This week, I continue the story of David Thompson as he explores the vast wilderness of Canada as part of his duties with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and finish at the point where he makes the decision to stop being David Thompson the fur trader and becomes David Thompson the explorer.
I also talk about the challenges in communicating the message of human-caused climate change. While the scientific community has little doubt that climate change is caused by humans, there are some papers that buck the trend. I’ll look at the science behind some of these papers. Finally, I’ll discuss the increased influence of blogs in framing the public scepticism towards climate change.
David Thompson Part 2
Last week I talked about David Thompson’s arrival in Canada and some of his adventures during the earliest part of his long career in Canada. They were just the start of a 40+ year adventure across the wilderness of this nation and the northern United States.
This week, I planned to talk about his explorations in the Canadian Rockies and along the course of the Columbia River in British Columbia, but quite frankly, his story is just too important to rush. So this week, I talk about the period between last week’s episode of a young David Thompson until he made the decision to join the Northwest Company in 1797.
If we start from the 18-year old Thompson we left last week, then for the next 10 years, he settled into a routine as both a fur trader and surveyor. To be a Hudson’s Bay man meant that you had to put trade above all else, including surveying. Thompson continued his gruelling schedule of travel during these intervening years, travelling to and from the forts of present-day northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
Thompson’s true love was surveying. He was an admirable fur trader but the more time he spent in the wilderness, the more he began to admire the traders of the Northwest Company. They seemed to have the freedom to explore and were less tied to distant forts like Hudson Bay.
He was under the command of Joseph Colen of York Factory. Colen was a cautious trader who focused his energy on getting more and more furs to Hudson Bay and didn’t believe in wasting manpower and money to explore more distant areas, like the country surrounding Lake Athabasca. This, however, was completely counter to directives given to him from London.
In 1778-79, Peter Pond of the Northwest Company had significant success trading at Lake Athabasca, and the Hudson’s Bay Company directors wanted a piece of that action.
Some 10 years later, In 1790, Philip Turnor was charged by the Hudson’s Bay Company to lead an expedition to the lake and investigate the possibility of a route to the Pacific. During the previous winter, Turnor had trained David Thompson and Peter Fidler (another explorer of note), the skills of surveying.
Turnor’s experiences at Lake Athabasca showed that it was a potential bonanza for trade, despite the presence of the Northwest Company Traders that had preceded them.
He described it as “the Grand Magazine of the Athapiscow Country,” and believed that it would be an extremely profitable venture if the HBC were to build a fort there.
The Directors in London were very excited and continually urged Colen to send Malcolm Ross and Thompson to follow-up on Turnor’s explorations.
While the London Directors were keen to expand trade inland, some of the local managers, like Chief Factor William Tomison and Resident Chief Joseph Colen, blocked any efforts to extend a permanent presence so far inland.
While Ross and Thompson were sent out several times to retrace the route via Cumberland House, they were repeatedly unsuccessful.
In 1792 they headed out, and after overwintering at Sipiwesk Lake in northern Manitoba, Thompson attempted to push on to Lake Athabasca but was forced to retreat when he couldn’t find any native canoemen to accompany him.
The next summer, 1793, Ross and Thompson were again sent up to Cumberland House and then on to another fort called Buckingham House. Ross and Thompson never attempted to travel to Lake Athabasca.
It is likely that the Resident Factor at York Factory, Joseph Colen, may have also neglected to order the group to continue to Lake Athabasca, and instead directed them to Buckingham House, a fort to the NW of present-day Edmonton.
Thompson returned to York Factory in the summer of 1794 and in the meantime, Colen and his associates at York wrote to England as follows:
“Notwithstanding the steps pursued last fall to ensure the success of the Athapascow Expedition, we are sorry to remark it was again set aside at Cumberland House this Spring. As these transactions happened many hundred miles distance from us, and with much secrecy, we cannot from our own knowledge inform your honours the real cause, and it is from letter and hearsay we form our judgment.
It, however, appears surprising, for when Mr. Colen accompanied the men and boats up Hill River, with trading goods, many volunteers offered their service for the Athapascow Expedition, and said they were ready to have gone from Cumberland House with Messrs. Ross and Thompson, but Mr. Tomison refusing to pass his word for the advance of wages promised by the Honourable Committee it of course stopt the Expedition in question and the considerable loss of your honours.
