Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #19 - Frankenscience

Via the CAO process, many of us have become familiar with the word "BAS," and not just because it is the Irish word for "death" and "demise" either. However fitting that coincidence may be, BAS is more widely known in our locale as the acronym that stands for "Best Available Science," which is a CAO requirement per RCW 36.70A.172 and WAC 365-195-915.

Since our County staff had a hard time digesting the thousands of pages of information submitted as BAS, we hired Dr. Paul Adamus to "synthesize" it. Billed as a professor from Oregon State University, in reality he is a "courtesy appointment" which is a term of art for someone with only the loosest of affiliations to the university ... so loose he's never been paid by the university for being a professor, has no research responsibilities, and has never taught a class. That's loose.

That's not the only thing that's loose. In his resume, Dr. Adamus lists pages and pages of "publications," but many of these are simply client deliverables, not academic publications in peer-reviewed journals. "Wetlands Ordinance, Inventory, and Access Analysis.  Town of Kennebunk, Maine" is a typical example.

Dr. Adamus is our County's go-to guy for CAO science. Have a question about wetlands? Let's ask Dr. Adamus. Pollution? Let's ask Dr. Adamus. Risk? Yep, you got it, let's ask Dr. Adamus. Whatever Dr. Adamus says, it must be true. That's the attitude of County staff and the Council.

This is how we ended up with a stormwater flow methdology, the Rational Method, as the basis for our "site specific approach" for wetland buffers. Conceptualized by Shireene Hale, this approach was adopted by Dr. Adamus who perfected it into our buffer calculator. Hale and Adamus both believe it is a predictor of general pollution, even though that it isn't. It estimates stormwater volume.

Another novel and innovative approach taken by the team of Hale and Adamus (and vigorously supported by Janet Alderton of the Friends) is the notion that native vegetation is better at pollutant removal than other types of vegetation. The origin for this claim comes from the TR-55 manual, which like the Rational Method, has nothing to do with pollutant concentrations. It is a technical document about stormwater volume. One of the tables in TR-55 suggests that lawns with bare spots have higher runoff volume than lawns without bare spots. In other words, it shows that bare earth isn't very good at controlling runoff, so the more bare earth there is, the higher the runoff.

Nevertheless, that basic fact (bare earth equals higher runoff) was transmogrified by the technical committee on buffers into something entirely different. Somehow that initial fact about runoff volume was innovatively interpreted to mean that lawns are not as good as other vegetation at controlling pollution. Then, that was further "interpreted" to arrive at the result that native vegetation is best overall. Once there, only a bit more innovation was needed to conclude that buffers must consist of only undisturbed native vegetation.

All that from a table entry in a technical manual that suggests only that we might expect higher runoff from a patchy lawn versus an un-patchy one, and despite the salient fact that, in reality, grasses are some of the best types of vegetation for attenuating particular types of constituents, especially nitrogen.

Of course, if the Council has any questions about the validity or the applicability of the conclusions drawn from BAS, they can always consult with a scientist. Who would they ask? Oh, that's right, they would ask Dr. Adamus.

Asking Dr. Adamus if the methods he and Shireene cobbled together are valid and applicable is a bit like asking Dr. Frankenstein if his monster is pretty, don't you think?


  1. BAS is a misnomer. It should be BAAHS,or Best Available Anti Human Science.

  2. A few key points about Adamus and this process: first, PRA request docs show that he was on the phone with Ecology from the outset, reporting to them and seeking advice on fundamental issues, including those he was supoosedly the expert on. Second, Adamus acknowledged in another e-mail that of course he didn't read all the BAS--his 6-figure contract apparently not enough to warrant that--yet he did opine about all the BAS. Third, he put forth two approaches, the first of which was tossed at his own urging, the second of which was tossed seemingly unilaterally by Shireene Hale, Registered Environmental Health, at the urging of her back-room go-to scientist, Janet Alderton (a microbiologist with no cognizable wetlands training or standing). Thereafter, Ms. Hale and Ms. Alderton produced a fevered correspondence about how to construct a pollution removal scheme, even though they had no evidence of WHICH pollutants were a problem in the County or HOW MUCH of the pollutants County landowners were dealing with. Adamus took a serious credibility hit during this phase, but was rehabilitated and presented in another set of dog and pony shows in which questions were asked but seldom answered. IIRC, Adamus demurred that he hadn't the statistical chops to address questions about the infamous Mayer or Zhang studies, but did concede that they both addressed removing nitrates from ag fields.

  3. Google just turned this up on the morning tide:



  4. At the end of the day, we may all discover that this has been an experiment.

    For example, the Department of Ecology lathers praise on our proposed CAO as an important new model that other counties will surely follow (because DOE will tell them to). We're a little petri dish.

    Another example: the Constructed Stormwater Retention Wetlaand in Eastsound behind the Village Green. It is beginning to appear that exciting project was another experiment. Our backyard laboratory. Who are the test subjects?

    And now we have Son of San Juan Initiative eager to return to our sylvan shores to find out how their innovative well well funded ideas from a few years ago here have played out. They really want to publish their results. They really, REALLY want to publish important papers in big journals with all their names.

    We're just a laboratory, a petri dish. Publish or perish. None of this is about protecting the environment, preserving our rural character, community or economy. Its just about advancing the careers of a few politically connected phony academics and policy wonks with wild ideas about social engineering disguised as environmental regulation. These are mostly folks who couldn't hold down a day job. Yet somehow they are controlling a heck of a lot of money that allows them to masquerade as pragmatic technocrats and protectors of our common good.

    Quacks. Charlatans. Humbugs.

  5. You have deemed them far too civil. If only this was about a few phony academics. Their army and funding are far larger and deeper than most folks understand. We are screwed.

  6. Well, there is a certain banality to all of this that is also very much a precursor to evil. We're also known as the "regulated community" -- a term of art that allows the public to be objectified and subjected to social engineering experiments of one type or another. No forced sterilizations or terminating the feeble minded - yet - but the lessons from history are worth heeding. Or, we may well be doomed to repeat it.