The decline of public interest agricultural science and the dubious future of crop biological control in California

Abstract

Drawing from a four-year study of US science institutions that support biological control of arthropods, this article examines the decline in biological control institutional capacity in California within the context of both declining public interest science and declining agricultural research activism. After explaining how debates over the public interest character of biological control science have shaped institutions in California, we use scientometric methods to assess the present status and trends in biological control programs within both the University of California Land Grant System and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. We present available data on the number of scientific positions and the types of positions to discuss the impact on the amount of public interest research on biological control in California. We use sociograms to depict how biological control science networks have been reconfigured over time. Our quantitative and qualitative analyses indicate that the following factors contributed to the decline of biological control science in California over the 45-year period analyzed: (1) the institutional reconfiguration of university research priorities; (2) the fraying networks within and increasing specialization of biological control science; (3) the transformation of the social organization of the life science work, including privatization; and (4) the abandonment of this thematic area by civil society activist groups. This broad array of forces suggests that biological control, as a public interest science, will require a deliberate intervention, based on advocacy of clear public interest criteria.

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Abbreviations

CDFA:

California Department of Food and Agriculture

CE:

Cooperative Extension

IPM:

Integrated pest management

LGU:

Land grant university

PCA:

Pest Control Advisor

SRAs:

Staff research assistants

SYs:

Scientist years

UC:

University of California

USDA:

United States Department of Agriculture

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and National Science Foundation award 0646658. This report would not have been possible without the active interest of many members of these institutions helping us to understand the history and organization of biological control in California. John Steggall, Michael Pitcairn, Charles Pickett, Mark Hoddle, Daniel Sullivan, and David Headrick provided important insights on these data. Laurie Allen at UC Riverside, Louise Meyer Ozawa at UC Berkeley and Brenda Wing at UC Davis were particularly helpful in tracking down data about biological control scientists.

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Correspondence to Keith D. Warner.

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Warner, K.D., Daane, K.M., Getz, C.M. et al. The decline of public interest agricultural science and the dubious future of crop biological control in California. Agric Hum Values 28, 483–496 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-010-9288-4

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Keywords

  • Pest control
  • Agricultural science
  • Biological control
  • Public interest science
  • Institutional capacity
  • Social networks