Indeed we find this business involved in mystery, and as are many other transactions inland. . . . We have already remarked on the overthrow of the Athapascow Expedition this season. The repeated disappointments so much disheartened Mr. Ross determined him to return to England had not Mr. Thompson prevailed on him to pursue some other track into the Athapascow country, for they declare it will be impossible to carry it on from Cumberland as the Honourable Company’s affairs at present stand, as every obstacle is thrown in the way to prevent its success.
In order to suppress similar obstructions Mr. Ross took men and one canoe cargo of goods with him from Cumberland House and built a house to the northward near to a station occupied by a Mr. Thompson (no relation to David Thompson), a Canadian Proprietor whose success of late years in collecting of furs has been great. Mr. David Thompson has been fitted out with men and three canoe cargoes from this place to supply Mr. Ross by proceeding up Nelson River track.”
The response from London reaffirmed their confidence in Ross and Thompson. They wrote:
“ We are perfectly satisfied with the conduct of Messrs. David Thompson, Ross, and others…” They continued
“Obstacles are again, we perceive, thrown in the way of the Athapascow Expedition, but we trust all difficulties which occur and impede the Company’s success will soon be removed.”
In 1795, Thompson visited York Factory for the last time. At this point, he had been collecting astronomical and temperature data everywhere he travelled for the previous decade. Despite this, the Hudson’s Bay Company offered no encouragement to him to continue to explore further into the wilderness and add more data points to the map of what would later become Canada.
Thompson headed out again in 1796 to push through to Lake Athabasca, but rather than properly outfitting him with canoes and supplies, he was forced to engage two natives that were completely unfamiliar with the territory. They weren’t even given a canoe and so had to take the time to build their own.
They set out on Jun 10th with:
“one fowling gun; forty balls, five pounds of shot, three flints and five pounds of powder, one Net of thirty fathoms; one small Axe, a small Tent of grey cotton; with a few trifles to trade provisions, as beads, brass rings and awls, of which we had little hopes; our chief dependence next to good Providence, was on our Net and Gun.”
As they continued north, the trees began to disappear. It was hard country, without wood to burn. He wrote:
“The Natives, when they hunt on the North East parts of the Rein Deer’s Lake, cannot stay long; the Moss, when dry, makes a tolerable fire; but in wet weather, which often happens, it holds the rain like a sponge, and cannot be made to burn; this want of fire often obliges them to eat the meat raw, and also the fish; the latter I have seen them by choice; especially the pike, and a Trout is no sooner caught than the eyes are scooped out and swallowed whole, as most delicious morsels.”
Manito Lake (now Wolloston Lake), lies just to the north of Reindeer Lake. Thompson had great respect for the first nations of the Canadian north. He lamented the way in which they were so ill-treated in areas far to the south:
“By civilised men, especially those of the United States, who have a mortal antipathy to the North American Indian; or, as he is now called the, “Red Man”; it is confidently predicted, that the Red Man, must soon cease to exist, and give place to the White Man; this is true of all the lands formerly possessed by the Red Man, that the White Man has thought it worth his while to seize by fraud or force; but the Stony Region is an immense extent of country, on which the White Man cannot live; except by hunting, which he will not submit to. Here then is an immense tract of country which the Supreme Being, the Lord of the whole Earth, has given to the Deer, and other wild animals; and to the Red Man forever, here, as his fathers of many centuries past have done, he may roam, free as the wind; but this wandering life, and the poverty of the country, prevents the labors of the Missionary to teach them the sacred truths of Christianity.”
As he got closer to Lake Athabasca, the country got increasingly barren:
“A civilized man may never travel this way again; there is nothing to tempt him; a rude barren country that has neither provisions nor furrs, and there are no woods of which he could build a warm hut; and at best his fuel, of which a large quantity is required, could be only of small poles, which would burn away, almost as fast as he could cut them. In the winter the Natives do not frequent these countries but hunt to the westward.”
In late June, they made it to Lake Athabasca but spent only a few days there. The forests had returned and the country was much more pleasant.
