HIGH NOON – IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Some years ago I began sensing that America was moving away from embracing science.  I read that fewer students are taking science classes both in high schools and colleges.  It seems to me that consumers are more accepting today of outlandish claims for food supplements, health products and cures for all sorts of ailments.  Anecdotal testimony by actors, neighbors or co-workers carry more weight than what doctors tell us. We’ll run off to an acupuncturist because, as the new age generation, the old and esoteric practices are assumed to be best.  Just look at the controversy over children’s vaccines which “cause” autism.    While serious science in America is moving ahead with marvelous achievements, the contrary seems to be happening within our culture.  I started saying to my friends that Americans appear to be moving forward into the 21st Century by returning to the dark ages, as far as science was concerned.  

 In my world of wine, Biodynamics began to become more visible and seemingly leapfrogged over organic farming as the absolute greenest of all farming techniques by claiming that Biodynamic farming is the “Rolls Royce of organic farming.”   For many years I had a laissez faire attitude toward Biodynamics – didn’t know much about it and didn’t care much – live and let live.  If Biodynamics got the farmer to put more foot prints in the vineyard that was fine with me – more attention to vineyard farming details is always good.   Yes, Biodynamics is a little kooky, but so what— no harm, no foul!

 But that started to change in recent years.  As of 2008, it was reported that there are over 3,500 biodynamic producers in over 40 countries, a very impressive number, along with some very well-known wineries including Domaine de La Romanee Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Leroy, Grgich Hills, Quintessa, Joseph Phelps, Araujo, Benziger, Qupe.  But what really caught my attention were the claims that Biodynamic  soils were “alive,” that the vines were healthier and can ward off infection better and that the wines made from those grapes more precisely expressed a sense of place and thus the resulting wines were better.   Better than what you ask?  The clear implication was that Biodynamic soils, vineyards and wines are superior in every way than everyone else’s soils, vineyards and wines, and in my book those are fighting words. I didn’t ask for this fight, it came to me – it reminds me of the movie High Noon, re-set into the 21st Century. 

 I now realized that Biodynamics is the poster child for what was bothering me; what happens when a society doesn’t educate its citizens well enough.

Stuart Smith

18 Responses to HIGH NOON – IN THE 21ST CENTURY

  1. Amber says:

    The “harm” in Biodynamics comes from the blind acceptance that the aspects of BD that work do so for the cosmic and mystical reasons they say are behind it.

    Composting is beneficial because of the organic matter that attract beneficial microbes which immobilize nutrients in the soil, feeding the vine a “slow food” diet when they release these nutrients as waste products or die.

    It DOES NOT work because, as Joly says in “Biodynamics Demystified”, the manure base “has been impregnated with an animal’s metabolic forces.”, or, as Monty Waldin says in his book, by making the soil “primed to received chemical energy freed by the breakdown of organic matter, cosmic energy streaming down from the stars and planets, and telluric energy rising from within the earth itself.”

    I firmly believe that the future of sustainable and organic viticulture will involve better utilization of soil food webs and microbiology. But to progress we need to ask serious, scientific minded questions about how things work and why.

    BD proponents will never move beyond the “accepted answers” given by Demeter, Joly et al and, unfortunately, all the pseudoscientific nonsense that decorate Biodynamics turns off most rational minded people from looking critically at the matter as well.

    This is a shame because there are worthwhile “best practices” that can be extrapolated from BD if only we funneled more scientific sensibility towards examining it.

    • biodynamicshoax says:

      Amber,

      Nice comment, I agree. I also believe that there will be a future break through for some sort of new farming paradigm that uses the best from any and all proven sources. As I’ve said before, I think the organic movement is a beneficial and necessary concept, but too limiting for the long-term and that Biodynamics will not move forward. Biodynamics can only survive and move forward as a faith based relgion.
      Stu

  2. Mike Tommasi says:

    @david

    I think you are referring to grapes when you mention “fruit ripeness”. Steiner never applied biodynamics to grape growing, rather to vegetables. I am not sure that he would have approved of growing fruit to produce alcohol.

