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Gulf Oil Spill Failings

A marine scientist ponders how academics could have handled the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill better.

By | April 24, 2012

image: Gulf Oil Spill Failings Deepwater Horizon oil spill at Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana.Wikipedia, Jeffrey Warren, Grass Roots Mapping project

Deepwater Horizon oil spill at Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana. WIKIPEDIA, JEFFREY WARREN, GRASS ROOTS MAPPING PROJECT

On the 2-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the scientists who flocked to the area in the spill’s aftermath reflects on the overall contribution of the academic scientific community to the disaster relief, and concludes that scientists struggled, and at times failed, said Christopher Reddy, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to deal with the media and federal officials as well as perform the research that was most beneficial to the cause.

“Academic scientists chose the research that most interested us, rather than what may have been most important to responding to the immediate disaster,” wrote Reddy, who studies marine pollution, in an opinion piece for Wired.

At the heart of the problem, Reddy argued, were widespread miscommunication and a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles and cultures of each of the participating parties, including the media, government, BP, and academia. Scientists who volunteered to go to the Gulf of Mexico, for example, were initially given little to no guidance by the government and BP officials. “We were trying to find Atlantis instead of contributing to solving problems,” he wrote.

The media’s need for on-the-spot expert assessments was also often at odds with the academic way of peer-review and the vetting of incoming information. “We had problems explaining uncertainties, and we did not understand the ramifications of our statements to the media,” Reddy said.

Going forward, stakeholders, such as scientists, government officials, and the media, must make an effort to understand each other’s cultures outside of disaster events, he added. “It’s time for academia to embrace a maxim in crisis management that ‘a crisis is no time to start exchanging business cards.’”

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Comments

Avatar of: RobertD

RobertD

Posts: 1457

April 24, 2012

The commenters on the original article mostly go it right.  In an odd way the original author got it both wrong AND right; he is right that academics have little insight as to how their information will be interpreted by the media; on the other hand, it isn't clear that their academic experise had any impact on the disaster or its effects, as the media was just filling airtime, not providing useful information (if in fact any such information existed).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 24, 2012

The commenters on the original article mostly go it right.  In an odd way the original author got it both wrong AND right; he is right that academics have little insight as to how their information will be interpreted by the media; on the other hand, it isn't clear that their academic experise had any impact on the disaster or its effects, as the media was just filling airtime, not providing useful information (if in fact any such information existed).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

PLEASE post my comment about recent us federal government suit against BP and one crew member in particular for deliberately lying and dpwnplaying the extent of the rate of spillage by almost THREE FOLD.  Scientiists were thus misled  on purpose!

Avatar of: Robert Cahn

Robert Cahn

Posts: 5

April 26, 2012

PLEASE post my comment about recent us federal government suit against BP and one crew member in particular for deliberately lying and dpwnplaying the extent of the rate of spillage by almost THREE FOLD.  Scientiists were thus misled  on purpose!

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