On the return trip, Thompson went over a 3-metre waterfall and almost all of their supplies were lost. They managed to salvage his sextant and instruments as well as his papers but:
“We had no time to lose, my all was my shirt and a thin linen vest, my companions were in the same condition, we divided the small tent into three pieces to wrap round ourselves, as a defence against the flies in the day, and something to keep us from the cold at night…
It was now our destitute condition stared us in the face, a long journey through a barren country, without provisions, or the means of obtaining any, almost naked, and suffering from the weather, all before us was very dark, but I had hopes that the Supreme Being through our great Redeemer to whom I made my short prayers morning and evening would find some way to preserve us.”
Things looked very bleak for the party as their physical condition continued to deteriorate: Thompson wrote:
“We continued our voyage day after day, subsisting on berries, mostly the crowberry, which grows on the ground; and is not nutritious. To the sixteenth of July; both Paddy and myself were now like skeletons, the effects of hunger, and dysentry from cold nights, and so weak, that we thought it useless to go any further but die where we were. Kozdaw now burst out into tears, upon which we told him that he was yet strong, as he had not suffered from disease. He replied, if both of you die, I am sure to be killed, for everyone will believe that I have killed you both, the white men will revenge your death on me, and the Indians will do the same for him; I told him to get some thin white birch rind, and I would give him a writing, which he did, with charcoal I wrote a short account of our situation, which I gave him, upon which he said now I am safe.”
Later that day, they met a group of Chipewyan (now Dene) Indians who took pity on them and gave them food, drink, and a meagre amount of supplies to continue their journey.
They spent the winter at Reindeer Lake, a lake that crosses the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border slightly above 57° N. Thompson was finding that the extreme cold of the northern winter was making his thermometre less accurate than it should be. He had a custom one made for him that would go as low as -79°C.
Temperatures in December dropped as low as -40°C and the northern lights were dazzling in the sky at night. He wrote:
“Hitherto I have said little on the Aurora Borealis of the northern countries; at Hudson’s Bay they are north westward, and only occasionally brilliant. I have passed four winters between the Bay and the Rein Deer’s Lake, the more to the westward, the higher and brighter is this electric fluid, but always westward; but at this, the Rein Deer’s Lake, as the winter came on, especially in the months of February and March, the whole heavens were in a bright glow. We seemed to be in the centre of its action, from the horizon in every direction from north to south, from east to west, the Aurora was equally bright, sometimes, indeed often, with a tremulous motion in immense sheets, slightly tinged with the colors of the Rainbow, would roll, from horizon to horizon.
Sometimes there would be a stillness of two minutes; the Dogs howled with fear, and their brightness was often such that with only their light I could see to shoot an owl at twenty yards; in the rapid motions of the Aurora we were all perswaded (sic) we heard them, reason told me I did not, but it was cool reason against sense.
My men were positive they did hear the rapid motions of the Aurora, this was the eye deceiving the ear; I had my men blindfolded by turns, and then enquired of them, if they heard the rapid motions of the Aurora. They soon became sensible they did not, and yet so powerful was the Illusion of the eye on the ear, that they still believed they heard the Aurora.
What is the cause that this place seems to be in the centre of the most vivid brightness and extension of the Aurora: from whence this immense extent of electric fluid, how is it formed, whither does it go. Questions without an answer. I am well acquainted with all the countries to the westward. The farther west the less is this Aurora. At the Mountains it is not seen.”
Those of us who live in the mountain west will recognize his error in saying that the aurora are not seen in the mountains. It’s a regular visitor, especially during the dark skies of winter. His narrative though, brings this beautiful phenomenon to life, and his description of it as an “electric fluid” is one of the most apt that I have ever come across.
After all he had suffered through, and done for the Hudson’s Bay Company, in the Spring of 1797, he received a letter from Joseph Colen, the Resident Chief at York Factory that:
“however extensive the countries yet unknown yet he could not sanction any further surveys.”
Thompson decided to leave the service of the Bay Men and On May 23, 1797 simply wrote:
“This Day, left the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and entered that of the Company of the Merchants from Canada. May God Almighty prosper me.”
He also wrote the best resignation letters I have ever read. It was addressed to Joseph Colen. He was, if anything, brutally honest:
DEERS RIVER, June 1, 1797.
“SIR: I take this opportunity of returning you my most respectful thanks for your loan of two guineas to my mother. I have enclosed a bill to you for the above amount.
