Publish or Perish: A Note from Anthony Gibson

Nyngan farmer Anthony Gibson, spokesperson for the NSW Regional Community Survival Group, has warned government officials and the public to be aware of Dr Barry Traill’s limited scientific credentials on the ecology of woody weeds.

Following is the rest of the media release from the NSW Regional Community Survival Group:

An exhaustive search of the world’s premier online scientific publication database, CAB Abstracts, has failed to unearth any examples of refereed published work by the Wilderness Society’s key spokesperson on woody weeds,” Mr Gibson said.

The Community Survival Group is made up of farmers from western NSW who are fed up with ‘green-inspired laws’ that prevent farmers from controlling woody weed infestations that are destroying up to 20 million hectares (an area three times the size of Tasmania) of western NSW.

Mr Gibson said that a comprehensive search of the CAB Abstracts database failed to uncover any trace of published work in refereed (peer-reviewed) international journals by Traill.

CAB Abstracts is the most comprehensive bibliographic, abstracting and indexing database in its field, covering references to journal articles, monographs, conferences, books and annual reports from more than 100 countries.

It covers environmental science and ecology, including soil science, water resources, organic farming, forestry and integrated crop management, environmental pollution and remediation. Issues relating to the conservation of land, forest, soil, biological and genetic resources, and nature conservation are also covered.

Ecological publications within CAB Abstracts searched for articles written by Traill included:

Conservation Biology; Ecological Applications; Ecological Monographs; Ecology; Evolution; Global Ecology and Biogeography; International Journal of Plant Sciences; Journal of Applied Ecology; Journal of Biogeography; Journal of Ecology; Journal of Tropical Ecology; Journal of Vegetation Science; Proceedings: Biological Sciences; Quarterly Review of Biology; and Science.

Mr Gibson said that a PhD alone does not make a scientist an expert – a scientist has to publish his/her work extensively in refereed international journals before they can be considered an authority on an issue; hence the maxim in the academic community of ‘publish or perish’.

“The only published material by Traill unearthed was a 2001 review titled ‘The Nature Conservation Review’, a publication produced by the green group The Victorian National Parks Association, and a couple of unrefereed conference papers.”

“Barry Traill is entitled to an opinion on how woody weed infestations should be managed in western NSW but government officials and the public should be warned not to consider him an authority on the issue.

“The NSW Government must start to listen to the local knowledge and experience of Aboriginal Elders, community leaders and farmers on how best to control the destructive affects of woody weeds – people who deal with the problem every day – not political activists like Traill,” ended Mr Gibson.

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23 Responses to Publish or Perish: A Note from Anthony Gibson

  1. steve munn September 26, 2006 at 10:19 pm #

    Jen, can you please advise the readers as to how many articles you have had published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature?

    Can you also advise us as to the flora species that make up these woody weed communities and the relationship native fauna have with these plant communities?

    Cheers.

  2. steve munn September 26, 2006 at 10:23 pm #

    Oh, I almost forgot. Could you also be kind enough to advise us as to how many articles Bob Carter and Bob Foster have had published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature in respect of climate change?

    Thanks.

  3. Jennifer September 26, 2006 at 10:29 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    Bob Carter’s publication list is very impressive: http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc/new_page_4.htm with much of direct relevance to the climate change discussion. You would like his paper in Science a couple of years ago – interpretation of deep sea sediment cores influenced by a New Zealand glacier.
    A list of early publications, from when I was a research entomologist, working in the area of weed biological control, are here: http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/publications.php?id=9 .
    I don’t know what Bob Forster has published — but he may read your comment and provide a link.
    Anthony Gibson’s note perhaps reflects a feeling of frustation that government is presenting Barry Trail as some sort of expert and his advice a reason for telling farmers how to manage their woody weeds. I am no expert on western NSW rangeland vegetation.

  4. Schiller Thurkettle September 26, 2006 at 11:54 pm #

    Different standards apply to activist scientists than to regular scientists.

    Regular scientists have to test hypotheses and generate replicable results.

    Activist scientists merely need to prove that they love nature.

