First 2016 Issue of Mississippi Vaccinium Journal

Dear Faithful Readers:

Below is the link to the latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal.  In this issue we cover new cultivars, diseases, presentations from the Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop, and more.

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Volume 5 Issue 1

As always, you can see past issues at this link: http://msucares.com/newsletters/vaccinium/index.html

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.

Discovering the Value of Social Media in Horticulture Research and Extension

Many of us are challenged to find ways to better disseminate our research and Extension findings. Administrators, legislators, and the public are demanding to know our “impact”.  Thus, using all available tools to our advantage only makes sense. Social media has been around for more than a decade now. Facebook is the most popular, with others like Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Periscope, and Instagram following in its wake. From the outside looking in it may be difficult to see the value in using these digital tools. Unfortunately, a lot of what we see on them is photos of babies, lunch plates, and celebrities. Ugh, who needs that?  Well, we do – not the pointless junk, but the social interaction with the public. There is a lack of public understanding of science and these social tools allow us to reach people who could learn from us.

But you don’t have time and you don’t get credit for doing it, right? We are all busy with the demands of our jobs and granted, most promotion and tenure committees have not figured where these activities fit into job parameters; however, the reason for using social media to disseminate our work is not for fortune and glory. Having used these social tools for more than five years now, I believe the best way to state the case for using social media is by providing some examples from my experiences.

To be clear, I am not a super star social media user. I choose which platforms best fit my interest and what I want to get out of them. I use Twitter and have a WordPress blog, but I also have LinkedIn and ResearchGate accounts. For now, I want to focus just on Twitter and the blog. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have zillions of followers. My reach and engagement are fairly small; yet, in context, what does small mean in social media?  As I write this I have 799 followers on Twitter. This included folks from all over the world who are interested in fruit crops. I have fewer followers on my blog, about 120, but each blog post is linked to Twitter and LinkedIn. Currently, I more than 60,000 views on my blog. Posts have been shared 2,696 times (via blog, does not include other outlets). Places that refer back to my blog: Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.), online forums (graduate student, commodity specific, etc.), popular press websites/blogs (New York Times, Scientific American, Growing Produce, etc.), online newspapers (Clarion-Ledger, etc.), and many, many more. To put this in perspective, there are people I never would have reached had I done nothing. These folks are not reading my journal articles – even those that are open access – but they are reading my blog, and better yet, sharing it with others.

Another interesting thing happened recently – a peer-reviewed journal article cited a post from my blog. This was the first time for my blog, but I have cited blog posts in some of my writings and I know others have as well. Does this mean anything in the larger scope of digital scholarship? As an isolated incident, no, but as a piece of an ever-growing mountain of social media validation, yes. ASHS recently launched a blog as part of their website. Blogs are a great way to communicate research in ways that traditional journals cannot. An enticing aspect of online blogs is that the author is not limited to only text. Color photos, video, and audio are all now in play. Someday more academic journals will catch up with these “advancements” but even so, blogs allow the communication to be more intimate between researcher and interested public. Many good horticulture blogs are online. The folks contributing to these are in the vanguard of new science communicators.

Social media allows one to condense information, make it more digestible, and more relatable. I recently saw a quote that went something like this, “At no point in the history of mankind have we had so much access to bad information”.  There is an enormous need to combat the torrents of misinformation that foment inside the social media world (which is essentially the entire world). Ultimately our job is to educate the public and advance science – with social media we can do both. It can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Some obvious benefits are that you will reach a larger audience, provide a service to your university/department/program, and also further educate yourself. The benefits to you will become apparent with time and engagement. What doesn’t seem so obvious now may allow your career to grow into another direction.

My use of social media got me invited to serve on the Guiding Committee for an eXtension Learning Network. And, among other things, it also got me invited to write this newsletter article. You see, by using social media you will be going down a rabbit hole with all of its twists and turns, dead ends and collapsed tunnels, and you can follow it as far as you have the desire and interest to do so, but just remember, at some point someone will end up following you.

This is a slightly modified version of the article first published as:

Stafne, E.T. 2015. Finding the Value of Social Media in Horticulture Research and Extension. ASHS Newsletter 31 (11):1,7.

On the IARC, Red Meat, and the Media

Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a statement that said, based on a literature review, red meats are probable carcinogens (Group 2A) and processed meats are carcinogenic (Group 1). The short memo can be read here. Other clarifications of what the Groups mean and about the red and processed meats can be found here and here. All of these documents are more revealing than most of the news stories have portrayed the issue. Headlines like, “Bacon is carcinogenic!” lead one to believe that eating bacon will give you cancer. This type of hyperbole leads to a great deal of angst among the readership, most of whom will not read the links I provided above. We have probably all heard the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” in regard to the media. I am not here to berate the media over the way they cover the stories — they have a job to do and writers have someone to answer to for their performance. In some cases, I think the writers don’t recognize, or don’t care, how their stories can impact other people. Can a negative, and incomplete, story on bacon depress sales, leading to a loss of income for farmers, resulting in layoffs, tarnished careers, bankruptcies, etc. Hmm, it could, but it’s a story so run with it, torpedoes be damned. There are other topics when this has also been true recently, that go beyond the news into another arena altogether. So, the onus is on the reader to separate real news from the hogwash passing off as news these days.

In regards to the red meat story, the IARC says that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. Do you know what else falls into this group? Alcoholic beverages, diesel engine exhaust, outdoor air pollution, solar radiation, tobacco use, and wood dust among a whole list of other things. One’s exposure to any one of these things will vary by individual, but the IARC is not explicit on how much exposure will lead to cancer expression. They have a guess based on 10 studies (50 grams daily of processed meat leads to an 18% increase in possibility of colorectal cancer). Yet, in fact, they do not know the answer to that. It is a complicated interaction of genes and environment. But, based on the way it is presented in some media articles, processed meat such as bacon must be as dangerous as using tobacco or breathing diesel engine fumes. Right? Well, no. The IARC is not addressing risk and so items within the same group should not be compared.

The IARC states that “high consumption” of red meats may lead to “small increases of risk of several cancers”. In fact, they state that “these risks are small” and do not define “high consumption”. They also state that the evidence is “limited”. Their best guess is that for every daily portion of 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of red meat, cancer risk is elevated by 17%. Overall the classification is rather meaningless unless it can be bound contextually by parameters that make sense and can be employed in everyday life. Essentially the IARC is saying, “We think folks should not eat as much red meat and especially processed meats based on some studies we analyzed. They could, possibly, play a role in cancer development, in some people, in some places…we think…based on the limited evidence available.” Okay, so no big deal, right? Dial back the consumption of red meat. It won’t guarantee you won’t get cancer, but it can’t hurt. But when the media got hold of the story, it took on a life of its own.

Me bashing the media wouldn’t solve anything and there is no reason to do it — in many cases the media is a good outlet for information, but information consumer needs to beware. Every media story starts with a source. If possible, go back to the source to get the straight story, because every media story has a bias (either intentional or unintentional) and an interpretation. That interpretation may be right or wrong or some of both. In any case, this is my interpretation of the IARC red meat story — I hope you will read the provided links to decide for yourself.

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Oct-Dec 2015

The latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal is out. In it several topics are covered including some SWD research, red leaf color, government programs, revised publications, and more.  Check it out by downloading the PDF at the link below:

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal. 2015. Vol. 4 Issue 4

A Proposal for Citing Blog Posts

A few days ago I became aware that a post from my blog was cited in a peer-reviewed journal article, which was very exciting. It was the first time this happened for me and I believe it shows the continuing breakdown of the division between traditional and digital scholarship.  The blog post in question was written by three guest authors and the citation used in the journal article was published as below:

Werle, C., B. Sampson, and J. Adamczyk. 2012. African fig fly: A new pest in Mississippi? Mississippi Fruit and Nut Blog. (https://msfruitextension.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/african-fig-fly-a-new-pest-in-mississippi/) (accessed 21 May 2015).

