Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The great Canadian rock snot scare of 2014

A rock covered with the aquatic algae Didymosphenia geminata -- known as didymo, or rock snot -- is lifted from Vermont's White River in a 2007 photo.

It was a story about rock snot.

And if there’s a person you want to talk to about the pervasive algae also known by the less-offensive, more scientific name of Didymo, it’s Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist Max Bothwell.
Bothwell is, other scientists will tell you, the rock snot man. He wrote the book. Or in this case, co-authored a published article in a renowned scientific journal.

But a request from The Canadian Press to speak to Bothwell when the article was published in May failed to produce an interview.

What it did produce was 110 pages of emails to and from 16 different federal government communications operatives, according to documents obtained using access to information legislation.

Many hours after the request was made the morning of May 8, an email from Robin Browne, strategic communications advisor for the Communications Division of Environment Canada, contained a list of responses for the approval of David Boerner, director general for water science and technology in the ministry.

“CP asked to interview Max today but media relations is negotiating that to buy us more time. Thanks!” he wrote.

Not long before that Bothwell — described by the co-author of the article as “really the Yoda of knowledge about Didymo” — tried to hurry things along.

“I will search my computer for the approved responses from the last interview,” Bothwell wrote to a growing list of media handlers.

That unleashed a frenzy of emails trying to find the aforementioned “approved” responses. It appeared they were not located, and approval had to begin from scratch.
The emails refer to “agreed answers” for the scientist and “approved interview script” throughout.
“Can we prepare answers to these questions please,” Danny Kingsberry, acting manager of media relations, wrote. “I will get necessary approvals and we will schedule the interview after.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The Canadian Press story about Bothwell’s breakthrough on the origins of this pervasive algae appeared on news sites and in newspapers across the country without Max Bothwell, a research scientist at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C.

Canadian Press

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