Chapter 28: ACCESS TO PROFESSIONAL JOURNALS
A question that philosophers have debated for millennia has some relevance here: If a tree in the forest falls and nobody hears it, did it fall? An innovation needs to be heard of and seen for it to have any meaningful existence. For an innovation to spread, various audiences need to hear and know about it. Whether people will accept it and use it depends on many considerations, such as accessibility, net benefits, and congruence with social relationships and norms. But certainly, communication is a precondition for any innovation to proceed.
Farmers are ultimately the most important recipients of knowledge about new and better ways to improve their production. But they number in the millions and are not easily accessed. There is a network, or perhaps better said a web, of connections and channels through which information flows (or does not) that can bring useful knowledge to farmers. In addition to farmers, this web includes scientists and researchers, a great variety of other professionals, the general public, business enterprises and investors, and policy-makers, to list some of the main groupings.
The channels for transmitting this information, apart from word of mouth, fall roughly into two categories that each influence the other, although not necessarily directly. There are first professional journals, often published by scientific societies or associations. These disseminate knowledge that has been vetted by these organizations to reflect what professional scientists with their respective disciplinary specializations consider valid knowledge: the state of the art, the most reliable knowledge that is available. This channel for communicating about ‘trees falling’ is the subject of this chapter. The second category includes a great variety of media, particularly the print and electronic media that reach the general public or certain segments thereof. This is the focus of the following chapter.
In recent decades there has been proliferation within both categories. This is most evident for the media as diverse electronic and digital forms of communication have claimed a place alongside the print media. This makes the two categories overlap to some extent as electronic publication has affected scientific publishing, with open-access journals being a positive development for scientific communication, and with ‘predatory publishing’ that has also sprung up being decidedly negative. Electronic transmission of published material bridges the two domains.
A key consideration is the extent to which the time-honored process of ‘peer review’ is well-followed with the intent of providing knowledge to fellow scientists and to the public that is as correct and as precise and defensible as possible. Historically, scientific truth has been something approached asymptotically, getting closer and closer to a true understanding, but probably never arriving at truth in any absolute sense. The scientific enterprise involves the construction of understandings (paradigms) that serve us well until some better evidence and formulation of ideas improve upon them.
Reading a textbook in any discipline published 50 years ago, or even 20, will make this clear. From time to time, there are paradigm shifts that put the accumulation of knowledge and the direction of further accumulation on a somewhat different track. Paradigm change is generally much more difficult to get accepted than incremental changes in the body of knowledge. As suggested already, SRI experience and research have challenged some basic concepts and precepts for growing rice and other agricultural crops, representing a paradigm shift, calling more attention to the performance of roots and the contributions made by the life in the soil.
The story of SRI shines some light on the process by which scientific knowledge gets advanced and disseminated (or not), revealing some shortcomings in the idealized version of scientific endeavor. Of course, shortcomings permeate all human endeavors, not just science. In this chapter, there are examples of how imperfections in the peer-review process have disserved both the understanding and acceptance of SRI, and indeed the scientific enterprise.
Peer review has in principle meritorious effects, like not approving research findings that are poorly substantiated and delaying the publication of presentations until they are as coherent as they can be. The issue is not whether there should be peer review, but how it can serve better the purposes for which it is undertaken. In an era of rapid change and enormous challenges, having a scientific review process that is rigorous but not too rigid is more important than it was a century ago. Human faults cannot be eliminated, but there can and should be efforts to minimize the distortions that they can create. This is a concern that extends well beyond SRI.
Long before the contemporary invention of ‘impact factors’ that are calculated to gauge the influence and significance of particular journals and articles, there was usually some consensus within a discipline on which journals were the most reputable and reliable: the ones that had the longest record of publishing cutting-edge articles, the journals that were considered most desirable to get one’s research published in, and which therefore attracted the best articles.
In recent years there has been a flood of new, mostly less-highly-regarded journals. In part this reflects the burgeoning of scientific research, not just a greater number of persons who for their own career advancement need to publish research. This kind of ranking makes it all the more important that the more prestigious journals uphold the idealized canons of science. In the SRI story, there is a cautionary tale to be told.
There is a need for gatekeeping of some kind, for some persons to be making judgments on behalf of the community of scholars about what research findings and which reports will get published in the most respected journals. These days with a proliferation of journals that range down to the purely mercenary, almost anything can get published somehow somewhere, and once published it becomes available through the internet. Still, because respect is as important as availability, there remains great competition for acceptance and publication of papers in top-tier journals.
So much gets published these days that nobody can keep up with the flood of articles that enter the public realm every month. Scientists and the public must rely on peer-review to select for publication the best, most important contributions to knowledge, or those which improve our knowledge by rebutting shaky or outmoded claims. Reviewers should certainly screen out unworthy and poorly substantiated reports.
The peer-review process does not always get implemented in its idealized form, however. There can be cronyism or bias among editors and reviewers. There can be defensiveness and self-protection by reviewers, or simple laziness. Most reviewers in my 50 years of experience with publication have been conscientious, and my own publications have certainly benefited greatly from their criticisms and suggestions. And most editors have been constructive, sometimes even overruling their own reviewers if they think the reviews were unfair or misdirected.
