THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER
Rethinking Science: The Highest Research Priority for the Next 5 Years
by John Ikerd,
Posted online 8 July 2013
At the risk being labeled an uneducated Luddite or a right-wing political conservative, I believe the highest research priority for the next five years should be to rethink science, in concept and in practice. Nowhere is this priority more urgent or important than in research related to food systems, including agriculture. Recent research seems to indicate that overall public confidence in science has remained relatively strong and stable since the 1970s, at least among most Americans (Gauchat, 2012). However, the research indicates that public trust has declined significantly among those who think science should mesh with common sense, who question industrialization, and who are skeptical of the “intellectual establishment.”
I am an unabashed advocate of common sense, an open opponent of the industrial paradigm, and a frequent critic of an increasingly arrogant intellectual establishment. I have not lost confidence in science, at least not science defined as a systemic means of acquiring knowledge. I have lost confidence in scientists who insist that “good science” includes only those propositions that have been proven using the “scientific method.”…
John Ikerd is professor emeritus of agricultural economics, University of Missouri, Columbia. He was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri. He worked in private industry for a time and spent 30 years in various professorial positions at North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri before retiring in 2000. Since retiring, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues related to sustainability with an emphasis on economics and agriculture. Ikerd is author of Sustainable Capitalism; A Return to Common Sense; Small Farms Are Real Farms; Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture; A Revolution of the Middle; and the just-released The Essentials of Economic Sustainability. More background and selected writings are at http://web.missouri.edu/~ikerdj.
Why did I name my column “The Economic Pamphleteer”? Pamphlets historically were short, thoughtfully written opinion pieces and were at the center of every revolution in western history. Current ways of economic thinking aren’t working and aren’t going to work in the future. Nowhere are the negative consequences more apparent than in foods, farms, and communities. I know where today’s economists are coming from; I have been there. I spent the first half of my 30-year academic career as a very conventional free-market, bottom-line agricultural economist. I eventually became convinced that the economics I had been taught and was teaching wasn’t good for farmers, wasn’t good for rural communities, and didn’t even produce food that was good for people. I have spent the 25 years since learning and teaching the principles of a new economics of sustainability. Hopefully my “pamphlets” will help spark a revolution in economic thinking.