I’m dropping by to say thank you for your posts on this, including this. They have provoked a lot of reflection for me.
As just another journo trying to make sense of the science, it wasn’t obvious to me at all that Shakhova’s work is speculative.
That some prominent Arctic scientists seem to agree with her only made it seem more incredible to me that her assertions about gas hydrates at the ESAS are not actually confirmed, but rather hypotheses. Yours and Gavin Schmidts comments have now made this point really clear.
I didn’t really get this before – the language that has been used by Shakhova and others on this issue has been almost definitive in tone (there *are* this quantity of hydrates etc etc).
On twitter when Gavin first responded saying ‘but there’s no evidence for this’ after I’d sent a link to a paper by Shakhova and Semiletov talking in some detail about methane clathrates at the ESAS and permafrost, I didn’t grasp that their discussions were actually not proven.
Journos generally assume that strong statements of fact about science issued – whether in press releases from credible sources or in journal articles – have been checked enough to be reliable. I’m now starting to realise, with some shock, that this is not necessarily the case. (I’ve been a journo for a while but working on enviro related stuff in last few yrs)
I believed shallow methane hydrates were found disassociating at the ESAS because this is what has been stated repeatedly as if it is fact. Even with the caveats and qualifications, the existence of the hydrates has been stated again and again – I took this at face value and couldn’t quite believe that it would be possible for scientists to make such statements with such seeming certainty and be wrong. Especially given that there are quite a few other specialists lending credence to the idea. People like Wadhams for instance, or the 20 authors of that Russian review paper, don’t use speculative language.
So it has, for me, been a challenge trying to understand why these guys treat Shakhova’s work as non speculative while many others are unconvinced.
As an outsider and non scientist, this comes across as a scientific disagreement / but if you, Gavin and others are correct then there is more going on here, and it would seem to me that some irresponsible claims are being made, and that reasonable speculation is being presented as fact.
I’m still trying to understand this and make sense of the extent to which the assertions lack evidence. Some of the papers refer to drill cores and samples and hydro acoustic analysis etc but I’m not equipped to grasp how solid or hypothetical the results of this sort of empirical fieldwork is.
So I plan to come back to this subject looking more closely at the speculative nature of the claims about methane hydrates at the ESAS in particular – for now, though I need to take a break from the issue!
But I will probably come back to you with some questions for a follow up piece.
If you are right about all this, then you are also right about the challenges posed for science / enviro journos.
I’m now starting to experience that sense of dismay you describe as its dawning that what some prominent scientists are saying about this issue might not actually be justified by available evidence.
Thanks for your persistence on this one.
Sure enough, this story is not going away. So for the record here is Nafeez’s retraction from Sept 10 2013: