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Environmental Studies 8

Updated on September 5, 2011

Here is my eighth reading response for my Environmental Studies class.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan describes how hybrid corn seed has doubled crop yields twice since 1930. This illustrates science’s incredible value, especially in regards to food production; however, part of Richard Levins’ Science and Progress: Seven Developmentalist Myths in Agricultureappears to favor “folk knowledge” over science.
The hybrid seed’s results are astounding. In 1920, the average corn yield was twenty bushels per acre. When hybrid seed was introduced in 1930, corn yields climbed and leveled out in the 1950’s around eighty bushels per acre. Presently, improved hybrid seed has increased corn yields to between 160 and 200 bushels per acre. Such an achievement displays science’s greatness and necessity. Furthermore, it indicates that in the future, science will accomplish more challenging feats, such as genetically altering seed so crops can grow in unbearable climates.

However, despite science’s clear extraordinary value within this sphere, Levins argues that scientific knowledge is not superior to folk knowledge. According to Levins, assuming “that science is the only way to knowledge” is “a chauvinist, class-based, and sexist contempt for the intellectual achievements of third world peoples, workers, and women of all countries” (Levins 437). Levins continues, arguing that modern science is not the only way to gather knowledge because “all peoples learn, experiment, and analyze” (Levins 437). However, that is not folk knowledge, but science without lab coats and gloves. When a farmer controls variables like fertilizer and water, and determines that his crops require more water, he has used science not folk knowledge. Whether on a personal level, like this example, or in a lab making hybrid seeds, science not folk knowledge has improved farming.

Levins needs to clarify his argument, specifically by defining folk knowledge differently from science. Otherwise, on this point it appears, Levins is backward, “scientific knowledge is modern” (Levins 437) Levins, Richard. “Science and Progress: Seven Developmentalist Myths in Agriculture.”

Environment an Interdisciplinary Anthology. Ed. Glenn Adelson, James Engell,

Brent Ranalli, and K.P. Van Anglen. 1st ed. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press.


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    • DavyJones02 profile image


      8 years ago from Netherlands

      Nice hub, I think it will be almost impossible to create crops that are able to grow in unbearable climates. Genetic altering has its limits and the climates are unbearable for a reason. A plant can't have the characteristics of a cactus to survive in the desert and the nutritional quality of lets say corn. And even if it does, cacti grow very slowly because of their hostile environment and growing the genetically altered crops there wouldn't yield lots of food. It probably won't be profitable to grow crops in deserts, ice flats, bogs or whatever because the alterations they need will make them bad crops.

      I do agree that science made all this possible and not folk knowledge.

      keep up the good work


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