Monday, November 19, 2012

Professor schools UB on Shale Institute Crisis

By David Kowalski, UB CLEAR ~

"What to DO when the Devil offers you a Deal" is the provocative title of a lecture delivered by U. Illinois Professor Cary Nelson at the University at Buffalo Law School on November 5th.

Professor Nelson is an expert on academic-industry ties, having co-authored a comprehensive study, Recommended Principles & Practices to Guide Academic-Industry Relationships (13 June 2012; 268 pp.) Among the topics covered, the report emphasizes the responsibilities that come with industry funding, including the public disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Conflicts of interest in academic-industry relationships became a controversial topic at UB this year. A Shale Institute (formally named the Shale Resources and Society Institute), was unveiled at UB in April 2012 and released its first report in May 2012. Major errors committed by the authors sparked the controversy. For example, the authors did not disclose in the report their ties to the shale gas industry and how their efforts to create the report were funded. The authors' ties to the gas industry constitute a conflict of interest, and their undisclosed funding sources raise serious concern about financial conflicts of interest.

In addition to the failure to disclose conflicts of interest, the report carried a false claim of peer review, which was later retracted by UB. The report also contained substantive mistakes leading to invalid conclusions that favored the shale gas industry.
A detailed analysis of the report by the Public Accountability Initiative identified serious flaws, and exposure of these and other flaws in Artvoice, blogs and letters, local news created outrage on campus and in the community, leading to the formation of UB CLEAR, the Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research.

At the start of his lecture, Professor Nelson cited UB CLEAR's success in getting a conversation started in the Buffalo community, and helping get the national conversation started. He said "This is a really, important story and I think that UB CLEAR has helped give it national visibility." 

Threats to Academic Freedom
In his book, No University Is an Island, Nelson lists threats to academic freedom, including diminished or dysfunctional shared governance. 

During his lecture, Professor Nelson said "I think shared governance here at UB needs some work. Complete shared governance would have produced a more accurate relationship between the Shale Institute mission statement and its personnel."

Nelson added that the UB President follows the lowest standards on conflicts of interest available, and that it would be better to follow the highest standards. He said "Point in Case: you can not evaluate the fracking industry if they are paying you, or have paid you in the past."

In terms of the Shale Institute, he said "what was needed was disclosure of at least five years of relevant industry support." Disclosure in the report itself could be abbreviated, and supplemented through a website link included in the report.

Should the Shale Institute be shut down?
A member of the SUNY Board of Trustees stated earlier that the Shale Institute should be shut down.

Nelson said "Personally, I'd want to reconstitute it, or I'd want to identify it as a unit to promote economic relations between the university and the fracking industry, and strip away its academic identity, which I don't think it has upheld in a credible way."

He added, "So, if you want to keep something that provides a dynamic relationship with fracking, make it what it is! You know, a promotional enterprise, an ad campaign for the fracking industry, rather than something that pretends to be a vehicle for disinterested research."

"I don't think as it's presently constituted that it is fulfilling its mission. I think that you have work to do to correct that problem in the way which you see best," Nelson said. 

"Obviously, disinterested research can be done, given the subject matter," Nelson said. "And obviously given the pressure to increase exploitation of shale oil and gas in the country, there need to be university voices on the matter."

"I think the [Faculty] Senate should take an interest, if they're going to do it, in having more diversity of opinion making certain that there are multiple sites of shale industry research that are independent of one another on campus, rather than one high profile site with a particular ideological bent," Nelson said.

I would add here that the desire to connect with industry needs to come from full-time faculty experts who are earnestly interested in performing objective research for the benefit of society and in publishing it peer-reviewed, academic journals. 

Instead, the Shale Institute's deep connections to industry arose from a UB dean (Pitman) interested in raising funds (including gas industry funds) to build a new program, a part-time UB geologist (Jacobi) who is a consultant and former employee of the gas industry, and a lobbyist/employee of the shale gas industry (Holbrook) who is a former co-worker of the UB geologist. In this setting, who better to help raise industry funds, to serve as director of the new Shale Institute, and to act as principle author of the first report than oil and gas industry consultant, John P. Martin?

