Fracking research: Industry-sponsored, unclear, and misinterpreted
If you’re a scientist, particularly one who does research into fracking, feel free to skip down to the last paragraph of this article. You gone? Good.
Everyone else, listen up. We need to talk about something. Non-scientists like you and me sometimes make mistakes on the science.
Let me show you how. For one thing, we don’t always consider the source of scientific research. For example: Turns out that fracking proponents fund the research that is used to push pro-fracking policy. Shocking, right? Here’s Bloomberg News:
As the U.S. enjoys a natural-gas boom from a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, producers are taking a page from the tobacco industry playbook: funding research at established universities that arrives at conclusions that counter concerns raised by critics. …
In 2008, private sources provided about 6 percent of all academic research funding, according to a June report from the Washington-based AAUP. The figure excludes gifts, endowments for new faculty appointments, consulting or speaking fees, honoraria, seats on company boards, commercial licensing revenue, or equity in startups.
Controversy has followed when research too closely supports a corporate agenda. Litigation against tobacco companies helped reveal a decades-long effort that relied on academic research to suppress the dangers of smoking.
Such sponsorship doesn’t necessarily taint the results, but it certainly makes it hard to assume that the research is without bias. And what we need in the debate over fracking is clarity around impacts.
There’s another mistake non-scientists make, particularly when they have an agenda: They distort and misread research even from unbiased sources. Anti-fracking activists have been doing this, according to the Associated Press.
Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing — to back them.
For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.
Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren’t being confirmed by monitoring, either.
Fracking understandably causes alarm, but it’s also tremendously complex. Like any science, it’s nuanced, easy to misinterpret, and easy to pollute (if you will). We should be skeptical about the research that’s out there and its funding, and equally skeptical about how research findings are represented, making sure not to just take the word of our ideological allies. Agreed? Cool.
Scientists, you may now rejoin us. You didn’t miss much; we were just talking about how you’re on the take and then we misinterpret your findings. Same old, same old.