News report from Kip Hansen – May 7, 2021
The sadly so-called “Ocean Acidification” (OA) hit the news again – and not in a good way. Much of the research reporting adverse effects of OA on fish comes from the James Cook University of Australia, 50% of that (43 of 85 main papers) from the laboratory team led by Philip Munday. OA research is a hot topic as it relates to CO2 emissions, fossil fuel use, coral reefs and climate change. There are allegations of fraud.
If you don’t know what OA is and what controversies it entails, you can read my previous essays on the subject: here, here, here, here, here, and a little bit in this one.
Note: I say “unfortunately called” ocean acidification “because the name might lead some people to think that the ocean is or might become acidic, just because of the name, which neither is the case.
Many readers are already familiar with another infamous case involving an academic whistleblower and James Cook University, as well as the same ARC center of excellence for coral reef studies. It is the running story of Peter Ridd that Peter reports will go to the Australian High Court (the equivalent of the US Supreme Court) in June.
Science Magazine carried the whole story here: “Does ocean acidification change fish behavior? Allegations of fraud raise doubts”By Martin Enserink. The following quotes are from this article.
“Munday has co-authored more than 250 articles and has drawn many aspiring scientists to Townsville, a marine biology mecca on the northeast coast of Australia. He is best known for pioneering the effects of changing ocean chemistry on fish. Part of it was done with Danielle Dixson, an American biologist who completed her Ph.D. under Munday’s supervision in 2012 and has since been a successful laboratory director at the University of Delaware (UD), Lewes.
In 2009, Munday and Dixson began publishing evidence that ocean acidification – a result of rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere – has a number of noticeable effects on fish behavior, e.g. towards chemicals produced by their predators become. A journalist covering the research said, “Ocean acidification can mess up a fish’s mind.” The findings, contained in a 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), could ultimately have “profound consequences for marine diversity” and fisheries, warned Munday and Dixson.
And the effects they found were remarkable –
Munday and Dixson often found unusually large effects from the acidification of the ocean. For example, in the PNAS newspaper, the time that orange clownfish spent on the foul-smelling side of the gutter passed from 0% to 80%. In a 2010 study in Ecology Letters, clownfish larvae raised in normal seawater avoided chemical cues from two species of predator, the lesser rockcod and the dottyback, entirely, but in acidic water They spent 100% of their time with the scents of these predators– a “fatal attraction,” said the authors. A 2013 paper published in Marine Biology reported that coral trout were becoming an economically important species 90 times more active with a high CO2 content.
Now, after three years of research, another team of scientists says these effects are not only unusually large, but far too large to be believed, to say the least.
But her [Munday, Dixson, et al.] Work was attacked. In January 2020, a group of seven young scientists, led by fish physiologist Timothy Clark of Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, released a natural paper that reported that in a massive 3-year study they did not see these dramatic effects of acidification have seen on fish behavior at all.
. . . . .
Clark says when he “started reading Dixson’s and Munday’s ocean acidification papers – and was impressed with the large effect sizes. “I thought they were some of the most phenomenal discoveries in the entire discipline of biology,” he says. He made his way to Lizard Island to repeat the predator clue work, thinking he might unravel the physiology behind the phenomenon. “
But he didn’t get the same results at all. Placed in the gutter, fish began to explore their surroundings, but rarely had the strong preference for one side or the other that Dixson and Munday reported, and the increase in CO2 made no difference. Some fish were “scared” and didn’t move at all, says Fredrik Jutfelt of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who came to Clark for a season on Lizard Island in 2014 with Sundin and several other scientists. “They are taken out of their environment and placed in a highly unnatural situation,” says Jutfelt.
Munday has acknowledged some errors in the data sets used in some papers and has promised “fixes” where the errors were traced back to the manual transcription of data. Dixon defended her work by saying, “I stand by the papers we published. … The data was collected with integrity. I mean, that’s what I preach to my students. “However, doubts about the work of Munday’s OA team at JCU are increasingly being voiced by other researchers, some of whom are from Munday and Dixon’s own team.
“In January 2020, Nature published the results of the Clark team: Increased CO2 levels in the water had a“ negligible ”influence on the attraction of fish to chemical signals from predators, their activity levels and the“ lateralization ”- their tendency, their left or right side preferable in some behaviors. Based on a statistical process known as bootstrapping simulation, the team reported that Mundays and Dixson’s data on chemical signal preference had a “0 in 10,000″ probability of being real. You left it up to the reader to decide what to think about it. ” [ source ]
In 2017, another alumni of Munday’s laboratory, Oona Lönnstedtwithdrew a paper after Clark, Jutfeld, and others filed compliance. The paper “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence the ecology of larval fish” was published in June 2016 in the journal Science. RetractionWatch covered that story here.
This latest flap from the JCU / ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies has yet to be played. Several things are certain: the JCU will defend and deny, the JCU and the researchers involved, along with many other academics, will attack the whistleblowers to whistle the suspicious bad / bad / fake research.
This is another time will tell story and when research is done [if – there will be attempts to block any meaningful investigation] and the results will be published, I’ll try to cover them here at WUWT.
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Scientific integrity is difficult to maintain in today’s publish-or-perish academic climate. Dr. Judith Curry wrote a lot about this type of problem and the prejudices that go with it in the research. John PA Ioannidis also has. The need to publish is compounded by the need to have new and exciting knowledge to get published in the leading journals.
I don’t know what the outcome of the fishy OA study research will be, but from my own study of research (see some of my papers here) I don’t think the JCU / Munday / Dixon studies will hold up.
It is a shame that an entire subject has been held back and misled by sloppy research for so many years.
Direct comments to “Kip …” if you’d like me to see them.
Thank you for reading.
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