• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Julia Winter
garden masters:
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • thomas rubino
  • Bill Crim
  • Kim Goodwin
  • Joylynn Hardesty
gardeners:
  • Amit Enventres
  • Mike Jay
  • Dan Boone

Science for Permaculture  RSS feed

 
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A Short Introduction to the Universe and how to Poke it with a Stick*

This turned into a long post, even by my standards, so I've broken it up. I've had one complaint already that my posts are too long.

One of the reasons I went through a brief period of wanting to abandon permaculture entirely is that I've come to see it at characterised by woolly thinking, even a pseudoscientific approach. In some quarters there is even a rejection of science itself, with people seeing it as biased and corrupted (with some justification in many areas) or simply as a stick to beat people over the head with (and it can be used like that).

I'm keen, for various reasons which I will come to, to change that, and a few recent events have suggested I'm not alone. While to a point this is a Value Judgement, it's also an Appeal to Reason: I think that if we're going to take the Long View it's important to address permaculture's state of Arrested Development, and I think that requires good, controlled research. I know I'm not alone. This thread has been around for a while: http://www.permies.com/t/53865/education/research-permies. This chap's name has come up during my reading: http://www.permies.com/t/16215/introductions/Rafter-research-permaculture-Participate.

So, what is science, if not a stick to beat people with? There are several definitions, but Google provided what turned out to be the most concise and comprehensible one:

“the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”



It's a somewhat Arbitrary definition, but it should suffice for our purposes. See? Not too complicated. No sticks in sight.

At its simplest, though, science is about poking the universe with a stick and seeing what happens. It's more accurate to characterise it as poking it enough times with enough sticks to be confident the same thing will happen each time you poke it or to understand why something different happened the second time. Sometimes there's a case for understanding that the first and last time you poked it a bad thing happened, so poking it again might be a bad idea, but in general it's about understanding why things happen when you poke something.

I want to help you understand both effective poking and to appreciate helpful poking and unhelpful poking, and do some helpful and effective poking yourself.

Remember – the stick is for poking, not hitting people..

There is a lot of bad science – unhelpful poking - out there, and some of this is pretty mainstream. I've lost patience with a lot of pharmacology (having been on the wrong side of bad pharmacological science), and my confidence of much science supported by industry approaches zero. Even then, there are good papers out there, but a substantial proportion of biased papers, a problem with publication bias (where “positive” results are more likely to be published than “negative” ones) and so on gives the whole a Credibility Problem.

The reasons why I understand that most vaccines are safe and effective and do not cause autism derives from the same processes that have led me to understand that the biochemical model of mental illness, at least in the case of depression, anxiety and several others is bunk (the situation as regards schizophrenia is more complex, but even then a chemical explanation is unreasonably reductive). It's the same set of reasons why I understand forest gardening needs more poking and why a lot of the work on mob grazing has been unhelpful and/or overgeneralised poking.

It's worth considering that a scientific understanding of plant breeding, going back to Mendel, is key to a proper understanding of the process. Crossing one “good” plant with another produces results, and many foods we are now familiar with were domesticated using this method. Modern plant breeding, on the basis of science, can accelerate this process enormously.

I've cribbed some of what follows from previous posts. Long posts don't scare me, but I see little point in rewording something I thought worked fine the first time.

To a point there are historical reasons for permaculture's science problem. Bill Mollison's attitude to research was often slipshod, meaning that he missed a great many valuable techniques, and it sometimes feels like he crammed ideas down on paper: many of these were good ideas, but his work often reads like he added materials without particular regard to relevance, consistency or, in extreme cases, coherence. This has attracted a tendency open to what has been politely described as pseudoscience (see, for example, http://permaculture.cultivate.ie/05/03/2014/the-hippy-fication-of-permaculture/) or, in the case of one acquaintance, “****ing woo”. Another left it at “woo”.  A Series of Unlikely Explanations has left us with a Credibility Problem.

While many of us have successfully found methods that work well for us, a lack of intellectual rigour and often a reluctance to share results have left us in a much weaker position than we otherwise could have been. A general, if sometimes understandable, suspicion of science means that many people on this site react as badly to the word as I do to dishonesty. This has led to overblown claims (see, for example: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0181-6) and, in the case of the potential for addressing climate change (http://www.permies.com/t/55829//Read-Carbon-Farming-Solution-Eric) in a much weaker position than we might otherwise have been in had we actually gone and tested what some of us believed. This goes way beyond the dynamic accumulators fiasco: http://www.permies.com/t/53073//truth-Dynamic-Accumulators-Science-needed 

If we hadn't failed to distinguish simple things like net primary productivity and yield, or if we'd actually measured and compared yields and organic matter accumulation rates we might now be in a better position not only to help each other but also to contribute to the question of addressing the threats linked to climate change. It's allowed people following practices that are clearly not sustainable to hide behind the permaculture bandwagon. Regular readers of my posts know exactly who I mean. 

I think it's set us, and possibly humanity's long-term chances for survival, back years. I understand it's a backlash against the misuse of science, but I think it's gone too far.

I want to demonstrate that science is not something to be scared of; nor is it something to beat someone over the head with. It's a useful tool that enables you to learn things that you can use to meet your aims and objectives in your habitat, not to mention understand it. It can also enable you distinguish when someone is trying to beat you over the head instead of persuade you on the basis of more or less objective evidence. Science can be misused, and has been misused, but the other side of the coin from learning how to misuse it is to understand how to use it. 

*At the risk of Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall.
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Experimental Design, Research Methods and Scientific Method (Learning to poke)

Science is rarely about certainty: in most cases it does require you to be a competent Empiricist, but it's typically more about narrowing the boundaries of a complicated Grey Area.

There is a view that you need to have a scientific degree or even be in a university to be a scientist. It's certainly true that there is a history of attempting to limit study to an elite, but that's not a game I'm interested in playing. I don't see it as a matter of being a scientist, but that science is something that some people do. It's about one of the ways in which we can know things marking, as I've implied, the boundary of that Grey Area between opinion and fact.

Learning about scientific methodology isn't hard. The right MOOC will teach it. Free courses at your local college may teach it. There are books that teach it, and here the Interlibrary Loan system may help. The closer you can come to methods of a relevant field of study (which will probably mean ecology, agronomy or its fusion agroecology, the better.

The Permaculture Association in the UK have a research arm, both conducting their own studies and helping the rest of us conduct our own. If you want to be involved with research seriously, I think it would be well worth being in touch with these people: https://www.permaculture.org.uk/research They have produced a 48-page research handbook, which is an excellent place to start, and covers a lot of material it would be redundant to reproduce here, and I strongly recommend you read it if you are just starting out: https://www.permaculture.org.uk/sites/default/files/page/document/research_handbook_version_1.5.pdf (and reviewed here: http://www.permies.com/t/56597/books/Permaculture-Research-Handbook-edited-Pippa#475436). They also have a list of academics who might, among other things, be interested in collaboration.
http://permaculture-research.blogspot.co.uk/ provides regular summaries of research related to Permaculture. This is also produced by the UK Permaculture Association.

