Old time farming, the future of farming, science as political ping pong ball… or Dear Jeff??

Decisions, decisions. What should these stubby fingers be typing about this evening??

Our blogging buddy at The South Roane Agrarian has dropped a gauntlet in the form of a new header photo and a weekend reading list from a rather robust agrarian library. Facing off against such a collection will require significant grit. I may be able to earn a spot in the contest, but am not disposed to imagine a fortunate outcome. Hmmm, with Winter Olympics on the near-term horizon I wonder whether such a contest might resemble a bloody hockey match, speed skating, or one of those skiing and shooting events. Brian is a Good ol’ Boy from the South – matching him with gun could be difficult. I have played hockey, maybe that’s the metaphor I need for a matchup. On a recent dust up about our relative agrarian literary holdings Brian fired the first shot with a 1908 publication on sheep. I answered with an 1891 Agricultural Report from here in Ohio. Just as in hockey, it appears we have a low scoring affair. Maybe a 1-1 tie at the end of the first period?

Another blogging buddy in England (Small Farm Future) likes to speculate about the future of food provisioning on our planet once the oil runs out. Chris imagines a farm future dependent upon much greater human involvement in the process. And if future technological feats fail to produce portable fuels which could allow us to continue harvesting enormous acreages as we do now then he is certainly onto something. He tends to favor poking at politics with his pointy stick, and I’ll admit there is something to that… but plant breeder that I am I have to consider more and better offerings from our herbal domesticates an avenue worth pursuing. Hard to enter a useful debate about policy when your stomach is growling.

Still others in the blogosphere want to gripe about or trumpet science and scientists to buoy some argument or other they find themselves hold up in. Science says this, or science says that… 96% of scientists agree that… What hogwash. Only shows how small minded most folk are about the whole scientific endeavor. If science were a democracy, we’d still be clubbing small game to make a meal. And there are plenty of scientists who play along with the game – publishing opinion pieces disguised as research in peer reviewed journals. These latter yokels should rightfully be held up to ridicule (along with the editors that pass such drivel into print). Now I’m not suggesting scientists have no business publishing their opinions. What is this blog after all? But when the message is “We’re scientists, we asked 100 people their opinion, we dumped a bunch of responses into our favorite model, the model chewed on it for a few microseconds, Bayesian priors (and other sciency stuff) were employed – this has to be important – it’s scientific. Well, when that is the message it is time to look for real scientists.

And then there is the news that Jeff Bezos has narrowed his search for a second headquarters for Amazon down to 20 cities (and the fact that Columbus, OH made the cut). Wikipedia puts Jeff’s net worth at a paltry 117 billion (poor guy, hope his McD’s coupons haven’t expired). Telling is the fact that this net worth figure can bounce around in a nine-digit range in very short order. Not bad for a fifty something white dude. Can you say plutocrat? Mr. Rogers thinks so. But while this paragraph might seem to suggest I’m not a fan, I should hasten to add that I just bought a six pack from a local Whole Foods store, and the fact that his net worth cracked a smile because of it doesn’t bother me a bit. If the world is going to have plutocrats, I suppose we could do worse.

So now Brian is wondering what on Earth Mr. Bezos has to do with anything that matters here at Gulliver’s Pulse. And I’ll admit – aside from the Columbus in the top twenty bit – there really isn’t much. But here I should hasten to add that a certain local high school English teacher thought it might be cool to assign her pupils to hone their cover letter writing skills by submitting hypothetical letters to Mr. Plutocratic in search of employment with Amazon. And hence the – Dear Jeff.

    The GP editorializing pen

My editorializing pen is blowing in the wind. I could dive further into any of these subjects. Should I pull out the cell phone and photograph some agrarian works from my humble library and, keeping my stick on the ice, have a go at Mr. Miller? Or should I sharpen up a pointy stick of my own and make a case that more and better food coming from breeding efforts is just as important as political chafing? Maybe a deeper dive into badmouthing scientists who’d do better to form hypotheses, conduct an experiment or two, and leave the policy making to elected folks… OR… hang up the microscope and run for office. And then there is Jeff. I think he has a sense of humor. I’d love to pretend to be about a dozen high school seniors wanting to work for Amazon. One of my letters would surely start out: Dude!

