Is it science or is it quackery?

2007-11-16 00:00

HAVING a scientific background definitely has its pros and cons. It makes you sceptical about anything that relies on emotion for its credibility. In my opinion, these include subjects such as organic products, genetically modified products, global warming, alternative medicine, spiritual healing and a belief in the Super Bulls.

You are a pretty useless scientist if you do not question the validity of all these subjects. You do not have to disagree with them, just question them. I went so far as to question the relationship between Aids and HIV in the early days of the pandemic, mainly because the noseweek publishers were open-minded enough (or just good marketers) to have put forward the ideas of the Aids dissidents.

Through questioning, like a good scientist, I now know the truth, unlike some of our leaders. I am still not convinced about global warming and have a long way to go before I will be. How do I know if the quacks are giving me a load of nonsense about the earth heating up?

The cons of this type of questioning are that the believers in these quacky ideas give the rest of us scientists a pretty hard time. Not that it worries us but the majority of the population tend towards supporting emotionally driven ideas rather than science. This is possibly because the majority have interests in things other than science. That is fair enough, but the quacky guys are also the ones who insist on everyone being informed about any scientific decision the government has to make and yet everyone's knowledge of science is limited (mine too).

An example is the decision regarding the development of another nuclear power plant in South Africa. Can you ever inform the population enough about this for them to understand and make an informed decision? Even then, the decisions would probably be 50/50 or 25/25/25/25. That is 25% say no, 25% say yes, 25% say they don't know and 25% couldn't care less.

After spending a day at a U.S. nuclear station checking out the fail-safe systems, which are incredible, and after many visits to France, the economy of which depends on selling nuclear power to Europe, I tend to be somewhat positive towards the use of nuclear power.

Unfortunately, the wealth generated from the French nuclear sales is used to subsidise their farmers and keep us out of their markets.

The Three Mile Island fiasco in the U.S. was not actually a fiasco but a brilliant tribute to the fail-safe systems that are in place to prevent a disaster. Chernobyl was something else and is an example of getting what you deserve. I assume that the construction engineers of our next and future reactors will know what they are doing and will install managers who know what they are doing.

What has this verbiage got to do with agriculture? Well, firstly, the power cuts that interrupt every agricultural consulting report I prepare (I can use a computer) drive me insane. Secondly, how do we ever hope to develop a secondary agricultural industry with continual power cuts? We can all install our own generators as a back-up but that is just another step towards massive inflation.

A local farmer who isn't making enough money out of feeding cattle then develops his own feed mill and collects a whole lot of customers who rely on him for their daily feed supplies, and suddenly the electricity is down for a whole day. The result is hungry cows.

If you run a dairy you know what that means. Dairy cows are emotional beings, a bit quacky, but you let them down and they will let you down. My dairy in Swaziland had no feed for two days so I know.

Do not believe that capturing energy from sunlight, wave action or wind will provide enough energy for our needs.

The only way to reduce our energy needs is to stop development and starve the people, which may reduce population growth. You have to be a bit quacky to believe that is going to happen. Development and reproduction will proceed with the same enthusiasm as always.

Those greenies who are destroying the beach cottages on the Wild Coast had better wake up.

This move is a step in the direction of turning the area into a playground for the wealthy with massive hotels and golf courses to replace the handful of beach cottage owners who have done much for the local people.

The “conservationists” who are leading this destruction should rather put their efforts into helping the local farmers grow crops properly. There are many scientists who are quacky but that is because they are closed-minded bigots and poor scientists.

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail

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