ACDC News – Issue 02-19

Happy 100th birthday to Successful Farming magazine.

“In October 1902, Edwin Thomas Meredith published the first issue of his new magazine, Successful Farming, with a promise to do all he could to live up to the name.” That’s how current Managing Editor Gene Johnston described the origin of SF in his lead article of the October 2002 issue. “Since 1902, [it] has helped millions of farm families through two world wars, a Great Depression and a farm crisis, $12 soybeans and $8 hogs, too many droughts and floods to count (sometimes in the same year!), and astounding technological advances.”

Other articles in the centennial issue feature the Meredith family, long-time relationships with readers and a 100-year time line of agricultural developments and SF highlights.

Reference: Use title searches (“Our 100th birthday” – “Meet the family” – “Friends for 100 years” – “100 years deserves a celebratio for the full citations. SF articles are posted online at:

The media can’t simply report on impressions and feelings.

In a recent commentary published by The Polling Report, Matthew Robinson argued that “if public polling is to have any meaning at all, the media can’t simply report on impressions and feelings.” He urged media pollsters to test what people know and what facts (if any) they are using to form their opinions. He cited examples in which public attitudes about important issues were based on shallow knowledge, not the “slightest clue.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Do media polls mislead”) of an author search (Robinson) for the full citation.

Damned lies and statistics

Is the title of a recent book about “untangling numbers from the media, politicians and activists.” Author Joel Best emphasized the social nature of statistics and the importance that statistics play in campaigns to create – or defuse claims about – new social problems. “Stat wars” is the term he used to describe the statistical efforts of advocates to support their claims about social problems. Stat wars create confusion, he argued. And he offered examples to reveal a number of oddities and inconsistencies about the use and interpretation of statistics. Among them:

“While we accept the (relatively high) risk of traffic fatalities, we worry about new technology – power lines or computer terminals or food additives – even though those who warn about technological risks usually offer far lower estimates for the number of people harmed by the new threat.”

“The best approach to stat wars is not to try and guess who’s lying or, worse, simply to assume that the people we disagree with are the ones telling lies,” according to the author. “Rather, we need to watch for the standard causes of bad statistics – guessing, questionable definitions or methods, mutant numbers, and inappropriate comparisons.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Damned lies”) or author search (Best) for the full citation.

Toward better science reporting.

A readable new book by Diane Swanson, Nibbling on Einstein’s brain, has taken the reader’s perspective in evaluating media coverage of science. A chapter on “Media Alerts” looks at how reporting can confuse or misrepresent science. An 11-question checklist helps readers review the reporting and critique the ads. (It also can help reporters and ad writers evaluate their own work.)

Other chapters feature:

  • “Baloney Busters” that look at how science can go wrong.
  • “Mind Traps” that look at “how the human mind – your mind – can muddle the science news your receive.”

Some examples in the book include science reporting about food.

Reference: Use a title search (“Nibbling on Einstein’s brain”) or author search (Swanson) for the full citation.

“Most farmers still speak as if they were born of man and woman – not spit out of computers,”

Noted Progressive Farmer editor C.G. Scruggs in an editorial nearly 20 years ago. However, he was concerned about a trend toward “gobbledygook spoken by researchers and even farmers we know. Remember where jargon sprang from. It was invented by politicians and some economists whose law is, ‘If you must talk, don’t say anything.'” His editorial offered advice to readers when they hear others use gobbledygook.

Reference: Use a title search (“Words that bother us”) or author search (Scruggs) for the full citation.

Another kind of confusion. 

If producers (indeed, all of us) scratch heads these days over terms such as interfacing modules, Veris soil maps and spacial database creation, we might remember that confusion always seems to come with new information technologies. An example caught our eye in a 1925 document that we added recently to the ACDC collection. A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey among farmers, nationwide, at the dawn of radio broadcasting revealed: “.one of the chief reasons why more farmers do not own radio sets is because they feel that operation of the instruments calls for great technical skill. They are confused by such terms as Neutrodyne, Heterodyne and other radio nomenclature.”

Similarly, a writer in Country Gentleman magazine (1922) reported that he “sought an elementary textbook on radio science and was directed to a 600-page text.”

The focus and concepts of information technology may change, but the communications challenges seem to endure and grow.

Reference: Use a title search (“What makes the radio laugh?”) or author search (McMahon) for the full citation.

Surprised that bioengineered foods have been “snuck in.” 

Most consumers that took part in focus groups conducted recently by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed great surprise that food biotechnology has become so pervasive in the U.S. food supply. According to the summary report that we have added to the ACDC collection: “The typical reaction of participants was not one of great concern about the immediate health and safety effects of unknowingly eating bioengineered foods, but rather outrage that such a change in the food supply could happen without them knowing about it.”

Reference: Use a title search (“Report on consumer focus groups”) or author search (Levy) for the full citation. The report was posted on:

Is the rural press still ahead of colleges?

“The agricultural journals have led the agricultural colleges from three to fifteen years in making transitions and additions to subject materials,” said C.C. Taylor in a report at the 1922 National Country Life Conference. The writer had studied subject materials of U.S. agricultural journals and agricultural college curricula in seven states during the previous 42 years.

Have you seen other comparative studies of this nature? If so, please let us know about them.

Reference: Use a title search (“Rural press as an educational agency”) or author search (Taylor) for the full citation.

A father-son chat about farming.

“Tell me, Dad,” said the son, “does owning your own farm make you more independent?” “It sure does, son. I get to work any time I want to before 7 in the morning and leave whenever I feel like it any time after 10 at night.”

Professional activities approaching

November 3-5, 2002
“Marketing – find the right fit.” Marketing superworkshopsponsored by Agricultural Communicators in Educationin Fort Worth, Texas.Information:

November 13-17, 2002
“Experience the magic of farm broadcasting.”Annual convention of National Association of Farm Broadcastersin Kansas City, Missouri.Information:

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 unique collection. We welcome them in hard copy (sent to Ag Com Documentation Center, 69 Mumford Hall, 1301 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801) or electronic form (

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