Idso’s Rebuttal to Scott Doney’s Senate Testimony on “Ocean Acidification”

Source: Climate Etc. acid_test

by Judith Curry

Scott Doney?s testimony

Excerpts from Doney?s recent congressional testimony [link]


Craig Idso has written comprehensive rebuttal to the NRDC film ?Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification.? [link]

So what?s the story here? Are coral reefs really in their last decades of existence? Will the shells of other calcifying marine life also dissolve away during our lifetimes? The NRDC film certainly makes it appear that such is the case; but a little scientific sleuthing reveals nothing of substance in this regard. In fact, even a cursory review of the peer-reviewed scientific literature reveals that an equally strong case ? if not a more persuasive one ? can be made for the proposition that the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration will actually prove a boon to calcifying marine life. Sadly, however, the NRDC chose to present an extreme one-sided, propagandized view of ocean acidification; and in this critique we present the part of the story that they clearly don?t want you to know.

[25 pages of text, 13 pages of references]

From the Conclusions:

In conclusion, based on the many real-world observations and laboratory experiments described above, it is clear that recent theoretical claims of impending marine species extinctions, due to increases in the atmosphere?s CO2 concentration, have no basis in empirical reality. In fact, these unsupportable contentions are typically refuted by demonstrable facts. As such, the NRDC?s portrayal of CO2-induced ocean acidification as a megadisaster-in-the-making is seen, at best, to be a one-sided distortion of the truth or, at worst, a blatant attempt to deceive the public.

Dr. Judith Curry

Dr. Judith Curry

Surely, the NRDC and the scientists portrayed in their film should have been aware of at least one of the numerous peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that do not support a catastrophic ? or even a problematic ? view of the effect of ocean acidification on calcifying marine organisms; and they should have shared that information with the public. If by some slim chance they were not aware, shame on them for not investing the time, energy, and resources needed to fully investigate an issue that has profound significance for the biosphere. And if they did know the results of the studies we have discussed, no one should ever believe a single word they may utter or write in the future. 

Finally, if there is a lesson to be learned from the materials presented in this document, it is that far too many predictions of CO2-induced catastrophes are looked upon as sure-to-occur, when real-world observations show such doomsday scenarios to be highly unlikely or even virtual impossibilities. The phenomenon of CO2-induced ocean acidification is no different. Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations are not the bane of the biosphere; they are an invaluable boon to the planet?s many life forms.

JC comment:  So whose view of the ocean acidification is correct:  Doney?s or Idso?s?  In this instance, it is instructive for me to describe  my own reasoning process, since I come to this topic with very little first hand knowledge, beyond understanding the basic chemistry of the problem.

When I saw Scott Doney listed as a witness for this hearing, I was very pleased, since he is a scientific heavy hitter on this subject.  However, upon reading the first page of his testimony, the following statement raised my skeptical hackles, especially since their was no evidence or reference to support this:

Today the surface ocean is almost 30% more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times.

I found Doney?s testimony to be highly normative, something that I am not a fan of in testimony by scientists.  I did a word search, looking for ?uncertain?, ?disagreement?, ?debate?, ?unknown?.  The only statements I found were:

Decisions should incorporate precautionary considerations to account for the fact that potential carbon dioxide thresholds are presently unknown for many aspects of ocean acidification.

The potential biological consequences due to acidification are slowly becoming clearer at the level of individual species, but substantial uncertainties remain particularly at the ecosystem level.

For these reasons, Doney?s testimony didn?t score too high on my credibility meter, in spite of my acknowledgement of his expertise and stature in the field.

I figured that there has to be another side to this story, so I did a quick google search and spotted Idso?s document.  Idso?s document clearly states that there is another side to this story.  Idso?s approach is more credible IMO, since he acknowledges that there are two sides to the story, that at this point may be equally plausible.    I searched for the same 4 words; only spotted one use of ?unknown?, so I am not sure how useful my little litmus test was.

The issue is this:  failure of the ?mainstream? experts to adequately discuss uncertainty and alternative viewpoints leaves a void to be filled by the likes of Idso, with the inadvertent effect of elevating Idso?s essay more than it probably deserves.

That said, I cannot personally judge whether Doney?s or Idso?s arguments are better scientifically, without digging into the primary literature myself; and even then I am not sure how confident I would be in my own ability to assess this.

If we use the Italian Flag method (Michael Tobis will go ballistic if he spots this), we have:

  • Evidence for (green):  Doney?s arguments
  • Evidence against (red):  Idso?s arguments
  • Uncertainty and ignorance (white): there must be plenty here, but I haven?t seen any document that articulates the known unknowns.

I suspect that red and white add up to more than 50%, that is as close as I can come to making an assessment on this.

I would appreciate any good references on this topic, and I look forward to your comments.

SPPI Note:  Also see these papers:

Acid Seas, Back to Basic

C02 Science’s Ocean Acidification Database

PowerPoint slides from Dr. Willie Soon?s Congressional staff briefing held in DC on April 13, 2010


EPA’s Role in Protecting Ocean Health Should Focus on the “Here-and-Now” Threats

Effects of Ocean Acidification on Marine Ecosystems

A New Propaganda Film by Natl. Resources Defense Council Fails the Acid Test of Real World Data