Laughable ‘critique’ of golden eagle satellite tag review

As many of you will know, in August 2016 Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham ordered a review of golden eagle satellite tag data to see whether there was evidence of “a pattern of suspicious activity” regarding the regular disappearance of sat-tagged golden eagles in Scotland.

Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned the review, which was published in May 2017. The findings were unequivocal – YES, there was a pattern of suspicious activity and a strong association between ‘disappearing’ eagles and some areas of land managed as driven grouse moors.

[Red stars show position of sat-tagged golden eagles that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, 2004-2016. Note the clusters in areas of grouse moor management around the Cairngorms National Park. Data from the golden eagle sat tag review]

The review was significant in that it led to Roseanna Cunningham announcing a series of further measures to tackle illegal raptor persecution on driven grouse moors, not least the establishment of a review group to consider licensing options for grouse moor management.

Obviously, the significance of the review wasn’t lost on some within the grouse-shooting industry and for the last ten months there have been concerted efforts on social media to discredit (a) the report’s findings and (b) the report’s authors.

None of these efforts have amounted to anything – just wild accusations (many of them libellous) and uninformed commentary from those who don’t like the idea of the potential introduction of any sort of regulation or accountability of the grouse-shooting industry. Let’s call them Honorary Professors of Idiocy at the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking.

Some quotes from these esteemed Honorary Professors of Idiocy include statements such as [The report would] “never stand up to scientific scrutiny and would clearly fail in any peer-reviewed process due to extremely poor science, multiple assumptions and total lack of robustness” (Mike Groves, expelled member of Tayside Raptor Study Group, scientific credentials unknown); The authors are “incompetent” and “not independent” (Bert Burnett, Director [resigned] of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, scientific credentials unknown); and the report authors are “bent” (Andy Richardson, social media troll, scientific credentials unknown).

To offset the Honorary Professors’ obvious lack of scientific credibility, the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking has recently invited a ‘proper scientist’ to critique the golden eagle satellite tag review.

Who is this proper scientist? A young man called Ben Adam (BSc, Physics), who apparently works as a Revenue Officer for HM Revenue & Customs. And in which learned academic journal was his ‘scientific critique’ published? Er, that’ll be on his Dad’s blog. And who’s his Dad? That’ll be David Adam, an artist from the Angus Glens, mates with Mike Groves (see above), and who spends a lot of time and effort slagging off members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and slagging off the practice of satellite tracking raptors for scientific research.

Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’ has been hailed by those within the Angus Glens Institute for Critical Thinking as a comprehensive demolition of the golden eagle satellite tag review, and they’re hoping lots of politicians take note of it. We’re also hoping lots of politicians take note of it because it lays bare the laughable standard of defence against the damning findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review.

Before we analyse Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’, it’s probably worth pointing out the scientific credibility of the authors of the golden eagle satellite tag review, Dr Phil Whitfield and Dr Alan Fielding.

Between them, they have over 70 years worth of ecological experience, have published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, written hundreds of commissioned reports, and authored five books, including one on statistical analysis (authored by Dr Fielding, a lecturer on statistics at Manchester Metropolitan University). For good reason, they are held in extremely high regard within the academic and conservation communities and have a particular expertise on the ecology and conservation of hen harriers and golden eagles, having co-authored the respective Government-commissioned Conservation Frameworks for these species. It’s quite obvious why SNH commissioned them to undertake the golden eagle satellite tag review; they were the best qualified scientists to do this research.

So, let’s have a look at Ben Adam’s (BSc, Physics) masterful ‘critique’, amounting to six paragraphs published on his Dad’s blog:

Gosh, where to start. How about with the most glaring error? Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims the statistical analyses are flawed because the sample size was too low. He seems to think that the ‘sample’ used in this study was the number of satellite-tagged eagles (n = 135) and argues that had the sample size been higher (“300-500“), a “much more useful analysis could be done“. Had he been paying attention and actually read and understood the report, he should have realised that the ‘sample’ in this study was NOT the number of satellite-tagged eagles, but rather the recorded locations of those satellite-tags (n = over half a million)! It’s not rocket science, or even physics. The statistical analyses were undertaken on the tag data, not on the eagles, and most scientists would conclude that a sample size of over half a million is, er, exceptionally good.

Even if the analysis was based on the number of tagged eagles (which it wasn’t), Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) seems to have missed the section detailing the analyses done on identical tag types deployed on golden eagles in the US, Sweden and Norway (n = 784) and on bald eagles in the US (n = 83). Guess what, Mr Adam (BSc, Physics)? Of a study of 869 tags (+131 Scottish tags = 1000 tags in total), the tags deployed on golden eagles in Scotland were 25 times more likely to suffer a Stopped-no malfunction fate than any of those other comparable studies. Imagine that!

