Reader Contest: Challenge the Conventional Wisdom!

Chatterbox is pleased to announce a new Slate contest: “The Conventional-Wisdom-Is-Wrong Challenge.” It is the brainchild of sometime Slate contributor Alex Heard. Readers are invited to challenge some seemingly irrefutable, widely held belief (example: “the Nasdaq plunge was bad for Internet stocks”) using plausible arguments and actual facts. Winners will be chosen on the basis of entries’ persuasive qualities (though the conferring of an award should not be construed as an endorsement, either by Chatterbox or by Slate).

This week’s “Conventional-Wisdom-Is-Wrong Challenge” concerns the fire raging through Los Alamos, N.M., home of the famous nuclear laboratory and more plutonium than Chatterbox cares to think about.

The conventional wisdom is: “National Park Service officials at nearby Bandelier National Monument were incredibly dumb to deliberately set a ‘controlled’ scrub-clearing fire at a time when the area was dry and windy, especially considering the area’s proximity to a very old nuclear-materials storage site. And the Forest Service was even dumber to delay, simply because a senior-level fire-dispatch official was not on the premises, acting on the Park Service’s frantic 3:30 a.m. request for fire crews once it looked like the fire was raging out of control.”

This logic strikes Chatterbox as damned-near bulletproof. Readers are invited to challenge it. Especially high points will be granted to entries that argue, coherently, that the Forest Service was right to delay sending the fire crews. Entries must be sent to, and may not exceed 400 words. As with previous Chatterbox contests, the winner wins nothing except the (considerable) thrill of seeing his or her pensées posted in this space.