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Australian Senate labels research in Tas Uni paper ‘bodgy’

The Institute of Foresters of Australia wants an apology from the University of Tasmania after a paper suggesting forestry harvesting activities make forests more bushfire prone was withdrawn by the journal Fire due to a number of errors. And in a further major embarrassment for the anti-native forestry industry activists, the Australian Senate on Thursday joined the growing list of those condemning the “bodgy” research. Source: Timberbiz

The motion to condemn the error-ridden research and the way it has been misused by the Greens and activists to attack sustainable forestry, was moved by Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Senator Jonno Duniam.

The motion, among other things, calls on the Bob Brown Foundation and the Australian Greens to apologise.

The motion was supported by Coalition and ALP members, but not by the Greens, despite the authors of the research paper themselves conceding it should not have been published.

The wording of the motion appears at the bottom of this article.

In an almost unheard-of move, the journal has now announced it is immediately disassociating itself from the article and apologising for its publication after discovering numerous errors in the research.

The paper, Propensities of Old Growth, Mature and Regrowth Wet Eucalypt Forest, and Eucalyptus nitens Plantation, to Burn during Wildfire and Suffer Fire-Induced Crown Death by University of Tasmania Suyanti Winto-Lewin, Jennifer Sanger and James Kirkpatrick was retracted on 27 August.

The paper was published in a special issue of the journal with two of the three special issue editors responsible for the scientific standard of its content also being University of Tasmania academics.

According to the retraction notice, the authors were informed of some errors in the categorisation of the forest types by a colleague.

“The major error was the incorrect inclusion of a category of plantation from a publicly available vegetation type layer. There were also other sites which were incorrectly categorized,” the retraction notice stated.

“The authors reclassified or removed the sites that were obviously incorrect, added new randomly located sites to compensate for excluded sites and added more site pairs.”

The reanalysis of the data including the new sites revealed that “ … a close examination of the data indicated that the outcomes were highly sensitive to variation in fire intensity in a low number of sites, indicating a need for a larger data set and complementary analyses using GIS techniques.

“The Fire editorial office stated the paper is retracted to ensure the addition of only high-quality scientific works to the field of scholarly communication.”

The journal has been applauded for its decisive and honourable action, and Sanger and Winoto-Lewin condemned for their discredited research, by a growing list of stakeholders. This list includes the Institute of Foresters Australia, the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Senator Jonno Duniam, the Tasmanian Minister for Natural Resources Guy Barnett and the Tasmanian Shadow Minister for Resources Shane Broad.

IFA President Bob Gordon said his organisation would be immediately seeking an apology from the University of Tasmania over the standard of the university’s review process that had resulted in this publication.

“What I marvel at, is it took two volunteer independent scientists and academics to pick up these errors through publicly available data and then contact the editors of this journal to highlight the substantial issues in methodology,” Mr Gordon said.

Mr Gordon said the withdrawal of this paper highlights a significant issue and the IFA will be seeking an apology from the university.

Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton said he would be writing to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Tasmania asking what measures would be taken to undo the wrong which it had done.

“The research also prompted a slew of media articles. I will be contacting all those outlets seeking corrections. I shall also be ensuring that all politicians, federal and state, with an interest in forest industries, ensuring they understand the research has been exposed as wrong,” Mr Hampton said.

Mr Hampton said activist academics had for years been using ”bodgy” research to attack sustainable forestry in Australia.

“It happens in many ways. A small sample can be wrongly extrapolated out to make sweeping statements about vast forest areas.

“Or coincidence and causality is deliberately blurred.”

Mr Hampton said this “bodgy” research paper, which he says clearly should have failed any peer review, is, sadly, unlikely to stop the activist academics who seem determined to try to restart the ‘forest wars’.

“It should however give great pause to our academic institutions which prize their reputation above all else but are allowing their names to be associated with activism posing as research,” Mr Hampton said.

“The scientific consensus is that there is no causal link between timber harvesting in Australia and overall increased bushfire severity. When one considers that native forestry uses the equivalent of six trees out of every 10,000, and areas used are regenerated by law, the areas in question are so small the proposition is patently absurd.”

The Chief Executive of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association Nick Steel said both the Bob Brown Foundation and the Tasmanian Greens had used this report to attack forestry in Tasmania.

“After a long period of calm in our forests these groups seem to be attempting to reignite the ‘forest wars’ and this dodgy research was just one more example of that,” Mr Steel said.

“Tasmanians are over the debate. Sustainable forestry continues to play an important part in the regional Tasmanian economy – never more obvious than when tourism is suffering so badly due to COVID-19. It is time these activists accepted that.”

The motion passed by the Senator on Thursday.

      The Senate:

(a) notes that a report used by the Australian Greens to assert that forestry operations cause bushfires has been retracted and withdrawn after insistence from the academic community;

(b) further notes that the withdrawal of this paper was required because of the number of significant errors and wrong conclusions and that it did not meet the standard for ‘high-quality scientific works’ as required by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI);

(c) condemns the Australian Greens and the Bob Brown Foundation for consistent use of bodgy science to attempt to backup their falsehoods about forestry; and

(d) calls on the Bob Brown Foundation and the Australian Greens to apologise to the hardworking men and women of the forestry industry that they use misinformation to demonise.