  5. Russell September 27, 2006 at 2:19 am #

    Taking a skeptical view of the article at the head of this topic, I did a simple google search for Barry Traill (who I know nothing about) and woodlands management, and turned up a number of publications in the period 1993-1996. He describes himself as a woodlands ecologist, and his publication list appears to support that.
    Clearly since he became more involved with consulting and active in conservation his formal publication list has declined – a frequent outcome when one becomes a consultant, as there is often never time for anything else other than meeting the reporting requirements of clients, which incidentally does not mean consulting work is always based on poor science.
    The claim Traill is not an expert on the issue strikes me as a poor argument and is typical of many of the attempts at character assassination I have read on this blog in relation to this issue.
    Play the ball, not the man would be a better approach.

  6. Ian Beale September 27, 2006 at 7:01 am #

    It used to be said that a statician (under protest) could fit a curve through three data points, an engineer through two and an eco-fadist through one

  7. Schiller Thurkettle September 27, 2006 at 11:54 am #

    Ian, maybe it “used to be said,” but some truths are durable. It would be appropriate to add something about people who don’t need data at all.

  8. Ian Mott September 27, 2006 at 11:56 am #

    I can see why you didn’t include the URL to the list, Russell, it is nothing but Wilderness Society media statements and spin.

    The classic is the one on “rewilding Australia” where he implies that birds have no where to drink and feed when they are in transit between national parks.

    Best explain that one to the Brolgas who are now almost entirely dependent on farm watering troughs.

    [Deleted remainder of post as included abusive language -Jennifer 12noon]

  9. Jennifer September 27, 2006 at 12:19 pm #

    Russel,
    The person and their qualifications become relevant if government and others hold them up to be a particular expert and reason for forcing a policy decision and also as an excuse to avoid discussion of the detail of the issue?
    Barry Trail was certainly influential in forcing the bans in Queensland which have created a significant financial burden on producers for unclear environmental gain.
    In Queensland I have seen him present on stage and in meetings as an expert scientist on this issue while avoiding discussion of specfics.

  10. steve munn September 27, 2006 at 3:08 pm #

    Jen says:

    “The person and their qualifications become relevant if government and others hold them up to be a particular expert … ”

    Since your own expertise is confined to insects, including moths, I assume this means we needn’t give your work on the Murray River much credence.

  11. Jennifer September 27, 2006 at 3:37 pm #

    Steve,
    I gave you a link to some of my early scientific publications that would be findable through a search of CAB Abstract etcetera – as this was the suggested criteria by Anthony Gibson.
    I once called myself an entomologist and had recognised expertise in this area.

    As you know I’ve since moved from research scientist/entomologist into the public policy area and my work on water is in this context.

    I have never called myself an hydrologist, but rather I have published as the director of an environment unit, as an environment manager and more recently as a senior fellow.

    My publications on water have been from a public policy perspective, and while peer reviewed, may not necessarily be picked up by CAB Abstracts etcetera.

    Those interested in my more recent work may be interested to read what has probably been my most significant contribution to public policy: http://www.ipa.org.au/publications/publisting_detail.asp?PubID=249 .

    Steve, given your interest in politics you may be more interested in what I have written about journalism and the Murray River: http://www.quadrant.org.au/php/article_view.php?article_id=1045 .

  12. steve munn September 27, 2006 at 6:10 pm #

    Jen,

    How many public policy journals have published your work on water policy? Could you please supply the reference details. Could you also please advise what your qualifications are in this area.

    Thank you.

  13. Jennifer September 27, 2006 at 6:31 pm #

    Steve,

    I’ve just provided you with links to two public policy journals that have published me.

    BTW I don’t consider myself an expert on the Murray River or public policy — but some people do.

    Certinly my training as an entomologist has been very useful in evaluating evidence including the information that went into ‘Myth and the Murray’ – particularly the work on macro-invertebrates.

    And while I was with the sugar industry I got a real insight into policy formulation and oversaw the first commodity specific code of practice endorsed under Qld’s Environment Protection Act.

    Now, tell us about yourself Steve. How do you define an expert? Is Bob Carter or John Quiggin better qualified to comment on global warming?

