16 April 2010

Xtreme Science Advocacy: A Guest Post by Sharon Friedman

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Sharon Friedman, who describes herself as "a scientist and a by day, a mild-mannered federal employee, with an avocation of science and technology policy studies." This post presents, of course, her personal views. Along with others interested in forest planning she blogs at A New Century of Forest Planning.
Sometimes scientists behaving as policy advocates is a gentle, almost difficult to detect, kind of thing. This week we have a chance to observe it at its most extreme. And for those of you who think climate scientists are unique.. well.. not so.

In this case, we have 500 (count ‘em ) scientists writing a letter (here in PDF) to the President supporting a specific regulation.

So let’s parse out where the “science” is in their knowledge claims.

First, they claim if roadless areas are important, then the 2001 Rule is the only correct policy choice. (Does this sound familiar- like climate change and cap and trade? Any hardwiring between science and a specific policy has to be highly suspect.)

I call this the “sleight of science” approach where their scientific arguments are that protecting roadless areas are good for environment values. But I don’t think you can simply say that therefore, because of science, you must have environmental values or you’re not using the science. Which is highly confusing, but on top of that, even if you do share environmental values for roadless, there are many ways of developing a protective policy. The question is whether the 2001 Roadless Rule is the best policy that could be invented by a Democratic administration today. Guess what- scientists don’t get to frame policy questions as being simply science questions. They can try, but people usually catch on, to the detriment of public trust (do biologists want to join climate scientists on the low-trust bandwagon?).

Second, a policy question usually is thought to require the balancing of social, economic and environmental concerns. Yet our 500 “scientists” seem to be heavily biased toward biology and ecology. Except for a philosopher, which last I checked wasn’t actually a science. Oh, well.

Third, the facts are not correct and I know that most of the people who signed this do not know what is in the Idaho Rule nor the Colorado Petition. They do not know what the 2001 Rule really does, the exceptions and the case law. That is the role of roadless geeks and I don’t see their names on this list.

Let’s just take one example in the Colorado statement and ask “where’s the science?”
In Colorado, which contains over 4 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, proposed exemptions in their draft rule would impact at least 246,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas by removing them from the national inventory or degrading them by eliminating many restrictions on logging and road building.
This refers to the July 29, 2009 tally which has been subsequently revised by the Governor of Colorado. The current numbers are that 467,000 acres were removed based on on-the-ground reviews by the Forest Service and Colorado Department of Wildlife because they had roads or timber sales. But what is not mentioned is that 409,000 additional acres that were determined to be really roadless were added. Thus, there is a net loss from the inventory of 57,600 acres.

But these removed acres were not really roadless – so how can it be science that determines whether protecting roaded roadless areas is better than unroaded roadless areas? We are definitely in the realm of values here... and why did they use the old petition numbers when the new one came out on April 4, 2010 (here in PDF,their letter was dated April 14, 2010 )?

I could go on with their other statements to document a pattern.

Now I am not naïve. I know what happened is that someone wrote a letter and everyone signed on without independently verifying the facts, let alone independently thinking about whether this is a science issue or not. But if scientists don’t due diligence on things they sign, then they are no better than politicians in terms of being trusted to have the facts right.

The letter's conclusion made me cringe:
In closing, we thank you for your pledge to restore scientific integrity to policy development and specifically to decisions impacting the environment – including the conservation of our public lands. As scientists, we believe that the 2001 Roadless Rule remains the most scientifically credible approach for managing and protecting our last undeveloped national forests, and we urge your continued support for it.
I don’t know what “scientific integrity” means in term of policy development. I do know what plain old human integrity is. Signing on to something without checking the facts, and claiming that something is a science issue that we all know it ain’t, is not really walking the integrity talk, in my opinion.

I recommend that science and technology scholars begin to write letters of correction when they see egregious evidence of science abuse. Maybe we can get 1000 science and technology policy scholars to sign a letter.

25 comments:

Malcolm said...

Scientific Integrity is just another commodity these days, bought and sold as need be.

jae said...

"I don’t know what “scientific integrity” means in term of policy development. I do know what plain old human integrity is. Signing on to something without checking the facts, and claiming that something is a science issue that we all know it ain’t, is not really walking the integrity talk, in my opinion."

Spot on! The more that the "public" learns about this type of nonsense on the part of "scientists," the less respect there will be for science. But the public has been VERY slow to catch on to these scams; I remember being asked to sign similar letters when I was in academia in the 70s and early 80s. Maybe the Internet will speed the learning process?

RVW said...

When you hear someone bleating to keep "politics out of science" remember to ask in return for scientists to stop masquerading as politicians.

jfreemu said...

