An interview with USGS's Marcia McNutt

The director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt may be best known as the ocean-going geophysicist who once received underwater explosives training from the Navy Seals. Less well-known is McNutt's early work during the revolution of plate tectonics, she said during an interview earlier this year in her unassuming Washington, D.C., office, tucked into a corner of the Interior Department.

Paul Voosen: So, why geosciences?

Marcia McNutt: I had always imagined myself as a scientist, and I guess I don't know why. It's probably because in school I was a good student but I hated writing. And so my goal was to find courses that allowed me to excel without having to write, so that meant math and science classes. But here I am today spending all my time writing, which is, I guess, some sort of strange irony.

But the reason I got into geosciences was that while I loved all aspects of math and science, what I really loved was science outside, the chance to not be in a [lab]. I didn't imagine myself as a scientist with a test tube in a white lab coat. I wanted to be outside with the opportunity to solve riddles by doing investigation where you would get your hands dirty and make observations. So I imagined myself either an archaeologist or a geologist or an oceanographer. And as luck would have it, when I was in college and majoring in physics at that time, thinking I might go into astronomy or something like that, it was just at the time when the first articles were being published on plate tectonics.

And that was monumental because it meant that there was a whole paradigm shift happening in the geosciences which would allow me, by entering that field, to get in on the ground floor of the scientific revolution. So it would be equivalent to going into physics right after Einstein published his special theory of relativity, or going into genetics right after Watson and Crick published the double helix. There would be no large body of material to read and assimilate because there were only a handful of papers published that were even relevant or deemed worthwhile at that point.

Paul Voosen: And I'd imagine some older researchers wouldn't adapt to the new paradigm.

Marcia McNutt: Exactly, exactly. There would be many people retiring because their work was no longer considered relevant to the new ideas. When I got to graduate school -- at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography -- and started going to sea -- because, of course, most of the plate boundaries were underwater -- the first cruises I went on the chief scientists were grad students.

People were searching for the plate boundaries, trying to put together just the geometry of the plates, trying to understand the details of the plate tectonic theory. So it was a very exciting time.

Paul Voosen: And what led to your work on superswells?

Marcia McNutt: I decided that everyone was focusing on the plate boundaries and no one was paying attention to the plate interiors. And so this seemed like a huge opportunity for someone like me to solve a number of riddles that had to do with activities in the ocean -- volcanoes that appeared that could not be explained by plate tectonics. So I started working in French Polynesia trying to explain why there were so many active volcanoes that were thousands of miles from any active plate boundaries.

What I found was that this region of the plate had been producing active volcanoes for more than 100 million years -- in the same place. So it was literally the planet's stovepipe in terms of an area that had been abnormally hot, even though it was not a plate boundary, and that hot currents of magma had been coming up from deep within the earth for an extremely long time, and that the remnants of those older volcanoes had now been eroded and subsided beneath the ocean and drifted up into the north Pacific and were up near Japan at this time. And by putting together lots of information from seismic imaging inside the earth one could actually see these hot currents coming up from the center of the earth, the core-mantle boundary.

Paul Voosen: This was related to the hot spot theory?

Marcia McNutt: Except it was much larger than hot spots. This was like whole clusters of hot spots. It was like a super-hot spot, a super plume coming up, so it was on a scale much larger than anyone had ever proposed for hot spots.

Much of McNutt's fieldwork took place at MIT, where she made her name as a first-rank geophysicist. But McNutt then left behind her professorship in 1997 to lead the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California.

Paul Voosen: What prompted your move to MBARI and administrative work?

Marcia McNutt: After I'd been at MIT for 15 years, what I found was that I was increasingly being asked to serve on a lot of evaluation committees, panels, boards for various university departments, proposal reviews, new initiatives, et cetera. And what I realized was that what other people valued most from me was my opinion of everyone else's research, more than they really valued my own research. So I thought the better use of my talent would be to go to a place like MBARI where I'd spend all of my time directing a research lab, where I could help guide the direction of the research of many scientists and engineers rather than simply do my own work and that of a handful of students and postdocs, because it seemed like that's what people really thought I was better at doing.

Put another way, I felt the need to do something really significant. ... I had done my own research and was happy doing that, but I felt that the work I was doing was probably -- and I mean this in a nice way -- but was probably of academic interest, whereas going to an institution like MBARI, and from there to a place like the USGS, I had an opportunity to go to places that really focused more on research problems that connected to issues that were more connected to society's problems.

