Title Page

Group Title: A century of science in agriculture
Title: A Century of science in agriculture
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095681/00001
 Material Information
Title: A Century of science in agriculture the lessons for science policy
Physical Description: 31 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Bonnen, James T.
Donor: unknown ( endowment )
Publisher: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, 1986 meeting
Place of Publication: Reno, Nevada
Publication Date: 1986
Copyright Date: 1986
Subject: Agriculture -- Research   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 30-31).
General Note: Title from caption.
General Note: "Fellows Lecture, AAEA Annual Meeting, Reno, Nevada, 29 July 1986."
Statement of Responsibility: by James T. Bonnen.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095681
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 435675923

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Full Text



James T. Bonnen
Michigan State University

Fellows Lecture
AAEA Annual Meeting
Reno, Nevada
29 July 1986

Fellows Lecture
AAEA Annual Meeting
Reno, Nevada 29 July 1986



James T. Bonnen

Michigan State University

". unapplied knowledge is knowledge shorn of its meaning."

Alfred North Whitehead

Today all of science seems to be in some political and policy difficulty. There is

rising conflict over the funding for and the performance of science. In the agricultural

sciences some of this criticism has been generated within agriculture, but there has been

a crescendo of external criticism in Congress and elsewhere ever since the National

Academy of Sciences "Pound Report" in 1972 (NAS). Repeated criticisms from the

national science establishment suggest that agricultural science lacks a basic science

foundation and is a third-rate enterprise. Their usual prescription for this problem is

quite simplistic: eliminate all the "politically allocated" Hatch-type formula funding

substituting for it peer-reviewed, competitive grants -- open to researchers anywhere,

not just in colleges of agriculture.

Various advocacy groups, the media and politicians are also highly critical of the

agricultural sciences. They focus on the dangers of uncontrolled new genetic

technologies, and the threats to health, safety and the environment of other agricultural

technologies. The public attitude toward science has shifted from unqualified support to

a questioning ambivalence and even fear of its consequences. Federal support for

agricultural research has not grown appreciable in real terms since 1967.

At the same time many state legislatures perceive their land grant college to have

abandoned the land grant mission and agricultural problem solving for the academic

glories of basic science. These land grant colleges of agriculture are in considerable

difficulty both with their clientele and legislature. Other colleges of agriculture have

become so applied and isolated from many of the basic disciplines that they are losing

scientific and intellectual vitality. After resisting the idea for over a decade,

agricultural science now shows some sign of understanding it must rethink its mission and

adapt its institutions to a society and an agriculture greatly different from that of 100 or

even 50 years ago.

It would appear that the national science establishment also is slowly beginning to

understand that it too faces some fundamental questions. Since World War II science

policy, except in medicine and agriculture, has been focused only on the basic

disciplines. Dissatisfaction with this policy posture is growing (Shapley and Roy). The

current administration and its recent science advisor, Dr. Keyworth, have argued, as

others have before, that U.S. science policy should be directed to help achieve greater

economic competitiveness. This would require that science policy address some mission

oriented, applied research, not just disciplinary research as it does now. This raises

questions across the full range of science policy priorities.

Science policy then would involve not just disciplinary funding priorities but what

kind of science research should be funded, how such a diverse scientific enterprise should

be institutionalized, funded and managed, what role the private sector should play and,

indeed, what philosophic values should inform the priority setting process. The debate,

however, is poorly informed and inflamed by parochial ideologies and self interest -- in

science and out (Johnson 1984). Many scientists still believe there is only one problem --

inadequate funding.

First, I will examine some of the lessons I believe we should have learned from a

century of science in agriculture. I will then attempt to extract from those lessons

implications for science policy today.

My remarks reflect two theses. First, the future competitiveness of the U.S., in

agriculture and in the U.S. generally, will depend more on the performance of science

than in the past. But science policy is not currently well adapted to serve society in

improving its competitiveness. Second, a century of experience in agricultural science

holds important lessons not only for agricultural science, but for national science policy

and the institutional design and management of science. However, as Schuh has pointed

out, the value structures and behavior pursued today in many land grant universities and

their colleges of agriculture suggest that the land grant idea is being abandoned. These

institutions have little understanding of their own historical experience, face different

demands and are not currently as capable of sustaining their traditional mission as once

they were.

I believe the problem in both agricultural and U.S. science policy is that they have

succeeded. In so doing they have changed both science and society. The consequence is

that both are very different and more complex today, resulting in demands on science to

expand its scope into a far more complex role -- to something, still different from, but

more like the land grant mission. The pressures on agricultural science suggest a role

more like science generally, with a rapidly growing private sector taking over some basic

science but much more of the applied R&D and extension function. It also appears that

responsibility for coordination of agricultural science policy is shifting from a

predominantly public function to more of a shared responsibility.

The Lessons to be Learned

I believe there are lessons to be learned from a century of agricultural science that

speak to the problems that U.S. science policy as well as agricultural science policy face

today. I have argued elsewhere that what evolved in U.S. agriculture was an articulated

system of science-based developmental institutions (Bonnen 1983, 1986, 1987).

The Sources of Increased Productive Capacity

Science research is not the only source of increased productivity. The experience

(and the literature) in international agricultural development leads one to the conclusion

that the primary sources of increased societal capacity include not only technological

change but institutional improvements, increases in human capability (human capital

formation) and the growth of biological and physical capital. While all four are addressed

in the literature, there is a frequent lack of balance in their treatment (Johnson 1986).

Many biological and physical scientists and some economists, for example, tend to

focus on technological advance to the neglect of the other factors. Indeed, the society

exhibits a disordering "technological fixation." The development process is a search for

the appropriate balance in complementary social investments needed in all four of these

prime movers. That balance is determined in good part by the nature and limitations of

the specific social, biological and physical environment within which development occurs.