Some good books I've found include:
Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems by Stephen R Gleissman (2007) (review to follow): I suspect Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture (1998) by the same author would serve the same purposes in that one seems to be an updated version of the other.
Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology by Stephen R Gliessman (2015) (reviewed here: http://www.permies.com/t/56250/books/Field-Laboratory-Investigations-Agroecology-Stephen) (a practical companion volume to the above).
Practical Field Ecology: A Project Guide by C. Philip Wheater, James R. Bell and Penny A. Cook (2011), which I plan to review.
Studying Invertebrates by C. Philip Wheater and Penny A. Cook (2016) (reviewed here: http://www.permies.com/t/55688/books/Studying-Invertebrates-Philip-Wheater-Penny)

There are probably many more, and I'd encourage additions, preferably with reviews, of other useful volumes. The Permaculture Association's Permaculture Research Handbook also has a list in an appendix: https://www.permaculture.org.uk/sites/default/files/page/document/research_handbook_version_1.5.pdf I'm not being paid to plug this: I just think it's handy.

Access to existing papers remains prohibitively expensive (the going rate is around US$30 per article, and a thorough review of relevant literature may require you to read dozens of articles). In some cases your public library membership may give institutional access, but this is unusual, although my experience is that they will usually obtain a print copy for the usual Interlibrary Loan fee, but this takes time. Partnering with your local college or university may provide you with access, often direct to electronic forms, but not in all cases. Many students, especially in poorer countries, have been locked out of the process almost entirely. It has made true citizen science next to impossible.

This article in Science Mag published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describes how one student in Khazakstan found a solution to this problem and how many others are benefiting.


 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some Promising Lines of Enquiry (Some things to poke)

The Permaculture Association has addressed the question of the kinds of things that need to be addressed, and you can read their results here: https://www.permaculture.org.uk/sites/default/files/page/document/irs_survey_2_full_report.pdf This is quite general, but it's worth a read.

This is a list of a few things that occurred to me. The Permaculture Association has its own ongoing programme, but the more of us working on different problems, the better. Lots of people working on the same problems provides consilience (the principle that evidence from different unrelated sources can converge to provide strong conclusions: the science of climate change would be one example).

I'd actively encourage you to come up with your own ideas.

* There is a critical need for information on good practice on forest gardens/temperate homegardens. These produce very high levels of net primary productivity, but very little is known about yields. Anecdote suggests low protein yield, but this may be a design problem. At what rate do these habitats sequester soil carbon? There are many variables involved here, which is one reason we need many people working on the questions. How does this compare with annual beds? To what extent can this be changed by changing the Limiting Factors? Similarly yields in polycultures in annual beds under various conditions will vary and this needs to be tested.

* How might the application of different microbial solutions (compost teas etc) affect the sequestration of carbon in soils (thanks to John Weiland for flagging this one up: http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/56107#471440)
A related question would be to examine how these might relate to accelerated weathering of rock dusts, probably following soil sampling to identify deficiencies (different rocks contain different minerals: some will also bond with carbon dioxide, although this may or nay not be a good thing for horticulture as it may make those minerals unavailable to plants: this requires a fairly basic knowledge of chemistry). Some people have obtained excellent results; others much poorer ones. Why? Is this a methodological problem, differences in environmental conditions or simple luck? Controlled, comparative trials may provide answers and guidelines on good practice.

* We've discussed the whole dynamic accumulators fiasco elsewhere. What works and why under what conditions? This one requires soil testing.

* I'm increasingly reluctant to use hugelkultur because of the habitat value of dead wood, but I recognise I'm not going to stop it overnight. It also sequesters a lot of carbon. Why does hugelkultur work for some and not others? My suspicion is that the wood is not as effective at wicking and water storage as some believe (does standing wood on end help or hinder?). Perennials tend to need fungal-dominated soils; annuals tend to require bacteria-dominated soils (see also my comments on compost teas). One expert has proposed inoculation of the woody part of the pile with white rot fungi, which should make the nutrients in the timber biologically available to the plants at some stage. Comparative trials should answer this question. Perennial species might well be more effective than annual ones. What are the effects of different species or types of wood (deciduous over conifers, for example)? Does timber thickness make a difference? Variations in the size of the pile might be attempted.

* Is there anything in practices such as Biodynamic gardening? I strongly suspect it's woo, but I've hopefully just shown you how to prove me wrong!

* Controlled comparisons of silvopasture with multi-strata agroforest. My suspicion is that any improvements in carbon sequestration and soil formation are either short term and/or in spite of, not because of the presence of livestock. The same probably applies to yields, but direct comparison is likely to be tricky. I'd struggle to design this trial. A well-designed silvopasture might result in higher production than a badly designed agroforest (or vice versa), not because of something inherent to the practice but as a result of bad design. The fact that we don't know what constitutes good temperate agroforest design doesn't help.

* Livestock: some plausible exceptions. I don't want to revisit my reasons for concluding that large livestock are incompatible with long-range sustainability, possibly with a very few exceptions. My view on chicken tractoring is that it's a form of moonscaping. Good practice in ecosystem change and restoration generally requires some degree of continuity in the community. It's plausible that either chickens and/or (more likely) ducks may provide superior pest control to that found with simply encouraging wild predators. Remember that as soon as you provide supplementary feed from off site it's not sustainable. If you feed your chickens or ducks with food from the control condition it's not a direct comparison. My suspicion is that the damage from trampling and pecking will exceed any improved yield as a result of herbivore control. I also think it likely it will have a adverse effect on foraging by birds, and probably also small mammals such as shrews and hedgehogs. Prove me wrong.

* Do honeybees compete for food with wild pollinators? I discussed this with an expert from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust a few years ago, and she told me there was no evidence either way. This would be a tricky experiment to design.

* Has the decline in herbivore droppings in some habitats had an adverse effect on the populations of butterflies and moths (being pedantic, butterflies are moths, but I'll let that slide). The males of many species collect nutrients as gifts for mates: such gifts are thought to improve the hatching and/or survival of offspring. Mud, especially that soaked in urine, faeces, sugar-nutrient solutions used by people studying some of these species, even blood in one case that I know of, are all sources of these nutrients. If so, this might be a problem best solved by a rewilding programme, but I have wondered if it might be a factor in the decline of lepidoptera populations.

Feel actively encouraged to come up with more.
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How to distinguish useful poking from misleading poking.

There is bad science, mediocre science and good science, and this is something I want to emphasise. The problem does not lie with the method, but with the application of the method. Many fields, including many mainstream ones, are riddled with bad science. I recommend you read two books by Ben Goldacre, himself a medical doctor. These are entitled Bad Science (Harper Collins, 2008) and Bad Pharma (Harper Collins, 2012): they discuss the subject in much more detail than is possible here.

I can point out a few simple rules of thumb, none of which are perfect:
1) Has the paper been published in a peer-reviewed journal? It's a good sign if it has, and a bad one if it hasn't, but there is good science (or at least good review articles: good studies tend to get published – usually) that is not in the journals, for one reason or another.

2) Who paid the authors? There is little true citizen science out there, although this thread can be considered part of an attempt to change that. Many research institutes, even many tenured professors, are paid at arm's length by vested interests. Most research in agroecology tends to be free from vested interests, but you should check the backgrounds of the authors in any field linked to big business (mainstream monocrop farming, meat production and, increasingly, organic food production). Of course, just because someone paid the author doesn't make it a bad study, but it's sometimes a reason for distortion. It's not a reason on its own to dismiss the study, but it is a reason to look more deeply at methods and conclusions.

3) What is the impact factor of the journal? This is calculated mostly on the frequency of citation of the papers contained in it (which presents another problem, which I'll come to). There are predatory journals out there, working on a pay-to-publish model, and there are lists of such things. Avoid them, and treat anything published by them as suspect (probably bunk). There are exceptions, such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS) which has an open-source model but still has to pay overheads (although there have been some high-profile quality scandals, so be cautious). How open they would be to negotiation of fees from citizen scientists is unknown. The higher the impact factor the better: expect an impact factor in the mid-single figures for journals in our fields.

