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On the Udder Hand

RSS By: Chris Galen,

Chris Galen is the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Milk Producers Federation .

Bad Apples in the Barrel

Jun 01, 2010

So it’s been about six weeks now since the BP Deepwater Horizon well blew its top and began the still ceaseless process of spewing out crude oil.  The big question now, apart from when British Petroleum will finally get the well plugged or otherwise under control, is this:  Will the political fallout from this event last longer than the environmental fallout?  And who really will be stuck cleaning up the mess, environmentally, politically and otherwise?

None of those questions is answerable now.  While the similarities with Hurricane Katrina are rather facile and forced, there are some valid comparisons in the Gulf of Mexico:  damage that will take years to amend (even as some things may never be “normal” again); the similar vulnerability of a rig drilling a well in 5,000 ft. of water, with a city that lies under sea level, both incredibly vulnerable to the forces of nature; and the fact that federal authorities have appeared inept in preparing for, and now responding to, the dimensions of the crisis.

There is another similarity at work right now with the BP disaster, and that is with the Conklin dairy farm in Ohio.  Last week, an animal rights group released disturbing film of a worker sadistically abusing cattle at the farm.  The authorities have thrown the book at him, sending him off to jail with a $100,000 bond and a trial likely in the future. 

What that incarcerated individual, Billy Joe Gregg, and the individual well in the Gulf of Mexico have in common is that they serve as cautionary tales for what can happen if you don’t make good choices about the practices you use.  While drilling deep ocean wells and working on a farm are quite different, both are ultimately systematic activities where workers follow a prescribed series of behaviors to achieve an optimal outcome.  Clearly, the person in the Ohio video was out of control and apparently was committing crimes, while the jury is still out on the whether the BP rig was operated according to law and regulation. 

But in both cases, the outcome of an isolated incident smears the entire industry in which they operate.  And both raise an important question that every business owner, small or large, needs to ask more frequently:  Who’s in charge? (The Wall St. Journal wrote an extensive story last week indicating that during the explosion and collapse of the Horizon, no one appeared to be.)  Hindsight is 20/20, but in both cases, something went terribly wrong because the system failed.

Bad apples, be they farms or derricks, are painful learning experiences.  People will forgive the appearance of one in the barrel, but not the same mistakes being repeated time and again.  And meanwhile, the fallout spews out.

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COMMENTS (52 Comments)

new york
when other scientists cannot replicate the outcome or the data has been tweeked in any way than the theroies are not really valid no matter how many people agree or disagree. global cooling is a much bigger threat to man kind than global warming will ever be!
5:16 PM Jun 10th
Although scientists may have personal opinions, the scientific process is much less likely to allow these opinions to affect the data than any other method of discourse, whether that be industry spin as we see here, or religion, or politics. A debate between scientists and non scientists on, say, global warming, evolution, or lactose tolerance, is not even a debate. If someone doesn't understand basic biology or climatology, they don't get to participate. If any given scientist happened to have a personal agenda that wasn't supported by the data, there would be hordes of other scientists at conferences and in journals waiting to make a name by knocking the lone nut off. this process is self correcting. Similarly, individual clusters of "scientists" whoring for industry by like "scientists for the american tobacco producers say smoking doesn't cause cancer" or "scientists for the american petroleum industry say global warming isn't linked to fossil fuel consumption" are not taken seriously. The fact that 99% of actual climate scientists have no doubt about man made global climate change and that 99.9% of scientists take evolution via darwinian natural selection as a given whereas the public may be more equivocal on those issues (well, those who happen to be conservative U.S. citizens of a religious nature or those whose livelihood is made via burning of fossil fuels) is not a sign of biased science, its a sign of motivated skepticism on the part of the public. Trawling through websites to come up with information contradicting the body of peer reviewed literature or citing a case like "my uncle smoked for 90 years so therefore it doesn't cause cancer" does not constitute valid objections. On what issue exactly, shouldn't scientists intrude in? What is this domain of knowledge where they should bow their heads and back out of the room respectfully?
9:23 AM Jun 10th


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