A New Biochar Research Program? Part of Westerman Bill

The Westerman Draft bill wants to support biochar research. It seems that many folks are already studying biochar. An idea would be to round these up, and look for gaps and overlaps before we send any more funding.

I tried the search terms forest and biochar for a variety of federal research organizations. Apparently, search terms select a broader group than I intended.

I looked at NSF (National Science Foundation) and searched on biochar and forests and got this.. but many of them don’t seem to have biochar or forests, so maybe my searching is at fault.

I looked at Department of Energy and found these, which are about biochar but the forest one is about biomass for energy 🙁 not biochar.

Here’s the list from National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA extramural research), again the search did not seem to restrict to biochar and forests.

I could find many biochar projects with the Forest Service, but not in a format that shows the funding and a link to the abstracts (which might exist, and I hope R&D folks will point that out.)

US Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior also doesn’t have project by dollars as far as I could tell, but does have this..including one on the effect of biochar on maize yield in Zambia. But it appears the last one was in 2015.

Speaking of agriculture, ARS (in-house USDA R&D) has a list of biochar projects.

This ongoing study is pretty interesting.

Through this project, we expect to demonstrate that applying biochar in agricultural lands for soil modification and remediation would be a climate-smart solution for sustainability in forest management, timber/biomass har- vesting, and economic growth of bioenergy, bioproducts, and crops. [2] Wood Fiber Insulation: The proposed solution is to evaluate several (underutilized) species in the region as feedstock for wood fiber insulation. Spruce (Pices spp.) and white pine (Pinus strobus) will serve as controls or “benchmarks”; other species to be investigated include: eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), bal- sam fir (Abies balsamea), red maple (Acer rubrum), and aspen (Populus tremuloides). [3] Wood Fiber Foam Packaging: Most available literature around foam forming is focused on rectangular shaped panels with no specific 3D shape. A process that can produce true 3D shaped lignocellulosic foamed structures by foam forming is currently lacking. In addition, low-density packaging foams are bulky and occupy a lot of space, making them difficult to ship and transport. Innovation is needed to develop foamed materials that can be compressed into high-density thin sheets for easier transportation and used upon 3D shape recovery after exposure to a stimulus. Finally, a clear understanding of the foam forming process in the presence of additives and various types of lignocellulosic feed- stock is required. Use of LCNF derived directly from wood sawdust as a binder in the formulation of such foams is another innovation that needs to happen to reduce costs and enable commercialization.

Sounds like something the FS could be funding?

I didn’t query NOAA, NASA or DOD. Conceivably biochar is related to climate and everyone studies climate (and researcher are creative in rationalizing what they want to do) so who knows?

Wouldn’t it be terrific if the research agencies would feed into a centralized database of all federal research? That included abstracts, and who is funding, how much and how long. Plus links to products. Then those interested could analyze gaps and overlaps. It appears that the Congress is interested in saving money.. but, I guess, not so much in spending it better. Especially when fixes would go across Committee responsibilities. Where is the Admin’s Office of Science and Technology Policy when you need it?

The Importance of Open Disagreement to Science, and Why Mean Tweeters Like Mann are Missing in Forest Science

The Mann trial was supposed to be  part of Roundup #2, but as you can see below, I got a bit carried away.

I read an op-ed this week by Loolwa Khazzoom, who said:

We are all pieces of a highly complex puzzle. When we listen instead of project, discuss instead of argue, and have a goal of learning instead of winning – approaching dialogue with an attitude of curiosity and discovery – we can benefit from the unique life experience and thought process that we each bring to the table.

Which is my belief as well. Otherwise I wouldn’t spend so much time on The Smokey Wire and similar efforts. Also this week, I followed along on the highly entertaining podcast Climate Change on Trial presented by the Unreported Story Society. I think it’s safe to say that Michael Mann, the climate scientist and plaintiff in the defamation lawsuit against two bloggers, Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg, would not agree with that statement on the utility of listening and “approaching dialogue with an attitude of curiosity and discovery.”

At first, I thought the trial was a bit ridiculous. As if what two random bloggers wrote could actually defame Mann any more than a cursory examination of his Twitter feed, and that that would effect his financial remuneration in terms of research grants. Were they kidding? Then it turned out that this defamation biz had been going on for 12 years (!), and no one knows who is paying Mann’s court fees. My view is that in a just world, the jury would have awarded the past 12 years of legal fees to Steyn and Simberg. Of course, as a random blogger myself, maybe I’m being too sensitive. But it was OK, I guess, because according to the Hill, these guys are “right-wing” bloggers and I’m not.

So, at first, I was glad that scientists in our forest fields generally don’t behave that way. And I wondered if a podcast on some of our fuels treatment court cases with key parts being reenacted would be as entertaining. But as we delved into the Mann Tweets and emails, I wondered “how could that level of meanness be tolerated?” and “why was it OK for him to do what most of us would never consider doing?,” and “whose job is it to keep our convos civil, if anyone?”

The story of how all this developed was fascinating, at least to me. For those of you who don’t know, Mann was famous for the hockey stick graph, splicing together various measures of past temperatures including our very own tree rings. When someone asked for the data, he was unwilling to part with it, at least at the beginning. He clearly wasn’t a fan of FOIA either, forwarding a message to others to delete emails. The release of the Climategate emails was not a good moment for him.  If you were to ask him, I’m sure that he saw these as efforts to impugn climate science, and (thus, naturally, to him) he became combative in its (his own) defense.  It became a “good guys vs. bad guys” thing, with him, naturally, on the self-defined “good guys” side.

