Research and the Real World


There’s a big difference between what happens in the lab (in vitro) and what happens in the field (in vivo). In vitro means, literally, “within the glass”; in vivo means “within the living”.

Now let’s think about that for a minute. What sorts of useful things in this world happen within the test tube? Well, pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of time cooking things up in test tubes. Some of their stuff is useful, some of it is dangerous and all of it is bloody expensive. The Monsanto-monsters, in my humble opinion, do very little good with their test tube activities. There are some babies out there who would never have been born without in vitro fertilization, because their parents, for one reason or another, couldn’t successfully achieve a full term pregnancy. But no one has yet come up with a successful pregnancy in the lab, and that is probably a very good thing. You see, despite all our research and study of pregnancy at the cellular, molecular and biological levels, we still don’t really know everything about what happens in the womb. There are constant enzymatic and chemical processes which affect both mother and child every minute of every day. Even things going on outside the womb can affect the fetus—babies of mothers who experience domestic violence, for one example, are more likely to display aggressive, depressed, anxious or hyperactive behavior.

We have been indoctrinated with the idea that scientific experimentation can only occur in the controlled “glass” of the laboratory. If what we want to know about is the exact reaction that takes place when two substances are mixed together, that may be true. But if what we want to know about is how a living organism functions, changes or grows, we need to look at it in the real world. What’s going on here are two opposing activities: reductionism—breaking a system down into its component parts; and holism—looking at a system in its entirety. This is a critical distinction, for the system itself determines how it works. There are feedback loops of all sorts in a system, and a constant series of incremental adjustments to achieve the sort of balance that allows the system to continue to function, and hopefully, improve. When Sir Albert Howard wanted to know how to prevent hoof and mouth disease, he did not use a lab. His cattle were worked, fed and housed in the real world, right alongside the control group. Both were exposed to sick animals; Howard’s did not get infected. The only difference was the diet of organically raised feed for Howard’s cattle. Now that is real world science!

The fact is, we simply don’t know enough about how living organisms work, because they don’t do it in isolation. Only through years and years of observation and thought can we begin to get a glimpse of what is going on. After six months of milking my current cow, I can tell you that she tends to produce a little less milk when there are abrupt temperature changes in her environment. I can tell you that there are some days when she is obviously full of milk but flatly refuses to let it all down.  This is empirical knowledge, gained through observation, and it only affects this particular cow in this particular environment. I don’t know why she does these things, and I’m not sure that it matters. But because I do know, I am not trying to feed her extra food or make other changes in her environment to increase her production. I don’t pump her full of vitamins or antibiotics because I have a milk quota to meet. I simply recognize and accept that there are variables over which I have no control and—go with the flow.

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