BP Hiring Scientists To 'Study' Oil Spill… But Prohibits Them From Publishing Or Sharing Research

from the that's-not-how-science-works dept

Glyn Moody points us to the news that BP has apparently been hiring up a bunch of local scientists associated with various Gulf Coast universities to study the impact of the oil spill. While some might suggest at least BP should be paying for some of the analysis of the damage it has done, the details suggest that this is more about silencing the scientists. That’s because part of the contract it’s making them sign is an agreement that they won’t publish or share their data for at least three years. That’s generally not how scientists work. They look to share data with others and to publish frequently. When one university told BP it couldn’t accept such confidentiality requirements, BP went elsewhere. In other words, it’s pretty clear that this has nothing to do with actually understanding and letting the world know what has happened. It’s about keeping it quiet for as long as possible.

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Comments on “BP Hiring Scientists To 'Study' Oil Spill… But Prohibits Them From Publishing Or Sharing Research”

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Hulser (profile) says:

Burying study results

I understand that it’s difficult for a research organization to turn away funding, but in this case it’s clearly the ethical thing to do. These universities did the right thing. In fact, I think there should be a universal standard among research organizations (universities, government organizations, private firms, etc) which states that all research will be made public immediately on completion of the study. Commissioning a study and burying the findings because you don’t like what the results were — or, in this case, what you surely know they will be — is, in my opinion, a clear ethical violation. I’m not saying that this should be forced on research organizations with a new law, but I would like a simple way to tell whether the study results I’m reading about are from a group who can bury results or from one who lives up to (or at least says they do) a higher standard. Maybe some kind of accreditation board or even just a statement saying that the organization vows to live up to this standard. If the public doesn’t find out the results at the same time as the group who commissioned the study, then it’s far less trustworthy.

Anonymous Coward says:

BP should be made to pay for their crime.

It’s not bad enough that our oil-dependent economies are already slowly killing our planet and draining it’s resources, but because of the greed of the multi-billion dollar oil industry, our planet now faces a catastrophic ecological disaster from which it will take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to recover.

And now, they are trying to make people forget this mess. In a few months, this disaster will be a passing memory and BP will be in the clear. In a few years, they will publish a study saying that the ecological impact was “minor” and fire one or two executives (with huge exit bonuses of course) and promise that it will never happen again.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

BP should be made to pay for their crime.

BP is not “they” it is “we”.

When a company is as large as BP the odds are that everyone has a stake in it one way or another. It is one of the largest companies in the world. Its net income is more than 4x that of the largest entertainment company (Disney).

If you have any savings invested, or a pension plan then the odds are that you are an indirect shareholder of BP (~40% of BP shares are held in the US, a similar number in UK, the remaining 20% through the RotW).

If you are a US or UK public employee then BP tax $/£ pay part of your salary. If you are poor – and reliant on state benefits then the same applies.

Even if you don’t derive income from BP you certainly use their products – if only indirectly.
Punishing BP is thus pointless – one might as well indulge in self-flagellation.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Two problem with that

1) Although the US owns enough of BP to be “exposed” if it has a problem – it doesn’t own all of it. Expect US assets overseas to be seized to make up the shortfall.

2) The organisation with the most expertise in fixing the problem is…..BP. The US government hasn’t got a clue…

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“2) The organisation with the most expertise in fixing the problem is…..BP. The US government hasn’t got a clue…”

Great, except thus far they’ve proven to the public that they are either unwilling or uncapable of either preventing or fixing this problem thus far….

And if we all suffer a bit when the BP ship sinks, then so be it. We deserve it for partoning their stations to begin with. The key is making sure these fuckers never see the light of business day again…

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This accident has happened somewhere at the limits of technological capability. I don’t believe BP is particularly culpable in this case. If you want to avoid the possibility of this kind of thing happening then fine – just give up on technical progress in any area where there are any risks. On the other hand if you believe that the human race needs to keep going then this kind of risk is one you have to accpet.

Forcing BP out of business would combine stupidity and immorality.

It would be stupid because BP would take with it a huge store of technical expertise and know how which would simply be lost. Just like when we trashed the nuclear power industry – and whoops – now we’ve got global warming to worry about and maybe we might need some nuclear stations again.