At the same time, you or I could also say that science should stand up to independent scrutiny, and that if someone wants the original data, they should be able to access it. I don’t think that that would be a big problem in forest science world. So what happened here? Perhaps Mann felt that the stakes were so high, it makes usual scientific practices and conduct obsolete. Some of us might say that that correlates at .99 with his self-interest, so.. But on the other hand, billions of dollar have been spent on climate science and Mann is just one of millions of climate scientists around the world, so the hockey stick is not all that important at the end of the day. But that’s today, and perhaps not when the posts were posted.

I started to think “what went wrong here?” and “are there lessons for us in less-favored and financed disciplines to learn?” Many of us belong to scientific and professional societies, universities and agencies, with codes of conduct that incorporate ideas like collegiality and respectful communications.

Dr. Curry (she of Mann’s so-called “slept her way to the top” email to Gavin Schmidt at NASA) drafted a complaint which she never sent:

“This defamation is affecting my academic reputation and my ability to conduct business. I note that I am far from the only person being attacked and libeled by Dr. Mann.
Penn State Policy AD47 (General Standards of Professional Ethics) states that professors have obligations as members of the “community of scholars” and are required to “respect and defend” free inquiry by other members of the community and to show “due respect” for the opinions of others:

IV.As colleagues, professors have obligations that derive from common membership in the community of scholars. They respect and defend the free inquiry of their associates. In the exchange of criticism and ideas they show due respect for the opinions of others.

“The policy also states that researchers are required to be “open-minded when evaluating the work of others” even if that may “contradict their own findings”:

III…. As open-minded researchers, when evaluating the work of others, they must recognize the responsibility to allow publication of theories or experiments that may contradict their own findings, as only by free inquiry and dissemination of all facts will the fruits of the labor of the whole community be allowed to mature.

Policy HR64 says (my bold) that faculty members have “special obligations” as persons of learning and as educators and are obliged to “exercise appropriate restraint” and “to show
respect for the opinions of others” Faculty members are citizens, members of learned professions, and representatives of this University. When the faculty member speaks or writes as a citizen, the faculty member shall be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but the special position in the community held by the faculty member imposes special obligations. As a person of learning and an educator, the faculty member is expected to remember that the public may judge the profession and institution by his/her utterances. Hence, the faculty member agrees at all times to be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, to show respect for the opinions of others, and to make every effort to indicate that he/she is not an institutional spokesperson.”

Curry didn’t send it to Penn State because, as she says in her post .

“after all, the damage to my career was already done and I wasn’t clear where this would lead or whether it would have any effect.”

I wonder how Mann could have acted against these rules for so long with no one calling him on it.  I wonder if the folks he emailed (work emails) ever said, “hey, I’m not interested in gossip about our colleagues’ sex lives”,” or “maybe you should tone it down on  Twitter” or “I’m not sure we should try to evade FOIAs and delete emails.” From the court records, it sounded like a few people did.  If more had done so, could this all have turned out differently?

And how did he get awards from prestigious organizations for “science communication?” Was anyone reading his Tweets?

“I am truly humbled to receive the Stephen Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications,” said Mann. “While none of us can fill the very large shoes Steve left behind, we can honor his legacy by doing our best to inform the public discourse over human-caused climate change in an objective, clear and effective manner.”

I don’t blame Mann for all of this.   People don’t always behave well when left to their own devices. This is a fact of human nature. That is why we have laws, law enforcement, codes of conduct and enforcement protocols.  It is the role of institutions to enforce their own rules.  And yet they apparently are not, at least in certain cases.


Having listened to the podcast of the case, I was amused by this NPR story:

In a D.C. courtroom, a trial is wrapping up this week with big stakes for climate science. One of the world’s most prominent climate scientists is suing a right-wing author and a policy analyst for defamation.

The case comes at a time when attacks on scientists are proliferating, says Peter Hotez, professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology at Baylor College of Medicine. Even as misinformation about scientists and their work keeps growing, Hotez says scientists haven’t yet found a good way to respond.

“The reason we’re sort of fumbling at this is it’s unprecedented. And there is no roadmap,” he says.


Imran Ahmed, chief executive at the Center for Countering Digital Hate, says any response has to include social media companies, as that’s where attacks on scientists happen every day. Research finds that social media platforms can encourage the spread of scientific and medical misinformation.

Hotez says he and Mann are working on an upcoming project, collaborating on what they see as overlap in attacks on climate science and biomedicine and how to counter it.

Was NPR even in the room? I guess you don’t have to actually observe things when you can just ask your friends what they think.

With all due respect to Hotez and Mann, having discussions and disagreeing is what science is about in the pursuit of truth; actually even outside of “science,” as in Khazzoom’s quote at the top of this post.  Characterizing people who disagree as “attackers” with “disinformation” who need to be throttled down is bad for discourse, bad for the public trust (yes, that public, the ones who vote for research budgets) and bad for science.  I’m curious as to why, of all the disciplines and subdisciplines in science and engineering, only these two fields (climate and Covid) seem to have this problem highlighted? Perhaps they have bought into a form of politics-science mutualism.  In the same way that a phone call changed the views of the virologists and led to the Proximal Origins paper on Covid origins, in the Mann case a discussion with the President of Penn State led the inquiry team to change its findings on censuring Mann.  Where disciplinary self-interest, institutional self-protection and larger world politics meet.. is probably not a good place for the rest of us, nor for any truth to come out.  And it’s definitely not “science.”

