I just finished reading an article “Lessons of the Victorian data revolution” I would not advise the average person to read it, it’s pretty heavy on the “look what we can do with data” outlook, and I’m not sure that appeals to many of you. But it’s also very well balanced, talking about the inability of data to replace human knowledge and experience. That’s a concept that makes a lot of sense. Even in the precision ag field I work, where we have massive amounts of data sets on individual fields, the concept that we can often learn more about that fields characteristics by visiting with someone who’s farmed it many years ago is very valid. So I agree with the premise of the article strongly. However, the author proceeds to make this comment:
” In the 20th century the prestige of the scientific toolkit was used to justify disasters like the collectivization of agriculture, as technocrats around the world wielded numbers to take power away from “inefficient” smallholders. Those figures were mostly proven bogus by reality, as plans with no knowledge of conditions on the ground failed when confronted with the wildly variable conditions of soil, weather and pests that farmers had spent a lifetime learning to cope with.”
WOW! I really don’t know exactly what the author means by “collectivization of agriculture” I’m only hoping he’s referring to what happened in Russia and many of the communist states. To me though, that represents the failures of socialism, and not some misuse of data and science. We use and increasingly rely on a ton of data and science when we go out to grow a crop or care for an animal. That certainly does not invalidate in any way the knowledge and experience gained by the individual farmer on the ground. I don’t know, after re-reading this a few times, I’m hoping that the author and I may be in more agreement than I first thought, but trying to reduce the necessary science involved in modern agriculture today can be a very scary proposition to me.