This is a pretty amazing story. A graduate student at Oregon State University does a little study and gets it published in Science. Good for him, right?
Well, no, because his results are inconvenient for the thuggish cabal running Congress.
You see, Daniel Donato’s study showed that post-fire logging hurt forest regrowth, and Congress was busy considering legislation that would allow timber companies to salvage log after fires on federal land. This was always a sop to timber companies, but it was sold with a veneer of science: that salvage logging aided regrowth. So Donato’s timing was unfortunate.
Oregon State Forestry Dean Hal Salwasser, who supported the bill, started getting grumpy emails from his extraction buddies in industry and politics:
"Nice Work!" Oregon state Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli sarcastically declared in an e-mail to the dean. Such research, he wrote, amounted to "rifle shots politically directed at resource producers and timber-dependent communities."
Columbia Helicopters Inc. Vice President Max Merlich complained to Salwasser: "The likelihood of this paper being used successfully against us in court on salvage logging litigation is very high.
"How OSU handles this from this point on could play an important part on our issues," said Merlich, whose Oregon based-company hauls logs by helicopter out of steep or remote sites in national forest timber sales, much of it in salvage projects.
Merlich’s comments could not be easily ignored by the College of Forestry, which gets 12% of its research funding from state timber receipts.
Salwasser suddenly decided that the researchers had "overreached" — a scientific blunder that apparently went undetected by the peer review process. But he’s just an objective observer, right?
… [Salwasser’s] alliances are clear in the e-mails. In one message to a lumber company employee, he called anti-logging activists "scam artists" and "goons" and said their appeals and lawsuits are a variation on Mafia "protection" tactics.
In the weeks after the paper’s publication, the two leading sponsors of the salvage legislation, Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon and Democratic Rep. Brian Baird of Washington, put Donato on the hot seat at a congressional field hearing in Oregon.
And in a highly unusual move, some senior forestry faculty wrote Science, saying the paper was not fit for publication.
"It certainly was an attempt" at censorship, said Science Editor in Chief Donald Kennedy …
When science bumps up against corporate favors, it’s science that has to give.