[Coral-List] Media and Oil Spill Science

Mel Briscoe Mel at briscoe.com
Fri Aug 27 08:28:30 EDT 2010

A few years ago, Bob Woodruff of ABC News gave a talk in which he apologized
to the audience on behalf of his colleagues in having been "spun" by the
climate-change deniers into thinking that climate change was a controversy.
Thus, they could capture front pages, fan the flames, and present one
person's opinion as "balance" against the opinion of thousands...after all
it was a controversy, and they needed to be fair and "show both sides." But,
he said, it should not have been reported as a controversy, but rather as an
"event." And you don't report both sides of an event, you simply report the
event, and what is being done, and its impact on people, etc. 

So the lesser journalists are taking the easy road to the front page and
reporting the controversy of the oil spill, while the better journalists are
trying to report the event. Unfortunately, the former sells more papers and
advertising space/time than the latter. Never the less, scientists must not
cave in to being part of the controversy, and stay on the high ground of
adding to the knowledge and understanding of the event. I think the Woods
Hole guys did pretty good at this, and should not be surprised of the
attempts to spin their words.

Mel Briscoe

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of David M.
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 2010 11:11 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Media and Oil Spill Science


I'm a journalist, and I know quite a few journalists now, and I've not a 
hell of a lot of journalists in the 40 or so years I've been associated 
with them. They do prize accuracy and work hard to maintain their 
credibility. If you can do -- and have done -- a better job under the 
intense deadline pressures they face, which are even worse now with 
24-hour news cycles, be my guest and criticize them. But given the fact 
that some of what you have said doesn't square with my personal 
experience of many of my colleagues, I rather doubt you have met my 


Dave Lawrence

On 8/26/2010 6:57 PM, Greg Challenger wrote:
> I dont presume to speak for all the scientists on the spill but I have no
indication that they do not believe that the majority of the oil is
evaporated, dispersed, burned, recovered, etc.  It is not a hard conclusion
to reach since about 30-40% evaporates in the first five days after it hits
the surface. Natural and chemical dispersion did a lot, mineral oil
aggregation, photo-oxdation, biologial activity, etc. etc. It is not much of
a leap to assume more than 10-20% of that which remains after evaporation is
burned, dispersed, recovered, etc. which puts us into the "majority column".
I would hope that nature and the response have dealt a blow to at least 20%
or more of the oil by now.  That number is likely higher. The "bubbas" (term
of endearment) on the beach cleaning the oil will tell you the difference on
the shorelines from several months ago and today.  It is dramatic.
> We have snorkel surveys, nearshore snare traps, fluorometer searches,
bottom grabs, ROVs and hordes of other samples and activities looking for
this oil that the public fears is out there waiting to rear its ugly head
and come back to get us.  This fear is natural and I dont fault anyone for
their concern. The fact of the matter is that the visible and chemically
detectable oil decreases rather than increases over time.  Hurricane Alex
also likely helped disperse quite a bit. You may have noticed you havent
seen too many beaches on CNN lately.....nothing to see that will traumatize
viewers suffiently to boost ratings.  You may have also noticed that the
report of the subsurface "plume" that has been flying around the news was
from two months ago.  I dont think anyone argues there was more oil in the
water two months ago.
> I have had a fair amount of experience with the media and spills.  I have
not talked to media in over five years as they have never reported anything
I have said with any accuracy whatsoever.  Accuracy is not within their top
ten objectives. Starting a controversy is priority number one. It seems Mr..
Reddy may have learned this lesson as well.
> Cheers,
> Greg E. Challenger Marine Scientist/Associate Polaris Applied Sciences,
Incorporated 12509 130th Lane NE Kirkland, WA 98034 425-823-4841
425-823-3805 fx 206-369-5686 cell visit us at: polarisappliedsciences.com
>> Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 15:44:33 -0400
>> From: sealab at earthlink.net
>> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> Subject: [Coral-List] Media and Oil Spill Science
>> Chris Reddy makes good points in his op-ed piece for CNN,
>> but the headline could be misleading.
>> Perhaps it should read:"How the science relating to the gulf
>> oil spill was mangled by everyone involved."
>> I don't like being put in the position of defending the media,
>> but are they really the most culpable in this scenario?
>> With all due respect, how else was the information released in
>> the NIC report of August 2 to be interpreted if not as an overly
>> optimistic assessment claiming that a significant portion of the oil
>> spill's impact had been successfully mitigated?
>> Why else would introductory statements at the White House press
>> conference on the report (August 4) suggest that: "The conclusions --
>> key conclusions of the report is that the vast majority of the oil
>> has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed and recovered from the
>> or dispersed. And much of the dispersed oil is in the process of
>> rapid degradation."
>> Followed by a further endorsement that "This has all been subjected to
>> a scientific protocol, which means you peer review, peer review and peer
>> Even the Georgia Sea Grant update of August 17 that seemed to clearly
>> the Inter-Agency Oil Budget Report explained that it determined that
>> "the media interpretation of the (NIC) report's findings has been largely
>> inaccurate and misleading." (Rather than the report itself.)
>> So the question remains, was it really the reporters who mangled the
>> or in this case, did the "science" mangle the reporters?
>> Regards,
>> Steve
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  David M. Lawrence        | Home:  (804) 559-9786
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