This chapter shares quite factually some of most important SRI experience with professional journals, much of it quite commendable. But some is hard to explain and defend. In the chapter that follows, we will consider roles that the various media have played in the acceptance of SRI, both positively and negatively.
INITIAL PUBLICATIONS ON SRI
The first published report on SRI was written by Fr. Laulanié in French and printed in the Belgian journal Tropicultura in 1993. As far as we know, this article had little if any impact. The next report on SRI was published six years later by his Malagasy colleague Justin Rabenandrasana, the secretary of Association Tefy Saina, in the NGO journal ILEIA Newsletter as discussed in Chapter 24. About the same time, I was able to publish my first paper on SRI together with other papers from the 1999 Bellagio conference on agroecological innovations in a new journal, Environment, Development and Sustainability. However, none of these articles would be considered as putting SRI on the scientific map for persons who regard well-established peer-reviewed journals as the ‘gold standard’ for scientific communication.
Subsequently there were articles on SRI published in 2001 and 2002, respectively in ECHO Development Notes and further articles on SRI in the ILEIA Newsletter. These also would not be given much weight by researchers because the data reported were not extensive nor analyzed for statistical significance. Moreover, they were written more for practitioners than for scientists. Even so, they contributed to the start of experimentation with SRI and its evaluation in several countries.
Most of the writing about SRI in the first several years after it began moving beyond Madagascar was published either as papers in conference proceedings or as invited chapters in books. As the review process for these is not as formal or as rigorous as for professional journals, these reports could be read and studied for their inherent interest, but they could not be claimed, nor were they claimed, as being scientifically conclusive, even though extensive, consistent, and growing evidence was being reported. These articles did not give SRI much scientific traction because results employing standard experimental design and tests of statistical significance are preferred over on-farm data, even if the latter may be more relevant for making improvements in agriculture.
In the early 2000s, not much SRI data had yet been gathered that could be analyzed in ways which qualified for journal publication. Those who were learning about SRI faced a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: which comes first? On-station research or on-farm trials? There were not resources available for doing systematic research, beyond thesis research by students in Madagascar and then Cornell, in part because there was little yet published on SRI in the scientific literature. Indeed, some rice scientists discouraged funding agencies from investing in acquiring systematic knowledge about SRI. So at first, book chapters and proceedings papers were the best and main channels available for reporting on SRI. We knew, however, that to gain scientific acceptance, journal articles published after peer-review vetting would be necessary. This was a slow and sometimes questionable process.
THE JOURNAL NATURE
This is one of the most respected scientific journals in the world, so it was probably unrealistic to expect that we could start with an article in Nature. In 2000 with data from Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa and his student Jean de Dieu Rajaonarison, I submitted an article to Nature, ‘Evidence of synergy among cultivation practices that greatly increase rice yield.’ This was based mostly on Jean’s factorial trials (N=288), discussed in Chapter 7. The article cited also a number of other evaluations already done in Madagascar from government as well as NGO sources. But Nature’s deputy editor for biological sciences politely returned it without sending it out for review.
In 2002, working with colleagues in China and Madagascar and at Cornell, I submitted another article on SRI to Nature, ‘Greatly increased yield from changing management practices.’ This was based on more data, but it was still not close enough to the prescribed format, and it got a quick pro-forma turndown. However, it did catch the eye of a senior biology editor for Nature, Chris Surridge, who telephoned me from England for an hour-long discussion of SRI. He became curious enough about SRI to write and publish a news article on SRI in March 2004. This reported on the ‘controversy’ surrounding SRI, rather than writing about SRI itself.
Comments by several skeptics who were interviewed by Surridge and then quoted in the article cast enough doubt about SRI so that, although the article may have prompted some curiosity, it elicited, as far as we could tell, no evident interest sufficient for getting scientific evaluations done. The article’s title, “Rice cultivation: Feast or famine?” had as its leader: “Proponents call it a miracle. Detractors call it smoke and mirrors. Will the System of Rice Intensification feed the hungry world, or needlessly divert farmers from tried and true practices?” In fact, no proponents of SRI whom we knew called it “a miracle,” but rather regarded it as something real and explainable, and replicable. Yet the article’s eye-catching presentation made SRI less interesting to researchers who on the whole prefer to avoid contentious subjects.
The journal did, however, publish soon thereafter a letter from the director of extension at Andhra Pradesh’s state agricultural university in India, who wrote in response to the article. Based on his own evaluations across all the districts of that state (described in Chapter 7), Alapati Satyanarayana confirmed the reports on SRI yield increases. But the Nature article put SRI in the realm of ‘controversy’ rather than regarding it as something meriting scientific investigation.
A dozen years later, in December 2017, Nature’s on-line journal Nature Plants ran an editorial titled “Strategies for survival” which began with this statement: “The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals contain a commitment to abolish world hunger. Sounds like a job for a plant scientist!” The editorial then proposed that the world can move toward abolishing hunger without necessarily relying on the development of new varieties:
“Much can be achieved in these areas without changing the plants we use. Adjustments to farming practices can reduce the inefficiencies found at particular locations, ranging from improved irrigation, transport and storage infrastructures, to more extensive changes in approach such as no-till or organic systems.