So, for example, at MBARI we were focused on saving the oceans. We were focused on saving the oceans from ocean acidification, from the impacts of climate change, from problems that had to do with too much nitrogen fertilizer running into the ocean. Land-sea interaction kinds of things. We were developing new technologies that would allow people to address ocean problems because we were reducing the cost of access to the ocean. We were developing new robotic equipment that allowed exploration of the oceans, to look at the oceans' biodiversity. We were doing amazing things that were making a difference for the ocean and the ocean's health, and to me that was a greater opportunity than to simply write 20 more papers of my own during the next five or six years.

Paul Voosen: Did you feel a duty to be more applied in your work?

Marcia McNutt: Exactly. Everyone needs to consider where are your talents best used. And I think that for some scientists their talents are best used being scientists, and just writing the next paper, and coming up with the next greatest idea, and thinking outside the box, and pushing the frontiers of science, and things like that. That's what they're best used for. That wasn't me. That wasn't gonna be my highest and best use. My highest and best use was going to be to go help enable other people to do that.

A few years after McNutt joined MBARI, Sept. 11 saw the assets of the institute's backer, the Packard Foundation, plummet. MBARI's mission and funding were set to receive serious scrutiny, with McNutt, by default, leading the charge.

Marcia McNutt: Up until that point, many of the researchers at MBARI had felt like they were operating more like researchers at fellow academic oceanographic institutions, like researchers at Woods Hole or Scripps; that they should be working on any research problem that was interesting. ... But the problem was that they weren't proposing their ideas to peer panels of other researchers. Instead, we were internally funded by the Packard Foundation, and the Packard board wasn't a board of other scientists.

With the falling stock market, I had to convince the MBARI scientists that they could no longer afford the luxury of being as academic in their outlook. They instead had to consider what would be the interest of their sponsors. And when their sponsors were considering other philanthropic investments such as AIDS and world poverty and other international crises, I said, "We have to be at the top of their list in terms of what they think is their very best investment." And that's when MBARI actually took a hard right turn and started working on problems that people really cared about, and so really started investing hard in things like saving the ocean.

Paul Voosen: So this is a shift that you might've wanted, even if the portfolio hadn't crashed?

Marcia McNutt: Yes, yes. But sometimes it almost takes a crisis to motivate something like that.

Paul Voosen: I've heard a quote related to that before. [Laughter]

Marcia McNutt: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Voosen: So what did MBARI's scientists turn to doing?

Marcia McNutt: MBARI became known as the place that was doing cutting edge work on ocean acidification, actually building chambers in the ocean that simulated the acid ocean of the future. ... And we developed a wonderful chemical sensor laboratory that developed in situ sensors for things like nitrate in the ocean. Before, people would have to bring a sample of water back to the lab and do an analysis in order to find out that chemistry. Instead, we could just put an instrument out in the ocean and telemeter the data back to shore, and so we would get [that data] in real time. We worked with industry to commercialize these sensors, so now you can buy them from commercial vendors.

Then we developed a device that does in situ ocean genomics. It would sample the ocean for microorganisms and then determine what those organisms are in the ocean from their RNA, again without ever bringing a sample back to shore. It would tell you what's blooming in the ocean and how much of it is out there, determining things like red tides in real time. That sensor is also being commercialized.

All of this had been David Packard's vision for MBARI. That is what he had wanted the lab to do. All I was trying to do was deliver on his vision for it. When I first got to MBARI there had been some tension between the scientists and the engineers, so my first couple years there were just spent working out a healthy partnership between the scientists and the engineers, so that the engineers felt that they were on a peer relationship with the scientists.

Paul Voosen: I imagine that's a skill that came in useful --

Marcia McNutt: Yeah.

Paul Voosen: a couple years ago, as well.

Marcia McNutt: Yes.

Paul Voosen: Before MBARI, you were at sea, but you were focused beneath the ocean. And obviously there are connections between geology and ocean science, but did that shift feel natural?

Marcia McNutt: Oh, absolutely. MBARI was a good fit for me coming from MIT, though [it] was largely focused on life sciences, ocean chemistry. ... For me coming in as a marine geophysicist, it was an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage was that no one felt that I had any preferred group. People felt that when I made a decision, it was a fair decision, because I didn't have any group that I would naturally say, "Oh, well, this is what I do for a living, and therefore I would naturally prefer this." That part was good. But it also meant that it made it very difficult to keep up any research program of my own, because my kind of work wasn't done there.

