Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Charles Guy: IFAS dedicated to protecting environment
I object to the content and context of Bob Palmer’s Aug. 13 column, “IFAS ‘science’ protects lawns, not springs.”
Before I address the issues raised in the opinion piece, I can emphatically state that everyone I know in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences — and it is many having been a past chair of the IFAS Faculty Assembly — is dedicated to the conservation and preservation of Florida’s natural environment. At the same time the scientists and staff of IFAS are seeking solutions to all kinds of problems that will improve the health, economic well being, and quality of life for the 20 million-plus people of our state. This is what we are here to do.
A foundational pillar of science is the debate and skepticism practiced by scientists regarding what a body of scientific data and evidence means, and out of that debate emerges new knowledge and understanding about our world. The product of our work is critically vetted through peer review before it is ever approved for publication.
First, I object to Palmer’s characterization “that IFAS positions are closer to junk science than sound science.” This statement offends me as it is painting IFAS with an inappropriate broad brush. When the term “junk science” is employed to describe scientific research, data or analysis, the person using the phrase is claiming the science to be bogus or fraudulent. Its use in this case is invoked in a pejorative political context that the research may have been compromised by unscientific motives. No such motives influenced any aspects of the research in question.
I object to the incorrect and gross characterization of Laurie Trenholm as being an “IFAS fertilizer advocate.” Trenholm is not a fertilizer advocate, she is an accomplished IFAS statewide extension specialist whose research and expertise focuses on the cultural management, stress physiology and best management practices for Florida turf grasses.
Her job as an extension specialist is to communicate to a variety of constituencies on the state of the art and latest research findings on the cultural management of turf grasses. She is not compelled by anyone to make recommendations or offer informed opinions that are motivated for non-scientific reasons.
I reject the statement that, “IFAS’ recommendations are based not on the overall environmental impact of lawn fertilizers, but narrowly on measurements of nitrogen leaching through manicured IFAS research plots” because it is contextually incorrect.
While technically correct, the statement fails to convey how research funding is acquired. It starts with highly trained and knowledgeable scientist(s). A grant program is announced, in this case by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Scientists write a grant and propose an experimental design to conduct research on a problem or issue of interest to the grantor. The scope of the experimental design is always determined by many factors, including the costs, the dollars available to fund a study, the availability of capital facilities and technology such as a laboratory or field plots, breadth of scientific expertise and talents of available personnel. Before being selected for funding, the proposed study was vetted for scientific rigor.
It is not Trenholm’s or IFAS’ fault the research was narrowly focused. In reality, that is how nearly all research is done.
Contrary to what one might conclude from Palmer’s opinion piece, researchers in IFAS are constantly working on cultural methods for turf grasses that will reduce and minimize the release of nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment. This will only be possible through the application of the scientific method and validated empirical evidence, not necessarily through yet untested common-sense ideas.
Charles Guy is professor and assistant chair of the department of environmental horticulture at UF.