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The importance of repeating the message

Wink Sutton, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2012.

My article on page 42 on the sawing of Hull’s pruned radiata raises a very relevant point. Even though I was involved in the preparation of Fenton’s report on his 1962 sawmill study, I had completely forgotten the relevance of that work. However, as I remembered Brown’s report, I always thought that the sawing of Hull’s trees was the first sawing of pruned radiata logs.

In my defence I want to say that Fenton’s report was not published until 1967. Although technically accurate the title was very general and gave little indication of what the paper was really about. Being a technical paper I very much doubt if anyone actually read the complete report. And if they did, I doubt if anyone gave much thought about the implications.

When I was a scientist at the Forest Research Institute (now Scion) I spent 20 to 25 per cent of my time visiting forests, giving talks and lectures and taking visitors around. Even though these activities took me away from my research they contributed greatly to my work. I have published many scientific papers and written many branch reports. I slowly became acutely aware that few of my publications had been read in full and more importantly, my writings were having little effect on operations. Forest managers do not have time to read research reports and even more importantly, they rarely have the training, experience or even the ability to interpret the practical implications of a scientific study.

By talking to other than research staff you soon found out if your research was relevant. Talking with practitioners often led to subtle, and occasionally big changes in your research.

The Director of Production Research, Harry Bunn, was an enthusiastic supporter of researchers getting out of the ivory tower of research and testing ideas with field staff. Harry knew from experience the value of forest visits, of field demonstration areas, meetings and of symposiums.

I had many arguments with Bob Fenton about the repetition of research findings. Bob was very much against scientists who repeated, by way of writings and talks, the same message. Encouraged by Harry Bunn we did just that and I am convinced we were right to constantly and consistently say the same thing. I was once at a meeting and, although I was out-numbered by those who held a different view, I repeated my usual message. The audience laughed. When I asked others why everyone seemed to laugh I was told almost everyone was expecting me to say what I did. When selling toothpaste, hamburgers, pizzas, travel agencies, one advertisement achieves nothing but repeating may prove effective. The same is true for effective scientists.

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