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Does ocean acidification alter fish behavior? Fraud allegations create a sea of doubt

May 7, 2021

By Paul Homewood



h/t partiallycreative



This is quite astonishing news:




When Philip Munday discussed his research on ocean acidification with more than 70 colleagues and students in a December 2020 Zoom meeting, he wasn’t just giving a confident overview of a decade’s worth of science. Munday, a marine ecologist at James Cook University (JCU), Townsville, was speaking to defend his scientific legacy.

Munday has co-authored more than 250 papers and drawn scores of aspiring scientists to Townsville, a mecca of marine biology on Australia’s northeastern coast. He is best known for pioneering work on the effects of the oceans’ changing chemistry on fish, part of it carried out with Danielle Dixson, a U.S. biologist who obtained her Ph.D. under Munday’s supervision in 2012 and has since become a successful lab head at the University of Delaware (UD), Lewes.

In 2009, Munday and Dixson began to publish evidence that ocean acidification—a knock-on effect of the rising carbon dioxide (CO2) level in Earth’s atmosphere—has a range of striking effects on fish behavior, such as making them bolder and steering them toward chemicals produced by their predators. As one journalist covering the research put it, “Ocean acidification can mess with a fish’s mind.” The findings, included in a 2014 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), could ultimately have “profound consequences for marine diversity” and fisheries, Munday and Dixson warned.

But their work has come under attack. In January 2020, a group of seven young scientists, led by fish physiologist Timothy Clark of Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, published a Nature paper reporting that in a massive, 3-year study, they didn’t see these dramatic effects of acidification on fish behavior at all.

The paper has proved so polarizing in the field, “It’s like Republicans and Democrats,” says co-author Dominique Roche of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Some scientists hailed it as a stellar example of research replication that cast doubt on extraordinary claims that should have received closer scrutiny from the start. “It is by far the best environmental science paper I have read for a long time,” declared ecotoxicologist John Sumpter of Brunel University London.

Others have criticized the paper as needlessly aggressive. Although Clark and his colleagues didn’t use science’s F-word, fabrication, they did say “methodological or analytical weaknesses” might have led to irreproducible results. And many in the research community knew the seven authors take a strong interest in sloppy science and fraud—they had blown the whistle on a 2016 Science paper by another former Ph.D. student of Munday’s that was subsequently deemed fraudulent and retracted—and felt the Nature paper hinted at malfeasance. The seven were an “odd little bro-pocket” whose “whole point is to harm other scientists,” marine ecologist John Bruno of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill—who hasn’t collaborated with Dixson and Munday—tweeted in October 2020. “The cruelty is the driving force of the work.”

Fredrik Jutfelt and Timothy Clark (right) teamed up with other marine biologists to replicate key results in the challenged papers, without success.

What few researchers know is that in August 2020, Clark and three others in the group took another, far bigger step: They asked three funders that together spent millions on Dixson’s and Munday’s work—the Australian Research Council (ARC), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)—to investigate possible fraud in 22 papers.

The request, which they shared with a Science reporter, rests on what they say is evidence of manipulation in publicly available raw data files for two papers, one published in Science, the other in Nature Climate Change, combined with remarkably large and “statistically impossible” effects from CO2 reported in many of the other papers. They also provided testimony from former members of the Dixson and Munday labs, some of whom monitored Dixson’s activities and concluded she made up data.

ARC and NSF declined to discuss the case with Science, but said they generally refer such cases to the research institutions—in this case JCU; the Georgia Institute of Technology, where Dixson worked between 2011 and 2015; and UD. NIH said it refers cases to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which does not comment on cases.

Munday calls the allegations of fraud “abhorrent” and “slanderous,” and a JCU spokesperson says the university has dismissed the allegations after a preliminary investigation. (Munday retired from JCU in April and has moved to Tasmania, but emphasizes there is no connection between that timing and the allegations.) UD says it cannot comment on personnel matters; a Georgia Tech spokesperson declined to comment except to say the institute “takes all allegations of research misconduct seriously.” Dixson denies making up data as well. “I fully stand by all the data I’ve collected, I stand by the papers that we’ve published,” she told Science in a February interview. “The data was collected with integrity. I mean, I preach that to my students.”