Improper Administrative Defense of Shale Institute Report 
In reference to the Shale Institute's first report, Nelson said "I don't think that the Administrative defense of the report has also been, by any means, proper or appropriate." 

"One of my arguments about full FCOI [financial conflict of interest] disclosure on a public website is that an administrator can just go to the website and type in the name of the person or persons involved in the report and see what their history of funding is, on a paper or public presentation, and recognize whether some skepticism is appropriate."

"I assume with FCOI disclosure, UB would have been less likely to issue press releases celebrating [the report], or defending it in the press," Nelson said.

According to Professor Nelson, part of the advantage of FCOI disclosure is that it prevents administrators from making mistakes and being deceived by the caliber and independence of the report.

"I'm assuming that, to some degree, administrators here erred in good faith, that they were perhaps bamboozled. But by recognizing the degree of the history of involvement by the authors of the report ... they wouldn't have been willing to get behind it," he said.

An Academic Crisis and an Opportunity

Professor Nelson thinks that the local crisis around the Shale Institute is "a wake-up call that can get more energized faculty working in the [Faculty] Senate" and for the Faculty Senate to "take a more aggressive role in program oversight."

"It almost never happens without a crisis," Nelson said. He added that "UB CLEAR helped create the crisis. It helped create the knowledge base that makes people aware that a crisis has occurred."

Nelson emphasized that the weakening of the Faculty Senate and relatively passive faculties follow a national pattern, not just a local problem at UB. He said that "it accompanies a more centralized administration and a diminution of faculty role."

But Nelson sees an opportunity that could emerge from the crisis. With enough solidarity, he thinks "the [Faculty] Senate can revive itself in months." He's hopeful that the crisis produces that in order to "redress the balance of academic oversight, which the institution needs."

So what should You DO when the Devil offers you a Deal?
In reply to his own question, Professor Nelson said "You should say no. But,the history of demonic-academic collaboration suggests faculty members might need just a little help in resisting temptation."

UB Shut Down the Industry-Biased Shale Institute

By David Kowalski, UB CLEAR ~

On October 28, the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, UB CLEAR, sent the SUNY Trustees a comprehensive document detailing the many mis-steps made by the Shale Resources and Society Institute (a.k.a. Shale Institute) and the refusal of the UB Administration to recognize those mis-steps. The document urged the Trustees to close the Shale Institute.

Two letters to the editor were published by UB CLEAR members recently in the University at Buffalo newspaper, the UB Reporter. One on October 25 is entitled "Research integrity compromised in shale institute study" by David Kowalski and another on November 8 is called "Publicize shale documents" by Jim Holstun. 

On November 5, visiting Professor Cary Nelson lectured at UB on academic-industry relationships and didn't mince his words. In reference to the Shale Institute's first report, he said "I don't think that the Administrative defense of the report has been, by any means, proper or appropriate." 

On November 14, the Public Accountability Initiative informed the SUNY Trustees about a number of important omissions and obfuscations in the UB Administration's report on the Shale Institute in a detailed report with attached documents. “UB administrators have not been transparent with the public or with the UB community throughout this ordeal, and now they are not being transparent with SUNY trustees,” said Kevin Connor, PAI’s director.

On November 15, a UB CLEAR petition urging the SUNY Trustees to shut down the UB Shale Institute was launched through CREDO. It rapidly accumulated over 10,000 signatures!

Today, we at UB CLEAR were pleasantly surprised to learn that UB decided to shut down the Shale Institute!  

The Shale Institute website has been shut down, but the link to the controversial first report by the Institute is still active.

The UB press release is below.

UB Closes Shale Resources and Society Institute 

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a letter to the campus community, University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi today announced his decision to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute, effective immediately.

The decision follows an internal assessment of the institute by Tripathi, Provost Charles Zukoski and E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The university will continue to pursue research in the area of energy and the environment, leveraging faculty expertise across the university, but it will focus its research more broadly to establish "a comprehensive program of scholarship and education with appropriate breadth and complexity," Tripathi said.

Tripathi noted that UB's policies for disclosure of significant financial interests and sources of support are strong and consistent with federal guidelines. To further clarify UB's policies, the university has established a committee with participation of its Faculty Senate.