It would also be immoral because BP has a huge number of stakeholders, not least 80,000 employees. Most of these people are quite uninvolved with the current crisis. In fact the crisis was actually caused by a number of smaller American companies – see below from Wikipedia

“The drilling rig was owned and operated by Transocean Ltd [79] on behalf of BP, which is the majority owner of the Macondo oil field. At the time of the explosion, there were 126 crew on board; seven were employees of BP and 79 of Transocean. There were also employees of various other companies involved in the drilling operation, including Anadarko, Halliburton and M-I Swaco.[80]”

BP is picking up the tab becauser it is the only organisation with the resources to do so.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

OK then let him who doesn’t rely on oil for his lifestyle cast the first stone.

AAnd by the way you Americans are a bunch of selfish hypocrites.

This spill is peanuts compared to Bhopal – which if you remember was an American company (Union Carbide). If you want justice I suggest you close down Union Carbide first.

Also in your greed for oil you have happily tolerated far worse oil spills than this – in Nigeria for example.


You’re only upset now because it’s your precious coastline that is affected. When this kind of thing happens elsewhere you don’t give a ….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ok, then if BP goes like:

“Oops, sorry mate, won’t happen again.”

Is all good for you? No punishment required (I mean, we are all responsible somehow, we shouldn’t even be able to complain)? Or is your point that we should Nuke the planet (since we are all responsible somehow)?

Personally, I think that we hang the bosses of BP by their shorts on the top of the Burj Dubai for a few hours. That’ll teach them a lesson. Of course Nuking would also be nice (and would solve all of the world’s problems in one go), but I think other people might disagree…

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The real problem is excessive US energy consumption. You consume roughly twice as much fossil fuel as a typical european country with similar lifestyles.

And the gulf is nothing compared to what happens in the 3rd world.



and note in particular

“With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution.”

Shut down BP? No that will actually make things worse.

Shut down the US? Now you’re talking….

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Shut down the US? Now you’re talking….”

Easy there, Sparky. I’m the first person to admit my nation’s many, many problems, but let’s not start throwing around the death to America talk, because it’s really, REALLY dumb. You can’t look at what American government does around the world, what our citizens do around the world, and call us an overwhelming negative force in the universe (although I’ll give you the possibility for maybe the last 10 years or so, but not overall).

The history of our nation suggests that, while slowly, we’ll fix what we’re doing wrong. It’s just that we’ll have to drag our politicians kicking and screaming along for the ride.

“And the gulf is nothing compared to what happens in the 3rd world.”

Oh, I agree. Shut it all down. Mandatorily cut fossil fuel consumption in the States and Europe to 10% of current levels. FORCE innovation. We’ll never get completely away from oil, nor should we. But we can cut it down to the point where drilling dangerously off ANYONE’s shores isn’t worth the risk.

BTW, this kind of vitriol is unusual from you. Normally I expect reasoned thinking mixed in with a bible quote or two. But you really do hate America, don’t you? I know there are things we do really really wrong, but maybe tone it down a bit? We’ll get it right eventually. Our nation has a history of tossing off the coat of oppression and making things better for ourselves and usually the rest of the world too.

Something I thought a Brit would have known….

s. keeling says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Vitriol?

“BTW, this kind of vitriol is unusual from you. Normally I expect reasoned thinking mixed in with a bible quote or two. But you really do hate America, don’t you?”

You don’t need to hate the USA when you only hate what they’re doing lately. In BP’s case, they ignored their own technical professionals, and cheaped out all along the way, killing eleven people. Your broken/captured regulators let/encouraged them.

Lax/bought regulation over Wall St. has the world’s economy on its knees, coalition forces die every day in yet another war of attrition, you’re threatening Iran and Korea, giving tax breaks to Israelis stealing Palestinian territory, and you guys are going to anoint Sarah Palin next year? FFS!

Please, accelerate your efforts to fix your country. I can smell Big Brother wafting across the 49th parallel far too often these days.

That was a lousy crack at our Brit friend. There’s a lot of us out here who really hate what the US’s been up to for some time. Crap like ACTA and *AA (what usually consumes TD’s attention) are trivial in comparison.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the problem?

