What is science? What is research? Why does science and research matter? Do they even matter anymore? According to Merriam-Webster, science is defined as, “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.” It also goes on to say, “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding” or “knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.” Merriam-Webster defines research as, “careful study that is done to find and report new knowledge about something” or “the activity of getting information about a subject.”
In this article, I’ve decided to write a two-part series focusing on concerns regarding how decisions of large companies and even consumer decisions are made. First of all, I do not claim to be a scientist or researcher, but my role in Extension requires me to provide clientele research-based, scientific driven information. This is one of the great things about all Extension systems! We do not get paid from companies, so we are non-biased and have access to some of the best researchers in their field who are working on cutting-edge research. When a client calls and needs information, I have access to a whole network of researchers or others with higher education in that particular subject. I can provide my client with solid, data-driven information so he/she can make the best decision possible to solve their problem.
For example, if a client has a horticultural question, I might know the answer based on experience of the topic, but if not, I have a network of horticulturists who have been trained in that area to answer the question. If a client has a question related to food safety, we have a great website with reliable information I can direct them or again, a network of educators focused in nutrition and food-science to refer them. The United States is the envy of many countries for having such a system!
You might be wondering where I am going with this and how does this relate to my definition of science and research at the beginning of this article. The point is, University and even industry scientists have an important role in solving important issues ahead of us such as feeding the growing population and dealing with climate variability and weather extremes. According to Anastasiya Borys in an article from the Harvard Political Review, the decline in the United States’ position as the global leader in science could not only diminish U.S. economic growth, but our national security. In 2014, China graduated more English-speaking engineers than the United States and America’s share of high-tech exports fell from 21 to 14 percent, while China’s rose from seven to 20 percent. There are efforts to improve youth’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math underway in the United States, of which Extension and 4-H are involved.
The above facts are evidence that somewhere along the way, the average American lost a firm grasp of basic scientific facts and concepts. In 2004, the National Science Board published information supporting that “scientific literacy in the United States (and in other countries) is fairly low. Scientific literacy is defined as knowing basic facts and concepts about science and having an understanding of how science works.” Michigan State University Professor, Jon Miller reported that “over recent decades, the number of public policy controversies that require some scientific or technical knowledge for effective participation has been increasing…. (including) any number of issues, such as the siting of nuclear power plants…. and the need for an informed citizenry in the formation of public policy.” Miller, who wrote this article in 2007 pointed out, “Having a basic knowledge of scientific principles is no longer a luxury but, in today’s complex world, a necessity.”
Next week, I’ll explain how this relates to the agricultural industry.