Is fact-free talk now the most normal thing in science?

Jan Schaefer (1940-1994), the confectioner turned politician and state secretary for urban renewal, immortalized himself with his statement ‘You can’t live in bullshit’. Even then, hordes of civil servants produced illegible policy documents.

The PvdA, in an outcast form (‘You can’t live in riots’) looked good on its election posters. That’s what I had to think about when I got to know perspective in The sustainability of nature about sustainable agriculture.

The sustainability of nature is a top scientific journal from the prestigious Nature family that is completely dedicated to ‘sustainability’. ONE perspective is an article that does not in itself contain new research, but provides a brief and precise overview of the current situation in a research area. It can be very useful, especially for journalists. through Nature be asked for one perspective writing is something of an honor; it indicates that you count as an authority in that field. Logically, a perspective usually only one author.

In the exact sciences, someone writes such an article in the evening, next to his real job as a researcher. However, Sustainable agri-food systems for a post-growth world (Sustainable Food Systems for a Post-Growth World) has 32 authors. The Netherlands is well represented with authors from the Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University, CSTM from TU Twente and the Environment Institute at Leiden University.

Again, this is one perspective, so none of these authors present new research here. Nevertheless, grants for the production of these five pages of prose have been awarded in Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic and by the European Union, among others. And of the NWO, the Dutch science financier that Marcel Levi is now in power.

Because it is about an overview of a field, it is logical that a lot is cited and referenced; it is less logical that a large proportion of these references go to publications by these authors themselves. 17 of the 32 authors give themselves a few pats on the back that way, because being quoted in a top magazine is important to your career at university monkey rock.

And what is the perspective for agriculture?

All that would be up to the point if this brigade of sustainability thinkers had delivered a piece that, well, provides perspective on how global agriculture should proceed. With as much respect for nature as possible, it must feed another two billion mouths within a few decades. The discussion about more sustainable agriculture is also highly topical in the Netherlands.

Can we really do with less, or even no fertilizers, and the same with pesticides as ‘organic’ claims? How can we better connect cycles of raw materials? What role can GM and other technology play? If extensive, ‘organic’ farming is necessary to protect the environment, how do we compensate for the lower yield per acres? How does it differ from region to region?

Where and how is animal husbandry desirable to make poor land unsuitable for agriculture productive? Under what conditions is international transport of food more efficient and more environmentally friendly than producing everything locally? There are lots of research questions, and you would think that among the 32 sustainability thinkers there would be a few who could comment on something meaningful.

Drowning monologue about feminist agriculture

Unfortunately: the brain dead dogmatism of Sustainable agri-food systems for a post-growth world mind blow As in the first reading of Green Deal by Frans Timmermans, the idea came to mind that this piece comes from an online bullshit generator, as seen by gems such as ‘post-growth metabolisms’.

And what flesh and blood person gets such a sentence out of his pen? Meeting these challenges requires imagining and recreating cycles of food production, processing, distribution, consumption and management based on humanity’s best experiences with agriculture as an immediate source of social welfare and a fundamental field of interaction with nature.’

In form and tone, this prose is reminiscent of the droning monologues about class struggle and the Marxist utopia produced by sociologists in the 1960s. So today their academic heirs ramble on about “indigenous, feminist, growth and post-development communities critical to food sovereignty.”

It is not easy to get out of this woke roar to distill some content. The prevailing social scientists reject all known practical measures to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture in a subordinate clause, because truly sustainable agriculture can only arise if we all start to think differently and, above all, speak. For example, the concept of ‘efficiency’ must be replaced by the concept of ‘sufficiency’, and the concept of ‘control’ by the concept of ‘care’.

It doesn’t get much more concrete than that: ‘By embracing nurturing agriculture-systems relationships, a multispecies approach to sustainability focuses on meeting the diverse, changing, interdependent and irreducibly intertwined needs of all of today’s species. increase the capacity of future generations of all species to meet their own needs.”

And so it continues. There is not a single table or graph in the entire article, and the text is entirely numerical except where ‘ecological repairs’ are called for from north to south. Nowhere is a distinction made between regions, soil types or climate zones, as if all this is a panacea in terms of agriculture. That’s what all their big claims are about comprehensive redesign of the agri-food system to pure bluff, unmotivated academic impression. You really can’t eat such sustainable crap.

Fact-free has apparently become normal in science

Why bother with such an article that is only read by a handful of people and has no bearing on the authors career? This is not fraud, not plagiarism, it is not even a mistake; this is common in science these days and that is what is disturbing. I reckon that up until about three years ago, a fact-free argument like this would have been unacceptable to one Naturemagazine.

Recently, much attention has rightly been paid to fraud and misconduct in science, which is much more widespread than previously thought. Someone like Elisabeth Bik, and others, have exposed thousands of data manipulated articles. Last week it was revealed that the experiments that underpinned decades of research into Alzheimer’s were likely fraudulent but flawed.

That is bad enough, but in addition there is also the vigilant rot that eats away at the scientific system, of which this perspective is a symptom. The Copernicus Institute mentioned above is the sustainability flagship of the university in the Netherlands. If this is the best they can add to the hot topic of making agriculture more sustainable, especially in the Netherlands, then Marcel Levi can give his no-nonsense reputation a nice boost by turning off the money tap to this institute.

science journalist Arnout Jaspers publishes weekly in Wynias Uge. Wynia’s Week is supported by the donors. Are you following? Thank you!

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