Tag Archives: NOAA

Sunscreens: 2018 update

I don’t usually concern myself with SPF numbers on sunscreens as my primary focus has been on the inclusion of nanoscale metal particles (these are still considered safe). However, a recent conversation with a dental hygienist and coincidentally tripping across a June 19, 2018 posting on the blog shortly after the convo. has me reassessing my take on SPF numbers (Note: Links have been removed),

So, what’s the deal with SPF? A recent interview of Dr Steven Q Wang, M.D., chair of The Skin Cancer Foundation Photobiology Committee, finally will give us some clarity. Apparently, the SPF number, be it 15, 30, or 50, refers to the amount of UVB protection that that sunscreen provides. Rather than comparing the SPFs to each other, like we all do at the store, SPF is a reflection of the length of time it would take for the Sun’s UVB radiation to redden your skin (used exactly as directed), versus if you didn’t apply any sunscreen at all. In ideal situations (in lab settings), if you wore SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer for you to get a sunburn than if you didn’t wear any sunscreen.

What’s more, SPF 30 is not nearly half the strength of SPF 50. Rather, SPF 30 allows 3% of UVB rays to hit your skin, and SPF 50 allows about 2% of UVB rays to hit your skin. Now before you say that that is just one measly percent, it actually is much more. According to Dr Steven Q. Wang, SPF 30 allows around 1.5 times more UV radiation onto your skin than SPF 50. That’s an actual 150% difference [according to Wang’s article “… SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin.”] in protection.

(author of the ‘eponymous’ blog) offers a good overview of the topic in a friendly, informative fashion albeit I found the ‘percentage’ to be a bit confusing. (S)he also provides a link to a previous posting about the ingredients in sunscreens (I do have one point of disagreement with regarding oxybenzone) as well as links to Dr. Steven Q. Wang’s May 24, 2018 Ask the Expert article about sunscreens and SPF numbers on skincancer.org. You can find the percentage under the ‘What Does the SPF Number Mean?’ subsection, in the second paragraph.

Ingredients: metallic nanoparticles and oxybenzone

The use of metallic nanoparticles  (usually zinc oxide and/or (titanium dioxide) in sunscreens was loathed by civil society groups, in particular Friends of the Earth (FOE) who campaigned relentlessly against their use in sunscreens. The nadir for FOE was in February 2012 when the Australian government published a survey showing that 13% of the respondents were not using any sunscreens due to their fear of nanoparticles. For those who don’t know, Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. (You can read about the debacle in my Feb. 9, 2012 posting.)

At the time, the only civil society group which supported the use of metallic nanoparticles in sunscreens was the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  After an examination of the research they, to their own surprise, came out in favour (grudgingly) of metallic nanoparticles. (The EWG were more concerned about the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens.)

Over time, the EWG’s perspective has been adopted by other groups to the point where sunscreens with metallic nanoparticles are commonplace in ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ sunscreens.

As for oxybenzones, in a May 23, 2018 posting about sunscreen ingredients notes this (Note: Links have been removed),

Oxybenzone – Chemical sunscreen, protects from UV damage. Oxybenzone belongs to the chemical family Benzophenone, which are persistent (difficult to get rid of), bioaccumulative (builds up in your body over time), and toxic, or PBT [or: Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs)]. They are a possible carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), endocrine disrupter; however, this is debatable. Also could cause developmental and reproductive toxicity, could cause organ system toxicity, as well as could cause irritation and potentially toxic to the environment.

It seems that the tide is turning against the use of oxybenzones (from a July 3, 2018 article by Adam Bluestein for Fast Company; Note: Links have been removed),

On July 3 [2018], Hawaii’s Governor, David Ig, will sign into law the first statewide ban on the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals that scientists say are damaging the Earth’s coral reefs. Passed by state legislators on May 1 [2018], the bill targets two chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in thousands of sunscreens and other skincare products. Studies published over the past 10 years have found that these UV-filtering chemicals–called benzophenones–are highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life and contribute to the fatal bleaching of coral reefs (along with global warming and runoff pollutants from land). (A 2008 study by European researchers estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunblock accumulates in coral reefs every year.) Also, though both substances are FDA-approved for use in sunscreens, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group notes numerous studies linking oxybenzone to hormone disruption and cell damage that may lead to skin cancer. In its 2018 annual sunscreen guide, the EWG found oxybenzone in two-thirds of the 650 products it reviewed.

