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Barrier Reef conflict of interest controversy continues
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 11:27
Article Index
Barrier Reef conflict of interest controversy continues
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The following letter was written by Dr Russell Reichelt, the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australia, in response to a letter written by Baird Maritime blogger, Dr Walter Starck. Click here to read Dr Starck’s original letter to Dr Reichelt, published on April 16.

TO: Walter Starck, Ph.D, Australia

FROM: Dr Russell Reichelt, Chairman, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australia   

Dear Dr Starck,

Thank you for your email expressing concerns about the recent scientific paper Adaptive Management of the Great Barrier Reef: A globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves.

Your email covered the issues of scientific propriety and factual validity, and included a comment about availability of materials, data and protocols. I note that you acknowledge the paper is published in a very prestigious international scientific journal, which has its own processes of independent review.

The normal way of handling any potential conflict of interest is to ensure that the interest is disclosed. The paper clearly acknowledges the sources of support on page seven: these include not only the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation but a number of others listed also.

The paper also clearly states author affiliations. Given this open acknowledgment of support from long-established research funding sources, I could find no concealment of interest.

The paper is a review paper and as such the authors are citing their own previous work on various topics as well as citing the work of others. The paper also draws attention to cases of conflicting evidence and does not ignore them.

All of the methods, data and analyses are appropriately referenced within the paper and its online supporting information, consistent with scientific publication practice and the PNAS requirements.

Where the data have been previously published, this is indicated by references to the original publication including various reports available online; where new data are included in the paper, the methods and relevant details are indicated where appropriate- often this entails citation of a related publication.

In your final remarks you quoted a statement from the paper about the extent of relevant data that are not published or not readily accessible. This comment refers to the situation prior to publication of this paper and the release of the data sources in this paper was a very positive step forward.

Taking these observations into account, I found nothing to support your assertion that there are "serious issues of scientific integrity" in relation to conflicts of interest.

I note that you disagree with various findings in the paper. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority makes use of the best available scientific information, and we use the scientific peer-review process as the preferred measure of quality. We accept that debate between opposing views is normal process of building understanding, whether it be in scientific or other spheres of public discourse.

If you have scientific data or analysis that provides an alternative way of viewing these issues or which help to build a more solid scientific knowledge base, I encourage you to publish those via processes that include clear statements of methods, sources of data and supported by peer review.