4) Read the paper and check the methods. Was the sample or trial size sufficiently large (this is how I know vaccines are mostly safe, mostly effective and do not cause autism, but also one of several reasons I find most research on antidepressants to be deeply, deeply suspect (see also point 2))? Were the comparisons fair? There is a tendency among some authors to test for dozens of effects and then seek statistical significance from all of them, thus increasing the probability that one will prove statistically significant. Watch closely for this. An awareness of which statistical tests the authors should have avoided is well beyond this discussion (in part because I don't understand it). Is it possible the effects found were caused by other effects? For example, if carbon sequestration is found in a study of grazing, could this have been down to the addition of inputs such as supplementary feed or compost, or due to other practices such as tree planting or cover cropping?

5) Remember any scientist speaking without reference to hir sources should be questioned. “Citation needed” is common shorthand when writing an academic paper or criticising one, or even just when writing an opinion piece you want to substantiate (my drafts of long posts even on internet forums often contain the note “Cit. Req!” simply as a personal reminder). A Ted talk is not a reference, although the content may be, but cite the reference, not the talk (unless you are criticising the talk).

6) If you have one, or even several, papers with small effects, there may be a problem. The tendency of journals to publish “positive” results over studies that found no effect leads to a problem called “publication bias” (discussed by Goldacre in some detail). There is a good chance there were other studies finding no or the opposite effect that were not published. This problem infests pharmacological science, but it's not the only one.

None of this is foolproof. Even poor papers slip through the net, and many good ones are not formally published. There are libraries worth of research locked up in file drawers marked "commercially confidential". Hopefully it will help.
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
And finally...

Publication (or telling the rest of us what happened when you poked something).

Before we get ahead of ourselves, there is something else I think is worth considering. One of the biggest problems with science as it stands, as I've mentioned, is the tendency for “positive” results to be published over “negative” ones. We tend to hear about the great successes, but not the grinding failures. This means we end up with a biased view of the realities of the situation. This happened with biochar, and I suspect it's a factor with the dynamic accumulators fiasco. There is a growing drive in pharmacology to declare that you intend to poke something. This then gives the rest of us the opportunity to ask what happened (and to assume nothing happened if the results aren't eventually published).

I propose we attempt to engage in similar good practice. As far as I know, there is no forum dedicated to doing this, but I suppose you can always do so here (or we can nag the mods into a Science forum: Burra, R: HINT!). This also means we can address some of the problems linked to bad design: the rest of us can wade in and suggest improvements to the design of your study. This does mean you'll need to explain the design of your study.

The epitome of scientific publication is a paper in Nature, but that's not gonna happen. If you think your study is good enough, have a look at the publication requirements for papers in the journals you found when doing your literature survey. It's certainly possible that your paper will be rejected out of hand: there is a lot of science going on, and even good science often goes unpublished. What will hopefully happen is that the paper will come back with suggestions for revision. Hopefully, this will not require you to completely redo the experiment. This is one of the advantages of working with someone established in the field. Part of the purpose of peer review is to enable you to write the best possible paper, and even the best papers are often reviewed at this point. Everyone makes the occasional Honest Mistake. Acceptance without review is unlikely, and may be a bad sign (especially if they want a lot of money out of you!). The Permaculture Association have made it clear they are willing to facilitate this process: https://www.permaculture.org.uk/research

Let's say, however, that you submit (in sequence – concurrent submission is considered bad practice) to every relevant journal you can find. They all tell you to get lost or demand massive sums of money. All is not lost.

I think it's well worth you reporting your results here. This is likely to happen if you didn't find what you hoped to find, or if you are studying something widely considered to be pseudoscience: finding no effect from biodyamic gardening is not going to surprise anyone; conversely finding a big effect will have someone checking your methods (remember that impeccable record-keeping is absolutely vital: this may be classed as an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence).

I do think it's important to disseminate your results somewhere. Even if you found that a practice you thought would be of some benefit actually did nothing this is still useful information. It may be that a similar practice would still work elsewhere. Even if you publish in a peer-reviewed journal, it's still important to ensure that those of us who don't habitually read all of them have access to your results. I think it's important to write your work up in educated layperson's terms and stick it on the internet.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4339
Location: Anjou ,France
240
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think it's quite sad in away that there is so little pure research these days and that things seem to be more product driven . Would penicillin have been discovered with out it ? ( ok maybe the Greeks discovered it first but you can see what I mean)
The other things that make research more difficult is the number of variables in living systems and the time frame involved . Polycultures involving trees are not going to be sorted in a couple of months . fair play to those thinking of doing such experiments .
The issue of information and people finding out what others have done is not new Mendel himself died in obscurity as the relevance of his work was not realized for many years . The Internet has hindered things not helped such is the volume of research going on in the world today . We cannot see the wood for the trees
David
 
pollinator
Posts: 1125
Location: RRV of da Nort
75
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@Neil L: "One of the biggest problems with science as it stands, as I've mentioned, is the tendency for “positive” results to be published over “negative” ones."

Agreed. Very often when negative ("It didn't work!") results are reported, the first thing the readers or reviewers will think, rightly or wrongly, is "Maybe you didn't do the methods and procedures properly"....and this can be a valid concern of the readership. One good way to prepare for this is to have one treatment in the experiment that you are pretty confident *will* work. Although it's not really a permie-approved example, a good illustration nonetheless is the "tea-drench" experiment already discussed in the forums, with an interest as to whether or not there would be an improvement in plant health and growth as a consequence of tea application. One application not discussed (and not necessarily needed IMO) but one that might be helpful for validating the experiment would be to use a standard "Green Revolution" inorganic fertilizer as one of the treatments. Irrespective of the fact that this treatment is not considered sustainable and permie, it does however have a well-established history of success in inducing plant growth. If such an included treatment did *not* produce a growth increase over the water-alone treatment, there might be many explanations----but one good outcome of such a result is that it simply says that something was amiss that prevented the "acid test" from working properly. From there, one can go about trying to figure out what that variable(s) was that caused it to fail in its normal, well-documented effect, and also provides a context for how to view the outcome of the other treatments.

Re; Publication: "What will hopefully happen is that the paper will come back with suggestions for revision. Hopefully, this will not require you to completely redo the experiment. This is one of the advantages of working with someone established in the field."

May be wrong on this, but it seems to me I've only ever seen publications in science magazines where all or most of the authors were affiliated with a public or private research institution. So IMHO, if you *wish* to have your work possibly published in such a journal, it might be best to team up with a person with such an affiliation who is willing to help see the project through to publication. But still worth checking out for each journal of interest nonetheless. Moreover, a research study will stand by itself, irrespective of whether or not it's published in a journal or in an internet blog: The important thing as Neil indicated is the experimental design and, as indicated above, hopefully *some* internal check in the design that you are pretty sure *will* work just as a means to validate your methods and procedures.
 
gardener
Posts: 4871
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
559
books chicken dog duck fish forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur hunting pig
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well done Neil !

One of the issues I have with many people "practicing permaculture" is that they seem to always use "the book" to support their thinking and what they are doing.
In my personal experiences when I read what these folks are saying I just have to remain silent, since I try to be nice.
I find it hard to believe people, who do no research or documentation of what they are doing, when they say a method works really well.
It may turn out to be so, but without the documentation, how does one repeat the method so reproduction is consistent with stated outcomes? Without the ability to reproduce findings, there is no way to know.

