Since venturing as a voice for pro-nuclear environmentalism I have been regularly pointed toward Dr Patrick Moore as an individual with the same stance. Every time I look, I don’t like what I see: a voice that likely does as much harm as good. I don’t find him to be an insightful, thought provoking intellectual but rather a predictable contrarian.

When he labelled Ken Caldeira a “fake” today, I took an interest.

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Caldeira is, to me, the opposite of Moore: a working, senior scientist and an authentic and valuable voice regarding the need to use nuclear energy to tackle climate change. We met at COP21 in Paris and we discussed his research (Albright et al 2016) that was coming up for publication in Nature.

It was this research that Moore took umbrage with, suggesting the measurement methodology for calcification of coral was flawed to the degree this constituted “fakery”. That’s quite a claim. Albright et al (2016) was published in one of the world’s most competitive peer-reviewed journals (Nature). That does not make a serious flaw constituting fakery impossible, however it’s improbable. Caldeira himself has over 200 published papers, over 11,000 citations, an h-index of 51 and an especially solid record of publication since 2005 including a focus in coral reefs. Non-specialists can comfortably assume the methodology published to Albright et al (2016) is strong unless compelling evidence to the contrary is presented. So I put that to Moore: don’t Tweet, write.

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Dr Moore promptly directed me to a publication which he called “double-blind peer-reviewed”. That was interesting to me. I was not aware Moore was published in journals on the subject of coral reef, acidification, calcification etc, so I opened the link.

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The link was not a journal article but a report from a think-tank. Their stated mission and modus operandi is:

Research conducted by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy is conducted under the highest ethical and academic standards. Research subjects are determined through an ongoing needs assessment survey of private and public sector policymakers. Research is conducted independent of Frontier Centre donors and Board of Directors and is subject to double-blind peer review prior to publication….Innovative thought, boldly imagined. Rigorously researched by the most credible experts in their field. Strenuously peer reviewed. Clearly and aggressively communicated to voters and policy makers through the press and popular dialogue.

That sounds superficially compelling. However Dr. Moore himself is Chair of the Energy, Ecology and Prosperity Program at this very think-tank. So this report was scoped, commissioned, funded and published through the organisation at which the author holds a senior position. That does not constitute “the highest ethical and academic standards” in any sense comparable to actual journal publication. Furthermore a Scopus check of Dr Moore reveals five publications, two citations, none on this topic, none since 2006 and an h-index of 1. Even assuming Scopus is not capturing some of Dr. Moore’s work, even acknowledging his long and interesting career, it is abundantly clear he is no expert in mechanisms and impacts of ocean acidification let alone among “the most credible experts in their field”.

I put the issue of the publication standard (rather snarkily I admit) to Moore over Twitter: The response was…curt.

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Leaving aside Dr. Moore’s vulgarity, it is not a journal. Including references from journals does not mean you have published in one.  I have searched for a journal from this organisation (not found), searched the article title in my university library (not found) and searched Dr. Moore’s publications on Scopus (not found). Perhaps this work has been published in an actual journal. I have asked Moore for a different link however am yet to receive a response.

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That’s not a journal…

I’m not against non-journal publications: they can be invaluable and serve a different purpose to journal articles. However there is a difference between think-tank publications and peer-reviewed journals. Suggesting equivalence is  wrong. When one is bringing substantive new research to light and especially when challenging established conclusions in a specific area, it is more credible to publish to journals. For example I appreciate that Lovering, Yip and Nordhaus published their nuclear cost investigation in a journal. Similarly my analysis of commercialising fast reactors from the proceeds of used-fuel custody is now under consideration by a journal. That is despite six external reviewers in the current product and four different reviewers in an earlier iteration. If Dr Moore is presuming to review the literature on ocean acidification and deliver novel conclusions, that needs to happen in a scientific journal.

He won’t do it. Parallels with the likes of Helen Caldicott become readily apparent. Scientific consensus is rejected. The organisations and bodies involved are labelled conspiratorial or incompetent, the published experts are fakes. They form and attend their own counter-cultural events with impressive-sounding names to hear from people they already agree with, upending the balance of scientific conclusions within those walls, safe in the knowledge there will be no challenge.

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He means “tweeting”. What he really means is he does not meet the standard.

I will agree with Patrick Moore about nuclear power until I am blue in the face. He is right about it and that should never, ever afford him or anyone else a free ride in every other topic. Effective advocacy for nuclear technology on environmental grounds demands we raise, not lower our standards in our relationship with research and publication. We need to convince people who are not inclined to our position and we can’t do that if we fail the basic tests ourselves, lurching from ideological aggression to ideological aggression. It demands a respect for rigorous science across the board. The peers and leaders I look for exemplify that process. Patrick Moore chose a different path.

8 comments

  1. We either make decisions based on the scientific method, or some other metric which insures other species evolve to replace humans: tp://www.pewinternet.org/interactives/public-scientists-opinion-gap/

  2. On Moores claim that Caldeira faked measuring calcification correctly, I would rather see a famous scientist argue constructively by providing the exact reference he based his objection.

    Without providing such a reference, Moore’s authority alone does substantiate his claim to having superior knowledge or technique.

  3. Five years ago I attended a presentation by Moore in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was of course promoting the benefits of nuclear power, along with some weird climate-denial overtones. After his talk, I was able to speak with him briefly. I questioned him about the Integral Fast Reactor, its status, and reactions to it in the pro-nuclear community. He had never heard of it. So there I was, a layperson, reasonably well-informed about a landmark technology, and this supposed expert knew nothing about it, and didn’t seem that interested to learn more. He is disingenuous to say the least.

    1. I saw him speak in Melbourne in 2005 at an event organised by VicForests. I found it a mix of auto-biographical interest story, pertinent observations relating to forests and anti-environmental hyperbole. Though relatively young at the time and early in my career, my initial response to his presentation was one of wariness. Nothing I have seen or heard since thing has done much to change that.

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