other important fields.”

    Yes and a lot of what is regarded as ‘consensus’ in these fields is discarded 20 years later when it is realised we didn’t understand things as well as we imagined. In the case of marine science we are talking about a small group with limited funds and scope for employment, with most work coming from government agencies and the Pew environmental group. It’s not beyond the bounds of credibility that this funding is influencing the findings of the scientists they employ. If you look at the critics I have mentioned they have enough stature or independence to be free of such influence.

    • OveHG says:

      Whatever, Phillip … you have the right to hold any opinion or belief you want to. The rubber will only ever really hit the road, however, when you publish it in the peer-reviewed journal. Till then, have a nice day.

  21. Ian Yeates says:

    What an interesting discussion. Dr Walter Starck has provided his personal experience, after diving, that the reef is in good shape… however this is at odds with peer reviewed studies which conclude that the GBR is in trouble. Naturally we would prefer the former to be the case.
    There is mounting evidence that the harbour at Gladstone has been poisoned, yes?

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