The Fishy, Wishy-Washy IPSO Report

by | Jun 21, 2011

The list of the 26 contributors to the IPSO panel of expert scientists is on page 10 of the report of the three day conference. The previous posts here seem to have attracted a lot of interest, so I thought I’d have a yet deeper look at this panel for those following the story.

Let’s get the easy bit over with. Of the 26 contributors, we can immediately exclude half of them as non-experts:

Kelly Rigg is Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action.

Charlotte Smith is a Senior Accounts Director at Communications INC.

Mirella Von Lindenfels is Director of the The International Programme on the State of the Ocean, but alslo works at Communications INC, alongside Charlotte Smith.

Matt Gianni is a Policy Advisor at Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Barry Gardiner is a British Member of Parliament, and Vice President GLOBE UK Global Legislators Organisation

Aurelie Spadone is a Marine Programme Officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

James Oliver is a Project Officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Kristina M Gjerde is High Seas Policy Advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Patricio Bernal is Project Coordinator at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Dan Laffoley is a Senior Advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Conn Nugent is the Executive Director of the JM Kaplan Fund

Josh Reichert is Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group

Karen Sack is Director of international ocean conservation at the Pew Environment Group

Remember, IPSO are selling this as

A high-level international workshop convened by IPSO met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.

I have excluded most of the above names on the basis that they are palpably not marine scientists. There are a few who may once have been such experts, but are not involved in research, but in issue-advocacy for a coalition of ENGOs — the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

There are 13 names remaining.

Jelle Bijma seems to have a sufficiently solid scientific background, even if his research interests — Ocean Warming and Acidification; Proxy Development and Innovation; The Earth System on Long Time Scales — are ones we see too much confidence about in the broader debate.

Score: 13-1

Phil Tranthan also seems like a reasonable bet.

Score: 13-2

It’s not clear what Prof. Tom Hutchinson does, or specialises in .But he works at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), a division of the UK Government’s  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Our work directly supports delivery of the aquatic-related aspects of Defra’s key priorities and strategic objectives. As an executive agency, we play a vital role in securing healthy marine and freshwater environments for everyone’s well-being, health and prosperity. This is achieved by providing evidence-based scientific advice, managing related data and information, conducting scientific research, and facilitating collaborative action through wide-ranging international relationships.

Score: 13-3

Which brings us to Ove Hoeghk-Guldberg, a professor and director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland.

Unfortunately for Prof. Hoeghk-Guldberg, he’s let his reputation get spoiled by his ownblurring of science and activism during Anthony Watts tour of Australia:

The Tuesday night meeting in Brisbane on the WUWT Australian tour had a bit of unexpected fireworks courtesy of Aussie reef scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. The meeting started off with some protestors outside holding placards with the tired old messages claiming “funding by big oil”…etc. Professor Ove actually incited this on his blog, saying that “The Climate Shifts crew and other scientists will be there en masse to record and debunk the lies that will be told.”

Score: 14-3

Then there’s Alex Rogers, the organiser of the IPSO thing… whatever it is. Is he a scientist, or an activist? As Alex Cull pointed out in the comments on the previous post, sadly, Dr Roger’s also blurs the lines between science and activism:

IPSO’s scientific director is Alex Rogers, Professor of Conservation Biology at Oxford University. According to his web page at Oxford University’s Dept of Zoology, he has also worked for Greenpeace and WWF, and in addition, currently holds a position with GLOBE International.

It would be harder to come to this conclusion had the event he has organised had been the thing it was advertised as being. But when you make claims such as ‘run by Scientists for the world’, you start to look somewhat messianic.

Score: 15-3

Chris Yesson, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London looks like a fairly sensible chap. Shame he go involved in this nonsense.

Score: 15-4

Kirsty Kemp is a colleague of Chris Yesson.

Score: 15-5

Derek Tittensor is a research scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science group at Microsoft Research. Fair enough, though I have my doubts about the UNEP and its WCMC.

Score: 15-6

Philip Chris Reid is a senior research fellow at the Sir Alasdair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, University of Plymouth. This press release from December ’09 says,

A new report looking at the relationship between the world’s oceans and global warming is set to fire a stark warning shot across the bows ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. […] The study, led by Professor Chris Reid, from the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association (MBA), has found that both rising sea temperatures and a reducing ability of the oceans to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) may be leading to an acceleration of climate change. Drawing upon the research of over 100 of the leading oceanographers and scientists around the world, the work is co-authored by more than thirty experts from organizations in ten countries, such as the British Antarctic Survey and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany. The 150-page report has taken 18 months to produce and was initially commissioned by the WWF. It is unprecedented in its scale and scope, and examines evidence of changes in ocean temperature and ecosystems, rising acidification and methane levels, and massive shrinkage of the polar ice caps.