Currently I am using my own farm startup for research on:
1. soil building & remediation. it seems to me like a perfect site to do this on as the land had been fallow for seven years prior to my purchase of it.
2. effects of mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria in the building of soil and humus content. premise is that soil is a multi organism, living being so how do we only improve it for better growing of food, sequestering of carbon from CO2.
I'm sure I will find some down sides to these that will hopefully lead to better methodology for gardeners.
Farmers would have a different set of requirements and so a different methodology or perhaps the same methodology but on a larger scale.

I have a few other investigations going on but these two are in their third year of data collection and I hope to publish preliminary findings in three years.
 
pollinator
Posts: 10111
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
276
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm often frustrated by people who don't give enough details, and also I'm concerned that people don't publish/share their failures as well as their successes.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1522
Location: Denver, CO
40
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I do think science is important, and want to see more permaculture science done. However, the inevitable flaw with the scientific method is that it can't be truly holistic. There are only so many variables one can include in a study.

That is not to say we shouldn't do it, but we should keep its limitations in mind.
 
Posts: 177
15
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
New Scientist is a weekly publication that summarises current publications, discoveries, research, peer-reviews, etc. It's pretty much a science-orientated version of Time magazine. I've subscribed to NS for 16 years now, and have never once seen the word permaculture appear anywhere in it. Never. A lot of the global problems and challenges are ones that permaculture has possible solutions to, but it's as though the word doesn't exist in the "real" science world.

Why is that?

As for the scientific method, recently a few of us have been active on a thread discussing methods of establishing new fruit trees. As a result of this, I went out and bought 3 different mandarins and planted them using all the methods we'd discussed. Now, if I was a real scientist, I would have done this using the scientific method. One tree would be a control with no preparation of the area, one would have polyculture only, one would have mushroom puree only. Maybe another would have all three methods. Ideally, you would use 1000 of each method, but at least having 4 different methods would be a small step towards a scientific method.

But I wasn't about to do that. I knew that the trees would benefit from using all the methods on it, and I didn't want to disadvantage any of them. Because they would be my source of food in the future, and why should I compromise 75% of my future mandarin source just to prove something I knew already. But somebody has to do it. Somebody has to plant 1000 mandarins with only polyculture, 1000 with only mushroom puree, 1000 with comfrey companions, etc, etc if we want to have scientific proof of the methods of permaculture. But it won't be me. And I don't expect anybody else to compromise their future food supply to prove it either.

Perhaps this is always going to be the problem with permaculture. Permaculturists know that a mandarin is going to grow better with a mushroom slurry, than one without. And a mandarin with a slurry AND a polyculture is going to do even better. Because the world works holistically, not in isolation. We don't need anyone to prove that to us, and therefore we don't care enough to prove it to anyone else. So it's not "science".
 
David Livingston
pollinator
Posts: 4339
Location: Anjou ,France
240
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am reminded of a quote "“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

David
 
Mother Tree
Posts: 10516
Location: Portugal
1219
bee bike books duck forest garden greening the desert solar tiny house wofati
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Neil Layton wrote:I propose we attempt to engage in similar good practice. As far as I know, there is no forum dedicated to doing this, but I suppose you can always do so here (or we can nag the mods into a Science forum: Burra, R: HINT!).



My poor ears were burning, so I thought I'd better do something about it. Here y'go. science and research forum. It's in the education section, but we can tweak titles and things as we go along. I think that should do to get you started. For those with the ability to add threads to forums, can you add any suitable threads to populate the new forum so anyone with an interest can find a a good selection of threads to read?
 
Posts: 30
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
science is the systematic poking in order to establish cause and effect relationships, if you don't mind me adding. this is the safest way known to mankind, untill now, to reach to solid conclusions (not the easiest, the most convenient or the fastest).
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jason Silberschneider wrote:New Scientist is a weekly publication that summarises current publications, discoveries, research, peer-reviews, etc. It's pretty much a science-orientated version of Time magazine. I've subscribed to NS for 16 years now, and have never once seen the word permaculture appear anywhere in it. Never. A lot of the global problems and challenges are ones that permaculture has possible solutions to, but it's as though the word doesn't exist in the "real" science world.

Why is that?



This is most likely because the actual research into agronomy where permaculture claims its corner is being done by agroecologists. Permaculturalists have done almost no research that will be taken at all seriously by anyone who has a grasp of science. New Scientist also has some key weaknesses that a close reading will make clear, but that would open up an epistemological can of worms related to what science is from a cultural perspective.

Jason Silberschneider wrote:As for the scientific method, recently a few of us have been active on a thread discussing methods of establishing new fruit trees. As a result of this, I went out and bought 3 different mandarins and planted them using all the methods we'd discussed. Now, if I was a real scientist, I would have done this using the scientific method. One tree would be a control with no preparation of the area, one would have polyculture only, one would have mushroom puree only. Maybe another would have all three methods. Ideally, you would use 1000 of each method, but at least having 4 different methods would be a small step towards a scientific method.



Well, you wouldn't (or at least I wouldn't). For one thing, your sample size is too small to make your trial meaningful. For another there are established means of planting out fruit trees. A more useful trial would compare what we know (existing good practice with planting trees, which is your control) against what we don't (polycultures; mushroom purees).

Jason Silberschneider wrote:We don't need anyone to prove that to us, and therefore we don't care enough to prove it to anyone else. So it's not "science".



I think it is important to prove (or at least provide convincing evidence, which has some key differences) it to everyone else. For one thing, if we are on to something useful, those who want a secure food supply need to be confident that what we are doing will work better, and that requires empirical data. I think that's critical for feeding ten billion people without falling further into a mass extinction event. "Funny, it Worked Last Time..." is adequate only for the most gullible.
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Bryant RedHawk wrote:

Currently I am using my own farm startup for research on:
1. soil building & remediation. it seems to me like a perfect site to do this on as the land had been fallow for seven years prior to my purchase of it.
2. effects of mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria in the building of soil and humus content. premise is that soil is a multi organism, living being so how do we only improve it for better growing of food, sequestering of carbon from CO2.
I'm sure I will find some down sides to these that will hopefully lead to better methodology for gardeners.
Farmers would have a different set of requirements and so a different methodology or perhaps the same methodology but on a larger scale.

I have a few other investigations going on but these two are in their third year of data collection and I hope to publish preliminary findings in three years.



That's what I like to hear, Bryant.

Perhaps you could describe your methodology in a separate thread now in case someone is interested in replicating your study? Then you can let us know your results and conclusions at a later date.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 10516
Location: Portugal
1219
bee bike books duck forest garden greening the desert solar tiny house wofati
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've removed a load of stuff from, and unlocked, this thread, after it seemed to wander off topic somewhat. I've also moved it so that it now appears exclusively in the new science and research forum. I've added this heading to the top of the forum to try to keep things on topic. I may have to tweak it a bit from time to time, so consider it a work in progress.

This forum is a place for those interested in using and learning about science as a tool to better understand and test permaculture techniques. It is not a place for discussing the relative merits of science vs other ways of viewing the world and will be moderated hard to keep discussion on topic so that it will become a useful resource for anyone wishing to learn more and participate in research.

 
Posts: 240
Location: Abkhazia · 400m elevation · temperate climate
13
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This one might get interesting…

I have studied physics for 4 1/2 years – long enough to write a thesis and notice that, very little of the overall research is actually useful.
At least useful for humanity and the planet. It appears to be useful to monetary income of some people and companys.

