This paper on ocean acidification has an element that is relevant for forest planning and litigation, and specifically the definition of “best available science.”
Ocean acidification has received much attention in the press, such as in a 2009 NT Times article, “Rising Acidity Is Threatening Food Web of Oceans, Science Panel Says.” The Times wrote that, “Now an international panel of marine scientists says this acidity is accelerating so fast it threatens the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the marine food web generally.”
This month a study reported that a “Meta-analysis reveals an extreme “decline effect” in the impacts of ocean acidification on fish behavior.” PLoS Biol 20(2): e3001511. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001511
A press release says the paper “demonstrates that the apparent severity of ocean acidification impacts on fish behaviour, as reported in the scientific literature, has declined dramatically over the past decade.”
The press release includes this passage (emphasis added]:
The researchers used meta-analysis to analyse trends in reported effects of ocean acidification on fish behaviour in studies published from 2009-2019. While early studies reported extremely clear and strong effects, the magnitude of those impacts has decreased over time and have been negligible for the past five years.
“A textbook example of the decline effect”, explains Dr. Clements, lead author of the study. “The decline effect is the tendency for the strength of scientific findings to decrease in magnitude over time. While relatively well-recognized in fields like psychology and medicine, it is lesser known in ecology—our study provides perhaps the most striking example of it in this field to date.”
To determine what might have caused the decline effect in their meta-analysis, the authors explored numerous biological factors, but found that biological differences between studies through time could not explain the results. Instead, common scientific biases largely explained the decline effect.
“Science often suffers from publication bias, where strong effects are selectively published by authors and prestigious journals”, says co-author Prof. Jutfelt. “It’s only after others try to replicate initial results and publish less-striking findings that true effects become known. Our analysis shows that strong effects in this field are favorably published in high impact journals.”
Maybe forest planners, litigants, and courts ought to use the “best available mature science,” not necessarily the latest science.