ACDC News – Issue 01-12

Concerns about water quality at an all time high.

The 2001 National Consumer Water Quality Survey shows that 86% of Americans express concern about their home water supplies. And they want more government-led protection against drinking water contaminants. This high level of public concern holds special meaning for communicators involved in helping keep fertilizers, pesticides, livestock waste and other materials out of water supplies.

Reference: Use a title search (“86% of Americans have concerns”) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

Big differences in how agricultural scientists view biotechnology.

A recently-reported survey of more than 1,000 land grant scientists revealed distinct patterns of opinions among the disciplines. Researcher Thomas Lyson found that, “in general, social scientists and natural resource scientists express the most reservations about developing and promoting these technologies. They also share a concern about how tightly universities and corporations should be linked. On the other hand, biological scientists are the most favorably disposed toward moving forward rapidly with a biotechnology agenda.”

Reference: Use a title search (“How do agricultural scientists view advanced biotechnology?”) or author search (Lyson) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

Communications dilemma of scientists.

Communications researcher Napoleon Juanillo, Jr., recently called attention to a dilemma that confronts scientists in the biotechnology “debate.” He notes: “Not surprisingly, science is presented to the public as universal truth or certainty. Scientists downplay the uncertainties produced through experimental and data generation processes to appeal their perception of science as a definitive and objective source of information.” At the same time, scientists are “duty-bound among peers to proffer the caveats, limitations, and uncertainties inherent in laboratory-controlled experiments.” He calls for greater understanding of how science speaks.

Reference: Use a title search (“Understanding how science speaks”) or author search (Juanillo) for the full citation.

Remembering the centrality of communicators’ efforts.

Recently we added to the ACDC collection the Nobel Lecture that Theodore W. Schultz presented on December 8, 1979, in Stockholm, Sweden. While it dealt with the economics of poverty throughout the world it was a ringing cry for improved knowledge.

“Knowledge is the most powerful engine of production,” he insisted, citing Alfred Marshall. And, we note, communicators are central to this complex process of generating and processing knowledge, and helping it move to those who can use it.

Reference: Use a title search (“The economics of being poor”) or an author search (Schultz) for the full citation.

Challenging tests of communication strategies.

How can communicators evaluate whether their efforts help improve the lives of people on the issues that most affect them? In a reference added recently to the ACDC collection Warren Feek, director of The Communication Initiative, offers an important and challenging list of “evaluation indicators.” Among the most challenging:

  • Do the people most affected have an increasing “voice” in the communication interventions and hold more decision-making roles?
  • Is there increased interpersonal dialogue among families and friends?
  • Is there increased public debate?
  • Is there increased accuracy in the information shared?
  • Is there an increase in the number and scale of social and organizational networks focussing on the issues in question?
  • Is there increased sensitivity to differing perspectives?

Reference: Use a title search (“Communication strategy”) or author search (Feek) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

“Gosh, he must be smart. I can’t understand a word he says.”

At a seminar more than 20 years ago, Arthur J. Snider of the Chicago Daily News cautioned agricultural science communicators about the dangers of professional jargon. He conceded that using incomprehensible language may give scientists professional security, but argued that it doesn’t fly with the media. And keeping the public confused creates greater problems. Has the problem eased since then? He offered suggestions that still seem relevant today.

Reference: Use a title search (“How the media make decisions”) or an author search (Snider) for the full citation.

Helping agricultural scientists communicate their value to society.

They are being urged to define and communicate the value of their professional contributions more clearly by moving beyond the curriculum vitae – to the professional portfolio. A task force of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) recently developed a report that describes the need for this new approach and offers a framework for creating professional portfolios. “The portfolio tells the story of the professional’s educational process, his or her accomplishments, and the impact on society of those accomplishments.” It provides a definition of achievements “beyond peer-reviewed articles and society memberships” and “embraces a broader definition of scholarship.”

Reference: Use a title search (“The professional portfolio”) or author search (Fischer) for the full citation, including URL for online access.

“Well, I thought it was funny.”

That’s the title of an interesting recent article about writing humor for people who live on farms. Award-winning writer John Phipps prepared the piece for the American Agricultural Editors’ Association ByLine newsletter. He offered nine humor-writing tips that have helped him. An example: Use humor to link, not isolate.

Reference: Use a title search (above) or author search (Phipps) for the full citation.

Heartening growth.

We are gratified and encouraged by continuing growth in online use of Agricultural Communications Documentation Center resources. This unique collection recently passed the 18,000-document level. And online usage statistics for March and April show an average of more than 16,000 successful requests a month, up substantially from a year ago. The ACDC web site served an average of 820 host sites during each of those recent months, with users located in an average of 40 countries.

And heartening feedback from users.

Comments such as the following help make our efforts enjoyable:

  • “Thank you very much. Your service is outstanding!”
  • “I so appreciate the time and research you gave to my question.”
  • “Thank you. I found it right away.”
  • “Another excellent review of new materials in your center.”
  • “Wow! This issue of the newsletter strikes me as particularly relevant to some very high priority issues.”
  • “exactly what I wanted. It hit the nail on the head.”

Thanks to all

For your interest, support and encouragement. We will do our best to keep the collection growing in size, quality and usefulness.

Professional activities approaching:

July 28-August 1, 2001
Joint meeting of Agricultural Communicators in Education (ACE) and the National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) in Toronto, Canada.
Information: 1-4, 2001

Agricultural Publications Summit in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Joint meeting of American Agricultural Editors’ Association, Livestock Publications Council and APA: the Association of Leading Ag Media Companies.

Best regards and good searching.

Please pass along your reactions, questions and ideas for ACDC. Feel free to invite our help as you search for information. And please suggest (or send) agricultural communications documents that we might add to this collection. We welcome them in hard copy (sent to Ag Com Documentation Center, 69 Mumford Hall, University of Illinois, 1301 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801) or electronic form ( Thank you.

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