During the study of physics a student should (most do not) learn how to measure:
- know your environment
- remove all external factors
- measure
- repeat

Environment
If you apply this to something as simple as dropping an iron sphere dropping 2m in height, you can get some reliable results.
That is because you are in luck, and the resistance of the air that you forgot to take into account, doesn't really change the result.
Now you think that you understand gravity and try to calculate the terminal velocity of an 1mm³ water droplet released from 2m.
Bad luck! You would need to study aerodynamics, fluid dynamics, numerical computation, chaos theory and more. Still your calculated results do not match the measurements.

Elimination of external factors
It is possible to eliminate most of the external factors: A shielded vacuum chamber in outer space.
Well most gardens do not match this. Some people attempt to create a perfectly controlled and isolated garden, but there isn't anything interesting going on.
In my garden every square meter of surface looks different, feels different, has different plants, sunlight, shading, elevation, water intake and loss ...
It is impossible to control any of these.

Measurement
For a long time researchers thought they could measure something exactly. At least in theory.
This assumption turned out to be wrong! Quantum mechanics shows us that measuring something actually changes it. It also shows us that we cannot know the exact state of an object.
Real world measurements are often a long way from the theoretical precision that would be possible. They suffer from systematic and statistical errors. Or "user error".

Repeating
We can't remove the systematic error and often we have little control over the environment of the experiment. This is the point were we call to statistics to help out.
The mathematics of statistics use a solid framework of defined random behaviour to get at least some improvements of the numbers.
But we can't simply apply these methods to everything that could be represented by a number! Do we know the random distribution of soil pH, of water levels, mosquito density in a cubic meter of air?
No. We have no clue and assume to know it (or don't even think about it).
Please leave statistics to the people that invented it and understand it.

--
Now to the positive part:
Permaculture is the study of living organisms in coexistence, and their interaction, patterns and much more.
Ask a "normal scientist" do observe the interaction of thousands of variables and predict the outcome!
Even if it would be possible to measure everything, there would be no change to get any meaningful insights.

You can track the location of sand grains in water. You could record the movements of every single piece.
Yet it doesn't give you a clue of what is happening. The scale is wrong.
A description of single grains make no more sense. But if you look at all of them as a wave, things start to get clearer.
This is where the patterns come into play.
It is not the individual tree that tells you something; it is the whole forest and everything around it.

The science that was thought to us in school and university doesn't accept this. They can't accept not to control everything.
Thy refuse to look at the real world.

If we want to apply the meaning of science; the idea of unprepossessed obervation, we need to learn to look at the world as a whole thing and not as an bulk of individual pieces.
 
John Weiland
pollinator
Posts: 1125
Location: RRV of da Nort
75
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
@Sebastian K.: "....we need to learn to look at the world as a whole thing and not as an bulk of individual pieces."

And if we look at it long enough, it becomes clear that 'things' and 'pieces' are really 'events'. The batch-box of my RMH is "thingy" enough to break my toe if I drop it there, but is still an event in time....it once did not exist, now exists, and likely will no longer exist far enough into the future. The mechanistic heritage that bottomed-out on the muddy road of particle physics has certain strengths, but perhaps even more weaknesses.
 
steward
Posts: 25155
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

One of the reasons I went through a brief period of wanting to abandon permaculture entirely is that I've come to see it at characterised by woolly thinking, even a pseudoscientific approach. In some quarters there is even a rejection of science itself, with people seeing it as biased and corrupted (with some justification in many areas) or simply as a stick to beat people over the head with (and it can be used like that).



I hope that you will expand on this a bit. This treads a bit on my comfort zone for these forums and how I wish for discussion to happen.

The woolly thinking is a good thing perhaps? So the people that exercise this style of thinking are perfect in every way and their conclusions are excellent whether they are or are not identical to yours .... is this correct?

And the pseudoscientific approach is an approach that is also perfect in every way, even though you subscribe to a different approach?

And the people that choose to reject science itself, would you say that that is an excellent and perfect path for people to choose? Naturally, there are many other paths one can choose, and I would guess that would be choose a path that does not reject science.

The key to all this is that when discussing stuff here on permies, I insist that people state their position without using "the truth" or suggesting that anybody on this site is less than perfect. So I very much need to hear that all of these people are lovely and perfect in their own way.


I want to help you understand



Me?

I am guessing that this is a rather generic "you".

Perhaps you are trying to say that you wish to gather heaps of folks together to travel this intellectual journey with you?


I guess I am picking at the language here because it seems like the message is to be super clear on details and exactness .... at the same time treading close to the edge of my comfort zone for communication on this site.

The reasons why I understand that most vaccines are safe and effective and do not cause autism derives from the same processes that have led me to understand that the biochemical model of mental illness, at least in the case of depression, anxiety and several others is bunk (the situation as regards schizophrenia is more complex, but even then a chemical explanation is unreasonably reductive).



This sounds like fodder for the cider press.

Bill Mollison's attitude to research was often slipshod,



Which is a beautiful and perfect thing .... for bill ... right?

meaning that he missed a great many valuable techniques,



For really perfect reasons, right?

I am not certain, but I think you are saying that the body of work that Bill created was excellent, and you would very much like to expand on it using a different collection of techniques. Something that might create some documentation that would be aimed at certain scientific communities that you are not sure if Bill attempted to write for.


While many of us have successfully found methods that work well for us, a lack of intellectual rigour and often a reluctance to share results have left us in a much weaker position than we otherwise could have been.



... as far as impressing groups of folks that will only consider that which has been done in this fashion.

---

There is much much more for me to respond to in this thread. And there is a great deal that I have not yet read. But I did feel it is very important to clarify some important points about style of communication for publication on this site. I suspect that everything is just peachy - but I do need a wee bit of clarity.








 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for that opportunity to clarify things, Paul.

First, let me apologise for any errors or flaws in communication. I make mistakes, despite my best efforts. I also become confused, irritable and so on, which can compound these mistakes.

This brings me to the point that I would like to understand what is meant here by the word “perfect”, please. By my understanding, I've never encountered “perfect”. I'm told it's possible to find it in pure mathematics, but my maths is limited to some basic algebra and geometry. I can't even manage statistics very well without assistance, and calculus is beyond me. I've read uncounted books. Some have been interesting, some entertaining, many well written, and some I regret having bothered with, but none have been in some way “flawless”.

Are you using this word in the sense of:

In the state of complete excellence; free from any flaw or imperfection of quality; faultless. - Oxford English Dictionary



That certainly does not describe me. If anything, that would seem to me to be an impossible standard to meet, and I would not claim to have done so. I've written a lot of posts on here. I would not claim any of them are “perfect”, at least in the sense given above.

If anyone were to suggest that I'm “perfect” I would be the first to object to this, but perhaps a different meaning of “perfect” is being used. (myself not being, as I say, perfect: accidental miscommunication is all too common, which may have also happened above).

By my understanding of the term, I would reject any suggestion that I am perfect, but it seems to me that there is an implication here that I must be, as you say, “perfect”. It seems we must possess different understandings of the meaning of this word. I'm very much aware here that British English differs in subtle but important ways from US English. I've encountered this problem before.

As for approaches, let me try an analogy. It could be equated to the difference between using a hammer and a saw. For some jobs, a hammer is a well-designed tool, and we've become very good at using hammers, which for the purpose of this analogy might be a more intuitive or experiential approach. For some purposes, this works well. What I'm trying to do here might be equated to discussing the ways and circumstances in which for some jobs a saw might be more appropriate, and how to use a saw more effectively.