“My friends belonging to York inform me that you are very desirous to find out who was the author of those letters that were wrote to H. B. Co. and militated against you 1795. I will give you that satisfaction. When I came down that year the other gentlemen were waiting my arrival in order to assist them in drawing up their grievances; as you were then absent I accepted the office with some hesitation, but as the letters were to be delivered to you on your landing at York for your inspection, and that you might have time to answer them, I considered you in a manner as present. Those letters were drawn up by me, assisted by my friend Dr. Thomas, and not one half of the evils complained of were enumerated.
“You told Mr. Ross that when in England you were endeavouring to serve those, who behind your back were trying to cut your throat. Before you went to England I had always a Letter and Books from the Co., since that neither the one nor the other, and I have been put the whole winter to the greatest inconvenience for want of a Nautical Almanac.
“Many of us acknowledge with readiness that you have some good qualities, and I had once the greatest respect for you; I have some yet, but . . . it is not my wish to say those things which I know you do not wish to hear. How is it, Sir, that everyone who has once wished you well should turn to be indifferent to you, and even some to hate you, altho’ they are constant in their other friendships, – there must be a defect somewhere.
“The fact is, that from your peculiar manner of conduct, you are also one of those unfortunate men who will have many an acquaintance, but never never a real friend.-Your humble Servant,
“ D. THOMPSON.”
In his narrative, Thompson describes his move from the Hudson’s Bay to the Northwest Company in a very matter of fact way:
“My time was up, and I determined to seek that employment from the Company Merchants of Canada, carrying on the Furr Trade, under the name of the North West Company: With two Natives I proceeded to their nearest trading House, under the charge of Mr Alexander Fraser; and by the usual route of the Canoes arrived at the Great Carrying Place on the north shore of Lake Superior, then the depot of the merchandise from Montreal; and of the Furrs from the interior countries. The Agents who acted for the Company and were also Partners of the Firm, were the Honorable William McGillvray and Sir Alexander McKenzie, gentlemen of enlarged views; the latter had crossed the Rocky Mountains by the Peace River and was far advanced by Fraser River towards the Pacific Ocean, when want of Provisions and the hostility of the Natives obliged him to return. From the Great Slave he had explored the great River which flowed from it into the Arctic Sea, and which is justly named McKenzie’s River”
Thompson was greeted with open arms. His extensive knowledge of the north country, along with his extensive records of astronomical measurements, helped them to determine the true locations of their various forts.
Thompson was set free to do what he truly loved – survey and explore. He was charged with finding the position of the 49th parallel between the American and Canadian territories. Long before the Oregon treaty of 1849 established the 49th parallel as the international border, the Paris Treaty of 1782 established an interim boundary between Canadian and American Territories.
As a result of his surveys, some of Northwest Companies most important sites, like Grand Portage ended up in American territory (now in Minnesota), and had to be moved north to Canadian territory.
Fort William (now Thunder Bay, Ontario) replaced Grand Portage as the main depot of furs for the Northwest Company on Lake Superior.
Thompson was also charged to:
“if possible to extend my Surveys to the Missisourie River; visit the villages of the ancient agricultural Natives who dwelt there; enquire for fossil bones of large animals, and any monuments, if any, that might throw light on the ancient state of the unknown countries I had to travel over and examine. The Agents and Partners all agreed to give orders to all their Trading Posts, to send Men with me, and every necessary I required [was] to be at my order.
How very different the liberal and public spirit of this North West Company of Merchants of Canada; from the mean selfish policy of the Hudson’s Bay Company styled Honorable; and whom, at little expense, might have had the northern part of this Continent surveyed to the Pacific Ocean, and greatly extended their Trading Posts”
The day that David Thompson the fur-trader joined the ranks of the Northwest Company, he became David Thompson the explorer.
Next week, I’ll look into David Thompson as he cracks the mountain barriers to the fur trade.
Next Up…What’s wrong with climate change research?
Errors in Climate Science
Needless to say, there are few areas of science more dangerous to discuss these days than climate science. Back in episode 31, I shared a presentation by Bob Sandford titled: The Hard Work of Hope: Scientific Fact vs Politicized Fantasy in the Post-Truth Trumpocene. You can check out the episode at www.MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep031.
In this presentation, Bob describes the challenges of communicating science in a political environment where high profile dismissers of climate science, including current president Donald Trump, simply won’t listen to the science behind climate change.
Anyone spending time in the glacier-filled landscapes of the mountain west has watched our icy heritage disappearing at an alarming pace over the past 100 years.
Many people like to sow dissent into the discussion by saying that there is NO consensus amongst the many researchers that are investigating climate science. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
In a 2013 peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Research Letters, John Cook and 8 other researchers studied the abstracts of 11,944 scientific papers published between 1991 and 2011 that matched the subjects ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’.
The papers were specifically selected to limit the study to papers published by researchers that specifically identify as climate scientists. They omitted studies from people that did not claim to have a particular speciality in climate science.
The media is full of speculative papers with a flawed scientific methodology that professes many different opinions. For the purpose of this study, it was limited to specifically peer-reviewed papers that were produced by climate scientists.
Not all of the papers express an opinion on the cause of global warming. This paper wanted to look at, in particular, human-caused global warming. So they broke down the papers based on whether or not they made a determination as to whether climates were warming because of human changes to the environment.
Of the papers, 66.4% did not make any claims as to the cause of global warming, 32.6% endorsed human-caused climate change and 0.7% rejected a human connection to warming climates.
Of the scientists expressing an opinion on whether or not humans responsible, 97.1% were in agreement that humans are the cause of global warming.
It’s important to note that this study did NOT include papers by scientists publishing outside of their discipline. A petroleum geologist may have a very different opinion on climate change. It focused solely on climate specialists.
A quick review of the bios of many papers will show their authors are not climate specialists and their results should be carefully examined. This doesn’t discount interdisciplinary research, it just means that the methodologies need to be screened to remove any outside bias that may interfere with the results.
The scientific method is one of the wonders of knowledge. Every scientific paper needs to start with a Theory, develop a methodology to test that theory, examine external factors that may influence the results, and then submit their results to other scientists for review – all before being published.
It’s then the duty of future researchers to test, and perhaps expand or disprove, those results. When multiple, independent studies come up with the same results, knowledge is advanced, and a new emergent truth arises.
As Neil deGrasse Tyson, a world-renowned astrophysicist states in a video titled Science In America he states:
“When you have an established, scientific, emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that the sooner we can get on with the political conversations on how to solve the problems that face us”.
I’ll link to the video in the show notes at www.MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep052.
In the future, new research may disprove or improve previous knowledge and lead us into new directions.
So if 97% of papers support human-caused climate change than why do some disagree?
In another paper, published in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology, researchers examined the papers that found no human connection to climate change and attempted to recreate them in order to confirm their results.
They looked at the 38 papers from the previous study that did NOT agree with human-caused climate change. When they attempted to recreate the studies in order to confirm their findings, a critical part of the scientific process, they found errors in their methodologies that, when corrected, would provide very different results.
The papers were grouped into categories based on errors discovered in their methodologies.
Many started with false assumptions or used erroneous analysis. Another common mistake was ignoring any research that was contrary to your assumptions. Other papers used models that were Ill-suited to the research and essentially, fit the research to the curve.
Others pre-processed the data in order to focus on certain features while others ignored negative tests in order to cherry pick the desired results.
In some cases, the papers were published in journals not connected to climate change and so the reviewers may not have had sufficient understanding to properly peer review them.
The scientific method is very rigorous and every paper must survive the scrutiny of future researchers questioning the methodology, assumptions, analysis and the results.
In November of 2016, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council released a draft report called Our Changing Planet, which integrated scientific data collected across 13 Federal agencies.
The very first paragraph states:
“The global environment is changing rapidly. This century has seen 15 of the 16 warmest years since adequate thermometer records became available in the late 1800s; globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous record, which was set in 2014; and 2016 is on track to break the 2015 record. Arctic sea ice extent continues a dramatic, decades-long decline. Many independent lines of evidence show a long-term warming trend driven by human activities, with cascading impacts that may outpace the ability of human and natural systems to adapt to change.”
How’s that for an opener?
You can view the full report here (for the time being): (http://www.globalchange.gov/browse/reports/our-changing-planet-FY-2017).
