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New York fracking ban raises questions about peer review process

By   /   January 20, 2015  /   No Comments

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NO FRACKING AROUND: Activists like these from a 2013 rally in New York managed to get fracking banned.

By Karen Beseth | Watchdog Arena

Did a report peer-reviewed by environmental activists convince New York’s governor to ban fracking?

Last month Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would ban hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, after acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker completed a Public Health Review which concluded the practice could have adverse effects on public health.

Zucker and Cuomo claimed to have science on their side. Cuomo assured the public that he was simply “bound by the experts” and his decision was not political (Never mind that his administration edited a fracking study that didn’t fit with his agenda).

Zucker talked about “bona fide scientific literature” like this report. The problem is, the report was peer reviewed by anti-fracking activists, including Sandra Steingraber, who has been quite vocal about her opposition to fracking.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, told Watchdog Arena that Zucker based his review on “studies that were paid for by activists,” and said Zucker failed to look at both sides. He mentioned an Australian Health Survey as an example of research Zucker chose to ignore. Fitzsimmons believes the entire peer review process has been called into question, considering that activists like Steingraber have a role in that process.

“They used studies paid for by activists and they pay for the studies that come with the result they want,” he said.

Steingraber and her fellow peer reviewers attested to having “no competing interests,” although it’s clear that isn’t true.

The Breaking Energy blog pointed out the obvious conflicts of interests in a recent blog post, noting:

Steingraber is the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking and, according to that group, ‘is a central voice in the fight against fracking.’ [Robert] Oswald co-authored a book that claims ‘fracking poses a dire threat,’ campaigned to ban shale gas development in his upstate New York home town, and has advocated that local zoning laws be used as a ‘weapon in the war against fracking.’ [Jerome] Paulson, a physician based in Washington, D.C., has teamed up with Steingraber and other activist groups to lobby against shale gas development in New York and ‘has called for a moratorium on all drilling,’ according to The Public Record.

As noted in the article, it seems fairly clear that this “violates well-established standards of peer review.” Also of concern is the fact that much of the research Zucker relied on for his review has been discredited by health departments in other states.

Fitzsimmons said he will continue to fight the ban and has been in touch with federal and state representatives, but won’t know what specific action can be taken until the DEC finalizes the decision.

Until then, he and others will continue to do their best to get the word out. His group will be part of a rally scheduled to coincide with Cuomo’s State of the State speech on Jan. 21. In the meantime, he’s hoping media outlets will report on the corruption of the peer review process.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.

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Karen Beseth lives with her family in Upstate New York. She works in the insurance industry and her personal blog is lonelyconservative.com. Find her on Twitter @lonelycon.