I do find it frustrating when someone takes results from a hammer approach and insists that their hammer approach is always appropriate, or when someone pretends a hammer approach is instead a saw approach (or vice versa). Thus

And the pseudoscientific approach is an approach that is also perfect in every way, even though you subscribe to a different approach? 



Sort of. I subscribe to using different approaches under different conditions. For some people I'm sure that using a purely intuitive approach works extremely well. I have no issue with that. In some circumstances it works well for me too. I just don't want to pretend that one approach is actually a different approach, whether that's pretending that an intuitive approach is actually a scientific approach, or corrupting a scientific approach and making it into something else (hence one of my posts above: there is poorly conducted science out there, as I discussed above). In my view that discredits permaculture, because it's likely to be seen as dishonest, or at least woolly, and inhibits the broader adoption of permaculture. the same thing has happened in other areas of science, and I would like to avoid than and help others to avoid that. Actually, I think that science has a broader problem with this, certainly not limited even to agronomy. I find this very frustrating, to say the least, not to mention alienating. I'm aware that others feel the same way.

Hmm. I think there is something worth emphasising here. It's not that I think there is a problem with using one approach (intuitive or experiential) over another (scientific) (or vice versa, depending, as I say, on context), so much as pretending that one is the same as the other (pseudoscience: hence the pseudo- prefix). I think the distinction is important: it's the lack of a distinction that I find frustrating.

That doesn't preclude using an intuitive approach, and it doesn't mean that using an intuitive approach is more or less appropriate than using a scientific one. It depends on the job. This brings me to:

Perhaps you are trying to say that you wish to gather heaps of folks together to travel this intellectual journey with you? 



I think that would be to very much overstate it. That would seem to imply a closer arrangement than I had in mind. I'm not trying to create a gang of saw-users, never mind create a gang of saw-users to fight a gang of hammer-users, so much as helping people who can already use hammers to also use saws, if they're interested. I'm also quite happy to discuss methods, issues and so on with others using this approach, and would encourage others to do so if they wish.

I subscribe to using a scientific approach in many circumstances, but I've already mentioned some ways in which either it's flawed or can be used in a flawed manner, and recognise there are circumstances in which it's inappropriate, which would seem to me to imply that it's not perfect, because a perfect approach would seem to be one that would be deployed in all circumstances. Whole books have been written on this. Perhaps it would be useful to discuss this further with a clearer definition of “perfect”. I strongly suspect we are at cross purposes: I think I may not understand the question.

I don't see why, for example, I'd advocate that everyone who has learned how to plant seeds suddenly needs to join a gang grafting trees, and then give up planting seeds and only graft trees. Sometimes planting seeds gets better results than grafting trees; sometimes it's the other way around. If I want to grow radishes I'll plant seeds. If I want to grow apples I'll graft trees. Neither one is “right” or “wrong”, but that sometimes you'll get results from grafting trees that you won't get from planting seeds, or indeed vice versa. To me, this would imply that the skills to graft trees are useful to some people. It also means we can all eat both radishes and apples.

Going back to our hammer analogy, Mollison was very good at using a hammer, and taught people well how to use hammers, but didn't do such a great job of using a saw, and in the decades since Mollison published some other people have given great examples of using saws, and indeed other ways of using hammers.

If by “perfect” you mean that Mollison works and works well under certain conditions (hammer jobs), then yes, but this would seem to stretch my understanding of the definition of the word. What I would propose is that if we're going to broaden Permaculture's appeal to those who are not in those conditions then, under those different conditions, a complementary approach might be more effective: not inherently superior, because it depends on conditions.

So, Mollison was great for what he did at the time. I'm not saying we throw out Mollison (or hammers – which is to say intuitive approaches) but that I found Mollison unnecessarily limiting. So yes, I see this as being about adding to and updating Mollison from, for example, agroecology, which has many of the same principles and ideas as Permaculture:

“the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems.” (from Agroecology: the Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems by Stephen R. Gleissman, a review of which is forthcoming)



I don't see how that's incompatible with Permaculture. It extends and complements it, while retaining its underlying principles rather than contradicts it. There are aspects of Mollisonian Permaculture that I find unnecessarily limiting and frustrating, and understand that others share this view. I'm trying to help those who are interested in this to overcome those limitations (and, indeed, would appreciate that being reciprocated by those who have knowledge, understanding, experience and skills that I lack).

Nor would I advocate using a saw (i.e a scientific approach or its results) as a weapon. It could be used as a weapon, but that's not what it's for, and not how I'd advocate using it (precisely the opposite, if anything, for a whole range of reasons). As I said at the top, the use of a scientific approach might be likened to using a stick – but the stick is for poking, not for hitting people with.

Intuitive approaches would seem, for example, very useful in terms of generating new ideas (a hammer job, if you like). Experiment might be more useful in terms of working out whether the new approach provides, for example, higher yields, greater wildlife diversity or greater soil biomass than the old way of doing things (a saw job). Both have their place, but we seem to be better at one than the other: a greater concern being attempts to pretend that they are both the same. I'd like to see at least some of us – those who are interested – become good at both, and for those of us who are good at one to be able to better learn from the other (and to be able to tell the difference, which is often harder).

I think it's fairly safe to assume that whenever I use the word “you” on a forum it's very much a “you-in-a-generic-reader” kind of sense. Offhand I think the only (rare) exceptions would be to a named individual, and hopefully always politely. That certainly wasn't the case here. I was not addressing "you" personally. I will attempt to avoid the use of the word in future.

I'm only interested in reaching those who want to participate in such work. It's not for everybody.

Cider press fodder: yes, I was using these as well-known examples. If anyone wants to discuss them then that's a matter for the Cider Press, but I probably won't participate. It's too open to trolling, and I have other things to do. I apologise if I erred here. I'm not perfect, at least by my understanding of the word: I make mistakes. I will endeavour not to repeat this one.

While many of us have successfully found methods that work well for us, a lack of intellectual rigour and often a reluctance to share results have left us in a much weaker position than we otherwise could have been.



... as far as impressing groups of folks that will only consider that which has been done in this fashion. 



That too, but that's not what I was thinking about. I was thinking in terms of persuading such people of the broader merits of permaculture and, in all likelihood, of ascertaining what effectiveness means and of demonstrating it which, to many, would be key to its adoption: otherwise I think we run the risk of the method being restricted to a small fringe that can be readily dismissed. Eric Toensmeier discusses this in The carbon Farming Solution. My understanding is that the more general adoption of permaculture principles is a shared goal of both you and I, but we have different approaches to the problem. Is this correct? I think that's key to its more general adoption, in the interests of that sustainability I mentioned above. That's why I think we have much to learn from agroecology and vice versa, which is where I think a rigorous investigation of some permaculture practices might be useful. I've given some examples above, but I'm sure there are many more. I think that's where more intuitive approaches might be especially valuable. Please let me look into that in more detail (this will take time – that does not mean tomorrow).

I'm trying to follow the rules here, but I'm struggling to interpret what they mean in practice. I would love some more guidance on this matter, please
. I feel like I'm on quicksand every time I write a post. I would not like you to change the rules, but I would very much like to know how to interpret them.

I am hoping to conduct  research and publish scientific papers to put various aspects of permaculture on a more scientific footing.  I think it would be great if others who are interested did the same, which is why I started the thread.

