Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Director Nanos, Physics Today

From the 1/25/2005 LANL NewsBulletin. I wonder what the editor of Physics Today thinks about the Director's comments?

Jan. 21, 2005

Disappointed by the tone and accuracy of the director's comments

During the Jan. 19 employee update meeting, the director included some harsh remarks about the Laboratory scientist who authored a recent Physics Today Opinion column that questioned the basis and necessity of the Lab's suspension of operations.

I am disappointed by the tone and accuracy of the director's comments. The director stated that the author had not only ridiculed the Laboratory but, had Physics Today been a peer-reviewed journal, the article content would have been quite different. In fact, articles published in Physics Today are peer reviewed, including Opinion columns.

The director's comments implied that the safety statistics used in the article were either wrong or did not support the article's conclusions. He made this point in reference to one of his view graphs that showed two plots of accident rate versus time. He mistakenly referred to the lower curve as the Department of Energy complex average rate and stated that the Lab rate (upper curve) was more than a factor of two above it. In fact, both curves were Lab accident rates, the top curve was Total Reportable Cases (TRC) for the Lab, and the bottom curve was the Days Away from Work, Restricted Work Activity or Job Transfer (DART) for the Lab.

His next view graph did show a comparison between accident rates at the Lab and the average across the DOE complex. However, the DOE complex average includes non-scientific and non-manufacturing sites, where the principal risk of injury is dominated by office and clerical work. The Physics Today article compared TRC data for the Lab with other DOE research institutions on a sitewide basis. Thus, no meaningful refutation of either the data or conclusions of the Physics Today article were presented.

The director and others commonly allude to the rate of accident "near misses" as being unacceptably high at the Lab as compared to other sites as a justification for the suspension of operations, but no quantitative statistical data or analysis were shown to corroborate this claim. If this data exists, it should be made available to the [Laboratory] community.

Finally, the director claimed that "the author perjured himself" in the article. This is a troubling and curious statement since the word "perjury" is a legal term with a very narrow definition: "deliberate false testimony under oath by a witness in a criminal proceeding." At the very least, the director seems to be accusing the author of lying in the article. If the article does contain statements that can be demonstrated to be false, then it should be corrected as soon as possible. Nothing less than the scientific integrity of the Lab, the University of California and DOE is at stake. The director needs to write a response to the article in Physics Today pointing out what he considers the factual errors to be, and why the author should have known that they were false, i.e., was lying.

--David Hanson

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