The system of rice intensification (SRI), for example, has been employed by over ten million farmers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It was developed in Madagascar in the 1980s by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié and adapted for use in other countries during the 1990s and 2000s, in part by the work of Norman Uphoff of Cornell University, New York.
The approach uses less water than a traditional paddy, keeping soil moist rather than inundated, and involves transplanting young seedlings into grids of greater spacing. In the North Indian province of Bihar, where many hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice are under SRI cultivation, the Bihari government reports 40% higher yields than for more traditional farming. But SRI is always adapted to local conditions, making direct comparisons difficult to perform.”
This reporting was positive and encouraging, but it remains to be seen how much influence it will have in eliciting scientific or general interest in understanding and utilizing SRI methods. The journal Nature could have made a large contribution to getting scientists to take SRI seriously enough to evaluate it, but SRI and/or our presentations of it did not mesh with the conceptions and criteria of its editors during the first decade of SRI’s emergence on the international stage. This was probably more our fault than theirs as with more time and effort we might have been able to prepare a manuscript that could pass through the eyes of their editorial and peer-review needles.
This is one of the best-known and most-respected agricultural journals. In 2002, it accepted and published an article that introduced SRI to agricultural scientists, even though the journal’s reviewers were not very supportive of its publication. The article reported on what was known at the time about SRI methods and results and proposed that SRI methodology warranted further examination and validation. It offered some explanations for the SRI results reported, but did not assert them as established facts.
The editor accepted this article without the revisions called for by the journal’s reviewers because he did not think that the claims being made in the article went beyond the evidence reported, and probably because he considered SRI to be something deserving of investigation. While journal editors are usually reluctant to second-guess their reviewers, in this case the editor was supportive of exposing the new ideas of SRI for others’ consideration and testing. This was immensely helpful for getting SRI laid before the scientific community.
The next year there followed in this journal two articles that cast SRI in a negative light, the first in mostly economic terms, and the second from an agronomic perspective. Both articles contributed to the visibility of SRI among researchers, but they probably slowed its acceptance.
The first article, by Moser and Barrett, discussed in Chapter 7, was well-researched and clearly written. But unless readers read the article carefully, their take-away message was likely to that SRI is inherently labor-intensive and too labor-intensive to be of much benefit to poor households, so it would not be relevant for reducing poverty. There was growing evidence at the time from several countries that for most farmers SRI either was or could become labor-saving, which was an opposite assessment to the article’s. However, its characterization of SRI as too labor-demanding for poor households contributed to a stereotype that for a decade or more was mostly impervious to evidence to the contrary.
It was certainly true that SRI is more labor-intensive than it is capital-intensive, which is the basis for economists to classify a technology as being either one or the other. However, the relevant question for farmers is whether a new technology requires more or less labor from them than their present practices, and whether it returns more rice per hour or per day of labor than at present. With 90% of the world’s production of rice occurring in Asia where growing rice is usually pretty labor-intensive, most rice farmers were finding that taking up SRI was reducing their labor requirements per hectare, at least once they had learned and mastered its methods. And certainly with SRI practices farmers were producing more rice per hour or per day of labor input, as Moser and Barrett acknowledged in their 2003 article. But this matter of fact got little attention among researchers, donor agencies and policy-makers once the label ‘labor-intensive’ had been attached to SRI.
The other article on SRI published in Agricultural Systems in 2003 was written by Achim Dobermann, who was soon to become IRRI’s deputy director for research. This article was based on a priori reasoning from the published literature rather than on experimentation or any empirical evaluation of SRI. As discussed in a box in Chapter 10, the article relied mostly on results from an exercise in crop modeling that Dobermann had carried out using coefficients taken from the literature, all derived from rice plants that had been grown under very different conditions from SRI, in other words, with very different phenotypes.
Considering only variables such as mean daily temperature and day length, Dobermann calculated that under Madagascar conditions, rice plants could not accomplish enough photosynthesis daily to support a yield of more than 18 tonnes per hectare. Therefore, according to his calculations, a reported SRI yield of 21 tonnes per hectare (Chapter 10) was beyond the biologically-determined limits on yield. Any yield reported as more than 18 tonnes per hectare should therefore be attributed to errors in measurement (or to naïve misrepresentation).
The feedback that I had given to Dobermann before his article was published was ignored. I had pointed out that rice plants under SRI management having much greater root growth than conventionally-grown rice phenotypes would have greater productive capability than he was assuming. Dobermann, however, considered the growth and functioning of root systems to be irrelevant to his estimations of the process of photosynthesis.
In his article, Dobermann acknowledged that SRI practices indeed produce deeper rice root systems, but he asserted nevertheless that modern-variety rice plants in favorable environments with good water and nitrogen management would outperform SRI-grown plants. He accepted that SRI practices might be beneficial for resource-limited farmers who were cultivating on poor soils and who could not afford to purchase fertilizers. But in his conclusion, Dobermann maintained that SRI was not relevant for improving rice production in general and would be, at best, only ‘a niche innovation.’ Such a prediction was already being contradicted by accumulating experimental results and field experience, as reported throughout this book.
