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IFAS Matters: A Message from Jack Payne, IFAS SVP
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Dear Friends,

Sonny Ramaswamy examined the Madagascar hissing cockroach that made those around him shudder. He pinched it gently between two fingers, and popped it into his mouth.
 
He didn’t eat it. Although the nation’s agricultural research boss has long practiced entomophagy – the practice of eating bugs, the roach isn’t considered edible. The director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture performed the stunt to promote the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Bug Week @UF.
 
Dr. Ramaswamy is not only an accomplished entomologist but an adept communicator who understands that we need more than a torrent of facts to make the case for the relevancy of bugs.
 
By making bugs functional, fashionable, fun, or even food, we hope to make them something beyond foul, or even worse, frivolous.
 
We ignore bugs at our peril, especially in Florida. They are six-legged farmers whose pollination contributes to a $148-billion-a-year agriculture and natural resources industry. They’re also potential assassins of those crops, a public health threat, and a tremendous public expense for mosquito control.
 
UF/IFAS has what’s believed to be the nation’s largest academic entomology department. But when we make the case for the relevancy of bug science, we’re up against an image problem – the yuck factor.
 
That’s why we’ve planned Bug Week @UF, an awareness campaign May 21-27 to educate and entertain Floridians with creative ways to talk about bugs.
 
Among the most creative is a campuswide art exhibit organized by UF/IFAS entomologist Dr. Andrea Lucky.
 
In Steinmetz Hall, Lucky has assembled a collection of bug art – hat pins, a doorstop, and, of course, a “roach brooch.” In the Marston Science Library, there are some charming children’s books that talk about bugs. Some of these are more than a century old. We’ve even got bugs on the walls of UF’s Harn Museum of Art.
 
We know from the existing ignorance and sometimes hostility to science that our messages aren’t always arriving with their intended effect or level of comprehension.
 
Together, scientists and artists can reach people that neither can separately.
 
Facts don’t change people’s thinking. In fact, a Dartmouth researcher talked on campus last year about a “backfire” effect in which corrections and facts actually harden misperceptions.
 
So, yes, we need entomologists to save our crops from devastation, to figure out ways we can control pests without harming the environment. And maybe even to spare human lives and suffering from the disease some bugs can bring.
 
The importance of that work must be communicated to the public, to policy makers, to parents, and to pupils. To do this we need the artist, the social media practitioner, and the showman.
 
But we need them to come from a place of science first.
 
What makes Ramaswamy and Lucky so valuable is that they’re scientists as communicators, not dabblers in science.
 
The land-grant university is the ideal setting for the collaborations behind Bug Week @UF. Outreach is built into their mission. They were founded in part as the publicly funded innovation and research arm of national agriculture. That’s what brings leaders like Ramaswamy and his agency’s funding to Gainesville. The land-grant mission is what leads entomologists like Lucky to be receptive to students from the UF College of the Arts who pitched the idea of making insects into art.
 
We’ll continue to provide world-class science to help Florida battle the disease that threatens to destroy the citrus industry. We’ll soon build a bee lab that will advance our research on how to keep our pollinators – and by extension our economy – healthy.
 
Along the way, we’ll continue to explore a variety of ways to tell you why you should care. Sometimes we’ll even put bugs in our mouths to do it.
 
For more information about Bug Week @UF, check out the website here.

-Jack
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Highlights

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Congratulations, Dr. Mack Thetford!

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Photos by Tyler Jones of ICS can be found here.

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UF/IFAS to teach how to communicate agricultural hot topics more effectively

 
Save the Date!
BugWeek@UF is coming - May 21-27, 2016!

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