Media Science

Shock horror headlines in the press about yet another David Attenborough scoop - the mass suicide of walruses forced to gather on beaches because of climate change.

Well, not quite suicide, in that they were too shortsighted to notice they were jumping off cliffs.

Either way, it was even more harrowing than when lemmings did it for Walt Disney (only the lemmings didn’t, since it turns out the scenes were faked, even though Richard Dawkins used it in debate to show nature is cruel and godless.)

However, all may not be as it seems. In fact all is not as it seems, as beach haulouts have been recorded back to 1932, when populations get high. Polar bear zoologist Susan Crockford disputed the walrus phenomenon in 2014 both in video and article form. See her page here.

Dr Crockford’s new analysis of the Netflix video is here.

It’s interesting to ask which version we prefer, and why. Financially speaking, it seems to be the US Government and Netflix v an independent scientist who isn’t a national treasure like David Attenborough.

PS, I write a bit about the use of “nature porn” in Attenborough’s films in God’s Good Earth, ch11, p160. Whether the motive is simply dramatic effect, or promoting a wider anxiety like the destruction of the planet, it is still emotional manipulation, rather than scientific documentary. A shame that even in our understanding of nature we are manipulated by human bias.


It never does any harm to add more to a point when enquiries indicate: let’s add in polar bears.

You are a biologist, and amidst a population of healthy polar bears, you see one that is emaciated, and clearly either injured or suffering from illness (usually cancer in that species). It is obviously suffering. Do you:

(a) Call a conservation officer, who would euthanase it, and undertake an autopsy to determine the underlying pathology? Or

(b) Track it for a few days whilst awaiting your film crew, and then film it as it swims away to a lingering death, sell the footage to the National Geographic, and see it presented to 2.5 billion traumatized viewers as the direct effect of climate change caused by their irresponsible lifestyle? Oh yes, and tell critics that there was no way to ease the bear’s suffering.

What actually happened was (b). But my hunch is that we are nearly all more aware of the starvation/ population drop/ climate change fiction than with National Geographic’s apology.


If my memory serves me right, I actually first heard of the incident from reading National Geographic’s apology… :wink:


An intellectual is defined as someone who reads the National Geographic, but doesn’t see the films (or look at te pictures!).


I dunno. Crockford seems like a dubious source.

  1. She has some crackpot ideas. From Wikipedia: “In 2006, she published the book Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species , explaining the effect of thyroid hormone secretion upon evolutionary change. She hypothesized that the thyroid is the key to controlling species-specific growth and for maintaining homeostatic conditions for individuas. The species-specific flow of hormones would therefore be the root cause of why—for example—a chimpanzee would develop into a chimpanzee while in its mother’s womb, instead of a human, despite possessing 99% of the same genes.”

  2. She seems to be a global warming denier. Also from Wikipedia: " Crockford is a signatory of the [International Conference on Climate Change’s 2008 Manhattan Declaration, which states that “Carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions from human activity…appear to have only a very small impact on global climate,” and “Global cooling has presented serious problems for human society and the environment throughout history while global warming has generally been highly beneficial.”"

  3. Other people who study polar bears seem not to agree with her opinions.

Now, John - my problem is that I thought I understood the scientific method, from a long career in medical science, but I don’t in fact. I’d always thought that one looks at the data provided by a source, and decides on its merits whether one agrees.

But I see now that it is sufficient to question the sanity of the person who presents the case, or even to class their disagreement with others as a priori evidence of error.

Given that the reference I made to polar bears consisted entirely of a case in which the National Geographic admitted it had misled 2.4 billion members of the public (and in which the rest of the story came from the co-worker of the original biologist responsible for the footage), then none of your points is of any weight…

(1) is a pretty text-book example of the genetic fallacy.
(2) is a consensus fallacy, and as far as I can see the dispute, dispassionately examined, largely represents an argument between those favouring deductions from historical data v those making predictions based on computer models. In most sciences that would be considered a healthy diversity of approach, probably leading to rigorous validation of the models.
(3) is a particularly weak form of the consensus fallacy, in that “other people” is not even a consensus. Or it may be a particularly weak form of the authority fallacy, assuming that those who disagree with her have greater authority (as opposed, say, to greater politicization or group-think).