    I know you are a great fan of Quiggins — but I reckon he is about as qualified to comment on global warming as me?

  14. Jennifer September 27, 2006 at 6:54 pm #

    Correction, when I made mention above of links to two public policy journals, I was thinking that ‘Myth and the Murray’ had been published in the IPA Review -but it was published as a monograph.
    For the record I have written something every quarter for the IPA Review since 2003. So I guess I have about 12 papers just in this journal. But they aren’t all listed somewhere for easy reference.

  15. Roger Underwood September 28, 2006 at 11:25 am #

    I would like to go back to the original point about the relationship between qualifications and reputed expertise. There is a good example from WA of the way this issue can develop. For about the last 20 years, the principal activist, public commenator and political operator on everything to do with forests and forestry is Dr Elizabeth Schultz. She is outspoken, and her views are sought and constantly quoted by the media on every aspect of forest management, use or conservation. She is equally at home criticising hardwood and softwood silviculture, calcultions of sustained yield, bushfire management, hydrology, catchment protection, timber use and plantations. Her qualifications for this expertise in forestry is a PhD in Romantic Languages, and a law degree.

    Having said that, I don’t believe that a person necessarily needs professional qualifications to become an expert in a subject. I once knew a field forester without any formal qualifications who became an Australian expert on termites and was able to publish papers in refereed journals. On the contrary I know some people with excellent scientific qualifications who behave in a most unprofessional way, especially those who have become environmentalists. On the whole, I don’t regard this as a profitable line of debate. The best approach is to look at, and analyse what is actually said by one person or another about an issue, and to see whether it is supported by (i) the best science available; (ii) practical experiencel and (iii) the historical record. For example, many of the things said about silviculture and bushfire management by Dr Elizabeth Shultz can easily be shown to be quite silly. The annoying thing – and this is no doubt what started this whole thread – is that silly statements are given credibility by journalists. I have no doubt that being able to call yourself a “Doctor” is a big credibility factor, even when the degree itself is meaningless in relation to the issue.

  16. Davey Gam Esq. September 28, 2006 at 3:11 pm #

    I could not put it better myself, Roger. I recently emailed Dr Schultz, suggesting that she must now accept the undeniable scientific and historical evidence that frequent (2-4 years) mild fires crept through the jarrah forest from before European arrival, up to the First World War. I have had no reply. What might her response have been if I had said that it only burnt every 100 years, or never? Either way, the truth about past fire frequency in the jarrah forest remains, well, the truth.
    A further truth is that the people of WA face a severe bushfire hazard this coming summer, due to the rather obvious combination of hot, dry, windy weather and ludicrous jarrah forest litter levels. Our Minister for the Environment needs to take note of history, and seek fire advice from those qualified to give it. If not, he may have some difficult explaining to do when a bushfire disaster occurs, especially if there are deaths. If subject to a group legal action for damages, perhaps he can call Dr Schultz as an expert witness.

  17. Ian Mott September 28, 2006 at 5:07 pm #

    Classic examples, Roger & Davey.

    But lets go back to Barry Traill. Here we have a person who holds themselves out as an expert in woodland ecology who has either;
    1. Failed to recognise the most conspicuous ecological process at play in over 90 million hectares of Australian landscape after more than three decades of reporting on the phenomena by Dr Bill (Sir William) Burrows, or has
    2. Deliberately chosen to ignore the impact and significance of this phenomena on the life cycles of all the woodland birds and other fauna that roost in trees but feed on grass seed, leaf or the insects that do so.

    It does not matter whether this is an error of omission or commission. It is a question of fact that goes to the heart of his discharge of his obligations to all the people who have placed their trust in groups like the Wilderness Society to defend and protect the Australian environment on their behalf.

    For there is no doubt that Dr Traill, individually, and the Wilderness Society, collectively, have held themselves out as both an expert in this field and a champion, representing the Australian wildlife in both national and state political processes.

    And once they have assumed that responsibility on behalf of both their financial supporters and the wildlife without which no support would have been forthcomming, they have also incurred a professional duty of care to investigate any and every change in ecological processes that could reasonably be foreseen to cause harm to that wildlife.

