Skip

BLM Pulls Funding After Controversial Results Emerge
February 7, 2006 1:58 PM   Subscribe

First it was announced that an Oregon State University graduate student was publishing a story in the journal Science. titled, "Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk," which undercut Bush administration-backed arguments for post-wildfire logging. A week later it was made public that nine professors in the College of Forestry (which gets 10% of its funding from a logging tax) lobbied the journal not to publish the article. Among them was John Sessions, lead author of a report that pressed the U.S. Forest Service to expand salvage logging. After attention was brought to the professors' attempts to keep the article from being published, many worried about the university's reputation regarding academic freedom, if not the state of academic freedom throughout the academic world. However if it wasn't difficult enough to just worry about your own professors standing in the way of getting your data published, you also have to worry about the government pulling your funding if your data doesn't match the data they want to see.

"The Bureau of Land Management acknowledged Monday that it asked OSU if the three-year study led by graduate student Daniel Donato and published last month in the journal Science violated provisions of a $300,000 federal fire research grant that prohibits using any of the funds to lobby Congress and requires that a BLM scientist be consulted before the research is published."

"It's totally without precedent as far as I can recollect," said Jerry Franklin, a professor at the University of Washington who has studied Northwest forests for decades. "It says, 'If we don't like what you're saying, we'll cut off your money.' "
posted by pwb503 (51 comments total)

 
Information I wanted to include in the FPP but thoguht it was too long already...

Upon further review however, "Donald Kennedy, Science magazine editor in chief... said it was the journal's fault that legislation was mentioned in a [online] summary of the study. The researchers had asked them to take it out, but he said the editors failed to do it."

Administrators at OSU and scientists elsewhere said they could not recall another instance of the federal government suspending funding for research after controversial results emerge.

It appears the decision to pull the funding was made by was made by a deputy director of BLM in Oregon (unsure which one) not by anyone higher up in the government. If you feel academic freedom is being trampled upon these folks and the BLM directly would like to hear from you.
posted by pwb503 at 1:59 PM on February 7, 2006


I was just thinking about this yesterday. Until now, the US Government has tried to find out what the facts are and develop policies based on what they find.

Over the last several years, the policy has been developed and then the facts are 'found' to support it.

This is _exactly_ what we used to criticize the Soviet Union for, back in the day. And we can see how well that worked out for them.
posted by Malor at 2:03 PM on February 7, 2006


I should say... "Until Bush took office", not "until now", sorry.
posted by Malor at 2:03 PM on February 7, 2006


[more inside]
posted by LarryC at 2:07 PM on February 7, 2006


Malor: It probably seems that way, but there have been vested interests in government forever. Think about all the studies NOT funded because they might show something to be true.
posted by beerbajay at 2:09 PM on February 7, 2006


This is why the government has no business providing funding for any grad student's "research". Any academic, truely interested in research, should refuse to accept government money and pay his or her own way.

You can't suckle from the government's teat and then cry when it gets pulled away.
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 PM on February 7, 2006


This type of well-put together FPP scares me more than any amount of newsfilter regarding the spew that comes out of Bush and/or Cheney and/or Rumsfeld's mouth on a given day.

This doesn't make sense on any level: The assumption seems to be that short-term political gain is worth silencing a science report on long-term environmental effects. But what exactly is the BLM gaining, other than the ability to hand out some plum contracts for a few years? Hell, there's money to be made in environmental stewardship if people would just get over their outmoded thinking.

Ugg. Bush in a flightsuit is bad, but this type of intellectual dishonesty is doubleplus nogood, and comparisons to the Soviet Union are fair and far from Godwinesque.
posted by bardic at 2:11 PM on February 7, 2006


three blind mice: grad student =! academic, in the sense that a professor who turns down government funding (a practical impossibility in most branches of hard science and medical research, BTW) still draws a salary. A grad. student doesn't, or at least not one that feeds her and pays the rent.

Remember that whole space race thing? There was a time when government and the academy worked hand-in-hand for some great accomplishments. These days? Not so much. Actually, worse than not so much.
posted by bardic at 2:14 PM on February 7, 2006


three blind mice: that's silly. The government should be neutral to the results of the findings. It's the government's responsibility to serve us by basing its policies in reality.