Aren’t we fortunate that we don’t have these issues in forest science? Do we manage it better, are the stakes so low no one cares for high quasi-political drama, or are we just lucky as to the character of our scientists? What do you think?

Feeding Frenzy at the Wildfire Research Trough: Science Committee Wants More For “Premiere” Science Agencies

I’m seeing a trend here. Yesterday I posted that folks at CEQ and NSC (!) seemed to be making decisions that formerly would have been made by agencies.  Well, the Democratic Science Committee seems to have produced a bill to organize the wildfire research trough without USDA and DOI.   Sure,  they are looking out for the agencies they are responsible for (they aren’t responsible for other science agencies).. but it sounds a bit like a takeover bid  for research long done by USDA and DOI.   Maybe legislators need to organize/collaborate in a way that coordinates budgets and responsibilities across committees?

For some of us, when the Science Committee says “premier science agencies” we wince a little, since we know that doesn’t mean us at USDA and USGS. It means Big Science or the Science Establishment which are, of course, the agencies the Science Committee works with.   It seems like not much has changed since I was OSTP in 2000. I may have told this story before, but we have many new readers, so here goes.

For those who haven’t worked with the DC Science Establishment, you would be surprised how much of it is about getting more research money for their institutions; and for the Big Science agencies, that means Big Bucks.  I worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at the Old Executive Office Building, now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  It is a terrific building to work in, very historic, fossils on the floors, boarded up fireplaces and so on. They had old-sized offices, which meant that we Agency folks detailed there (known as Agency Representatives) had desks right next to each other. Mine was next to a nice gentleman from DOE.

At the time, the Los Alamos fires were big news.  Sure enough,  folks from Los Alamos came in and gave their spiel about how it had been brought to their attention that wildfire is a thing, and they needed lots of bucks to study it.  This happened in our office, so of course I asked innocently “doesn’t the Forest Service study wildfire?”.  At the time, I was working for Forest Service R&D, and the wildfire research folks were in my group, in fact my Forest Service boss at the time was Bill Sommers, a fire/atmosphere/climate scientist.  The Los Alamos folks just looked at me.. as if to say “they don’t really count, don’t you get it?”

I once had lunch with a Stanford physicist who was my boss’s boss in the OSTP chain of command.  He said that the problem with USDA (no joke) was that they had capped indirect costs.  Which was ironic given the Stanford yacht and weddings apparently procured with indirect costs..   He said “you can’t get the best minds working on something with a cap like that, no one from MIT would touch it.”  I can’t really imagine MIT folks working on wheat breeding, for example, in Kansas.  I was polite, since he was my boss’s boss, there but.. the lesson is that people really thought this stuff, and it sounds like they still believe their own hype (I thought that was the occupational hazard of politicians, but..)


I’ve noticed a generalized splatter of wildfire-ish funding patterns in the last few days.   The webinar yesterday at University of New Mexico on Chris Marsh’s work studying reforestation practices to help people planting trees was funded by NIFA, a USDA agency that funds extramural work, in this case via the AFRI competitive grant program.

Another useful study I ran across at NAU  on understanding peoples’ perceptions of wildfire was funded by NASA:

For her part, Grimm, who is the principal investigator on the project, got to work developing a survey to find out how people were getting information about wildfires and what information they might be missing.

“The purpose of the project is to really understand Flagstaff community members’ experiences — the challenges they might have experienced with wildfire communication,” Grimm said.

She wants to look at what people learned about operations such as fire mitigation, property defenses and evacuation preparedness. Then she wants to examine communication during an event — actual messaging about evacuation and on-the-ground firefighting efforts. Lastly, she seeks to research the qualitative experiences of individuals after a fire — how and if people learned about flood risk, insurance and funding availability.

I know it sounds somewhat like Katrin Edgeley’s social science work also at NAU, so I looked to see who was funding Katrin.  It looks like JFSP, NCAR and NSF (NCAR is what I call the Temple of Climate in Boulder, and is funded by NSF). Here’s what we know-wildfire is already a funding free-for-all among agencies.  And the D’s on the Science Committee want to increase the food at the trough for their favorite pigs.


But  maybe instead of more bucks, there should be a panel of the current science agencies and potential research users (imagine that!) to 1) figure out current overlaps and gaps and 2) require coordination among the agencies. Before any of them ask for more money.  Just a thought. But that would be a bill by the “Good Government” party which currently doesn’t exist. NSF’s budget for 2023 was 10.99 billion, while JFSP’s was 4 million.  Wouldn’t it make sense for some committee or board across agencies to recommend funding for agencies to do the research that they’re good at? And coordinate so research isn’t duplicative? And involve the communities that would be using the science in what are the problems and priorities?


Looking back through my career, it seems like there has been a tendency to move research from “what people say they need help with” to “what scientists want to tell higher level decision makers to do.”  There’s also been a tendency to move from the specific and local to the abstract and international.  And coupled a tendency to leave out local practitioners from involvement in priorities and in some cases having a voice at all.  Check out this paper about practitioners and the IPCC.