Paul Voosen: Was that a sacrifice you knew you would have to make going in?

Marcia McNutt: Yeah, I did. I did. I knew it, but I guess I didn't know just how much I'd miss it. I really did miss it. I wrote a couple papers while I was at MBARI, but not many; most of the problem was that you don't have that concentrated, uninterrupted time to focus on doing research. You might have a couple hours here and then a couple hours next week, and by the time you put it all together -- you would pick up something, and then you would just figure out where you had left off, and it's too late.

Paul Voosen: Did coming to USGS allow you to reconnect more with your science?

Marcia McNutt: It has. This is -- USGS is a fabulous organization, just a fabulous organization. It's probably the only government agency I would've considered simply because USGS in some sense is so pure. We don't manage anything. We don't regulate anything. We just do science. And so it's such a pleasure to be in Washington, but just say, "We're just giving you the science. We don't have an opinion on what you should do with it. It's just the science."

We know that the science will be used for something very valuable. We know that all of our science is policy-relevant, and we know that it's all very important and timely, but we don't have to get caught in the middle of saying that, "Oh, we're pro-development or we're pro-conservation." We aren't pro-anything. We're just, "Here are the facts. If you do this, this is what'll happen. If you do that, this is what'll happen. We don't have an opinion what you should do; we're just telling you what the science is."

Paul Voosen: That's certainly in contrast with Jane Lubchenco, at NOAA.

Marcia McNutt: Right, right. And NOAA works very hard to try to put a firewall between those. But the problem is that people on the outside will always worry that because they have to, for example, put regulations on fishing quotas, that the science they did for that somehow was motivated by whatever outcome they might've [wanted].

It's much trickier.

Paul Voosen: How did the opportunity come about to direct USGS?

Marcia McNutt: The typical way this happens is the administration goes to the National Academy of Sciences and they ask for a list of people that the academy thinks would be good directors of the USGS. The National Academy put together a committee to recommend people to the administration, and I got called by the chair of that committee, who said, "Would you be willing to consider it?" And I said, "Oh, I really don't think I would leave California." And the chair said, "Well, you don't have to say you'd actually be willing to take the job. By saying yes, all you have to be willing to do is be willing to talk to the administration about it." I said, "Oh, okay. Well, I guess I'd be willing to talk to them about it, but I really don't think I'd be willing to leave California."

Well, little did I realize what a persuasive person Secretary Salazar would be.

Paul Voosen: What goals did you have coming into the agency?

Marcia McNutt: I came in at a pretty good time. USGS had a science strategy that had been completed fairly recently -- I think it'd been completed in 2007 -- that had been a very bottom-up document. I took a look at it, and it was a wonderful document, really well thought-out, and it had these science themes in it that were relevant and compelling.

I looked at it and I thought, "Whoa, this has no connection to the USGS's organization and management structure." Basically USGS has a management structure that was kind of stuck in the 19th century, that reflected almost a university mentality ... with disciplinary departments -- biology, geography, geology -- whereas the science strategy had these themes in it that talked about the real issues that the American people cared about -- hazards, climate change, energy and minerals, ecosystems, environment and human health, things like that.

The problem I had was that I had no way to get these associate directors who worked for me, with titles like geography and geology, to be responsive for problems like climate change and hazards. When we talked about goals of what we wanted to do, the goals always had to do with reducing vulnerability to hazards and identifying issues that had to do with climate change and finding energy and finding minerals. So it was bizarre that we didn't have people with titles that at all fit our mission or the work we were doing.

The first thing I wanted to do when I came in was to align our mission with our goals, with our budget, with our management. We got that done. Now everything is streamlined. All my associate directors have the same titles as our science strategy. Our science strategy is aligned with our budget, and our budget is aligned with our goals. I can hold people responsible if the goals aren't met and our budget's aligned with that.

Paul Voosen: Is that encouraging more interdisciplinary work?

Marcia McNutt: Yes, it is, and it's made our budget more robust. It's amazing, because now -- take our water network, which used to only be funded for hydrology, now ecosystems is funding the hydrology network because the water is needed for ecosystems, and hazards is funding the water network because it's needed for flood control. So it's improved the resiliency of our budget.

