Research on firefighters that is not Open Access should be boycotted

For Throwback Thursday, here’s an article we originally published in 2011:


Open Access logo
Open Access logo

We all hate paying for something and then not receiving what we paid for. That is what is happening now to taxpayers who pay for government-funded research and then have no access to the findings.

We have ranted about this before, and documented another example a few days ago when we discovered that it will cost us $41 to obtain a copy of the findings from research conducted by the University of Georgia. Associate Professor Luke Naeher and others found that  lung function decreases for firefighters who work on prescribed fires for multiple days and are exposed to smoke. Further, it showed that respiratory functions slowly declined over a 10-week season.

This is not the only research that has explored the effects of smoke on wildland firefighters, but it may significantly add to the limited body of knowledge we have on the topic. We won’t know, however, unless we pay a second time in order to see their conclusions.

Researchers at some organizations receive pay raises and promotions based partially on the “publish or perish” meme. A system that requires researchers to publish in journals that are not completely open to the public, is antiquated and has no place in 2011 when a paper can be published in seconds on the internet at little or no cost.

Some of the research that has been conducted on firefighters requires a great deal of cooperation from the firefighters, including for example, ingesting core temperature monitors, carrying a drinking water system that monitors every drink they take, and even lubricating and then inserting a rectal thermistor probe attached to wires.

The Boycott

There is no reason for firefighters to go to extreme lengths to help researchers advance the researcher’s career paths unless the firefighters can receive some benefits from the project. So, we are jumping on the idea proposed by Rileymon in a comment on the University of Georgia article:

Maybe it’s time to suggest that firefighter/research subjects boycott new research studies unless the findings are put into the Public Domain?

Here is what we are proposing:

  1. Firefighters, administrators, and land managers should not cooperate with researchers unless they can be assured that findings from the research will be available to the public at no charge immediately following the publication of the findings, or very shortly thereafter.
  2. Researchers should conform to the principles of Open Access.
  3. Scientists who assist in the peer review process for conferences or journals should pledge to only do so only if the accepted publications are made available to the public at no charge via the internet.


UPDATE February 22, 2017: There is a sign that the new Trump administration will be even less transparent than his predecessor. A great deal of data is now unavailable on the White House open data portal. It is possible this is just an unannounced temporary change…. we’ll see.


More information:


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Research on firefighters that is not Open Access should be boycotted”

  1. It seems to me that a researcher could produce a short summary of their work for one of the technical fire management journals. I’ve long thought that we need a “Wildland Fire Management Applications” journal (articles would be peer reviewed but also “open access”) that would serve as a vehicle for distilling down research articles for the average Joe.

    Marty Alexander, Wild Rose Fire Behaviour, Leduc County, Alberta

    1. Thanks for the link to where it is now available. We just visited that site and clicked on the link to the actual document. There is a note at the top saying it was downloaded on “09 October 2014” almost four years after we wrote about it.

      That paper was mentioned as one example. We have documented many more in articles tagged “open access”.

      I still strongly believe that taxpayer-funded research should be available at no additional charge to those who paid for it immediately upon any publication of the findings.

      1. Bill,

        I totally agree on most levels. However, it is critical to get the research into the peer reviewed literature to provide a solid foundation to build policy off of. Unfortunately, these level of journals are not always open access. However, I work my ass off trying to spread our research findings across the country and elsewhere realizing that even if this research were open access, does not mean it is written for the lay population. Distilling the main message of the research into meaningful application is far more important than providing the original research. However, I do both! If someone wants any of my papers – send me an email and what you would like. I can send you any of our original research for your late night reading enjoyment.

        I have limited time and patience for scientists that only seek grant funding and publication fame (like that is a real thing)! If you are not able and willing to distill your work into formats that can be appreciated, consumed and put into practice by the end user(s)…you are not doing your job. Step up science…be willing and able to share effectively!