The only valid question (already answered officially and in the affirmative by National Geographic) is, “Did a biologist manipulate a situation to further an ideological agenda?” That biologist (or actually, wildlife photographer and conservation activist) is, in such a case, the one that any reasonable person will censure, and not the scientist reporting it.

Incidentally, I would have expected you, as a scientist, to have made a more rigorous claim than the insinuative “She seems to be a global warming denier.” It is easy (since I stumbled upon it in the interval between my two posts above), to see that she agrees that the climate is warming, but denies that human carbon dioxide emission is the major factor - which was, as I checked it just now, also the position of the Manhattan Conference on Climate Change.

You must excuse me for being picky, but I’m getting quite adept at spotting ideologically driven pejoratives: call someone a “fundamentalist”, or a “darwinist”, or a “fascist”, or a “transphobe,” or a “white male,” or a “denialist,” and you convince yourself - and sadly, sometimes others - that you’ve actually made an argument rather than closed off your mind.


I do not know what you meant by that. As for the rest, I see that you are a global warming denier yourself. There seems no great profit in discussing that matter with you. I was really trying to inform anyone else who might be reading.

Yes, that’s a position taken by many denialists. It means we don’t have to try to do anything about it, which suits the oil companies that fund her.

Yes, that would be the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”, a denialist organization funded by oil companies.

It seems to me that if someone who accepts climate change is, in Newspeak, still a “climate change denialist” (in a similar way, I suppose, to the way that a gay who opposes SSM is a “homophobe”), then the word is being used to foreclose discussion. And the one using the term is intellectually and ideologically suspect.

Since someone labelled a “denialist” cannot possibly be a scientist, activists can get away with denying in print that Dr Crockford has done any original research, happily ignoring her publication record. And idiots will believe them because they’re in the same tribe. The sole motivation - exactly as with the hard left’s labelling of all who don’t endorse them as “fascists” and so on - is to silence by labelling.

You’ve done the same with me - guilt by association: I see a discussion being legitimately pursued (by others), and you with ideological insight perceive that I, too, am “a denialist,” and can be safely quarantined from polite discussion, or better still de-platformed if opportunity arose (much as Joshua was deplatformed at BioLogos by the Newspeak guilt-by-labelling term “racist.”

Those attitudes are the reason that the Western academy is dying, and taking down the rest of society’s freedoms with it.

Stuff you - as Jimi Hendrix said, “After awhile, your cheap talk don’t even cause me pain.” At BioLogos I’ve been called a Fundamentalist, a Fundagelical White Male, a racist (by association with Genealogical Adam and Joshua), a creationist, and even here I’ve been called a Calvinist (used as a pejorative rather than a descriptor).

But it doesn’t worry me when I know I am thinking, and they are just sloganizing for lack of willingness to think. By the way - my blog and all my writing are self-funded: no oil-company or Templeton money, or university funding that might suffer if I step out of line. Can you say the same of yourself?

EDIT: I might add that having just had a book published with a section on human damage to the planet, and endorsed by a leading conservationist with impeccable scientific credentials, I resent being linked by innuendo with big business funding of fake science. Come back to me when you’ve done your own book on it.


Yes. There are three lines of defense:

  1. Global warming isn’t happening.
  2. It’s happening but it’s natural, and there’s nothing we could or should do about it.
  3. It’s happening and we’re causing it, but it’s good for us.

You seem to be stuck at stage 2.

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But you are still missing the point. Ccience (or even, in this case, just the truth about how and why a walrus haulout was given the narrative it was) should not depend on where you can place someone on an arbitrarily defined scale of “denialism.”

If I were in the least interested in that, which I’m not, at least you’d need to provide evidence that your “slippery slope of denialism” has been validated in the sociology literature. Then you’d be needing to explain how it is significant in relation to the underlying question of climate change, rather than identity politics.

But actually, I’d prefer a response to the recording of such haulouts for the last 80 years, the correlation with walrus populations, and the evidence that this particular one was the same reported in Russia in 2017 as a result of polar bear activity.

