The death of small science; But I’m not dead, I feel quite fine!

November 17, 2012 Leave a comment

While enjoying a rare morning of tea and reading, I came across a few commentaries in Science magazine regarding the death of small science. And thought of this. The jist that I’ve caught is that smaller research projects are no longer the norm. It is all big projects, big collaborations, big funding. Ok the latter maybe not always.

For some this is a saddening fact due to many historical accounts of the success that have come from smaller research teams and projects. For others, the rise of BIG SCIENCE (insert daunting music here) represents a true international interdisciplinary approach to solving problems that is growing in importance as we continue to develop as a global community.

As the kid being welcomed (maybe) to the grown-up part of science, I’ve heard many discussions about this at the dinner table, and not just in agriculture. Lots of funding organizations won’t even look at small projects. Similar proposals are being sent back with instructions to collaborate or combine. Even the funding agencies themselves have been joining forces to pool funds and reduce redundancy.

If history is actually great at repeating itself and creativity is oft more apt in smaller or “free” environments, then saying so long to research that fits the “small science” moniker is probably a bad idea, with the potential to go against the drive for efficiency in stream-lining discoveries and solutions.

But don’t go getting all woe-is-the-big-world just yet. There has been an oversight. *gasp!*

At the same time as the rise of big science, we have more programs encouraging scientific literacy, accessibility of resources and crowd-sourcing. Social media is epic in facilitating those things, just check out #scicomm, #sonyc or any of these awesome science #. But so are projects like “Scientist in the classroom” and STEM days for school kids. Or Google’s science fair (totally friken LOVE that project). Or creative, resource providing R&D spaces for who ever wants to join, like protospace in calgary.

So there may be a growing movement towards big science and only funding big science. But something tells me that great discoveries of small science are not going to disappear. They might just take a bit longer to make it from the garage to the world. Or maybe not.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Flight of the Orange Juice Perspective

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The past few months have been intellectually decadent, to say the least. I spent a lot of time “working” according to my time sheets. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a lot of different people, from many different areas of life. Some were students I was mentoring, others were scientists, ranchers, performing artists, hunters, educators and, well, the list is just too dang exhaustive to type.

In the spring I was on a short flight heading back home from a meeting, I honestly can’t remember if it was early morning or late late evening. Either way I was tired. And then the stewardess delivered a much appreciated cup of orange juice. Who doesn’t love a cup o’ juice when tired & travelling, slagging away at work stuff whenever you get a spare moment?

As I sat there working away with the OJ on the tray beside me, a thought developed. The curious cup of OJ At a glance towards my liquid delight, my first thought within seconds was: we’re rolling slightly and vibrating at a set frequency. No duh. It’s a plane. This was promptly followed by: why the deuce did I think that? Post hoc explanation within the next minute was that I watched how the juice oscillated and moved around, thinking of how it was transmitting the movement of the plane and that not only was there vibration at a certain frequency causing a repeatable pattern of rings moving in the horizontal plane, but we were also likely tipping side to side a bit based on the shifting of the surface of the juice relative levels of juice at each side of the cup. Both of which were discernible to me because of the reflection of the light on the surface of the juice changing with motion of the juice relative to the incidence of the light.

Yup. Nerded that up.

I debated sharing the deconstruction of that thought process, largely because when I did most people just laughed and said it was because I was working too hard or just a big geek. Neither remark really bothered me, but I just felt that a bigger concept was at play. Perspective.

Although the discussions these past months have been over a wide variety of topics, I couldn’t help but circle back to my flying OJ experience when the topic arose of conflict. Especially when discussing the progression of “ag-vocacy” and inevitably with the arrival of the fall hunting season. Conflict is present in many things, but agriculture and hunting are two that I’m currently exposed to a lot. I recently went hiking with a hunter, encountered a “small” bear while I was on my own. Personally, the bear seemed damn huge at 10 ft away, but of all things what struck me was the curiosity in the face and gestures. Thankfully the encounter wasn’t detrimental for either the bear or I. After the hike, the hunter (a former guide from the north) gave me a book I just finished, Grizzly Heart. The book is about using a difference perspective for sharing the world with “dangerous” animals.

