LAST Monday on ABC TV’s Media Watch the sniggering Jonathan Holmes suggested that there was something wrong with Peter Ridd peer-reviewing my technical report ‘Plugging the Murray’s Mouth: The Interrupted Evolution of a Barrier Estuary’.
Today I was interviewed on ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint and Michael Duffy commented that Professor Peter Ridd said he might have not seen flaws in it.
I replied that Peter Ridd told me a Media Watch research person had phoned him. Apparently she spent a lot of time talking with him about the flaws in peer review. Peer review is a process in which suitably qualified scientists are invited to comment on articles prior to publication. Peter is a scientist from James Cook University who is qualified to comment on the report I wrote.
The bottom line is Professor Ridd and I are colleagues. The paper was not sent to a journal. It was a technical report for the Australian Environment Foundation and Professor Ridd was asked to review it. Had he found errors I am sure that he would have told me and I would have corrected them before it was published.
I was also asked on radio today if anyone else had peer-review the technical report. I comment that I have sent the report to other estuary expert and they have told me it is sound. But they have not been prepared to have their named attached to it because of the politics.
Mr Duffy also commented on national radio today that two scientists who wrote papers I quoted have since said they disagree with me. I was asked to comment on this and I replied that Media Watch sent me specific written questions. The first question was: Do you accept that the vast majority of recognised experts on the natural history and hydrology of the Lower Lakes disagree with your conclusion that they were estuarine immediately prior to the erection of the Murray Mouth barrages, or at any time in the past 2000 years?
I replied: No. The relevant scientific literature, as published in peer-reviewed journals by recognised experts, indicates that the Lower Lakes were estuarine prior to the erection of the Murray Mouth barrages. I then provide the names of experts and quoted some of them.
Listen to the complete interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/counterpoint/murray-mouth/3908760
I explained that Bob Bourman is an expert on the geomorphology and hydrology of the Lower Murray and he has written that:
“Originally a vibrant, highly productive estuarine ecosystem of 75,000 ha, characterised by mixing of brackish and fresh water with highly variable flows, BARRAGE construction has transformed the Lower Lakes into freshwater bodies with permanently raised water levels; freshwater discharge has been reduced by 75% and the tidal prism by 90%”
That Media Watch chose to ignore this quote and suggest that Professor Bourman thought otherwise shows that Media Watch does not care about the truth and/or is incapable of independent assessment of information.
So what information did Media Watch rely upon?
Not a peer-reviewed report and clearly not the peer-reviewed work of Professor Bourman.
In fact Media Watch replied upon a report written by Jennie Fluin, Deborah Haynes and John Tibby entitled ‘An environmental history of the Lower Lakes and Coorong’.
This report commissioned by the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage appears to have never been peer-reviewed. This is the key report that the South Australian government quotes when anyone make enquires about their claim that Lake Alexandrina has a freshwater history.
This commissioned report that has never been peer-reviewed is also the report that the Media Watch team relied upon.
Of course the real value of a report, be it my report, or their non-peer reviewed report, is whether or not the information presented stands the test of time.
I’m confident that my report will. I’m of the opinion that the report replied upon by Mr Holmes will not. This report by Drs Fluin, Haynes and Tibby implies that the modern pre-barrage Murray River estuary represents a steady-state that was formed de novo some time prior to 7,000 years, and which has remained essentially unchanged since.
Such an interpretation denies geological and environmental reality, for the scientific literature clearly shows that Lake Alexandrina has a marine origin that dates back to a period of late Pleistocene and Holocene sea level rise (say over the last approximately 12,000 years).
During this time the coastal sand barrier and related landward estuarine environments have evolved and changed naturally, including manifold changes in salinity in different parts of the estuarine complex.
Drs Fluin, Haynes and Tibby have published papers discussing the past history of lakes and wetlands based on the presence or absence of particular species of diatom – unicellular algae with bodies of silica – in sediment cores.
But their claim that there is no evidence of substantial marine incursions is at odds with not only what we know about how Southern Australian estuaries evolved and now function, but also many studies published in reputable scientific journals including research papers authored by the same scientist, Drs Fluin, Haynes and Tibby. Indeed the claim is inconsistent with the specific diatom assemblage described in their published papers and also in their report to the South Australian government.
The Fluin et al. analysis of diatoms in sediment cores also ignores a large international scientific literature that shows that the majority of reported diatom species have a salinity tolerance in excess of 50 per cent seawater. It is difficult to understand why this critical fact was not discussed by these scientists in their report to government. Most of the diatom species are common in estuaries around the world including in Japan, China, India, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, the UK, Portugal, Holland, Germany and Sweden.
The Murray Mouth Controversy
ABC Radio National. Counterpoint. Michael Duffy
March 26, 2012