Thursday, June 14, 2012


date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002 18:04:40 -0700
from: "Harold C. Fritts" <hfrittsatXYZxyzR.ARIZONA.EDU>
subject: [Fwd: Fwd: Re: Fwd: History and trees]

Dear Rod,
To send a message to the listserv you send it not to Henri but to
I am taking the liberty, since you intended it for the forum, to send
this back to via the forum.
I will make my comments in the message where appropriate. You are
rather blunt in your generalizations that you consider fact and the only
way I can truly deal with them is to be just as blunt and perhaps a
little more straight forward in reply. Please forgive me for not being
more tactful. There is no way I can answer this message in a strictly
tactful way.

Rod Savidge wrote:
> Hal,
> my message below sent to grissinoatXYZxyzUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU evidently has
> been blocked, as it was sent quite some time ago. Anyway, it was
> intended primarily for you, so here it is, something for you to chew
> on.
> best wishes,
> Rod
> > Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002 10:38:42 -0400
> > To: grissinoatXYZxyzUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU
> > From: Rod Savidge <>
> > Subject: Re: Fwd: History and trees
> > Cc:
> >
> > Dear Hal,
> > The nature of genuine scientific endeavour is to discover and
> > explain the truth about nature, no matter how that knowledge impacts
> > the preconceptions of mankind.
No dispute here.
Over the last century,
> > dendrochronology has set itself up for criticism by persistently
> > shying away from, rather than confronting, the key issues.
That is how you allow yourself to see us. Rod, this is a generalization
that would irritate any scientist in any discipline. You consider it a
fact but it is the myth that you insist on calling your and everyone
else's reality. Please allow your self to consider that you may have
some limitations of experience here. You sit at your lofty seat of
"God" and make these pronouncements.
I give
> > you credit, Hal, for long ago identifying many of the shortcomings
> > of dendrochronological investigation;
Yes, Ron I accepted the criticism at face value but when I got down to
doing the nitty gritty of dendrochronological work, I realized how false
and biased these criticisms were. They were made by people that had
created their own reality which they believed in as you do. Most of them
had personal motives to say such things. Glock was fired from the
Tree-Ring Lab and was really getting even.
however, the world is
> > nevertheless entitled to ask what has been done to solve the
> > problems identified decades ago? In my view, almost nothing has
> > been done; the same problems remain today,
You perceive them to be present today because you refuse to recognize
the checks and balances used by dendrochronologist to assure that false
rings and missing rings are located and identified. They are not
located by their anatomical nature as you might think they should be but
by a procedure of replication and further replication until there is
sufficiently small uncertainty to call it true. This particular point is
a statistical point that I realize you cannot appreciate or accept. All
science is based on likelihood and probability. That is why it is so
important that things be replicated by other scientists. But you can't
replicate our experiment because you really do not understand what
procedure and checks we use.

and the field of
> > dendrochronology continues to walk the easy road, but now
> > promulgating itself as an exact science. That is not the way of
> > real science at all.

We have a lot more scientists that understand what we are doing than you
can possibly imagine. You frankly are the exception, not the rule. This
is the position you took at Davos and every other contact I have had
with you. I have not seen any movement or genuine willingness to learn
on your part. As long as you take such a high and mighty position, you
will never be convinced because then you would have to admit you, not
dendrochronologist have unrealistic views. It is this gap that has to
be bridged and it is not dendrochronologist that will be able to bridge

> >
> > Any grade school child can count and measure the widths of bands in
> > wood and be led to believe that they are absolutely and inviolately
> > "annual" rings.

A case in point, you actually believe that dendrochronologists are this

Taking it the next step, to admitting that, 'Well,
> > some are and some aren't really annual rings, some are false rings',
> > of course opens you up to the obvious question: 'How do you know
> > which is which?' Thus, the "exactness" of dendrochronology begins
> > to be doubted.

You and all others that take this high and mighty approach doubt it
because you think dendrochronologists are just your grade school
children out there counting and measuring widths of bands they "think"
are annual rings. Ron, you are so far off on this point we can't
possibly rebut it because what you see is NOT what we are doing and
nothing we can say will persuade you because we are only children in
your mind.

Taking it yet one more step, to admitting that,
> > 'Well, it could be that some years the tree actually did not produce
> > any wood at all, in which case there would be no annual ring',
> > introduces a complex problem: 'Are there missing rings and, if so,
> > where are they, and how do I integrate plausible missing rings with
> > false rings to correctly age this specimen?'

That is precisely the logic all dendrochronologist go through and there
are true and tried procedures that we use that will pass any scientific
test, if only one will truly look at what is being done.

As you well know,
> > Hal, dendrochronology students were led to statistics to solve their
> > problems. Statistics does not have a hotline to the truth,
> > however.

Correct, it is not an answer to all things, but it along with knowledge
of physiology and anatomy it has a very important place. I have always
taken the position that the biological basis and statistics must be used
together, not statistics alone. You saw from my PS that the debate
about the importance continues to go on. I would say to my field that in
the absence of a more balanced concern with the tree biology, and
statistics we leave ourselves open to critics like you.

