Saturday, February 17, 2007


Revisiting USGS interval review

One of the people I referred to in my earlier post about the internal review policy of the USGS has left a comment on that thread. It's reprodced below:

Hi All:
In my earlier post to the obscure ACG listserve, which was reproduced in this more public forum, I wrote, "...However, there have been instances of BRD people not having appropriate peer review when publishing things. There was one BRD pub that clearly had a biased slant toward caribou-pipeline interactions."
I was recently made aware that the said report (A) DID have full internal review, and (B) was NOT biased. I based my comments on the media representation of the report, and I was not fully informed. I apologize for misleading readers in this way and for mischaracterizing the report.

Regards, Peter

I'd like to thank Peter for his comment, although I doubt that the ACG listserv is any more obscure than this blog. We get about 35 visitors per day, and most don't stick around all that long. I'd like to thank the ones that do.

Here's what I wrote about the 2002 study:

In 2002 a group headed by a USGS scientist published a report that dealt in part with the potential impact of the development of ANWR. This group had studied the caribou herds in that part of Alaska for 12 years and one of their findings was that female caribou who were either close to giving birth or had young calves tended to avoid roads and pipelines (they apparently preferred to be at least 4 km away from those features). That study reported that full development of 1002 area of ANWR (the area where the proposed drilling would occur) was likely to cause mortality rates of calves in the local caribou herd to decrease by 8.2%, and that a reduction of 4.6% was sufficient to cause growth of the herd to cease (Figure 3.28 in their report shows their data). The reason this caused a problem is that the scenario they used to arrive at their 8.2% calculation wasn't necessarily realistic since it was based on all of the 1002 area being developed and that wasn't necessarily realistic. Some development scenarios had plans with a much smaller footprint (you can see a map of all the plans in the follow up memo). The authors of the original study were taken to task for not including these plans in their report. The follow up memo included the predicted mortalities based on 2 more realistic drilling plans (the mortalities were estimated using exactly the same procedures as in the original report). The predicted mortalities for those two models were 0.7 and 1.2 %. The authors of the original report had in fact included models that didn't required full development (again you can see a map of their scenarios in the follow up memo), but they just focused on the 8.2 % figure (the worst case scenario). The USGS is not supposed to set or advocate policy although USGS authors can evaluate proposed scenarios, but they can't pick a favorite. The 2002 report crossed that line.

In addition both the original 2002 report and the follow up memo are available on line so I think it's difficult to claim that the authors were censored.

I wonder if Peter would consider that a fair characterization of the events surrounding the 2002 report and the follow up memo. Since their report was properly internally reviewed, I do agree that there wasn't any impropriety on the part of the report's authors (I apologize for stating that there was). However, it still seems to me to be difficult to support the claim that the 2002 report was censored since that report is still available. Moreover, the mortality rates in the follow up memo were calculated using the same models as in the original report, and the conclusion of 2002 report does seem to be based on an unrealistic drilling scenario.

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