Thursday, May 18, 2006

Science agency head nominee from oil and gas industry

Some highlights from Nature (Nature 441, 266 (18 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/441266a; Published online 17 May 2006, subscription required):

Who is Mark Myers?
That's what many US geologists are asking in the wake of an announcement that President George W. Bush will nominate Myers to head the US Geological Survey (USGS). ...Myers has a PhD in geology and has spent much of his career in Alaska, working for oil companies and for the state — sometimes alone in remote locations, armed with a shotgun in case of grizzly bears...If confirmed by the Senate, Myers would be the first USGS director in decades to come neither from academia nor from within the agency....Myers worked most recently as head of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas. In the past he has supported drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a protected region of Alaska. And this has spooked some environmentalists. But if he gets the USGS job, Myers says, he would stay out of any decision making: "My job is strictly to provide the data, to help people understand the data and its limitations."

These seems to be another one of those pro-con things. Pro: Energy is a major issue facing our country over the next several decades, so having a USGS chief who knows something about the subject seems like a good idea. Con: He's from way outside the science research establishment. How capable and effective is he going to be? Con: Has Bush picked an outsider so that he can have more influence than he would if the next USGS chief were more recognized.


turtlebella said...

You touch on a topic that is apparently causing me some angst lately. And that is the idea that someone (or some agency) can strictly "provide data" as if they were in some kind of vaccuum and where no one (i.e., the Bush administration) takes that data and skews its meaning for its own purposes. Or in a country where scientists at government agencies are never told to suppress their findings (see Union of Concerned Scientists' page on Scientific Integrity) or when Congress could just ignore scientific data when deciding about the Endangered Species Act.... Sorry to hijack comments. But I have no faith really that Myers will be as objective as he would like us to believe. I am so cynical! Plus I think we should spend less money looking for more oil and more money investing in alternative energy sources. But that wouldn't be accomplished by appointing someone else to head up the USGS I guess.

I should also go check out the Nature article since I'm at school! Find out some more- like who was the last USGS head and why did they leave?

ScienceWoman said...

Turtlebella - glad you found the post interesting. Janet Stemwedel has talked about some of the issues you mention in her truly excellent blog, Adventures in Ethics and Science.

As for the last head of the USGS, Chip Groat retired last year and there has been an interim head in the meantime. Groat served for 6.5 years (he was a Clinton appointee) and my guess is that he just felt like he had served his sentence. Groat came from U Texas and returned there afterwards. Sources tell me wasn't a great director. But what's more interesting is that he is the first person quoted in the Nature article as being critical of Myers' background.

Anonymous said...

One thing that you should know about Mark: He boasts outstanding ethical standards. He doesn't just talk the talk, but he walks the walk. Up here in Alaska Mark's known for resigning as the head of the Division of Oil and Gas in protest of Governor Murkowski's flawed gas pipeline deal. His resignation letter was stinging in its criticism.

Mark has never been and will not be used as a tool by Bush. If the Bushies try that Mark will resign again, publicly rebuking the misbehavior, and will sleep like a baby.

I've not always agreed with Mark, but his ethical compass is exemplary, and his professional judgment has been better than mine most of the time.

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