After publishing these three articles, Agricultural Systems did not remain the forum for publication and controversy on SRI. Instead, the journal Field Crops Research moved into that role, as discussed below. Agricultural Systems published nothing more on SRI for more than a decade, except for a follow-up rebuttal in 2005. In 2016, Agricultural Systems published an article on SRI by Oxford University and Indian researchers which summarized their rather comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of SRI use in Andhra Pradesh state of India.
The main negative feature of SRI that these researchers identified was that households which adopted SRI methods had less need for labor in their rice production, so they reduced their wage payments to agricultural laborers, mostly women, by 50%. This was an unfortunate and undesirable social impact. But this this single negative effect was offset by many substantial benefits that the researchers documented: substantial increases in farmers’ yield (by 60%) and in income (>200%), with reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions (40%), in water requirements (60%), and in fossil fuel consumption (70%). This study refuted the conclusion that Moser and Barrett had drawn 14 years before, that SRI is inherently and necessarily more labor-intensive.
This 2016 article, one of the most thorough examinations of SRI impacts published, received much less attention than the earlier articles published in this journal, however. That same year Amod Thakur and I submitted another article to Agricultural Systems, on SRI as ‘climate-smart agriculture.’ It was rejected by the editors without being sent it out for review, with the explanation that the journal was only publishing articles that had a ‘systems’ perspective (apparently the System of Rice Intensification did not qualify). Fortunately, this article was fairly quickly accepted and published by another, equally reputable journal.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY
This journal was launched in 2003 under the editorship of Jules Pretty, who had learned about SRI from participating in the Bellagio conference in 1999 (Chapter 35). Given this new journal’s focus and mission, advancing knowledge and practice for more sustainable agriculture, SRI was a subject evidently relevant to editors and readers.
The first issue of IJAS contained an article on SRI which became one of its most-often cited articles. A number of other SRI papers were subsequently accepted and published in IJAS, helping to bring SRI knowledge and experience to a readership oriented to considering this kind of new knowledge. Although IJAS was not considered a major mainstream agronomy journal, it became one of the best channels for getting SRI known within research circles and among persons in the agricultural sector who were looking for ways to improve current practice.
FIELD CROPS RESEARCH
Balancing the receptivity of IJAS toward SRI knowledge was the less open posture of this well-established journal. Its attitude toward SRI became evident from the way that it reviewed and dismissed an article on SRI in 2006 that had been submitted by senior researchers of the China National Rice Research Institute in Hangzhou. Their manuscript was summarily rejected without being sent out for peer review, and with no suggestion of how the article might be revised to be acceptable for publication. Giving constructive feedback to authors is a common editorial practice.
This article, discussed in Chapter 9, showed with replicated on-station trials conducted over two seasons with two hybrid rice varieties that rice yield was higher on plots that had (a) much-reduced plant populations, (b) with alternate wetting and drying rather than flooding, and (c) with more organic and less inorganic fertilization. These findings contradicted the standard rice management practices in China and elsewhere.
The lead author of the paper Lin Xianqjing was dismayed by the negative response of the FCR editors in 2006 and wrote to me at Cornell, asking if I could help them revise their manuscript to get it published. The rejection surprised him because just one year earlier, the editors of FCR had accepted and published a very similar research article from him and CNRRI colleagues.
This new article, for which the director-general of the Institute was also a co-author, had used the very same research methods that they had used in the article that FCR had published the preceding year. Indeed, their trials for this new article had been conducted on the very same research station. But the earlier article had been evaluating the effects of modifications in irrigation rather than SRI methods. It had been quickly accepted and published by FCR.
The new article that Lin sent me was very substantial and easy to reorganize and make more readable. The research design was state-of-the-art, and the data base was extensive. I hoped that the article would be re-submitted to Field Crops Research, to see how its editors would assess a more polished presentation. But Lin and his colleagues wanted to get the article published quickly and submitted it to a new journal in China, the Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainable Development. So we cannot know whether FCR editors would have been willing to at least review a revised and better version of the article.
We have some idea of how the editors of FCR looked upon SRI because they had accepted for publication with unusual speed two articles that have been frequently cited as conclusive refutations of SRI claims. These articles were accepted, respectively, within 40 days and 10 days after being submitted to the journal. It takes most articles months rather than weeks or days to be reviewed and get acceptance. The 2004 article by John Sheehy and colleagues was not only made the lead-off article in its issue, but a short discussion piece with a pejorative title commending the critical article and endorsing its conclusions, was published along with the article itself.
There were quite evidently a large number of errors and misrepresentations in both the 2004 and 2006 articles that should have kept them from being approved by any peer-reviewers who were objective and knowledgeable on the subject. Conversely, when responses to these articles were written and submitted to FCR, it took many months for these responses to get accepted by the editors and published. And in both cases the editors solicited and printed rebuttals to the SRI responses without giving the authors of the responses any opportunity to challenge and correct errors in the rebuttals. Nor did the editors raise any objection to the emotional and derogatory language that was used in the rejections of SRI. Ironically, the critics who were hostile to SRI did not write in the kind of language that is expected for scientific discourse which attempts to establish what is the truth of the matter based on evidence, not argumentation.
