Reactions to the Yahoo! attack: No such thing as bad publicity?

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

I was at a board meeting for the American Society of Animal Science when I heard the news: Yahoo! had published an article ranking animal science and agriculture as two of the most “useless” college majors. The ag-bashing article had taken over university listservs and been featured on the national news.

Why is animal science “useless”? According to the Yahoo! reporter, “The degree is so specific that trying to apply it to anything else means a tough time convincing people it gives you any useful skills for jobs outside animal science jobs.”

In the words of animal scientist Allen Levine, who wrote a counter-argument for the Huffington Post, the idea that animal science is useless “demands a response.”

And respond we did. USDA-NIFA shared encouraging statistics about the animal science and agriculture job market. The American Society of Animal Science released an official statement. More than 4,000 people “liked” the Facebook group “I studied agriculture & I have a job.”  “Agriculture Proud” blogger Ryan Goodman wrote, “People have to eat. And someone has to know how to produce that food. Agriculture, Animal Science, and Plant studies aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”      

All these responses were great. But I think focusing on the Yahoo! article is just the first step. Back in May, in response to a similar, negative Daily Beast article, blogger Andy Vance wrote:

“…Let’s consider the larger issue with agriculture’s inclusion at all: an otherwise intelligent reporter at an otherwise upstanding news organization (relatively speaking, given the tie to Newsweek) considered four degrees related to food production “useless.”

In true fashion, we’re all outraged that someone should think our profession “useless.” This isn’t the most outrageous fact of the case. The most shocking revelation from this story is that educated, intelligent Americans don’t realize that food production must increase 70 percent in 40 years to feed 3 billion additional human beings.”

I agree with Vance. The Yahoo! article is a symptom of a bigger problem. There’s a disconnect between people and their food. Many people just don’t understand why agriculture and animal science are important.

By including animal science on the list of “useless” majors, the Yahoo! writer made many more people aware that the major exists. Now we have to explain why the major matters.

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