THE BLOG

Who Cares About Science?

02/22/2013 06:05 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2013

Dear Readers,

Sarah Rolph, a freelance writer, has written an essay in response to Helen Grieco's Huffington Post Green piece a few days ago about the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm debate. Because her essay addresses a topic I've also addressed (as noted in Rolph's piece below), I have received her permission to post it here. This essay is her opinion of course. I just happen to agree with it.

For those interested in more on this topic, here are links to a few of my previous posts on this issue.

Peter Gleick

Who Cares About Science?
By Sarah Rolph

Helen Grieco's strange post "Tilting at Windmills" (Huff Post Green, February 20, 2013) takes a lot of cheap shots at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. The post is riddled with errors and false implications.

The oyster farm in question has been part of the West Marin community for roughly eight decades. As current oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny said in the Pacific Sun recently, "We just happen to be the stewards today. This is a Marin County tradition." Generations of oyster lovers have visited the farm, as is evident from comments like this at the oyster farm's Facebook page: "My first visit to the oyster farm was before my first kid was born. She is almost thirty now. The land is as wild then as is today. The farm is productive, sustainable and as far as I can see not much has changed in these thirty years. I would hope the court in its wisdom would let them stay for another thirty years."

Grieco says the oyster farmers are "squatting in Point Reyes National Seashore," even though they are allowed to stay until March 15 even if their appeal fails. She says the farm is "illegal," pointing to a link to a story full of falsehoods. The story is about an enforcement order by the California Coastal Commission--an order that is built on fabrications so outrageous that even the vice-chair of the commission, Steve Kinsey, calls it "morally disturbing," pointing out that CCC "repeated the same disproven assertions that the operation was harming harbor seals and eelgrass" NPS has made. Says Kinsey, "CCC staff chose to portray the Lunnys as irresponsible operators to aid and abet the Park Service's myopic interest in terminating the lease. Given the unequivocal support of aquaculture written into the Coastal Act and the specific support in Marin's Local Coastal Program, I am deeply disappointed in the staff's attitude and complicity with the NPS." (That story is here--reprinted with permission from the Point Reyes Light: http://oysterzone.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/02-14-13-pt-reyes-light-coastal-commission-trumped-up-claims-against-dboc/)

Grieco's mean-spirited piece focuses on her politics, which clash with those of one of the groups supporting Drakes Bay in its appeal. She seems to be entirely uninterested in actual issues.

For example, she cites the 2011 investigation of the Drakes Bay Oyster controversy by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But she buries it in a discussion that resembles nothing so much as a conspiracy theory, breathlessly reporting that "Issa and his committee also have ties to the Koch brothers." Nowhere does she mention what that investigation was about, nor does she seem aware of any of the other investigations of serious Park Service misconduct.

I hope readers clicked Grieco's link to Rep. Issa's letter, which points out that "scientific misconduct at the National Park Service may be jeopardizing the right of a small business to operate." The letter quotes witnesses to NPS having "misrepresented scientific data and made unsupported allegations against DBOC to justify removal of the farm." It further points out that the National Academy of Sciences, asked to look into these charges, found them to be true. Yet the only aspect of the story Grieco reports on is the irrelevant fact that Issa is a Republican.

The belief that science ought not to be misused is not a partisan issue, nor is the desire that a small, sustainable family business not be unfairly demonized and improperly put out of business. These fundamental beliefs cut across ideological boundaries, as evidenced by the wide spectrum of voices being raised in support of Drakes Bay Oyster.

In these very pages last month, Peter Gleick, certainly no right-winger, eloquently defended the oyster farm, saying "I believe the decision to close the farm was the wrong one, done for the wrong reason, and it should be overturned."

Gleick has taken the time to understand what really happened here, and reports:

"Good science should have played a key role in the Drakes Bay debacle, and open community discussion should have as well. But we didn't get good science. Instead, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior (DoI), and some local environmental supporters (with whom I often have strong common cause) manipulated, misreported and misrepresented science in their desire to support expanded wilderness."

Michael Pollan is another non-right-wing thought leader who supports Drakes Bay Oyster. Pollan said in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (another DBOC supporter with no known ties to the Koch brothers), with a copy to Secretary Salazar, that "the Park Service has willfully twisted both history and science to promote a fantasy of wilderness." Pollan says "thoughtful environmentalists embrace sustainable agriculture." He has actually visited the place, and reports that "the oyster farm stands as a model," and "the oyster farm contributes to the health of its ecosystem."

Grieco seems to be using this controversy not to inform, but to inflame. She would do well to take to heart this point with which Gleick concluded his January 23, 2013 essay at Huffington Post Science:

"We may disagree among ourselves about matters of opinion and policy, but we (and our elected representatives) must not misuse, hide or misrepresent science and fact in service of our preferences and ideology."

Sarah Rolph is a freelance writer working on a book about the Lunny family. Her website is www.sarahrolph.com.