Paul Voosen: Certainly an important thing these days.

Marcia McNutt: Yeah. Then I also simplified our organizational chart. We got rid of a layer of middle management so that the people in the field report up to headquarters. ... That ideally will save some money. We didn't lay anyone off. We found jobs for everyone. But hopefully as people retire those jobs will not be replaced.

I've also been working on -- and haven't really had complete success yet, but we're working on it -- trying to diversify the USGS, which does not have the same racial and ethnic and gender diversity as America, and we're a long way off. So we're trying to put in some new programs and training and everything else to improve our record. It's been tough because with all of the cuts in the federal budget it's not like when someone retires we can instantly rehire someone. But we're doing everything we can with the positions we do have to fill to work on that.

Paul Voosen: You've made some changes to peer review, as well?

Marcia McNutt: Yes. We tried to simplify our peer review policies. USGS has always something called our fundamental science practices, which are the cornerstone of USGS's scientific integrity. We do not release any of our scientific products until they go through review. One thing that our scientists complained a lot about was that products that are going to review in journals were taking too long because they would have to go through internal USGS review, and then go to the journals for review. It was taking a long time.

We simplified that by saying, "Okay, you can submit it to the external journal and to internal review at the same time." That streamlined things a lot. When you get the USGS reviews and the journal reviews back, you do your revised version of the paper simultaneously, and then submit it for final bureau signoff with all the reviews in hand, and the bureau official will just sign off on it with you stating how you've reconciled all the reviews in the final version. That has made people a lot happier.

Paul Voosen: I'd imagine a small change like that could have a big effect on people's willingness to go forward with getting a study out there into the scientific literature.

Marcia McNutt: Oh, yeah. And not only that, but the old system was stupid. People would submit it for bureau approval, it would get bureau approval, then they'd submit it to the journal, the journal might want the paper changed, and so what gets published isn't what got bureau approval. That's stupid! Why did you bother to get bureau approval on not what's published? It didn't even make sense in the old plan.

Paul Voosen: Soon after you were confirmed, the Deepwater Horizon spill happened. When did you realize that you would be called in to take an active lead on the case?

Marcia McNutt: It was about May 5th or so. It was like the first week in May. I was sitting in here and our deputy assistant secretary walked in, and she said, "You need to run home and pack your suitcase and be at National Airport by such and such a time. The secretary is going down to the gulf to survey what's going on with the oil spill and he wants you to go with him." And I said, "How long will I be gone?" And she said -- and this was like a Tuesday afternoon. She said, "You'll be back on Friday." So I went home and I packed for like a three-day trip. I was basically down in the Gulf for four months.

I found out after I got on the plane with the secretary that his plan was to put each of the bureau heads in each of the command centers. He wanted John Jarvis in Mobile, and he put -- I think Bob Abbey might've been in New Orleans -- anyway, I forget who was where. But each of the bureau heads were in one of the command centers, and after we got to Houston the secretary said, "Well, you're the only one who knows anything about underwater technology. I think I'm gonna leave you here in Houston." So there I was.

Paul Voosen: Had an USGS chief ever been pulled into something like this before?

Marcia McNutt: I don't know. I don't believe so.

It's hard to say that this was like anything, because unless you were there in Houston it is so hard to describe what it was like being in the eye of a hurricane for that length of time with that kind of intensity.

I would basically show up at BP headquarters in time for the 6:00 meeting, which would be a download of everything that had happened the night before, and that would be like a half hour. And then I'd start getting on phone calls back here to the department to let them know what was going on, and then we'd have phone calls with Andy Inglis, who was in charge of the operations there at BP headquarters, with the secretary, and with other leadership people. Sometimes Thad Allen would be on and other people. And then we'd start going into meetings with the engineers and the scientists for design reviews for operations we were going to be doing. I often wouldn't get out of there until 11:00 at night. Even though it was through the summer, I would go weeks at a time without seeing daylight because the rooms there had no windows.

You would go weeks without seeing daylight. You'd get there before dawn and you would leave after dark, and you'd have these quick meals in the cafeteria at BP, and it was just this unreal life of looking at the world undersea on the monitors, and looking at engineering data and scientific models. There were times when I would be having two phone conversations at the same time, one on my iPhone and one on my Blackberry, you know, trying to talk to these people. "Okay, well, what does your model say? Okay. Well, now what's the data coming in here?" going back and forth. I was calling on everyone I knew in the academic community to try to get as much information as we could. It was calling on every bit of tact you had, every bit of patience you had, every bit of scientific understanding to assimilate lots of information coming in, and then you had of course all these personalities playing out, too.

