Last week, the Sonoma City Council voted unanimously in support of Drakes Bay Oyster Company, and asked Congressman Jared Huffman to support a bipartisan Congressional investigation into the “questionable science” that misinformed Interior Secretary Salazar’s decision not to renew the farm’s permit. Huffman immediately rejected the council’s request. In so doing, he made four substantive mistakes.
First, Huffman said the investigation of scientific misconduct was a “Republican-inspired effort.” Not so. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has long been concerned about scientific misconduct by the National Park Service. Last year, Feinstein wrote that the park service repeatedly “falsified and misrepresented data,” “stained its reputation” and has been “deceptive and potentially fraudulent.”
Second, Huffman said the Secretary’s decision was not informed by the false science. Not so again. Salazar wrote that this science had “informed me” and “been helpful to me in making my decision.” What’s more, Justice Department lawyers representing the Interior Department and other farm opponents continue to use the false science in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to justify why the “public good” favors removing the farm.
Third, Huffman questioned whether there is, in the council’s words, a “clear-cut case of scientific misconduct,” implying there was not. Here are the facts. For seven years, the park service claimed to have evidence showing the oyster farm disturbs the harbor seals in Drakes Estero. Yet they had none. When challenged, the park service set up secret cameras, and over three years took 300,000 photographs of oyster boats and seals. They looked for seal disturbances, but found none.
The Environmental Impact Statement released last November further promoted false science. To support its claim of seal disturbances, the park service cited the analysis of the secret photographs by an independent expert, Dr. Brent Stewart, claiming he found seal disturbances caused by the oyster farm. But Dr. Stewart actually concluded just the opposite—“no evidence of disturbance.”
Fourth, and most troubling, Huffman remained quiet after he received unequivocal evidence of scientific misconduct. After I questioned the park’s claims about seal disturbances last December, Interior officials secretly asked Dr. Stewart to re-review the set of photographs. Dr. Stewart held firm, and wrote a supplemental report in which he again found no evidence of disturbance by the oyster farm.
Interior tried to keep Dr. Stewart’s supplemental report a secret, but it got out. Huffman was the first to receive the report in April, but thus far he too remained silent about it.
Huffman’s district is ground zero for scientific misconduct. The great majority of his constituents, according to every poll, want the oyster farm to stay, and are concerned about the false science used to argue in favor of removing the farm. Just this week, the North Bay Leadership Council passed a resolution supporting the oyster farm and asking Huffman to support a bipartisan Congressional investigation.
When asked about park service science while running for election, Huffman said the “science must have integrity.” After his election, he joined the Problem Solvers, a Congressional group dedicated to finding bipartisan solutions. But on the issue of scientific integrity, even though he possesses evidence of misconduct, he has remained silent and refuses to join a bipartisan investigation.
I urge Huffman to rethink his decision, disclose what he found in Dr. Stewart’s report and support a bipartisan Congressional investigation. Throughout his career, Huffman has stood for integrity and reaching across the aisle. His constituents expect no less. We ask that he stay the course and pick the path of scientific integrity. If he does so, I pledge to work with him for an open and fair investigation.
Dr. Corey Goodman is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, West Marin organic rancher, environmentalist and the scientist who began investigating park service science in 2007 at the request of Supervisor Steve Kinsey.