Read this story and the quotes from Professor Pimm and Mike King.
http://durangoherald.com/sections/News/2010/04/15/Groups_want_Obama_to_reject_Ritter_plan/

“What's at risk here is the loss of what makes Colorado so special to the rest of America," said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University professor who signed the letter

“It seems like ideology has kind of trumped the on-the-ground protection that we've incorporated in our rule," King said

Scientists as ideologues, indeed!

Michael D said...

There is a lot bias in "natural resource" science towards being natural or untouched by man. If it is percieved as natural then it is good, if it is influenced by man then it is bad. Catastrophic wildfires can burn through roadless and wilderness and it is good. The resultant soil erosion, and loss of trees (carbon sinks) is view as O.K. as long as it is natural. If man had any influence then its bad. Sediment from roads is bad, while sediment from fires is good. Colorado's roadless areas with vast areas of Lodgepole pine killed by Mountain Pine Beetle are definitely set up for large catastrophic wildfires. And they will be deemed good as long as it stay roadless and untouched by man. There is a lot of advocacy parading as science.

jae said...

Michael D: Good point. You will not find vast areas of beetle-killed trees on private forest land, because it is managed. The forest service used to manage the land, back when they had money from timber harvests. Now, they can afford to do little. Let the beetles go, let 'er burn and feel o.k., because it is "natural." I blame the types of folks that sign letters like the one discussed here--well-meaning, perhaps, but their judgement is clouded by "natural," gaia, and all of that emotional environmentalist pap.

W.E. Heasley said...

“In closing, we thank you for your pledge to restore scientific integrity to policy development and specifically to decisions impacting the environment – including the conservation of our public lands.”

One might want to research how “our public lands” became public lands. Its not a very pretty story. You’ll find private property rights took a major beating.

jae said...

BTW, these nuts are misusing the word "conservation." The notion of "conservation" was developed by Gifford Pinchot and his close friend, Teddy Roosevelt. It meant WISE USE, not preservation, which is what the "naturalists" mean by the word now.

Sharon F. said...

jae 6- Our beetle-kill problem is more complex. For epidemic situations with mountain pine beetle, even in Central Oregon in the 80's when there was a fairly aggressive timber sale program, people could not get ahead of the beetle. The reason that there is currently not much of a timber industry in Colorado is simply economics- the trees are small, grow slowly and it is cheaper to import from Canada and other countries.

jfreemu 4- I think it's very important that journalists be more discerning and not always take "scientific" knowledge claims by scientists at face value. Here's an example. You know you're in a "science policy situation that shouts watch out" when someone says "few scientists agree with". Did someone take a poll? Maybe few scientists agree with the policy because they know they a) shouldn't weigh in, as scientists, on policy issues or b) they acknowledge that they are not experts on a complex legal/policy topic. From the article:

"Administration officials have said they will support it, and claim that it is just as protective of roadless areas as the 2001 national rule, but DellaSala says few scientists or conservationists agree with that reading of the plan."

Michael said...

I am particularly struck by the discussion of the pitch pine beetle desctrcution in Colorado. I was fortunate enough to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time 2 years ago. Driving out of the west end of the park, I was saddened to see the devastation of the pine trees and originally thought is must have been "manmade" destruction due to my ecological conditioning that man is responsible for all of the environments' problems. I wish all Americans could have that same 'aha" moment that I did, natural forces in many ways are more destructive than human forces....

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

jae- Please try again

jae said...

9, Sharon:

"For epidemic situations with mountain pine beetle, even in Central Oregon in the 80's when there was a fairly aggressive timber sale program, people could not get ahead of the beetle."

That is a either a dodge or a strawman. The Central Oregon forests are in VERY good shape now, probably a result of the "aggressive timber sale program." Maybe it was successful after all? The Colorado forests are a disaster, and I blame the environmentalists and the stupid Forest Service, which is now nothing but a bunch of politically correct environmentalists. I don't see much hope for our forests or for "conservation."

BTW, I live in Oregon now.

And tell me what will happen in Rocky Mountain National Park as the dwarf mistletoe eventually makes all the trees stunted. Will fires be set to make sure that future generations will see trees higher than 3 feet tall? What is the Grand Plan?And tell me what will happen in Rocky Mountain National Park as the dwarf mistletoe eventually makes all the trees stunted. Will fires be set to make sure that future generations will see trees higher than 3 feet tall? Is there a Grand Plan? If so, what is it?

jae said...

Geez, Roger. Are you that sensitive about fecal matter? OK, no reference to bovine wastes (I wonder if that is really the issue??). I'll try again, since I feel very strong about this issue:

Sharon: I am a native of Ft. Collins. I know several people that owned forest products companies there who were bankrupted by the environmentalists, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with tree size, which is a total strawman (I now work for a company in Oregon which makes a profit, even in this market, by producing veneer from logs no larger than 12 inches in diameter!). A lot of your beetle kill problem is the result of environmentalism gone amok. Your reference to Oregon (where I now live) is another strawman. Those ponderosa pine forests about which you speak are in very good shape, thanks to active and practical forest management, which HAS to include harvesting. If you don't agree, please post some reference.

