By Gene HallScientific Agricultural Research
In writing this blog, I have run across many people who claim to have done scientific research. Sometimes, these researchers use their findings to beat me over the head and take me to task for my opinion. That’s what this corner of cyberspace is for, so I am not complaining. Well, maybe a little.

I took a few science classes in my days at Texas A&M. I did some research that resulted in a grade of “C” or better. I learned enough then and since to know that a lot of what might be research is most assuredly not “scientific research.”

Research employs the scientific method, which is a real and meticulous order of procedure. According to Wikipedia, scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. I do research for what I write, but it is not really research—at least in the strict scientific sense. 

I also know what scientific research is not. It is not forming an opinion and then combing the Internet for information that supports your dearly held ideal. Scientific research allows for the possibility that the hypothesis is wrong. For example, you can find hysterical fear on the Internet that scorpion DNA has been used to breed tomatoes. There is no longer a genetically modified tomato of any kind on the market, much less one with cross species DNA. Yet, if you’re doing “research” to support a point of view, this undoubtedly goes into the file.

A great body of material has been developed on the Internet in just this way. It is voluminous, informative and sometimes misleading. That’s why I am usually reluctant in this blog to trade Google searches with a disgruntled reader. It normally doesn’t mean very much.

Often, when someone disagrees with me and claims the validity of scientific research, I ask for credentials. It can result in some hurt feelings, but that’s not where I’m heading. Anyone can look for stuff and find it. True discovery lies hidden until scientific research unearths it.

Scientific research has cured disease, explored space and brought forth food from soils once thought worthless. It gives hope to the victim of AIDS and for the child that has known nothing but hunger.

A writer like me can research a body of knowledge, an activist can look for and find anecdotal support for a theory, but only those skilled and trained in the scientific world can work the kinds of miracles mentioned above.

Consider this just some random thinking on what the Internet can do—and can’t do.

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Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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2 Responses to “One man’s research is another’s propaganda”

  1. I have to agree with many of your statements about the question of credibility of scientific research. Although we can’t believe everything we read or see, we have to recognize the concepts from their scientific research is driven by anecdotal evidence. It’s tough to say that agriculture is not perfect. However, no industry is, and many times the few bad entities often offer a commonality to our consumers. In my opinion, our opponents see or read about those few bad apples, and cannot help but believe that all farmers and ranchers operate their farms in this manner – that even make the majority of our industry gasp about.

    In reading books, articles and other material from anti-agriculture activists, their "research" is very believable, if reading it at face value. However, there are often holes left in their writing for the reader to answer, which allows their imagination to fill in the blanks. This leads me to question the quality of our writing and research. How well are we supporting our evidence and are we answering all the questions a consumer wants and needs to know? Is our research comprehensible by the average consumer? How do we ensure that our communication strategies are effective? As agriculturalists and effective communicators, it’s our responsibility to fill the holes and answer all the questions our consumer wants and needs without overwhelming our consumers with research and science.

  2. Lisa, I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I’m interested in ideas on "how we fill the holes and answer all the questions." Truth is often mundane. Our opposition is selling powerful messages with half-truths.

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