With lots of remote sensing and machine learning, I fear that people will be left out of the equation.  They may become the target of social science to see how they get the right “messages” via NSF’s “disinformation” research, and aren’t given agency in making decisions about what is studied and how.  Missing that link, science may lose trust and legitimacy among ordinary people.  What we see is anecdotal, what they tell us they’ve observed from a satellite is “science.”  The time to strengthen those connections. between the people and what should be their science, is now. IMHO.


A Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice

The 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking charges the Office of Science and Technology Policy to (1) review agency scientific integrity policy effectiveness and (2) to develop a framework for regular assessment and iterative improvement of agency scientific integrity policies and practices (Framework). In January, the Biden Administration released the Framework. It includes a “first-ever Government-wide definition of scientific integrity,” a roadmap of activities and outcomes to achieve an ideal state of scientific integrity, a Model Scientific Integrity Policy, as well as critical policy features and metrics that OSTP will use to iteratively assess agency progress.  Here is that definition:

Scientific integrity is the adherence to professional practices, ethical behavior, and the principles of honesty and objectivity when conducting, managing, using the results of, and communicating about science and scientific activities. Inclusivity, transparency, and protection from inappropriate influence are hallmarks of scientific integrity.

The 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking also charges OSTP and NSTC to “review agency scientific integrity policies and consider whether they prevent political interference in the conduct, management, communication, and use of science …”  The “Model Scientific Integrity Policy for United States Federal Agencies” says this:

It is the policy of this agency to: 1. Prohibit political interference or inappropriate influence in the funding, design, proposal, conduct, review, management, evaluation, or reporting of scientific activities and the use of scientific information.

Ensure that agency scientists may communicate their scientific activities objectively without political interference or inappropriate influence, while at the same time complying with agency policies and procedures for planning and conducting scientific activities, reporting scientific findings, and reviewing and releasing scientific products. Scientific products (e.g., manuscripts for scientific journals, presentations for workshops, conferences, and symposia) shall adhere to agency review procedures.

It defines these terms:

Political interference refers to interference conducted by political officials and/or motivated by political considerations.

Inappropriate influence refers to the attempt to shape or interfere in scientific activities or the communication about or use of scientific activities or findings against well-accepted scientific methods and theories or without scientific justification.

I found it rather interesting, given the way the these terms are used, that the 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking actually says this:

Improper political interference in the work of Federal scientists or other scientists who support the work of the Federal Government and in the communication of scientific facts undermines the welfare of the Nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the trust that the public places in government to best serve its collective interests.

Executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall establish and enforce scientific-integrity policies that ban improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research and in the collection of scientific or technological data, and that prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific or technological findings, data, information, conclusions, or technical results.

Deliberate or careless?  Could there be “proper” political interference, especially given the distinction made about “inappropriate” influence (which is defined in terms of “interference”)?

Any way, it’s good to know someone is working on this aspect of scientific integrity.  And it seems to be helping – compare these results of the Union of Concerned Scientists 2023 surveys of scientists at federal agencies with those from 2018.  (Unfortunately, while the 2023 survey includes USDA, it did not include the Forest Service.)

Do Private Foundations or Government Science Agencies Provide the Most Unbiased Research? Re: DellaSala Op-ed and Wildfire Funding

I’m returning to this claim in the recent DellaSala op-ed in the New Mexican.

come with a fresh pair of problem-solving eyes, free of government research dollars that can otherwise obscure such fact-finding expeditions.

This accusation is kind of a drive-by remark, and probably quite frustrating to some of our wildfire scientist colleagues. Let’s think about DellaSala’s claim for a minute. If government research dollars are “obscuring”, maybe New Mexico should see if it can remove the Los Alamos facility and all those DOE dollars. Perhaps behind this claim is that it’s only some research dollars that are tainted.. perhaps FS but not NIFA, or NIFA but not NSF, or USGS or whatever?

The claim is not without some potential validity. Certainly scientific communities have their own views about topics and approaches. In my years in the science biz, I have seen a great many research fads come and go, sometimes leaving little of practical value in their wake. We do criticize some of those topics and approaches here at TSW, as well as advocate for ground-truthing and practitioner review.

But let’s look deeper at that claim. Scientists will choose topics to study that are likely to be funded. OK, that seems true. Then perhaps they will choose their approaches and findings to somehow fit to what .. NIFA panels or NSF or JFSP panels want to hear? That seems a larger stretch, and finally, to imply that they would change their findings is a slur against their integrity.

I looked at DellaSala’s funding for this paper and it turns out to be:

We thank the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the Weeden Foundation, and the Wilburforce Foundation for project funding; however, the views herein are strictly those of the authors.

And this paper funded by Pew (it’s about roadless, and we all know where Pew is/was on roadless).

It seems to me that if we were to have contest on “whose funding is specifically pointed toward policy outcomes”, NGOs with clearly declared policy goals would be the winners over… the Forest Service, NIFA, USGS, NSF and so on.

For example, Wilburforce Foundation funds:

Actionable research in support of Wilburforce Foundation’s place-based conservation programs
We fund emerging opportunities to address knowledge gaps in conservation science and enhancing biodiversity and ecological resilience in the face of climate change within our regions, with a focus on the synthesis and analysis of existing data where possible.