The Hawaii ban won’t take effect until January 2021, but it’s already causing a wave of disruption that’s affecting sunscreen manufacturers, retailers, and the medical community.

For starters, several other municipalities have already or could soon join Hawaii’s effort. In May [2018], the Caribbean island of Bonaire announced a ban on chemicals sunscreens, and nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation, along with dive industry and certain resort groups, are urging legislation to stop sunscreen pollution in California, Colorado, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Marine nature reserves in Mexico already prohibit oxybenzone-containing sunscreens, and the U.S. National Park Service website for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommends the use of “reef safe” sunscreens, which use natural mineral ingredients–zinc oxide or titanium oxide–to protect skin.

Makers of “eco,” “organic,” and “natural” sunscreens that already meet the new standards are seizing on the news from Hawaii to boost their visibility among the islands’ tourists–and to expand their footprint on the shelves of mainland retailers. This past spring, for example, Miami-based Raw Elements partnered with Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu’s Waikiki Aquarium, the Aqua-Aston hotel group (Hawaii’s largest), and the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to get samples of its reef-safe zinc-oxide-based sunscreens to their guests. “These partnerships have had a tremendous impact raising awareness about this issue,” says founder and CEO Brian Guadagno, who notes that inquiries and sales have increased this year.

As Bluestein notes there are some concerns about this and other potential bans,

“Eliminating the use of sunscreen ingredients considered to be safe and effective by the FDA with a long history of use not only restricts consumer choice, but is also at odds with skin cancer prevention efforts […],” says Bayer, owner of the Coppertone brand, in a statement to Fast Company. Bayer disputes the validity of studies used to support the ban, which were published by scientists from U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the nonprofit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, Tel Aviv University, the University of Hawaii, and elsewhere. “Oxybenzone in sunscreen has not been scientifically proven to have an effect on the environment. We take this issue seriously and, along with the industry, have supported additional research to confirm that there is no effect.”

Johnson & Johnson, which markets Neutrogena sunscreens, is taking a similar stance, worrying that “the recent efforts in Hawaii to ban sunscreens that contain oxybenzone may actually adversely affect public health,” according to a company spokesperson. “Science shows that sunscreens are a key factor in preventing skin cancer, and our scientific assessment of the lab studies done to date in Hawaii show the methods were questionable and the data insufficient to draw factual conclusions about any impact on coral reefs.”

Terrified (and rightly so) about anything scaring people away from using sunblock, The American Academy of Dermatology, also opposes Hawaii’s ban. Suzanne M. Olbricht, president of the AADA, has issued a statement that the organization “is concerned that the public’s risk of developing skin cancer could increase due to potential new restrictions in Hawaii that impact access to sunscreens with ingredients necessary for broad-spectrum protection, as well as the potential stigma around sunscreen use that could develop as a result of these restrictions.”

The fact is that there are currently a large number of widely available reef-safe products on the market that provide “full spectrum” protection up to SPF50–meaning they protect against both UVB rays that cause sunburns as well as UVA radiation, which causes deeper skin damage. SPFs higher than 50 are largely a marketing gimmick, say advocates of chemical-free products: According to the Environmental Working Group, properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98% of UVB rays; SPF 100 blocks 99%. And a sunscreen lotion’s SPF rating has little to do with its ability to shield skin from UVA rays.

I notice neither Bayer nor Johnson & Johnson nor the American Academy of Dermatology make mention of oxybenzone’s possible role as a hormone disruptor.

Given the importance that coral reefs have to the environment we all share, I’m inclined to support the oxybenzone ban based on that alone. Of course, it’s conceivable that metallic nanoparticles may also have a deleterious effect on coral reefs as their use increases. It’s to be hoped that’s not the case but if it is, then I’ll make my decisions accordingly and hope we have a viable alternative.

As for your sunscreen questions and needs, the Environment Working Group (EWG) has extensive information including a product guide on this page (scroll down to EWG’s Sunscreen Guide) and a discussion of ‘high’ SPF numbers I found useful for my decision-making.