Sharon F. said...

Jae- thanks for challenging me. I won't post any reference as I think our personal experiences and knowledge are more valuable.

I was in Oregon for the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The lodgepoles were all of a certain age, and they pretty much all died. Now they are growing back, and in another 40 years or so we will see what happens. MPB behaves differently in ponderosa and in lodgepole. In my experience, thinning ponderosa can help and does in many areas, protect from pine beetles. However, an MPB epidemic in lodgepole is a different creature entirely. I watched trees that had been thinned, later attacked by the beetle apparently because they were growing well and attractive.

I can't say why mills closed in Colorado. My opinion is that if they were still open, they would be having a tough time today- based on the fact that the ones that are still running are having a tough time, and supply is obviously not a problem. As you said, environmentalists were a factor, but they are not the only factor.

Labor costs, the need to invest in new technologies, and imports are all important other factors. Further, while we have a "local food" movement, there is no "local wood" movement- though perhaps there should be.

Sharon F. said...

Ethics wise..
If we look under the mantle of "science", we find a number of people advocating a certain policy.

I notice that a number of federal employees signed on to this, giving their official addresses. Last I heard, this was not OK; if the rules have changed please let me know and I will join and list mine enthusiastically.

I wonder if the taxpayers of federal and state institutions appreciate faculty, appointed to do research and education, advocating policy positions on their paid time?

Again, I know and respect some of these folks and their scientific work. I just think the scientific communities have jointly gotten very sloppy (in my opinion) about 1) accuracy of facts 2) in pursuit of political agendas.

One of the reasons I posted this entry was to show others that climate science is not unique.

Michael D said...

I kind of opened a can of worms with the pine beetle comment. I'm not advocating logging all the beetle killed trees. The roadless issue or declaring an area roadless, makes the option of mechanically removing the trees much more difficult, since the maintaining the roadless character is the primary emphasis on these lands. This probably makes some sense for the more remote areas. However the roadless areas adjacent to developed areas with large amounts of beetle kill do pose a hazard, and ruling out the option of removing the dead trees and letting nature take it's course may not be the best course of action.

I live in central Idaho where 1,000 square miles burned in 2007, most of which was in roadless, and much of it was stand replacing, killing many of the large Ponderosa Pine which are very fire resistant to low intensity burning. Much of the fire wasn't low intensity. We had flash floods after the fires from summer thunder storms the next year. Areas with lots of dead trees burnt hot. These fires were probably beyond what would have occurred naturally. Putting out small fires for many years has resulted in a build up of fuels. Some of this area could have been actively managed but much of it was to remote and rugged to do much other than controlled burns.

I feel that the main emphasis in this area was preserving the roadless character and letting nature take it's course. I'm not convinced that this was best, it takes a couple hundred years to grow those big Ponderosa pines back.

jae said...

16: "I feel that the main emphasis in this area was preserving the roadless character and letting nature take it's course. I'm not convinced that this was best, it takes a couple hundred years to grow those big Ponderosa pines back."

Me too. Just my opinion, of course, but I think it is EXTREMELY poor stewardship to "just let nature take it's course" in vast tracts of forestland. The management system then boils down to simply "let 'er burn and grow back." It amounts to uncontrolled "natural" clearcutting of millions of acres. This is the stupidest form of clearcutting possible since it magnifies all the problems clearcuting can cause (erosion, etc.). This type of hands-off travesty is exactly what happens in wilderness areas, national parks, and roadless areas). And it denies civilization access to the most ecologically sensible raw material, wood. Wood is unique in that it is sustainable and renewable. It is essentially stored solar energy. The "environmentalists" should champion the use of wood, if they really believed in a sustainable system (much more info. on this point is available upon request).

Just my opinion, of course...

jae said...

Sharon:

"I can't say why mills closed in Colorado. My opinion is that if they were still open, they would be having a tough time today- based on the fact that the ones that are still running are having a tough time, and supply is obviously not a problem. As you said, environmentalists were a factor, but they are not the only factor. "

Well, Sharon, that's what I call a dodge. It is the type of sentence that will work for all events. Like bumper sticker slogans.

A mill needs logs. Virtually all of the logs in CO are owned by Uncle Sam. The environmentalists have been very successful stopping virtually all timber sales on Federal lands using all sorts of legal games. But you already knew this, right? I am telling you WHY THE MILLS CLOSED!

Sharon F. said...

Jae and Michael D.-

The discussion of what should be done with federal forests occurs at the national level, with roadless and planning rules, and at the local level with forest plans and projects. My point was only that there are strongly held values about what to do with these lands and they are values, not "science."