Probably one of the most applied programs is Joint Fire Science. Here’s a link to their ongoing research. The ongoing projects look more nuts and bolts than policy oriented to me.


Another interesting paper I ran across in exploring this is one by DellaSalla, Ruediger, and Chad Hanson where they call into question The Nature Conservancy’s fire science, and state that

We present primarily 4 case studies where TNC fire science is called into question and its “members only” collaboratives are a major obstacle for conservation groups seeking protection for and improved management of the under-appreciated biodiversity benefits of mixed-severity wildfires.

As TNC reconstitutes its leadership (Sally Jewell, former Secretary of the Interior, is now interim CEO), by documenting the problems with its fire science and policy herein, we offer this critique as an opportunity to address escalating problems with local NGOs over its questionable and ecologically damaging fire approaches. Before we address the regional case studies, we provide the following broader based conservation issues that have contributed to a rift in the NGO community with TNC.
TNC lacks a science-based global protection area target and seldom advocates publicly for US protected areas on federal lands –

With all due respect to the authors, I doubt that there is/can be a “science-based” global “protection area” target.

Anyway, here are their recommendations to TNC:

To close the growing divide between TNC and conservation groups/scientists, TNC should:
§ Provide transparency and accountability in disclosing funding sources and include a more inclusive approach to collaboratives that represents local and regional conservation interests and not mainly extractive and agency interests.
§ Provide evidence-based comprehensive literature reviews to ensure that not just the science TNC uses to support collaboratives but the full breadth of science (including those that contradict TNC assumptions) is presented and uncertainties/limitations/impacts of proposed management aptly addressed and minimized.
§ Field-validate predictive fire models and use empirical evidence before widely applying questionable models at project and regional scales.
§ Purge the good vs bad fire messaging and concentrate more on the ecological benefits of wildfires, including high-severity burn patches (large and small) characteristic of low and mixed-severity fire systems.
§ Work with diverse members of the conservation community to coordinate policy and conservation priorities.
§ Correct the record when politicians or the media use TNC science to usher in sweeping changes to forest-fire policies inconsistent with biodiversity conservation.
§ Include or endorse fully representative and large inviolate protected area networks on federal lands with bolder conservation goals (e.g., see Noss et al. 2012, Nature Needs
Half), maintain connectivity among reserves, protect imperiled species/habitat from logging, protect all remaining primary (unlogged) forests and roadless areas from
logging, protect complex early seral forest habitat from logging, and reduce anthropogenic stressors in fire-adapted forests (see DellaSala et al. 2017 for approaches).
§ Assess and fully disclose life cycle analysis associated with TNC proposed thinning and burning and abandon all efforts to convert burned forests into biomass energy.

I think it would be good if all ENGOS provided transparency and accountability in disclosing funding sources. Otherwise, this letter sounds like “we’ll like you better if you do what we want.” 🙂

How is Open Access to Articles By University Scholars Working?

An example of how this works  is the below excerpt from the Oregon State University website.  For those of you who don’t know about it, it is pretty cool.  However, I can’t always find these via Google Scholar, which is where I tend to find Forest Service open access papers.  Maybe there’s a better approach. What have been your experiences? Many universities have open-access policies but how well are they working?

At the end of the day, I’ve been pretty successful asking authors for e-reprints, but certainly access via Google Scholar would be more efficient for me and the researchers.


2. How does Open Access benefit faculty?

Open Access increases the visibility and impact of faculty scholarship. Studies show that articles available through Open Access are cited more often than those available only through subscription. Increased visibility and use of Open Access articles increases impact, as demonstrated by increased citations. See also: a summary of open access citation advantage studies.

As a land-, sea-, space-, and sun grant institution, the people who will ultimately use some of our research aren’t other scientists. They are practitioners and decision-makers, or in some cases school teachers and students. Impacts of especially practitioner-based scholarship may be better measured by the number of times these works are downloaded than by citation studies. ScholarsArchive@OSU provides download statistics for every item and collection of items in the repository. Some Faculty articles deposited to ScholarsArchive@OSU have been downloaded more than 1000 times.

Articles available open access in ScholarsArchive@OSU are preserved, cataloged, indexed and collocated, bringing together all of an individual faculty’s scholarship, an academic unit’s scholarship, and the institution’s scholarship. Oregon State University will provide persistent storage of and access to a digital copy of your work, ensuring that it will continue to be available to readers. Each article has a persistent URL and metadata pertaining to the article DOI. The web page at Oregon State University that this URL points to includes a link and citation information for the original article on the publisher’s web site as well as an archival copy in the OSU repository that is accessible to those who do not have subscription access to the published version.

Federal agency Open Access mandates are becoming more common, and pending federal legislation would vastly increase the numbers of funded research works for which open access will be a requirement. A license given to OSU will allow the university to make the process of fulfilling these mandates much easier for individual authors.

(Partly from the Benefits to Open Access at Duke University)

3. How does Open Access benefit citizens?

A key element of the land grant mission is public access. Taxpayers fund universities and faculty to do research. Open Access allows the fruits of that research to be read and used by taxpayers, decision-makers, teachers and students. OSU’s Extension and Experiment Station recognizes the importance of making OSU research available to the public by making every one of their publications available Open Access. Open Access also makes knowledge available to people in the developing world, not just to those colleagues and students who belong to institutions that can afford subscriptions to the journal literature.

