Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jesus Loves Clearcuts

You probably haven't been following the current brouhaha at Oregon State University's "Forestry" department, so a brief bit of history is probably in order. Back in 2002, Southern Oregon experienced a huge forest fire, which became known as the Biscuit Fire. This obviously resulted in a lot of dead trees, and even before the fires were out the timber industry started lobbying for what it calls "salvage logging". The idea being that the dead trees will go to waste unless they're "salvaged", meaning hauled out and turned into subdivisions. And almost as quickly, OSU started churning out reams of third-rate academic blather to justify the "salvage" (talk about a loaded word). It's useful to understand that the "Forestry" department is in large part industry-funded.

Unfortunately, one of these studies discovered that clearcutting isn't actually an improvement over just leaving the forest alone after a fire. The study was of sufficient quality that the prestigious journal Science accepted it for publication. It's really hard to get published in Science, and you'd think OSU would've seen it as a big honor, but no. Instead, a cabal of pro-industry professors tried to suppress the paper, because it doesn't say what the industry pays the department to say. The journal didn't buy that argument, unsurprisingly. Even that rejection didn't cause the leader of the cabal (and primary author of the third-rate blather referenced above) didn't give up his jihad against the paper. Oh, no. I wouldn't bother blogging about the controversy if it ended with the paper being published. No, instead somebody (technically yet to be determined) went and called in the big guns. And by "big guns" I mean our Glorious Leader, whose minions at the BLM have now cut off all funding for the university's forest research programs.

The message is very clear: Tell George what he wants to hear, or starve.

Let me reiterate that I'm not against logging, per se. Historically it's been this state's only reliable source of family-wage union jobs, which isn't something one should just ignore. But when the only way to justify it is by censoring the facts and replacing them with bogus, politically-motivated junk science, anyone with a brain and a shred of ethics ought to reject the attempt out of hand.

As it turns out the very same John Sessions who's trying to censor academic work in this country is also a big advocate of large-scale logging in third world countries. For example, here are proceedings (which he co-edited) from a conference about logging the Himalayas [PDF]. Seems he's got a bit of a consulting business on the side, and has brought his expertise in "forest engineering" (another loaded term) to bear in such places as Bhutan, Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia, and Malaysia. Of course, all this work in ultra-low-wage countries with no effective environmental laws will no doubt result in a loss of domestic logging jobs. I'm morbidly curious how they'll argue this is all the tree-huggers' fault, because you know that's how they'll spin it if they need to.

BTW, here's another amusing article about the Big Bang debacle. And the blogoverse has already dug up some of George Deutsch's greatest hits from back at Texas A&M journalism school, including an editorial where he insists the Laci Peterson homicide was the work of a "satanic cult". And now he's writing NASA press releases. Yes, Deutschie's doing a heck of a job. At this rate, by this time next year he'll be a federal judge, and those of us who've criticized him will be off standing on boxes at Abu Ghraib. Not bad for someone who, contrary to earlier news reports, didn't even graduate from college. And now he's correcting the work of world-respected scientists, on God's behalf. It's like a story by Horatio Alger's evil twin, or something. Is this a great country, or what?

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