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org/radio/listen-now/capitolpressroom. Ms. Susan Arbetter. So a few weeks ago, the University at Buffalo’s new Shale Resources and Society Institute released its first study, titled “Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies.” Immediately Artvoice, which is an alternative newspaper in Buffalo, raised questions about the study: who funded it? What are the authors’ ties to industry? Those questions snowballed, and were being asked by larger news organizations like the Associated Press. Further discrepancies were uncovered between what the lead author claimed in a UB press release and what was actually claimed in the study, including one claim that the report was peer reviewed when it was not. All these criticisms culminated in an unflattering report by the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative, a report that you can see online at Littlesis.org. All of this highlights questions about research funding in general, especially in light of the troubled history at the SUNY Research Foundation, and what some news outlets have called the veil of secrecy over Research Foundation funding. Today the University at Buffalo responds to these criticisms. My guest is Dr. Bruce Pitman. He is the Associate Dean for Research and Sponsored programs at UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Professor of Mathematics. Dr. Pitman, welcome to the Capitol Pressroom. Dean Bruce Pitman. Hi Susan, how are you? Ms. Susan Arbetter. Fine, thank you. Dean Bruce Pitman. I should correct one thing. For all of about a year now, I’ve actually been the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I was the Associate Dean here for about eight years, and last June I was appointed Dean of the College itself. Ms. Susan Arbetter. I apologize for that. Dean Bruce Pitman. No biggy. Ms. Susan Arbetter. So I want to ask you a series of questions about the study and the Institute, and then perhaps we can get into a broader conversation about the role of industry and private funding of academic research, which is sort of a bigger, more important issue. First though, what is your relationship as dean to the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute? Dean Bruce Pitman. So let me take a step back. The origin of the Institute. It started with a series of seminars organized by the Geology Department in spring of—get my years right—of 2011. It dealt with Marcellus across the spectrum: the geology of shale rock, property rights, regulation, drilling, environmental issues, with speakers from a variety of backgrounds. That seminar series was very successful. There was interest in following up on this issue. Of course it’s a huge issue in upstate New York, this compelling public interest, state interest, in what’s going on with Marcellus, what the facts really are. So in consultation with the Geology faculty and with others at the university, as dean I gave my support to create an Institute as an initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences. And that’s how it started.
Ms. Susan Arbetter. All right. So you were the person who . . . basically, the buck stops with you. You were doing the hiring of the people who run the institute and you oversee it in your capacity as dean. Dean Bruce Pitman. Right. I gave the support to creating the Institute. I appointed the Director and the Co-Director of the Institute and got it started. Ms. Susan Arbetter. So those who have criticized the report say the report is sloppy in terms of the scholarship and how it was presented to the public, and I have a few examples that I want to share and have you respond to. For example, the UB press release claimed the study was peer reviewed when it wasn’t—you don’t have to respond to that. I think we’ve heard what happened there. There are questions about the validity of the report’s conclusions, though. For example, the Public Accountability Initiative says the authors of the UB report misread their own data in stating the rate of major accidents had gone down, when it hadn’t. And the Executive Summary states the odds of major violations are being reduced, but the numbers reflect just the opposite. It seems like the lead author, Thomas [sic; Timothy] Considine has oversold the report publicly, saying, for example, the data states without ambiguity that regulation is helping to mitigate accidents, but that’s not what he says in the report. And there’s also a question about the scholarship, that he uses a single measure to come to his conclusion, and that single measure are the Pennsylvania DEP inspectors’ Notices of Violation. He didn’t consider any other factors. And the trouble with the NOVs is that they’re subject to political interference since March of 2011, when Governor Corbett told that DEP that the top brass has to okay all Marcellus regulatory action. Why don’t we start there. Dean Bruce Pitman. Sure. I guess, first, this is a controversial issue. There is emotion on all sides. I think we have to respect the people that come into this debate, with different experiences, different perspectives. We’re also trying to make sure that we get some science into this debate. You have to understand, what data do we have? What do you know for sure from the data. What might you be able to infer from the data? And how confident are you in those inferences? You know, that’s an important thing to put out there. As to, you had raised several questions, the peer review issue, right? The report never says “peer review.” That was an inarticulate phrase in the press release, right? The question about all violations and the rates year by year versus major violations in part of the A.P.I. [sic; PAI] counterargument, I would say to your listeners—read the report! Read the Shale Institute report. All the data they used is out there. The steps taken in their analysis, what rates they calculate, the data they use in it, the year by year fluctuations in those rates, it’s all out there, and. . . . Ms. Susan Arbetter. Here’s the issue with, when you say “read the report,” I bet that one percent of the people who are listening—and these are smart NPR listeners—are going to read the report. Nobody has time. We have to live our own lives and feed our kids breakfast and things like that. So the whole issue around things like Marcellus Shale hydrofracking is that everybody is saying “It’s the science . . . look at the science!” The problem is the scientists are saying two different things or even five different things.
