The term ocean acidification is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human CO2 emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels (UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, 2011). In this essay I am going to evaluate a range of sources that cover the topic of the impact of humans on ocean acidification and summarise the pros and cons of each source type.
Articles published in peer-reviewed journals are considered to be of the highest quality. They must undergo a thorough review process, with multiple professional experts and reviewers involved. As a result of their expertise, data can be presented in a clear, factual and appropriate way. The use of peer review conveys a variety of opinions that can help remove any personal biases and at the same, highlight new ideas and innovation.
The three journal articles I examined: (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2008), (Sponberg 2007), and Wood et al. (2008) have all been peer reviewed by both scientists and professionals in the field. For example, Hoegh-Guldberg et al. (2008) is reviewed by several named professionals as well as an anonymous reviewer. As a result of this scrutiny, journals such as this have a balanced argument and are transparent in their methods, data and working.
Hoegh-Guldberg et al. (2008) is written by various authors, all of which have scientific backgrounds related to ocean acidification. Furthermore, the fact that Hoegh-Guldberg et al (2008) is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) confirms the importance and value of the research presented within the article. Additionally, the authors are extensively cited, adding to the credibility of this article. Wood et al. (2008) consists of research conducted by researchers and scientists from Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) in association with Plymouth University. Interestingly, much of the research conducted is used by the UK Government and is published in well-established and highly respected journals (Proceedings of The Royal Society B). A clear sign of the high standard of scientific research carried out by the authors. As well as being published in highly regarded scientific journals, when the publisher is a university press; the source is likely to be scholarly. For example, (Sponberg, 2007) is published by the University of California Press. Although scientists or professionals in the field, the authors of all three journals heavily cite fellow scientists frequently in their articles. Sponberg (2008) mentions research carried out by universities as well as Thomas Love-joy, a senior adviser to the president of both the World Bank and United Nations Foundation.
In contrast, newspapers and popular scientific magazines (PSM) are not peer reviewed and do not go through such a rigorous process of editing or reviewing. Instead, newspapers and PSMs will go through a copy-editing process, in which the formatting, style, accuracy of text, balance and facts of the article are checked.
Journalists, who often do not have any credential on the subject of interest write newspapers articles. A clear example of this is Carrell (2009), and Gray (2009) who don’t have science degrees and who write about different issues on a weekly basis. Therefore, newspapers can potentially be misleading in their analysis of scientific research that is presented to them. This is not always the case; Mckie (2011) is authored by the science editor of the Observer (well-established broadcast newspaper). PSMs, on the other hand are occasionally written by scientists Brewer (2008) and at least science graduates, Zielinski (2011). Though credible, The Economist (2010) is written by an anonymous author however due to the reputation and prestige of the magazine, it is assumed that the article is of high quality.
Equally, articles from newspapers and PSMs are based upon individual scientific research as well as research conducted by research centres. The Economist (2010) uses research carried out by the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies while Carrell (2009) makes use of an EPOCA report presented to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. In some cases journals are used, such as an article from Ecology Letters journal in Zielinski (2011). The fact that such a wide variety of scientific research is used in both newspapers and PSMs is a sign of their credibility.
However, a problem with newspapers is that they are subject to media bias and often have political affiliations. As a result the language and attitude can differ from one paper to another as revealed in (Gray, 2009), and (Mckie, 2011). Also, newspaper articles are written in a style that will achieve their ultimate aim, the purchasing of the newspaper and in order to reach this, they tend to exaggerate evidence while using descriptive and dramatic language to interest their readers.
NGO reports typically contain: valuable research, thorough analysis and useful conclusions. They may or may not go through the peer review process, but will be reviewed on the whole by scientists or graduates. Feely et al. (2006) hasn’t been peer reviewed but instead is written by specialist scientists, scientists that have been cited in numerous publications. Even though not scientifically reviewed, it remains a credible source as a result of their expertise in the field. Harrould-Kolieb et al. (2010) on the other hand was reviewed by three expert scientists while Moss (2008), written by a science graduate wasn’t reviewed at all and lacked any mention of important journals or organisations. NGOs are constantly working for political action or changes in policy and therefore reports have a pre-identified agenda, which can result in biased opinions.
Other web-based sources are significantly different in their credibility. For example Turley and Boot (2010) are senior experts who have authored research carried out by UNEP on the environmental consequences of ocean acidification. This in fact is a peer reviewed article, which reads as a balanced scientific report, citing other credible research. Similarly, a report conducted by EPOCA (2009) lacks information on authorship but does have a specific section entitled “quality assurance”, where it thanks expert scientists for their role in the peer review process of the report. Although they are well-researched publications, if sponsored or funded by a large corporation, it could be highly biased. However, lack of expertise, authorship and credential is found in (The Reef Tank, 2009), an article in a blog. Printed material (newspapers and scientific magazines) are heavily invested pieces of work and for this reason the information they present is likely to be credible. Unlike printed material, blogs are free to publish and can be written by anyone who wishes to do so and for this reason are less credible. In spite of this, eminent scientists do publish blogs and therefore should not be avoided completely.
Table 1. Summary of advantages and disadvantages of different source types:
Journal articles/ peer reviewed book chapters
1. Must undergo rigorous peer review process.
2. Authors are expert scientists on the subject.
3. Contains raw evidence from primary sources.
1. Lack of accessibility.
2. Few authors for this particular subject area.
3. Funding needs to be gained for research.
Newspaper articles (broadsheets)
1. Use of copy-editing process.
2. Available for majority to digest.
3. High cost so likely to be reliable.
1. Does not benefit from peer review.
2. Authors may not have credential in subject.
3. Lack of neutral language, biased opinions.
Popular Scientific Magazines
1. Use of copy-editing process.
2. Authors are frequently science graduates or researchers.
3. Digestible information on scientific research.
1. Lack of peer review process.
2. Quality differs between magazines.
3. Only an overview of the subject area.
1. Substantial investment, likely to be credible.
2. Authors are professionals studying their subject.
3. Consists of primary evidence.
1. Pushing for political action.
2. Influence of having a political agenda.
3. Different levels of professional examination.
Other web-sourced material
1. Mostly accessible.
2. Wide range of types of sources.
3. Wide range of authors.
1. Levels of quality vary greatly.
2. No review system in some cases.
3. Can be changed or removed at anytime.
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Mckie, R. (2011) Ocean acidification is latest manifestation of global warming [Online] Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/29/global-warming-threat-to-oceans [Accessed 16 October 2011]
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Wood, H.L., Spicer, J.I., Widdicombe, S. (2008) Ocean acidification may increase calcification rates, but at a cost. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 275(1644), 1767-1773.
Zielinski, S. (2011) Ocean Acidification and the Battle Between Coral and Seaweed [Online]. Available from: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2011/05/ocean-acidification-and-the-battle-between-coral-and-seaweed/ [Accessed 17 October 2011]