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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.

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Responsible discussions involve the hard ones

March 31, 2012 2 comments

Everyone is all atwitter (pardon the pun) about the New York Times “Why is it ethical to eat meat” contest. Tell them, a group of animal rights and non-supporters, why eating meat is ethical. Not the credence attributes of the production system or why you love meat. No. They challenge you to use 600 words to communicate the logic behind why you choose to consume meat.

I’ve been debating participating due to trying to figure out how this may effect my current/future job, as the views expressed in any paper would be my own and not my employers or any association that I am affiliated with. I’m a tough debater for both sides in my internal debate, let me tell you!

But today I read something that so enraged me, and so educated me, as to why it’s important to me to share my ethics. A young producer from the US that I follow wrote a posting about the story. Amid other questions she poses the question of why should meat eaters have to explain our position and why is it ethical to question another person’s ethics, rather than celebrate our diversity?

Humans fight wars over ethics every day. Policies are made over ethical decisions. Engaging in the conversation (and wow is this one intimately personal) not only helps us to understand ourselves, but helps to further society as a whole. Bringing the ethics of meat consumption to the table may not get the “ultimate answer”, but it will definitely move the conversation forward and have ripple effects.

To not be there based on offence of being asked to engage worries me as to where the discussion will go without representation of the major ethics, inclusive of both anti and supporters of meat consumption (heard of meatless mondays or pink slime?). Social norms are established through ethical debate, as are policies and laws. Our own ethics ebb and flow with the tides of time, and ethical debates are one of the many influential factors, whether the debates are something we are engaged in or something we read in a newspaper.

Nietzsche’s words may be better applied to our respect for their selection committee. These people represent “thought leaders” within the anti/reduced meat consumption perspective. The judges are fair for their cause and representatives of their opinions.

Engaging in the difficult conversations is something that I have heard time and time again in learning about “agvocacy”. I am extremely interested in the submissions to this contest and the outcome. I feel like it will be an indication if agvocacy really has the guts to engage in more than just the easy stuff of how great the good is and really delve into the difficult conversations.

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Day 1 @ CIC12: Beef Advocacy Meeting

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The first meeting that I rushed off to after cleaning up was with the folks in charge of the Master’s of Beef Advocacy (MBA for short, I know it’s funny) and some fellow graduates. We had a presentation from US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a check-off funded program in the US on advocating for more conversation with consumers. Then some role-playing of engaging in conversations and a quick update on future directions that the NCBA is taking with the MBA program. There was a lot of conversation with the people in the room, there was maybe 20+ of us, so a nice environment.

The USFRA presentation was from Kim Essex. She went over their research on how beef messaging is perceived by foodies, consumers and other stakeholders and how we can improve our conversation. I’m not sure of their methods, basically if their sampling was stratified properly to support their conclusions. So caveat on extending the results to all situations, but overall it was quite interesting.

The message that beef production is creating a “safe, affordable and abundant” food source was basically proven to be blase and all around meh. People were most concerned about the unknown, long-term health effects of food. It was neat to see that someone standing up and saying “we’re not factory farming, we’re family farms and producing efficiently” as their message was received very poorly while someone who said “consumers rightfully want to know and we’re committed to responding. Farming is innovative and committed to continual improvement. We’re committed to using what we have in more responsible and sustainable ways” was perceived positively.

So although the presentation did say that maybe it’s not what we say, but that we’re in the conversation, my take away was that it does matter what we say, but we still have to be in the conversation. Avoid contrasting with what we’re not, and be receptive to other views. I thought of it as ensuring that when talking about an issue, you have to be aware of the imagery you’re painting with your words, tones and body language. After all, we humans use so much of our senses to interpret.

What was frustrating for me in that meeting was the contrast between “us” (presumably beef producers) and them (the public and consumers). There was a feeling in the room that misunderstandings that lead to negative public perception was hurtful to the farmers, because of how personal their work is. Most farmers and ranchers live and breathe their job, 24/7/365. And are passionate about it. But everyone eats.

Regardless of whether they are working in food production or spend 12 hours a day at a computer, eating is a very personal thing. I look at eating as the one part of the day where I actually physically choose (as I am lucky enough to have choice) what becomes a part of me and nourishes me. It’s a very physical and personal experience. I don’t sit in reverence every time I eat, quite often it’s on the road or while I work at my computer. But I still am amazed when I get to thinking about the whole act of eating and food production. Ag-vocacy has the vision of engaging in a two-way conversation and educating about the reality of food production. But this us-them divide leads to a division of the vision.

This was echoed in the presentation from the MBA program’s dean, Daren Williams, on a move to represent what many call the beef industry as the “beef community”. The basis was that it’s hard to change our image from “factory” farms when we use a synonym ourselves. The imagery is based on the idea of pooling resources for the common good of raising beef with respect for the need to conserve. Although it might be tempting to shove this off as more marketing mojo, I believe it gets at the heart of what most beef producers are doing.

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Starting Scared

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Hello world.

I sometimes get lost in all the media and stories, both the good and the bad, about modern agriculture. Going home this past Christmas, I was grabbing a coffee at 2am from McD’s in T.O., amidst walking/subway-ing all over town and catching up with a friend. I was telling her all about how neat the new Angus burger is, because of the way it’s made and how the texture is different (seriously, the texture is so cool if you take a second and realize how different it is from the regular hang-over cheeseburger patties). She told me how it was neat to see how far I’ve traveled into agriculture and how she always learns something new about her food from me.

Then I got to thinking of all the chats with friends and people I meet. How weird it is that I’ve gone from being a city gal to spending more time talking, researching and thinking about agriculture than anything else. And that’s when it hit me….a streetcar….ok not really. I’m a huge geek. A Dorkus maximus. An Ag Geek.

I haven’t always trusted the modern way of farming. I was a vegetarian for about 9 years. I sought an education to help change the world. In the process it changed me. It made me love agriculture so much that I’ve committed my life to helping it be the best it can be. So I’m starting this blog to engage. Engage you. Engage me. To share what I’m learning.

I’m hoping this blog will be an open-minded, positive place for exploring thoughts and sharing my education. Over the next few days I will be getting the design and such in line. It’s scary to start blogging. Let’s hope this is good scary and not “eat your eyes out” crazy scary. So cheers to new things and hope you stay with me!

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