Reef Heresy? And the Significance of Asking Questions – Watts Up With That?

Reef Heresy? And the Importance of Asking Questions – Watts Up With That?

Reposted from Jennifer Marohasy's blog

December 20, 2020 by Jennifer

It is a great honor for me to present the introduction to Peter Ridd's new book "Reef Heresy?" To have written. In it, I state that it is important to both Peter and me that those who claim the Great Barrier Reef is in decline are unwilling to enter into any form of debate.

Sometimes the quickest route to the truth is through arguments, by which I mean disagreements between two or more people, with each side giving an opportunity to present their case and perspective.

The word "heresy", as the title of Peter's book is, means "opinion that is profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted". The heresy is that Peter is not indebted to proper political dogma. It's not that he's wrong.

It is interesting that the "other side" is not debating. You would prefer if everyone just believed that the reef was in decline and that we are having catastrophic global warming. And how deeply sad it would be if it were true!

The institution by which I mean the science managers at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) know that it may not be that simple and that there can be problems with some areas of science. But in general they are convinced that they are right – or at least on the right side, even if that means being "left". (Ha ha.) You certainly don't want to have to go into detail – or have to further coring the massive ancient porite corals that used to be used to calculate a total coral growth rate for the Great Barrier Reef.

Some of this is explained in a discussion I had with Peter the last time we were in Townsville – a discussion moderated by John Roskam and attended by around 400 members of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) on Zoom .

In this discussion, and more generally, I suggest that we all (both sides) give less quickly and be more interested in asking questions.

Peter Ridd suggests towards the end of his book (page 184) to make asking questions in science more legitimate by setting up explicit “red teams” in organizations like AIMS. Irving Janis, a professor at Yale University, described the inherent problems in reaching consensus – and called this group Think – as early as the 1950s. Professor Janis explained in his important book of the same name how this will inevitably lead to systematic errors. The conclusion of this long book is that it is critical groups who encourage skepticism to find possible flaws in their favorite theory or plan. I would have thought that this would be a breeze in a civilization as sophisticated as ours and where it is possible to predict the weather from day to day, month to month and year to year, which is especially important for the proper management of the Water infrastructure and water allocation for hydropower and for the cultivation of food crops.

Despite a wealth of stories and data suggesting that ideas should always be tested, we live in a time when it is so unfashionable to ask the tough questions. John Roskam ends the YouTube discussion with a quote from my new book “Climate Change: The Facts 2020”: It's so much better to have questions that can't be answered than to live for answers and do science that can't can be questioned.

Here are some questions I have as I flip through the page of Peter's new book:

1. When was the last major event that caused a catastrophic global climate disruption? (See page 200 of "Reef Heresy?")

2. According to Peter, what is the second most important environmental problem in Australia? (See page 201 of "Reef Heresy?")

3. What are the two sources of "new nitrogen" in the Great Barrier Reef? (See page 84 of "Reef Heresy?")

4. When did major crown-thorn starfish (COTS) outbreaks occur on the Great Barrier Reef? (See page 35 of "Reef Heresy?")

5. When was the last time AIMS published an average coral growth rate on the Great Barrier Reef? (See page 7 of "Reef Heresy?")

Jen kneels next to a massive porit on Myrmidon Reef on December 1, 2020. These are the corals that AIMS used to calculate an average coral growth rate on the Great Barrier Reef.

The picture at the top of this blog post shows Cheryl Ridd, Bill Lindquist, Anne Carter, me, and Peter (left to right) on the back porch in Townsville on a Sunday a few weeks ago.

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