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Category — Pennsylvania

Hydraulic Fracturing: A Threat to Public Health? (Earthworks vs. the scientific method)

A new report from the environmental group Earthworks suggests that shale gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, “risks public health” in the state of Pennsylvania. In addition to the numerous problems with the report itself, a larger issue is passing anecdotal evidence off as hard science.

This trick has clearly emerged among opponents as a way to “counter” what most would consider a conclusive body of evidence confirming the safety of developing oil and natural gas from shale.

Study Problems

Uni Blake, a toxicologist who studies health issues relating to shale development, has fleshed out the main problem with Earthworks’ latest report (which could also be applied to a Cornell veterinarians’study” from earlier this year): findings of a subjective nature that rely on individuals’ recollections of symptoms. According to Blake, such “should not be allowed to take the place of quantitative measures and physical findings.”

Blake also identifies another significant problem with studies that rely on anecdotal evidence: confirmation bias. Organizations like Earthworks and researchers at Cornell (funded by anti-shale groups, including the Park Foundation) have a vested interest in painting oil and natural gas development in the worst possible light. Thus, they will “seek out information that confirms what they already believe, want to believe or want to avoid,” according to Blake – which in this case means talking to individuals who may be predisposed to provide negative feedback about development. [Read more →]

October 26, 2012   10 Comments