Agriculture Must Replace Small Science with Big Science
With an insightful new opinion piece in The Scientist, Sylvie Brouder explains why “Agronomic sciences should follow the lead of genetics and other disciplines in sharing data.” As she says, “It’s time for agricultural researchers to take better advantage of the massive amount of data they produce and move into an era of ‘big science’.”
Dr. Brouder (Purdue University) led the task force for the CAST Commentary Enabling Open-source Data Networks in Public Agricultural Research. The seven-person group looked at why agricultural science must change in significant ways: “The next generation of agricultural problem solving will require big science and linkages forged across data sets and disciplines.” In the editorial, Brouder explained further, “Small science—researchers working alone or in little groups, analyzing, interpreting, and sharing only their most important result(s)—is no longer adequate to improve world food production, nutrition enhancement, food safety, and disease prevention, all while protecting the environment. Teams from different disciplines, working with robust data sets and widely available and shared information are what’s required today to make substantive progress on complex problems that transect traditional disciplines.”
Brouder said that there are impediments to implementing big science in agricultural research including the following: (1) a lack of access to the data that are already out there, (2) agricultural research approaches to design and data collection are rarely standardized, and (3) an infrastructure is needed to support data sharing and its routine synthesis into agriculture practice and policy. She calls for “knowledgebases” linking emerging institutional and discipline repositories for agricultural research data, and she is concerned about the inefficient organizational system currently in use at government levels.
After giving examples and possible solutions, Brouder concludes, “One of the keys to making data more available is changing the business model of agencies that fund agricultural research. It’s an investment that would pay for itself many times over.”
Sylvie Brouder is the Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agriculture Research and a professor in the Department of Agronomy at Purdue University. She led the Ag Data Taskforce publication for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. — from The Scientist
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