Gibbons research faulted again

U.S. Rep. James Gibbons’ position that mercury is our friend is back in the news.

At a panel in Las Vegas, a scientist, several science writers, and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark discussed the misuse of science to support political agendas, with Clark calling the practice a threat to the nation’s security.

American Prospect science writer Chris Mooney, one of the members of the panel, pointed to Republican Gibbons’ article co-authored with U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo (or their staffs) as an example of science being tainted by politics. He said it was an instance of a politician who manipulated science and is having to pay a political price.

Democrat James Gibson, who, like Gibbons, is running for governor, has asked, “[W]hy is Gibbons trying to sell us a bill of goods instead of fighting for our safety?”

Gibbons’ article draws heavily on research with positive results for mercury while downplaying more numerous studies showing negative effects from the substance (“Mercury rising,” Jan. 19).

However, although Gibbons recently announced on Nevada Newsmakers that “I am a scientist"—he has a degree in geology from UNR—that selectivity with data is a breach of the scientific method, which requires that researchers not ignore data contradicting their hypothesis. A State University of New York online description of the scientific method says, “That is called ‘cherry-picking’ and is commonly used by pseudo-scientists attempting to scam people unfamiliar with the scientific method.”

After Mooney’s comments, a Gibbons spokesperson gave a statement to the Las Vegas Sun that did not address the issue of whether mercury is hazardous or whether his boss had manipulated the science, but instead repeated Gibbons’ claim: “Jim Gibbons is a scientist. He’s educated as a scientist in Nevada’s schools and educational system.”

But the Gibbons/Pombo article contained no original research; it merely synopsized the work of scientists.