In the book Charlie Russel and Maureen Enns (an Alberta rancher and an artist) use a different perspective on bears, one that encompasses actually trying to understand the bears’ perspective on space, resources etc., to make sharing space with them possible not only for them in their remote cabin, but also for villages in the surrounding area. The book reminded me of my view of the flying OJ, and how it is just a different perspective on something. People’s responses just didn’t encompass that perspective.

I keep taking the OJ and the grizzlies back to ag-vocacy and the brewing discomfort that I have been developing with it. Sometimes it seems like a large amount of support for agriculture and attempts to “educate” about agriculture don’t encompass that other perspectives are seeing things in a whole different way. A lot of people may recognize that there are other perspectives on agricultural production. But I often am left wondering if people take the time to really try and see the world through the other eyes, how those eyes see the conflict and what we, as humans, might have to re-learn if we are going to peacefully share the world.

Raise your voice for the cattle you care for

Right now, there is opportunity for you, every person involved in the beef industry from the cow-calf to the consumer, to voice how you care for cattle or want them cared for.

The Canadian Codes of Practice for Beef Cattle are being updated. That means they are being reviewed

Humor Time: Always makes me giggle about some special society that abides by "The Code" (must be said in ominous tone).

The Code

and revised to

incorporate new knowledge about beef cattle. These codes are said to be educational material for the public, reference material for the authorities and indicate what are the regulatory, industry basics and good practices (there’s nuances to that, but the homepage of the website will tell you all about it). From my experience, these documents perform all those functions and more.

To put it bluntly, in many different ways this document is the industry standing up and saying “Here is how we care for our animals”. I completely support the use of social media, outreach and education programs to say the same thing. Those are a part of the story of beef. But codes are becoming a big deal. Don’t believe me? Ask JBS, one of the big guys in the beef industry worldwide. They just used codes to certify production practices of some of their Australian feedlots. The codes that I’m referring to here, the Canadian Codes of Practice, seem to be aiming to one day be the reference document for those certifications.

If my understanding of the process is right, there is a period of public comment where you’ll get a chance to review the document before it is finalized and make comments about what they are proposing. I’ll make sure to post that when the time comes. But I believe that every person has the right to have the opportunity to speak up for the cattle we care for. And this is one of those moments.



Categories: beef, cattle industry, legislation Tags:

Where the Wild Things Are in Ag Research

May 8, 2012 1 comment

Kinda funny how things go sometimes. Twitter tells me that a favourite author has passed on and a few tweets later in my feed, I’m sitting here going “huh”.

Another blogger wrote a beautiful piece on Sendak and the importance of reading to some of us. And I may not have had summers reading beside Grandma or any official diagnosis of ADD (although many would tell you otherwise), but the experience is similar. I spent days pouring over the scholastic book catalog for the upcoming fair, calculating out just how much money I could spend and what would be the best buy relative to what I could get at the library or what I just had to have. With a few more years behind me now, I still hold reading as my simple pleasure. My little decadent dessert is to get away from the world, like Max, and sneak off into a corner to devour a book in a reading rumpus.

Thankfully I get to do that with my job as a researcher. My reading for work may be considered by some to be a little different, a little less fun and more constrained. The way I see it, I get to dive into a world of words and ideas and theories about our world and how things work. I get to dream up new ways of looking at things and different ways of interpreting things. I get to figure out how to communicate this all to the people who use the discoveries by tying

Wild Things lurk in some secret corner of my office

together the literary world of words, interpretations and fun with the science of exploring our world.

You may say, “but WHAT, crazy lady, does this have to do with agriculture?’. Well, I

have applied this literary-influenced approach to exploring cattle welfare, nutrition, health, management and so many more areas. To figuring out how to improve the lives of cattle and the lives of those who raise them. As I said before, I’m no innovator, but I believe that looking at things in new ways helps not only to be innovative in production methods but also how people connect, understand and are happy with their food.

So HUZZAH to Sendak for having lived. I might not know the guy. I really know very little about the man. But I do know that those 8 sentences are so important to me. They connect me to so many wild things. The wild things even hide in a corner of my office, ready for whenever the scientific rumpus begins!

Categories: love

Reverse thinking on Earth Day & Generation Lost

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

HAPPY PLANT-WE-INHABIT DAY! (a.k.a. earth day)

So, let’s celebrate where we are. Both in time and space; on earth, right now. Let’s celebrate with some reverse thinking.