(Please note that lengthy responses, in particular, may take time at the moment. I have issues going on in my own life taking time and energy. My country is also in considerable political, economic and constitutional turmoil at present, and I'm needing to spend even more time and energy protecting myself and others from its consequences. It's also got in the way of my own permaculture plans, and I need to fix that too. I will get around to it, but please do not expect an immediate turnaround.)
 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 25155
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

I've never encountered “perfect”.



I am not saying that anyone is perfect. I am saying that anyone .... and especially a lover of science ... can make their point clearly without suggesting that anybody is anything less than perfect. It is not a matter of reflecting reality, it is a matter of a communication style that I insist on for these forums. So it boils down to what I am comfortable with publishing. More information can be found in my publishing standards thread.



Let me quote your first post again:

woolly thinking



This rides the very edge of what I am willing to publish. If you are suggesting that people that exercise "woolly thinking" are stupid, then I must remove your post(s). If, on the other hand, you are suggesting that people that exercise "woolly thinking" are perfect in every way, and you have tried this style on for yourself and found that you prefer something else, then that is fine. Of course, it would be helpful you expressed that sentiment.


In my view that discredits permaculture, because it's likely to be seen as dishonest, or at least woolly, and inhibits the broader adoption of permaculture.



I think you and I agree that there are many things said and done in the name of moving permaculture forward that actually set it back. I've written about it a great deal, and I presented on it at my keynote at PV1.

At the same time, there can be a rather massive body of knowledge that comes from a path that many might label as less-than-pure-science. It does seem that it is the job of every scientist to bash the work of the scientists that have come before them - but I choose to not publish that sort of thing here. Rather, I prefer to publish that which a person has experienced, or discovered, or considered, without reference to the failures of others.

I think that if a person stands up and confesses that they love a very specific brand of science and they wish to prove a collection of permaculture things within that framework, then I heartily encourage that. But if they feel they need to first tear down the body of knowledge that operates under different schools of thought, then I will stand up and protect that body of knowledge. At least on my site.


I think the distinction is important: it's the lack of a distinction that I find frustrating.



In that case, I promise that you will be frustrated.

I would like to suggest that you focus on your framework and your experiments. In the meantime, people will continue to be human and if you choose to continue to be frustrated - that's all on you.


I strongly suspect we are at cross purposes: I think I may not understand the question.



If we are at cross purposes, then your writing will not appear on this site. But I don't think we are at cross purposes. Rather, I think I am making a feeble attempt to make sure that your writing will fit within my publishing standards. I think you are quite close .... but some of your writing does touch the very edge of what works.

Let us suppose that your "woolly thinking" comment was suggesting that there are people within this community are less than perfect. That would be an ad hominem fallacy, would it not? That would be a sign of a shitty scientist. It would suggest that the "argument" (if you will) is so weak, that the writer is stooping to using cheap fallacies. I would think that a truly excellent scientist would never want other scientists to see such a weak argument, so a truly excellent scientist would then clarify: "those people are perfect, and 'woolly thinking' is useful and productive ... I am merely attempting to distinguish this style so that I might be able to advocate an alternative style - for myself and to fish to see if there might be others that could understand what I am suggesting and they too might wish to subscribe to what I am suggesting."


I think it's fairly safe to assume that whenever I use the word “you” on a forum it's very much a “you-in-a-generic-reader” kind of sense.



The staff will delete many posts every day. They mostly delete spam and other posts that do not meet my publishing standards. When a thread goes sour, they often search the thread for the word "you" - and that is usually the best recipe to find the problem posts.

Plus, the word "you" leaves open the possible interpretation of the ad hominem fallacy. I think that an excellent scientist would not leave such a possible interpretation in their writing.


My understanding is that the more general adoption of permaculture principles is a shared goal of both you and I, but we have different approaches to the problem. Is this correct?



Since we are both human, then I think it would be a universal truth that our approaches must be different.


I'm trying to follow the rules here, but I'm struggling to interpret what they mean in practice. I would love some more guidance on this matter, please.



I think you are doing a pretty good job considering the topic you are trying to present.

In the past we had some people that insisted that all other people on this site must think the way that they thought, must think the things they think, and most of all present their knowledge in the way that they did. Because: science. In the end I banned them all from the site.

So, again, the publishing standards.


And then there is this:



My essay on science vs. "science"


And burra has made a rather excellent collection of information on how we communicate here.
 
Neil Layton
pollinator
Posts: 632
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
108
bee books forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

paul wheaton wrote:

I've never encountered “perfect”.



I am not saying that anyone is perfect.  I am saying that anyone .... and especially a lover of science ...  can make their point clearly without suggesting that anybody is anything less than perfect.   It is not a matter of reflecting reality, it is a matter of a communication style that I insist on for these forums.  So it boils down to what I am comfortable with publishing.  More information can be found in my publishing standards thread.



Ahhh. Yes, I see now. Yes. That's a very important distinction, and I will endeavour to do so in future. Please could you or the mods flag up any future cases so that I can modify them.



paul wheaton wrote:Let me quote your first post again:

woolly thinking



This rides the very edge of what I am willing to publish.  If you are suggesting that people that exercise "woolly thinking" are stupid, then I must remove your post(s).  If, on the other hand, you are suggesting that people that exercise "woolly thinking" are perfect in every way, and you have tried this style on for yourself and found that you prefer something else, then that is fine.  Of course, it would be helpful you expressed that sentiment.



I would go further than that. I have tried it and, under certain circumstances, I would say that such "woolly thinking" can work better than a more empirical approach. The converse, in my experience, is also true. What those respective circumstances might be is a very long discussion perhaps for another thread, but I suspect it would most probably have to be very carefully worded.

Is that acceptable to you?

In my experience problems seem to arise when such thinking is presented as empirical fact. We've seen cases of this recently. Might there be some way to address this?

paul wheaton wrote:

In my view that discredits permaculture, because it's likely to be seen as dishonest, or at least woolly, and inhibits the broader adoption of permaculture.



I think you and I agree that there are many things said and done in the name of moving permaculture forward that actually set it back.



I can subscribe to that viewpoint, yes, although perhaps we might want to discuss that elsewhere as well. The Cider Press perhaps. I think it might be constructive to work out what those things are in order to avoid them in future, but I suspect anyone engaging in such a discussion would disagree on the details. May I suggest this is not a suitable forum for such a discussion?


paul wheaton wrote:
At the same time, there can be a rather massive body of knowledge that comes from a path that many might label as less-than-pure-science.



Agreed, entirely. I made reference to this above.

paul wheaton wrote:
  It does seem that it is the job of every scientist to bash the work of the scientists that have come before them - but I choose to not publish that sort of thing here.   Rather, I prefer to publish that which a person has experienced, or discovered, or considered, without reference to the failures of others. 

I think that if a person stands up and confesses that they love a very specific brand of science and they wish to prove a collection of permaculture things within that framework, then I heartily encourage that.  But if they feel they need to first tear down the body of knowledge that operates under different schools of thought, then I will stand up and protect that body of knowledge.  At least on my site. 



Hmm. No. I would not say that is my intention. In my experience, a more intuitive, experiential approach asks "does this work?" I think that permaculture has contributed to a position where we have some good ideas of what works. I think that's a good thing and I have no desire to consider undermining that. The respective strength of a more empirical approach asks a different set of questions, perhaps conveniently summed up as "does this work better than alternative approaches, to what degree and under what conditions?" That's what I'm interested in. In terms of, to take another thread in this forum, a useful question to ask in terms of microbial solutions might not be "does this work?" (which is established) but "under what circumstances does this work, to what degree, and how might we find ways to make this work more effectively?".

