Torturing the Data Until It Confesses: The Anti-Transportation Review Groups

My personal introduction to the attack on transportation came when the environmentalists filed their first lawsuit specifically targeting transportation. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, apparently led by one of the many instigators of the Great Salmon Hoax, Fred Olney, commissioned a review of the extensive literature on transportation experiments. This itself was peculiar since the Fish and Wildlife Service has no jurisdiction over anadromous fish; they fall under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The review was conducted by a number of anti-transportation activists in the state and tribal fishery agencies who called themselves the “Ad Hoc Transportation Review Group”.

Their report managed to turn the review of a collection of papers proving transportation worked into an indictment of the transportation system. A consultant in the process, Phil Mundy, put an “Executive Summary” on the document that was harshly, and unjustifiably critical of transportation.

This is an old trick, not unique to those promoting the Great Salmon Hoax. Environmental journalist Gregg Easterbrook, investigating the science behind a number of environmental issues, warned that “the summary is the only portion of a science document any journalist or politician ever actually reads—an important factor to keep in mind when the subject turns to global warming”.16

In addition to the biased summary, the Report is laced with anti-transportation speculation so extreme that one reviewer told the National Marine Fisheries Service that it was both “laughable and professionally disappointing”.17 For example, the Report speculates that transportation does not return more adults all the way to the spawning grounds, speculation recently echoed by the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Independent Science Group.18 While the studies were only designed to measure returns back to the uppermost dam, there is some data based on spawning ground surveys, and although it is not statistically significant, the transportation ratio is even higher when measured at the spawning grounds.

When the Ad Hoc Report came out, the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee (PNUCC) was still active on salmon issues, and willing to pay independent biologists to review the claims of the states and tribes. (Later, when PNUCC’s investor-owned utility members began to see that the Great Salmon Hoax could cripple the Bonneville Power Administration as a competitor, PNUCC lost its funding to continue to combat the Hoax.)

PNUCC asked Dr. Don Chapman to review the report. Dr. Chapman observed that “[g]ood scientific practice would secure outside scientific review. Had the Group done so, it would surely not have released this report, which contains many faulty analyses and erroneous conclusions.”19 With considerable understatement, Dr. Chapman suggested that “the Group seems to need to draw conclusions beyond the limits of the study design and data”.20 Worse still, Dr. Chapman identified instance after instance of what he politely termed “selective data treatment”21—what would in law constitute misrepresentation or outright fraud.

His ultimate conclusion: “Each Review Group participant bears responsibility for this misleading and biased document.”22 Don Park, who retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1990, and participated in all of NMFS’ transportation studies, noted that the Review Group was attacking “the research and methodology they formerly approved”, called the Report “infamous”, and concluded that it “lacked scientific credibility”.23 Over and over again, former NMFS researchers have come out of retirement to protest elements of the Great Salmon Hoax, but they are usually ignored by their own agencies.

Phil Mundy later continued his anti-transportation efforts when he was hired by the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a “rule curve” to describe when to use transportation, based on conditions prevailing in the river. His former professor, and Dean Emeritus of the School of Fisheries, Don Bevan, privately advised the NMFS scientists in Seattle that much of the analysis should be “dismissed as nonsense”. Dr. Bevan pointed out that Mundy created his curve using “the wrong data set”. “A reasonable approach”, commented Dr. Bevan, “would be to use the coefficient fitted to the data”. Doing so “would result in always transporting”.24 This, however, was apparently not the “right” answer.

16 G. Easterbrook, A Moment on the Earth 165.

17 Memorandum, Dr. Al Giorgi to NMFS, Feb. 24, 1993, at 3.

18 ISG, Return to the River 328.

19 Letter, D. Chapman to P. Barrow (PNUCC), Jan. 31, 1993, at 1.

20 Id. at 2.

21 See, e.g., id. at 9.

22 Id. at 28.

23 D. Park, “Public Testimony for Snake River Transportation Issues”, Feb. 25, 1993.

24 Letter, D. Bevan to U. Varanasi, April 25, 1996 (Draft).

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