Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bipartisan idiocy.

Is it a good idea to cut down all the big trees that manage to survive a forest fire? Common sense (pace Bush) and the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence say no. The Bush Forestry Department says yes.

So some forestry students add yet another study saying no, again, and get hauled before the House subcommittee on forests and forest health to explain themselves.

The study also questions the scientific rationale behind a bill pending in Congress that would ease procedures for post-fire logging in federal forests. This, in turn, has annoyed the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has received far more campaign money from the forest products industry than from any other source, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), another member of the subcommittee and a co-sponsor of the forest recovery bill, was even more disgruntled. He charged Donato [the study's lead author] with a long list of professional failings and character flaws, including "deliberate bias," lack of humility and ignorance of statistical theory.

Did I mention that Donato et al.'s study got published in Science? For those of you who don't follow the science world, that's the most prestigious scientific journal in this country. Getting your study into Science is the equivalent of getting your short story in the New Yorker, except that the people who review submissions for Science are rigorous. A paper submitted to any peer-refereed journal gets read, anonymously, by other members of the field, who ask searching, careful questions that must be addressed through revisions to the paper before the journal will agree to publish. This is doubly true of Science. Accusing Donato of "ignorance of statistical theory" in his work is like telling a doctor he doesn't understand the theory of infectious disease. It's fucking ridiculous.

I think the Washington Post does a pretty good job covering the environment, on the whole. But the twisting of language runs so deep when it comes to environmental issues that Blaine Harden, a reporter otherwise doing a good job, refers to Rep. Walden's proposal as a "forest recovery" bill without the quotes, in the paper's own voice. He allows Bush's pronouncement that logging after a fire is "common sense" to pass without challenge--indeed, even puts it in conflict with "sound science," reinforcing the pernicious idea that science is not commonsensical.

Again, this is an article I think better than average. It does a very economical job of dispatching those of the students' professors at Oregon State who tried to block the publication of the study, an action for which they have been found formally at fault by the university. That, to me, is a whole other kind of nasty--the corruption of science by industry grants.

Salvage logging and replanting can often succeed, Franklin said, if the intent is to turn a scorched landscape into a stand of trees for commercial harvest.

If, however, Congress wants to promote the ecologically sound recovery of burned federal forests, Franklin said, the overwhelming weight of scientific research suggests that "salvage logging is not going to be appropriate."

There would be some honor in wanting National Forests to be commercial monocultures, I suppose, if you were willing to stand up and champion it. It annoys me, though, that those who do want National Forests to be commercial enterprises above all can advance toward that vision while claiming to be for ecologically sound management, get angry when they are challenged by scientific evidence, and for the most part get away with it. I am thinking of starting a campaign for journalism schools in the U.S.: as a condition of graduation, each candidate must have a very small, laminated version of Politics and the English Language permanently bonded to the palm of his or her non-writing hand.

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