Sorry, Chris. By the standards set by environmentalists, you can’t claim to be engaged in scientific research free from some agenda.

Score: 16-6

Daniel Pauly is Professor of Fisheries at the University of British Columbia. According to his CV he was a Board Member of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Canada, 2004 to 2006.

Sorry, Daniel.

Score: 17-6

Tony Pitcher is a colleague of Daniel Pauly’s at the University of British Columbia.

Score: 17-7

William Cheung is a Lecturer in Marine Ecosystem Services at the University of East Anglia. According to his profile page at the UEA website, he has “been a member of the IUCN Groupers and Wrasses Species Specialist Group since 2005″.

Sorry, Dr Cheung, but imagine if you had worked for a network of oil industry research organisations… Do you think you’d be regarded as a source of impartial comment on climate change?

Score: 18-7

Charles Sheppard is a professor at the University of Warwick. According to his profile page,

I hold a half-time position of Professor in the Department. The remainder of my time I work for a range of UN , governmental and aid agencies in tropical marine and coastal development issues.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.


But wait a minute. Haven’t all the members of this panel — never mind the 8 who don’t seem so confused about the difference between activism and science — merely been invited to this event simply because they have emphasised things like ‘sustainability’ and ‘ocean acidification’, and ‘climate change’? And isn’t that why they have been invited? Isn’t the point of IPSO simply to ask researchers of a similar mind to take part, and then present their ‘findings’ as the result of a scientific enquiry?

I could do the same thing tomorrow. I could email my academic friends — the ones I know to be broadly sceptical of climate change politics, if not the science — and invite them to my house for coffee. ‘Are you really worried about the end of the World’, I could ask. ‘Not really’, they would say. I could write up their non-concern in an expensive brochure. I could then pitch it to the world as convincing evidence that ‘things are not as bad as previously thought’. And the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Times, the Telegraph, and the Daily Mail would report the findings, verbatim, without questioning it, wouldn’t they? Just as they have done here:

The Independent:

Oceans on brink of catastrophe
Marine life facing mass extinction ‘within one human generation’ / State of seas ‘much worse than we thought’, says global panel of scientists

The Telegraph

World’s oceans move into ‘extinction phase’

The next generation may lose the opportunity to swim over coral reefs or eat certain species of fish, scientists have warned, as the world’s oceans move into a ‘phase of extinction’ due to human impacts such as over-fishing and climate change.


Panel: Problems With Oceans Multiplying, Worsening
The health of the world’s oceans is declining much faster than originally thought — under siege from pollution, overfishing and other man-made problems all at once — scientists say in a new report.

The Guardian:

‘Shocking’ state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts
Overfishing and pollution putting fish, sharks and whales in extreme danger – with extinction ‘inevitable’, study finds.

The BBC:

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline
The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

The Daily Mail:

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ state say scientists as they warn of marine extinction
The world’s oceans are facing an extinction crisis as the result of a range of human impacts from over-fishing to climate change, scientists warned today.

And it’s the same everywhere. A little club of eco-warriors –many, if not most, of whom are not scientists —  is presented, across newspapers in every single country, as a panel of experts. The headlines have found their way into hundreds of thousands of twitter feeds.

Why didn’t journalists think to ask: what is IPSO; who are its members; and why should we regard their say as the final word?


A commenter at Watts Up With That makes the following observation:

Espen says:
June 21, 2011 at 6:10 am
Hmm, the owner of “Communications Inc Limited”, Mirella von Lindenfels, was also “director” at IPSO and “head of Media” at Greenpeace (see ). And her current clients include (not very surprising) IPSO and Greenpeace:

It was Greenpeace all along, after all.

Mirella von Lindenfels’s Experience

Communications Inc Limited
Public Relations and Communications industry
2003 – Present (8 years)

International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)
Nonprofit Organization Management industry
2007 – 2010 (3 years)

Not for profit marine conservation organisation designed to build a greater understanding of the role of the global ocean in maintaining life on earth and the measures necessary to preserve it.
Director of Media and Audio Visual
Amnesty International
Nonprofit; Nonprofit Organization Management industry
1999 – 2003 (4 years)

head of Media
Nonprofit; Nonprofit Organization Management industry
1996 – 1999 (3 years)


  1. Donna Laframboise

    These last two posts have been great. I blogged about Ove Hoegh-Guldberg here:

    He has worked with both Greenpeace and the WWF over the past 17 years.

