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Our Reef is still Great, but the research isn't

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 8 January 2018

In some areas governments spend money ensuring that science is rigorous. How many billions were spent searching for gravity waves, quality assuring Einstein's theory of relativity?

But in relation to what Larcombe and Ridd call "policy-science", there is no process for quality control and assurance.

And this is a huge problem.


The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2,300 kilometres of coastline.

It is exploited by fishermen and tourism operators, and potentially affected by coastal and hinterland development anywhere from Bundaberg to the tip of Cape York.

It is valuable in and of itself, and it has value to the people who make a living from it. Protecting one value can impact on the other, and the cost will be variously shared by all taxpayers as well as specific communities.

Ridd and Larcombe find that 9 of the most heavily cited (5,791 times) studies on the GBR are flawed.

Yet on the basis of them government has committed to spend $1B, and is being asked to commit another $8B, plus inflicting unquantified financial and emotional costs on communities and businesses.

They call on the government to establish an "Institute for Policy-Science Quality Control" to first examine existing studies, and audit future studies.


Will this achieve their aim? Even if it is an independent body, it will still be subject at some level to government oversight and control, and that introduces politics.

An alternative not in their paper is the idea of "red" and "blue" teams, a strategy imported from the military into commerce.

Military commanders in the US realised that plans were failing due to group think and confirmation bias. They came up with the idea of setting-up a "red team" which would try to pick holes in the "blue team" strategies.

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This article was first published by the Courier Mail.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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