There is as well the matter of the values we attach to the human purposes in which

the four prime movers are used. A substantial change in values (monetary and

nonmonetary) or in a value's perceived importance can transform the capacities of

society and modify the mix of its activities as well as their relative productivity and

value in use. An example is the clear change in valuation that has occurred with respect

to environmental degradation and the many other negative external effects of

agricultural production and technologies.

Knowledge and the Research Process

Any thoughtful examination of the application of scientific knowledge to human

problem solving, will expose a continuum of institutions and processes that involve

several categories of knowledge which they help create and manage. We need to

understand this continuum of knowledge. The term basic research I take to refer to

disciplinary knowledge, which is the theory, empirical measurements and/or

measurement techniques or methods explaining a fundamental class of phenomena such

The Creation Development Utilization of Knowledge


---------------- ----- -- .i .


Research In: Research to Institution, H C
Physical Science f Develop the Human Capital, Adaptive Human Capital,
Biological Science Implications Technology Research Technology & USE
Social Science i of Basic --nDevelopment 1- -
Humanities Knowledge Transfer


---- ---------------- ......----- ------- ------ ----- -------------------------

as philosophy, physics, botany or economics. This knowledge improves the capacity of a

discipline. It includes disciplinary research on values.

An applied, multidisciplinary mode of inquiry produces subject matter and problem-

solving knowledge. Subject-matter knowledge is multidisciplinary knowledge useful to

set of decision makers facing a common set of problems. This knowledge is organized

under such labels as biotechnology, animal nutrition, marketing or farm management.

Most departments in colleges of agriculture are more like broad multidisciplinary subject

matters than disciplines (e.g. agronomy, animal husbandry, agricultural economics,

horticulture, agricultural engineering). University professional schools and institutes are

subject matter organizations. These units organize inquiry and knowledge from different

disciplines needed to understand a subject. This knowledge base is necessary to support

systematic and sustained problem-solving.

Rarely can one go from subject matter knowledge directly to a decision. Before

knowledge has any direct relevance to a specific problem, it must usually be fashioned

into problem-solving knowledge -- i.e. into a form that is made relevant to a single

decision maker with a specific problem (or set of decision makers, all with one specific

problem). See Johnson (forthcoming) on types of knowledge. Problem-solving knowledge

comes in prescriptions -- i. e. should or ought statements for which knowledge of values

is essential.

A complex research process produces knowledge. Disciplinary knowledge either has

some known relevance or does not when it is created. If that without known relevance is

to have meaning or value someone must devote themselves to research developing the

implications of the new disciplinary knowledge. After its potential is clear, one can

begin to think about specific forms for use of this knowledge. That is, what kinds of

technologies, institutions and human capital are appropriate and useful to develop out of

physical, biological and social science and humanistic disciplinary knowledge?

After developing a new biological technology (or a new institution), for example,

one must face the problem of making that new technology (or institution) work in

thousands of ecosystems (and social systems) across the continental United States. This

requires research in every state to adapt the potential of productivity to each state's

diverse environment. When first developed, hybrid corn production was limited to five

cornbelt states. It took 20 years of adaptive research in all the states before it could be

grown commercially across the entire United States and before its potential yields were

fully realized, even in the corn belt. The location-specific character of agriculture

makes adaptive research a central feature of agricultural research. But the applied

research enterprise does not end here.

Creating an increase in productive capacity disturbs the ecosystems into which it is

injected. New host populations and ecological niches are created making it possible for

pests and diseases to attack and destroy new productivity. Maintenance research across

multiple ecosystems is thus necessary in perpetuity to defend the productivity that has

been created. As scientific knowledge increases and with it agricultural productivity,

the proportion of total R&D investment going to maintenance research must inevitably

grow. Given the location-specific nature of agriculture, a geographically dispersed

institutional system with diverse ecosystem-specific capability is required to sustain

adaptive and maintenance research as well as technology transfer activities. All of this

seems fairly obvious but I find many scientists, including some in agriculture, who do not

understand that nature imposes these varied activities on agricultural science making

unique demands on agricultural science policy.

Various external effects of agricultural technology are now creating a need for

assessment of new technologies and institutional innovations. As we do new development

research, we need to understand the potential effects of an incipient technology. Will it

undermine rural communities, degrade the environment or poison the food chain? What

positive and negative values do we place on the impacts of an institutional adaption to

the new technology? Who gains, who loses? Assessment research is needed to guide the

research process and to legitimize and protect its integrity. Like problem solving,

assessment involves research on values.

The agenda of issues in agriculture today strongly suggests that more social science

and humanities knowledge is needed. This is due to growing needs for the modification or

development of new institutions, the adaptation and transfer of technologies, for ethical

problems, and to a lesser degree in the creation of human capital. The mix of relevant

disciplines varies with the problems addressed. Implementing the right mix is imperative

to future public support of agricultural science. The growing complexity of the industry,

and thus the chance of error, as well as the fact that science is increasingly expected to

minimize deleterious impacts on society means that we may not ignor current criticisms

and expect continued and adequate public funding. The need for social science and

humanistic research on agriculture and rural life is growing.

A System of Interactive, Coordinated Linkages

It has been found necessary in agriculture for the continuum of knowledge, from

creation to use, to be not only institutionalized but coordinated and focused on

problems. The literature on returns to investment in U.S. agricultural R&D, education

and extension (technology transfer) demonstrates that a large part of the productivity

achieved in agriculture arises out of the interactive linkage coordinating these various

investments and the institutions that manage them, rather than flowing directly from

investments in the four prime movers themselves (Evenson et al; Ruttan). This is

because the four prime movers are complements in production. Each is necessary but not

sufficient to achieve an optimum output.