Everything else is ad hominem faff.

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That doesn’t follow from anything Jon said in his comments. Besides, if my memory is correct, on his web site Jon has from time to time indicated that he regards global warming as real and that he takes seriously the possibility that human activity contributes to it. But in any case, his argument was not against global warming per se, but against dishonest reporting, ideological framing of facts, and the use of pejorative, hot-button labels to demonize people and positions and thus cut off rational discussion.

Oh, and does this imply that we can and should trust statements on climate change (and presumably other issues) issued by governments, but not by non-governmental organizations? You can always trust governments? Those are words prospective heads of totalitarian regimes just love to hear.

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“Takes seriously”? What would you call a person who “takes seriously” the proposition that the world is not completely flat?

No, that implies nothing other than that you should look up that organization using its name. If you do you will see that it promotes doubt about global warming and is funded by oil complanies. The name is not the important feature. Anthropogenic climate change is not a Chinese hoax, despite what you may have heard.

Quite right Eddie - the scientific arguments against the manipulation of walrus footage are plain for all to see here:

“Denialist Dog! Denialist Dog! Denialist Dog!” (repeat ad nauseam until police move the heretic on…).

It would even be amusing if this were a roomful of high school activists. As it is, no adult discussion here, so I’ll get on with some work.


I think the issue being discussed is the appropriateness of using exaggerations like the walrus story as a result of climate change.
The issue is not whether climate change itself is real or not.
It should be easy for everyone to agree that misrepresenting evidence to support an established theory is wrong.

Ah, but have you heard of the “noble lie” of Plato? If we know our cause is both right and urgent, then the principle is about whether a narrative serves the cause, not whether it is true.

That was the basis of Soviet Revolutionary Justice: the bourgeois were known to be counter-revolutionary class enemies, so arresting a quota of shopkeepers on trumped up charges was just the eggs that needed to be broken to make the omelette of the new utopia. There were maybe 20 million such eggs in the USSR (65m in China, etc).

That’s why we so often see, nowadays, buzzwords like “Islamo/Homo/Trans/-phobe,” “Far-right,” “Creationist,” “Denialist” (and many other types of “-ist”) applied willy nilly to quite nuanced and moderate people, usually with a view to silencing them or getting them sacked or prosecuted. There’s not yet a thing called “walrusophobia,” but who knows what’s round the corner?

In the case of the National Geographic starving polar bear, the political cause of climate change was better served by filming a bear as it suffered than by putting it out of its misery and finding the actual pathology by autopsy, in order to inform actual conservation efforts. The logic was that since all the polar bears are going to starve once the ice goes (as we infallibly know), then sacrificing that one, even if it was actually suffering from cancer, was for the greater good.

The problem, of course, is the same as with Communist Revolutionary justice - once people know that the individual cases are rigged, they have no good reason to believe that the metanarrative is not also suspect. The photographer in question still works for the National Geographic, rather than being sacked for professional misconduct - and so the NG has lost credibility across the board.


It’s important that the advocates for climate change are above board especially considering the ridiculous amounts of money that has been and will be made in the coming decades because of actions to prevent climate change.

There are multiple issues being discussed.

Of course. But some people here are questioning whether that theory is established, or ought to be.

A good place to start would be by differentiating between propoganda and the “established” theory.

@jongarvey started this thread to point out how media is misrepresenting science in order to push for a particular interpretation contrary to known facts.
So why not join him in condemning this without getting climate change denialism and all that?

Agreed. I believe it’s clear that the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” engages in propaganda, not science, and that Susan Crockford seems to have strong evidence of tendencies in that direction too. It could be that she’s right about the walruses; I just suggest we shouldn’t accept her version as fact just on her say-so. Let’s recall that she has signed a statement that carbon dioxide has had negligible effect on climate and that warming is good for us. She’s covered all three lines of defense.


A problem is that “Climate Change” has become politicized and behind the politics is big money (and big business, behind the “green” mask). There are so many vested interests and when some politician or media figure uses sensational language - you must do as I say and not ask any questions - I automatically don’t trust what they say.

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