    I received a few e-mails from him afterward. In response, I offered to correct any factual errors, advising him that I intend to repeat the gist of my remarks in my upcoming book. He has yet to identify any.

    By the way, he’s a coordinating lead author for the upcoming version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (aka AR5).

  2. Lyn David

    While I’m a whole hearted believer in Climate change I have to applaud your article. Well researched and well documented. Activists touting themselves as scientists does environmental advocacy a disservice.

    I think it’s important to note, many of us accept that climate change is a natural evolution of the planet and that human intervention could never stop that. However, there is compelling scientific evidence that we’re speeding up the process considerably. In the end, the planet will do just fine (Mercury, Venus, Mars, etc. don’t seem to have difficulty completing their orbits around the sun or maintaining their existence in the solar system). It’s US I’m worried about. We have a much better chance of adapting to environmental changes than most animals. But, we’re cavalierly arranging a situation we may might very well never have an opportunity to adapt to.

  3. geoffchambers

    Lyn David says:
    “we’re cavalierly arranging a situation we may might very well never have an opportunity to adapt to”.
    Who says so?
    The IPCC and a thousand organisations like IPSO.
    How do they know?
    Because the science says so.
    And what, exactly, is “the science”?
    Whatever the IPCC and IPSO says it is.

    Which is the reason for this blog and many many others.

  4. Sam

    A very well researched article and some interesting comments. I agree some level of journalistic scepticism is needed and that is how we form our own opinions. But I see a lot of people criticising this group or that group without backing up their own arguments.

    Being a traveling surfer myself, I get to see a wide variety of the worlds oceans and hear stories from a wide variety of the worlds population. I do not claim to be laying scientific evidence down, but when natives of Central America tell me they struggle to feed their families on the fish they catch, or generations of Indonesians explain how the reefs that once thrived with sea life, are now dead, you get to build up a broad ‘common sense’ that humankind and its ever expanding population is having a detrimental effect.

    I am glad there are people out there collecting data, forming ideas and promoting awareness of these subjects. We should be less critical of these people, do some research of our own and form our own ideas.

  5. Mooloo

    I am glad there are people out there collecting data, forming ideas and promoting awareness of these subjects. We should be less critical of these people, do some research of our own and form our own ideas.

    But are the IPSO actually doing anything to collect data? Do they do research of their own?

    Are they “forming ideas”. It seems on the face of it that they already know the answers.

    And the difference between “promoting awareness” and propaganda is slim to non-existent.

    Yes we should do research and the results of that research should be widely published. Groups like IPSO are not interested in that. Too many of the results would be off-message.

    We need to get away from the idea that “their heart is in the right place”. It isn’t. Instead of promoting active discussion, using properly gathered data, and from that forming sensible policies, they run around shouting the sky is about to fall. Do not give them the time of day.

  6. Alex Cull

    The BBC World Service have just broadcast their Science in Action radio programme:

    The first item is about dinosaur temperatures. But after that there are three items linked to climate change:

    “Ocean decline. The world’s oceans are in a dramatic state of decline, one much bigger and faster than ever before. This startling conclusion about the status of marine life was announced by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) this week, which bought together experts from a number of disciplines. In one particularly chilling quote, their report warns that “ocean life is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. Professor Alex Roger is the IPSO’s Scientific Director, and spoke to Science in Action.

    Water Acid Maps. One of the findings from the IPSO report showed that a rising carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is leading to increased acidity of the oceans, as it dissolves in water. Currently there is no global record of how acidic the water around the world actually is – more data is desperately needed. So in what is being billed as the world’s largest chemistry experiment is aiming to find provide. Schools around the world are being asked to measure their local body of water, and plot the results on a global map. Pupils in London have been honing their skills, as Science in Action’s Ania Lichtarowicz found out.

    CryoSat The European CryoSat satellite has provided a map of how thick the ice is across the entire Arctic Ocean basin. It is giving scientist vital information about how the ice may be affected by changes in climate. The ice map was presented at the Paris Air Show which is also a major event for European Space Science, and the BBC Science Correspondent, Jonathan Amos has been there all week.”

  7. Lyn David

    geoffchambers I see your ability to respect dissenting opinion is sorely lacking….

  8. Sam

    Mooloo, well said. There is a lot of sensationalism surrounding climate change. An unfortunate by product of politics. I wonder, do they feel they (IPSO) have to make a mountain to get themselves heard by politicians? I feel like it all boils down to that anyway. Not all politicians (the people who actually make things happen) would be happy to see legislations change. Catch 22 maybe?

  9. barryjo

    Sounds like a very incestuous bunch to me.