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims there are clear relationships between the Stopped-no malfunction category and the type of tag used and the operator who fitted the tag. He also claims the data sets “don’t tell us which operator used which type of tag“. Er, try looking at Table 2.2 which details the tag type and the operator. In fact, try reading the report again, which explains that “there were several people involved in the tagging of eagles in Scotland, and potentially suspicious (Stopped-no malfunction) fates were not apparently due to particular operators (or, by proxy, teams of taggers), or to particular tag types“.

Disappointingly, Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) didn’t offer up any explanation for the following part of the report:

Conservatively in these analyses, we did not include a ‘dropped suspicious’ tag fate as evidence of a killed bird, even though this record involved the discovery of an abandoned ‘dropped’ tag whose housing had been stabbed by a sharp implement and whose harness had been cut cleanly by a sharp instrument“.

It’s a shame Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) overlooked this statement as this particular tag was found in, er, the Angus Glens.

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) argues that the review “made no indepth analysis of each tag type in detail“. Er, try reading section 6, ‘Tag Reliability’, for the detailed independent checks of tag engineering, including manufacturer ‘blind’ tests.

Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) claims the study is “incomplete and extremely limited in scope” and “does not show critical thinking or scientific method where it is truly required“. Er, this report is one of the most comprehensive, robust and forensic analyses ever undertaken on golden eagle satellite tag data. Multiple lines of evidence were used to conclude the spatial clustering was indeed suspicious. Indeed, on the spatial clustering alone, the report states: “Ten analyses were conducted, examining various alternative potential datasets to ensure that the results were robust“.

To conclude, Mr Adam’s (BSc, Physics) ‘critique’ is laughable and lamentable. It probably explains why SNH didn’t ask a Revenue Officer at HM Revenue & Customs with a BSc in Physics to peer review the report (yes, take note Honorary Professor of Idiocy Mike Groves, this report was indeed peer-reviewed as part of SNH’s quality assurance process).

Who were the peer-reviewers? Actual real life professors, as listed in the report:

Professor Ian Newton FRS, FRSE, Professor Miguel Ferrer, Professor Robert Furness, Professor Des Thompson FRSE.

Enough said.

41 thoughts on “Laughable ‘critique’ of golden eagle satellite tag review”

    1. I’m sorry Richard, but I have to disagree. Mr Adam (BSc, Physics) isn’t “a bit of a twat” at all. He’s a complete and utter one!

  1. I would not normally agree with slagging off a review but this one needed it.
    It is so sad that the people you quote who have decried the report seem to be held in as much respect by people in important positions as the authors.
    I despair of getting meaningful action to stop raptor persecution in Scotland.

  2. Lets not be too hard – he can’t help who his father is.
    He’s clearly taken a degree in arrogance tho’ and until he shows any sign of being re-educated has to be condemned.

    Thanks guys for giving me a laugh – even if the context is continuously dire.

  3. I read this rubbish, as posted on Richardson’s page, the other day, I’m extremely glad you have, RPUK and this is one of your funniest blogs yet. Excellent stuff, as always.

  4. Poor Mr Adam (BSc, Physics). His whole blog reads like a sixth former’s attempt at a critique. Doubt he’s thanking his Dad for the opportunity to publicly display his limitations, but I’m afraid he got what he deserved. Bless.

  5. I have no intention of entering into a long, or indeed any more, debate but a couple of observations. Why would a sample of 300 or so be better? What criteria were used? I don’t intend a stats lecture but stats power is related to sample size (which was the number of tags). Power is the ability to detect an effect if it exists. It is harder to detect effects with small samples so increasing the number of tags would allow us to detect a smaller effect. We clearly demonstrated an effect so there is nothing wrong with our sample size. As to any abuse I take that as a compliment. There is no problem with criticism but it does need to be informed. I won’t be commenting again, I have more interesting things to do with my life.

  6. Well that was a wonderful restrained academic demolition of a stupid critique. I don’t think I would want that guy anywhere near my tax situation. He should have told his dad to go and find someone else to do his critique, in fact, maybe his dad wrote it and asked him to paste and copy.

  7. If Ben Adam puts that garbage on his CV he’s going to be out of work for a while. Has he even read the report he’s discussing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more baseless assessment of anything ever. Sorry, Mr Adam, you’re a clown.

  8. I read the initial blog and was struck by the desperation and Bidie-esque levels of Gish gallopry.
    I also read the follow-up blog attempting to critique the eagle study. I cringed at the naivety of it with my hands held over my eyes. I feel really sorry for the poor lad having been put in such a position where he would be held up to public scrutiny by his own father. Desperate stuff.

  9. Even I as fellow BSc in Physics I could appreciate and follow the conclusions from the original report. However I kept my career in science rather than tax collection, no wonder tax avoidance is rife, if a tax collectors cannot pick out unusual patterns in basic data sets.