The same conclusions can be drawn about investments in the different kinds of

research. Investment in disciplinary research, although absolutely necessary, is not

sufficient to achieve high levels of capacity and productivity. The full potential of

productivity from disciplinary research is not realized until it is complemented by

investments in the relevant types of applied research. The reverse is also true; without a

continuing basic science investment the productivity and economic return to applied

science will decline.

The same principle applies to all elements that affect productive capacity: each is

necessary but not sufficient. It is the investment in all relevant complementary factors

plus systematic coordination of decisions about the combinations and timing of the

various factors influencing productivity that is most important. Failure to link together

in the same goal-driven system the public and private decisions about investments in

disciplinary research, various types of applied research and technology development, the

development or modification of institutions, extension, education and other human

capital and conventional capital slows the achievement and reduces the level of

productive capacity that can be extracted from a given investment in agriculture. When

an investment is potentially profitable, productivity deferred is in some good part lost

forever (Knutson and Tweeten).

For a set of institutions to be a developmental system the individual institutions

and functions must be interlinked or articulated, so that they communicate and

cooperate in action to achieve some common goals. This interlinkage and coordination

speed interaction and the setting and achievement of goals. They are the source of the

system's adaptive capability.

Successful systems of science-based development evolve in an iterative and

interactive manner. They are not conceived or planned as a whole and then put into

place. No one knows enough to do that successfully. Scientific inquiry, policy and

institution building decisions are all made under great uncertainty, with imperfect

knowledge. Many failures and mistakes occur. Thus, institutional behavior and science

must be iterative and interactive in their mode of both inquiry and action to sustain the

learning necessary to maintain adaptive capability. Substantial adaptive capacity is

necessary not only to deal with uncertainty and mistakes but also with the tension and

conflict between institutions and multiple goals within the system.

The U.S. system is coordinated and linked not only through formal land grant

administrative structures, but through markets and the political process at both the state

and the national level. Indeed, these last two validate and sustain most of the values

that drive this system of developmental institutions. In addition complex, informal

interinstitutional linkage, which differs greatly from state to state, helps articulate and

coordinate the system. Informal linkages have characterized the relations between the

USDA-land grant structure and farmer organizations. Informal relations also

characterize linkage to private firm R&D and technology transfer, although these

interactions are now becoming both more important and more formal.

Decentralized Decision Capacity

Another characteristic of the U.S. system is its decentralization. While it is a

national system, authority is not concentrated solely at the national level. The

conditions of agricultural production are highly varied and location specific.

Decentralization is necessary for successful adaptation of science knowledge and

technology to the many varied, local ecospheres that characterize agricultural

production. There are, in addition, all sorts of local political, cultural and social

traditions that make it necessary to accommodate institutional structures to local

polities and resources to ensure a legitimized and coordinated system.

System Decisions are Consensual

It follows from its decentralized nature that decisions affecting all or large parts

of the U.S. system must be developed by consensus, if they are to be accepted as

legitimate and implemented effectively. The goals and major initiatives of the system

historically have evolved out of a debate of issues ending in a bargained consensus.

Unilateral power plays to achieve something that substantially affects the whole system

generally create excessive conflict, reduce cooperation and end in failure.

Integration of the Agendas of Science and Agriculture

The institutions of agriculture combine and manage in a single system societal

problem solving and the pursuit of the agenda of science. The pragmatism and political

expediency necessary to sustain effective societal problem solving involves organization,

values and expectations that are in some degree inconsistent and, in the same system, in

perpetual tension with those of science, especially the pursuit of knowledge for its own

sake. Much of the societal support as well as the productivity generated by agricultural

science has arisen out of the sustained interlinkage of these functions and the

management of the resulting tensions to maintain a working balance between the agenda

and capacities of science and the agenda of problems in agriculture. Effective science-

based problem solving requires coordination and integration of science with any economic

sector in which science is expected to drive major increases in productivity.

Chronic Underfunding and Spillover

What have we learned about funding agricultural science? The annual rate of

return on public investments in agricultural research runs 3 to 5 times the rates on most

alternative public investments (Ruttan p. 248). The high rate of return on public

agricultural R&D suggests that it is substantially underfunded by normal investment

criteria. To argue that agricultural R&D is inadequately funded today runs into a

fallacious counter argument. It is said that the world's markets are awash with the

products of excess agricultural capacity because of science research. This is pure

nonsense. The creation of this excess capacity is the consequence of mistaken

investment decisions by farmers based on excessively optimistic expectations, induced in

part by subsidies and foolish national policies. These same expectations were

subsequently destroyed by the growth in world supplies, increased industrial nation

subsidies of their agriculture and a U.S. administration's macroeconomic policy that has

destroyed U.S. agriculture's export potential while escalating its costs and leaving it in

the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

We are in a contest in international markets which depends in part on a healthy

agricultural research enterprise to maintain comparative advantage in production costs

and social science research on policy and markets to maintain realistic expectations.

The argument that R&D causes surpluses arises out of the equally fallacious reverse

argument of scientists who urge increased biophysical R&D to solve world hunger, when

hunger is with few exceptions due to inadequate income or its distribution (Johnson


Today state funding far exceeds federal support of the state system. Federal

funding of the state system has all but ceased to grow in real terms since 1967. This

raises serious questions about the federal commitment to its historic partnership with the

states in agricultural research. The issue is fundamental to the long term performance

of the system since a large part of the benefits of research funded by one state spillover

into other states. The empirical evidence on spillover of the benefits from research

financed by one state accruing to farmers and consumers in other states is strong

(Havlicek and White). While it varies greatly from state to state, typical spillover losses

range from one-half to two-thirds on basic science and one-third to one-half of

technology oriented investments (Evenson et al.). State level benefit losses constitute a

disincentive for state investment in agricultural science. Without compensating federal

funding, the states, acting alone and rationally, will never achieve an optimum level of

national investment in agricultural research. This is the classic public finance problem

faced by systems with two or more levels of government.