The most it can do is identify the best 'guess' from the
> > limited data available and, even more problematic for
> > interpretation, within underlying assumptions. It seems that some
> > dendrochronologists have set themselves up as gurus; they just know
> > the answers, although they cannot explain them nor support them
> > other than by statistical inference.

This is again your perception of what you view as the reality. There
are many many dendrochronologists who are very good at understanding
physiology. Others, have a more shallow background. We are a
population with many different viewpoints and I don't know any one who
is not willing to listen to the others viewpoint and to learn from them.
All understand the basic procedures and checks if they are true
dendrochronologists. That does not mean that we don't have some in the
field making bad decisions, but these are usually caught when these
people try to publish in the field.
> >
> > As you point out, there is a long history of unconvinced scientists
> > like myself questioning the validity of dendrochronological
> > methodology and deductions.

I would not call it a long history at all. There are people from the
outside that question. Many of these become convinced when they truly
consider and see what we do. I went through this process myself so I so
have a little understanding of what is happening.

Disciples of dendrochronology may want
> > to reflect a moment on how it could be that all of the various
> > subdisciplines based upon the assumption of the "annual" ring have
> > gained such momentum and influence in the face of such doubt and in
> > the absence of the key ingredient needed to ensure that their
> > foundation is solid.
Again, we are viewed by you as disciples following the word of the
If this were really true, then we surely should reflect. But honestly,
Ron, we also practice quite a lot of rigor, reflection, questioning etc.

What is that key ingredient? It is the desire
> > to know the whole truth, even if in finding it there should emerge
> > no further reason for the field of study to continue.

Ron, the logic here comes from your assumption that you understand the
problem completely and nobody else is smart enough to do it.

I do not see
> > that introspective critical capacity in the dendrochronology
> > literature, rather I see the promulgation of dogma with statistical
> > inference its crutch.

Perhaps some reading of the literature starting with basic works early
in the century and following the development of ideas would provide you
some perspective. We really cannot do that for you, although it might
be a good thing to do.

I see a technology for estimating
> > chronology, not a science. My impression is that disciples of
> > dendrochronology would prefer to remain in darkness than permit any
> > light to illuminate their weaknesses.

Ron, consider how you arrived at such a statement. It all comes from
your assumption that we are children counting rings. We have much more
valuable things to do than sit around counting rings and we do more
valuable things too.

> >
> > Hal, you wrote that "We can answer such criticism, but not until we
> > investigate further how the tree responds to its environment and how
> > the tree lays down layers of cells we call the tree ring."

Here you assume that one has to do all the physiology and all the
anatomy before one can attempt using tree rings. What you miss, is that
there are more circumstances that we cannot date than there are
opportunities to data. Dendrochronologist, contrary to what you seem to
think, have solid procedures to reject those many cases that cannot be
reliably cross-dated. You never allow us this possibility when you say
that only I, a physiologists know what I am talking about. How can we
answer this??? We never will be able to.

I agree
> > with that, but you are quite mistaken in saying that "Physiologists
> > outside dendrochronology have little inclination to do it for us as
> > this message reveals." (Perhaps the "for us" part is partially
> > correct; I prefer to do my research for a greater purpose than
> > simply to please dendrochronologists!)

Making a contribution to
> > science is not (should not be) a matter of being on the inside or
> > outside of a group. Cambial physiologists are few in number, but I
> > would suggest that those attempting such research -- whatever their
> > affiliation or lack thereof -- have made and will continue for many
> > years to make greater contributions to dendrochronology than anyone
> > investigating tree rings.

Again we are those poor unenlightened children. I hope such statements
make you feel good about yourself.

> >
> > Let me issue a challenge to the community: Who will be the first to
> > develop a procedure for producing a complete annual ring in a stem
> > piece cultured in vitro? It remains to be done. By doing so, you
> > will have set the stage for determining and differentiating among
> > direct effects of environmental factors on the nature of the annual
> > ring. Anyone seriously interested should contact me, and I will
> > help you begin to become familiar with the literature.

Surely that is a good thing to do, but while you are going about doing
that, we have wonderful opportunities to help people manage our earth
more kindly and realistically. We think these kinds of questions are
equally important, if not more important as we are likely to destroy our
planet unless we learn quickly what the trees have to say about our
past. Even though you disbelieve that we can read the earth's history
from tree rings, we have our part to play in the scientific world. Yes
we need to learn from people like you, but fortunately few scientists
consider us as ignorant and out of communication with "true" science as
> >
> > have a good day,

You know, Rod, I really have more important things to do in taking care
of a person I care much about here at home. This is not a good day, as
instead of doing that, I feel called upon to somehow challenge you to be
a little more tolerant and understanding. To be quite frank, I feel it
is not sinking in and that means I have failed. That makes me very sad,

> > Rod

Hal Fritts
Harold C. Fritts, Professor Emeritus, Lab. of Tree-Ring Research
University of Arizona/ Owner of DendroPower
5703 N. Lady Lane, Tucson, AZ 85704-3905
Ph Voice: (520) 887 7291

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