The hastiness of FCR’s review process and the lack of review by persons who had thorough or direct knowledge of SRI resulted in the journal publishing articles that should not normally have passed through peer review. Below is an identification of factual problems identifiable in the papers, foreshadowed by their pejorative subtitles, that serious reviewers should have caught.
Fact or Fallacy?
The conclusion of this article by Sheehy et al. -- that “SRI has no major role [to play] in improving rice production generally” -- was based (a) on a priori reasoning rather than on empirical evidence, (b) on crop modeling by Dobermann, a co-author, and (c) on the results from three small on-station trials conducted in three provinces of China. It ignored a large body of evidence that had already been assembled by dozens of rice researchers in China.
The modeling, as noted already, took no account of the large and measurable phenotypical differences between rice plants grown with SRI vs. conventional methods. It assumed without justification that SRI plants’ having larger, more vigorous root systems would not have an impact on the plants’ capacity for photosynthesis in their leaves or on their grain production.
A major limitation on the article’s conclusion was the way in which the three trials in China were conducted, on small plots (40 m²) with four replications. One of the basic rules for scientific evaluation is that trials be conducted according to prescribed, agreed-upon protocols. In these trials there was:
No soil aeration: One of the most important elements of SRI methodology is to use mechanical weeders that stimulate the growth of roots and the soil biota. In these trials, the SRI plots had only manual weeding, so no active soil aeration.
Excessive synthetic fertilizer: Another key element of SRI methodology is the enhancement of soil organic matter to promote the abundance and diversity of the soil biota, which is inhibited or even suppressed by an excess of inorganic nitrogen.
The Sheehy article said that all N applications on all of the test plots (SRI and control) “followed recommended practices in each location.” Yet all of the plots, both SRI and BMP, received 180-240 kg of N per hectare, with SRI plots also getting 1.5 tonnes of rapeseed cake per hectare to enhance organic material. In fact, there has never been SRI recommendation for applying anything like this amount of inorganic N fertilizer because it will adversely affect the life in the soil, unbalancing it with some species expanding rapidly at other species’ expense.
Inexplicably, at the same time that these trials were being done at the three locations in China, five of Sheehy’s seven co-authors were writing a paper for IRRI that was based on their extensive fertilizer trials conducted across China. Their paper concluded that in China, the optimum N fertilizer application for rice is just 60 to 120 kg per hectare. So this means that the SRI trial plots in these comparison trials were given than most of Sheehy’s co-authors were recommending at the time based on their concurrent research for IRRI.
As a consequence of this excessive application of inorganic N fertilizer, the SRI rice plants in the trials in Hunan Province, one of the three evaluations, lodged, reducing these SRI plots’ yield by 32%, according to the article. We saw in Chapter 12 that SRI rice plants seldom lodge, even under the stresses of strong wind and rain. So, the lodging of the Hunan trials was evidently due to the excessive application of N fertilizer, which is contrary to SRI recommendations. This reduced rather than enhanced the SRI yield.
Longer crop cycle: A clear sign that SRI methods were not used appropriately in these trials was the article’s report that the SRI rice plants matured 2 weeks later than those in the control plots. As seen in Chapter 11, when SRI methods are used as recommended, rice plants usually mature about 2 weeks sooner, not maturing later. This disparity indicates to anyone who knows SRI that its methods were not used as recommended.
Ironically, even with these significant deviations from an SRI protocol, the average yield from the three SRI trials was slightly higher than from the control plots, by 100 kg per hectare. This increase was not large enough to be statistically significant, however, given the small number of data points.
Everyone can agree that in these trials, SRI did not perform significantly better than best management practices (BMP). But what was the conclusion of Sheehy and his co-authors? Not that SRI and BMP were equally good, but that somehow BMP remained preferable to SRI.
If the plots in Hunan had not been over-fertilized and had not lodged, average SRI results for the three sets of comparisons would in all probability have been significantly greater than the BMP yield. Indeed, all of the SRI plots would have performed better with active soil aeration and with more organic (and less inorganic) fertilization.
Note also that the comparison between SRI and BMP was made only in terms of grain yield. No consideration was given to SRI’s lower costs of production or its reduced requirements for external inputs, things that are important to farmers if not to researchers. FCR reviewers did not give any weight to such factors, however. The reviewers and the journal’s editors approved the Sheehy article for publication in less than 6 weeks.
An evident shortcoming of this article was that its authors based their conclusion on just three small on-station trials, not considering the large body of evidence that was already available from Chinese rice scientists, such as was reported at the Sanya conference in 2002, attended by one of the article’s co-authors, Shaobing Peng.
Moreover, the authors ignored the favorable conclusion about SRI that had been reached by Prof. Yuan Longping (Chapter 21), probably the most respected rice scientist in China. A basic canon of scientific research is that one’s findings should always be considered within the context of other scientists’ previous work. Since a majority of the article’s co-authors were Chinese, they could certainly have reviewed the literature in Chinese language that reported the results of other scientists’ research.
In fact, the article’s conclusion was completely contradicted by an evaluation of Chinese researchers’ studies of SRI. Ten years later, a meta-analysis was done of all the published Chinese research that had compared SRI yields with those of BMP. Quantitative analysis showed that good, not even full, use of SRI methods gave SRI a 20% yield advantage over BMP. In addition to this conclusion about yield, there are cost-saving and water-saving for farmers to be considered, plus soil health and water quality benefits for the environment.
