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An Oregon State University study alleging that salvage logging kills off forest re-growth has sparked a wildfire of controversy ...from fellow forestry professors.

Profs Ask Journal to Reject Student’s Forestry Paper

An Oregon State University study alleging that salvage logging kills off forest re-growth has sparked a wildfire of controversy…from fellow forestry professors.

The study made headlines widely earlier this month, after it was reported that the esteemed journal Science would be publishing the results. The study asserts that forests can recover “as well or better on their own” from forest fires than if they are logged or replanted.

Now, OSU profs opposed to the study have asked Science to reconsider. It’s an unheard-of approach, to smother study results; the journal is due out this week and has told the detractors, politely, to shove off. It’s no surprise that the study, put out by OSU grad student Daniel Donato, 29, is raising hackles. After all, it was carried out on lands burned by the 2002 Biscuit wildfire in southwest Oregon, an area central to the push for salvage logging.

What’s more, the controversy represents a head-to-head clash of forestry theories, and that’s bound to get ugly. We’ve written about science getting personal before. And there are several very personal factors at play here: The fact that Donato, at 29, is getting published in a journal that many of his older, tenured peers would love to have on their resume, for one. For another, money. Forestry dollars fund some of the research put out by OSU profs. Not research performed by Donato, one assumes.

And, to be fair, there are potentially valid scientific concerns, too. Donato’s study drew a broad conclusion, but his team’s research was conducted in one area after one fire over one year — not exactly a definitive look at forest recovery.

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4 comments

  1. “Donato’s study drew a broad conclusion, but his team’s research was conducted in one area after one fire over one year — not exactly a definitive look at forest recovery.”

    Yes, I can understand the view and even the response from the other scholars on that basis. Not near enough data to conclude anything I would tend to say. Might have been better suited for a small technical works inprogress journal than a top-tier publication aimed at a large public audience.

    There seems like possibly perspective / political orientation in play on both sides (author / journal editor vs critics academic/industry).

    “Salwasser said he had reviewed a draft of the letter to Science and asked the authors to make changes, which they did. He said he agreed that Donato’s paper went too far in its conclusions but disagreed with the attempt to hold it out of Science.”

    Havent seen the article yet but it sounds like maybe this was the right middle course after it got this far. And it is just a one page piece, not a huge feature.

    The clash doesnt seem necessary but it is not surprising. I really can’t trust either “side” completely alone; try to judge on the facts they bring to the table, not sure which direction that will point (like most I tune in and out to the debate and am not an expert myself so it is hard to conclude who is more accurate/well-reasoned). Surprising to hear there isnt enough data on this in 2006.

    Until there is stronger science the politicians will do what they want and so will the courts. Unfortunately even when the science is “in”, most of the policy calls are made and will continue to be made according to political preference.
    We use experts heavily, and it sometimes seems we should trust their jugment more but there isnt always going to be agreement, industry will not stand aside and let academia decide anymmore if they ever did. Research is quite political. It all works back to which politicians the majority of voters back.

  2. Eric, hey — granted, the industry will continue with its efforts; and, the politicians will do what they wish. But, let’s hope the science continues apace, if for no other reason than because a few of us will try to be reasonable enough to be persuaded by data instead of emotion. And while the OSU study is flawed, it’s a study; hopefully the first of many; and attempting to stifle it seems over the top, to me — even if its authors had their own politics in mind.

  3. Peer review at journals quashes a lot of research on this basis (i.e. not enough data, or overbroad conclusions), the main thing that seems different here from that is voluntarily opinionated intervention of colleagues in the journal process. But that might happen more than we hear.
    I have heard some stories but others closer to the process could say better whether this is highly unusual or not that rare.

  4. howdy from Corvallis, home of OSU and “the study”. the Dean of the School of Forestry apologized for the attempt to quash the study’s publication. he and the School have caught a lot of heat, and
    rightfully so. censorship is just plain wrong.

    if you want a good analysis of the real story, read Russell Sadler’s piece in today’s BlueOregon.com. he provides some great background. http://www.blueoregon.com/2006/02/when_forests_bu.html