Despite the important message of the report, the U.S. Government in August dissolved the advisory committee responsible for creating it, so it’s unlikely that it will be adopted as policy – even though it’s still available on the government website. If you’d like to read it, go now, before it is removed from government websites.
Most recently, Trump disbanded a cross-agency group designed to help communities protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters.
In June, he dissolved the Environmental Protection Agencies Board of Scientific Counselors.
Science IS science. As Canadians, we suffered through a dark era in terms of environmental stewardship during the Harper years. Stephen Harper, while pro-business and anti-environment, was tame compared to the rabid hatred of all things environmental that Trump has expressed.
First, he forbid climate scientists to publish their findings, then other government-funded scientists. Eventually, the ban on communication trickled all the way down to the local National Park Warden. In the end, the most innocuous media interview request to Parks Canada had to be forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office and was rarely rewarded with an interview.
Thankfully, we are now in a new era of climate change leadership. Some of the brain-drain that began during the Harper administration is reversing as American scholars look to Canada to avoid the scientific chill sweeping the U.S.
There are many arrows in the anti-climate change quiver that also extend beyond potential government policy.
In a paper Published on Nov. 29, 2017, in the journal BioScience, researchers led by Jeffrey Harvey looked at the influence of blogs in influencing popular opinion.
Having just returned from Churchill, Manitoba, I’m very aware of the challenges facing polar bears in the future as warming climates limit their time feeding for seals on winter pack ice.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year on record, followed by 2015, and then 2014.
As I’ve already stated in this story, there is little scientific debate as to what causes global warming – at least within the scientific community.
In the wider community, there is growing scepticism as to the human cause of warming climates. This recent study looks at the influence of non-scientific social media, in particular, blog posts in framing the public consciousness when talking about climate change.
Nobody can dispute the power of websites like Breitbart in the U.S. and Rebel Media in Canada, but this paper looked to objectively look at the impact media like these were having on public perception.
While blog sites like these aggressively try to muddy the water in terms of denying climate science and scientific consensus, even mainstream media are often afraid to overemphasize the human nature of climate change for fear of alienating readership or advertisers.
The paper states:
“Recent evidence shows that climate-change denial involves a growing labyrinthine network of corporations, conservative foundations, think tanks, and the mainstream media. Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media outlets also provide powerful voices in the battle for public opinion, and Internet blogs have become major conduits for disseminating various views on AGW (anthropogenic or human-caused global warming).”
One of the democratizing characteristics of the Internet is that literally anyone can set up shop and promote their own opinions, regardless of the scientific validity of such opinions.
Recent examples of malicious misinformation include anti-vaccination sites or others promoting folly like the idea that the Earth is flat…and come on! If it really was flat, the cats would have knocked everything off of it by now.
Humour aside, sites like Watts up with that which promotes itself as the “world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change”, which gets some 2 million unique views per month, makes claims for which there is absolutely no scientific backing. Other sites like Climate Depot and Junk Science follow suit.
The challenge with climate change dismissal sites is that they cross-link to each other creating, as the report states: “a large echo chamber, making them what one journalist described as ‘foot soldiers’ of AGW (human-caused global warming) denial”.
One of their favourite techniques is to use hot-button topics and turn the science upside down to support their completely fabricated view of reality.
Polar bears are one classic example. Since their entire life is based upon their need to feed on seals using winter pack ice as a platform, these blogs simply ignore the peer-reviewed science and create their own alternate realities.
As the report states:
“Because the evidence is so overwhelming, it would be virtually impossible to debunk; the main strategy of denier blogs is, therefore, to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as ‘proxies’ for AGW (human-caused global warming) in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominos that are strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW (human-caused global warming). By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of ‘dismissal by association’.”
The case with polar bears is absolutely undeniable. With warming climates, their potential season for feeding is reduced every year as the ice forms later and melts sooner. There is no scientific debate that polar bears are one of the most at risk mammals based on predicted models of climate change.
Of 90 blogs specifically dealing with polar bears and climate change, the views expressed fell solely into two camps. The 45 science-based blogs took completely opposite views from the 45 denier blogs.
As expected science-based blogs used logical arguments backed up by peer-reviewed articles. Denier blogs did just the opposite, focusing on any uncertainties they could find while discounting the vast amount of evidence that did not support their viewpoints.