  10. Elizabeth

    I think this article is missing a crucial element. Although it is wise to consider the motivations of authors as one factor in critiquing a piece of research, it should certainly not be the only factor. I find the argument that ‘we shouldn’t believe these people because they have some ties to environmental groups’ a lot less convincing than I would an actual discussion of the contents of the report, how they reach their conclusions based on the evidence they provide as support, etc. It would be really great to see that sort of discourse in the blogosphere, and I’m sure it would do just as much (if not more!) service to the public.

  11. Ben Pile


    If you want a broader criticism of environmental ideology that IPSO seem to be victims of, there are plenty of discussions on this blog that should satisfy you to some extent. However, I see from the server log that the only page on this site — with nearly 400 posts, and half a million words — that you’ve been interested in is this one.

    There is no need to exhaust ourselves refuting IPSO’s report and its provenance. The problem exists far closer to the project’s surface: IPSO passes itself off as an independent panel of climate scientists. But it isn’t, yet it will go on to influence policy-making, nonetheless.

    If you have a problem with the join-the-dots and follow-the-money arguments — as indeed we should do, if that’s the full extent of the analysis — you should probably address your criticism to the environmental movement. I would suggest that you start with Greenpeace — the organisation that the two coordinators of the IPSO project have been very involved with. Greenpeace have done much to claim that there are links between oil interests and climate scepticism. They set the parameters by which their own propaganda should be measured.

    I would like there to be a deeper public discussion about the issues and principles at stake. Unfortunately, most environmentalists are not willing to even consider the possibility that there is more to the debate than pure, certain, unassailable scientific ‘facts’. ‘Science’, has very little to do with IPSO’s report: it was about PR.

  12. Elizabeth


    I don’t understand why you say that “There is no need to exhaust ourselves refuting IPSO’s report and its provenance”. If you don’t read the science presented and consider the many reputable publications cited to justify the conclusions, then how can you state that “‘Science’, has very little to do with IPSO’s report: it was about PR.”? Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it is always a good idea to consider motives (especially, but not only, financial ones) when critiquing science. I agree with you that this should be done – by all citizens, including those running this blog and those running Greenpeace. However, I also think that reasoned consideration of evidence should also be part of the debate. As you point out, there may be plenty of reasoned consideration of evidence provided on this site that I haven’t looked at. However, I haven’t seen any yet for this IPSO report. Can’t we remain skeptical of an organization while at the same time engaging meaningfully with the content of it’s publications?

  13. Ben Pile

    Elizabeth – If you don’t read the science presented and consider the many reputable publications cited to justify the conclusions…

    If you want to discuss any of the studies cited in the report, go right ahead. But there are probably blogs which places more emphasis on the science than this one.

    IPSO’s argument doesn’t develop anything new from the studies they cite. It’s just 26 activists sitting around a table, discussing their fears. Guess what… environmentalists think ‘it is worse than we thought’. There is no proper attempt at science. There is no objective process of review. Therefore, there is nothing to discuss, other than the fact that it’s 26 activists, pretending to the world’s media and politicians, that they are a scientific research organisation, rather than an outsourced Greenpeace front.

    I can see that you’re still studiously avoiding reading around the rest of the site here. So it’s very obvious to me that you’re not aware of the conversations about IPSO that are going on elsewhere on this blog, or it’s general argument.

    I find that interesting, given that you’re saying that we need to look further into what IPSO are saying.

  14. Randy

    I’m no scientist but the one thing I don’t understand about this science is that they say the ocean is being acidized because it is absorbing so much CO2. Well if the planet is getting warmer because there is so much CO2 in the atmosphere that would mean the oceans and seas would be getting warmer to right?

    Well, my grade 9 chemistry class taught me that as water warms its ability to absorb gases decreases. Just like a cool class of water once left to water will form bubbles in it as the gas escapes.

    Just asking the question then about how the oceans and seas can absorb more CO2 if they are getting warmer?

  15. MikeS

    Good post.

    ‘My anecdotal experience is the same as yours – coastal catches from the areas I have fished in (NZ and WA) are drastically reduced since my youth (49 yrs). And that appears to be true across virtually the entire globe. This decline is undoubtedly due to human activity – but that activity is much more directly attributable to unsustainable harvesting activities, than due to the fuel we burn getting to the fishing grounds.

    In my opinion, serious globally coordinated advocacy, policy debate and action IS required to ‘save’ our oceans. But near-shore and international water fisheries management and control of pollution should come way ahead of CO2!!

    It’s what p*sses me off most about the CO2/global warming campaigning – it diverts attention and resources away from the real, here and now, problems that we actually CAN do something about.



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