Tag Archives: USGS

Data manipulation at U.S. Geological Survey science lab

A federal lab has been shuttered after an investigation revealed almost 20 years of data manipulation and scientific misconduct.

The inorganic section of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colo. manipulated data on a variety of topics – including many related to the environment – from 1996 to 2014. The manipulation was caught in 2008, but continued another six years.

“It’s astounding that we spend $108 million on manipulated research and then the far-reaching effects that that would have,” Rep. Bruce Westerman said at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing. “We know how research multiples and affects different parts of our society and our economy and … if you’re working off of flawed data it definitely could be in a bad way.”

The inspector general report [pdf] is very vague about the specific acts of data manipulation and misconduct, which is not surprising since this specific inspector general has herself been accused of “politicized IG investigations, pulling punches in trying to avoid upsetting political appointees.”

From what I can gather, the results from a mass spectrometer, used to identify the chemical make-up of samples, were repeatedly faked by the individuals who operated it. The research “predominantly affected coal and water quality research and related assessments.” It is however unclear whether politics played a part in this misconduct, or whether it was merely incompetence. I suspect the former, especially because the Obama-appointed inspector general went out of her way to avoid describing the misconduct in detail, and because it continued for so long, even after it was first discovered in 2008.