        So, while I agree with you to some degree, a full on boycott is not warranted. Don’t punish the messenger. When journals are less than open access, researchers need to provide their own version of open access to their findings by developing novel strategies to spread the good word.

      2. One of many issues are most colleges are squeezed for legitimate funding unless it’s a utilitarian knowledge to help the bottom line of corporations. I have found it difficult and so far after asking for several years, politely, the MTDC and the San Dimas folks who tested our employees for the results with the permission of our employees to see the measured PAH’s polyaromatichydrocarbons-200 chemicals have never released any info to our organization after all. They said there policy would not let them. So if you will continue reading I have an explanation below I would encourage you to read, and I don’t hold any degrees except a never-ending curiosity to know why which leaves a lot of us earlier than it should. I have been fortunate in some ways to understand knowledge is a multi-edged sword.
        Why would you get a funded research grant ? How? It’s called Justification. Who justifies? Institutional Review Boards at your local college and board of trustees, lawyers. How do they justify? (Remember the defunding of these so called liberal universities is the corrupting reason.)Therein lies the key, simple really, its cause there is a necessity to describe or understand a particular or general health problem which causes undue harm to a specific population. If there is a finding it may hold related solutions to other outcomes and changes for ex; the dehydration study being done where I work has implications related to climate change extremes if you will. At the same time when I drive by an accident say a parent, mother, father , or child lying under a heavy weight suffocating and crushing the life right out of them I run to the library to see if that is going to hurt them and 5 years later I get the money and the ok to do what’s right. Of course they are dead!
        That begs the question why are we doing research? In addition to modernize a work environment, improve the quality of life of people in forestry work and when they go home , to engage hands on their participation, give them knowledge, understand mortality, limits, instill a young workforce or older the understanding of exposures for instance hearing loss which is starting to make headway and the other can’t see is the Poly- aromatic -hydrocarbons remember it describes the more than 200 chemicals you are exposed to in wildlfires the smoke we are talking about.. I am not trying to use big words I don’t have a college degree and I didn’t quit learning either. Take the word epidemiology, use that to google wildland firefighters studies in relationship to smoke inhalation and you will get more valid hits about the cancer causing agents we breathe on the cheap. What helps people understand the dangers far more than writing administrative rules(10/18 etc, helpful) to protect them since it’s only a CYA for the unknowing mgt . Integral parts of safety are admin rules , ppe, engineering, ergonomics and human factors.
        If science is performed with methodologies that pass scrutiny of not being especially biased by the researcher, best statistical processes controls or factor analysis and you throw out anomalies that aren’t valid, then you may have limited success or discovery if you are fortunate. I suggest you don’t boycott for a lot of reasons listed here or at least discuss it further. Research can reveal an unknown or most of the time fail or lead to another and another study which is an imperfect process but admits when it’s wrong and will change course.
        The problems with science research if not understood, could create smoke and mirrors or a fox like chase down every so called potential elemental risk exposure to be a subject for research to satisfy global or nihilist skepticism and that is another story unto itself. ‘The Fox knows many things but the Hedgehog knows one”.
        To get grant money and the pure hell that goes into being successful and the potential rewards inspire the grantee to hold onto intellectual property. I don’t buy that answer due to the non transparency business practices promote and they reside in our country of responsible citizens. There are 4 layers of responsibility: Personal, Liability,Intellectual, and the lack of intellectual responsibility. The country I grew up in with a community of citizens as priority in the here and now based on law seems further removed every year. We have to have experts with colonial like certifications to interpret the good.
        There may be reasons of agreements made with the research entity and its subjects under the guise of privacy of the employee/citizen to hide their organizations culpability, their business practices, or gov’t entities own fears of responsibility. Hippa can be misused to hide their- responsibility to the work-person and are really using it to hide their knowledge, responsibility, ethics, morals, liability for specific class of individuals, etc to the work or citizen population so money can be diverted to where it has been going for decades.
