So the previous post here: marketing is everything; everything is marketing… (even at DFO) quoted a Mark Hume Globe and Mail article and his coverage of the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye. At the Commission recently was Dr. Laura Richards, Pacific Regional Director of Science for DFO.
“Do you think it’s a role of DFO scientists to develop speeches for parliamentarians?” asked Bruce Wallace, senior commission counsel.
“The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” replied Dr. Richards.
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I’m a fan of the power of contradictions; they are often a source of power… of tension between opposing views… however, maybe not so much in testimony in a quasi-legal process.
Mark Hume writing in yesterday’s Globe:
Of all the theories heard so far by the Cohen Commission, the most intriguing involves new research by a molecular scientist who is pointing to the possibility of an epidemic of salmon leukemia.
Kristi Miller hasn’t been called to testify on her research yet, but her work is already causing a buzz at the inquiry, in part because it seems an effort has been made to keep it under wraps.
Dr. Miller has not been available for media interviews, even though she recently published a paper in the prestigious journal Science. Usually, Fisheries and Oceans Canada promotes interviews when one of their researchers gains an international profile for groundbreaking work. But when Dr. Miller’s paper came out earlier this year, all requests for interviews were denied.
When Laura Richards, Pacific regional director of science for DFO, testified last week, he asked her about a series of e-mails that suggested Dr. Miller was being muzzled.
In a Nov. 2009 e-mail to Mark Saunders, manager of salmon and freshwater ecosystems division, Dr. Miller said she was being kept away from a science forum.
“Laura [Richards] does not want me to attend any of the sockeye salmon workshops that are not run by DFO for fear that we will not be able to control the way the disease issue could be construed in the press. I worry that this approach of saying nothing will backfire,” she wrote. “Laura also clearly does not want to indicate … that the disease research is of strategic importance.”
Dr. Richards testified that Dr. Miller had somehow misinterpreted things, and that there was no intent to silence her.
Dr. Miller won’t testify for months yet and she remains banned from giving any media interviews. But her research, which could explain why up to three million salmon a year are dying in the Fraser, is already reverberating at the Cohen Commission.
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Research is suggesting that this ‘salmon leukemia’ virus is killing up to 70% of Fraser sockeye in some years. And this isn’t just any old research, it has been published in the prestigious journal Science.
The response from DFO to one of their scientists being published?
“…she remains banned from giving any media interviews.”
But don’t forget:
“The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” says Dr. Richards – the Pacific Regional Director of Science for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
… except, it appears, when it really should be widely communicated and distributed.
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If you’d like to read other accounts of Dr. Richards enlightening testimony visit the Cohen Inquiry Notes blog by Elena Edwards who writes frequently about testimony at the Commission:
In a stunning display of ‘uh’s and um’s’ Dr. Richards responses to the line of questioning by Gregory McDade for the Aquaculture Coalition was nothing short of disappointing with many heads shaking in disbelief.
An example of the mind boggling testimony ;
McDade; “[At] the conference that saw Dr. Miller present her hypothesis that the disease agent is intercellular, possibly a virus? Do you remember that?”
Richards; “Uh, there was certainly a presentation that she made at that meeting and I, uh, I can’t recall specifically exactly what she said, but I have to assume that the abstract is an accurate representation.”
McDade points out, “Well, you in fact attended that meeting as co chair of the committee on scientific co operation…”
“…and ultimately prepared a summary of these proceedings.”
Richards; “Uh, yes. That’s correct. Well, a very short summary that was sort of based on this.”
McDade; “Dr. Hinch sent you a copy of the very document we’re looking at.”
Richards; “Well I didn’t review the…, I can’t say that I honestly read every single line in this document but I did skim it, yes.”
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McDade asks the impossible question; “Do you not know what vertical transmission even means?”
Dr. Richards; “Uh, I’m not uh…I have a general sense of that but I’m not going to give you a specific definition. I think that really needs to be done with the experts.”
McDade; “Well, Dr Richards, I’m not looking for a highly technical definition here, I’m looking for your understanding about this.”
Silence settles over the room as everyone waits with baited breath for the intelligent response they all know is coming. And come it does as Dr. Richards replies;
“Well we are talking, uh…I, I… look, I’m just, uh, I’m just, um … sorry, I’m sorry, I just, my brain has gone fuzzy on that particular point right now so I would rather not give you an answer that’s wrong.”
McDade, seeking clarity, asks; “Doesn’t it simply mean that you can transmit from the parents stock through the eggs to the next generation?”
Dr. Richards; “Uh, it, I think that’s what it is, but I would like to… as I said , this is not my area and I just want to be very careful of to not give incorrect evidence.”
Now imagine an entire day of such non answers to a very serious matter indeed, and perhaps we can begin to understand that if this is the type of management offered by DFO, we should be most concerned for the future of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon!