An Aug. 24 study in the journal Science had great news for Gulf Coast residents: A newly discovered, voracious microbe is rapidly eating the oil spilled in the BP gusher. The specially adapted oil-eating bacteria are so effective, said lead researcher Terry Hazan of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that they have apparently devoured an entire 22-mile-long underwater plume. Skeptics noted that Hazan's research was funded by BP. Does that discredit the good tidings?
Don't trust the sunny news: The BP funding sure makes this look like "fuzzy science," says Alex Moore in Death + Taxes. But worse, all the good news is coming from government-affiliated labs and federal agencies. Private labs are "skeptical," and one of them, Woods Hole, just reported that the undersea plumes appear intact. Wouldn't the Obama team gain a lot by turning "the worst oil spill of all time to the luckiest" one?
"Scientists reporting natural cleanup funded by BP and US Dept of Energy"
Of course the microbes are real: I didn't need Hazan's team to tell me the BP spill would turn out to be "a relatively minor problem," says Paul Mulshine in The New Jersey Star-Ledger. Oil has been seeping into the Gulf for eons, and it "disappears naturally thanks to the extreme heat and the bacteria that feast on it." Thanks to the dispersants, the BP plumes are no worse than this natural "background oil."
"Don't tell the rest of the media, but the Gulf oil spill dissipated..."
More info, please: "There's probably nothing sinister" in BP financing Hazan's research, says The Boston Globe in an editorial, and even though the latest findings seem a contradictory "mass of confusion," it's quite possible the government scientists are right. But its up to the Obama team to help us "wade through the data," and show it isn't "tainted" by "the government's quest to seek damages, nor by any effort by BP to minimize them."
"A lot more underwater, or not?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- The best books we read in 2014
- How I lost all my money
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
Subscribe to the Week