    In a passage from his “Mein Kampf gegen Fäulnis”, of which I provide a translation done with Google (as is), he wrote: “fermentation, and the alcohols resulting from it, the symptom of root trouble is; it can zuschrieben be to a bad alignment of the planets during inflorescence. To avoid fermentation, sufficient is it to wait till Uranus at the zenith is, and spray the plants with an infusion of linden leaves from a tree situated no more than 100m from a deep well.”
    😉

    Mike

    • biodynamicshoax says:

      Mike,

      Steiner did speak, though briefly, directly to vineyards when he was asked:
      “Can these methods for alleviating plant diseases be applied to vineyards, too?”

      Steiner: “I can only say that I am convinced that the vineyards could have been protected (from Phylloxera) if people had gone about in the way I have indicated…”

      Next question: “What about downy mildew?”

      Steiner: “That can be treated just like any other blight.”

      Steiner had told his audience that to rid their plants of “parasites and all kinds of fungi … blights and mildews and the like” the farmer should make “a fairly concentrated tea out of Equisetum arvense” and spread it out on the fields. Since all Biodynamic vineyards are not resistent to powdery mildew or Downy mildew here is proof that Steiner was both a fraud and Biodynamics is a hoax.

      Steiner he had at least one generous financial supporter that had a large vineyard and another generous supporter that was a teetotaler yet was responsible for advertising of “Sternberger Cabinett” (sic) so he waffled on the use of alcohol in order to keep both supporters.
      Stu

  3. Take away the bullshit-hocus-pocus that is BioD and simply consider that Steiner’s theory was directed towards achieving greater fruit ripeness in Northern Europe where it’s more difficult to attain.

    Then, consider this neck of the New World, where we face a completely different situation: how to deal with conditions that produce OVER-RIPE fruit.

    Biodynamics is not the approach of choice in this scenario.

  4. Jason B says:

    I’d argue that any belief system that disregards self-criticism is far from harmless. The result is that you skew the “normal” part of the bell curve of rational thought towards the extreme. Progress in any society has always been the result of critical thinking that is open to criticism and improvement. Bio-D is just the opposite – none of the adherents want you to look past the rhetoric and discover the shaky foundations of this movement.

  5. Mark M says:

    Last time I checked, growing Biodynamic grapes doesn’t hurt vineyard workers, the environment or consumers. Meanwhile, the vast majority of US vineyards are managed by white suited workers, driving around on quad bikes or tractors, spraying toxic chemicals that affect their health, the environment and ultimately the wine consumer.

    Don’t you think aiming your vitriol towards the wine companies supporting non-sustainable vineyard management practices would be a better use of your time?

    • Larry says:

      Please.

      Every BD and organic grape grower sprays fungicides to protect their grapes. Every single one. Go on Joly’s website. He acknowledges he uses sulfur and copper for disease protection.

      If you think sulfur, used for Powdery Mildew prevention in all climates is completely benign, you have never worked in a vineyard.

      Downy Mildew control for BD and organic growers requires the use of fungicidal copper in every rainy climate in Europe and the US. It is the only useful Downy Mildew fungicide allowed in the US or EU BD and organic programs.

      Copper is a terrible, permanent soil toxin that persists forever in the topsoil, damages the soil microflora and drives out earthworms. This is scientific fact. Don’t believe it? Check out the modern work of Lukas Van Zwieten of Australia. Easy to find on the internet.

      As for the protective gear (white suits),it is required by law’s in every state of the union that one follow the requirements on a fungicide label for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

      These “organic” fungicides are toxic and workers need protective gear to prevent excess exposure and irritation.

      If you really don’t know something. Do us all a favor and don’t pontificate about it.

  6. Mike Tommasi says:

    While I agree with you that Steiner is a raving lunatic, with a very nasty side to him I might add, I think biodynamics is harmless, it is a little like the horoscope, it harms nobody and as you say, it gets winemakers to put more footprints in the vineyard.

    The bioD crowd believes there is a causality between what they practice and the “results” they obtain. This may be wishful thinking, but hurts nobody and makes good marketing.

    Tibetan superstition is also popular, funny enough because of all the forms of Bhuddism, the one that caught on in the West is the only variant (perversion) that has gods and truly wacky pagan rites that are completely absent in the ethic system known as Bhuddism. But by and large, even stupid Tibetan Bhuddism is harmless.

    The real problems, the real dangers come from those who believe wacky “revealed” truths to impose their way of life on others. That is where the danger is. For example, I find the Waldorf schools much more offensive than biodynamics: the idea of silly ideas being used to make wine is kind of funny, but using Steiner’s idea to educate children is truly scary.

    • zooey says:

      As a critic of waldorf education, I largely agree with Mike. I am very pleased to see criticism of biodynamics — especially now that it has become a seemingly lucrative business. However, waldorf schools concern me more — think about the stuff Stuart has presented, but applied to the upbringing of children. Biodynamics, to me, is an excentric way of farming, it’s not very different from praying to the gods that the crops will be good or something like that. Not that I condone praying to the gods, but I view it as the farmer’s own business. More or less. At least it’s not something I, as a costumer, can know much about. (The god-fearing folks don’t put labels on their products.)

      I grew up on biodynamic food and I still eat it. To some extent. I’ve tasted biodynamic wine, and I enjoyed it. But, basically, my hunch is that when biodynamic products are good, this is because they compete in the higher price segment. They have to be quite good or not too bad, or they would fail. It’s not the biodynamic practices which contribute to quality, but other aspects of the farming methods. (Perhaps even cheating, as I saw somebody mention earlier in regard to one of the posts on the blog.)

      I do, however, see a similarity of sorts between the problematic aspects of bringing up children anthroposophically and the keeping of farm animals on biodynamic farms. Since the farms are supposed to be a self-contained units, biodynamic farms keep animals. These animals are ‘treated’ with (ineffective) anthroposophic or homeopathic methods when they fall ill — a tradition which I am afraid will cause unnecessary suffering for these animals. This is something biodynamic companies are often reluctant to discuss.

    • biodynamicshoax says:

      Zooey,

      You make good points about the Waldorf schools. Unfortunately, I have not looked into that system and really don’t know anything about it, except that Steiner is at the bottom of it.

      With limited time and I have to pick my battles and that is Biodynamics.
      Thanks,
      Stu

    • zooey says:

      Re: https://biodynamicshoax.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/high-noon-%e2%80%93-in-the-21st-century/#comment-147

      True — and I didn’t mean to imply you ought to focus on waldorf schools (quite the contrary, I understand that’s not your field). It was perhaps a way of acknowledging how important I find your contributions to the debate on biodynamics in particular and Steiner in general, and at the same time explaining why I take an interest in this at all. And to highlight the fact that because both practices stem from Steiner’s belief system, there are more similarities than differences. And now that I see how defenders of biodynamics react to your posts here, I recognize much of their arguments — or perhaps rather the way they make these arguments and present them — from the discussions I’ve had with people over waldorf education and about spirituality, ‘materialism’, pseudoscience, ‘spiritual science’ and so forth.

      I’ve read Steiner’s agricultural works, but have no experience of farming, biodynamic or other, that is, I don’t know what ‘ordinary’ farmers do. (Well, I do know they don’t dig down cow horns.) So I can easily see that Steiner’s beliefs about farming are pseudoscientifical, and I can relate that to other things I know about Steiner and anthroposophy. But I can’t put it in a perspective and compare to wine-growing in general, for example. Which, again, is why your blog is valuable!