Abakan makes good on Alberta (Canada) promise (coating for better pipeline transport of oil)

It took three years but it seems that US company Abakan Inc.’s announcement of a joint research development centre at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), (mentioned here in a May 7, 2012 post [US company, Abakan, wants to get in on the Canadian oils sands market]), has borne fruit. A June 8, 2015 news item on Azonano describes the latest developments,

Abakan Inc., an emerging leader in the advanced coatings and metal formulations markets, today announced that it has begun operations at its joint-development facility in Edmonton, Alberta.

Abakan’s subsidiary, MesoCoat Inc., along with the lead project partner, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) will embark on an 18-month collaborative effort to establish a prototype demonstration facility for developing, testing and commercializing wear-resistant clad pipe and components. Western Economic Diversification Canada is also supporting this initiative through a $1.5 million investment toward NAIT. Improvements in wear resistance are expected to make a significant impact in reducing maintenance and downtime costs while increasing productivity in oil sands and other mining applications.

A June 4, 2015 Abakan news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the proposed facility, the difficulties encountered during the setup, and some interesting information about pipes,

Abakan shipped its CermaClad high-speed large-area cladding system for installation at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (NAIT) campus in Edmonton, Alberta in early 2015. Despite delays associated with the installation of some interrelated equipment and machinery, the CermaClad system and other ancillary equipment are now installed at the Edmonton facility. The Edmonton facility is intended to serve as a pilot-scale wear-resistant clad pipe manufacturing facility for the development and qualification of wear-resistant clad pipes, and as a stepping stone for setting-up a full-scale wear-resistant clad pipe manufacturing facility in Alberta. The new facility will also serve as a platform for Abakan’s introduction to the Alberta oil sands market, which, with proven reserves estimated at more than 169 billion barrels, is one of the largest oil resources in the world and a major source of oil for Canada, the United States and Asia. Since Alberta oil sands production is expected to increase significantly over the next decade, producers want to extend the life of the carbon steel pipes used for the hydro-transportation of tailings with harder, tougher coatings that protect pipes from the abrasiveness of tar-like bituminous oil sands.

“Our aim is to fast-track market entry of our wear-resistant clad pipe products for the transportation of oil sands and mining slurries. We have received commitments from oil sands producers in Canada and mining companies in Mexico and Brazil to field-test CermaClad wear-resistant clad pipe products as soon as our system is ready for testing. Apart from our work with conventional less expensive chrome carbide and the more expensive tungsten carbide wear-resistant cladding on pipes, Abakan also expects to introduce new iron-based structurally amorphous metal (SAM) alloy cladding that in testing has exhibited better performance than tungsten carbide cladding, but at a fraction of the cost.” Robert Miller stated further that “although more expensive than the more widely used chrome carbide cladding, our new alloy cladding is expected to be a significantly better value proposition when you consider an estimated life of three times that of chrome carbide cladding and those cost efficiencies that correspond to less downtime revenue losses, and lower maintenance and replacement costs.”

The costs associated with downtime and maintenance in the Alberta oil sands industry estimated at more than $10 billion a year are expected to grow as production expands, according to the Materials and Reliability in Oil Sands (MARIOS) consortium in Alberta. The development of Alberta’s oil sands has been held up by the lack of materials for transport lines and components that are resistant to the highly abrasive slurry. Due to high abrasion, the pipelines have to be rotated every three to four months and replaced every 12 to 15 months. [emphasis mine] The costs involved just in rotating and replacing the pipes is approximately $2 billion annually. The same is true of large components, for example the steel teeth on the giant electric shovels used to recover oil sands, must be replaced approximately every two days.

Abakan’s combination of high productivity coating processes and groundbreaking materials are expected to facilitate significant efficiencies associated with the extraction of these oil resources. Our proprietary materials combined with CermaClad large-area based fusion cladding technology, have demonstrated in laboratory tests a three to eight times improvement in wear and corrosion resistance when compared with traditional weld overlays at costs comparable to rubber and metal matrix composite alternatives. Abakan intends to complete development and initiate field-testing by end of year 2016 and begin the construction of a full-scale wear-resistant clad pipe manufacturing facility in Alberta in early-2017.