Oh, I’m sure he has the capacity for that type of stupidity as well, but this one is all Rush:

“Even places that have been devastated by oil slicks like… What was that place up in Alaska where the guy was drunk, ran a boat aground? (interruption) Prince William Sound. They were wiping off the rocks with Dawn dishwater detergent and paper towels and so forth. The place is pristine now.

You do survive these things. I’m not advocating don’t care about it hitting the shore or coast and whatever you can do to keep it out of there is fine and dandy, but the ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and was left out there. It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is. (interruption) Well, the turtles may take a hit for a while, but so what? So do we! Hell, remember that story we had at the beginning of the show: The barred owl that flew into the windshield of the Wentzville, Missouri, fire truck, and they got to the fire and the thing was still hanging on out there. It had a broken wing and they took it to some animal veterinary sanctuary or hospital or something. Just give it a pain pill!”

Source (his own damn website): http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_042910/content/01125113.guest.html

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the problem?

Hum, I have a hint for him then:

Replace oxygen by carbon dioxide. It’s all fine and natural. Heck, our own organism produces it, so it can’t be bad, right?.

What’s that? You’re having some trouble breathing? Stop whining and take a pill you big baby! Plants breath CO2, why can’t you?

s. keeling says:

Re: What's the problem?

“Millions of gallons of oil gushing into the ocean is every bit as natural as the water that’s there. After all, oil is a NATURAL resource, isn’t it? Therefore, it’s natural for it to be in the ocean.”

I don’t know about “gushing”, but oil “seeps” are very natural. Think Tar Sands, Alberta, Canada. There’s lots of undersea seeps, about which no-one was worried about until now.

Oil’s been attempting to escape its entrapment since it was put there. It’s a physical/geological process. Oil companies attempt to accelerate that process for financial gain. So why the hyperbole?

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Is this about studies, or lawsuits?

Given BP’s reluctance to let anyone close enough to the spill to study it, I have to wonder why they’re now looking for people to study the spill. Is it because they really want to know just how badly they’ve damaged things, or is it because they want to dry up the source of impartial experts to testify against BP in court? After all, it would be very easy to accuse anyone of a bias in favor of the source of their grant money.

average_joe says:

“That’s generally not how scientists work. They look to share data with others and to publish frequently.”

But this isn’t about science. It’s about litigation.

I live in New Orleans, and I take this whole BP fiasco quite personally. My favorite places to fish are now ruined. I have family members involved in the cleanup. I have friends working on the legal teams of those affected and working for BP. The judge I work for was hearing oil spill cases, but he has since recused himself for personal reasons.

This is something I follow closely.

That having been said, BP’s actions in soliciting scientists to support their side of things only seems natural to me. If they weren’t doing this, that would be remarkable in my book.

As things are, I say, “Meh.”

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: That's all good...

Let BP do what they want with their own studies. In the meantime, what we need are neutral geologists and physicists to come in and actually assess the situation from a … you know… scientific standpoint.

But that’s one of the key points of Mike’s post, that BP are locking up the experts with contracts that limit their ability to publish their results possibly to prevent negative results from being released. So, you can’t just say let BP do “their own studies” because BP will try and hire the top people to do the studies who will then be silenced, leaving fewer and/or less-qualified people to do the public studies.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re: That's all good...

I’m doubtful BP could actually lock up every competent geologist on the Gulf Coast, but if they did the public could use specialists from a different region. Certainly a familiarity with the specific environment is big, but in theory a competent scientist could make useful analysis regardless of regional specialty… provided the data is there.

The problem is that the U.S. is not helping to open up the monitoring methodologies, or the data for public review. Considering the potential is there for a significant event, this is irresponsible on a global scale. We should stop worrying about everyone getting in a panic, and put an all-out effort into trying to find a way to secure our butts.

s. keeling says:

Re: Re: Re: That's all good...

“The problem is that the U.S. is not helping to open up the monitoring methodologies, or the data for public review.”

Not to worry, my friend. Welcome to the 21st Century. I’m in Canada, and have been following the story since day one. We’re all watching out here. We do a lot of oil prospecting up here too, so many in these parts are comparing BP’s way to what we know to be responsible drilling techniques.