But the 2004 article by Sheehy et al. was published in a prestigious journal after going through what was expected to be a rigorous and objective peer review. Based on this assumption, the article’s evaluation was quite influential in justifying opposition to or neglect of SRI. At a minimum, persons who had in-depth knowledge about SRI should have been included among the reviewers for such an article. But FCR editors apparently chose to involve in their review process only proponents of BMP and skeptics about SRI.
A Synopsis of the Empirical Record?
This 2006 article shaped opinion against SRI at least in part because it was written by three Cornell faculty or staff. Unfortunately, there were evident flaws in both the methodology and the data base that any serious reviewer should have picked up, although some of the deficiencies and biases in the data base would have been obvious only to someone like myself who was thoroughly acquainted with the data that was being analyzed.
Actually, I had provided the authors with almost half of the data sets that they analyzed for the article, not having been informed about how they would be used. SRI data are made available to anyone who asks for them, so sharing the data was done as a matter of course. But if the authors had conferred with me about the data, which they could have done easily since our offices were not far from each other, I could and would have helped them avoid some serious errors in constructing their data base. Most of these errors would not have been realized, however, by a reviewer who came to the article without much knowledge of the subject.
Selection of ‘SRI’ cases: The first and most important flaw in the study was discernable simply from the authors’ presentation of their methodology, from their own words. They wrote that their data base included only comparisons in which the SRI trials “closely approximated” the principles of SRI, which they had listed correctly in the article. This sounded like a very scientific approach, but its operationalization contradicted the justification. The authors wrote in their Methods section: “Experiments with treatments that did not closely approximate the principles of SRI (e.g., included only one or two SRI elements) … were excluded from the database.”
This sounds reasonable but it means that when the authors constructed their data base, they included as ‘SRI cases’ comparisons where as few as 3 of the 6 recommended SRI practices had been used. Thus, the ‘SRI’ data could be from trials where old seedlings were transplanted, or where there was no water control, or no organic soil amendments, or no active soil aeration. How using 50% of a protocol could represent “close approximation” was never explained; the term “close approximation” usually means something close to 100%. This disjunction should have been noticed and challenged by any reviewer who read the article’s Methods section carefully and objectively.
Selection of ‘BMP’ cases: The inclusion of data from many sets of practices that were classified as ‘best management practices’ was also questionable since the authors never specified in the article what constituted ‘best practices,’ as they had done (and then ignored) for SRI. In fact, one-quarter of the reported BMP yields were below the world average yield, with one reported BMP yield as low as 1.1 tonnes per hectare! This made the concept of ‘BMP’ rather spurious, but FCR reviewers did not object to this.
In fact, most of the data sets did not have enough accompanying information so that the authors could know what practices had produced the respective average yields – age of seedling, spacing, irrigation schedule, etc. The comparisons analyzed thus were not between ‘apples and oranges’ so much as between different kinds of fruits in both categories. There were also other flaws in the data set that was analyzed to arrive at the authors’ conclusion that ‘BMP’ yields on average surpassed ‘SRI’ yields by 11%.
Exclusion of Madagascar cases: Five of the 40 comparisons in the article’s data set were from this country, and they showed SRI yields to be on average triple those of BMP. These data sets were excluded from the authors’ analysis, however, with the simple explanation, for which no evidence was provided, that the soils in Madagascar are “distinctive.” In fact, the Madagascar comparisons were some of the few in their data base that had been made to test the article’s hypothesis explicitly, employing replicated trials with random block design. It appears that these results favorable to SRI were excluded from the statistical analysis to get the results desired, but only the authors can clarify this. Presenting the Madagascar data as part of the whole data set made the article’s data base look larger and more diverse than it actually was when the data were ‘crunched.’ This a reviewer should have noted.
Cases from China: The data base included the three comparisons from China reported in the 2004 article by Sheehy et al. Why these were not valid representations of differences between SRI and BMP has been discussed above.
Cases from Laos: The IRRI representative in Laos had gotten several organizations working there to do SRI trials in the rainy season of 2002, as discussed in Chapter 7. In his message transmitting the data from these trials to IRRI and to Cornell, this representative stated that neither IRRI/Laos nor the organizations doing the trials thought that the trials had been conducted properly. So, these results should not be considered as a valid evaluation of SRI vs. other methods, they said. Yet these comparisons from Laos included in the article’s data base constituted 10% of that data base.
Cases from Nepal: When asked by Peter Hobbs for data comparing SRI with BMP, I provided him with results from two large sets of comparison trials from the Sunsari-Morang irrigation system in Nepal, where a Dutch consulting team (NEDECO) was implementing an irrigation improvement project funded by British aid (DFID) (Chapter 8). The team had gotten farmer field schools at different locations within the irrigation system to do in-field evaluations of SRI vs. BMP vs. their own rice cultivation methods. Replicated trials were done at 12 farmer field school locations in 2002 and at 13 in 2003. These trials showed SRI yields averaging 40% more than BMP (8.28 vs. 6.01 tonnes per hectare) and almost double the yield from farmers’ practices (4.29 tonnes per hectare).