    And having exercised this diligence, they have also incurred a professional duty to take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent that harm.

    And let there be no mistaken understanding here. The exercise of professional duty of care is the most highly developed, and widely understood aspect of the bundle of community expectations we refer to as law and policy.

    And the evidence is fully capable of establishing that both Dr Barry Traill, and the Wilderness Society have failed in that professional duty to the woodland fauna and all Australians who were led to believe that they were the custodians of their ecological expectations. It is negligence of the highest order.

    Many would go so far to conclude that this goes far beyond mere negligence to include the wonton destruction of the social capital and goodwill of the farming communities who have also been impacted by woodland thickenning and who, ultimately, will play the critical role in restoring and maintaining biodiversity values.

  18. Luke September 28, 2006 at 8:12 pm #

    It seems to me that to have some credibility as “an expert” you need to be able to demonstrate a substantive knowledge of the subject – by training and experience, or by substantial experience.

    But it goes beyond that: as an expert you have to not purposefully, negligently or wantonly omit key information relevant to an issue; stakeholders views need to be canvassed and documented; and if reasonable alternative hypotheses or theories exist then they need to be dealt with explicitly.

    You also need to be amenable to criticism and review, and be able to take that on board.

    Issues for all of us – but worth striving for.

  19. Davey Gam Esq. September 29, 2006 at 12:38 pm #

    Good clear thinking Luke. Especially the importance of telling the whole truth. I suspect that Australian environmentalism is now in a slough of despond, badly polluted with personal ambition, political chicanery, disinformation, and half truths. Any ideas on how we true pilgrims can claw our way back to the sunlit uplands? He who would valiant be…

  20. steve munn September 29, 2006 at 3:22 pm #

    Jen says:

    “Correction, when I made mention above of links to two public policy journals, I was thinking that ‘Myth and the Murray’ had been published in the IPA Review -but it was published as a monograph.
    For the record I have written something every quarter for the IPA Review since 2003. So I guess I have about 12 papers just in this journal. But they aren’t all listed somewhere for easy reference.”

    Jen, the IPA is a special interest group catering to the needs of large corporations, who in turn fund its operations. An article in an IPA journal carries no more weight than an article published in an environmentalist journal, since neither constitute independent scholarship.

    Just for the record, I don’t take “Greenpeace science” any more seriously than “IPA Science”.

  21. John Quiggin September 29, 2006 at 9:17 pm #

    Jennifer, I thought you would have learned your lesson on this kind of thing by now. This is at least the third time you’ve made bogus claims about people’s qualifications and publications. A quick visit to Google scholar reveals that Traill is an author of a much-cited book on conserving woodland birds. You owe him an immediate apology.

    As regards climate change, I have published quite a bit of research on the economic aspects of this topic, including in the American Economic Review. In the process, I’ve had to acquaint myself with the science, and my comments on non-economic aspects of climate change reflect the findings of science on the topic, as summarised, for example by the IPCC.

    Carter is well qualified to talk on geological aspects of paleoclimatology, and I haven’t seen anyone complain about any statements he has made on this topic. His problem is that he makes misleading and erroneous claims about areas where he has no particular expertise, and where his views are radically at variance with those of the real experts.

  22. Pinxi September 30, 2006 at 4:41 pm #

    What a joke – citing articles published in the IPA review. You might as well count ideas explained to kids on the school bus.

    I have a hobby: I hide the IPA magazine in news agencies, in case some poor unsuspecting innocent mistakes it for a quality, unbiased scientific journal. It’s a popular science mag, self-funded by hidden sources, not independent science and definitely not peer-reviewed! Yet Jennifer has the gall to slag off properly published scientists and scientists with relevant technical experience left, right and centre (oops, not right, just slags off the left & centre) on subjects in which she has zero scientific credibility herself, and relies on armchair commenters to explain and defend her posts. On top of all that, likes to compare her position to that of dead philosophers. Yep. serious scientific criticism indeed.

  23. John October 14, 2006 at 6:24 pm #

    The article rightly addresses the issue.

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