Granted, your (USA’s) regs/politicos pushed them out of shallow water drilling into deepwater drilling (NIMBY), but still, if they couldn’t do it, they should have stopped trying, not fouled the Gulf.


Danny says:

Re: Why so serious?

fled or “lobbied” the governemnt with enough money to grant them protection from being held responsible for damage. That’s my guess. They’ll take this three years to protect themselves as best as possible so when the three years run out the truth come out it will too late to do anything because BP will have already gotten what amounts to pre-forgivness (as in automatically fogiving for things that haven’t even being revealed yet).

Anonymous Coward says:

Private companies hire scientists all the time – myself included. Data I generate, such at the optimal method for which to cook carbon fiber, is proprietary because its a trade secret. That secret gives us a unique advantage over competition. As such, its ok to pay scientist to be quiet.

This is not covered. Oil spill relief is not a trade secret, unless BP is trying to corner the market on future cleanups.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sorry, but it won’t happen. I’m sure your lawyer friends have good intentions, but they’ll get blocked or appealed or whatever until any judgement is whittled down to insignificant levels. Your talking about a globally connected company, a CFR corporate member (meaning that they rub elbows w/our elected and unelected officials regularly), and a company that has several international banking institutions sitting on their board (including a couple of Rockefeller and Rothschild owned).

Sorry, but they aren’t going anywhere….

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It won’t get bankrupted, it’ll get “bankrupted”. A good educational context would be provided by reviewing what happened in the antitrust cases of Standard Oil about a century ago or how the American subsidiaries of IG Farben were handled in pre- and post-WWII.

In the case of Standard Oil, the government broke up the monopoly into 6 different companies….which were then partially (and often totally) owned by Rockefeller. Within 20 years those six companies had bought most of each other out so that they were once again a single company. It’s worth mentioning that there was a big public outcry against Standard at the time of the breakup, not unlike w/BP today….

vrob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I agree that litigation against BP will most likely not result in bankrupting this deeply flawed corporation. On the other hand, I am not sure how much this has to do with anti-trust cases; other than being a history lesson in how corporations learned to circumvent the law by dividing and regrouping like a ball of mercury.

We should all know that corporations have the support of the law to create an almost infinite number of subsidiaries and holding companies. And that each subsequent entity comes equipped with its own limited liability making it increasingly difficult to reach a satisfactory result when a corporate decision causes things to go horribly wrong.

I am all for anti-trust law, I just wish it was easier to pierce the veil.

darryl says:

Its not generally how scientists work !

That’s generally not how scientists work. They look to share data with others and to publish frequently.

No, in fact its standard operating procedure, with private R&D and engineering, Intel, MS, pharma companies, and most companies that employ engineers or scientists for privately funded research is proprietary, and closed.

They are not forcing anyone to take the job, if a scientist does not want to sign the NDA then he says “no, thanks”.

And would you prefer that BP did not hire extra engineers and scientists to improve their abilities and skills to deal with these kinds of problems.

Would you be complaining if BP had not hired any more expertise after this situation?

And you dont think some of these scientists will have any integrity ? you dont trust them to make statements publicly if they find something badly wrong ?

Or wait the 3 years, after quiting and going to the press ?

Or do you expect the scientists to fudge their figures and destroy their credibility just for a pay cheque ?

Or would you rather BP hire a squad of high priced laywers instead of scientists ?

But you are badly mistaken if you think the majority of engineers and scientists only seek to distribute information and publish. Most , the vast majority do not..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its not generally how scientists work !

You are very, very sadly mistaken.

The majority of researchers DOES publish their data. That is how science progresses.

But don’t take my word for it, just search how many international conferences are there on topics such as mathematics, computer sciences, chemistry or physics.

Yes, there are a lot of them. They are places where scientists and researchers gather to show the community their findings and the fruits of their labor. They hope their work may be noticed, but also hope to learn something from their fellow scientists.

I should know. I’ve presented a couple of papers in conferences already :p

The fact that some scientists are paid to hide their findings does not make them the norm. They are the exception that confirms the rule.

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