On Science and dogma

 

As a former resident of Colorado's Front Range, I found Emily Guerin's fire-science story, about forest ecologists' disagreement about whether all dry Western forests are to be considered overly-dense and in need of restoration, to be fascinating ("Fire fights," HCN, 9/17/12).  While the article interprets the "controversy" as a lack of consensus among forest ecologists, it clearly reveals several of the researchers it mentions as more simply taking issue with those who challenge the dogma of the "Southwest model."

Aiming to disprove hypotheses – and therefore to challenge conventional dogma - is at the heart of the scientific method, and those who operate in this manner should be applauded rather than alienated. Criticism about flaws in study design or interpretations are always important and relevant; concerns that a study questioning conventional wisdom could undermine policy or management efforts are not. At the very least, the Williams-Baker study should be lauded as one that stimulates critical questions about what we think we know about Western forest systems, not as an "anchor dragging us backwards" as scientist Peter Brown called it.

Dan Kashian
Detroit, Michigan