That the government doesn't operate that way currently is not a valid justification to not take government funding, but it is a justification to fix the government.
posted by beerbajay at 2:14 PM on February 7, 2006


And very good post pwb503. Well done.
posted by three blind mice at 2:15 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM, do grad students have $300,000 to do studies? None that I know of.
posted by caddis at 2:15 PM on February 7, 2006


This is why the government has no business providing funding for any grad student's "research". Any academic, truely interested in research, should refuse to accept government money and pay his or her own way.

You can't suckle from the government's teat and then cry when it gets pulled away.
posted by three blind mice at 2:11 PM PST on February 7


Good idea. Take time away from our brightest citizens so that they have to wait tables at Olive Garden for a month to get five minutes with an electron microscope.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:17 PM on February 7, 2006


Excellent, excellent post, pwb503.

Thank you.
posted by codeofconduct at 2:18 PM on February 7, 2006


The government should be neutral to the results of the findings. It's the government's responsibility to serve us by basing its policies in reality.

On which planet beerbajay? I don't mean to be flippant, but c'mon, isn't this just a little bit naïve?

How can you expect "the government" to be neutral to the results when they are not neutral to what they fund?
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 PM on February 7, 2006


When you thought it was too long already you were right. Good content, but terrible use of the front page. It looks like three separate posts.
posted by soyjoy at 2:20 PM on February 7, 2006


Good idea. Take time away from our brightest citizens so that they have to wait tables at Olive Garden for a month to get five minutes with an electron microscope.

Good idea. Give money to our brightest citizens so that they will produce research that justifies the political agenda of the government. And when they don't you cut their funding and find someone who will.
posted by three blind mice at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM, do grad students have $300,000 to do studies? None that I know of.

caddis, any grad student that accepts $300,000 from the government loses any objectivity that they might claim to have.

when is the last time someone handed 300 large to you with no strings attached?
posted by three blind mice at 2:24 PM on February 7, 2006


You can't suckle from the government's teat and then cry when it gets pulled away.

Nice. Remember this in 2031 when that Giant Transpacific Sucking Sound moves America's next generation of scientists to China and India for the research funding opportunities...
posted by Vetinari at 2:27 PM on February 7, 2006


Great and alarming post.
posted by ori at 2:28 PM on February 7, 2006


Good idea. Give money to our brightest citizens so that they will produce research that justifies the political agenda of the government. And when they don't you cut their funding and find someone who will.
posted by three blind mice at 2:22 PM PST on February 7


What we can conclude from this, tbm, is the the government should not disburse or deny funding to a researcher based on how favorable the research is to that administration's, not that we should forgo governmental assistance to all research forever.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:30 PM on February 7, 2006


Linking "BLM" to their website? What is this, wikipedia?
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on February 7, 2006


excellent post, thanks

(also, I used to think my posts were way too long...)

;)

posted by matteo at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM, if contemporary scientific research was done by dropping two balls from the top of a tower, you'd have a point.
posted by bardic at 2:35 PM on February 7, 2006


I'm still trying to figure out how three blind mice expects any research to get done. Seriously, are you, or have you ever been a grad student? Do you have any understanding of how actual, scientific research gets funded? The money's got to come from somewhere, and, nearing the end of my PhD studies, I can't envision any way I could have even started my project without government funding. It would have been impossible. If the money doesn't come from the government, then it must come from private enterprise, which has a much longer record of pulling findings they don't like, and which is unlikely to fund the broad range of scientific studies that take place anyway. If not from private enterprise, then from some sort of foundation / patronage - that sort of money is very hard to come by.
posted by Jimbob at 2:35 PM on February 7, 2006


Seriously, are you, or have you ever been a grad student? Do you have any understanding of how actual, scientific research gets funded? The money's got to come from somewhere, and, nearing the end of my PhD studies, I can't envision any way I could have even started my project without government funding.

MSEE from Georgia Tech, Jimbob. My research was funded by a private company with deep pockets who definitely had an interest in the reseach - and the outcome.

Pardon me for thinking that government funding is any different.
posted by three blind mice at 2:42 PM on February 7, 2006


What we can conclude from this, tbm, is the the government should not disburse or deny funding to a researcher based on how favorable the research is to that administration's, not that we should forgo governmental assistance to all research forever.

I agree Optimus Chyme, but to imagine that government is not politically biased is to believe in the Tooth Fairy.
posted by three blind mice at 2:44 PM on February 7, 2006


3bmice: I too think that _expecting_ any government to fund/cut funding some research somebody may really be damaged from is hopelessy naive : just lobby=pay the appropriate representative.

Consider that it is also very naive to expect any private industry to finance anything that doesn't even appear to have a corresponding market demand (or have good potential to generate a new market).

Which leaves a vacuum : excluding occasional unexpected discoveries, who studies fact that may _become_ controversial from any political angle ? Who is going to study natural phenomenons that don't appear to relate to any demand ?
posted by elpapacito at 2:45 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM, one of the things that turned us into the world power that we are today was the funding of basic research in the 1940s and 50s. We're still finding new gems in the data we accumulated back then.

The problem with corporate-led research is that it's always results-driven. It's always about marketable products, and about directly making money. Basic research isn't like that... it's tinkering with the fundamentals, just finding out how stuff works for the hell of it. Directly, it appears to be a waste of money, but over the long haul, it has always paid off at least 10 to 1. Most individual research projects don't result in much immediate benefit, but every once in awhile, someone knocks one out of the park and changes everything. And you get later insights, from people in other lines of study..."Hey, you remember that government project X, back in the early 2000s? Their result seems to relate to ours....." Basic research creates a treasure trove of data, and we have just about mined out our existing supply.

Corporations mostly don't fund this kind of research, with a few very rare exceptions. Xerox PARC was the single largest one... and look what they did! It's worth pointing out that Xerox never did capitalize well on PARC's results, even though they had a huge impact on the world as a whole. From a corporate point of view, that was stupidly-spent money.

Basic research really is the province of government, but the research money needs to be allocated by scientists, not politicians. It's not perfect, but it's the least imperfect method we've yet come up with. Science done for the sake of politics is very, very rarely good science. Research done for the sake of research, on the other hand, pays off handsomely.
posted by Malor at 2:46 PM on February 7, 2006


bardic writes "a professor...draws a salary. A grad. student doesn't, or at least not one that feeds her and pays the rent."

Well, this is just misinformed. The vast majority of Ph.D.-level graduate students in the sciences and engineering are paid a stipend sufficient to cover rent and living expenses. It's not unusual for grad students to bring home stipends of $25,000/year, though that might be a bit on the high side.

As for the suggestion that the government should stop funding research: good luck with that. Not only would almost all academic research grind to a halt (fun fact: $300,000 is pretty small as government-funded research projects go), but the entire American University system would collapse, as it loses all the science/engineering professors and grad students to England or Australia or Canada or Japan. You think they're just hanging around to "educate the leaders of the next generation"? Academic scientists are interested in doing science, and they need government money to get it done.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:48 PM on February 7, 2006


Great Post.
posted by tkchrist at 2:52 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM: Thus the use of an emphasized "should." A government should not have a desire to enact certain policies if those policies ignore reality since that would badly serve the needs of its constituents. A government should further undertake research which would appropriately inform its decisions.

I realize this is not reality, but this is a failing of government, not research, and suggesting that all researchers pay their own way is ludicrous. Researchers should be pissed off when the government "pulls the teat away" in this case because the government asked for the research, funded the research, and then balked when presented with the findings. It's penalizing the researchers for doing their job correctly.
posted by beerbajay at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2006


I can't believe that we're about to embark upon the argument of whether or not graduate students are paid enough.
posted by trey at 2:56 PM on February 7, 2006


mr_roboto, that is, indeed, on the highest of high sides. And it's innacurate to throw that out as if the grad. students in question are sitting pretty. That's not a salary per se, it's a package dependent on teaching, TA'ing, grading papers and tests, and attending to lab duties (I was a grad. student in a humanities department, so I don't want to speak too far out of my own experience, which was almost entirely an unfair load of teaching). I was responding to TBM's lumping together of "academics" as both grad. students and professors, tenured ones presumably. I think that's unfair to do--grad. students need funding to have a potential career, while established prof's probably have enough connections in place that it isn't life-of-death for them on every grant they apply for.
posted by bardic at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2006


