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The Geisinger Embarrassment: No Study, Just Junk Science

peer reviewed health - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.


The much ballyhooed Geisinger health study never happened; instead, it passed along its data for use in fractivist junk science and anti-gas campaigns.

I’m sick to death of supposed scientists using their credentials to advance ideological agendas. A recent series of junk science reports constructed upon the foundation of data from Geisinger Health Systems illustrates. It’s an embarrassment – the Geisinger embarrassment.

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Geisinger Health Systems started many decades ago as a first class hospital in Central Pennsylvania and that facility continues in this tradition, savings lives every day. The institution encompassing that hospital, though, has been on an empire building mission for years now. It has been gobbling up smaller facilities and expanding its footprint geographically and program-wise to make itself a health care powerhouse. Along the way it’s started losing its way. Now, it’s participating in junk science.

A few years ago, it decided fracking was the buzzword that might allow it to become a research institution as well as a health care provider. Geisinger figured its access to data from its many facilities across much of Pennsylvania’s gas fields could be leveraged to secure big money from the gas industry – $25 million – to do extensive studies on health patterns in the region. The industry was interested in exploring the idea and met with Geisinger and some other health care providers in the region for that purpose. I was there.

It was a very friendly meeting. Geisinger insisted it had no agenda. The study would not proceed on the assumption there were, in fact, any particular health impacts from Marcellus Shale development. There was, nonetheless, a problem that quickly became apparent. Geisinger had already announced its intention to do such a study. It was referring to it as a study “to determine whether natural gas drilling in the Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale is harming residents.” The presumption was that gas drilling and/or fracking might be effecting health.

This, together with the fact nearly all academic studies end with “more study is needed” meant two things. First, the headline writers would inevitably skip over the details to say any bit of data or writing on the subject would generate “Fracking Might Impact Your Health” titles. If the question was posed whether gas drilling was somehow the culprit in some health condition found in Geisinger’s database, the answer would be an equivocal yes, no matter what the data showed.

Secondly, it was clear any health study with the words “Marcellus Shale” in the name would be use by fractivists to suggest a conclusion had already been made and only the detailed proof was needed. They would also use the study to argue for delays with any and all projects, as proved to be case two years later when Howard Zucker and New York Governor Corruptocrat a/k/a Cuomo used the study not to approve fracking “at this time” in New York. As Dr. Theodore Them, a member of the study collaborative committee, observed in reacting to the Zucker punch:

There is no such study. This writer personally sat on that initial, “collaborative” committee, composed of representatives of Geisinger Health System, TheGuthrie Clinic, and Susquehanna Health. No firm path was set, no related funding was ultimately secured, and no study has, or will be, completed as part of this “collaborative.”

Industry representatives were, for these subsequently justified reasons, highly skeptical regarding the likely outcomes of the study if the project was to be focused on Marcellus Shale. Geisinger reps said it wouldn’t be, despite the already existing problems of the way it had been portrayed in the press. They said all the right things:

The biggest problem is that there is no data to know whether there is a health concern or not…We’re not going into this with any preconceived bias. It’s not a “gotcha study.” We’re not anti-fracking. We would just like to know.

The problem was that these comments also appeared in a Keystone Physician article on the subject of the study where the study director referred to gas drilling as “intense industrial activity.” Moreover, the piece included a “Clean. Destructive. Job-Creating. Unsafe.” banner suggesting this would be the mother of all studies on how Marcellus Shale development was effecting health, implying there must be some impacts or the study would be so focused on this one industry.

Members of the industry decided, for this reason, among others (not the least of which was a concern with credibility in the case of a study funded by the industry), not to fund the study. There was too much focus  on the Marcellus Shale as the prospective cause of heath care problems in the region, contrary to what was stated in the meeting, where the need to avoid such appearances was acknowledged by all. Studying the overall health of patients throughout the targeted area in a manner should not presume potential causes of problems before they are investigated, they stated. They also said they were hopeful statements made in the meeting indicating the study would, in fact, be a  “collection of data looking at the population in general” would be fully realized as the work goes forward.

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A typical image associated with the Geisinger health study; this one from NPR with the explanation “William Reigle has fibrosis, a disease that may be aggravated by nearby fracking.” No bias intended, of course.

None of that was to be. Geisinger got no money other than the small support of the Degenstein Foundation. The direction of the study obviously had to change and it became a series of junk science studies everyone in the industry feared and Geisinger had promised wouldn’t happen. It was predictable. Geisinger’s Research Connections newsletter soon reported Brian S. Schwartz had become a member of their team (emphasis added):

Brian Schwartz, MD, MS is Professor of Environmental Hea1th Sciences, Epidemiology and Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director and Senior Investigator of the Environmental Health Institute, Geisinger Center for Health Research. His research applies the methods of occupational, environmental, and molecular epidemiology to studying the health,effects of chemicals. Recently he has studied how land use and energy use are contributing to global climate change, ecosystem ~ degradation, biodiversity and species losses, and ultimately, posing important risks to individual and population health.