Given that there is extensive talk about expanding oil pipelines from Alberta to British Columbia (where I live), the information about the wear and tear is fascinating and disturbing. Emotions are high with regard to the proposed increase in oil flow to the coast as can be seen in a May 27, 2015 article by Mike Howell for the Vancouver Courier about a city hall report on the matter,

A major oil spill in Vancouver waters could potentially expose up to one million people to unsafe levels of a toxic vapour released from diluted bitumen, city council heard Wednesday in a damning city staff report on Kinder Morgan’s proposal to build a pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby [British Columbia].

In presenting the report, deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston outlined scenarios where exposure to the chemical benzene could lead to adverse health effects for residents and visitors, ranging from dizziness to nausea to possible death.

“For folks that are on the seawall, they could be actually struck with this wave of toxic gases that could render them unable to evacuate,” said Johnston, noting 25,000 residents live within 300 metres of the city’s waterfront. “These are serious health impacts. So this is not just about oil hitting shorelines, this is about our residents being exposed to very serious health effects.

  • Kinder Morgan’s own estimate is that pipeline leaks under 75 litres per hour may not be detected.

While I find the presentation’s hysteria a little off-putting, it did alert me to one or two new issues, benzene gas and when spillage from the pipes raises an alarm. For anyone curious about benzene gas and other chemical aspects of an oil spill, there’s a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) webpage titled, Chemistry of an Oil Spill.

Getting back to the pipes, that figure of 75 litres per hour puts a new perspective on the proposed Abakan solution and it suggests that whether or not more and bigger pipes are in our future, we should do a better of job of protecting our environment now. That means better cladding for the pipes and better dispersants and remediation for water, earth, air when there’s a spill.

Volunteer on the Plankton Portal and help scientists figure out ways to keep the ocean healthy

University of Miami (Florida, US) researchers with support from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and developers at Zooniverse.org  (last mentioned here in a Jan. 17, 2012 posting) have created the Plankton Portal as a means for volunteers/citizen scientists to assist them in their research (from the Sept. 17, 2013 news release on EurekAlert),

Today [Sept. 17, 2013], an online citizen-science project launches called “Plankton Portal” was created by researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and developers at Zooniverse.org Plankton Portal allows you to explore the open ocean from the comfort of your own home. You can dive hundreds of feet deep, and observe the unperturbed ocean and the myriad animals that inhabit the earth’s last frontier.

Millions of plankton images are taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami in collaboration with Charles Cousin at Bellamare LLC and funded by NOAA and NSF. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high resolution digital sensor at very high frequency. So far, ISIIS has been used in several oceans around the world to detect the presence of larval fish, small crustaceans and jellyfish in ways never before possible. This new technology can help answer important questions ranging from how do plankton disperse, interact and survive in the marine environment, to predicting the physical and biological factors could influence the plankton community.

The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes from a project from the Southern California Bight, where Cowen’s [Dr. Robert K. Cowen, UM [University of Miami] RSMAS Emeritus Professor in Marine Biology and Fisheries (MBF) and now the Director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center] team imaged plankton across a front, which is a meeting of two water masses, over three days in Fall 2010.

According to Jessica Luo, graduate student involved in this project, “in three days, we collected data that would take us more than three years to analyze.” Cowen agrees: “with the volume of data that ISIIS generates, it is impossible for us to individually classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis, from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”

“A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish,” explains Luo, “but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye.” Volunteer citizen scientists can assist by going to http://www.planktonportal.org. A field guide is provided, and the simple tutorial is easy to understand. Cowen and the science team will monitor the discussion boards; answer any questions about the classifications, the organisms, and the research they are conducting.

I went to the Plankton Portal and started one of the tutorials (click on the Classify tab)  and almost immediately made an error. They do have a means of recovery but you have to keep following their process. Personally, I would have preferred to abort and start over again. That said, this looks like an interesting project and I wish the best for the organizers.

2011 Scientific integrity processes: the US and Canada

Given recent scientific misconduct  (July is science scandal month [July 25 2011] post at The Prodigal Academic blog) and a very slow news month this August,  I thought I’d take a look at scientific integrity in the US and in Canada.

First, here’s a little history. March 9, 2009 US President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity (excerpted),

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.  Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions.  If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.  To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking.  The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.