Ruttan argues that the primary rationale today for federal support of state

agricultural research is to compensate the states for spillover -- in order to achieve a

socially optimum national rate of research investment (pp. 251-59). Thus, each state's

share of federal support for agricultural research should at minimum approximate their

spillover losses. This suggests that the federal government should be matching state

funding .on an open-ended basis rather than the reverse. The only other solution is to

fuhd all agricultural R&D at the federal level.

Spillover also occurs internationally. The benefits of European and U.S.

agricultural research have flowed to the developing countries over many decades. The

rising perception of this today in the midst of a ferocious international battle for export

markets gives rise to foolish efforts, such as that of the U.S. soybean producers, to

eliminate U.S. international aid in agriculture in a futile effort to monopolize the use of

U.S. agricultural research results. The only real hope for increased demand for U.S. farm

exports lies in higher incomes in developing countries due to development. In addition,

agricultural science is an international enterprise today. We are about as likely

beneficiaries of research capability elsewhere, as the reverse. Withdrawing from

international cooperation in agriculture would be suicidal for our own productivity.

Stability of Funding

The research on the optimum rate of investment in agricultural science

demonstrates substantial inefficiencies and clear losses of productivity when the funding

of R&D is unstable, -- i.e., when we are unable to sustain the pursuit of the inherent long

term goals of R&D and development (Knutson and Tweeten; White and Havlicek).

Disciplinary research, much of technology development and major adaptive research

would appear to be especially vulnerable. This principle applies to R&D generally,

although the characteristics of aggregate demand and supply response accentuate the

problem in agriculture.

Potential future losses of benefits arising from past underfunding can be offset only

partially by accelerated rates of investment in research. Attempts to accelerate

investments beyond that permitted by the rate of growth in demand soon creates major

losses in the incomes of farmers and their suppliers. The point is clear. Not only are the

losses to underfunding of agricultural research substantial, but to a great degree they are

permanent. Productivity deferred is productivity lost. The acceleration of investment

to reach an optimum rate of funding is constrained economically and politically. Thus,

this is a race that goes to the tortoise not the hare -- i.e., to sustained long term,

institutional support of agricultural research, not the jerking around that has been

imposed on the agricultural system nationally for almost two decades through inflation,

stagnant and uncertain appropriations, inconsistent goals, political abuse and


Implications for Policy

What then are the implications of these lessons for science policy today.

The Funding Debate

The conflict over research funding is a debate of the deaf. The national science

establishment argues that only competitive grants can be used effectively to allocate

resources for science purposes. Any other approach produces poor quality science. The

agricultural science establishment has responded by defending Hatch or formula funding

as essential for science in agriculture. Some agricultural leadership clearly fears the

effects of exclusive use of competitive grants on the stability and long term vitality of

their institutions. Competitive grants, of course, are now a small but regular part of

federal funding of agricultural science. The funding argument tends to be put in

either/or terms. If one is good the other has to be bad for science. This completely

misses the point of what is known about both.

Formula funding was originally established to induce development of the state

institutions of agricultural science. It has been responsive to the need for sustaining the

large fixed or overhead costs of science and the mission oriented, largely applied nature

of experiment station research. The cost of entrepreneuring and managing formula

funding falls on the administrators in the agricultural research system, not on the

researchers (Bredahl et al). The quality of science produced depends not on the funding

process but on the quality of individual scientists hired and how supportive the research

institution, its incentive structures and academic freedom are of creativity (Berry).

Competitive grants are reasonably well adapted to allocating disciplinary research

resources. The cost of entrepreneuring and managing competitive grants falls mostly on

the researcher (Bredahl et al). This is why you find senior scientists who no longer have

time for for anything but developing grant proposals and managing a laboratory. This

cannot be the best use of a creative scientist's time. Short-run, project-by-project grant

proposals do not add up into coherent long-term department and university research

programs. Competitive grants often do not cover the fixed costs of research (Ruttan,

Chapter 9). Consequently the current battle over Reagan Administration efforts to

reduce the overhead rates universities receive on research grants is extremely heated.

Experiments involving review panels, composed of different scientists with

comparable background and ability, have produced entirely different rank orderings of

the same set of project proposals. Thus, there is a large subjective element in the

awarding of competitive grants. The recent flurry of attempts to use political power to

go around the competitive grant system in obtaining federal research support appears to

be based on the belief that an "old-boy" system rewards the long established and

discriminates against smaller and less well established institutions. These institutions

believe that a political power distribution in science biases the allocation of competitive

grants. True or not this has become a growing problem in legitimizing science budgets.

Neither allocative device is perfect. They work reasonably well for some

purposes but not others. Science and its purposes have become so complex that research

funding requires some mixture of funding devices including, but not limited to formula or

institutional funding and competitive grants. The type of research and purpose should

control the mix of allocation devices. New ways of funding science are needed to deal

with the increasing complexity of science and the growing demands of society. We need

to stop our senseless arguments and look at science, its multiple purposes (public and

private) and examine pragmatically the ways that we might best fund different types of

research. First, however we must agree on the role of science in society. Without

clarity of purpose, very little else can be decided.

The Scope of U.S. Science Policy

It is clear to me that the science establishment needs to take a more

comprehensive view of science and its role in society. It functions today like any other

special interest pleader when it argues only for support of basic (disciplinary and

academic) science. This leaves academic science isolated from and failing to make its

greatest contribution to the society. Society's support of science is consequently not as

strong as it should be. Somehow the private sector is supposed to cover all the applied

research and development and coordinate the continuum of knowledge. With little or no

public policy direction and substantial public good elements in applied R&D this has

never been realistic.

