Accuracy and Critique

Critique vs accuracy venn diagram

When a wildland fire incident has a controversial outcome it will often be pointed out by those who are knowledgeable on the subject, or by someone who is directly or indirectly affected.

I understand how venting can be cathartic. As long as it is done in private, no problem. If it is done in public there can be cascading repercussions, and therefore more responsibility. At worst, it can be self-serving, cruel, damaging, and counterproductive. But if everything said is completely accurate, and the result can benefit mankind, then the greater good might be served in many situations. At Wildfire Today, I know that sunlight can be the best disinfectant. Helping shine a little light on lessons learned by firefighters through information about reports being released or critique from various sources, might reduce the chances of someone else learning a lesson the hard way — with unpleasant consequences.

Years ago in a comment section on Wildfire Today someone made statements about another person. It was slanderous, not true, and damaged the reputation of a very honorable and skilled professional. Since then I have strived harder to have factual information on the web site. There are times when that objective is not met, but it does not stop me from trying.

Even the best intentioned formal investigations of incidents may occasionally miss the mark of being accurate. Other times the report an investigation team releases might purposefully deceive, or lie by omission. I certainly do not have all the answers, not by a long shot. In cases like these, and others, attention is needed by the hive mind of the wildland fire community.

Critique not meshing with accuracy can keep me up at night.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

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.

7 thoughts on “Accuracy and Critique”

  1. Bill,

    Thank you for your article. I want to comment on this portion of your ‘Accuracy and Critique’ post where you too had the best of intentions: “Even the best intentioned formal investigations of incidents may occasionally miss the mark of being accurate. Other times the report an investigation team releases might purposefully deceive, or lie by omission. … In cases like these, and others, attention is needed by the hive mind of the wildland fire community.”

    One of your link definitions states: “2 : the collective thoughts, ideas, and opinions of a group of people (such as Internet users) regarded as functioning together as a single mind”

    Is that really what you want here – for us to function together as a single mind? I’ll address that further down below.

    It is more accurate to state that the formal investigations (now euphemistically called “Learning Reviews” among other things) are everything but accurate and almost always deceptive, with the conclusions established first and the alleged “facts” then “discovered” to “prove” the preconceived conclusion or lies by omission. The historical conventional wisdom is / was for the facts to lead investigators to the conclusion(s). That’s not the case any longer.

    And now for the “attention is needed by the hive mind of the wildland fire community” issue. This is the first I’ve heard of hive mind and to me, it’s merely another phrase for the recognized Hazardous Attitude of Groupthink addressed under the Human Factor Barriers to Situation Awareness section in our IRPG on pages xi and xii. (2018)

    Hive mind: “A form of collective consciousness strongly exhibiting traits of conformity and groupthink.” (Wikipedia) So there you have it, the “hive mind” is nothing more than the insidious hazardous attitude of Groupthink. (Irving Janis 1972, 1977, 1989)

    “Groupthink: “A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
    (Janis 1972, 1977, 1989)

    The Blasting News “contributor” DM (August 3, 2017) posted: “Groupthink or the hive mind is a well-known psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people. The inherent desire for conformity and harmony, all of us carry within ourselves, results in irrational decision making. It spreads over the collective consciousness of any given group, like cancer, and divorces it from any and all critical evaluation, while suppressing alternative viewpoints.” He concludes the article with “Quality doesn’t matter. Conformity does.”

    Do we really want conformity and harmony? Or do we want respectful conversations to flesh out the best alternative(s), solution(s), and answer(s)? even though those conversations may become a might heated at times.

    As I posted above, I had never heard of “hive mind” until you mentioned it, and the notion of Groupthink immediately came to mind. In a military article titled: “Hive Mind and Groupthink – The Curse of the Perfect IPT” by Lt. Col. Harry J. “H-Man” Hewson, USMC. Although there was no definition of “IPT” in the article itself, the standard definition in the military websites was Integrated Product Team.

    “Combined, they [Hive Mind and Groupthink] form a noose around the neck of any cross-functional team, producing shallow thinking, flawed reasoning,and bad decision making.” Now that very much sounds unlike something I would want to consider in these ongoing discussions of important topics directly related to the USFS ENF Caples RX Burn turned wildfire debacle, and so much more.

    I am more in tuned with the “sunlight can be the best disinfectant” attitude. Shining a lot of light on the lessons learned by firefighters through information about reports being released or critiqued from various sources in this WFT forum, might very well increase the chances of someone learning the truth and complete lessons with good outcomes.

    Wildland firefighting mishaps and blunders, including the deaths, mishaps, blunders, and deaths in all fields of work, are inevitable; all we can do is lessen them.

    And thank you for the kudos Royal Burnett. The feelings are mutual. We are both realists doing our best to ensure that RX burning and wildland firefighting are accomplished in a responsible manner and to expose the mistakes that are bound to occur rather than cover them up.

    1. Fred, that is quite a critique of an article about critiques. The length of your response indicates that is something you enjoy.

      You took one metaphor and ran with a version of it 1,000 miles away from how I intended it to be used.

      “Hive mind” was first used in the 1950s, but has in recent years been used more often. And, no, I was not advocating “group think”, but utilizing many minds to analyze a problem and individually develop solutions. Then the best ideas would float to the top, or several could be combined to form a solution that is better than any single idea. All of us are smarter than any one of us. That’s all.

      “Hive mind” is not always the same as “group think”.

      Here is a quote from the article I linked to:

      … Mindy Kaling asks her Twitter followers for the best dinner spots in cities she’s visiting. Generally, people trust that feedback from the hive mind is correct and well-informed.
      — Sarah Z. Wexler

      Info from more sources about hive mind:

      A collective consciousness, analogous to the behavior of social insects, in which a group of people become aware of their commonality and think and act as a community, sharing their knowledge, thoughts, and resources: the global hive mind that has emerged with sites like Twitter and Facebook.

      The term “hive mind” refers to the apparent intelligence that emerges at the group level in some social species, particularly insects like honeybees and ants. An individual honeybee might not be very bright (although that’s debatable), but the honeybee colony as a collective might be very intelligent.


      A hive mind is a collective mentality, the collective ideas of a group of people. 

      You can define it however you want, but above — is how I used it in the article.

      1. Bill,

        That’s what it was alright – a critique of an article about critiques. However, the length of my response was an indication of me providing different viewpoints from other sources of the “hive mind” phrase.

        On the contrary, I took one metaphor and sensibly walked with another version of it a few yards away, hoping that both you and your readers would realize that there were other meanings to the phrase that was new to me … and probably several others as well.

        Something I enjoy? Hardly. Merely pointing out the equivocal nature of the phrase and how it could be confused with other less than beneficial phrases and terms so often used in the wildland fire culture, e.g. Team Player, Don’t Rock the Boat, and Go Along to Get Along.

        As I said, that was the first time I heard the phrase “hive mind.” I did my research and found and read all the data you provided and their definitions and rationale. I then examined several other sources that considered the phrase analogous to Groupthink.

        In addition, it is also because I favor human studies and such over animal and insect studies. And in particular, I encourage relying more on military sources since wildland firefighting is a quasi-military operation with a chain of command and a need to follow ethical, legal, moral, and safe orders with the right (and responsibility) to properly refuse risk per the IRPG. (p. 19)

        Here is an explanatory quote from a Marine Lt. Colonel in the military article I mentioned:

        “There are some easy, local things we can do to avoid hive mind, groupthink, and the long list of their genetic cousins. First, recognize and understand the fact that hive mind and groupthink are always lurking in the shadows and are ultimately destructive. Make everyone on the team aware, and make it clear that such tendencies must be battled.

        “Second, work to create a climate that values dissent. Appoint a devil’s advocate. Open up discussions and demand well-reasoned discourse from every team member. Encourage rational arguments. Engage and provoke people, and demand that they do the same.

        “Third, when making hiring decisions, look for the outliers. You know who these people are. They’re the organizational weirdos who tend to take up a lot of your time with their side issues and interpersonal problems. Often they don’t work well with others. Perfect! Find the kernel of genius in these folks and use it.

        “Finally, reinforce your ties with the end users: the soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines … . Plumb them for ideas, and bounce your concepts off them. Learn the ground truth for yourself so that you can keep the team headed in the right direction. ….”

        Source: Hive Mind and Groupthink – The Curse of the Perfect IPT by Lt. Col. Harry J. “H-Man” Hewson, USMC. Team Dynamics. Defense AT&L: November-December 2005.

        I agree that “hive mind” is not always the same as Groupthink and that’s what the various articles and research indicate. I defined it based on other sources. Thank you for providing this newfound phrase and further clarifying how you used it in the article, thank you for letting me reply, and thank you for Wildfire Today.

  2. Bill-

    That was very well said.

    That even made an impact on stubborn me to think before I type publicly ( especially when frustrated )

    I admit I still need the tools ⚒ on how to take what I saw and then the aftermath what I saw and did not see ( redactions ) and how to place it out in public.

    Your words I took to heart.

    I know when I see the Fire Weather and I see the progression, I almost wish I never learned those tools and I kept being that housewife hiker yet I ? think ?I was not being right by the men and the families. I am so glad to have their support through this because it is not an easy path. I have had people believe lies because others falsely placed publicly misinformation think my hiking partner ? was my husband based on what a fire author said at presentations and just learned this week one of the YHFire SAIT folks thought RTS and I were dating. Sad world. ?


    I just want to make my way back home to be the housewife hiker after I made sure complete lessons learned have been all brought to light.

    Thank you for the public “checkin” as I am traveling and not near email to thank you via email.

  3. Dear Bill,
    Although I am a novice in the wildfire arena and my comments come with minimal technical expertise, I think you do a tremendous job at representing this profession. Like most professions there are norms and etiquette which I recognize; unfortunately there will always be those who come with alterier motives. I am not one, but thank you for doing a great service to this industry.

  4. Your reputation for integrity precedes you.
    Don’t lose too much sleep over worries, we all need a good night’s rest.
    Thanks for all your efforts.


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