I suspect that tree climbing researchers have historically had an extremely wide range of skill and ethics, depending on how they entered the activity. Scientists are often likely to view climbing as simply one of many possible routes to \"access\" the canopy, and they will be more or less thorough in finding out how to do it right.
Joe has definitely seen some pretty awful practice. So have I, both in my own doings (see below), in internet published photos of canopy researchers (people apparently working well above their TIP), and in stories I have heard about some researchers at Itasca State Park around here (climbing living trees with spikes!!).
Early in my canopy research about 4-5 years ago (measuring light in different locations in and above canopies with undergrads), we were using tree ladders and deer stands to work 30-40 feet off the ground. What we did was, frankly, pretty scary, and I still get the willies when I think about it. It was worrying about this that got me into rope access methods and rec tree climbing in the first place, and now I climb at least as much for fun as for research. The work I was doing on hydrologic stress in 120-140 foot white pines last summer and fall with a couple of grad students would have been well beyond my technical reach as recently as 2 years ago, and it was largely practice with rec climbing that enabled it.
None of this can possibly translate into a reliable generalization about research climbers; the worst of them are dangerous to themselves, their students, and their trees; and the best are exemplary on all fronts.
MEA, are you going to be at the ESA meetings in Milwaukee this year? I caught your talk at San Jose last year and liked it a lot.
First, I've been able to get an 8-ounce bag with ZingIt up to about 155 feet with a Rogue Sidewinder (a foldable slingshot similar to the Big Shot), and I've seen the Big Shot fired to about 190 feet (the rubber must have been new with no dry rot, and the person pulling it down must have been really, really straining).
Second, I've worked with quite a few researchers and forest resources people for the last few years in projects involving mountain longleaf pines, tulip poplars and American chestnuts (the chestnut canopies were accessed by traversing between taller hardwoods on each side of the target trees). I've found that some researchers have excellent wilderness ethics and will go out of their way to protect the target tree, while others are only interested in the \"final results\" and don't plan to use that particular tree again so they don't worry about harming it. Also, a few (10 percent or less is my best guess) of the younger Ph.D. types that I've worked with have an ego problem: They are always, always right, and no mere undergraduate knows anything that can be used by them (i.e. trying to teach them new climbing methods). The older researchers have lost a lot of that ego and seem more willing to learn new things from the younger generation.