Now, there is nothing wrong with this citation — it hits all the points it is supposed to: author names, date, title of blog post, name of the blog, and last accession date.  However, there is one element missing.  Blogs may have only one author, but many times guest authors appear on blogs. Or in some cases multiple authors share a blog. In these cases, the above citation is incomplete. In a case where there are guest blog authors, the blog owner should be recognized in some way. My suggestion is to call them a curator.  To point out an analogous situation, in a multi-author book, the editor is also in the citation.  Below is how I would see that working for such a blog:

Werle, C., B. Sampson, and J. Adamczyk. 2012. African fig fly: A new pest in Mississippi? In: E.T. Stafne (cur.) Mississippi Fruit and Nut Blog. (https://msfruitextension.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/african-fig-fly-a-new-pest-in-mississippi/) (accessed 21 May 2015).

The same could be done for multiple curators of the blog site, for example:

Werle, C., B. Sampson, and J. Adamczyk. 2012. Fig flies in Mississippi In: B. Abbott and L. Costello (curs.) Agriculture blog. (www.blog.blog.com) (accessed 21 May 2015).

If the curator is not specifically mentioned by name, but is rather institutional, substitute that as in the example below:

Werle, C., B. Sampson, and J. Adamczyk. 2012. Fig flies in Mississippi In: Mississippi State Univ. Ext. Serv. (cur.) Agriculture blog. (www.blog.blog.com) (accessed 21 May 2015).

Of course there are variations not covered here (no author on post, no date given, etc.), but I believe adding the curator is a more complete and representative form of citation that what is currently given in the links below:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/ [APA style]

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/ [MLA style]

Commentary: Should We Be Worried About Funding for Science?

Recently, I saw a post on Twitter that linked back to this article: “Should the Government Fund Only Science in the “National Interest”?  After reading the article I was appalled.  Now, for full disclosure, I have never received (or even applied for) an NSF grant.  I have, however, applied for and received federal grants from sources other than NSF.  That being said, I wonder if the folks who are scrutinizing the NSF funding practices actually understand science at all.  Science in not just in the domain of the United States.  Science transcends geopolitical borders, language, race, creed, religion, and everything else.  The aim of Science is discovery by asking questions and solving problems.  The thing about Science though, is that researchers rarely make discoveries that result in a singular impact.  The research results are part of a larger puzzle — pieces fit together until we can see the larger picture.  But, many times we have no idea how many pieces are needed to complete the puzzle.  That is why we need the participation of all scientific fields.  The dictating of which fields and studies are “of highest priority”  is not something we should let politicians decide, but rather by scientists via peer-review.  The NSF is a model organization worldwide for funding of important, relevant research.  Diminishing that would  harm scientific discovery across the globe.  Mentioned specifically are “climate change education project, archaeology studies in Ethiopia, anthropology work in Argentina”.  I don’t know about you but I think education on climate change is important.  I also think archaeological and anthropological studies are important because guess what — understanding human history and nature affects the current understanding of ourselves.

Funding for scientific research is difficult enough to garner without it being further restricted.  If I want to do an experiment I have to figure out a way to get money to do it.  Usually that is in the form of grant funding.  The days of allocated funding are over and that is a shame.  I know I spend an inordinate amount of time writing grant proposals and filling out associated forms and other paperwork knowing that the chances are slim that the proposal will get funded.  I think if politicians really want to stop “wasted resources” they should look at the current grant funding model.  In my experience, hundreds of hours are spent developing these proposal and only a small portion are funded.  The real waste is the man-hours spent to develop these proposals that do not get funded.  I sure would like to see a study done on how much time is spent (and ultimately, unrewarded) doing proposals vs. the amount awarded (cost:benefit).

