2 Apr 2009, 12:55pm
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Revitalizing Science in a Risk-Averse Culture: Reflections on the Syndrome and Prescriptions for Its Cure

G. H. Pollack. 2005. Revitalizing Science in a Risk-Averse Culture: Reflections on the Syndrome and Prescriptions for Its Cure. Cellular and Molecular Biology 51, 815-820

Gerald Pollack is Professor of Molecular Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in the Dept. of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle WA

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:


This paper considers problems with the scientific culture and granting systems, the most important of which is an aversion to risk. Grant awards tend to be “safe” rather than bold. This discourages the fresh approaches that may bring important breakthroughs. The paper then suggests remedies that could restore the scientific enterprise to one that is friendlier to fresh thinking.


The thoughts contained herein arise in part from my experience as a frequent dissenter from prevailing orthodoxy, and in part from my experiences attending workshops convened to address problems with granting systems. Inevitably, such experiences generate ideas. In this case, they have brought modest insights into how granting systems might better serve transformative approaches that challenge the status quo. At present, such approaches have little chance of success. Yet they are the very ones that could bring spectacular advances.

Here, I outline the problems as I see them with today’s system of doing science, and their etiology. I also suggest remedies that could enhance scientists’ natural proclivity to seek the truth. Some of these thoughts have been passed on to the funding agencies in the context of campaigns designed to make the peer-review system more responsive to highly innovative, “out of the box” approaches.

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2 Apr 2009, 12:19pm
Ecology Economics Management
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Bushfires, Prescribed Burning, and Global Warming

Roger Underwood, David Packham, and Phil Cheney. 2008. Bushfires, Prescribed Burning, and Global Warming. Bushfire Front Inc. Occasional Paper No 1, April 2008 [here]

Roger Underwood is a former General Manager of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) in Western Australia, a regional and district manager, a research manager and bushfire specialist. Roger currently directs a consultancy practice with a focus on bushfire management and is Chairman of The Bushfire Front Inc.. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.

David Packham is Senior Research Fellow, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Victoria.

Phil Cheney is Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO, Canberra, ACT

Full text:

This is not a paper about climate change or the contentious aspects of the climate debate. Our interest is bushfire management. This is an activity into which the debate about climate change, in particular “global warming”, has intruded, with potentially damaging consequences.

Australia’s recent ratification of the Kyoto Treaty has been welcomed by people concerned about the spectre of global warming. However, the ratification was a political and symbolic action, and will have no immediate impact on the volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and therefore will not influence any possible relationship between CO2 emissions and global temperatures.

However, the ratification could have an impact on Australian forests. Spurious arguments about the role of fire contributing to carbon dioxide emissions could be used to persuade governments and management agencies to cease or very much reduce prescribed burning under mild conditions.

Decades of research and experience has demonstrated that fuel reduction by prescribed burning under mild conditions is the only proven, practical method to enable safe and efficient control of high-intensity forest fires.

Two myths have emerged about climate change and bushfire management and are beginning to circulate in the media and to be adopted as fact by some scientists:

1. Because of global warming, Australia will be increasingly subject to uncontrollable holocaust-like “megafires”.

2. Fuel reduction by prescribed burning must cease because it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating global warming and the occurrence of megafires.

Both statements are incorrect. However they represent the sort of plausible-sounding assertions which, if repeated often enough, can take on a life of their own and lead eventually to damaging policy change.

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