Reality hurts farmers’ feelings

A few weeks ago, you may have heard about that interesting study that showed that using cropland to produce biofuels was actually more damaging to the atmosphere than using fossil fuels — among the reasons was that tying up productive cropland to produce alcohol meant other land had to be deforested/plowed/burned to produce food. It turns out that a couple of University of Minnesota faculty were involved in that study. Their reward? Agriculture groups that had funded them to the tune of about $1.5 million suspended their grants.

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council decided to stop paying additional research money until they meet with Allen Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and other officials.

“The university hurt the farmers’ feelings, OK? That’s probably the best way to say it,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the two groups.

Some people, even prominent, wealthy people, simply don’t understand the fundamental concept of basic research. The goal isn’t to get answers that make you feel good; it isn’t to find ways to rationalize continuing damaging practices; it isn’t even to pat you on the should and salve your delicate feelings. It is to find out the actual answer to a problem, no matter what it may be. Don’t fund research if you’re afraid of the truth.

Those two agriculture groups really ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is like getting together with your friends to play baseball, but threatening to take your ball home if they don’t let you win.


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 29, 2008

    Well there is always nuclear power or are we still not allowed to talk about that?

    Sure you are. The problem is just that “at the current level of consumption the world’s uranium will only last for the next 60 years”.

    Given the fact that I read this, like, 10 years ago, it’s probably the next 50 years at a level of consumption noticeably below today’s.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 29, 2008

    Currently, I believe that there are reserves that are extractable at current prices that would last a few hundred years.

    I see…

    (No, I don’t have a reference.)

    Further, that is based on the light-water reactor technology generally in use. Breeder reactors are significantly more efficient and would extend the lifetime of current reserves.

    Certainly — but none has ever worked, has one?

    Given how little the cost of uranium contributes to the cost of electricity (approx 2-5%), we could even afford substantial increases in uranium costs with the reactors currently in use.

    Nuclear power is already heavily subsidized…