The necessity for addressing the complete continuum of knowledge, even within the

university, was put in perspective 50 years ago by Alfred North Whitehead. He said:

In the process of learning there should be present, in some sense or other, a
subordinate activity of application. In fact, the applications are part of the
knowledge. For the very meaning of things known is wrapped up in the
relationships beyond themselves. Thus, unapplied knowledge is knowledge
shorn of its meaning. Careful shielding of a university from the activities of
the world around is the best way to chill interest and to defeat progress."

Much of the creativity in any discipline comes from the intellectual stimulation of

confronting disciplinary knowledge with the test of application, knowledge from other

disciplines, and the challenge of societal problem solving. We badly need to recapture

this catholic view of science and make it central again to the ethic of science. Failure

to do so will leave science less creative and productive, whether viewed from science or

society's needs.

The pressures society is putting on science are pushing us toward a modern science

and technology policy that would provide a conscious, coordinated balance of public and

private investment across the entire continuum of knowledge from creation to use in

areas critical to society. Today, only in medicine and agriculture can such systems be

said to exist, and both of these need some institutional rethinking and reform. New

institutions (rules, roles etc.) are needed. Statemanship and vision are needed. Implied

are changes on campus and in Washington to interlink basic science and its policies with a

limited number of long term, science-based missions of significance to society.

Coordination of effort across disciplines and with industry is involved. The lessons

learned from a century of science in agriculture are clearly relevant to any U.S. science

policy that focuses on raising U.S. productivity.

The Paradigm of Science is Changing

Another reason we need to rethink the scope of science policy and its funding

system is that the modal paradigm of science appears to be changing. Once distinctively

separate domains of disciplinary inquiry have, as the frontiers of knowledge have

expanded, begun to overlap and interpenetrate each other. Even forty years ago there

were scientists known as physical chemists and others called chemical physicists. Today,

the identity of chemistry is all but lost in the rest of science (Browne). The last two

Nobel Laureates in chemistry were not chemists but mathematicians. Parts of classical

physics are not far behind. This overlap results in new disciplines or at least separately

organized units. We have departments today of biophysics and biochemistry. Advanced

math and statistics are essential to the cutting edge in most disciplines. The boundaries

of biology and its subdisciplines are transcended not only by physics, chemistry and other

disciplines but by research technologies and techniques -- e.g. microbiology and

molecular biology. Technological capability drives the biophsysical sciences as much as

science drives technological capability. In the social sciences and humanities this two-

way causation includes not only technology but institutions. The social sciences have

long had large overlapping domains.

The point is that to practice at the cutting edge in any discipline today, even the

biological and physical sciences, requires not only command of a discipline but also of

major components of knowledge from related disciplines well beyond mathematics and

statistics. As science grows more complex 'and interactive, a growing proportion of

disciplinary inquiries pursued to completion take one through multiple disciplines and

techniques. This overlap has become so extensive that creating new disciplines or

departments has ceased to be the best or only response. Thus, paradoxically to practice

a discipline today one must increasingly collaborate with other disciplines or become in

some degree multidisciplinary. This is not really news. The change is only one of degree,

but it is so fundamental that it suggests a change is underway in the modal paradigm of


The idea of science that evolved out of the 19th century and around which the

growth of science, especially basic science, funding has been organized is predominantly

that of the individual scientist surrounded by a few graduate students or laboratory

assistants. The growth of "big science" and the rapid development of the scope and

importance of private sector R&D, even in basic science areas, now combines with the

growing interpenetration and overlap of one discipline with others to erode the relevance

of the old paradigm. What one sees increasingly are R&D consortia and cooperative

research endeavors of various sorts. Every session on science policy or university

strategic planning I have attended recently has emphasized the need for more

multidisciplinary research. The pressure for collaboration between disciplinary

researchers in universities is growing. The numbers of multiuniversity consortia have

grown as have those that combine university and industry R&D efforts. Industrial R&D

consortia have existed for decades. The motive for these arrangements include cost

sharing where there are economies of scale (often involving large, specialized "big

science" research facilities or tools) as well as the need to assemble diverse disciplines

for fundamental research or to bridge the continuum of knowledge from disciplinary

through applied subject matter and problem solving inquiry.

This shift toward more collective or cooperative research consortia makes the

funding question very much more complex for everyone from NSF and NIH to the

foundations and industry. It opens up the question of appropriate funding mechanisms

and puts the emphasis on the purpose or goals of the research. I believe both the

competitive grant, basic science experience as well as the agricultural science

experience are relevant -- if all parties to the debate will listen to the others and think

objectively about the problems we face in common.

The Private Sector R&D Role is Growing

The private sector presence in R&D has been growing rapidly. This is especially

significant in economic sectors where vertical integration produces large oligopolistic

firms who have substantial influence and control over the industry's demand and supply

functions. Such firms know they will still be around 20 years from now. They can and

increasingly do invest in both basic and applied science to guide and control the

conditions of that future. Even so, few of these firms can afford the scale of basic

science investments they might like or that society needs. This creates a growing

interdependence between public and private R&D that generates pressures for

collaboration and joint ventures. It is pulling university basic science into coordinated

efforts that cover the entire continuum of knowledge and into new funding


In agriculture private sector R&D has developed somewhat later because of the

more atomistic nature of many agricultural markets. Concentration is proceeding

rapidly in agriculture today. With it has come an equally rapid growth of private

agricultural R&D taking over many areas of applied research that had been a public

responsibility. The consequence is that agricultural science and the land grant system is

becoming somewhat less problem and product specific and more a general science

wholesaler than a retailer. Agriculture science is being pressed back toward a mix that

is heavier on basic science combined with a somewhat different set of applied science

and extension activities.

