Sunday, December 21, 2008

Who's Being Unscientific?

Some snips from the PPIC's Ellen Hanak in Alex Breitler's Record article about my challenge of the PPIC's infamous peripheral canal study.
"He's done back-of-the-envelope (calculations) and is touting that as some great science," said Ellen Hanak, director of research with the San Francisco-based PPIC.

She said the PPIC did not plan to rerun its analysis using Michael's numbers. That would be time-consuming.
Which one of us is touting bad research as great science?

They had a press conference for their study's release, and promoted it around the state. They didn't release the full study (including the appendices that described their methodology) until months after the press releases. I am told people who asked critical questions were dismissed and told to look in the (then unpublished) appendices. Lots of touting themselves, but can't say much for scientific integrity.

I posted a review of their study on the web, and gave copies to 4 people (non-press) who I thought might be interested. I never presented this until invited last week, and that presentation led to the lone media article in the Record. The review spread on it's own, not because of any PR by me.

They made up a fake reference for a key variable (population) in their study. They provided no references for recycling and desalination costs, and when pressed admit they are using their judgement over volumes of published studies. In other words, they are making stuff up. Their remedy for their errors is to personally attack me, and say they don't have time to consider alternative model runs. So much for academic integrity and the scientific quest for truth.

I cite reliable sources for everything.

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People keep asking me how/why I wrote this. In September, two people asked me on different occasions (Bob Ferguson, a Delta farmer; Margit Aramburu, Director of the Natural Resources Institute at Pacific) if I would be interested and able to do a study that placed a dollar value on the numerous Delta environmental and other benefits that were uncalculated in the PPIC report. I told them I would give the PPIC report a detailed read to identify exactly what had been omitted, and get back to them.

I read the details of their report and recognized the false population forecast due to my familiarity with this issue. I emailed Ellen Hanak and Jay Lund (principal PPIC authors) to express concern about the population number, and I was told that it might be high, but wouldn't affect their results. After that I got suspicious about the way they calculated desalination cost, did some research, and made some back-of-the-envelope calculations to see if it was a big error. I sent them another message with concerns and calculations to show the error was potentially large. After another very unsatifactory response, I posted my review on the web, emailed a copy to Margit and Bob, and distributed a few hard copies on-campus. A few weeks (and many downloads off our website) later, I emailed a copy to David Zetland, because I enjoy his Aguanomics blog and thought he might be interested.

That's the big PR campaign Ellen Hanak calls "touting." Comparing this to the PPIC media campaign, I guess Ellen must be touting herself for the Nobel prize.

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