But multiple scientists and data experts unconnected to the Clark group who reviewed the case at Science’s request flagged a host of problems in the two data sets, and one of them found what he says are serious irregularities in the data for additional papers co-authored by Munday.

The fight, between two groups united by their passion for fish, isn’t just about data and the future of the oceans. It highlights issues in the sociology, psychology, and politics of science, including pressure on researchers to publish in top-tier journals, the journals’ thirst for eye-catching and alarming findings, and the risks involved in whistleblowing.

I stand by the papers that we’ve published. … The data was collected with integrity. I mean, I preach that to my students.

Danielle Dixson, University of Delaware, Lewes

Members of the Clark group say they will soon publicize the alleged data problems on PubPeer, a website for discussion of published work. And they say they thought long and hard about whether to discuss their concerns with a reporter while investigations may be ongoing. “In my experience, whistle blowers, myself as well as others, are shamed for talking to the media before an investigation has concluded misconduct,” says Josefin Sundin of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the last author on the Nature replication paper. “But why is that? If an investigation even takes place, it can drag on for a very long time. If you know that data have been fabricated, why is it considered the right thing to do to stay silent about it for months and even years?”



We frequently come across badly written climate studies, which don’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Others deliberately cherry pick data to suit the authors’ preconceived agenda. And, of course, all of this raises serious questions about the integrity of peer review.

Undoubtedly it is money that is at the root of this abuse of science. Climate and climate related research is now an industry in itself, worth billions a year. Researchers as well as the universities behind them are more than happy to cut corners and manipulate results if it means keeping the gravy train going. Worse still, universities are prepared to go to any lengths to cover up criticisms.

One obvious example is the Peter Ridd saga. Peter, as you will recall, challenged the work done by Australian scientists on the Great Barrier Reef, providing detailed evidence that it was shoddy, contained systematic problems, lacked proper quality assurance and was untrustworthy. For his honesty he was sacked by his university.

Thanks to Timothy Clark and his colleagues, the light is now being shined on what appears to be deliberate fraud.

How many other climate studies are similarly fraudulent?

  1. GeoffB permalink
    May 7, 2021 5:55 pm

    Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University, I hope this latest marine scandal helps him win his court case.

  2. Devoncamel permalink
    May 7, 2021 5:59 pm

    It’s never been about the science. The climate scare narrative is and always was political.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      May 7, 2021 6:04 pm

      It’s not just politics, money and personal careers/status are powerful drivers.

      • Devoncamel permalink
        May 7, 2021 6:13 pm

        Yes, money has a an enduring propensity to corrupt.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        May 7, 2021 8:30 pm

        Devon: It is true that ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

        By the same token, money corrupts – and CC money corrupts absolutely, Just ask some of the beneficiaries, like Deben, Ed Davey, Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne, Greg Clark, and many, many more who will retire with their ill-gotten wealth while the people they represented will be consigned to penury, energy-poverty and cold.

      • Robert Christopher permalink
        May 7, 2021 11:04 pm

        It’s the Love of Money that is the problem.

      • tom0mason permalink
        May 8, 2021 9:27 pm

        £100,000 grant says you’re wrong! 🙂

    • Gamecock permalink
      May 7, 2021 6:06 pm

      . . . and grant money.

    • May 7, 2021 6:18 pm

      And corruptly financial.

  3. Broadlands permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:01 pm

    “Undoubtedly it is money that is at the root of this abuse of science. Climate and climate related research is now an industry in itself, worth billions a year. Researchers as well as the universities behind them are more than happy to cut corners and manipulate results if it means keeping the gravy train going.”

    It is worse than that because these universities depend on the outrageous overhead that they charge the funding agencies to support the increasing number of Deans and other administrators. That’s why a Penn State internal review of Michael Mann’s research amounted to nothing. The loss of substantial overhead outweighed his deceptions?

