The internet is a fine and wonderful thing. However it has caused our society to develop certain schizophrenic tendencies when it comes to expertise. Let me illustrate with the sad tale of The Skeptic and The Garden Expert.
Once upon a time, not so long ago there was a humble Garden Expert who decided to take stroll through some of her Facebook gardening groups. There were many interesting discussions going on that day but one post caught her eye. A certified Skeptic had posted a picture of fruit trees, declaring to one and all that the picture was so unrealistic that it was no doubt photoshopped, a process the Skeptic suggested placed the picture firmly in the category of bait for fools who didn’t have the Skeptic’s keen eye and judgment. The Garden Expert thought this was laying it on a bit too thick. She posted a reply that although the color in the photo might have been enhanced she was reasonably confident that the subject was accurately portrayed.
This hit the Skeptic square in the eye. She quickly replied with the question that stops so many reasoned internet discussions and turns them into a verbal food fight as logic goes out the window. “But how do you KNOW?” she asked, expecting that she held the trump card in this long-distance game. The Garden Expert, as it happened, had recently written an article on that very group of trees and had spoken directly to the breeders. Not only that, she had seen the same fruit tree varieties up close and personal on sale in her neighborhood. And this is exactly what she told to the Skeptic. Needless to say, the Skeptic was never heard from again – at least for the rest of that day.
Okay, you’ve guessed that the Garden Expert was me. I’m sorry to say this cautionary tale really happened. The fruit trees in the photo in question did have an unusually high density of fruit growing on them but they were nevertheless a true representation of a new variety of fruit trees for small spaces.
There is so much dreck out there on the internet that it is hard for the average reader to tell what is real and what is not when we are left to our own devices. How did this happen? The fine and noble goal of “information from anyone for everyone” on the internet has resulted in an epidemic of utter nonsense parading as expert advice. Anyone can publish their ideas, no matter how off-base or downright incorrect they may be. Add to that the viral nature of social media and bad advice can become “common knowledge” in no time. Anyone can claim to be an expert source and publish things that have no basis in fact. For example, you’ve probably read that you should:
Use a potato to root a rose cane.
Recycle eggshells for a great container for starting seeds.
Roto-till your soil every chance you get to improve the soil.
Put plastic forks, tines up, in your garden to deter rabbits and deer.
…all of which are wrong, wrong, wrong! If you want to know why click here and here to read previous posts on the subject. How did we get to this sad state? It’s simple really. We stopped looking to experts for advice. Instead we take the easy route and willingly accept information from friends and acquaintances who know no more on the subject than we do.
I style myself as the Herb ‘n Cowgirl, an expert in herbs. How do I back that up? Well, I have read, studied, grown, and used herbs for over 20 years. Those who know me know that I don’t accept just a surface answer to a question. I dig and when that gives an answer I dig some more to make sure it is a good one. A day doesn’t go by when I am not looking up references, taking a close look at information from other experts, and working to make everything I write as correct as possible. Do I make mistakes? Oh yes, of course. But I do my best to keep that to as few as possible and try to correct my errors when I find them.
Time for the bottom line. When you see garden advice posted on Facebook or Pinterest, don’t automatically accept it as fact and pass it on. Take a look at the source. Do they have a reputation as a reliable source of information? Or is it just a repost of a click-bait site that provides one tip per page surrounded by dozens of ads? Instead look for garden experts that are:
- Serious researchers in the field, such as Cornell University or Texas A&M
- Reputable businesses with a vested interest in providing valid information, such as Burpee’s or Gardener’s Supply,
- Genuine experts in the field who have put in time and effort to learn about a subject in depth.
The internet is a wonderful tool for accessing useful information on almost any subject. The tricky bit is knowing who knows what they’re talking about and who is just talking through their hat. Want some good advice? Ask an expert.