        With that said the science researchers-professors who struggle for certainty or tenure even if they are true educators are forced into a business model like pseudo- competition. If you understand from a child’s curiosity to an adult’s brain with learned techniques for inquiry, we are interested in how things work which is most of the population but don’t have access to education unless you fit a narrow demographic that is tailored for college, better luck than others, get a rare apprenticeship these days or know or cultivate relationships with those who have knowledge to share are very motivated and by happenstance are competitive.
        People are already highly motivated without a business or money incentive to know, understand, and keep intellectually enthusiastic about real VALUE-life. Money is the standard to simplify trade but it can narrow if you haven’t noticed the options otherwise available in a so called free society we are supposed to prosper in. The incentive or motivation is born within you unless you have an extreme learning disability to a larger extent or have adopted a more flawed ideology than most people already have notwithstanding other injuries.
        The standard of motivation is fixed for a fixed system-low, that we all repair daily called work when we can do so much more with some real fixes we won’t hear about til there is a volcano, earthquake, plague, meteor, wild fire, nuke, that no one wants unless you are a fft. Values and priorities are skewed in the minds of many of us.
        Any scrutiny brought to bear on workplace, wherever, whomever, will be censored, marginalized, demonized, and erased from the roles of team player and on and on til you are gone, weakened, or absorbed as one of their own and not yourself, unless you are lucky to remain true. Substitute your values, choices, with rules, policy, admin, etc by management using the guise of leadership to sell the weak sauce of capitulation. Leadership is much more risky and more value laden. We don’t do that as often if at all. Use your power of interpretation to resist and change.
        We need compensation, medical insurance for your whole life if you have had an exposure to the 3 prominent ones I have noted even though there are many important ones not listed. The dangerous exposures especially this reply is about what we breathe just like cigarettes they don’t hurt you, the nicotine does.
        An underlying cause of our hidden problems; We accidentally hire more of the youth in this country more often than not to justify the adversity as the adverse conditions require youth on a forest fire and it happens to go along quite well with inadvertently hiding the outcomes of the exposures these young and old but mostly young become debilitated by and become old sooner than later.
        The temporary hire of ffts is a big cause of the problems we are inadvertently hiding. The youth will be gone after getting their college degree etc and we don’t know if they were really harmed cause they are gone, see? So we don’t have to do the right thing, sweet. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for the laws of the environment. If evidence of absence is what we fill our minds with then absence of evidence will continue to be the unwritten policy.
        What you are talking about here is the obvious need of democratic action from us the fire people to get a presumptive clause for anyone for ex: who works a 5 year period of exposure to loud sounds that make you go deaf and lose the quality of life-social stuff and political , hand arm vibrations that cause carpal tunnel , and other Muscular skeletal disorders, cause you augured in the ground with vibration numbing chainsaws to plant trees to do the good, or cut hundreds of trees, and had your life over stepped by the authority of broken work systems, that gave more rights to companies , gov’t itself which use to have the role of protecting it’s citizenry. Instead companies, organizations, who lobbied gov’t to go along with efficiency, narrow profit and the promise of drudgery likje jobs excepting ours created circumstances that you were not aware of pushed by lobbyists and other misguided pandering sycophants.
        . As humans we want to be social, and not split from the political-power or political split from the social, but that is what is being done and has been done for decades after the 50’s and 60’s backlash from the titan’s of industry or whomever you would like to say as they now create or imagine what you do and you don’t out of context, because see creativity is some weird thing of art, music, literature you have no connection except to consume it which isn’t all bad but it takes away your innate human power to create, think, inquire, learn, for example; Romanticism- say Louis L’amour a seemingly simple writer of hyper masculine novels among others, wrote westerns about risk takers, earth shakers, but if you don’t know about Romanticism as counter culture(science fiction, novels that can reveal or show the problems as good as nonfiction or research ) as in you create, scheme, to make a different world to live in is an opportunity to understand art as commentary on the alienation of this culture and work systems we dysfunctionally live in is the problem- a human factor, left to be used as a repeated story of spin year after year in lieu of doing the good.


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