Suggestions?

 

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7 comments

  1. I would suggest all of the above if you can possibly manage it. 🙂 Let me ask you a question that has bothering me lately: can you conceive of a science that is not obsessed by quantification? That can use other forms of evaluation/standards of truth?

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    1. Fascinating question. ‘Obsessed’ might be a bar we could overcome by ranking relative scientific efforts by how math centric they seem to be (physics… I’m looking at you here) and then running with those lower on the scale. But just building a scale is quantifying. And I have to confess, when I think about doing science, forming hypotheses, designing experiments to test said hypotheses, my mind goes right to the hypothesis testing and statistics. Training… I’ve been brain washed. Oh dear.

      If we lower the bar a touch and try to imagine “science” with less rigorous reliance upon quantification then I suppose one might offer the learning that little ones go through as they adapt to the world around them. Touching a hot surface will quickly teach one not to do that again. It might fall short of teaching one about thermodynamic realities at a quantum level, but there’s time for that later. Keeping one’s fingers off hot surfaces is a life lesson worth hanging on to.

      Is a toddler’s acquisition of knowledge of the world a scientific endeavor? Perhaps. But if it isn’t then it certainly helps to set the stage for learning the scientific method later on in life.

      Repeatability is a standard that earns scientific cred – if you do something and see a certain result; repeat and get a very similar result, then you can begin to imagine a pattern might exist and science is bubbling up. Fancy metrics to describe how repeatable a phenomenon is gets us to the quantification rubric… and the maths take over. So I guess my answer is yes, you can do science without quantification. But let’s not share that with those statistics profs who struggled so mightily to brain wash me in the first place.

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      1. you’re a gem, Clem, just got taking a run at it. as you say, brainwashing – we all of us I’m afraid, or, more hopefully, realms yet to be explored which our present paradigms don’t even allow to set out for. Alas, I’ve broken my right hand after a very hectic week which makes writing rather laborious at the moment but perhaps I’ll get better at the one-hand pecking shortly…

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      2. Sorry to hear about the broken wing. I don’t suppose it much consolation, but being a ‘lefty’ while on the mend could be seen as a positive, no? You get to join the host of other lefties who ponder (sometimes silently) what the world might be like if right handedness were in the minority. Though having said that I’m hoping I don’t have to suffer a broken left hand to have the opportunity to study the opposite question.

        Brainwashing as a term might carry more baggage than I intend. I’m not convinced the education system has any untoward intent – any nefarious plan. And it might well be that the elements of society NOT involved in quantifying everything (those outside science, accounting, finance, engineering, and so forth) might have the unbound imagination to ponder alternative possibilities.

        I would offer that as a significant part of the scientific training I received there was the oft given advice to be cautious about received wisdom. Be on the lookout for bias. Question everything – don’t settle for the nearest explanation to hand. When the data don’t add up, it might not be for poor maths on your part… there might be some other phenomenon at play. Einstein went there. He serves as a ready example that not every thought has to conform to the current governing hypotheses (or paradigms).

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  2. Setting aside the biblio-agrarian throw-down for a few, what impresses me most with these old “dry” farming texts is how much fun they are to read. “Pick a ram with a fiery eye”, an early 1900 USDA pamphlet admonishes.

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    1. Great point – the language of the day has certainly evolved over time. The local politics (in Ohio at least) in the period following the Civil War is also interesting. They had all the usual suspects – dandies, rapscallions, plowmen, good neighbors, and the occasional miscreant. I’ve not studied the period sufficiently to know what effect the war had on those who survived it and returned to their farming. But I have had the occasional conversation with farmers who can trace their ancestry to agrarians of the period. Their family stories fascinate me to the same degree as the written accounts we’re talking about. There are marks on the landscape to this day that bear the signature of all the hard work and struggle that went into “taming” the wilderness. Seeing the care afforded to the land by these progeny of pioneers is heartwarming.

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  3. Yes, this is the fourth time that I’ve messed up this wing so have quite a bit of experience with switching hemispheres. And I can actually feel the difference in brain activity weirdly enough and enjoy it. Small consolation, yes, but one must have one’s fun where one can! Including interrogating everything 😉

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