Our state officials frequently remind people, “I’m not a scientist,” but they don’t let it stop them from arguing science.
The South Florida Water Management District recently tried to undermine Sen. Joe Negron’s proposal to reduce toxic discharges, attempting to “shape” available science in a PR stunt. Their target was the dynamic reservoir planned south of Lake Okeechobee, which the sugar industry opposes.
SFWMD publicly claimed that studies support storage north of the lake as a substitute. This contradicts virtually every hydrologist’s findings, including Dr. Thomas Van Lent whose research was attacked in official statements and a splattering of fake news.
The district claimed that its proof came from an independent University of Florida report by Dr. Wendy Graham. But it didn’t. The modeling cited in Graham’s report wasn’t hers — it was SFWMD’s own model, referenced in Graham’s report and clearly noted in her January 11 slide presentation to the senate subcommittee conducting a workshop on the issue (see slide below).
Not only that, but the graphs used to promote SFWMD’s argument for northern storage actually support Van Lent’s position. They show that storage south of the lake is more efficient for reducing discharges by 80% or more. The model suggests that a southern-only solution (with 1.1 million acre feet) could cut discharges by 95% — but no amount of northern storage shown on the chart could achieve that reduction.
But even if the report had backed SFWMD’s attack on the Negron plan, the district’s argument would have failed to cite the findings responsibly. As Van Lent pointed out, hydrology models are meant to guide planning, but they’re not a substitute for planning.
Despite knowing this, SFWMD tried to mislead people into believing Van Lent’s data were intended to be authoritative and precise, but were outdated and flawed. And then they pretended that they hadn’t realized his models were — like theirs — based on assumptions that need further confirmation to generate more exact figures.
The entire episode appears to have been a botched attempt to bias the senate subcommittee that met on January 11. Van Lent was scheduled to present, but at the last minute his slot was moved to January 25: (Wednesday, 25 January, 10:00, Pat Thomas Committee Room, 412 Knott Building, Tallahassee.)
Like Rick Scott himself, his appointees on the SFWMD board are not scientists. But they’re comfortable shaping science to support the governor’s political views and the sugar industry’s interests.
“The devil quotes the scriptures,” was an old-fashioned warning not to trust charlatans who twist Bible verse to manipulate people. We need a similar warning today for charlatans who twist science.