These data from Sunsari-Morang, which met the authors’ criteria for inclusion in the analysis, were not included in the data base, however, for no apparent reason. Instead, the only comparative data set reported from Nepal was from an agricultural experiment station at Bhairahawa in 2002, which showed an on-station SRI yield of 5.4 tonnes per hectare vs. 5.7 tonnes for BMP. No consideration was given to the station’s reporting that in that same season, the researchers had also conducted some off-station (on-farm) trials; the SRI yields were 8.8 tonnes per hectare at 20x20 cm spacing and 7.6 tonnes at 30x30 cm spacing. Further, the next year, 2003, the same researchers’ on-station comparison trials showed SRI yield to be 33% higher than their BMP yield, a reversal that the Nepali researchers themselves attributed to their having gained experience with the new methods. However, in their analysis published in 2006, the authors included only the 2002 on-station, less-favorable comparison. A synopsis should presumably consider all available data, not selected sets. But reviewers would not have known of these other data.
Cases from Bangladesh: Twenty percent of the article’s data base came from evaluations of SRI done in this country, with 3 of the comparisons taken from a single article published previously in Field Crops Research. One of these comparisons was from an on-station trial, while the other two comparisons were from small on-farm trials (each N=10). The authors chose not to include the results from a much larger set of on-farm comparison trials (N=1,278) that I had given them, from a two-year study, 2002-2004, funded through IRRI and conducted by three NGOs (BRAC, SAFE and POSD) plus Syngenta Bangladesh Ltd., discussed in Chapter 7.
The small study by Latif et al. concluded that BRRI’s BMP recommendations gave both higher yield and greater profitability than SRI, while the much larger study that was ignored supported the opposite conclusion. When I asked why the data from the larger study by BRAC, SAFE, POSD and Syngenta, carried out under IRRI auspices with DFID funding, had not been considered in the meta-analysis, the answer was that this report was not in the published literature, whereas the smaller study by Latif et al. was. However, this justification made little sense because the article’s data base included three data sets from Bangladesh that were listed just as ‘personal communications,’ i.e., not published.
These specifics on the article by McDonald et al. are not so much a rebuttal as a demonstration of how superficial and mistaken the peer-review process can be, even for a respected journal like Field Crops Research. The conclusion that the authors drew -- that (excluding the Madagascar trials) SRI methods gave an average yield 11% lower than BMP -- has been refuted by a more conclusive meta-analysis of Chinese researchers’ findings noted above with reference to the 2004 article.
This experience speaks to the questions that I raised with one of McDonald’s co-authors, Susan Riha, reported in Chapter 23: Is everything that is true in the peer-reviewed literature? And is everything in the peer-reviewed literature true? The answer to these questions is unfortunately ‘no.’
Experience with other journals was mixed, but in general more constructive. The journal Plant and Soil, similarly prestigious as Field Crops Research, published the meta-analysis of Chinese data on SRI vs. BMP note above, as well as an important article on SRI plants’ nitrogen use efficiency by Amod Thakur and colleagues. So it was open to research that considered new directions.
The respected journal Experimental Agriculture published by Cambridge University Press in the UK was one of the first major journals to publish articles on SRI, and it published several analyses that illuminated different aspects of SRI research and experience. Another British journal, CAB Reviews, put out by the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International, accepted and published the first article on SRI in Indonesia, and later on SRI’s application to the production of teff (STI) in Ethiopia. Two agronomic journals started in Germany, Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science and Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, were also among the first journals to accept and publish research articles on SRI.
On many of these articles I was asked to join as a co-author after SRI colleagues in various countries had done the data gathering and at least the initial data analysis and write-up, in other words, the hard work. Because writing journal-quality English to international standards is not easy, especially if English is not one’s first language, I was always willing to help polish any SRI research manuscripts so that reviewers would focus on the articles’ substance and not on their prose.
Colleagues often asked to include me as a co-author, which was neither expected nor required. If I had made some substantive contribution to the article I usually agreed. I could not begin to have done all of the work in the field or in greenhouses that they had done, so I was grateful for what they had done. A contribution that I could make to the body of SRI research was to help others get their work into public view. This involved me in a lot of diverse research that was of course informative and educational for me.
Another journal that was open to reports on SRI research was Agricultural Water Management which published several important SRI papers, starting with the IWMI evaluation of SRI in Purulia district of West Bengal, India. The on-line journal Agriculture and Food Security, edited by Malcolm Elliott, director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for Global Food Security in the UK, published summary articles on both SRI and SCI. The journal Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, edited by agroecologist Steven Gliessman, was also willing to accept SRI papers, as was Advances in Agronomy, although as discussed below there was an irregularity with one of the articles that it accepted and published on-line but then precipitously withdrew from publication.
The number of journals that have published articles on SRI is now over 400, although many articles are based on secondary sources rather than on original research or are simply reporting what is already known about SRI. Some of the publications in which articles on SRI have appeared were not peer-reviewed, so they do not have much scientific standing. However, the amount of research contributed by over 1,000 scientists and others is so substantial that SRI cannot be dismissed as an artifact of imagination or wishful thinking.