While still quite different, agricultural science and academic disciplinary science

are being propelled toward a more common set of responsibilities, problems and

activities. In common they face the need to redefine the changing boundary between

public and private R&D responsibility. The growing role of private R&D means that the

private research institutions will have a far more significant (formal?) role in the

coordination of science policy. With greater intermixing of public and private motives,

the public sector (Congress, universities, science professions) must find new ways to

assure the integrity of science and its decision processes. The public institutions also

bear greater responsibilities to assure that the public interest in science is served. Much

applied R&D remains a public good that will be ignored if applied science is ceded to the

private sector without thought.

The Continuum of Knowledge is Expanding

Coordinating the continuum of knowledge from creation to use is made even more

difficult today by the growing stock of more and more complex knowledge and by the

specialization of science. In terms of organizational distance, the extreme ends of the

continuum of knowledge are moving away from each other as knowledge increases and

science grows more specialized. Any policy that hopes to extract greater productivity

from science through a coordinated attack on the problems of some sector must face the

fact that the problem of coordination has become far more complex. This, combined

with the growing complexity of most economic sectors, makes the coordination and

linkage of public and private sector problem-solving research and technology and

knowledge transfer (extension) much more difficult to conceptualize and manage. The

extreme complexity of the technology transfer function can be seen in research on this

topic by Feller and his colleagues.

Agricultural Science Policy

The older institutions of agricultural science operate in a different context today,

and behave differently than they did before World War II. Up until the 1950s the vast

majority of public funds going into the biological sciences were committed in agricultural

science budgets. Today, agriculture science accounts for 2% or less of total federal R&D

expenditures (OTA). Before World War II, except for agriculture, the Federal

government was not an important patron of science, which was funded on a shoe string by

a few elite universities and foundations. Up until 1916, agricultural research activities

accounted for one quarter or more of the USDA budget (OTA). Today, a far larger

research enterprise accounts for no more than two percent of the USDA's budget.

Today the private sector accounts for about two-thirds of all agricultural R&D

expenditure (Ruttan pp. 181-186). Two-thirds of this is concentrated in physical science

and engineering and only a small but growing part can be described as basic science. At

the state experiment stations about three-quarters of the research is in the biological

sciences and technology. According to Ruttan, social science research accounts for less

than 3% of private sector R&D and less than 10% of public sector R&D in agriculture (p.


The funding of science began to change after World War II with the creation of the

National Science Foundation (NSF) and the great expansion of the National Institutes of

Health (NIH). These institutions today support a large public and private academic

science structure, mostly disciplinary in nature and, with a few exceptions, largely

outside of and unconnected with the land grant-USDA system of agricultural science

institutions. This means that the bulk of basic biological, physical and social science and

humanities research, some portion of which is undoubtedly relevant to agriculture, today

lies outside the system of agricultural linkages.

The impact is more pronounced because of the fragmentation of academic science

into a progressively greater number of separate departmental units as scientific

knowledge has grown and become more specialized. In the land grant colleges, the same

evolution involved the movement of most disciplinary faculty into separate specialized

departments outside of the colleges of agriculture. All of this has steadily increased the

organizational distance between applied research in agriculture and some of its

disciplinary roots. It has increased the difficulty involved in interlinkage and

coordination of the continuum of knowledge from its creation to use.

Complicating this is the dominate value belief of the NSF-National Academy of

Science-academic science establishment that only disciplinary research in the biological

and physical sciences is academically respectable and justified. The support given the

social sciences tends to be limited to the behavioral sciences and to positivistic inquiry.

Anything involving questions about what has value is not considered to be the domain of

science, but is treated as subjective and nonscientific. The response of many colleges of

agriculture to the changing values and distribution of power in academic science has

often been an equally parochial, nearly exclusive focus on applied problem solving


Other colleges of agriculture, many land grant universities and some agricultural

professional associations have absorbed as their ideal the academic science

establishment's exclusive focus on disciplinary research. Their "search for academic

excellence" is denaturing the land-grant tradition of problem solving and service to all

people, irrespective of wealth or position. A near exclusive focus on basic discipline

depreciates applied, multidisciplinary research, denies admission of problem solvers and

prescriptive analysis to the academic pantheon, and turns good land grant universities

into second-rate, private academies. Such an environment destroys the basis for

effective extension education and problem solving, and lowers the potential productivity

of any agricultural science investment. Today these two parochialisms of "pure" and

"applied" science constitute an obstacle in the search for an appropriate balance of

investment across the continuum of knowledge necessary to achieve greater national

capability (Johnson 1984). A less narcissistic ethic is needed to sustain a balanced

investment in science.

Agricultural research today is a matter of minor political concern in both the

USDA and Congress. Over recent decades the congressional interest in USDA research

budgets has focused primarily on applied commodity research and the proliferation and

location of regional research laboratories in selected congressional districts. Only

recently has this begun to change in some places in Congress. The narrowing of farmer

interest to immediate farm program benefits combined with the lack of scientific vision

in either congressional or USDA political leadership has over several decades contributed

to a confusion of purpose and to an isolation and fragmentation of the USDA's national

research capability.

A once-effective priority-setting process has been undermined by abuse of the R&D

function by Congress and USDA political leadership, the erosion of USDA research

dominance, a decline in the dependence of the colleges on the USDA, as well as the rise

of new public and private R&D actors of varying importance to agriculture but outside

the agricultural science system. Relevant activities are not as well interlinked and

coordinated. Agricultural research is in large part a public good. In a policy process

dominated by highly organized economic interests with destructively narrow, short-term

views of self interest, public goods are of little concern. Why worry? The agricultural

cornucopia will always flow. But will it? Or will the public interest be served?

Institutional changes since 1977 attempt to deal with part of this problem. The

establishment of the Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences, the National

Agricultural Research and Extension Users Advisory Board and more recently an

Assistant Secretary for Science and Education create a potential for greater clarity of

purpose and coordination of priorities. The USDA Agricultural Research Service seems

to be in a resurgence.

