The GWCT, YFTB, The Times and the Shooting Times are all making hay over an embargoed scientific paper which the rest of us can’t access. It’s pretty shoddy behaviour really. They should all remove their online articles and wait for the publication of the paper in May.
I contacted the authors of the paper today. The first person I contacted was the only author of the paper who works at the University of Swansea, since that is where GWCT say they accessed the paper. I won’t name the guy (because the paper is embargoed (remember?)). I sent this unnamed person a list of questions and didn’t get a reply to them as such, but did get a reply saying he was on his way to an airport.
I also contacted the senior author of the paper, Prof Matt Davies (Assistant Professor (Soil and Plant Community Restoration), School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University) because the GWCT have published his name on their blog, and he told me he was dealing with this matter on behalf of all the other authors. Prof Davies was very open and very helpful. It is clear that he is embarrassed by the accidental emergence of this paper (an error) and the furore that has been caused by others (not an error – but not his fault). No-one can escape the irony of a scientific paper talking about the politics of land use being embroiled in the politics of land use.
Prof Davies gave me this quote (which I reproduce in full) on behalf of all the authors (but he wouldn’t have had time to clear it with them all):
‘The paper was accidentally made publicly available for a short time, this has been corrected. In that time a number of organisations picked it up. We do not endorse any of the current media coverage of our work, associated press releases or blog posts. We are disappointed that a paper that calls for a better understanding and representation of fire in scientific debates, and in the media, has been picked up in such a politicized way. Ironically, this is doing exactly what we are arguing against. We recognise the fire is an emotive topic in the U.K., much more so than in other countries. We only want fire to be understood as an ecosystem processes and for managed fire to be discussed based on a thorough understanding of the balance between its various benefits and disbenefits. We look forward to discussing and debating the scientific arguments made in our paper once it is officially published in May.’
So, there you go. Cock-up not conspiracy. And the authors don’t endorse any of the coverage. And the paper is embargoed – did I mention that before?
I wonder whether GWCT were asked not to publish their blog?
I think that the GWCT ought to remove their blog from their website and then they can put it back up in May when the paper is published. That would be the right thing to do and if they have a vestigial ounce of scientific credibility then that is what they will do. I’d say that GWCT are as likely to do that as Willie Mullins is to train no winners at next week’s Cheltenham Festival (ie practically no chance at all).
And in May, this blog will address the subject of whether the RSPB deserve a damn good hiding over this matter.