Does anyone know how many comments you have to write before you can post to the main page? I'm itching to post, and I find that I'm commenting on stuff just to be able to post. How many do I have to write?? I've been a member for a long time.
posted by P-Soque at 3:07 PM PST on February 7


Why don't you ask here?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:13 PM on February 7, 2006


On second though, why don't you stop posting entirely, P-Soque? Spamming threads with the same unrelated question is poor fucking form and a clear indication that you need to lurk more before gracing us with the World's Greatest Spam FPP.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:15 PM on February 7, 2006


A couple quick notes on the subject matter to give it some context. Two tenured professors at the OSU College of Forestry earlier came out with a paper that said that the logged areas were showing better recovery than the non-logged areas. On the basis of this study, Oregon US Rep. Walden (R) was introducing a bill to amend the Healthy Forest Initiative to promote more of the same sort of logging that happened at the Biscuit site.

They pressured the Dean at the College to suppress the paper. I assume it was a "young upstart that doesn't know what the hell they are talking about" sort of thing. The Dean has since apologized and recanted his actions, stating that he should have congratulated the Grad student on getting a paper into Science.

The Biscuit fire is really, really recent. The findings in both papers are preliminary at best. But this is just the most recent battle in a debate about how post-fire forest management is done in the Northwest. 70 years ago there occurred one of the most severe fires ever in Oregon, called the Tillamook Burn. It covered a huge swath of land and despite attempts at replanting, it kept burning every couple of years. Finally it was just clear cut, downed debris was removed down to bare soil and then it was aggressively replanted. It didn't burn again for a long time, so that procedure was considered a success and considered the defacto post-fire management plan.

Fast forward to the 90's and a new big forest fire called the Warner Creek fire. Most evidence indicates that this fire was deliberately set by residents of a hard-hit local town that was heavily dependent on logging in hopes of being able to go in and do a lot of salvage logging work. Protests and law suits locked up the post-fire sale of timber and lo and behold, people found that the forest was regenerating naturally. And quickly. Thus a major debate came into focus on Fire Ecology in Northwest.

Fire suppression has been an official policy in the Northwest for a good half century. Forests here are stressed out because there hasn't been any sort of natural thinning taking place due to low-intensity fires. Stressed trees have been a haven to disruptive insects and produced an overabundance of downed, dry wood that acts as fuel for larger, more intense fires.

With the shutdown of the majority of the clear-cutting activities on older forests and the increase in likelihood of forest fires, the management stance on post-fire recovery has become a multi-million if not multi-billion dollar issue.

There is a potential sea change in forest management practices occurring and it not only involves a couple generations of tradition, it involves the livelihoods of many people in the region.

Hopefully research will continue and sound, science-based management will prevail.

Disclosure: I did some species analysis survey work for an OSU Grad student on the Warner Fire recovery and am very much in the "let it burn and let it recover" faction.
posted by afflatus at 3:18 PM on February 7, 2006


Three blind mice

Honestly, are you fucking retarded? And I'm a PhD student at Weill Cornell so I'm qualified to ask that question.

The whole point of government sponsered research is because it is impossible to see where research will go so waiting for private research to pick up the slack will leave us and our economy in the dust. We invest more money than any other country in the world because then OUR COMPANIES can pick up the most interesting results and market them. If we start dictating cancer research based on the bible or forestry based on logging rights we're going to be left in the dust. End of Story.
posted by slapshot57 at 3:27 PM on February 7, 2006


bardic, $25K/year is high for humanities, but a National Science Foundation fellowship pays $30K.

Administrators at OSU and scientists elsewhere said they could not recall another instance of the federal government suspending funding for research after controversial results emerge.

In the late 90's, Sandy Maisel and Walter Stone received NSF funding for their "Candidate Emergence Study." They wanted to study why people do, and don't, decide to run for Congress. When this got back to Congress, it had morphed through a game of telephone into "We want to get better challengers to run for Congress to unseat all you goddam incumbents," and Congress was pissed.

