Archive | November 2015

Do numbers matter?

OK, what numbers are we talking about?  GG is considering academic numbers.  What makes the best professor? If you read an obituary for a local academic, you likely will see the phrase “author of XXX papers and YY books…” stand in for something meaningful about their academic contribution.

As scientists we are always eager to have a quantitative measure to use.  For many years, research productivity was measured in numbers of papers, with papers to Nature and Science being multiplied by some factor. But of course we all knew that a lot of these papers might be shingled, or might be tripe. You might adjust for being first author, or having a student as first author and so on. So along comes citation indices, and now the numbers that folks like to tout are citations–total citations, citations per paper, h indices, g indices and the like. But of course there is danger here too: papers can be widely cited for being wrong, or a paper just happily serves as a surrogate for a broader literature. And there are self-citation issues.  Toss into the mix the variation in churn between different disciplines and citations can be a hard measure to use.  Probably better than numbers of papers, but still imperfect.

Same thing goes on the teaching side.  Is it better to teach lots more students in big classes?  Financially for the university, yes.  But does this provide the best learning experience? No. Similarly, does having a lot of grad students result in better experiences than only 1 or two? Maybe; it really depends on the situation.

So GG would like to argue that there is precisely one number than matters, and that number is zero.

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Better late than never…

Its been awhile since we visited the homes shaking on the range…

A recent note in Energywire on the likely imminent collapse of one oil and gas company happens to cover a number of actions by regulators in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas that are putting the squeeze on some oil and gas operators in the area.  The cause? Regulators have finally started approaching injection wells with caution.

What is going on, according to the story, is

“…a widespread effort in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas to decrease tremors. Methods include shutting down wastewater injection wells, making the wells more shallow or decreasing the amount of water in each. Operators in Oklahoma made 137 wells shallower since July and decreased the volume in 61 others.

“Arkansas shut down four wells believed to be causing quakes while Kansas halved the amount of wastewater that companies can inject for 72 wells….”

This has hit SandRidge Energy particularly hard as this is their home area; between the reduction in capacity for their disposal wells and the current drop in oil prices, the company faces bankruptcy.

There is nothing like serious financial consequences to get industry’s attention, and the potential failure of a company has got to get the attention of industry leaders. Hopefully the response is to approach the whole injection well process with greater caution; this would be best for all involved.  Most injection wells seem to have little capacity for creating earthquakes, but some clearly do cause them. Allowing for the possibility that a well could cause trouble in planning for the well and budgeting for it  will make it far less likely that troublesome wells will continue to be operated. While this isn’t as strong a message as being directly saddled with liability, it is a good step forward.

Its not like the oil and gas industry never deals with uncertainty.  They have loads of experience in evaluating the prospect of failure in their exploration and production activities; extending this to include issues with seismicity in injection wells should be a no-brainer.

Walk away from wealth?

One of the great challenges facing the world is to face the decision to leave recognized resources in the ground, resources found and made exploitable by the expenditure of considerable time and money. It is very clear that oil, coal and gas need to stay in the ground to avoid profound climatic changes. But how can this happen?  Have we ever walked away from making money by digging things up just to avoid an environmental mess?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes.

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