Clarifying the international debate on the pros and cons of shifting cultivation, this paper noted that in Indonesia, as elsewhere, a continuum of farmers from field rotators to pioneers on forest land have all been described as shifting cultivators despite their very different contributions to deforestation. Past assessments have also made many other misleading assumptions, for example that increasing population density will always lead to shorter fallow periods. One fundamental problem has been inconsistency in what we mean by deforestation. The author discussed the definition of deforestation in detail and recommended that we be more explicit about its causes, both proximate and ultimate, and make greater use of satellite imagery. He noted that information gaps remained large and suggested key fields of research.