  10. Let’s make sure we direct our ire at David Adams Blog and The Moorland Group who flagged it up. Me thinks he has done a favour (for his Dad?) perhaps not knowing the significance.

  11. Old Science joke. If it lives, it’s biology, if it reacts it’s chemistry and if it doesn’t work, it’s physics.

    I’ve got a chemistry degree and a postgrad that involves statistics, and I wouldn’t presume to critically review the authors

    1. Rutherford (Nobel laureate in chemistry) said, “science consists of physics and stamp collecting”

  12. Once again its worth repeating for the non-academic onside readers of this blog, these pseudo scientific and/or pointlessly idiotic attacks, are a clear signs of cognitive dissonance – otherwise known as being unable to face up to the truth. Just as with a long list of raptors [headed by hen harrier] and other unwelcome predators, golden eagles are routinely being killed on shooting estates in Scotland.

    1. It’s a preconceived requirement to display cognitive dissonance if you belong to any hunting/shooting group. Without it you simply can’t partake in your grubby little pastime.

  13. Great stuff RPUK – as always. Methinks that with ‘experts’ like Adam’s Junior trying to be clever at daddies request, we have a strong chance of winning this sordid battle in the long term. Let’s be honest, did any of us expect sense? Let’s thank Mr Adam’s Jnr. for demonstrating just how crass the opposition is!

  14. I sneaked in to have a quick look at artist David Adam FB page and lo and behold I found Mike Groves replying to the Review of the SNH sat tag report by Ben Adam BSc. Given the damning report and comments above in regards to the both of them I feel I must reproduce it here so folk can understand what these deluded propagandists are up too.
    ” Agree totally with Bens comments. The more you look the more holes I find. This review would never stand up to scientific scrutiny and would clearly fail in any peer review process due to extremely poor science, multiple assumptions and total lack of robustness.
    Mr. Groves is obviously a man of many talents, most of them hidden, it would appear.

  15. Wonderfully dismantled!

    The Countryside Alliance trolls on social media are referencing his dad’s garbage too.

    They carp on about not having shooting interests but why go to such bother to pen total shite?

  16. I’ve got a BSc in Biology. Afraid education isn’t anything, but if you are going to critic those authors with their long list of published and peer-reviewed works than you better have a decent standing. I am sure Mr Adam is going to pull apart Prof. Stephen Hawking’s work next week in his blog…

  17. Dave and Ben …the flowerpot men !! As a professional artist I’ve looked at the father,s artwork and it falls into the same category as the son,s ramblings ….amateur! In every sense.

  18. The main thing is that they know their waffle doesn’t cut the mustard any more. They know their home spun “common sense” has been outed as arrant nonsense and they know that the government are now listening to well reasoned argument.
    Change is coming and their time is running out. However this is when the criminal bullies are going to start to lash out so we need to increase our vigilance.

  19. Dr Tingay – what a wonderful response to a very biased and amateur critique by somebody whose photograph would suggest he’s had little more than 21 years life experience. This beg’s the question just how much relevant experience he has to understand the issues let alone comment on them as an expert! I’m dismayed at the wanton destruction of our beautiful raptors across the UK who only kill their prey to eat. I fail to understand why human beings breed birds, kill the natural species who threaten them and then kill the birds they’ve bred. Surely the numbers of game birds consumed by raptors is tiny and can be accommodated by the vast numbers bred for this barbaric pastime. Please keep up the good work.

  20. Surely some of the ‘analysis’ gives grounds for a defamation action? The authors are highly qualified scientists who should not put up with being traduced by this nincompoop!

  21. “It is immediately obvious from the beginning that there is a serious implication and bias put upon presented evidence and data”.

    That’ll be in contrast to Mr Adam’s neutral and balanced review, then, which dives straight in at “some aspects of this paper were immediately dubious to me”, giving no context on the general content and scope of the report, and making no mention of the (by implication, at least several) aspects which did not strike him as dubious at all…

  22. Mr Adams offers an incoherent collection of words, veiled in statistics, statistics and lies. “Dubious” follows the shooting industry attitude of, “shoot first and then hide the evidence”.

    Ben introduces a lot of confusion into his words, clearly intended to baffle the non-analytical.

    He finally comes up with an inconclusive, conclusion with no further direction.

    He needs a job in MacDonalds serving fries and burgers, it would offer sufficient challenge to his analytical skills.

    As for Adams senior, poor fellow????

  23. But surely…he’s a smiley bloke with a conservationists beard and everything. Whats not to believe?

    However, a great, comrepehensive response. I’m glad I’m not asked to do this…its way beyond my literary and research prowess.
    Thanks RPUK.

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