If you’re looking for cat videos, birthday reminders, and a method for spying on old friends then Facebook is pretty useful, but for cold hard facts?
Not so much.
Well, actually we’re overstepping here. It’s really not Facebook. After all, Facebook is kind of like a blank sheet of paper. The paper doesn’t tell the truth or lies, it’s the person who writes on the paper. On the Garden Professor’s Facebook page we do a pretty good job of offering science based information to people. It’s not perfect, but it isn’t bad either. And there are certainly other good Facebook pages too, mostly associated with various Universities.
Another page that did a pretty good job was the Extension Master Gardener’s Facebook Page. This Facebook page is run by a group of Master Gardeners who generally do a great job of telling it like it is, but recently something happened and the posts have been…softer. And those that are science based seem to have some science that we would call questionable at best. For example, they posted links to articles which include information such as this:
“These are natural pest control agents. The bitterness of cucumber peels will ward off ants, moths, mites, wasps and silverfish. Lay cucumber peels in corners of the kitchen, on windowsills or in cabinets … wherever you are having a bug problem. Refresh them frequently, though — decomposing cucumbers will actually attract pests.”
“It is widely supported that tomato leaves can be poisonous, as they’re in the nightshade family. Tomato leaves, however, are not dangerous if ingested in small quantities, and in fact can be used as an infusion, much like tea leaves.”
Is this information, which comes from popular press articles, really research based? We’re not sure….can’t seem to find it in the literature.
The thing is, until recently, The Extension Master Gardeners felt that it was appropriate to post links on Facebook to things that were science based, thought provoking and meaningful. For example, they weren’t afraid to share articles like this:
Here’s the funny thing, as far as we can tell, with very few exceptions these articles have been “unshared” by those in charge of the Extension Master Gardeners Facebook page (we checked last week — and we do acknowledge that facebook does some funny things — but we know these were shared and we now can’t find them) — and all of those articles came from one person, Sylvia Hacker.
That’s a shame because these articles make you think, and they’re based on science. I’m not going to say all of the conclusions are correct, but Master Gardeners are supposed to be thinkers and certainly have the mental capacity to read these articles while critically balancing the arguments presented against other things they’ve read. Additionally, Master Gardeners are often asked questions about this kind of stuff. Since they’re asked the questions, isn’t it appropriate to be conversant in what the public at large is hearing about the topic as well as what current mainstream science writers are saying about it?
Look, some people complain or make nasty comments about articles like this because they have strong feelings about certain things. For example they’re strongly anti-GMO or pro-organic. But the thing that separates Extension Master Gardeners from a gardening club is that they literally have a duty to promote science based information such as that contained in the articles which Sylvia posted. To back away from this duty by removing already posted science based articles on Facebook is to allow science to lose.
Sylvia Hacker was recently released from her responsibilities on the Extension Master Gardener Facebook page where, over the course of only about 2 years, she helped raise the number of likes from about 3,000 to over 13,000 because she thought it was important to be proactive and to spread relevant science based literature which the general public was reading and responding to – regardless of whether it was controversial or not. Here is the letter she received regarding her dismissal. We leave it up to you to decide whether her release was appropriate or not.
The Cooperative Extension Services across the United States are tasked with disseminating objective, research-based information. Some of your recent posts to the Extension Master Gardener Facebook page have not met that standard. Some have been needlessly confrontational while others have linked to popular press articles with insufficient scientific documentation. You noted in a message on the National EMG Social Media Team “that Extension isn’t timely, can’t respond to trends or current issues” and that its content is “too boring.” Given your apparent lack of respect for Cooperative Extension as a whole and its affiliated program, Extension Master Gardeners, I regret to tell you that you will be removed as an administrator of the Extension Master Gardener Facebook page.
Posted by Jeff Gillman and Linda Chalker-Scott