Observed declines in the Arctic sea ice have resulted in a variety of negative effects on polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Projections for additional future declines in sea ice resulted in a proposal to list polar bears as a threatened species under the United States Endangered Species Act. To provide information for the Department of the Interior's listing-decision process, the US Geological Survey (USGS) produced a series of nine research reports evaluating the present and future status of polar bears throughout their range. In response, Armstrong et al. [Armstrong, J. S., K. C. Green, W. Soon. 2008. Polar bear population forecasts: A public-policy forecasting audit. Interfaces 38(5) 382–405], which we will refer to as AGS, performed an audit of two of these nine reports. AGS claimed that the general circulation models upon which the USGS reports relied were not valid forecasting tools, that USGS researchers were not objective or lacked independence from policy decisions, that they did not utilize all available information in constructing their forecasts, and that they violated numerous principles of forecasting espoused by AGS. AGS (p. 382) concluded that the two USGS reports were "unscientific and inconsequential to decision makers." We evaluate the AGS audit and show how AGS are mistaken or misleading on every claim. We provide evidence that general circulation models are useful in forecasting future climate conditions and that corporate and government leaders are relying on these models to do so. We clarify the strict independence of the USGS from the listing decision. We show that the allegations of failure to follow the principles of forecasting espoused by AGS are either incorrect or are based on misconceptions about the Arctic environment, polar bear biology, or statistical and mathematical methods. We conclude by showing that the AGS principles of forecasting are too ambiguous and subjective to be used as a reliable basis for auditing scientific investigations. In summary, we show that the AGS audit offers no valid criticism of the USGS conclusion that global warming poses a serious threat to the future welfare of polar bears and that it only serves to distract from reasoned public-policy debate.
Additional publication details
Rebuttal of "Polar bear population forecasts: a public-policy forecasting audit"