    • May 7, 2021 7:53 pm

      It’s worth noting the comments about ‘peer review’ by Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet.

      “Peer review to the public is portrayed as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller, but we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong”

  4. MrGrimNasty permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:01 pm

    A reminder of the earlier story hinting that all was not well.

    A dead fish rots from the head down; could not be more appropriate.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      May 8, 2021 12:05 am

      Interesting. Researcher found guilty of fabricating data and lost her Uni position, raising doubts about the lion fish paper. Her supervisors first issued a correction, explaining that the number of fish involved was about half (the original 102) and that collage of 50 was offered), then (after someone found the records that only 15 were caught) they said the collage was an editing error and wanted their correction corrected. Then they said that they didn’t actually see the experiments themselves.
      Then, when Professor Ridd claimed irregularities JCU sacked him, lost the case, and are spending millions ( from taxpayers?) in an appeal to the High Court. I agree, something is fishy.
      ( JCU are the source of frequent claims that “the reef is dying” that regularly make the media – although the original claim was in 1971 before JCU was founded. )

  5. Broadlands permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:13 pm

    Ocean acidification? The pH of the oceans varies widely, seasonally and geographically. It is not a constant even at local or regional locations. Fish migrations are temperature related as was empirically shown in the North Atlantic in the 1920s and 30s.

    Drinkwater, 2006 wrote: “Ecosystem changes associated with the warm period included a general northward movement of fish. Boreal species of fish such as cod, haddock and herring expanded farther north while colder-water species such as capelin and polar cod retreated northward. The warming in the 1920s and 1930s is considered to constitute the most significant regime shift experienced in the North Atlantic in the 20th century.”

    October, 1922: “The Arctic seems to be warming up. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers who sail the seas about Spitzbergen and the eastern Arctic, all point to a radical change in climatic conditions, and hitherto un-heard-of high temperatures in that part of the earth’s surface.” …”With the disappearance of white fish and seal has come other life in these waters. This year herring in great shoals were found along the west coast of Spitzbergen, all the way from the fry to the veritable great herring. Shoals of smelt were also met with.”

    • Beagle permalink
      May 7, 2021 6:24 pm

      I understand the pH of the oceans varies usually between 7.5 and 8.3 which of course is alkaline.If I had described that as acidic I would have been sent back to school. I also understand that the salts in the sea water have a buffering effect so it would be very difficult to get to pH of less than 7 (i.e acidic) with just CO2 in the water.

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        May 8, 2021 12:13 am

        Someone (not an academic so presumably honest) recorded a pH in a tropical reef (New Ireland) of 6 where neat CO2 was bubbling out at 2 atmospheres pressure. As the gas dispersed he measured the sea water (about 30 cm.s away) as alkaline. So all you need is double the atmospheric pressure with all CO2. Who would observe that?

  6. Gamecock permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:13 pm

    ‘The seven were an “odd little bro-pocket” whose “whole point is to harm other scientists,” marine ecologist John Bruno of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill—who hasn’t collaborated with Dixson and Munday—tweeted in October 2020. “The cruelty is the driving force of the work.”’

    The Seven point out irregularities; Bruno counters with, “They are bad people.”

    The current state of science.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      May 7, 2021 8:03 pm

      I recall that the cabal authored a ‘paper’ that was little more than an assassination job on Susan Crockford for her being less than enthusiastic about the ‘accepted’ narrative on Polar Bears.

      It is indeed the current state of scientism.

      • Ron Arnett permalink
        May 8, 2021 6:09 am

        Which cabal? Science if full of cabals.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        May 8, 2021 9:05 am

        Any paper with Mann and Lewandowsky involved deserves THE CABAL.

        Part of an orchestrated campaign to ‘cancel’ her. As Crockford says:

        “I lost my status as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada (UVic), a position I had held for 15 years. This action followed my expulsion from the roster of the university’s volunteer Speakers Bureau in May 2017. However, until April 2017 the university and the Anthropology department proudly promoted my work,,,”

  7. Peter F Gill permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:20 pm

    Reduced alkalinity is not quite the same as ocean acidification. I think someone tried to explain this to Roger Harrabin many years ago, to no effect. My guess is that studying English at Cambridge didn’t help Roger much in science. The fact that a Munday, a scientist, would use the term ocean acidification says more about his funding than anything else.

