- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
Well-respected marine scientist from the University of Georgia, Samantha Joye, has insisted that her exploration of the Gulf area around the BP spill definitively shows that the contamination is not cleaning up as she expected. Meanwhile, other scientists and authorities such as the government's oil compensation fund czar, Kenneth Feinberg, say that the natural attenuation is proceeding quite nicely and should be pretty much completed by the end of 2012. Can both camps be correct?
Think about the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In the story, a group of blind men approach an elephant from various vantage points and are only allowed to explore what is right in front of them. One is at the tail, one at a leg, one at the trunk, one at the tusk, etc. As they compare notes on their discovery but they cannot reach agreement on how to describe the creature. Scientist Terry Hazen from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs suggested his studies find the natural microbes are doing a good job at breaking down the oils but could not discount any findings by Joye because the two of them have looked at different locations and at differing times. He said he believed they both reported accurately based on their available information.
There is a great lesson to be learned here. How many times has a news reporter or politician made definitive statements on a topic after reading just one report? Too many in my opinion. I cannot recall how many times I was involved in a project collecting samples. If the results did not come back as favorable, my bosses had absolutely no problem approving a confirming set of samples to see if there had been some type of error. However, if the results came back favorable, I was NEVER allowed to collect confirming samples.
The obvious next question would be, how many samples would I think to be enough? The manager or controller who asked such a question thinks differently from me. To them, there should be a hard and fast rule. To me, each situation is different and enough samples should be collected to make the results statistically significant. While that concept is easy enough to accept mathematically, it is not acceptable to most financial officials.