Letter: Jon Jonakin to TTU Administration, re: Fitzgerald, Jan. 18, 2018

January 18, 2018

President Oldham, Vice President Soni, Vice-President Brewer, Associate Dean Hoy, Associate Dean Motevalli, Professor Killman:

I am contacting you regarding the Fitzgerald Glider-sponsored research that was carried out under the auspices of TTU and the leadership of the Principle Investigator, Chair and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Professor Benjamin Mohr.  As I am sure you are aware, the TTU report on the research concluded that trucks outfitted with the Fitzgerald Glider kits and rebuilt engines evidenced pollution emissions no greater than those emissions from new truck engines.  The TTU research was subsequently used by the U.S. EPA–and with the apparent full endorsement of TTU–to support the agency’s suspension of a proposed rule that would have imposed costly pollution control regulations on the glider industry.  I presume, as well, that you are aware of the subsequent and scathing criticism that the TTU glider research has come under.  That criticism, I would argue, is well-founded, extensive, and deeply disturbing.  In the attached two links below you will find examples of the expert witness criticisms of the TTU research.  I am not aware of any substantive rebuttals that those involved with the TTU research have offered by way of reply to this criticism.



What all this suggests to me and many others in the TTU community that I have spoken with is that we have not only provided a shoddy product in the aforementioned research but that it has also involved us in what is easily understood and perceived as conflicts of interest.   Conducting proprietary, sponsored research on behalf of a for-profit corporation that promises to help that corporation’s ‘bottom line’ via its effect on public policy should alert all concerned to the need to provide quality research and thereby avoid any hint of a conflict of interest.  The TTU research utterly fails in this regard.  The establishment of the TTU Center for Intelligent Mobility [CIM] in Fitzgerald-provided space further heightens the unavoidable perception of a conflict of interest.   Indeed, the presence of conflicts of interest in the establishment of research ‘Centers’ at TTU is not a unique occurrence.  The now defunct TTU Center for Health Care Informatics had as its appointed director an individual who quickly and conveniently established himself as a the head of a local company that then became a client of the same TTU Center.

What the TTU glider research further suggests is that the university has failed in its oversight of research and in its due diligence of ‘sponsored research’ in particular.  These failings raise critical questions:  Was the Principle Investigator, a civil engineer, the appropriate engineering professional for the research?  Was the Principle Investigator directly involved in the testing of the engines at the Fitzgerald site and in the preparation of the report on the research?  Does the university have policies that govern issues related to individual competence and procedure in matters concerning this type of sponsored research?  I have reviewed the university’s two policies [TTU Policy #750 and TTU Policy #780] that deal with the conduct of research.  It would appear to me in light of the criticisms made of the report and the relationship of TTU’s CIM with Fitzgerald that at least two violations of university Policy 780 [Misconduct in Research] are likely to have occurred: Policy 780, Section IV.E: “Conflict of Interest and Commitment: the real or apparent interference of one person’s interest with another, where potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships.”; and Policy 780, Section IV.H: “Falsification: manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results, such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.”

Regarding Section IV.E and conflict of interest: The establishment of TTU’s CIM in space provided by Fitzgerald Gliders and in close conjunction with the questionable research favorable to Fitzgerald’s interests is a sufficient basis for an investigation involving a possible conflict of interest.

Regarding Section IV.H and falsification/manipulation of data: There are plausible grounds for believing that an intentional misrepresentation of the results of the study has occurred by manipulating the study in a way that ignored the pollutants of concern: nitrogen oxides and particulate matter [PM].  From the above attached EDF link, the second of the two:

[from page 18]: Regarding PM levels from glider vehicles, TTU’s letter indicated that the PM levels for all 13 test vehicles were “below the threshold detection point” and, consequently, no test data were presented. This is a misleading statement. In fact, TTU did not measure PM at all. EPA staff confirmed in a recent discussion with TTU representatives (including Thomas Brewer, one of the authors of the TTU June 15, 2017 test summary letter), that TTU had not measured PM levels. Instead, TTU had attempted to draw conclusions concerning PM levels via visual inspection and collected no PM emission data. The report’s conclusion that “[a]ll vehicles met the standard” for PM is simply not supported by TTU’s testing because TTU conceded (only after follow-up inquiry) that it did not even measure PM emission levels for any of the test vehicles.

[from page 20]: First, TTU has not provided sufficient description of its test program to allow an independent assessment of their conclusions. As noted in the preceding section, the only vehicle-specific numeric data provided were CO emission levels.  But CO emissions are not the pollutant of concern for EPA for the purpose of the Phase 2 Standards or this Proposed Rule. The pollutants of concern — the ones creating the manifest public health hazard — are NOx and PM. Thus, TTU’s proffered conclusion that a glider vehicle achieved “the best result”—if based on the CO emission results, which is never clarified—is entirely misleading.

[from page 21]: “Meanwhile, TTU inexplicably did not report any individual vehicle NOx emission test values.  More generally, the summary report omits vital information on testing conditions that are essential to interpret and verify the report.”

The above expert criticism is sufficient to indicate the possible presence of an intentional suppression of data [on vehicle-specific NOx levels and overall PM levels] vital to the research at hand.   How could TTU have undertaken to do research on pollution emissions from rebuilt engines and subsequently failed to measure or report accuarately or appropriately that data regarding the two pollutants of immediate concern?   Apart from intentional manipulation or omission of data, the only other possible explanation would be gross incompetence on the part of the TTU researchers and those who prepared the report.

Finally, let me say that TTU’s reputation is at stake here and, more importantly, the health and well-being of millions of people, as is made clear in the attached documents.  The issues raised here need to be faced, discussed, and formally investigated.  It is my hope that the TTU Faculty Senate and the governing Board will undertake investigations of this matter as well.

Many of us in the TTU community feel that the administration fails to understand the potential negative effects this incident can have on the university going forward.   In this regard and by way of mitigating the immediate problem, I would like to ask that the university publically acknowledge that there are profound problems associated with this study and, further, that TTU should request that the EPA withdraw the study from consideration in the current matter of whether and how to regulate the glider industry.

Regards, Jon Jonakin, Emeritus Professor of Economics, TTU


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