We need to listen to the lessons of science if we are to feed the world
HERE at the beautiful Duchy College, some our students study one of the most important sciences needed today – horticulture.
With seven billion (and rising) people on the planet, the science of horticulture is answering one of the most urgent questions facing mankind today; how are we going to feed everyone?
The definition of horticulture is 'the improvement of crop yields, quality, nutritional value, disease resistance, value to the grower and reduction of energy inputs to achieve it'.
Horticulturalists need real evidence for their experiments to prove their theories of improvement. This is where science comes in.
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A letter in last week's Observer explains really well just where science fits in today's world.
David Lynch wrote it in response to a media debate on the effects of climate change where a member of the public complained that a climate-change sceptic was not included on the panel.
"Science is not a matter of democracy. If you have the data and can convince your knowledgeable peers of the validity of your arguments, you win. Good science is not necessarily how people would like things to be, nor is it determined by popular ballot.
"There are many areas of science where some people would like there still to be uncertainty – evolution and creationism, Aids and HIV, unconventional treatments for cancer and the merits of vaccination for example. But the arguments have been settled and the contrarians have lost.
"I hope you wouldn't claim that in a story about a significant new fossil find that in the name of democracy you need to give significant airtime to a creationist.
"Where there should be democracy is working out how we respond to what science is telling us."
This is exactly how science works and why it will always win. There are many examples of how belief systems do not hold up to scrutiny.
In his book Paranormality the excellent Professor Richard Wiseman, who has studied the paranormal in laboratory conditions for over 20 years conclusively proves mediums have no measurable psychic powers. Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, people still believe in mediums.
A brilliant scientist and stage magician James Randi has spent nore than 50 years studying the paranormal and carries a cheque for a million dollars with him at all times. He will give the million dollars to the first person who can demonstrate psychic powers. No one has. Yet many people still claim (and believe in) psychic powers.
Belief is about how we would like things to be, not how they are. Science has no belief, only peer-reviewed evidence and conclusive proof.
We deal in plant science and soil science, ways to increase yield, eliminate pests and diseases, how to improve biodiversity. Other courses at the college are underpinned by rigorous science too – land management, agriculture, animal care, veterinary nursing and more.
As I tell my students on their first day, leave any beliefs at the door of the laboratory; we only deal in facts.