Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership

On 1 June 2010, the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) informed its 3,000 members that Professor Andrew Hopkins has been

“nominated for a spot on the US commission’s inquiry into the disaster’s causes”.

Andrew Hopkins has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that the nomination is not true and that the article is inaccurate.  His name was included in ill-informed speculation on membership of the United States’ commission of inquiry into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill but was never formally nominated.

The inaccurate article, which is available online, was the lead story in the SIA’s weekly electronic newsletter, OHS Professional Enews.  The newsletter states it is published by LexisNexisMedia on behalf of the SIA.  The authorship of the article cannot be determined as there is no by-line but the editor of the newsletter is Dr Steve Cowley, who has been contacted for comment.

It seems that part of the article echoes a media release produced by FutureMedia, which states:

“The recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill is considered to be the worst environmental disaster in history, killing 11 persons and causing immeasurable ecological damage.  U.S. President Barrack (sic) Obama, blaming the incident on “a breakdown of responsibility” at energy giant BP, has created an independent commission to investigate the disaster.  Professor Andrew Hopkins of the Australian National University has been nominated to be part of this commission – the only non-American to be nominated.

Professor Hopkins’ nomination is due to his extensive expertise in the field of industrial safety and accident analysis.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with Richa Sharma, the media contact listed in  the media statement.  She said that

” …the process for nomination was not a formal one .. but his name was part of the set of twelve that were recommended to the commission. …The names are suggested by some prominent personalities to be part of the commission.”

Sharma was unable to provide any further details about the nomination process related to Professor Hopkins.

When President Obama introduced the new heads of National Commission on the BP oil spill in the Gulf on 1 June 2010 – the former Senator Bob Graham of Florida and former EPA Administrator, Bill Reilly – no mention of the other members of the Commission was made.  US government media sources have been contacted to obtain a list of the other members of the Commission.

LESSONS

There are several editing and publishing lessons from the SIA article that is surely embarrassing for Professor Hopkins.

Basic journalism and editing – check the facts.

It may be necessary to delay an article in order to do this but in the OHS Professional Enews case, there was nothing urgent about the lead article that could not have waited for further clarification.

Treat all media releases with caution.

Futuremedia is a distributor of books and videos of Professor Andrew Hopkins.  There is almost always a commercial aspect to media releases.

Always identify the author or source of an article.

This is particularly important in the area of “new media” where information can be instantly distributed globally.  There is no indication that anyone’s reputation has been damaged in the SIA and Futuremedia’s actions but the risk was there, and corrections rarely gain the same attention as the initial article.   SIA’s OHS Professional Enews includes no author by lines.

The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill is justifiably receiving global attention in news, business and safety sectors.  There is a temptation to capitalise on the topicality of the issue to promote equipment and services but it is particularly when a matter is topical that extra care should be taken to ensure the accuracy of data.

The statements included in the Futuremedia release and the reference to the information by the Safety Institute seem to have caused unnecessary embarrassment to Professor Hopkins who does have an international reputation in industrial safety and sociology and has been interviewed extensively over the management culture of BP.

One phone call to Professor Hopkins was all it took to show the inaccuracy of the information in order to produce this important clarification.  The call should have been made by others much earlier.

Kevin Jones

Note:  Kevin Jones was the editor of the former weekly newsletter for the Safety Institute of Australia.  He was recommended as an editor for OHS Professional Enews but the recommendation was rejected by the SIA.

UPDATE: 3 June 2010 PM

As per the comment below, represnetative of the US Government in Australia have advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that

“U.S. government hasn’t released any information on the nominees or potential members of the Commission”

UPDATE: 4 June 2010

Dr Steve Cowley, editor of OHS Professional enews, has responded off-the-record.

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories BP, environment, evidence, media, Obama, OHS, safety, UncategorizedTags ,

5 thoughts on “Inaccurate claims made of BP spill inquiry membership”

  1. Further to the article above I have been advised by representatives of the US government in Australia that

    \”U.S. government hasn’t released any information on the nominees or potential members of the Commission.\”

    The rumour going round is that the five members of the Commission of Inquiry will be named sometime next week.

  2. Kevin, Another well researched and well written article! I can see that validation of information is a key issue with you and that we can also rely on accurate information coming from you and your blog.

    I read you blog daily and that way I keep abreast of current OHS issues. Please keep up the good work.

    Sheryl Dell, FSIA, RSP (Aust) Life Member SIA

    1. Sheryl

      One of the major advantages in writing in the blog format is that original material can be linked through to so that readers can see the source or the evidence upon which commentary and opinion is based. Opinion and commentary can often be debated and contested and that is also one of the benefits of blogging.

      The Safety Institute is one of the many organisations voicing the need to have evidence-based decision-making, in their terms the \”science of safety\”. I believe that when dealing with people, safety sometimes is an art as much as a science; sometimes it seems like a mystical art, but accuracy is important.

      Further clarification on the Hopkins situation will be reported in SafetyAtWorkBlog when received.

      Kevin

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