I mean, it was -- it was amazing.

Paul Voosen: Did you feel disconnected from USGS at the time?

Marcia McNutt: Oh, my deputy director, Suzette Kimball -- oh, bless her heart. She kept everything moving, and my chief of staff, Judy Nowakowski, I could call her and she could get me people or whatever I needed. You know, "Send me an expert on this. Send me an expert on that," and she would get them down to Houston. Paul Hsieh, who got federal employee of the tear for his work on the reservoir, she got him deployed to Houston so that he could be part of the well integrity team.

People back at USGS were supporting me from afar and keeping the home fires burning, so I didn't have to worry about that. No, if I had had to run the USGS, that would not -- no. Fortunately, USGS was in good hands.

Soon after McNutt's move to Houston, she was tapped to lead the Flow Rate Technical Group, a team charged with gauging the amount of oil erupting from BP's well, which, thanks to continual underestimates, had become a charged topic.

Paul Voosen: How did you end up in charge of the flow rate group?

Marcia McNutt: That must've been about mid-May. Secretary Salazar came down, he took me out to dinner, and he mentioned the flow rate technical group. I had not even heard of it, but he just said that this group had been set up by Admiral Allen, and he wanted me to lead it. He said that he felt that I was the right person to do it. Originally it was going to be someone else here at Interior, but he felt that it would be best if I took it on because he felt it needed someone who was a scientist.

I think the most important thing, to tell you the truth, in the end wasn't just that I was a scientist. That was probably number one, but number two, it was that I was in Houston, because we had to get data from BP. If someone had been sitting here in Interior it wouldn't have happened. It took personal relationships in order to work the issues with proprietary data, stuff like that, to get the information, and I just don't think it would've happened if they'd had the flow rate technical group sitting here in DC.

Paul Voosen: And that started to put you right in the middle of the hurricane.

Marcia McNutt: Yeah.

Paul Voosen: Especially when it comes to my peers.

Marcia McNutt: Yes.

Paul Voosen: We talked about the divide between scientists and engineers when you were at MBARI. Did you encounter similar issues in Houston?

Marcia McNutt: No, no. The scientists and engineers got along perfectly. I wouldn't say there was any issue with scientists versus engineers. Where was there friction? If there was any "them" and "us," it was the people in Houston, in BP headquarters, versus those who weren't, because for those of us who were there, regardless of who you worked for, whether you were a DOE person or a USGS person or a BP person, we all kind of knew minute-to-minute what the information was, what the data was, what the state of everything else was. And there were all these other people out there, and it doesn't matter what their connection was either -- whether they were government or academia or journalists -- who were shooting from the hip. Very often we just refused to watch television because of all the silly things that were being said by people who didn't know anything. I mean, if we listened to the television, we would think we were all there ready to slit each other's throats, by some of the things that were being said that were just not true at all.

Paul Voosen: Reading a few papers you've put out since the spill, you mentioned the importance of Interior's strategic science working group. How did that group come about?

Marcia McNutt: Jane Lubchenco and I are -- and some other coauthors -- are writing a paper on lessons learned, and one of them is on the value of strategic sciences. The way that came about was Gary Machlis came down to see me in Houston, and he had been in New Orleans, and said that what he witnessed in New Orleans was all this running around worrying about the here and now. "We have to go get this water sample. We have to go do this. We have to do that," and then, "Oh, wait, while we were out there we should've done this and we should've done that. Oh, now we have to run out again." So everyone was worrying about the tactical; no one was worrying about the strategic. No one was planning ahead more than, you know, a half hour.

And he said, "We really need to get together a group of scientists, and they need to be from academia, they need to be from NGOs, they need to be from federal agencies -- just the best minds we can put together on short notice to think about the strategic with this oil spill, to think about not just what's happening now, but what could happen, and therefore how we need to plan ahead." That's how that group came about.

