Bre-X: Is de Guzman Alive?

There’s a front page story, complete with an eyecatching picture, in the National Post today asking Is De Guzman Alive? I’ve posted up some comments on Bre-X before in connection with audit procedures, consensus, skeptics etc. at Bre-X #1, Bre-X #2 and Bre-X #3. De Guzman is the geologist at the heart of the salting of Bre-X assays, who supposedly committed suicide in March 1987 after the fraud was discovered. I’m also writing this note because I wanted to figure out a way to mention the season finale of 24 (which I watch faithfully.)

The season ended with the President giving deniable orders and trying to kill Jack Bauer to remove the connection between the administration and the attack on the Chinese consulate. To avoid assassination, Jack faked his own death in cooperation with his associates and was last seen walking towards Mexico, just after saving Los Angeles from nuclear destruction. Jack had had a long day.

As to the faked death: is life imitating art or vice versa? It made some sense that de Guzman might have been murdered, as he was the direct link between the physical fraud and any people that might have sponsored it. It makes sense that he might have pulled a Jack Bauer and faked his own death. But de Guzman’s suicide made no sense. It looks like there is a little more to come in this story.

So I figured out how to mention 24. It’s hard to figure out how Jack will get back to CTU to save the world again next year. My guess is that the Chinese will not accept Jack’s convenient death and Jack will have to be found. But who knows? There’s a Canadian connection to 24 – Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) is a Canadian and apparently some of the writers are. One of my friends won a silent auction at a Toronto charity for a bit part in 24. I watched carefully for him in the background at CTU, but he seems to have been left on the cutting room floor.

A moral to the Bre-X story, which I posted before and refresh again: I’m convinced that the Bre-X fraud originated not from the financiers, but by the field geologists. Incomes for field geologists in micro-cap companies are very hit and miss; it’s not like being a civil servant. If they sent good news to head office about better and better results, Bre-X could raise more money and keep the exploration funding going. The wheels fell off because, in mining businesses, you can objectively tell eventually whether there is ore or not. For some one on the business side of speculative exploration, even where there is no overt fraud, you have to be wary of your own geologists, who are unconsciously inclined to make the exploration seem more promising than it may actually be.

The amount of money being spent on climate research is a big amount. So when UCAR (the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), who receive a huge amount of federal funding for climate reasearch, issues a national press release announcing that Ammann and Wahl had merely submitted a paper supposedly showing that they had "confirmed" the hockey stick, do you think that there is a touch of self-interest in their behavior? Update (Wed. aft.) : Roger Pielke, who knows the institution, suggests in a comment below quite reasonably that the press release probably originated from the self-interest of the individual scientists, rather than corporate self-interest. I don’t view self interest in these matters on behalf of individual scientists in exclusively monetary terms, since people fight over prestige as well as money.

9 Comments

  1. Michael Jankowski
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 11:33 AM | Permalink

    Off-topic, but I find the Bre-X story fascinating. The first time I heard of it was a few months back when you (Steve) brought it up. I could not access the article you linked to, but I found this article from several years ago which touches upon the fact he could still be alive http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=M1ARTM0011386

    Back on-topic, I find it quite premature and unusual to have a press release concerning a journal submission. But I must ask – didn’t the MM work get a lot of notoriety prior to publication thanks to the internet, or am I confused on the dates?

    Nevertheless, I find it interesting that the jumps to claim “validation” came following a press release of a journal submission as opposed to an actual journal publication.

  2. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

    Most of the big publicity came after MM05 was accepted by GRL.

    There had been some publicity in fall 2004 after Richard Muller of Berkeley wrote a column in MIT Technology Review on our adventures with Nature. I had had phone interviews with reporters (Crok of Natuurwetenschap and Regalado of WSJ) prior to GRL acceptance – both of whom had got interested via the Muller article. Both were intrigued but wouldn’t proceed until GRL acceptance in the case of Natuurwetenschap and actual publication in the case of WSJ. Other publicity is pretty much derivative from these 3 sources.

    There was also publicity in fall 2003, but this was all after publication of our first E&E article, not before.

    Regards, Steve

  3. Roger Pielke Jr.
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 12:39 PM | Permalink

    Having spent 8 years at UCAR/NCAR I worked close with their media folks. Almost all of the time the motivation for a press release comes from the scientists and not the media group (UCAR is too big for the small media staff to know what everyone is up to). The issuance of press releases by any organization is of course to publicize their good work, and UCAR is no different. Being in the major media of course is useful come time to justify budgets and impact.

    However, it strains credulity to think that the Ammann and Wahl press release had anything to do with interests in UCAR funding, or climate funding generally. (Scientists do obviously have interests and these are important to consider in climate policy, see, e.g., this paper: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2003.01.pdf) The release of a press release for a paper submitted but not yet reviewed, with no other “hook” than being on the very same day that you fellows are giving your own press briefing in DC gives pretty strong evidence that the press release was a preemptory political tactic in the ongoing public battle over the meaning and significance of the hockey stick.

  4. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 12:51 PM | Permalink

    Hi, Roger. Fair enough. You know the people, I don’t. I’m used to corporate situations, where press releases are pretty centralized and the purposes are to meet corporate objectives and obligations. The idea that someone from the bowels of the organization could instigate national press releases by the institution is a novel one to me, but I’m getting used to many novel circumstances and certainly can’t say that it doesn’t happen at UCAR.

    I often feel like an anthropologist in the land of academics, since I’m not used to many strange customs that are second nature to academics, but quite unusual to a civilian.

    I saw your interesting post about why protagonists were involved in the hockey stick debate and will try to post up my point of view. Now that I’m engaged in the debate, it obviously affects my motives, but I’m pretty objective about things and it’s a good question.

    Regards, Steve

  5. Posted May 25, 2005 at 2:57 PM | Permalink

    Also more on this story at canoe.ca.

  6. Roger Pielke Jr.
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 3:12 PM | Permalink

    Steve- When you do this we’ll be happy to either publish on our site or link to yours. And of course we’d be happy do the same for anyone else involved. And yes, academia is a unique place!

  7. Louis Hissink
    Posted May 30, 2005 at 5:17 AM | Permalink

    He committed suicide? Hmm, Steve, you have more “close to source” data than any of us, but for an operation the size of Bre-X, we have gofers, and the deep throats – geologists here being occasionally dientifiable as “gofers”.

    Once you have finished demolishing the hockey stick have a very careful look at some of the diamond plays.

    I feel that another Bre-X is in the wind, it is already there but no one has cottoned onto it, or, fallow ground is being expertly prepared for Son of Bre-X.

    Localising it to Australia, I make it a rule of thumb that Stock Exchange Quarterly rerports should report ” facts”. Hence if one is studying an operating mining operation, Qtr production figures for tons mined, valuable commodity recovered, and sales, (taking in account lag times for processing etc) should be easily typed into a suitabl;y designed spreadsheet.

    Think of it as a matric or crosssword into which the empty cells need to be populated once mineral processing catches up etc, the usual mining and metallurgial facts which we in the mining industry accept as “normal”.

    So when the “Matrix” cannot be filled completely from 2.5 years mining, one starts to wonder.

    To make it simple, there are only two diamond producers in Oz.

    :-()

  8. TCO
    Posted Sep 18, 2005 at 8:55 PM | Permalink

    I’ve never seen 24. Is it any good? I usually don’t like TV shows.

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