Tess Elliott's thoughtful piece on the lack of scientific integrity in the National Park Service raises a host of fundamental issues concerning federal policy on scientific misconduct, issues that Gordon Bennett of the Sierra Club obscures with his attacks on Elliott, the Editor of the Point Reyes Light newspaper and others who have raised questions about the abuse of science on this issue, including myself.
In 2007, as a biology professor and elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (yes, the one Bennett attacks in his letter), I was asked by the local Board of County Supervisors to take a look at the provocative scientific claims made by NPS officials against an oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore, and to help determine if they were right or wrong. I was stunned by what I discovered: there were no data to back up any of their allegations.
When these false claims came to light, Senator Dianne Feinstein became interested. She invited then-NPS Director Mary Bomar to meet with her and others (including me) in July 2007. Bomar publicly assigned responsibility for this situation to regional director Jon Jarvis, telling him to clean up the mess created by his subordinates. Bomar and Feinstein also instructed Jarvis to withdraw and correct the false claims made by the NPS and establish an independent review panel to investigate the flawed science.
Instead of correcting the facts as instructed by Feinstein and Bomar, Jarvis steadfastly defended the use of distorted science by his subordinates. Rather than investigating their scientific misconduct, Jarvis covered up their misdeeds, repeated their false claims and publicly asserted they had not misrepresented their own science, when he knew full well they had.
Last May, the National Academy of Sciences released the independent report that Feinstein and Bomar had requested. The report concluded that NPS "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific" data, and found no evidence that the oyster farm harmed the ecology of the estero. In a letter to Salazar, Feinstein wrote that she found the NPS misrepresentations "troubling and unacceptable."
A detailed case for scientific misconduct against Jarvis and his subordinates was given to Bomar in 2007. A subsequent twenty-one-point case was later given to the Secretary of the Interior in 2009. But nothing happened.
The Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, issued in 2000 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, mandates the investigation of such cases. To this day, no one at Interior has seriously addressed the two-year-old allegations of scientific misconduct--no scientists have analyzed NPS data compared to NPS claims, and determined if federal laws were broken. Meanwhile, Jon Jarvis has been nominated to replace Mary Bomar.
Gordon Bennett would have your readers believe that the Department of the Interior Inspector General has properly investigated all of the many allegations of scientific misconduct against Jarvis and his subordinates. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Fact is, the IG sidestepped the issue completely.
The detailed case for scientific misconduct was submitted to the Inspector General in early July, but they only considered one narrow procedural issue and did not address any of the twenty-one counts of scientific misconduct. When asked why not, Assistant IG John Dupuy told me they had no scientists on staff and thus could not consider scientific misconduct. When asked where it should be submitted, Dupuy said to Secretary Salazar. When told that it had been submitted to him months ago, and Salazar had not responded, Dupuy said that perhaps it could be sent to the White House. In other words, we have a federal policy, but in Interior nobody is willing to enforce it.
Secretary Salazar promised to clean up the mess at Interior. To do so, Salazar needs to restore science to its rightful place. First, he should withdraw the nomination of Jarvis for director of the NPS, or put it on hold until Jarvis publicly and satisfactorily answers each of the allegations against him and his subordinates. Second, Salazar should establish an independent body of scientists where allegations of scientific misconduct at Interior can be brought and adjudicated.
President Obama has eloquently spoken of his goal to restore science to its rightful place, but in the Department of Interior, just the opposite is happening.