    • biodynamicshoax says:

      Zooey,

      Thanks for your kind words. There are many contributions here with various insights, from both sides, that helps the learning process and discusion.
      Enjoy,
      Stu

  7. Diego says:

    Great entry, Mr. Smith. However, I am not sure it’s completely the fault of our society for not educating its citizens well enough, although we certainly need improvement in that area. Individuals also have to be willing recipients of that education. I love reading the quote in the ‘Did you hear this?” box above: “Many people are afraid of what they do not know instead of being open minded to it.” Hmm…let’s see…you need to be more open minded concerning things that you “do not know”…I would argue that there are many, many people in our society that need to be more open-minded to the things that WE DO KNOW, and can empirically prove through scientific observation. We need more Dogma Fighters out there. Thanks

  8. Morton Leslie says:

    I guess I have a limit on the amount of total B.S. about wine I can tolerate. Years ago I stood with a group of people at Benziger as the tour guide explained how they only irrigated during the period around a full moon because the tidal effect of the full moon help pull the water up through the vine. Not a single tourist questioned this on the basis of knowledge of transpiration or the simple fact that with a high tide comes a low tide and any tidal effect, of course, be largely self cancelling. No one asked if it would not be better to time irrigations on the needs of the plant, particularly during times of extreme heat stress, than on the lunar cycle. I can excuse the huckster, they are just out to make a buck. But the real disappointment was the two dozen visitors who bought this fiction hook, line and sinker.

    But no surprise, recent surveys of Americans regarding scientific knowledge are depressing. If asked whether human beings evolved from earlier species only 1/3 of Americans say yes. Over 50% of us believe that humans were created much as they are today sometime in the last 10 millennia. (This includes the last U.S. President with a Yale education.) Twenty five percent of Americans answer that the Sun orbits the earth. Only 1/3 of us think that the Universe began with the Big Bang. A quarter of the U.S. population believes in astrology.

    The good news is that recent surveys seem to show a stable level of scientific illiteracy in the U.S. The bad news is that within the scientifically illiterate there is also a stable belief in pseudoscience. Pseudosciences – claims presented so that they appear to be scientific even though they lack supporting evidence and plausibility- are things like astrology, lucky numbers, the existence of alien unidentified flying objects, extrasensory perception, magnetic therapy, and our favorite topic – biodynamic farming.

    As you point out, belief in pseudoscience has a direct and inverse correlation to education. These beliefs find fertile ground where there is a lack of understanding of how science works and how evidence is investigated, tested, and how it is subsequently determined to be either valid or not. We are failing to teach the critical thinking skills needed to distinguish fact from fiction. Instead of skepticism, many of us accept scientific sounding things that lack a testable body of knowledge that allows itself to be open to rejection or confirmation. Biodynamics is a great example of a pseudoscience.

    What is remarkable about Steiner is that he pioneered a technique to use scientific sounding words to manipulate people. He targeted people who understood the legitimacy of science, feared the implications it might have on their lives, and were gullible because of their spiritual instincts and lack of education. In his time European peasant farmers who practiced unproductive medieval agriculture were threatened by monoculture, large farms, efficiencies brought to farming by the introduction of tractors, manmade fertilizer, and real science. Steiner used scientific sounding words to describe medieval agriculture with some magic thrown it. His “divine science” actually worked, but only because medieval agriculture worked to some extent, and his conjectures did not have to stand up to a test… because testing implied disbelief and without belief “divine science” wouldn’t work.

    What Steiner did was invent the technique that Philip Johnson used decades later with “intelligent design.” Like Steiner, Johnson cloaked and sold a spiritual story with scientific sounding language to fundamentalist Christians. Like Steiner he has met success with a number of school boards mandating the inclusion of intelligent design in curriculum or downgrading the well established science of evolution to a mere theory or in some extreme cases, banning the instruction of evolution entirely.

    Another too long comment, but you got me going. Am I the only one out there who is hearing you?

    • biodynamicshoax says:

      Morton: thanks again. To answer—this is generating a great deal of interest and comment. As you can see, people from both sides are weighing in and generating a dialogue is important. I’m on the road, more later.
      Stu

    • Mike says:

      About your experience at Benzinger. I think that you have ignored the fact that there may be an altenative explaination, the presence of which is a fundamental fact about science, may be that the people in the tour group were not stupid people but polite people not willing to start a possibly heated argument on a winery tour. They just listened politely and rejected the notion of the tides, and quietly moved on to the next thing. Do not assume that a lack of verbal response in acceptance of anything.

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