    • tom0mason permalink
      May 8, 2021 9:34 pm

      Peter F Gill, Exactly!
      Ocean acidification is pure unalloyed bunkum, touted by liars, sophists, and ignorant fools.

  8. May 7, 2021 6:33 pm

    I quote “But their work (Munday) has come under attack. In January 2020, a group of seven young scientists”. Why the need to start this by patronizing the challengers and telling us about “his life’s work” as if somehow that is sacred and not to be questioned I wonder?

    1. ALL published scientific work is challenged, some mercilessly. This is good Science!

    2. This term “acidification” is an humanities graduate activist’s term. Why does Munday, supposedly a “scientist” use it? An alkali cannot be made acidic, it just becomes less alkali.

    3. NEVER EVER during the whole of geological history have the Oceans EVER been acidic, not even during the Cambrian when atmospheric CO2 level was around 7000ppm, more than seventeen times the current level. This whole acidification scam was first promoted by that well known Nobel Prize winning “scientist” Al Gore who promoted an outrageous piece of anti-science (performed using significant concentrations of hydrochloric acid claiming it to be a reasonable proxy for CO2).

    4. he problem we have today is there are too many marine organisms extracting CO2 from the oceans and fixing it into calcium carbonate which ends up as organic carbonaceous limestone thereby removing it from the Carbon Cycle. If this acidification nonsense was correct all shelly life would die and limestones worldwide would be dissolving and the oceanic and atmospheric levels would be off the chart. This would actually recalibrate the Carbon Cycle which has been seriously out of sync for 160 million years. This is not happening.

    I cannot not forgive Munday as he is “just an ecologist” for his deliberate and egregious latching onto this pseudo scientific activist term coined only for its emotional value. This is not how a scientist behaves.
    I cannot forgive those who funded this OR permitted publication using this term without challenging this fundamental point.

    • Mack permalink
      May 7, 2021 6:48 pm

      Spot on sir.

    • Malcolm Skipper permalink
      May 7, 2021 11:09 pm

      I’ve posted this before but I challenged Professor Chris Jackson on his presentation of the first BBC/RI Christmas Lecture.

      CJ: “in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum … the oceans (became) very acidic (sic) …”

      MS: “Looking at your audience my guess is that they would immediately associate very acidic with acids like sulfuric and hydrochloric, those with pH values of 1/2. I understand ocean acidification has become a theme in looking at climate changes and that pH values of 7.3-7.4 during the PETM were less alkaline (semantically, therefore, more acidic) than those before (7.8-7.7). I suggest your statement is misleading, however it fits in with regular reports in the media that the oceans are becoming more acid.”

      CJ: “The PETM issue was factually correct.”

      MS: “My students set up nails in test tubes under different conditions to see what causes rusting One solution had a pH = 8 and they said the nail was in acidic conditions. Is that correct?”

      CJ: “Yes. I believe it’s correct. Or at least not incorrect.”

      At which point I gave up.

      • dave permalink
        May 8, 2021 9:15 am

        Was this an actual exchange? I can scarcely believe that any scientist, of whatever age or interests, is so lazy, or forgetful ,or stupid that he can not actually use the pH scale correctly. Why would he say “I BELIEVE,” anyway?
        As if pH were part of someone else’s arcane specialty.

      • dave permalink
        May 8, 2021 9:24 am

        Further to my comment.

        I think I may have twigged it!

        CJ thinks the scale of ph is the other way round from what it is! Concretely that, a bigger number means more acidic. When he says “not incorrect” he thinks he is being judicious as eight is not much bigger than seven.

