Geologists get to suffer with the idiots, too

My most memorable encounter with the anti-animal research cadres was several years ago, when I was a graduate student, and the Animal Liberation Front snuck into our building one night and vandalized one of my colleague’s labs; they destroyed data, stole some irreplaceable mutant lines, and walked away with most of the research animals, things like white mice and quail and other small furry lab-bred animals. In their noble humanitarianism, they later released them all just off of I-5, where all the baffled, frightened little beasties made the local red-tailed hawks very, very happy. It’s the kind of event that convinced me that these people are freakin’ morons.

I’m not against ethical standards for the treatment of animals at all — I think that ought to be required and monitored. But these animal rightists seem to have largely formed their knowledge of biology from Disney movies

I thought they were a plague on biology, but guess what? Geologists have to strive against the ignorant, too! One proud “eco-warrior” is bragging online about his efforts to disrupt geological research in British Columbia. He dismantled a seismic shot, an explosive device which sends echoes bouncing through the earth, which was being used in a pure research project to examine deep granite basoliths, as part of a study of how mountains are formed.

His excuses were that it would frighten sandhill cranes nesting a few kilometers away, that it was probably secret surveying for the oil industry (yeah, right — I’m only a biologist, and even I know you don’t go drilling beneath mountain ranges for oil), and that it was all done without informing the community. For this, Ingmar Lee charges ahead and damages a simple research operation that, like most geology projects, was operating on a shoe-string already.

I think that Lee expects kudos and congratulations for his ignorance; perhaps you should politely inform him otherwise. Leave him a civil, informative comment at his site to correct him. The only part I’ll bother to reproduce from his posturing is part of his correspondence. He wrote to the PI of the research project to complain about the seismic shot, and John Hole wrote back, politely explaining what they were and were not doing, and how the public process was carried out. It’s an excellent example of good communication by a scientist, and is a model for how to address public concerns. It’s too bad the recipient was a committed ideologue who thought it would be heroic to smash up some science.

From: John Hole
Date: 2009/7/12
Subject: Re: Great Bear Rainforest Seismic Shot: Batholiths On Land Seismic Program mid-July, 2009
To: Ingmar
Cc: John Hole , George Spence

Mr. Lee,

I understand your distrust of government. We are not “them”. We are not the petroleum industry either. We are university scientists, who, for purely scientific reasons, submitted funding proposals to study mountain-building processes – to us this is a really cool part of nature. Our budgets are definitely not massive – to the point where our crew is mostly unpaid student volunteers. Our science will be student research projects, published in public online journals. Since the research is about the wrong type of rocks (granite), it will not be useful to petroleum companies.

Government employees working at the lowest local levels usually are not “them” either; these folks are more likely to be the whistle blowers. The government employee scientists who reviewed and approved the environmental-biological aspects of our proposal are based in Bella Coola (DFO and MinEnv) and Williams Lake (MinEnv). They seem pretty “green” to me – they sure asked a lot of questions and cancelled/shrunk a few of our proposed shots for good environmental reasons that only a local would know. We were happy to comply.

The marine Batholiths was not shut down due to the potential for marine damage. A permit was neither denied nor approved. We withdrew our application because the government permit process would take longer than the lifetime of our budgets.

When we withdrew our marine application in 2007, we informed all of the groups / organizations / agencies with whom we were in contact that we intended to propose a land project. We communicated about the marine and the land projects in the same manner, assuming the outreach would be equally effective – it worked for the marine. There was no attempt at secrecy.

It is unfortunate that the CCRD, Shearwater Resort, and Heiltsuk Nation did not inform your community about the land. We thought that they did. I can only guess that they were so unconcerned that they did not think they needed to.
Is there an alternate organization with whom we should be in contact?

Regarding monitoring, we are set up to quantitatively monitor ground shaking – that’s our expertise. Sound in the water comes from the ground shaking (not from the air “whump” noise), so we can calculate water noise. We would be pleased to cooperate with anybody who wishes to monitor biological reactions, but all relevant agencies and local organizations have said there was no need. This is not meant as an excuse, but context matters: routine local operations regularly cause more wildlife disturbance than us. Would you like to set up a scientific monitoring?

Thank-you for your communications – and your honest emotions. Unfortunately many of your impressions of us and the project are poorly informed. It is very unfortunate that the local organizations did not communicate with you.


ps. I am a Canadian citizen, but I live and teach in Virginia. If you think your government is bad…