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  • News & Commentary - Message forums

    At Work: Aeon Magazine: Ant farm
    Submitted by J.W. Bizzaro; posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013


    Ed Yong wrote this very insightful article on the declining interest in plant pathology while the battle against agricultural diseases remains as complex as ever.


    The knowledge that remains is hardly accessible. "I just tweeted a CABI paper from 35 years ago on cocoa disease, and it costs $35 to access it," [David Hughes from Pennsylvania State University] told me. And some of the field's secrets, like [Harry] Evans's discovery that P. megakarya can bounce back from inside cocoa trees, aren't even in the literature – they're noted in printed documents, hidden within the archives of organisations such as CABI or CRIG.

    Hughes wants to democratise that hidden knowledge to give farmers a way of helping themselves. "Farming has always been a community affair but, in the modern era, we've lost those connections and knowledge is held by a few," he said. To rebuild these links, he teamed up with his Penn State colleague Marcel Salathé, a computer scientist who studies the spread of behaviour through social networks. Earlier this year, the duo launched, an open-access website where people can ask each other for help with agricultural problems. Users vote the answers up and down, and accumulate points depending on how helpful they are. It's like Quora for gardeners. "We'll never invest in people like Harry again," Hughes said. "The second-best solution is to rely on the crowd."


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