The full text of UB President Tripathi's letter is below:

Giving Thanks for Family, Friends, Food, and More

~ Thursday, November 22, 2012 ~

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (1943).

What are You thankful for?

Accelerating the Implementation of Renewable Energy

 7:30 p.m., Monday, November 26
 Daemen College, 4380 Main Street, Amherst, Room 336, 
Duns Scotus Hall

Free and Open to the Public
Keynote Speaker:
  • Bill Nowak, Sierra Club Energy Committee member, Author of Clean Energy –FIT Report
  • Dave Hahn Baker, Environmental and Political Consultant 
  • Ellen Banks, Professor, Psychology, Daemen College 
  • Sarah Carpenter, Sustainability Major, Daemen College
  • Walter Simpson, energy educator, Daemen College Instructor (
Printable Flier and Map: Click Here

Scientists have been telling us that global warming is likely to result in increasingly devastating extreme weather events as we continue to burn fossil fuels and add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  Superstorm Sandy is a horrific example of the type of extreme weather that is in store for us. But how can we respond effectively and achieve a clean energy economy with all due speed?  While renewable energy resources like wind and solar are said to be our future, the deployment of these technologies has been painfully slow despite existing government programs and incentives.  This public discussion will examine how a Feed-in Tariff (FIT) could speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables within a timeframe consistent with addressing climate change and providing needed green jobs.  In the last three years a Clean Energy FIT program has created more than 22,000 green jobs in Ontario!  Why not in New York?!

This panel discussion is presented as part of the Alternative & Renewable Energy Issues course in Daemen's Global & Sustainability program.  For information on this exciting new major and minor, visit  For more information about the panel discussion, or 839-0062.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What Global Warming Looked Like Before SANDY

We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes heat waves, droughts, higher ocean temperatures, and sea-level rise and leads to extreme storms.

This year's extreme weather follows last year's.
The twelve months from July 2011 to June 2012 were the hottest on record for the United States. Texas saw its hottest and driest summer on record in 2011 by a wide margin, and research published recently shows that carbon pollution dramatically increased the probability of such extreme heat and drought. The data are in. This is what global warming looked like before SANDY. 

And then came Superstorm SANDY in late October 2012 ...

PUBLIC FORUM: Shift to Clean, Renewable Energy

Superstorm SANDY has a message:
Clean, Renewable Energy Now! 
The League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club-Niagara Group are presenting a forum to offer a plan, in the aftermath of Sandy, for how we can use FITs *(Feed-In Tariffs) to transform our energy system from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energies right now and creates good jobs in the process.

TIME:   Wednesday, November 14, 2012; 4:30 pm – 6:15 pm
PLACE: Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo.
The event is free and open to the public.

PROGRAM: The forum will explain how FITs work, and why, in the aftermath of Sandy, they are the best method for rapidly bringing new business and new jobs to a region along with promoting clean, renewable energy. 

Bill Nowak, a member of the Sierra Club Energy Committee and author of the Clean Fit Report, will present a PowerPoint on FITs to kickoff the forum. A panel with representatives from labor, business and environmental groups will follow.
Panelists include Peter Black, Director, Brant Renewable Energy, Ontario, CA; Thomas Fleckenstein, Co-Founder, Niagara Wind & Solar, Niagara Falls, NY; and Frank Hotchkiss, United Steelworkers, District 4; Representative and Political Coordinator. A demonstration project for a FIT in Western New York, as proposed by the Sierra Club Niagara and the United Steelworkers, will be discussed as well.

Parking is free in the adjacent Burchfield Penney lot, and in the Psych Center lot next door, which is accessible from Elmwood.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don't let lessons of Hurricane Sandy pass us by!

Counter:Act Climate Change
From Ross Gould ~
Air & Energy Program Director,
Environmental Advocates of New York.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, our state is beginning to transition from recovery to rebuilding. And we all have to question: what did Sandy teach us?

Governor Cuomo has called climate change our new reality. Join Environmental Advocates of New York to pressure the Governor and his state agencies to turn their rhetoric into sound environmental policies that will keep New Yorkers safe amidst an increasingly unpredictable climate.