December 17, 2010 John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy,  issued his own memorandum requesting compliance with the President’s order (from the Dec. 17, 2010 posting on The White House blog),

Today, in response to the President’s request, I am issuing a Memorandum to the Heads of Departments and Agencies that provides further guidance to Executive Branch leaders as they implement Administration policies on scientific integrity. The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of transparency. It requires that department and agency heads report to me on their progress toward completing those rules within 120 days.

Here’s my edited version (I removed fluff, i.e. material along these lines: scientific integrity is of utmost importance …) of the list Holdren provided,


  1. Ensure a culture of scientific integrity.
  2. Strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of Government research. Of particular importance are (a) ensuring that selection of candidates for scientific positions in executive branch is based primarily on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity, (b) ensuring that data and research used to support policy decisions undergo independent peer review by qualified experts where feasibly and appropriate, and consistent with law, (c) setting clear standards governing conflicts, and (d) adopting appropriate whistleblower protections.
  3. Facilitate the free flow of scientific and technological information, consistent with privacy and classification standards. … Consistent with the Administration’s Open Government Initiative, agencies should expand and promote access to scientific and technological information by making it available  online in open formats. Where appropriate, this should include data and models underlying regulatory proposals and policy decisions.
  4. Establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public. … Agencies should communicate scientific and technological findings by including a clear explication of underlying assumptions; accurate contextualization of uncertainties; and a description of the probabilities associated with optimistic and pessimistic projections, including best-case and worst-case scenarios where appropriate.

Public communication

  1. In response to media interview requests about the scientific and technological dimensions of their work, agencies will offer articulate and knowledgeable spokespersons who can, in an objective and nonpartisan fashion, describe and explain these dimension to the media and the American people.
  2. Federal scientists may speak to the media and the public about scientific and technological matters based on their official work, with appropriate coordination with their immediate supervisor and their public affairs office. In no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct Federal scientists to alter scientific findings.
  3. Mechanisms are in place to resolve disputes that arise from decisions to proceed or not to proceed  with proposed interviews or other public information-related activities. …

(The sections on Federal Advisory Committees and professional development were less relevant to this posting, so I haven’t included them here.)

It seems to have taken the agencies a little longer than the 120 day deadline that John Holdren gave them but all (or many of the agencies) have complied according to an August 15, 2011 posting by David J. Hanson on the Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) website,

OSTP director John P. Holdren issued the call for the policies on May 5 in response to a 2009 Presidential memorandum (C&EN, Jan. 10, page 28). [emphasis mine] The memorandum was a response to concerns about politicization of science during the George W. Bush Administration.

The submitted integrity plans include 14 draft policies and five final policies. The final policies are from the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, the Director of National Intelligences for the intelligence agencies, and the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and Interior.

Draft integrity policies are in hand from the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, Labor, and Transportation and from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administrations, OSTP, and Veterans Administration.

The drafts still under review are from the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, and the National Institute of Standards & Technology.

The dates in this posting don’t match up with what I’ve found but it’s possible that the original deadline was moved to better accommodate the various reporting agencies. In any event, David Bruggeman at his Pasco Phronesis blog has commented on this initiative in a number of posts including this August 10, 2011 posting,

… I’m happy to see something out there at all, given the paltry public response from most of the government.  Comments are open until September 6.Regrettably, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] policy falls into a trap that is all too common.  The support of scientific integrity is all too often narrowly assumed to simply mean that agency (or agency-funded) scientists need to behave, and there will be consequences for demonstrated bad behavior.

But there is a serious problem of interference from non-scientific agency staff that would go beyond reasonable needs for crafting the public message.

David goes on to discuss a lack of clarity in this policy and in the Dept. of the Interior’s policy.

His August 11, 2011 posting notes the OSTP claims that 19 departments/agencies have submitted draft or final policies,

… Not only does the OSTP blog post not include draft or finalized policies submitted to their office, it fails to mention any timeframe for making them publicly available.  Even more concerning, there is no mention of those policies that have been publicly released.  That is, regrettably, consistent with past practice. While the progress report notes that OSTP will create a policy for its own activities, and that OSTP is working with the Office of Management and Budget on a policy for all of the Executive Office of the President, there’s no discussion of a government-wide policy.