Pine beetles are an interesting example because they are a big problem to the western states that most people think is caused by climate change. So in some respects, we are actually "mitigating climate-induced hazards" and doing "climate adaptation."

Jae- there is truth in what you say, but it is not THE truth. Since local frustration with the issues you describe is what I think has fueled some of the place-based bills, maybe we should take this discussion to the NCFP blog where there are many people interested in this topic; you could reply to this entry, for example. Also, I will be posting on NCFP about what I have learned from talking to representatives of local governments in the next few weeks with regard to their frustrations over land use decisions in effect being moved to the courts and the national level.

In case the html above did not work, here is the entry:
http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/place-based-bills-agreements-defining-characteristic-1-the-search-for-more-certainty-in-forest-management-3/

Sharon F. said...

I just ran across this quote from 1992 that seems timely..

The scholars who have studied the relationship between science and public policy during the past twenty years have not generally recognized the power of science over agendas. While writers have been concerned about the extent to which government funding of science research might distort research priorities, there has been too little notice of the extent to which such funding provides incentives for scientists to lobby government on behalf of their own subject areas. The rules of good science have not worked to significantly restrain such science advocacy. The science establishment is no longer sufficiently cohesive for its discipline to be completely effective. Scientists now find themselves in many different kinds of institutions, including interest groups and centers heavily dependent on grants, which pursue goals potentially conflicting with conservative and cautious science. There are many pressures to publicize before publishing and to substitute propaganda and argument for peer review."

Ingram, H., H. B. Milward, and W. Laird. Scientists and Agenda Setting: Advocacy and Global Warming IN Risk and Society: the Interaction of Science, Technology and Public Policy. M. Waterstone, ed. , Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1992.

jae said...

19, Sharon: Thanks for the link. If I get time I'll read some of the posts and maybe even give them some whole truth :)

Ellen said...

Sharon - with regard to what fed employees can/can't do, I suspect you are thinking of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity (although if you yourself are running for office, you can campaign for yourself). There is also a prohibition against lobbying for your own agency (Anti-Lobbying Act, 18 USC 1913) which prohibits using appropriated funds for lobbying (and a federal salary is appropriated funding). But there is no prohibition against exercising First Amendment rights on personal time. Would you really want federal employees to have to give up their 1st Amendment rights?

Sharon F. said...

I agree totally. I am a federal employee and I have no intention of giving up my 1st Amendment Rights. But I was given the impression somewhere along the line that if I, say, wrote a letter to the editor or an op-ed on something on my personal time, I couldn't use my official title (nor on entries to this blog ;).

I thought that was the original issue with the EPA employees Williams and Zabel (http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1038) which I remember having been discussed on this blog, with the bottom line being that they couldn't use their organizational affiliation in some documentst that they produced.

It sure would be nice to find the federal policy that clarifies this! One of my astute colleagues thinks it's OK as long as you use your offical title for "identification only."

But isn't that what the EPA folks did in the above example? It seems very confusing.

Ellen said...

Yes, Williams and Zabel were told by EPA to delete references to their experience at EPA and to remove images of the building. They were not told they couldn't speak out in public, via the press or via Congressional testimony or otherwise. In my personal view, this was more of an editorial disagreement about just where to draw the line between "for identification purposes only" and establishing one's credentials as an expert. I think EPA had a legitimate concern but went too far, particularly in saying that they couldn't describe the basis of their expertise. However, it was not correct that they were gagged.

All of us, government employees or not,have to be careful about what we say when we are - or seem to be - speaking for our employers. I myself have learned this the very hard way. Everything I say and do somehow is attributed to my professional role, even when I make it abundantly clear that I am voicing personal views and even when I am speaking on a subject only tangentially related to my job. It is absolutely amazing to me that grown adults, professionals think it appropriate to complain to someone's employer as a means of silencing someone who dares to share information or views that get in their way, no matter how inappropriate that complaint, and yet that has happened to me on a number of occasions. Like it or not, these people have the potential to damage the reputation of your organization. On a personal level, they can ultimately get you fired. Even if the complaints are meritless, an employer can get really tired of it.

I sent you a private e-mail to open a discussion on the larger subject (the statutes, regs, and ethics policies) because it is too long and complex a subject for a blog comment.

Ellen said...

Here's a good example of people losing jobs because they expressed a view unrelated to the job. A guy who does voiceovers for GEICO ads called FreedomWorks (teabaggers) and left an insulting message, leaving his stage name and phone number. They found out who he was, staged a mass protest to GEICO, and his contract was cancelled. Even though the phone message had nothing to do with GEICO, his voice-over work, and didn't even make any mention of GEICO. We can't complain of government repression if we the people are so willing to repress one another.

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