That last sentence, of course, was the tip-off but, even so, it greatly understated things. Schwartz had previously been quoted in a 2008 Baltimore Sun article entitled “The Coming Black Plague” (proudly linked on the Geisinger site) saying the US faced a peak oil problem:

To plan for this inevitable downturn, nations must quickly shift toward renewable fuels, including solar energy and wind, Schwartz said. The United States must start to conserve energy and change living patterns so that people no longer commute from sprawling suburbs. People need to walk to work, use mass transit and start eating food from local farms so they don’t depend on fish and fruit flown in from Asia and South America, he said.

“Countries are not prepared for this at all,” Schwartz said. “And because they are not prepared, they will tend to go toward temporary solutions like burning more coal and oil shale that will only make climate change worse.”

This is the radical Geisinger hired to help with its unbiased study; a renewables utopian already committed to the idea shale was bad and oil and gas a contributor to poor health. He’s a peak oil fellow, a member of the Post Carbon Institute who, as we noted earlier, is a shale hater. He’s also produced one junk science study after another using Geisinger’s data irresponsibly to suggest a host of calamities might caused by drilling and/or fracking although he offers no causation evidence whatsoever. There was the low birth weight study, debunked here. There was the radon study, the migraine study and the asthma study – all 100% junk.

It’s one hit job after another from Geisinger, in fact, as the health system descends into irrelevancy as a research outfit. Everything it promised wouldn’t happen with its data has happened. Call the Geisinger embarrassment but it’s much worse than that. Geisinger has sacrificed its integrity for advocacy and cheap publicity. It was intentional.

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10 thoughts on “The Geisinger Embarrassment: No Study, Just Junk Science

  1. In many respects scientists have forgotten the scientific method and replaced it with social justice, environmental activism, and progressive social political ideology. The monkeys are loose and controlling the debate, research, and message. PA has long-term historic problems with water quality and health and much is background, such as arsenic corrosion, methane and radon, but also caused by us, such as bacteria, salt, lead, and nutrients. Time for us to act like adults not children!

  2. The scientific community is just like New York politicians, for a fee which is often hidden, you can buy your science to.
    Example: Howarth and ingraffea.

    • We’ve proved it over and over, but you seem to ignore the fact the burden of proof is on those making claims such as those involved with the Geisinger data manipulation who offer zero evidence of causation. That’s the point, Bob.

  3. Peer Review

    Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Scholarly peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal or as a book. Peer review requires a community of experts in a given (and often narrowly defined) field, who are qualified and able to perform reasonably impartial review.

    A pertinent consideration [in determining whether a theory or technique is scientific knowledge that will assist the trier of fact] is whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication. See: Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.(1993)

    I advocate subjecting claims to peer review i.e. publish in a scientific or professional journal and pass the ‘Daubert’ test for legible admissible scientific evidence. The latter is basis to preclude allowing ‘junk’ science from entering the courtroom.

    Richard W Goodwin 9/5/16

    • Sadly, we have seen how the peer review can be perverted by dishonesty in the peer reviews. Take the odious Sandra Steingraber (please!), who’s anti-fracking views are well known, and how she lied and said she could be objective when she reviewed the paper that Howard Zucker waved around as his basis for recommending a ban on fracking. Then she turned around and showed her true colors by celebrating the ban.

      • peer review also requires publication in a scientific or technical journal – thus precluding the individual prejudices of single reviewers – I have served as a peer review for journal presentation and my comments were reviewed by journal editor and fellow reviewers – author was allowed to revise article based upon agreed to comments

        I am developing an article using peer review publications in evaluating Hydraulic Fracturing Effects on Environmental and Health – I intend to publish this article

        I hope to be able to show how the ban of HF is unwarranted based on Peer Review Science –

        Goodwin, R.W.; “Contributions of Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing to the USA Economy”;OilPro, January 29, 2015
        This article discusses how horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are directly related to Previous Economic Benefits , Falling Gasoline prices – helping consumers while inducing an industry-wide temporary slow-down with a moderate rebound and hurting those Oil Dependent Countries that support terrorists. This article also predicts that Crude Oil Prices could return to $60-80/bbl within 2016

        CO’s rejected on HF ban for placement as ballot item and US Chamber of Commerce discussion of economic loss if ban is implemented shows from both economic and scientific basis HF bans are not justified

  4. Pingback: Marcellus and Utica Gas Production Nowhere Near Peaking

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