3 Dean Bruce Pitman. Probably five or six, yes. It’s a controversial it’s a difficult issue. It’s a very difficult issue. Ms. Susan Arbetter. If the science is so important, isn’t it the case then that we have to trust who’s paying for the science? You know the old saying, “Consider the source.” Dean Bruce Pitman. You’ve got a couple of issues at work here. One is the scientists, they . . . what is the standard process when, you know, Professor Pitman writes a paper. I seek funding from a variety of different sources. What do I do? I disclose on my papers who supported the research. And so, again I will reiterate, questions come up very often, the Institute, the Shale Institute, received no industry funding in putting this report together. And I don’t want to be accused of trying to parse words here. It’s not that the report got funded but the Institute didn’t or anything like that. We didn’t receive any industry funding for this report, pure and simple. Ms. Susan Arbetter. Did the Institute get funding from the SUNY Research Foundation. Dean Bruce Pitman. The funding for the Institute has come from College of Arts and Sciences resources. Ms. Susan Arbetter. And that doesn’t come from SUNY Research Foundation at all? Dean Bruce Pitman. The . . . see you’ve asked a question that’s a complicated sort of sort of issue. There’s the SUNY Research Foundation, right? The Research Foundation of the State University of New York. That’s a 501(c)3 organization that administers grants to everyone at all sixty-four campuses. You are suggesting something else the UB Foundation, which is a separate, which is a separate 501(c)3, and that supports the activities, the programs of UB in terms of managing philanthropic gifts, and grants, and financial services, things like that. Ms. Susan Arbetter. The reason why I’m bringing it up is because the first time I got into this issue, the person said this was funded by the Institute. The Institute funding if it comes from the Research Foundation or any of the SUNY entities that aren’t actually state agencies, they’re not FOILable, so down the line, somewhere, do you know if there was any industry funding, or you know for sure that there’s not, all the way down the line? Dean Bruce Pitman. So, I think there’s three or four points here Susan. The funding for the Institute. I directed the funding of the Institute from Arts and Sciences resources. Those come you know, the UB Foundation helps administer a part of those funds for us. They’re essentially my discretionary funds. They help administer some of that. You should under. . . and so there was no industry support right that went to that was directed towards the Institute or this report or anything like that. You should know you should know that UBF is not a foundation like the Ford Foundation or the Sloan Foundation or something like that. It’s a. . . . It manages gifts or philanthropy for the university. So it isn’t in the business of making grant awards. So it’s different from that perspective. Ms. Susan Arbetter. I understand that it’s very complicated, but I think what people who are listening probably want to know is that . . . because we have to depend on science that frankly we
4 don’t understand, we have to depend on universities to issue studies that are unbiased, even that have the appearance of not being biased. Dean Bruce Pitman. True. Ms. Susan Arbetter. Do you think this study has the appearance of not being biased? Dean Bruce Pitman. I think that. . . . You’ve brought out important issues, Susan, and to your credit for articulating it. Let’s be honest here. The noisiest response to the Shale Institute report has nothing to do with shale, It’s all got to do with UBF and FOIL and everything else. The Shale Institute Study is a particular reason for people to get upset because of UBF and FOIL. There’s several issues going on here. One is you talk about FOIL itself, there’s a need for some balance here between transparency, which we would all agree is utterly important, and privacy of donors, you know, philanthropic donor who doesn’t want to be known for whatever reason, the anonymous gift that was given to UB’s Medical School by a country physician, right. He wanted to remain anonymous, he doesn’t want his wife and children to be called up for every charity on the block. I think we have to respect that. How do we, in science, what’s the common vehicle in order to ensure objectivity? We disclose everything. The reports that get issued, the papers that get issued, I’ll put down on the paper, this report was funded by such and so, and now someone can look and try to ascertain, does that seem like it biases the report, or not? I think those are really important issues to understand that in science disclosure is the method that we use in order to ensure the objectivity, as you say, is so necessary for us. SA. So Dr. Bruce Pitman, if you’d bear with me for thirty more seconds, I’d like to talk with you for a few more minutes. Dean Bruce Pitman. Sure. Ms. Susan Arbetter. We’ll be right back. . . . We’re talking about the controversy surrounding a report that UB’s new Shale Institute came out with a few weeks ago. So, Dr. Bruce Pitman is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UB. So, I guess that the big question is how credible, how do we know if research is credible? Dean Bruce Pitman. Sure. I mean it’s an important question. Let me take it out of the question of the Shale Institute and the controversies specifically around that. We have folks in the medical school. They do research in cancer, and the American Cancer Society may issue a request for proposals to study, I don’t know, cancer risks from estrogen therapy. A researcher writes a proposal, it gets accepted, she does her study, she writes several papers, comes to some conclusions, and discloses, “The American Cancer Society funded this paper.” It’s not like ACS can dictate the conclusions of a paper, the findings of that paper. There is a wall of separation between the funding source and the actual conclusions that are drawn in a study, in an experiment, or in a paper. That’s the way we operate. Ms. Susan Arbetter. But the American Cancer Society, for example, while it is a huge institution, its goal is to, you know, cure cancer, raise money for research and cure cancer. Something like the Marcellus Shale Foundation, this is backed by Encona and Chesapeake.
5 These are for-profit industries that want one thing to their fiduciary responsibilities, to make money for their shareholders. Dean Bruce Pitman. Uh hmn. Sure. And if they were to give money to whomever whatever research entity, be it a university or an independent think tank, the idea is that there has to be a wall of separation between those gifts and the conclusions, the outcomes of a particular study, right? Part of what we do in the sciences is to ensure that that wall of separation is there. You know, a newspaper takes money from advertisers. You know also that those folks have commercial interests. We hope and we trust that the editorial content of that newspaper isn’t unduly influenced by the advertisers. Ms. Susan Arbetter. Well we’re running of time. I think that you’ve been extremely forthcoming. But would you admit that there were mistakes made with this report? Dean Bruce Pitman. There are certainly some typos in the report. I’ve been in touch with the author about one or two that I spotted when I read the report. I think they’re going to be issuing an errata with those typos. There’re a couple of them. If you’re asking do I want to distance myself from the report or anything like that, Susan, I think the report stands on its own merits. As you say, a few people at least should read the report, look at the analysis, look at the analysis from API’s [sic, PAI’s] study, you may come to the different conclusion than either of those groups is . . . the data is out there. Ms. Susan Arbetter. Dr. Bruce Pitman. Thank you. Dean Bruce Pitman. . Thank you Susan.
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