Outside of defense R&D, real federal funding has of all research grown very slowly

since the late 1960s. Federal funding for land grant agricultural research has faltered,

and all but ceased to grow in real terms since 1967. The Federal partnership with the

states in agricultural research has faded and now lies in the balance. Without an

effective national agricultural research policy and without an influential national

research focus, coordination of the agricultural research system has been slowly

deteriorating for decades.

Agricultural science needs to become more nearly an integrated part of the science

establishment. Agricultural sector political power would appear inadequate to sustain a

modern, balanced science base for agriculture. But the integration and cooperation

needed between the two science establishments will not come unless there is greater

mutual appreciation of the strengths each would bring to a common, more coordinated

endeavor. The old land grant model exhibits many of the desired characteristics of such

a system, but even it is in need of institutional rethinking to adapt it to the modern

political environment of science and agriculture.

The older institutions of agriculture are in some disarray, although they now seem

to be adapting to these changes. Power is being redistributed toward newer political and

bureaucratic actors, many of whom have little understanding of the nature of agriculture

as an industry and as a biological process, to say nothing of science's role in agriculture.

The system of education and research that developed in agriculture between the 1880's

and World War I, is in enough disorder to raise questions about its continuing viability as

a system. Most of the institutions will survive, but will the system? Many scientists

outside agriculture are both ignorant and critical of the agricultural research structure.

Indeed, many seem even to resent its existence. National commitment to these

institutions is in question. Yet without some kind of system for coordination of the

complex of relevant national and local institutions, achieving the full potential of future

increases in agricultural productivity is in doubt. Here agricultural science differs in its

needs from medicine and other parts of science. Such differences must be recognized

and accommodated in science policy and its funding. We must be able to explain those

dif ferences.

A mature industrial nation's comparative advantage in trade rests on high

technology and high human capital industries such as electronics, computers,

communications systems, education, finance and, in many cases, agriculture. Agriculture

is increasingly dependent on scientific research to remain a high technology sector.

Two generally unrecognized systemic problems have arisen that threaten our ability

to sustain the kind of R&D policies that will support a high technology economy.. One is

the post World War II drift of the U.S. scientific community toward the view that the

only research of importance and the only research worth financing and doing is basic

science (disciplinary) research (Shapley and Roy). At the same time that the academic

community's capacities have shifted to the disciplinary end of the research spectrum, the

problems of society have become more specialized, interactive and complex, requiring

(besides disciplinary research) greater systematic investment in applied, multidisciplinary

research of a subject matter and problem solving nature. If all the applied research

could be done by the private sector this would only be a problem, of coordination. But

most early technology, human capital and institutional development and much of the

adaptive and maintenance research in biology are clearly a public good and beyond the

private sector's capability. Thus, the training and values of academic science are

undermining the society's capacity for problem solving, while the need for such capacity

grows more intense.

There is a second problem. As an industrializing nation's agriculture develops, its

production and marketing processes inevitably become highly specialized and its welfare

and performance increasingly vulnerable to disruptive outside forces. The result is

growing government policy intervention in agriculture, an expanding private-sector

interest in public policy outcomes, and ultimately severe fragmentation of economic

interests. This fragmentation leads to rising levels of political conflict and disorder

among the institutions of agriculture, along with the domination of the policy process by

progressively narrower economic interests that make it far more difficult to pursue long-

term research .goals, especially for research that promises to provide only diffused or

problematically distributed benefits. As a consequence, as long term, steady support for

agricultural science research has become absolutely essential to the future of an

industrialized agriculture, the increased fragmentation and narrowing of the economic

interests in agriculture make it increasingly difficult to mobilize support for long term

goals. This can be seen clearly in both Europe and the U.S.

Thus, most industrial nations with highly productive agricultural sectors face an

eventual political-organizational crisis in deciding whether or not, and in what form, they

will sustain the science-based developmental system in agriculture that with varying

degrees of success they have created. Failure to maintain that system will substantially

disadvantage an industrial country both internally and in international affairs. Food will

always be a strategic necessity, whatever a country's resource base.

We must in my judgment integrate the two science establishments and stand

together on policy for science. Much learning is necessary before that is possible. We

must also broaden U.S. science policy to merge the agenda of science with that of some

of society's problems without impairing the integrity of either the basic science search

for knowledge or society's problem solving-process. This is a large challenge in which we

can learn much from the mistakes and successes of the agricultural sciences.

The Social Sciences in Agriculture

The rising criticisms of science and its external effects reveals how little relative

attention and investment has been devoted to social science and humanistic inquiry in

agriculture. A serious imbalance exists. The biophysical science-based technological

growth creates externalities and increases the need for technology assessment, new

institutional innovations and research on ethics and values. The latter two especially are

the domains of the social sciences and humanities for which we have failed to provide

adequately in science policy, public or private. Industry does not wish to assume the

costs of dealing with externalities and the most influencial agricultural scientists either

do not want to believe that their scientific inquiries involve such problems or simply see

their social responsibility as limited. The public sees it otherwise.

In the social sciences only agricultural economics is fully established in every

college of agriculture. Sociology is partially institutionalized and needs to be expanded

to a full role. In justification one needs only to point to the contributions of Buttel on

structure and institutionalizing the new genetic technologies, Bush and Lacy on the

sociology of agricultural science, Dillman on the information revolution in agriculture as

well as the many sociologists who dominate the literature on rural communities and their

demography, welfare and development. Beyond this it is hard to justify entire

departments in each college. Nevertheless agriculture is in need of continuing research

capacity in political science, law, social psychology, cultural anthropology and perhaps


In the humanities, our lack of any historical perspective on our past now distorts

agricultural leaders views and the generation of professionals we are now training

generally do not even have rural backgrounds. The growing set of ethical issues in

agricultural policy and in science require philosophic attention.

