State Should ‘Show Its Work’ In Science — Bob Palmer

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“By embracing non-transparency, the state is making it impossible for even well-trained scientists to check its work.”

This is the theme of Dr. Bob Palmer’s article in today’s Tallahassee Democrat in which he exposes the state’s reluctance to provide explanations in their water decisions.  These decisions invariable take the easy way out when confronted with a choice between industry (i.e., MONEY) or the environment.

Your writer witnessed the show put on by Tom Frick and Kenneth Weaver  at the July ERC public hearings on the DEP’s new toxin limits.  This new science/formula took over an hour to explain, and left the audience with the idea that they first chose the result that they wanted, and then developed “science” that would produce that result.  But the absolute worst thing about that circus is that our state protectors believe that a few of us are expendable as long as industry gets its way.

Please go to this link to see all of Dr. Palmer’s article.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-

State should ‘show its work’ in science

Bob Palmer

Think back to sixth grade. Remember those pesky math tests where your teacher wouldn’t give you any credit if you didn’t “show your work”? Otherwise, he’d suspect that you’d copied from the smart girl next to you.

Well, Florida’s bureaucrats have turned not showing their work into an art form. Consider three recent examples of environmental decisionmaking in which state regulators have declined to show their work.

First, Sleepy Creek, a vast Marion County cattle operation. In 2014, Water District staff recommended their application for massive groundwater withdrawals be denied because regional withdrawals were already ruining Silver Springs. But in a new report, staff green-lighted the project, which the district is now poised to approve.

Does the 2016 report show its work, explaining why it threw out staff’s earlier conclusions? No, but citizens are free to spend lots of time and money in a short time frame to ferret out the answers.

Act NOW!*

Put the Right to Clean Water Amendment on the 2022 ballot


Then there’s the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP), an effort by two water management districts to secure sufficient water, long-term, for both people and the environment. The plan must meet requirements of any Minimum Flows and Levels (MFL) aimed at restoring water bodies suffering from water depletion.

Keystone Heights’ lakes have had MFLs since the 1990s. The NFRWSP notes that they’re being re-evaluated based on “new science.” With this caveat, the state’s planners simply ignore these MFLs — even though Florida law requires the plan to address all water deficits identified in existing MFLs.

On what basis do the drafters of the NFRWSP ignore the law? We’re left to guess because, once again, the state won’t show its work.

Then, we have the new water-quality standards for toxic chemicals, approved in September — standards immersed in legal challenges from the Seminole Tribe and others. Many new standards are less strict than existing standards for contaminated surface waters.

An untested approach underlies these criteria, so public health advocates were eager to understand this new science, known as “Monte Carlo Methods.” One experienced statistician wrote to the state employee who developed the new method, asking for clarification of various technical points.

A state lawyer — not a state scientist — responded that because of ongoing litigation, “department staff are not at liberty to discuss the details of the proposed criteria.”

So even though the state has used controversial science to justify a controversial outcome affecting the health of all Floridians, it refuses to provide basic information enabling citizens to understand whether the new approach is scientifically valid.

These three examples reveal the state’s disturbing attitude that “This is complicated science so just trust us.” By embracing non-transparency, the state is making it impossible for even well-trained scientists to check its work — an attitude that can only exacerbate widespread distrust that many citizens feel toward their government.

So, Florida, please make a New Year’s resolution. Resolve to show us your work, so that we the people might have some clue about why you decide to do what you do.

Bob Palmer is a board member of the Florida Springs Institute who lives in Gainesville.

Bob Palmer


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