A recent study of 400-year-old corals has found that bleaching has always occurred and is no more common now than in the past. Scientists have also claimed that there has been a 15 per cent reduction in the growth rate of corals. However, some colleagues and I demonstrated that there were serious errors in their work and that, if anything, there has been a slight increase in the coral growth rate over the past 100 years.
This is what one would expect in a gently warming climate. Corals grow up to twice as fast in the hotter water of Papua New Guinea and the northern Barrier Reef than in the southern reef. I could quote many more examples.
This unreliability of the science is now a widely accepted scandal in many other areas of study and it has a name: the replication crisis. When checks are made to replicate or confirm scientific results, it is regularly found that about half have flaws. This is an incredible and scandalous situation, a view shared by the editors of eminent journals and many science institutions. A great deal of effort is going into fixing this problem, especially in the biomedical sciences, where it was first recognised.
But not for Barrier Reef science. The science institutions deny there is a problem and fail to correct erroneous work. When Piers Larcombe and I submitted an article to a scientific journal suggesting we needed a little additional checking of Great Barrier Reef science, the response from many very eminent scientists was that there was no need. Everything was fine. I am not sure if this is blind optimism or wilful negligence, but why would anybody object to a little more checking? It would cost only a few million dollars — just a tiny fraction of what governments will be spending on the reef.
But the truth will out eventually. The scare stories about the Barrier Reef started in the 1960s, when scientists first started work on it. They have been crying wolf ever since. But the data keeps coming in and, yes, sometimes a great deal of coral dies in a spectacular manner, with accompanying media fanfare. It is like a bushfire on land — it looks terrible at first, but it quietly and rapidly grows back, ready for the scientists to peddle their story all over again.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
13 posts so far.