PCAST, Science Laundering and Wildfire Presentations

The above slides are from Deborah Sivas’ presentation to PCAST at their March 24, 2022 Meeting.

At one time I was the science lead for an interagency task force on the regulation of genetically engineered organisms in the environment.  It was quite a mouthful then, and remains so today.  I worked at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (and my co-lead from the legal side worked at CEQ the Council on Environmental Quality).  These groups are considered part of the White House and working there, even on a detail, has many desirable perks.  My office, in the Old Executive Office Building, was shared with other “agency reps” as we were known.  Well, the Los Alamos fires happened.  Shortly thereafter, folks showed up from Los Alamos to visit the DOE agency rep at the next desk.

Sidenote: my understanding is that because DOE gives money to the national labs which are run via a contractor, who conveniently is not a government agency,  so can lobby freely for funding.  It was a brilliant stroke.

They said something like “wildfires are important, we need more money to do research”.  Since I was at the next desk, I innocently inquired (after all I worked in Forest Service R&D at the time with cubicle neighbors Dave Cleaves and Sue Conard, who ran the fire science program) “doesn’t the Forest Service already do research on wildfires?”  They sort of snickered, since everyone knows that the FS was thought to be sort of “bush league” science, compared to physicists, and went on talking and apparently making sure funding was going to Los Alamos for this.

Later I was having lunch with  one of the OSTP folks higher on the food chain- a physicist from Stanford- and he said something like “the problem with USDA research is that they have an indirect cost cap.” Of course, indirect costs at Stanford were being used for yachts and antiques for the President so ..   This person told me “if USDA wants to get good science, say from MIT, they need to raise their indirect cost rate.”  I said “I don’t think researchers at MIT are really interested in say, wheat breeding research for Kansas farmers.”  Well, this was 20 years ago now so perhaps it’s not such a thing.  Or is it?

Now there are people who believe that OSTP and PCAST (the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) fill a valuable role in giving science advice to the Admin.  However, as a person who worked there, I have to question the need for “science laundering.”  There are scientists in agencies who know stuff.  Sometimes (often) these scientists disagree with each other and with other agencies.  If OSTP ran some kind of process to develop “the USG story on the science at this point in time” that would be useful.  However, that’s not exactly what they do.  And there have been improvements with PCAST, it used to be all math and information technology, now it has one agricultural scientist on it (yay!) and a few medical science types.

Epistemically, though, there’s a problem.  If we give scientists authority because they know a lot about a specific topic, but we have a group of scientists who don’t know about a topic, why are they more legitimate information sources than say, a group of journalists who could also find out from the real experts.  Does getting a Ph.D. in some field of science (say atmospheric physics) help you understand medical biotechnology better than .. whom exactly? That’s why I call it “science-laundering” – you have, say fire scientists talk about fire, but you launder their science through a panel of other scientists who don’t know about it.

This PCAST meeting has some presentations about wildfire. there’s also a video, that I didn’t watch. Interesting from the epistemic point of view, the presentation with the slides above was given by a Stanford environmental litigator.  So in addition to science-laundering, policy issues are seen through the lens of legal folks before they are transmitted to the PCAST  scientists. You might also wonder what value this is adding, given that there is a already an interagency Wildfire Commission working right now… identifying scientific and technical needs. Oh well, it’s only time and money..

From the meeting notes:

Deborah Sivas, who is an environmental litigator and law prof at Stanford, who used to work for Earthjustice. This choice didn’t seem like “the science” to me..

Sivas offered three suggestions to PCAST: First, one size does not fit all needs. Different solutions will be needed for urban, wildland–urban interface, and back country areas. Second, as increased funding from federal- and state-level sources becomes available and decisions are made about how to allocate that funding, such as to firefighting resources and hardening homes, thought should also be given to allocating funding to protect vulnerable populations, such as children and underserved communities, from smoke inhalation. Third, regulatory reform should be reviewed to include consideration of prescribed burning and guidance on environmental review procedures.

I think it’s interesting that Sivas recommends regulatory reform.. but not for thinning. only prescribed fire. In the slides she seems to conflate thinning with commercial.. which it is not in many places. Which leaves one wondering, if a tree is cut in the woods and  say burned but not sold, would that be OK for regulatory reform? This would be an interesting discussion to have, but I don’t see it as about science at all.

Gardner suggested that PCAST could help by addressing three main needs:
1) Early detection of fires: Most fires that occur in the west begin during weather conditions that are hot, dry, and windy, and most fire devastation, death, and destruction occurs in the first 12 hours of a firefight. Thus, early detection is critical. A number of parties need information early, including firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel, emergency managers, policy makers, elected officials, and the public. In Southern California, the 10 million residents with cell phones helps speed detection, but detection is more challenging in remote areas, and science and technology may have a role to play in detection in these areas.

2) Tracking resources: Despite the ability to easily order items on a cell phone and have them arrive on one’s doorstep the next day, Gardner’s fire department is using a resource ordering system that was designed in the 1940s mainly to move military equipment. It can take two days just to process the department’s order for equipment. Improved tracking of firefighters is a serious need as well. This applies to tracking one’s own team of firefighters and tracking firefighters in nearby teams. Gardner said that not knowing where one’s firefighters are while fighting a fire can be unbearable, and this kind of tracking should be possible given the ubiquity of GPS.