Congress's ultimate response was to reduce the NSF's funding for the next year by an amount equal to the size of the grant (about $200K if memory serves, medium-large for a polisci grant).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:28 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM is just trolling. Ignore him.
posted by caddis at 3:29 PM on February 7, 2006


TBM is either trolling or is dumber than dogshit. My god.

This Administration is all about the "don't tell us what we don't want to hear," eh? It's absolutely astounding.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:10 PM on February 7, 2006


We would never have spent the $300K for that study if we knew it was just going to result in bad news!
posted by rxrfrx at 4:33 PM on February 7, 2006


tbm, libertarians have no business posting on a thread like this, in the same way that a communist would have no business posting in a thread about property management and landlord practices. since you disagree with the very premise of the concept under discussion, you have nothing to contribute.
posted by deanc at 4:51 PM on February 7, 2006


How about we publicly fund research by selling the organs of market-worshipping "libertarian" dickwads like Three Blind Mice? Unused hearts and brains should fetch a decent price. There's good prions in brains.

I don't know a good way to ensure corrupt and stupid politicians don't piddle all over government research projects, which are funded out of tax revenues for the benefit of all members of society. There'd always be an approval process somewhere which could be meddled with. Transparency in theory is supposed to fight corruption, but that doesn't seem to work any more, as demonstrated here.

Maybe use some kind of a blind-funding approach where all grant money goes into one centrally administered fund, for allocation to universities who then decide what research projects will receive funding. The first thing to be done is acknowledge that meddling in the results of publicly funded research is official corruption, and needs to be treated as a crime.

"My research was funded by a private company with deep pockets who definitely had an interest in the reseach - and the outcome."
While not technically corrupt, biased research is a breeding ground for incompetence and academic fraud. While businesses should and will do research in areas that will promote their business interests, the fact that they decide what results of this are and aren't published, and what outcomes are and aren't explored, taints the research to the point that it becomes not science, but marketing. Results are not science unless they have been independently reproduced. That's the primary function of scientific journals. (Patents in theory are supposed to allow businesses to protect their interest in exclusivity while giving up their interest in secrecy, but that hasn't been working well for a while, as people are gaming the patent system.)

Fortunately, I expect that Donato's research will quite soon go through a thorough process of reproduction and audit. I don't expect a Republican government to lay any official corruption charges, though - they don't appear to understand the concept.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:13 PM on February 7, 2006


Excellent post. Thanks for giving it the space it deserves.
posted by orthogonality at 5:17 PM on February 7, 2006


Maybe use some kind of a blind-funding approach where all grant money goes into one centrally administered fund

This is, generally, the concept behind NIH and NSF-- money is allocated for those agencies by congress, but decisions about where the money will go is made by scientists themselves.

Also, universities almost invariably do not allow their professors to accept grants with strings attached regarding the circumstances under which the data may be published. Since universities depend not only on the money from the grants but the fame that their professors' published research brings to them, allowing grants to stipulate that the results can't be published is like shooting themselves in the foot.
posted by deanc at 5:46 PM on February 7, 2006


.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:52 PM on February 7, 2006


Turns out there's useful prions in bone marrow, too. They seem to be essential in helping the stem cells create red blood cells.

Life is a mystery.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:02 PM on February 7, 2006


What's interesting to me is that *any* of the BLM pages are off. I was trying to find out about some BLM stuff and for the longest time, many of the pages served up the 'offline' page instead of actual content. In fact, many of the BLM sites are STILL offline, making it difficult to gather information on certain things, like, oh, public comment periods and who to contact.
posted by drstein at 8:33 PM on February 7, 2006


"Any academic, truely interested in research, should refuse to accept government money and pay his or her own way." - So much for the Manhatten Project, NASA, Computers, the Net......
posted by troutfishing at 11:25 PM on February 8, 2006


Not to mention [ maybe ] "Tang" but most certainly Velcro...... or portable ice rinks
posted by troutfishing at 11:36 PM on February 8, 2006


Two new developments for anyone still watching this thread. A day later a congressman called for a probe of BLM funding cut on the study. A day after that, the funding was restored.
posted by pwb503 at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2006


« Older Jean-Luc Godard's 'Histoire(s) du Cinéma'   |   Search through Enron emails! Win an Ipod Shuffle Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post