Scientists and charlatans: the continued importance of unbiased university research
“When Cooperative Extension started in 1912 there were many “experts” with a wide variety of ideas talking to farmers about how to improve production of both crops and livestock. Cooperative Extension personnel had to compete with this diverse array of unproven ideas for decades.
In the 1960s a company selling sea salt as a fertilizer threatened to sue the Extension Specialists in the UW Soils Department who spoke out against their product. So the Cooperative Extension scientists established field trials in which corn and alfalfa were planted side by side in replicated plots; some were treated with lime and fertilizer as recommended by the UW Soil Testing Laboratory and others were treated with the sea salts being touted to farmers by the firm which had threatened to bring the lawsuit. When the crops were harvested there was such a wide difference in yields between the plots treated with lime and fertilizer and those treated with sea salt that there was no more talk of a lawsuit. The company soon closed up shop in Wisconsin.”