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Fight for the Farm

As scientists, for the past nine years we have grown accustomed to being treated with indifference by the federal Conservative government. We might have expected a little more respect from our colleagues in the health sciences, but as the actions of Jack Kitts, CEO of The Ottawa Hospital have shown, that was a faint hope.

The Civic Hospital is in need of an upgrade, unfortunate for the Central Experimental Farm so temptingly located next door. Jack Kitts’ vision of the future, his hospital of the future, is a land-wasteful, sprawling high technology wonderland that he wants built on the Central Experimental Farm’s research plots. But “Kitt’s Folly” is no worthy replacement for “Fisher’s Foresight”, as the Civic Hospital came to be known, not when it comes at the cost of more than a century of continuous research and an ongoing 26-year field trial; and absolutely not when there are other sites in Ottawa that should be considered instead.

Plants are remarkable organisms. They have to be: they germinate, sprout, grow and set seed all in one spot. Rooted to the ground, they must have an armory of defenses and adaptations to survive and thrive. They cannot simply get up and relocate. In agricultural research, you quickly learn that one of your greatest sources of experimental variation – the noise in your data – comes from differences in soil and growing conditions. The value and the privilege of running repeated experiments on the same location is not something we take lightly, nor should anyone take for granted. Hence while it may be entirely possible to pick up and relocate a laboratory and all its research, and continue as though nothing has changed, to do the same with agricultural field trials is to change an experiment so much that it essentially becomes a new experiment. There isn’t another option for the Central Experimental Farm apart from staying where they are and continuing an excellent and highly cited research program. If they have to move elsewhere they won’t be continuing. They will be starting over.

The only response to Jack Kitts, when he stretches out his hand begging for the Central Experimental Farm’s land to build his folly, is not to move. It’s to plant our roots firmly in the ground and say: No. You move.



Further reading: Pete Anderson at ActiveHistory

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