Science is under fire in this country and around the globe.  When I was younger, “University Professor” was highly regarded and trusted.  Now, I am not so sure.  The dictating of which science matters will only further erode the profession.  And who does that benefit?

Translating the Value of Extension Scholarship

Earlier this summer I was asked to give a webinar for Next Generation Extension – University of Nebraska Southeast Research and Extension Center (http://nextgenerationextension.org/) on the topic of online scholarship.  This grew out of a webinar that I gave in July (Peaks and Pitfalls of Extension Scholarship in an Online World) and a couple papers I published in the Journal of Extension (http://www.joe.org/joe/2013october/comm1.php and http://www.joe.org/joe/2014april/tt1.php).  In this webinar I tried to address online scholarship, how it is viewed in academia (as I see it) and how we can better use and value it.  The links below will take you to the recorded webinar (thanks to Next Generation Extension) and also a PDF version of the slide show.

Translating the Value of Extension Scholarship

Translating the Value of Extension Scholarship

Webinar is available here: https://connect.unl.edu/p7pjtc99xp8/

The PDF version is here: Translating the Value of Extension Scholarship

If anyone has questions or comments I would be happy to hear them!

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal April – June 2014

The latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal is now available.  It is below as a pdf.  Remember, you can always access past issues here:
In this issue we discuss chilling hours, recap the 2014 blueberry workshop, Kudzu bug and more.
If you have any questions or comments please let me know.

Gettin’ Figgy With It

The LSU AgCenter has recently released 3 varieties of figs.  ‘O’Rourke’, ‘Champagne’, and ‘Tiger’ are new additions to the LSU fig program that includes ‘LSU Purple’ and ‘LSU Gold’.  Dr. Allen Owings of the LSU Hammond Research Station was kind enough to send a description of all the new varieties.  It can be downloaded at the link below:

New LSU AgCenter Figs

The plants may be a little difficult to find initially.  Almost Eden plant nursery has some of them listed, but are currently out of stock.    However, some searching around on the internet and interacting with fig growers in Louisiana may yield some good results.  Figs in Mississippi are grown widely, but not on a commercial scale.  These new varieties should be good for backyard growers.

Figs are popular with homeowners in Mississippi and new varieties could expand options

Figs are popular with homeowners in Mississippi and new varieties could expand options

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Earns Award

At the 2014 American Society for Horticultural Science, Southern Region meeting held in Dallas, TX the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal was given a Blue Ribbon Extension Communication Award (see below).  This is a great honor as the chosen communications must show a high degree of quality.  While I have received this award in the past, this is the first time I have gotten one for work I’ve done at Mississippi State University.  The MSVJ is a newsletter written for blueberry growers.  It is published quarterly and it goes out as a pdf file via email to:  all MSU extension personnel, direct subscribers, and all Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association members.  If you are interested in receiving the MSVJ there are a few ways to do that: one is to email me and ask to have me send it to you directly, two is to be a member of the GSBGA or work for MSU Extension, three is to access current and past issues from MSUcares at this link (http://msucares.com/newsletters/vaccinium/index.html), and four is to get it from this blog at this link where all new issues are uploaded.  I am pleased to have received the award and I look forward to editing and writing it for as long as it continues to be read.  Special thanks goes to all the readers of the MSVJ, the USDA-ARS researchers in Poplarville who contribute content, and to Mike Neff, ASHS, for sending the image of me accepting the award.  See images below about the award.

Dr. Eric Stafne accepting the blue ribbon award from ASHS-SR President Dr. Curt Rom (photo courtesy of Mike Neff)

Dr. Eric Stafne accepting the blue ribbon award from ASHS-SR President Dr. Curt Rom (photo courtesy of Mike Neff)

The photo below shows the actual award (which was kind of a pain to lug through the airport in Dallas as I was stuck there all night, but I digress…)

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Blue Ribbon Communication Award

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Blue Ribbon Communication Award