In the last one of his recent series, the August 12, 2011 posting focuses on a Dept. of Commerce memo (Note: The US Dept. of Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology),

“This memorandum confirms that DAO 219-1 [a Commerce Department order concerning scientific communications] allows scientists to engage in oral fundamental research communications (based on their official work) with the media and the public without notification or prior approval to their supervisor or to the Office of Public Affairs. [emphasis David Bruggeman] Electronic communications with the media related to fundamental research that are the equivalent of a dialogue are considered to be oral communications; thus, prior approval is not required for  scientist to engage in online discussions or email with the media about fundamental research, subject to restrictions on protected nonpublic information as set forth in 219-1.”

I find the exercise rather interesting especially in light of Margaret Munro’s July 27, 2011 article, Feds silence scientist over salmon study, for Postmedia,

Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400” journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

In a Twitter conversation with me, David Bruggeman did note that the Science paywall also acts as a kind of muzzle.

I was originally going to end the posting with that last paragraph but I made a discovery, quite by accident. Canada’s Tri-Agency Funding Councils opened a consultation with stakeholders on Ethics and Integrity for Institutions, Applicants, and Award Holders on August 15, 2011 which will run until September 30, 2011. (This differs somewhat from the US exercise which is solely focussed on science as practiced in various government agencies.  The equivalent in Canada would be if Stephen Harper requested scientific integrity guidelines from the Ministries of Environment, Natural Resources, Health, Industry, etc.) From the NSERC Ethics and Integrity Guidelines page,

Upcoming Consultation on the Draft Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and NSERC (the tri-agencies) continue to work on improving their policy framework for research and scholarly integrity, and financial accountability. From August 15 to September 30, 2011, the three agencies are consulting with a wide range of stakeholders in the research community on the draft consultation document, Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research.

I found the answers to these two questions in the FAQs particularly interesting,

  • What are some of the new elements in this draft Framework?

The draft Framework introduces new elements, including the following:

A strengthened Tri-Agency Research Integrity Policy
The draft Framework includes a strengthened Tri-Agency Research Integrity Policy that clarifies the responsibilities of the researcher.

‘Umbrella’ approach to RCR
The draft Framework provides an overview of all applicable research policies, including those related to the ethical conduct of research involving humans and financial management, as well as research integrity. It also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of researchers, institutions and Agencies in responding to all types of alleged breaches of Agency policies, for example, misuse of funds, unethical conduct of research involving human participants or plagiarism.

A definition of a policy breach
The draft Framework clarifies what constitutes a breach of an Agency policy.

The draft Framework requires researchers to disclose, at the time of application, whether they have ever been found to have breached any Canadian or other research policies, regardless of the source of funds that supported the research and whether or not the findings originated in Canada or abroad.

The Agencies are currently seeking advice from privacy experts on the scope of the information to be requested.

Institutional Investigations
The Agencies currently specify that institutional investigation committee membership must exclude those in conflict of interest. The draft Framework stipulates also that an investigation committee must include at least one member external to the Institution, and that an Agency may conduct its own review or compliance audit, or require the Institution to conduct an independent review/audit.

Timeliness of investigation
Currently, it is up to institutions to set timelines for investigations. The draft Framework states that inquiry and investigation reports are to be submitted to the relevant Agency within two and seven months, respectively, following receipt of the allegation by the institution.

  • Who is being consulted?

The Agencies have targeted their consultation to individual researchers, post-secondary institutions and other eligible organizations that apply for and receive Agency funding.

As far as I can tell, there is no mention of ethical issues where the government has interfered in the dissemination of scientific information; it seems there is an assumption that almost all ethical misbehaviour is on that part of the individual researcher or a problem with an institution following policy. There is one section devoted breaches by institutions (all two paragraphs of it),

5 Breaches of Agency Policies by Institutions

In accordance with the MOU signed by the Agencies and each Institution, the Agencies require that each Institution complies with Agency policies as a condition of eligibility to apply for and administer Agency funds.

The process followed by the Agencies to address an allegation of a breach of an Agency policy by an Institution, and the recourse that the Agencies may exercise, commensurate with the severity of a confirmed breach, are outlined in the MOU.

My criticism of this is similar to the one that David Bruggeman made of the US policies in that the focus is primarily on the individual.