Governor Cuomo holds all the cards. And while many of his agencies will play a role in the months and years ahead, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is the primary advocate for green energy and infrastructure development.

Join us to urge Governor Cuomo and NYSERDA to take action. Climate change deniers will do everything they can to prevent progress, so the administration needs to know there are thousands of New Yorkers that want them to take bold action. We need you to add your voice to ours and call for the state to take bold steps forward.
Act now! There are two easy ways to do it—you can use Facebook, or you can pick up the phone.
  1. Log into Facebook.
  2. Go to Governor Cuomo’s Facebook post.
  3. Post the following comment, or a personalized comment to show your concern:
    Governor Cuomo, will you act now to fight climate change and prepare New York for future storms by investing in green energy and modernizing our infrastructure?
  4. Go to NYSERDA’s Facebook wall.
  5. Post the following comment, or a personalized comment to show your concern:
    Will we act now to fight climate change and prepare New York for future storms by investing in green energy and modernizing our infrastructure?
If you’re not on Facebook, you can call Governor Cuomo’s office at (518) 474-8390 and NYSERDA at 1-866-NYSERDA.
We cannot let the lessons of Hurricane Sandy pass us by!
Thank you for all that you do!

TAKE ACTION: Petition for Clean, Renewable, Wind Power

With Congress expected to vote on the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) extension during the “lame duck” session following the elections, now is the time for our industry and our allies to emphasize to our elected officials that wind power serves in the country’s strategic interest.

We ask you to take a moment to sign our petition to Congress that does just that – urges a PTC extension as a strategic move for the U.S.

The PTC is an effective tool to encourage development of proven renewable energy projects.  Equipped with the PTC, the wind industry has driven over $15 billion of private investments into the U.S. economy in each of the past five years, and has grown the U.S. manufacturing sector to include nearly 500 wind-related facilities.  With the PTC set to expire on December 31st, 37,000 wind industry jobs and over $10 billion of related private investments are at risk.

Let's power our homes and businesses with more of this plentiful homegrown energy.

Please encourage your colleagues, friends, and family to sign this petition as well.  We’re looking to gather an impressive number of signatures by November 12th, and release this petition just as our legislators are returning to D.C.

Your support will help to keep this issue on the front burner!  Many thanks for your support!


Peter Kelley, Vice President, Public Affairs
American Wind Energy Association

GObike Buffalo hosts Buffalo’s 1st Annual 'Cranksgiving'

On Saturday, November 17th, Buffalo joins 33 other U.S. cities for Cranksgiving--a fun-filled event that is both a bike race and food drive! While the event has been going and growing since its inception in New York City in 1999, this is the first time the event will be held in Buffalo.

Beginning at 1pm in Lafayette Square, participants will race around the city to get items from a list of goods that will be donated to Food Not Bombs, a group of people who gather and prepare food that they share with the community at large.

Participants are asked to bring a bike (any bike will do), a lock, helmet, and $10 to $15 to purchase the food items on the list. Riders will be given options for where they purchase each item, and will have to visit a mandatory number of stores to reach their goal at the GObike Community Workshop in North Buffalo.

The race ends with a party at the GObike Buffalo Community Workshop at 98 Colvin Ave. A party at 3pm will be free for riders. Non-riders are asked to bring 4 non-perishable food items or $5 to get in. Snacks and refreshments will be served.

Trophies will be awarded to fastest single rider, best bargain shopper, and fastest team.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Panel Discussion: Ending Coal Burning in Western NY

7:30 p.m., Monday, November 12, 
Daemen College,
4380 Main Street, Amherst,
Room 336, Duns Scotus Hall
Free and Open to the Public 
  • Penny Messinger, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History and Government Department, Daemen College
  • Rebecca Newberry, Program Coordinator, Clean Air Coalition of WNY (;
  • Kenzie Reynen, Global and Local Sustainability Major, Daemen College 
  • Jennifer Tuttle, Organizer, Sierra Club New York Beyond Coal Campaign ( 
The moderator is Walter Simpson ( who will begin the session with a presentation on how activists helped prevent the construction of a new coal plant in Jamestown, NY.  The discussion will then turn to the fate of Western New York’s four existing coal plants. 

Printable Flyer and Map: Click Here