Little Credibility Left

August 11, 2010

Bad enough that the federal agencies have put politics ahead of science in addressing the Deepwater Horizon event.  But attempting to discredit academic science?  From the St. Petersburg Times yesterday, this headline “USF says government tried to squelch their oil plume findings“.  Quoting briefly:

“I got lambasted by the Coast Guard and NOAA when we said there was undersea oil,” USF marine sciences dean William Hogarth said. Some officials even told him to retract USF’s public announcement, he said, comparing it to being “beat up” by federal officials.

The USF scientists weren’t alone. Vernon Asper, an oceanographer at the University of Southern Mississippi, was part of a similar effort that met with a similar reaction. “We expected that NOAA would be pleased because we found something very, very interesting,” Asper said. “NOAA instead responded by trying to discredit us. It was just a shock to us.”

To be fair, in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, Hogarth made clear that the officials that told him to retract USF’s announcement were not from NOAA.

Hogarth said one agency had, indeed, asked him to retract the school’s announcement. But he wouldn’t say which agency–other than to say it wasn’t NOAA.

That should help bring about accountability.


And on the words count front, this from the very end of the Washington Post article:

But she [Lubchenco] said that the word “plume” had given the public the wrong impression: what was under the surface was really highly diluted oil droplets, not thick black concentrations of crude. NOAA prefers to call them “clouds,” instead of plumes.

Maybe it is the first “A” in NOAA that causes the confusion.  There is no question these are plumes.  Could this be why NOAA didn’t reach out to the broad scientific community that works on oceanic plumes?

Keeping Up With Tasmania

August 9, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the dearth of bandwidth in rural areas in the U.S.  This morning’s NYT has a short piece on progress in Tasmania, where a push is underway to provide, at government expense, bandwidth at 100 Mbps to all 500,000 citizens.  My friend Larry Smarr is quoted:

The Australian government, according to Mr. Smarr, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, sees the “importance of broadband as part of a nation-building exercise, unlike this country.”

Go Tasmania!

Rural Broadbandification

August 8, 2010

An op-ed piece in the NY Times on Thursday spoke to The Broadband Gap:  the urban and suburban bandwidth haves and the rural have nots:

Lack of access deprives too many families, mostly in poorer rural areas, of any chance to use an essential tool for modern life.

While not in a poor area, I am one of those rural have nots and so the piece hits close to home.

In arguing for congressional action, a recent FCC report is cited:  “[The F.C.C.] defined broadband as a connection with an upload speed of at least 1 megabit per second and a download speed of at least 4 megabits per second”.  The report estimates that 5-8% of Americans do not have that connectivity available to them.  The commission believes that “that private companies are unlikely to serve these relatively unprofitable households” and would like authority to “re-deploy the Universal Service Fund, created to bring telephone to hard-to-reach places” and  “to reallocate telecommunications spectrum from broadcast TV to mobile broadband service.”  (Don’t get me started on TV in the digital age.)

How does my neighborhood–many square miles of 5-acre single family residential zoning–measure up?  Not very well.  There are pockets nearby within range of a secondary telephone switching station and capable of DSL.  Not my house.  There is cable TV at the county road about a half mile away, but no interest by Comcast to wire our road and its 12 houses.

And so we have tried the rural connections.  Satellite Internet–when the rain doesn’t get you, the latency will.  Wave Rider–a line of sight technology which worked for awhile, until the growing trees of others removed the line of sight to a tower six miles south of us.  And these days “Sprint Mobile Broadband”, a 3G connection capped at 5 GB of data transfer per month, often throttled, and with frequent resets.  Via Speakeasy’s Broadband Speed test just now:  .11 Mbps up (11% of the FCC target) and .27 Mbps down (6% of the FCC target).   A bargain at $62/month…

No wonder I like to go to work.  No wonder I like to go to Whistler.  There I have this essential tool of modern life.

75% of the Credibility Gone

August 8, 2010

I have been concerned this week, ever since the Wednesday press conference of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco describing the government’s new “oil spill calculator”, the NY Times coverage here.  The spin was unmistakable, 75% of the oil has gone missing and there is reason for great optimism.

The primary government document is a short read.  From it you’ll learn that they can account for about 25% of the oil, burned or recovered.  Then the primary distortion:  the nearly half that is described as “chemically dispersed”, “naturally dispersed” and “evaporated or dissolved”.  It is no longer oil!  Kind of.  The dispersed category accounts for small droplets of oil, “finer than a human hair”, that will undergo biodegradation, but in the meantime remain a serious environmental concern.  Same for the hydrocarbons soluble in water.  Still there, still an environmental concern.

The Consortium for Ocean Leadership, of which UW is a member institution, responded Friday afternoon.  The Ocean Leadership statement reinforces my skepticism.  The conclusion:

The American public needs to understand that this problem is not rapidly going away and based on previous oil spills, significant impact to the Gulf environment, ecosystems and communities will continue for many years.

Apparently the understanding of the American public is not going to be helped by its federal government.   David Gregory quizzed Carol Browner, President Obama’s Senior Advisor on Energy and Climate Change, on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning.  Asked twice about dispersed oil, in the context of her part of the spin during her appearance on NBC’s Today on Wednesday morning, she ran around the question continuing to distort the reality:  75% is not gone–75% is in the environment, most in the Gulf of Mexico, the remainder in the atmosphere.

Can we manage to keep our eye on the ball?