Where's the Math on Gov't Oil Spill Report?

| Wed Aug. 18, 2010 12:25 PM EDT

When the federal government released its report claiming that the vast majority of the oil in the Gulf has disappeared on August 4, I noted that the official report "doesn't include much in the way of specifics on the supporting data used to reach these conclusions." I've repeatedly asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which took the lead on the report, for more of the supporting data. Those requests have not been fulfilled. Heck, I can barely even get anyone to return a call over there. A spokesperson finally told me today that she would look into whether the supporting information on the report would be made public.

Turns out I'm not alone. A congressional investigator forwarded his lengthy correspondence with NOAA congressional affairs specialist Michael Jarvis over the same issue. NOAA isn't coughing up numbers for Congress, either, even though the numbers are even more important now that an independent study from the University of Georgia found that up to 80 percent of the oil is still in the water. It's hard to swallow the official government estimate if they can't even show their work.

Here's the correspondence. I took out the name of my congressional source and all the email addresses:

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From: [congressional investigator]
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 2010 2:56 PM
To: 'Michael Jarvis'
Subject: RE: Two reports
Hey Mike,
I need a copy of the analyses/calculations/algorithms that NOAA used to put together the size of the oil spill (August 2) and the report on the fate of the oil spill. I’ve read the press releases that were put out, but there are no calculations.
Please send over by COB.
Thanks for all your help,
[congressional investigator]
From: Michael Jarvis
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 2010 2:32 PM
To: [Congressional investigator]
Subject: Re: Two reports
Hi [congressional investigator],
Attached here is a copy of the report itself (which you may have already seen) and the attached link provides further information on these calculation methods: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/PDFs/DeepwaterHorizonOilBudget20100801.pdf
Thanks,
Mike
From: [congressional investigator]
Michael,
I’m sorry, but maybe I’m not clear. Neither the attachment that you sent, nor the document that opens at the link, contain ANY calculations. The document at the link is a descriptive account of the how the solutions were derived, but the actual formulas used to calculate the solutions and values that are in those calculation are not there. That’s the same for the report that you sent to me.
Essentially, nobody can check the math.
The agency couldn’t turn something like this in if it was an assignment for an introductory physics course at a local community college. I know, because I took physics in college.
Again, where are the actual calculations that were used to create these numbers?
Sorry for the mix up and thanks again for your help,
[congressional investigator]
From: Michael Jarvis
Sent: Wednesday, August 04, 2010 3:44 PM
To: [congressional investigator]
Subject: Re: Two reports
Hi [congressional investigator],
You are correct, unfortunately the calculations are not online at this point. Please note though that this is an interagency report, not just NOAA. I'll pass on your request and hopefully have more info soon.
Thanks,
Mike
From: [congressional investigator]
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 11:18 AM
To: 'Michael Jarvis'
Subject: RE: Two reports
Mike,
Hope you had a great weekend. It’s been almost a week since the White House passed the press release off to the New York Times, yet the American public and outside experts still do not have access to the underlying calculations that went into the numbers and the pie chart that was shown on CNN.
When are we getting this?
Dr. Lubchenco walked reporters through the numbers on CNN. Has she not seen the underlying calculations and the assumptions that went into them?
Do these calculations even exist?
This exact same scenario played out in early June when you guys released your flow rate calculations….but you didn’t release the calculations! I had to spend a week badgering you guys and the people at DOI to release them.
Could you please help me understand?
Thanks,
[congressional investigator]
Follow up, from the congressional investigator:
Mike,
You didn’t respond to my email yesterday. You work for congressional affairs. That means that you’re supposed to respond to congressional staff.
When are you guys going to release the calculations so that people can check the math? If a students at Oregon State University turned in a bunch of answers without the underlying calculations for a graduate class, I highly doubt that Dr. Lubchenco would give them passing grades.
At least I hope she wouldn’t. It’s not how science works.
Thanks,
[congressional investigator]
From: Michael Jarvis
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 1:41 PM
To: [congressional investigator]
Subject: Re: Two reports
Hi [congressional investigator],
Apologies for not responding to your message yesterday. There unfortunately isn't something available to be posted now, but we are in the process of working to set up a conference call for interested Congressional staff on this issue that would provide an opportunity to hear more about this report and ask questions. We're trying to line that up for next week or so. I'll be sure to keep you posted on that.
Thanks,
Mike
From: [congressional investigator]
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 1:45 PM
To: 'Michael Jarvis'
Subject: RE: Two reports
Mike,
Thanks for working on setting up a phone call, but a Q&A regarding the numbers released last week still does not address the problem. I think Dr. Lubchenco and the other scientists at NOAA are aware of that old saw in math: show your work.
How would a discussion with congressional staff move us forward?
Thanks,
[congressional investigator] 

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