      • Malcolm Skipper permalink
        May 8, 2021 11:06 am

        Yes it was for real – I have the e-mail trail. During the correspondence, the Daily Telegraph’s Nature notes reported “Sea acidity (sic) leads to mussel fatigue ….. the mussel is weakening as it becomes more tolerant of acidic (sic) conditions.” I drew CJ’s attention to it and his response was, “I think the mussel story is fine.”

        The third Christmas lecture took us into a new era of alchemy.
        Dr Shine: “So another way of storing energy is to convert excess renewable energy … into a gas that we can store safely .. from this year to next.”
        AND “We are going to turn electricity … into a gas”
        AND “This hydrogen … we can turn it back into electricity.”
        Even Dr Abo-Hamed: “So we have hydrogen stored in solid state … when we want electricity out of it…”

      • Ray Sanders permalink
        May 8, 2021 12:07 pm

        Hi Malcolm, I had your sort of experience which I also posted about here recently. In a nutshell I found myself having to explain that VAR stood for “Volt Ampere Reactive” and not “Video Assistant Referee” to the site manager of an electricity convertor station. I despair sometimes.

  9. Andrew Harding permalink
    May 7, 2021 6:54 pm

    All the ‘climate studies’ are flawed, including this one!

    First of all unlike solids that dissolve more quickly and in a greater concentration when the temperature rises. The very opposite happens with gases, raising the temperature of a liquid, reduces the solubility of gases.

    Secondly the primordial Earth was much cooler than it is now, because the Sun’s luminosity increases with time. At the time that algae and green leaf plants were evolving, the Sun was between 75-80% as luminous as it is now.

    At this stage in the Earth’s history, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 was 250,000 ppm, compared to its current 400 ppm. According to these alleged scientists (parasites is more apt, their salaries and our higher energy costs, justify this description), the oceans would have been too acidic for life to evolve.

    Dissolved CO2 in the ocean depths is greater than in the shallower part of the seas for the simple reason that the CO2 comes from decaying organic matter and there is insufficient light for photosynthesis to break it down. It is nonsensical to suggest that the very shallow interface between the surface of an ocean and the atmosphere is going to lead to CO2 descending into the ocean depths. When wave action is also taken into account which releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere the amount of CO2 in the oceans from the atmosphere is negligible.

    I have some practical experience of this. I holidayed in Marbella every year from 1998 until I retired in 2015 and then lived there for three years. On the promenade, next to the beach there is a weather and sea station giving details about the Mediterranean Sea including its pH, which during this time never changed from 7.2, which is slightly alkaline. It was very telling when in my last year there, the pH display was removed!

    • Philip Mulholland permalink
      May 7, 2021 7:19 pm

      “All the ‘climate studies’ are flawed, including this one!”
      I fully agree with the content and sentiment of your comment..
      I have one proviso. The solubility of calcium carbonate in sea water actually declines as the temperature increases. This is because of the complex relationship with the bicarbonate ion and the impact of temperature on carbon dioxide gas dissolved in water, which itself decreases as the temperature of the water rises (as you correctly state). Like all good science it is complicated.
      The whole concept of “ocean acidification” by carbon dioxide gas applied to a complex buffered system aka sea water is an absurd nonsense.

    • Broadlands permalink
      May 7, 2021 7:52 pm

      Andrew… the pH of many parts of the oceans and seas, including the Mediterranean Sea, was measured in 1919 by A.G. Mayor. He reported that the Eastern Med. was 8.27 while the Western Med. was 8.22. The coast of Portugal was 8.25. The deep water of the Black Sea was reported by Mayor at 7.45. Your value of 7.2 for the Med must have been an error. The important point is that there is no meaningful global average pH for the world’s oceans and seas that can be put into some context with a global warming of less than one degree C. that has been extrapolated into a “climate emergency”.

  10. bobn permalink
    May 7, 2021 7:31 pm

    How many other climate studies are similarly fraudulent?

    Nearly all of them i’d guess!

    Easier to ask – How many other climate studies are NOT similarly fraudulent?

    Shorter list!

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      May 8, 2021 9:27 am

      I don’t about fradulent but based on other areas of science at least 50% are wrong in some way and cannot be replicated. That’s the simple statistic that demonstrates the corruption of Climate Science – there’s simply no way all these papers can be correct.

