The Importance of Scientific Integrity: A Response to Mr. Curtis Knight

May 25, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Paul R. Houser, May 25, 2012

For critical decisions such as dam removal, it is important to seek truth.  Here I respond to Mr. Curtis Knight’s May 23rd attempt to obscure the facts.

1)            Mr. Knight claims that my allegation has evolved.  My February 24 scientific misconduct allegation is in writing and has not been modified, and my interviews have closely followed the written allegation.  I have provided opinions when asked, but these do not represent changes in the allegation.

2)            Mr. Knight claims that my suggestion of a less-extreme option of removing 1-2 dams was bizarre. This suggestion was made in the context of advocating exploration of a wide range of options to meet the objectives.  Also note that the dam removal proposal is also only a partial solution, as it excludes the removal of the Keno and Link River dams.

3)            Mr. Knight alleges that I am biased because I was paid by dam removal opponents.  I have not been paid for my allegation or public speaking, and I do not hold financial interests in the Klamath basin.  Since the story went public, my philosophy has been to accept all interview and speaking requests.

4)            Mr. Knight claims that I am not a fisheries biologist. This is correct, but I have earned a PhD in Hydrology and Water Resources, and have a 25 year scientific career, with many awards and over 100 referred publications.  I do have extensive experience in water research, observation, modeling, management, and fisheries.

5)           Mr. Knight claims that I am offering a “politically-driven opinion in place of science-driven decision making.” I have stated that I do not favor or oppose dam removal, and that my motivation is to be a champion for scientific integrity.  Politics has no place in scientific integrity.

7)            Mr. Knight states that the dams offer no irrigation function, degrade water quality and offer no flood control functions.  A recent hydrograph analysis shows that the dams help to regulate downstream flows and are actively used to help improve flows and temperature regimes for downstream fisheries.  A 2006 PacifiCorp study shows that the dams help to improve water quality by increasing residence time and settling.  By working with irrigators and fishery managers, the dams could be used even more effectively to enhance, water quality,  fisheries and agriculture.  Unfortunately, these facts, as well as creative solutions are not being actively considered.

8)            Mr. Knight objects to my statement that dam removal is an uncontrolled experiment. If an experiment has more than one variable changing, or if there is no control, then it is uncontrolled.  In the case of the proposed dam removal, there is no control and multiple independent variables are changing, so it is by definition an uncontrolled experiment.

9)            Mr. Knight criticizes my assertion that “scientists are often biased based on who they are paid”.  I assert that funding is only one of the issues that cause science to be biased.  The very questions and hypothesis that scientists study are often formulated to arrive at a predetermined outcome.  For example, in 2010, California Trout commissioned a study to “estimate the economic benefits” of the KBRA.  As one would expect with such a charge, the resulting report collated a number of economic benefits, while ignoring potential impacts to agriculture, land valuation, power production, etc..  A better question could be asked that would give the public a real answer to the economic impact of dam removal.  Unfortunately, scientific integrity issues run even deeper than this simple example.  Decision makers often use science to support predetermined decisions rather than using science to help inform decisions.  Decision makers, scientists and peer-reviewers may have conflicts of interest, and biased media reports can skew public understanding.

10)          Mr. Knight concludes that dam removal is the preferred alternative for the Klamath River because the peer-review says it is.  The panels conclude that removing the dams without addressing the water quality issues, reducing disease, enabling free migration to the upper basin, preventing hatchery salmon from not overwhelm spawning grounds, reducing predation to sufficiently low levels, accounting for climate change, addressing reductions in fall flows, and mitigating long-term sediment impacts, has a low chance for success.  Further, there are significant conflicts of interest in the peer-review panels, and the evolution of the expert panel reports from their draft to final forms highlights some significant outside influences.

The outcomes of dam removal on this scale and in this unique environment have significant risks and uncertainties; a positive outcome is not guaranteed and a tragic outcome is possible. Decision makers need to be aware of these risks and uncertainties, and account for them in their decision making process.  By only reporting the positive aspects of dam removal without the uncertainties and additional needed mitigation, the meaning of the science is perturbed which may lead to poor decisions.


Filed in: Klamath

Dr. Paul R. Houser

About the Author (Author Profile)

Dr. Houser in an internationally recognized expert in local to global land surface-atmospheric remote sensing, in-situ observation and numerical simulation, development and application of hydrologic data assimilation methods, scientific integrity and policy, and global water and energy cycling. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona in 1992 and 1996 respectively. Dr. Houser's previous experience includes internships at the U.S. Geological Survey and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Houser joined the NASA-GSFC Hydrological Sciences Branch and the Data Assimilation Office (DAO/GMAO) in 1997, served as manager of NASA’s Land Surface Hydrology Program, and served as branch head of the Hydrological Science Branch. In 2005, he joined the George Mason University Climate Dynamics Program and the Geography and Geoinformation Sciences Department as Professor of Global Hydrology, and formed CREW (the Center for Research for Environment and Water). Dr. Houser has also teamed with groundwater development and exploration companies (EarthWater Global and Geovesi) and has served as Science Advisor to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Houser has led numerous scientific contributions, including the development of Land Data Assimilation Systems (LDAS), the Hydrospheric States Mission (Hydros/SMAP), the Land Information System (LIS), the NASA Energy and Water cycle Study (NEWS), and the Water Cycle Solutions Network (WaterNet).

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