There’s lots of events around today to gorge on the good and damn the damaging. I was asked if I was going to post about the wonders of certain aspects of the cattle production system in Canada and how it’s integral to maintaining the environment, rather than the destructive effect that the media loves to pin on it. Quite literally, every day really is earth day for many farmers and ranchers. And I’m working on a video for that, but I’ve got something more important to say.

I thought of posting to illuminate some of the less thought of effects of our love for new technology. How it would be a totally ironic post because I would be writing using technology and you would be reading using technology, and all it all contributes to destructive effects on our earth. So the green tech revolution ain’t so green. No duh really, I mean stuff doesn’t just disappear because we throw it out and the rate of tech innovation means higher rate of tech replacement, ergo disposal. The initial title was even “Is E for Environment or Waste?”. But no, there’s something more important than tech satire.

I opened my e-mail this morning to a note from a dear and loving friend, subject “Inspiring“. He knows I love rhetoric, literature and media. We’re quite the pair when we get into discussions, let me tell you! And even though we’re miles apart, he has awed me again.

This is the video he linked me to. So amid all the Earth Day events keep this in mind fellow young ‘uns.

What Ag Innovation is going to FAIL

April 20, 2012 4 comments

oooooh, dooom!  glooom! AAAAAAAAH FAILURE!

Stick with me here. I’m going to share a though on why Ag Innovation is doomed to fail, and what twitter and other social media have to do with it.

There’s a lot of talk about the need to invest in innovation in Agriculture in recent months. Just google “Agriculture Innovation”. It was one of the questions when I was a CYL candidate, and it was brought up again for this year’s group.

But here’s the thing: Innovation, of any kind, is going to fail.

Now, I don’t fancy my self a true innovator. Or at least not yet. So maybe I should just keep my yap shut until I actually do something. But you see, I’m in the process of it. I think. As a student, I’m in the process of creating an innovative brand for myself that, hopefully, will land me a sweet job when/if I graduate (yes, some days I do wonder if I’ll ever get there, but that’s another story). And I don’t see enough of the conversation about innovation being realistic about the process. We’re sick with destination fever. So worried about where we’re going we’re forgetting about how we get there.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles @

School teaches us that there’s something horrid about being wrong. But in being innovative you’re not going to get it right on the first, second, third or maybe even 30th, try. And innovation requires that you try (fail) try (fail) try again. At least that’s what history’s and today’s innovators say. So I’m thinking they might know.

If we’re truly going to foster innovation in Ag, we need to give failing an big ol’ bear hug and get used to it. Yes, I’m saying accept failure. But never, ever ever ever, accept failure as “good enough” or as the end point and just leave it with “well, I tried”. That, my friend, would, ummmmm, well I can’t even think of how to describe that. It would just be bad, ok?

Part of failure is being ashamed of it. And shame is this really cool, interesting, curious thing. So get shame in that big ol’ bear hug too! Maybe that’s were social media comes in. It is a connection tool that’s rather instantaneous and worldwide. Putting out a tweet about how frustrating some failure is, and you get tweets back of understand and support. Maybe some connection will further your idea, help your innovation become more than an idea. Maybe social media is one of the ways we’ll get Ag Innovation from a hot topic into a wildfire. Or maybe it’s something the innovators out there might want to consider.

In Honour of all those calving right now

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

’tis the season of new life in the cattle industry. Babies everywhere! My chats with the ranch-man always start of with “how’s calving?”, but usually I don’t even have to prompt to get told about the 24 new calves this morning. Followed by a run about mishaps, hilarity, frustrations and weather updates. Some days it is a call from being huddled under a sleeping bag to warm up a bit, others its from cooking a steak on the back porch (gotta love Alberta spring weather!). None the less, there is always the resolve to go back out, no matter how tired/cold/hungry, to check that calf and make sure all the moms are ok.

I’m so proud of the commitment and drive to give these calves and their mommas the best life possible. I was inspired to create a little graphic for his (and many others) resolve. And thankfully there is a website for that! The wording still doesn’t seem quite right to me, but  TA DA!


Categories: beef, cattle industry, love, media
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