  11. May 7, 2021 8:59 pm

    Shocking it is that the Royal Society has not, evidenty, challenged and sought re-evaluation ofthe travesties of science informing the biggest scam since Communism and Nazism.

    Note the RS’s motto!

    • May 8, 2021 12:29 pm

      The problem is that the motto is in Latin. I doubt if any so called ‘scientist’ promoting the climate change garbage has that level of education

  12. Jack Minnock permalink
    May 7, 2021 9:44 pm

    Oh Paul, “Sea of Doubt” 😢 sounds like a Calamity in the sea of Climate Change.

  13. May 7, 2021 9:48 pm

    The James Cook gang objected to the Deakin Seven’s aggressiveness.
    Irony alert!
    They themselves didn’t never do something as aggressive as getting a colleague anyone sacked – or anything like that, would they?

    • May 7, 2021 9:51 pm

      Posted too quick
      They themselves never did anything as aggressive as getting a colleague sacked – or anything like that, did they?

  14. Is it just me? permalink
    May 8, 2021 12:52 am

    I suppose when they talk of ‘altering fish behaviour’, we should just all be grateful we don’t have sharks identifying as coral, or dolphins tattooing themselves with “gay whales matter”? I probably shouldn’t even suggest it should I?

    • Is it just me? permalink
      May 8, 2021 12:55 am

      OK – so dolphins are mammals – but don’t you oppress me Stan….LOL!

    • May 8, 2021 5:50 pm

      Do gay sturgeon produce gayviar?

  15. May 8, 2021 3:29 am

    Can the ocean acidify itself?

  16. Phoenix44 permalink
    May 8, 2021 9:25 am

    “Munday has co-authored more than 250 papers”

    There you go. No way he can have done that properly. That’s ten a year in a 25 year career.

    • Adam Gallon permalink
      May 8, 2021 11:25 am

      In other words, his juniors did the work & as their “Supervisor”, he gets to have his name tagged on the end.

      • devonblueboy permalink
        May 8, 2021 12:09 pm

        That’s what they call science

  17. Ron Arnett permalink
    May 8, 2021 10:02 am

    Yes I recall that.

    It was weird because while there many Polar Bear populations, those that are in Canada (which are most of them) are thriving as even just ordinary reading could confirm. Those Canadians whose lives are intimately connected with Polar Bears could tell any scientist that is the case, if said scientists were genuinely interested in on the ground observation.

    But then all those so called scientists at the University of Victoria will assure you that there are an almost infinite number of sexes flowing from the human genome and that it should be illegal to say otherwise.

    I admit I have seen that photo of a starving Polar Bear which is claimed to be the condition of every one of them. Or maybe that is just what happens when you get old and sick while you don’t have the product of civilization and you are living north of Sixty.

    I also saw that photo of the Polar Bear standing on the tiny remains of an ice floe looking out over an empty sea with an anthropomorphically judged forlorn expression. Personally, I equally self indulgently thought he was thinking…..Damn, this is the last time I am going to do one these death struggle swims. From now on I am going to stay on the beach and eat Puffin eggs no matter how much Humans think that makes me an embarrassing wimp. They won’t think that when I go for a stroll in their neighborhood and eat all their stupid, threat displaying, ankle biter, domestic dogs (and stray children) …….

  18. another ian permalink
    May 8, 2021 10:11 am

    Re cajwbroomhill PERMALINK
    May 7, 2021 8:59 pm

    “Note the Royal Society motto”

    I guess we should thank them for alerting us to its needed application to even Royal Societies

  19. Ron Arnett permalink
    May 8, 2021 10:13 am

    My previous comment was directed to MrGrimNasty. For some reason Word Press treats my replies as brand new comments. Something to do with being forced to log out and log in again even though the comment is only a minute apart like this one is from a previous comment.

  20. John Wainwright permalink
    May 10, 2021 9:04 am

    Do these morons know about and understand the pH scale?

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