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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


A few reflections on recent goings on

This post is going to be a somewhat random dump of the thoughts that are currently spinning around in my head. I apologize in advance. I haven't posted in a while so I feel obligated to post something.

I'm currently in my first year in a teaching position. Prior to this I was in a pure research position. I'm currently striving to find some balance between the two. This semester I'm directly teaching three classes and overseeing 5 labs (my teaching load was similar last semester). I'm also trying to get a decent amount of research done too, which is proving difficult. I did recently get ahold of a seriously cool portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine, which I've wanted for some time now and have very ambitious plans for. I've got 1300 samples waiting to be scanned in my lab (plus another 1200 from a friend). I'm also just drooling at the chance to take this thing out into the field and start using it on outcrops. I've got a couple in mind, but they'll probably have to wait until summer 2008. Our department is also fortunate enough to have several motivated, bright, curious, undergrads who are interested in working on independent research projects with me. I'm grateful for them. I hope that I don't squash their interest in geology.

My most recent publication was highlighted by the editor of the journal I submitted it to, and I also just found out that it appeared in the 'Research Highlights' section of Nature. That's not nearly as good as having a publication in Nature, but I'll take it.

Our puppy was recently spayed and she REALLY wants to wrestle with our other dog instead of taking it easy in her crate. She's not the convalescent type. She's supposed to be on the equivalent of bed rest, but she'd much rather chase her brother around the house and go outside and chase birds. I'm especially looking forward to the time when we can give her a bath (she's not supposed to get wet for a couple of weeks). Luckily she's really fond of standing in the shower, so we don't have to struggle with her when it's bath time. Our other dog howls like he's being killed when we try to give him a bath (although he's much better behaved if we take him to a groomer). I'm very anxiously looking forward to the time when our pup loses interest in our shoes. Fortunately she likes my wife's shoes more than she does mine.

I think I may have found the Texas equivalent of Chris Buttars. See this link. I wait with bated breath to see what comes of this. (ht Pharyngula).

I recently started reading Francis Collins' book 'The Language of God'. My mom sent it to me. I'm thinking of posting my thoughts after each chapter. I've finished a chapter and a half now, and I'm generally feeling frustrated/annoyed. Collins is a fairly engaging writer, but his arguments in favor of theism haven't been stellar as of yet (maybe they get better).

I'm thinking of trying to brew mead. I've been homebrewing off and on for a few years, and I'd really like to branch out. When I was in grad school one of the profs gave me a bottle of a great, dry pear-flavored mead that he'd made. I don't know how to describe the taste, but it was wonderful. I'd like to see if I could make something like that. I'm also considering making a Grand Cru or something similar. Just before I left California I went to a microbrewery in Sacramento that made one of the best Belgian-style ales I've ever had. It was, by itself, almost enough to make me want to live in Sacramento. This part of Texas doesn't have a lot of microbreweries (St. Arnold's in Houston is the closest).

OK, that's all I have for now. I ought to get back to work.

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