Brandenburg V-C News Spring Peanut Notes No. 55 2022

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Can You Trust Science?

Rick Brandenburg

Extension Specialist

Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology

These are certainly challenging times we live in. However, my guess is, that there have been thousands of articles written over the past one hundred years that start out exactly like that. It’s all about your perspective and of course, influenced by which news media outlet you watch or listen to. A lot of people get very frustrated when they watch the news because they really don’t know what to believe or who to trust. This has certainly carried over into the public’s trust or mistrust of science and scientists. The mixed messages people receive regarding topics like climate change, COVID-19, vaccines, masks, flu shots, GMOs, glyphosate, and on and on and on cause us all to shake our heads in disbelief.

So let me try to muddle through a couple of these topics and give you my perspective. You can read what I think and accept it as is, modify it to meet your perspective, or you have the option of rejecting it completely. As long as you don’t call anyone in my family any rude names, I will not hold your opinion against you and will still gladly sit down and eat barbecue and drink some sweet tea with you any time you want!

Let’s talk for a minute about climate change. This has been a big, hotly-debated topic that has been taken over by politicians trying to score points with their clientele. That is unfortunate, but it’s certainly not the first time nor the last that a “controversial” topic has been hijacked by politicians. I’ve spent a lot of time reading research publications on climate change and trying to understand for myself what it means. I’ve also talked to a lot of scientists who study this topic and whom I trust. My conclusions, based on my efforts to understand the topic, are that climate change is a serious threat that will seriously impact agricultural production in eastern North Carolina in the next fifty years.

Now I fully realize that I just lost a few of you. Some of you uttered some unmentionables and others perhaps even questioned my integrity and sanity. However, my conclusions based on my efforts to understand the topic are that climate change will significantly impact farming in North Carolina. Some of you may be saying “Al Gore was wrong. He said we’d all be burning up by now.”  Yes, Al Gore was wrong. However, Al Gore was never a climate scientist. He was doing what politicians often do and that was gaining an advantage by taking a side on a controversial topic.

I’ve actually met with the scientist who developed the climate models for the Paris Climate Agreement. I am sure, once again, people may get a little irritated that I mention the Paris Climate Agreement. I am not wise enough to fully understand the value of that agreement, but what I do know is that the scientist who led the effort to develop the models is a really smart guy, who has no hidden agenda. He seemed to be a really down-to-earth person, who is only trying to make the world a better place for the next generation.

Some will say that climate change has always been taking place, why get concerned about it now? Yes, records indicate that climate change has been going on a long as people have been taking notes on the weather. However, that fact doesn’t mean it isn’t important. That is sort of like saying people have been dying in car accidents for as long as we’ve had cars and using that as an excuse for not trying to make cars and roads safer. In addition, I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard people say that scientists’ findings are based on how much funding they get from a particular agency. That is an old argument that is used when the person doing the arguing has no other evidence and I can tell you from my perspective that one really gets under my skin.

I could spend a lot of time with charts illustrating the warming climate in North Carolina and detailed predictions for the next 25 and 50 years as well as observed changes we have seen in pests across the state. But my desire here isn’t to twist your arm to think in any particular way, but rather to get you to simply consider your sources of information. If it’s from social media, there’s a good chance it isn’t accurate. One of the building blocks that the Cooperative Extension Service is built on is unbiased, research-based information. That is as true in Iowa or Colorado as it is here in North Carolina. Ask us. We are here to help. Every land grant university focused on creating agricultural systems that work well under this changing climate with its wide weather fluctuations to support our ability to provide a safe and reliable food system. It is something we must do.

The second point I want to make focuses on the confidence you can have in the folks from NC State University (or Clemson or Virginia Tech for that matter). I’ve been doing this job for 41 years now and over the course of those four-plus decades I’ve met a lot of really good people, from farmers to dealers, to county agents, and university specialists. By far and away, they are all great people who I trust, have confidence in, and would welcome as a neighbor. There’s probably been a bad egg or two in the mix, but either I never met them or I’ve forgotten about them.

My experience with state extension specialists (like me), who generate the data to solve our problems and produce the recommendations that our competent county agents pass along to you, is an outstanding group. They are committed to their jobs, their clientele, and to serving the public and North Carolina agriculture, just like our county agents. In most ways, they are just like you in their roles in the community, love for their families and friends, and efforts to be a good person who provides value to society. But we are also scientists who get berated in the media many times, most of it without merit.

I just want to make a point that when you get a recommendation from an extension specialist, my forty-plus years of experience tells me, you can trust it. It is based on research, trials, and testing, and most likely discussed among colleagues before it is ever presented at a field day, production meeting, or put into a recommendation. Scientists are not evil people, science is not their god, nor do they have hidden agendas. As I wind down my career, I hate that people who have devoted their careers to helping others and in our case, helping farmers, are often placed in such a negative light. It has made it so some young people no longer want to pursue careers in science, including the agricultural sciences.

When people spread misinformation it adds to the discrediting of science. Science hasn’t always been right, but I can tell you it is more accurate than people’s opinions shaped by social media and politicians. Rely upon your Cooperative Extension Service. They are people committed to serving and helping.

Now I feel better!