Is that reasonable?

paul wheaton wrote:

I think the distinction is important: it's the lack of a distinction that I find frustrating. 



In that case, I promise that you will be frustrated.  



I'm increasingly aware of that: the reasons for that are probably, again Cider Press territory.

paul wheaton wrote:
I would like to suggest that you focus on your framework and your experiments.  In the meantime, people will continue to be human and if you choose to continue to be frustrated - that's all on you.



As I've said, I think there is much to be learned from more experiential approaches.

paul wheaton wrote:

I strongly suspect we are at cross purposes: I think I may not understand the question. 



If we are at cross purposes, then your writing will not appear on this site.   But I don't think we are at cross purposes.   Rather, I think I am making a feeble attempt to make sure that your writing will fit within my publishing standards.   I think you are quite close ....  but some of your writing does touch the very edge of what works. 

Let us suppose that your "woolly thinking" comment was suggesting that there are people within this community are less than perfect.  That would be an ad hominem fallacy, would it not?



Without getting into a long essay, yes.

paul wheaton wrote:
  That would be a sign of a shitty scientist.   It would suggest that the "argument" (if you will) is so weak, that the writer is stooping to using cheap fallacies.  I would think that a truly excellent scientist would never want other scientists to see such a weak argument, so a truly excellent scientist would then clarify:   "those people are perfect, and 'woolly thinking' is useful and productive ... I am merely attempting to distinguish this style so that I might be able to advocate an alternative style - for myself and to fish to see if there might be others that could understand what I am suggesting and they too might wish to subscribe to what I am suggesting."



I can see there are some stylistic conventions that it might be beneficial to work on.

paul wheaton wrote:

I think it's fairly safe to assume that whenever I use the word “you” on a forum it's very much a “you-in-a-generic-reader” kind of sense.



The staff will delete many posts every day.  They mostly delete spam and other posts that do not meet my publishing standards.   When a thread goes sour, they often search the thread for the word "you" - and that is usually the best recipe to find the problem posts. 



That alone is a good reason to avoid the use of this word. I will endeavour to keep an eye out for it, and avoid using it.

paul wheaton wrote:

Plus, the word "you" leaves open the possible interpretation of the ad hominem fallacy.  I think that an excellent scientist would not leave such a possible interpretation in their writing.


In formal scientific writing, yes. There's an interesting discussion going on about making scientific writing more accessible, which is a goal I would support, but I'm willing to accept this limitation on such a change.

paul wheaton wrote:

I'm trying to follow the rules here, but I'm struggling to interpret what they mean in practice. I would love some more guidance on this matter, please.



I think you are doing a pretty good job considering the topic you are trying to present. 

In the past we had some people that insisted that all other people on this site must think the way that they thought, must think the things they think, and most of all present their knowledge in the way that they did.  Because: science.   In the end I banned them all from the site. 



I'm not actually particularly interested in presentation, except insofar as meeting the site publishing standards (external publication is a separate issue, but that would not be subject to site publishing standards anyway). I am interested in the extent to which the knowledge can be generalised. One of the most interesting challenges that permaculture faces is that mainstream agriculture has been designed to ensure its methods are always suitable for replication in all conditions. That's not the case with permaculture, not only because of the wildly varying starting conditions, but the wildly different needs of any given patch. I don't think we're ever going to reach the position that mainstream agriculture is in, and I would wonder whether we would even want to, but I think it's useful to be able to say that "this technique was found to provide higher yields than that technique under these conditions: perhaps it might be worth considering trying this technique rather than that technique."

As I've said, I'm actually very interested in hearing a lot more about direct experiences, because it helps focus questions about relative efficacy.

paul wheaton wrote:
So, again, the publishing standards.



Thanks. I've read them several times in the past months. I'm having difficulty because I'm struggling to understand what others might consider "not nice", at least in some circumstances. For example, I've just tried to find a rule about avoiding the use of the word "you" and failed to do so. Did I miss it? There is this thread, but that seems to talk about a different, if related, issue: http://www.permies.com/t/36936/tnk/

paul wheaton wrote:
And then there is this:




I'd agree, as I hope I've already made clear. Would you also agree it would be useful to shovel the horse potatoes onto the compost heap where they belong? The problem I foresee might be that identifying the horse potatoes goes back to what you said about existing bodies of knowledge. What happens when that knowledge is suspected to be or, worse, turns out to be horse potatoes?

Please can you clarify this?

paul wheaton wrote:
My essay on science vs. "science"



Uhh. That's another long essay discussion that I am not up to facing this evening.

paul wheaton wrote:
And burra has made a rather excellent collection of information on how we communicate here.



Mhm. I've been through some but not all of this. One of the reasons I'm struggling is that some of it seems very vague. Avoiding the use of the the word "should" seems quite straightforward. Perhaps a thread on the use of the word "you" might be helpful? Is there one already that I missed? Just a thought.

How much does that safely clear up?
 
Sebastian Köln
Posts: 240
Location: Abkhazia · 400m elevation · temperate climate
13
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would be intersted to know what the term "woolly thinking" means…

Is it just foggy and unclear thinking without a purpose?
Or does it mean to think in abstractions or groups? ("trees" as a group of tree species that would grow at one place)


Then there is the term "pseudoscience" which I have only encountered as an insult.
Either you(general) are doing something with intention, reason and logic; then you should be able to specify your scientific principles and call it science.
Or you are doing something else, in which case it is not scientific.
If one calls the work of someone else "pseudoscience" they either do not understand what they are doing (and call the other dumb, instead of admitting their insufficient understanding),
or the criticized person is using "scince" as an camouflage. In this case I would prefer that the true intention would be uncovered.
 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 25155
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Please can you clarify this? 



The point of the horse potatoes comment is:   if you present good information, it will stand on it's own without saying "it is true because: science". 

People have found that they can make up anything crap they want and if they find that some sucker won't believe it, then they will say "scientifically proven" or some such.  "A scientific approach to permaculture" could come from any ninny who thinks that you, Neil, should do as the ninny commands you to:  think the thoughts he has commanded you to think and write the things he has commanded you to write.   Because you say you love science and he wrote the word "science" on his stuff.  Therefore you are his personal bitch for life. 

A good position will stand on its own - without the word "science".

You can talk about and defend your position without ever uttering the word "science" or "proper research" or referencing your degrees and accolades.   Any of these things would, in my opinion, weaken the position.
 
paul wheaton
steward
Posts: 25155
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Sebastian Köln wrote:
Then there is the term "pseudoscience" which I have only encountered as an insult.



I agree.  

One scientist will point to another and say "pseudoscience".  90% of the time there will be a finger going in the opposite direction with the same word on it. 

And then the argument of "I'm right and you are wrong" is replaced with "I'm right because I used science."  The traditional, childish response to "I'm right and you are wrong" is "No, I'm right and YOU are wrong".    The traditional, childish response to  "I'm right because I used science" is "No, I'm right because I used REAL science."
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10111
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
276
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

“the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”



I'd like some clarity on how this differs from intuitively knowing something by observing or experiencing it.

 
David Livingston
pollinator
Posts: 4339
Location: Anjou ,France
240
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think Tyler this quote is appropriate
“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
 
You are HERE! The other map is obviously wrong. Better confirm with this tiny ad:
It's like binging on 7 seasons of your favorite netflix permaculture show
http://permaculture-design-course.com/
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!