They met and they were effective in coming out with a bunch of what-if scenarios, several of which actually played out. We decided that their work was so useful that the secretary actually signed a secretarial order that operationalizes that kind of capability within the Department of Interior, under the leadership of Gary and David Applegate, who's my associate director for hazards at USGS. And what they will be doing is, first of all, they will be available if we ever have another disaster to instantly pull together a group like that to think strategically through the crisis. But the other thing they're going to be doing is regularly putting together teams to do scenario planning for disasters that haven't even happened. So thinking about things like, "What if we had a wall of fire in the Sierra Nevada? What would be the science needs that we wished we had had before it happened? Or better yet, how did science prevent it from happening in the first place?" So --

Paul Voosen: Or how it could be detected right at the start, something like that.

Marcia McNutt: Yes. How do we get a jump on some of these things and make sure that -- an Arctic oil spill. How would it play out? How might it start? How might we prevent it from starting in the first place? So that I think was very helpful and it's one of the lessons learned that we've operationalized.

Paul Voosen: And that will also draw in university scientists?

Marcia McNutt: Yes, absolutely. It's got to be the best people, no matter where they are.

Paul Voosen: And there is training they might go through –

Marcia McNutt: Yeah. In fact Gary and David just had a retreat out at the Fish and Wildlife Center at out Shepherdstown in which they were putting together some training materials for it.

Paul Voosen: What other lessons did you learn?

Marcia McNutt: One of the ones that I keep stressing is that we really would've benefited from some sort of actionable peer review. We had too many situations where we needed science and we needed it now and we didn't have the luxury of waiting for journal peer review. And if we had had some mechanism for a fast turnaround peer review -- and we're not talking about, "It this well written? Are the figures good? Did you cite all the right people?" We're just talking about some overnight, quick look by experts that say, "Does this result look right? And is the action being proposed correct? And if this isn't the right action, what would be a safer action?" If we'd had something like that, and if we could have gotten everyone -- federal scientists, university scientists, everyone -- to agree to wait for that actionable peer review before going public, I think we would have saved everyone a lot of grief, because we had so many people making pronouncements from the fantail [of a ship] of findings that had not been documented and later proved to be sampling errors. A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to have to prove them wrong. And, of course, it's big news when the first pronouncement is made; it's never big news when it's proved wrong.

And then on the flipside, very often when we had to take action based on science that wasn't peer-reviewed, we rightfully got a lot of grief from the academic community. But we had no option to get it peer reviewed! So if there was an action to get it quickly turned around and reviewed, we would've loved to have taken it. So before the next crisis, we need to get something set up that would have experts on call. You promise you will stay up overnight and review this. If we can get it to you by 11:00 p.m., by 5:00 a.m. you will get an answer to us.

Paul Voosen: What agency should lead that?

Marcia McNutt: I think NSF. I think NSF could handle something like that, no problem. They've got lists of reviewers, and all key coded to [subject]. NSF would do a great job with it.

Paul Voosen: Is this something you'll be pushing for?

Marcia McNutt: I'd push for it, definitely.

As NOAA scientists have previously noted, the government lacked basic baseline data about the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem. McNutt would like such data to become a standard, not a rare exception.

Marcia McNutt: We would benefit from having good baseline data for every large ecosystem.

Paul Voosen: I know this is a huge challenge for NRDA in the gulf.

Marcia McNutt: Yeah. This is something that perhaps the USGS and NOAA together -- since we have sort of the land side, NOAA has the ocean side -- together we need to work on putting together observing systems and databases that are compatible so that we can tackle this problem and populate databases for large ecosystems.

[...]

Paul Voosen: You mentioned something in a past interview: One of your least favorite things is encountering dishonesty, or something like that. This was before you had moved to DC. How have you found it here, after working in California, MIT. Has there been a challenge in having clear talk in DC?

Marcia McNutt: You know, in federal government they work so hard on integrity and ethics, and maybe no agency more so than USGS. Because we don't manage anything and we don't regulate anything and we only have science, the only thing we have is our reputation, so we work so hard on that. There have been a few well-publicized cases of lapses in ethics or integrity that have come out, but not all that many. I haven't encountered much of it, and I think the administration has tried hard by pushing all departments to have formal scientific integrity policies that include all the way up through all the political appointees to tighten that up, and the agencies have taken this very seriously. That all is very good. And a side-effect of that has been that all the political leadership have been pushed to really understand responsible use of science and decisionmaking, too.

No one wants to be accused of some sort of lapse of scientific integrity simply because they really were simply being foolish because they didn't understand how the science should be used, and it came across as looking like scientific dishonesty.

Interview conducted and edited by reporter Paul Voosen.