Unfortunately, 80% of the denier blogs cited a single blog, that of Susan Crockford called Polar Bear Science. Not surprisingly, the report states:
“Notably, as of this writing, Crockford has neither conducted any original research nor published any articles in the peer-reviewed literature on polar bears. However, she has published notes and ‘briefings’ through a conservative think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and is described by them as ‘an expert on polar bear evolution.’ Similarly, the Heartland Institute, another conservative think tank that downplays AGW (human-caused global warming), describes her as ‘one of the world’s foremost experts on polar bears.'”
Blog posts by Crockford insist that polar bears are highly adaptable and will easily adapt to any changes we make to the environment.
Other strategies used by deniers like Crockford include personally attacking actual researchers and suggesting that they overstate their findings and that their work is both lame and dangerous. This helps to evoke fear and feed the denier’s belief that the scientists are the enemy and that there is actually something called “fake science”.
The report continues:
“Denier blogs that downplay the threats of AGW (human-caused global warming) to Arctic Ice and polar bears rely heavily on arguments that it has been warmer in the past, that temperature and seasonal ice extent vary naturally over time, and that it is therefore difficult or even impossible to predict what will happen in the future.
While climates have varied in the past, summer ice didn’t disappear completely as it will under current models. The current situation cannot be reversed without reducing the release of greenhouse gases.
Also, when we are talking about natural fluctuations in climate change, we are talking about changes that took place over millennia – not the changes that are taking place over decades in the current reality. Ecosystems, and the wildlife that call them home can adapt to a certain extent given a few millennia, but over a few decades, there is little opportunity for adaptation.
So how do you know if you’re reading a reputable site?
- Follow the science. Denier blogs rarely overemphasize the science or provide methodologies or peer-reviewed information.
- Follow the money. In many cases, when you find out where the money comes from, you may find them supported by conservative think tanks, oil and gas concerns, or other groups with a vested interest in downplaying current science.
- Follow the credentials. If you see someone touted as an expert, do a google search and look for peer-reviewed publications that help to support their claims. With pundits like Susan Crockford, you’ll find no evidence of peer-reviewed publications, or for that matter, any other evidence of her stated expertise on polar bears.
- Follow the language. Denier sites often don’t spend much time focusing on the science but are quick to personally attack academics and other researchers whose views they discount. Real scientists don’t use personal attacks. They use peer-reviewed science to back up their arguments. Any scientist that publishes a peer-reviewed article instinctively knows that it is the job of other scientists to disprove his findings. When subsequent research actually confirms the findings of previous studies, you get the emergent truths I spoke about earlier.
As more and more people get their news from blogs as opposed to mainstream media, it’s even more important that we evaluate the sites we visit. Anyone who spends time on Facebook has had friends share ludicrous claims that a quick search on sites like Snopes.com will show as false.
I would argue that simply because a site does not have peer-reviewed publications to support their argument, that you shouldn’t simply dismiss their value. Take time to evaluate both their message and the science they quote.
I look at myself as an example of this. While I am not a field researcher, I spend countless hours reading, highlighting, translating and educating listeners to the most current, relevant science.
If the science changes, so will the message that I promote.
Look to blogs that reflect real science, and always be sceptical of claims that seem counter to the scientific literature. It is great when scientists take advantage of the personal nature of blogs, but currently, the sheer number of fact-free opinion blogs on any number of subjects will continue to overwhelm the ability of researchers to counter.
I hope that podcasts like this help to provide ways to evaluate sites so that you can make truly informed decisions. Hey, as a polar bear viewing guide, I wish wild polar bears were going to be just fine, regardless of future changes to climate – but it just ain’t so!
And with that, it’s time to wrap this episode up. You can check out the show notes for this episode at www.MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep052, or drop me a line by visiting the contact page on the same site. If you’d like to reach out personally you can hit me up on Twitter @wardcameron.
If you’re heading to the mountain west, Ward Cameron Enterprises is your source for step-on, hiking, snowshoe, and photography guides. Check us out at www.WardCameron.com. We look forward to helping you make the most of your mountain adventure…and with that, the sun’s out and it’s time to go hiking. I’ll talk to you next week.