3) Monitoring fires: Having the ability to monitor fires, forecast their growth, and then share that information with fire ground commanders, emergency responders, emergency managers, and the public would improve awareness, decision making, and help with moving people out of harm’s way. Gardner noted the challenges of monitoring fast-moving fires, mentioning one fire that forced over 100,000 to flee as it traveled 14 miles in one night. Tracking that fire was hampered by high winds that grounded helicopters.

Sean Triplett of NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center):

Triplett closed by saying that while a mature and robust fire detection and tracking system has been developed that can gather a lot of information that is important to share with decision makers, the information-sharing process needs to be improved through the development of standard data practices, better intelligence tools, and more usable forecasting techniques. Information must be formatted in digestible pieces that can be received and used by firefighters with mobile devices in the field or by emergency managers working in operations centers.

And circling back to Rod Linn at Los Alamos:

Linn closed with a list of issues demonstrating that wildland fire modeling is a multidisciplinary exercise involving various aspects of natural science, computer science, AI, machine learning, and smoke modeling. Advanced modeling will require advanced data sets, including an understanding of the three dimensional structure of the vegetation. And finally, wildland fire science advancement must be done in cooperation with the wildland fire management community.

Practice of Science Friday: Who Is Holding the Climate Research Funding Flashlight and How it Affects Our Thinking

One memorable summer or fall day, probably over ten but less than twenty years ago,  when I worked for the Forest Service, I attended some kind of conference (most likely planning) in Missoula.  Missoula was very smoky from wildfires.  Several colleagues of mine and I sought out a brewpub after the conference, but it was too smoky to sit outside, so I remember us getting a keg and retiring to a colleague’s home.

Now we know.. via many scientific studies, that wildfire smoke is bad for you.   Perhaps we knew it then, but then it just seemed like part of life in wildfire-prone country.  What has changed?  Scientists have studied it extensively and found it to be bad for health.  The same particles were always bad, but now scientific studies exist to tell us that they are bad.  I think of scientific interest as a flashlight.  The world goes on, but the part that gets highlighted as “science” depends on who’s holding the flashlight. This is much discussed in the history and sociology of science literature, but not so much questioned day to day information sharing and reporting.

And who is holding the flashlight is a complex multi-actor and institution process that is not well understood. If we look at relative funding for sociology of science,  we can see why.

What made smoke suddenly more interesting and worthy of research?  Was it the fact that highly populated areas were getting more smoke?  Was it the fact that suddenly wildfires were “due to” climate change and there’s plenty of money in climate change?

I remember clearly one day when I worked in the WO in Vegetation Management and Protection Research, Elvia Niebla our USGCRP (US Global Change Research Program) staff person, came and said “there’s going to be huge amounts of money for climate change.”  So I asked her “everything we deal with is affected by climate, so couldn’t anything be funded?” This seemed like a great deal for almost any researchers. But it couldn’t fund everything, so people had to decide what is more worthy in topic and approaches.

I attended an SAF meeting somewhere in New York (perhaps in the 80’s?) and a Station Director (FS research equivalent of Regional Forester) told me that his Station wouldn’t be doing much work with the National Forests anymore as they had tapped into climate change bucks and they were going to do “real science.”

And most recently, just a few years before I retired, I received a call from a nice woman in Missoula who had been tasked to ask research users what our social science needs were.  After talking about it, it became clear that this was because they had received climate change funding, so they couldn’t actually study today’s problems and issues- only those  due to climate change. Understanding how to reduce recreation impacts? Uh, no.  Housing in resort communities? Well, perhaps if they were climate refugees..  Peoples’ attitudes toward prescribed fire? Yes, if due to climate change.  It’s perhaps a slippery slope from rationalizing useful research by highlighting the climate aspects, to publishing studies that unintentionally encourage people to overlook other sources of problems.

I don’t think that we have adequately thought about how this infusion of money (and chasing after it) may have changed the way we view issues, the disciplines we hire (or don’t) and how that affects what’s illuminated by the flashlight, the way we approach issues about forests, and so on.  And there is definitely a tendency for the volume control holders (media, foundations and interest groups) to highlight certain results.   Certainly “climate change is not a big factor in this” is not as attractive as “climate change is going to have really bad effects.”

For whatever reason, there was a push for many years to value mitigation over adaptation.  And the sciences involved in mitigation (atmospheric physics and chemistry) became way cooler and more important than say, hydrology or wheat breeding (adaptation sciences).  If we look back at the history of science, we can just barely see the fingerprints of the physical sciences being way cooler than others (aka  the well-known “physics envy”).  Conceivably much of the funding could have been sent instead, once the climate problem was identified, to coalitions of engineering schools to figure out cost-effective ways to decarbonize.   What factors of the scientific enterprise kept modelling so high in importance, and figuring out ways to fix that are relatively low in importance?  And does this age-old historical bias against applied science and engineering unconsciously play out in what is covered in the media… leading to climate despair? And how does this play into the availability of satellite data (another flashlight) , journals favoring global conclusions, and studies getting further and further from real people (social sciences) and real places (the scale at which actions take place).

An example of the mitigation/adaptation disconnect is this Katharine Hayhoe (et tu, TNC, Chief Scientist?) interview on On Being with Krista Tippett.   She says that Texans need to give up barbecue and pickups for a better world.. meanwhile, auto manufacturers are producing electric pickups.

