Arm yourself with information

By Baxter Black: PNT columnist

At springtime I often have the honor of speaking to state FFA conventions and at college graduations. The students are bright, above-average young people who have chosen to enter agricultural or veterinary endeavors. I say to them, there is a difference between the study of science and the study of liberal arts; in science there is a right answer.
An artist can paint the word “penicillin” on a carton of milk. It can be done with calligraphic flourish, embellished with gold leaf and win a blue ribbon for style and creativity, but it’s still a carton of milk.
An author or screenwriter can write an elaborate story starring Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk where space travel, zoo-like aliens and fantasy planets abound. Their work can win academy awards or Pulitzer prizes but it’s still just Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
But in the sciences you can’t write an essay on why you think the atomic weight of uranium is really 6 and because you wrote it well, make it fact. There is a reason that chemistry and physics and math and genetics and physiology are harder than English or theater or journalism. It’s because there is more at stake if you are wrong.
You can’t print a retraction if you choose the wrong chemical, cut the wrong artery, or plot the wrong missile trajectory.
We, particularly in agriculture, have the obligation to our customers (people who eat) to understand what we are doing, to make decisions based on factual knowledge and to act responsibly.
The urban consumer is beset everyday by a blizzard of half-cocked, brightly wrapped, well-advertised, slick, disingenuous, sometimes well-meaning cow pucky. Many of these consumers do not have the background to separate the veterinarian from the pet psychic, the magic mineral peddler from the nutritionist, or the physician from the celebrity who plays one on TV.
These consumers, our customers, are as susceptible to the snake oil “health food” salesman as I would be to the con man selling original Rembrandts for $20.
As a scientifically trained person, you have an obligation to act like one. People will turn to you and expect you to know the right answer in your area of expertise because when the chips are down and life hangs in the balance, someone has to be responsible.
Arm yourself with information. It will be your light saber!

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: