Posted by: salamandercandy | February 12, 2006

Felling disagreeable results hinders science

Here at Oregon State, a grad student recently published a paper in the journal Science, with data suggesting that logging after a wildfire is not good for forest regeneration, and can increase the risk of another fire. For those who don’t know, Science is rivaled only by the journal Nature as the most impressive place to publish a peer-reviewed article, and few graduate students get this honor. Prior to its publication, several scientists in our College of Forestry wrote to Science asking the journal to delay publication, as these scientists disagreed with the results. It is probably not a coincidence that the College of Forestry gets a lot of funding from the logging industry. Fortunately, Science turned down their request.

Censorship is rarely a good idea, and it was certainly inappropriate in this case. The scientific process does depend on peer-review, but the peers aren’t supposed to self-select (they are chosen by the journal editor). I’m not a forest ecologist myself, and so I can’t vouch for the quality of the study. I know that bad papers do get published sometimes, even in Science and Nature. Just because a paper is published doesn’t mean it’s the Truth. However, faulty conclusions are usually corrected by subsequent papers. If you have a problem with someone else’s study that has passed the peer-review process fairly, you should publish another paper showing why the first one is wrong. That’s the free and open exchange of ideas which is vital to science.

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