We can look at other examples as we encounter them.



Possible Salvage Strategy for Dixie and Caldor Fires

Since a battle for salvage projects is brewing, I think the Forest Service and the timber industry should consider my idea to get the work done, as soon as possible, under the rules, laws and policies, currently in force. It would be a good thing to ‘preempt’ the expected litigation before it goes to Appeals Court.


The Forest Service should quickly get their plans together, making sure that the project will survive the lower court battles. It is likely that such plans that were upheld by lower courts, in the past, would survive the inevitable lower court battles. Once the lower court allows the project(s), the timber industry should get all the fallers they can find, and get every snag designated for harvest on the ground. Don’t worry too much about skidding until the felling gets done. That way, when the case is appealed, most of Chad Hanson’s issues would now be rendered ‘moot’. It sure seems like the Hanson folks’ entire case is dependent on having standing snags. If this idea is successful, I’m sure that Hanson will try to block the skidding and transport of logs to the mill. The Appeals Court would have to decide if skidding operations and log hauling are harmful to spotted owls and black-backed woodpeckers.


It seems worth a try, to thin out snags over HUGE areas, while minimizing the legal wranglings.

WaPo Story on Gain of Function Research: Lessons the Forest Community Could Teach NIH

One of the shortest efforts I was involved with in my career was to work on “how NEPA applies to R&D conducted by USDA through grants.” In my case, it was genetically engineered organisms and concern about their release into the environment. The answer, I was told, was that they wouldn’t get out, so no problem, no NEPA. But that was decades ago.

I thought the Washington Post has done a good job of reporting here on the details of how gain of function experiments and other potentially dangerous experiments have been approved.   Hopefully there is no firewall.  What does this have to do with the federal lands/forest biz, might you say?  It just seems to me if you need public involvement and environmental analysis for a 300 acre fuel reduction project, maybe you need the same kind or more for projects involving biosafety concerns?

If you need third party independent certification to make sure your wood has been sustainably produced.. maybe you should have the same (independent certification) procedures for labs, perhaps international like PEFC or FSC?  And if your argument why not is that it could be dangerous if you made the information public, maybe that’s a scientific/public policy situation that shouts “watch out.” And needs greater attention and scrutiny. hat’s conceptually, and then there’s the legal question of how or if NEPA applies.

I hope you can read the whole WaPo story, as it gives a history of how gain of function research has been managed.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, urged all federal and nonfederal labs on Aug. 28, 2014, to conduct a “Safety Stand-Down” to “review laboratory biosafety and biosecurity best practices and protocols.”

In mid-October — citing the “recent biosafety incidents at Federal research facilities” — the Office of Science and Technology Policy and HHS jointly announced a “pause” in funding for any newly proposed gain-of-function experiments with influenza and the feared coronavirus strains MERS and SARS.

The announcement also encouraged “those currently conducting this type of work, whether federally funded or not, to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.”

The increased federal scrutiny triggered pushback from some virologists, including coronavirus researchers Ralph S. Baric of the University of North Carolina and Mark R. Denison of Vanderbilt University.

“We argue that it is premature to include the emerging coronaviruses under these restrictions, as scientific dialogue that seriously argues the biology, pros, cons, likely risks to the public, and ethics of [gain-of-function research] have not been discussed in a serious forum,” Baric and Denison wrote to the biosecurity board on Nov. 12, 2014.

Referring more broadly to highly pathogenic flu and coronavirus strains, their letter added: “The pandemic potential of these viruses is clear, but they also are vulnerable in the early stages of an outbreak to public health intervention methods. . . . GOF [gain of function] experiments are a documented, powerful tool.”

Within weeks, NIH officials informed Baric and an undetermined number of other researchers that their work had been exempted from the pause.

I’d argue that it shouldn’t be only “scientific” dialogue; but perhaps experienced Ag and Interior people could help HHS design a “serious” public/scientific forum.  We’ve had a variety of political and media exhortations to “follow the science” which sometimes can spread into giving the mantle of authority to (some, usually at the expense of others) scientists and  into placing undue confidence in scientists acting selflessly in the public interest.  But hey, we’re just people, no better or worse.  Who don’t always behave well without oversight. I think that’s what President Eisenhower had in mind  when he said:

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields… ,” Eisenhower warned. “Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.”

While continuing to respect discovery and scientific research, he said, “We must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

Dan Sarewitz, an STS researcher, adds:

Eisenhower was concerned about a dilemma scientific and technological advances present modern society, Sarewitz said. The influence of these advances forces democratic societies to increasingly depend on a rarified elite to understand and manage the very complexity that they help to create and accelerate, he said. This is not only a problem of managing modern warfare, he said, but applies to other key technology-driven systems such as energy, agriculture and food, transportation, and communications.

And the interface between democracy and scientific expertise is the place that at least federal lands/forest people have long inhabited. In my own experience, not so much Big Science and the Science Establishment (like research on synthetic organisms.. what could go wrong?). I tried to find NEPA for NIH and HHS online but it seemed to relate to construction. Maybe there is a “when NEPA applies” paper like the FS has, for those organizations somewhere?

Here’s an interesting paper on synthetic biology and research needs for assessing environmental impacts. Perhaps we are several recursive steps (research to do research to do research) from doing the kind of environmental analysis that is needed for much of this kind of research.