Because we are often the only established social science department, I believe

agricultural economists have a responsibility to make the case for the missing social

sciences and humanities in the colleges. We have neither the personnel nor the expertize

to meet this rising challenge ourselves. In any case, we have some serious deficiencies of

our own to face.

The agricultural sciences made their reputation as empirical sciences. Agricultural

economics is no exception. Our profession's empirical tradition was built around an equal

or balanced emphasis on theory (including disciplines other than economics), statistical

measurement techniques, and data (Bonnen forthcoming).

Since World War II agricultural economics has been experiencing a drift toward an

antiempirical and a disciplinary outlook. We are moving away from the empirical

tradition we inherited towards the celebration.of theory and statistical methods while

ignoring data. Any profession becomes what it celebrates and rewards.

Part of the problem lies in academic economics and is not new. Fifteen years ago

in his presidential address to the American Economic Association, Professor Wassily

Leontief described this part of our problem very clearly. On economic theory he


. The weak all too slowly growing empirical foundation clearly cannot
support the proliferating superstructure of pure, or should.I say, speculative
economic theory . Uncritical enthusiasm for mathematical formulation
tends often to conceal the ephemeral substantive content of the argument
behind the formidable front of algebraic signs . the assumptions on which
the model has been based are easily forgotten. But it is precisely the
empirical validity of these assumptions on which the usefulness of the entire
exercise depends.

What is really needed, in most cases, is a very difficult and seldom very neat
assessment and verification of these assumptions in terms of observed facts.
Here mathematics cannot help ....

Then on statistical techniques he notes that econometrics,

. can be in general characterized as an attempt to compensate for the
glaring weakness of the data base available to us by the widest possible use of
more and more sophisticated statistical techniques. Alongside the mounting
pile of elaborate theoretical models we see a fast-growing stock of equally
intricate statistical tools. These are intended to stretch to the limit the
meager supply of facts.

. In no other field of empirical inquiry has so massive and sophisticated a
statistical machinery been used with such indifferent results. Nevertheless
theorists continue to turn out model after model and mathematical
statisticians to devise complicated procedures one after another. Most of
these are relegated to the stockpile without any practical application or after
only a perfunctory demonstration exercise.

Leontief went on to applaud agricultural economics as an ideal empirical science,

praise we have not fully deserved for some time. Even as Leontief spoke in 1970

agricultural economics was already abandoning its empirical tradition.

Why is this happening? There seem to be several causes. First, we are emulating

academic economics, which, with some distinguished exceptions, now exhibits little

commitment to the empirical. Another source of the problem, I believe, is the search for

"academic excellence" in agricultural economics that places excessive or sole emphasis

on rewarding the development of disciplinary knowledge, almost to the exclusion of the

development of subject matter and problem solving knowledge, both of which are

essential outputs of an effective agricultural economics department.

Economics can achieve distinction through the creation of disciplinary knowledge

alone (which still requires empirical validation). Agricultural economics cannot. Thus, a

badly flawed notion of what agricultural economics is about has led to incentive

structures for tenure and promotion penalizing those who emphasize empirical work or

who spend large parts of their lives in applied problem solving and subject matter

research without significant disciplinary contribution. It is not surprising that many of

these same departments now have some difficulty sustaining a vital extension activity

and are losing public support because their clientele perceive them as not very useful.

When individuals or departments devote themselves solely to pleasing disciplinary peers,

they eventually lose much of their understanding of and relevance to the society and its

problems. This pathology afflicts entire colleges. Some colleges of agriculture have

become distinguished collections of disciplinary researchers unable to address the

problems of agriculture effectively. Many are unlikely to survive in the long run, for not

only will clientele desert them, but the college's rationale for independent existence


Perhaps a third source of this anti-empirical drift can be traced to the rapid

increase in the cost of well-designed data since World War II. The collection of most

social science data has remained a labor-intensive activity in a period of rapidly rising

labor costs. The increasing costs of data collection have more than offset cost savings in

data processing and dissemination. The rising value of time may have also had some

impact on the profession's attitude toward data via the substitution effects of the greatly

increased cost of graduate education.

The effect of this anti-empirical, disciplinary drift in the profession is a withdrawal

from effective problem solving. We see ourselves as economists with economic theory

and mathematical and statistical tools and at best we go out and apply them. We resist

multidisciplinary and empirical involvement. We are less and less focused on or

motivated by empirical work and problem solving. Consequently, we do not really learn

very much about problems, usually only the minimum needed to fit a model, and rarely go

beyond squinting at it through a data set collected by someone else for another purpose.

Sometimes we do no more than program a computer to squint at the data for us. Or we

use no data at all. So, we are less and less able to help people solve their problems. This

undermines the social value of agricultural economics and the capabilities that brought

the profession to where it is. It leaves agricultural economics without a culture capable

of sustaining extension or many types of applied research.

The model of an agricultural college department as a collection of "pure

disciplinarians" producing disciplinary and some applied disciplinary knowledge is a

pathological distortion of the land grant mission. Yet that is the model some colleges

and agricultural economics departments are now following. Just as pathological is the

purely applied model of a subject matter organization unconnected to the appropriate

range of supporting disciplinary capacity in teaching and research.

In agricultural economics research and graduate training, we must achieve a

mastery of economy theory and statistics. This requires a faculty well trained in

economics and statistics. But not every faculty member must be devoted entirely to

theory, econometrics or even economics. Indeed, to be successful in achieving their

multidisciplinary, subject matter and problem-solving purposes, agricultural economics

departments must be staffed with an eye to the appropriate mix of diverse disciplines,

skills and subject matter knowledge. The reward system must be capable of sustaining

that diversity. We cannot surrender the goals and culture of agricultural economics to

that of economics. If we do, we will have become at best second-rate economics

departments of which there is already a sufficiency.


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