Some of the most important contributions to the documentation and dissemination of SRI knowledge were through special issues of journals that reported SRI research. Two were initiated by Yu-pin Lin, a professor of bioenvironmental systems engineering at National Taiwan University while he was serving as an editor of the respective journals, Paddy and Water Environment and Taiwan Water Conservancy.
The Paddy and Water Environment special issue in 2011 (vol. 9, no. 1), guest-edited by Amir Kassam and myself, had an introduction joined in by Richard Harwood and a summation joined in by Willem Stoop. It included research reports from Afghanistan, China, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Pakistan, Panama, Senegal and Thailand. Overall, PAWE has published more research articles on SRI than any other professional journal, over 40.
A special issue of Taiwan Water Conservancy published two years later (vol. 61, no. 4), guest-edited by myself with Amir Kassam and Amod Thakur, was more focused on water issues. Its introduction was followed by a meta-analysis of water productivity and water saving with SRI, and then reports from diverse countries (China , Kenya, Afghanistan, and Iraq) plus three reports from India and Indonesia evaluating the impacts of SRI and its water management on greenhouse gas emissions. 
These special issues were substantial collections of SRI research findings and experience. Putting them together was not difficult because of the quick and willing cooperation of colleagues in these different countries. All responded positively to an invitation to contribute papers. By having whole issues devoted to SRI assessments, readers could get a better understanding of SRI as a phenomenon, of its commonalities and its variations across different agroecosystems.
In 2013, a special issue of the journal Farming Matters was published by LEISA, a Dutch NGO with an international network of institutions and colleagues who share concerns regarding low-external-input sustainable agriculture. This agroecological NGO is discussed in Chapter 24. This special issue which contained SRI reports from many countries was particularly impactful because five versions of the issue were published concurrently: one in Spanish for Latin America, one in French for Francophone Africa, and one in Chinese, plus two editions in English for readers in East Africa and in India, respectively. With its far-flung network, LEISA was able to identify some persons who were using SRI methods without any links to SRI-Rice and got them to contribute articles also, bringing their experience to broader attention.
At the outset of 2020, the MDPI journal Agronomy suggested devoting one of its issues to SRI, inviting me to serve as the guest-editor. Being an open-source journal, it needed to make a service charge for articles, but offered three ‘free’ articles and broad editorial responsibility. This gave an opportunity to get published, together and quickly, a number of articles on topics that various colleagues had been thinking about to update the published record on SRI. This invitation did not come at a convenient time, but it was an opportunity to have current knowledge presented.
SOME AUTHOR PROBLEMS
It was noted above that the respected journal Plant and Soil accepted a meta-analysis of Chinese evaluations of SRI written by Wei Wu with my inputs. Its peer-reviewers and editors accepted the article within five months without many suggestions or criticisms. However, as soon as it was published on-line, one of the co-authors, Baoluo Ma, asked that his name be withdrawn from the article, saying that his co-authorship was not appropriate because he was more of a wheat specialist than a rice specialist.
This did not affect the article’s publication status as Wu had done most of the work on the article and Ma had not contributed much little. Wu got Ma to review the manuscript after I had helped to refine it because Wu wanted to have another perspective on the analysis, a reasonable desire, and he added Ma as a co-author. Apparently after some reflection, Ma preferred not to be associated with a controversial subject like SRI.
More of a surprise, and more unfortunate, was what happened with another article that Wu researched and wrote on SRI, asking me then to help him with the write-up and with some of the analysis. That article was accepted by Advances in Agronomy on the basis of positive peer-review assessments, and it was published on-line in March 2015 as an ‘article in press.’ However, within a few days it was suddenly withdrawn from publication. Why?
Wu had designated his academic mentor, Jianliang Huang, not just as a co-author of the article because he had been one of Huang’s academic advisors, but also as a co-corresponding author, as a sign of respect. When Huang asked that the article be withdrawn, the journal’s editor, not wanting to get involved in any disagreement among authors, immediately and simply complied with the request, taking the article off its website. There was no consultation with the other authors. Only later did I recollect that Huang had been a co-author of the article discussed above by Sheehy et al., published in Field Crops Research in 2004. I learned also that he had worked closely with IRRI scientists for many years.
The Advances in Agronomy announcement of withdrawal read as follows: “The reason to withdraw this chapter is because it has been found to contain some misleading viewpoints that are not able to be revised.” What? The journal’s on-line policy listed as reasons for withdrawing an article various transgressions like “multiple submissions, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, or fraudulent use of data.” There was no mention of anything like “misleading viewpoints,” which are anyway matters of opinion and not of fact.
In principle, viewpoints can always be revised to arrive at some agreement among the authors if they confer and seek agreement, which is the scientific way to proceed. But Huang chose not to communicate with the co-authors about what he considered “misleading viewpoints,” and he gave no opportunity to try to reconcile any disagreements on facts or conclusions. The article was simply unilaterally scuttled.
This was a very important empirical article on SRI performance in central China, based on extensive field data collection and analysis. The first part of the article focused on how SRI methods could be productively modified to be able to fit two rice crops, early spring and then summer, into a single growing season, to be followed then by wheat as a winter crop.
This cropping system was made possible by transplanting seedlings somewhat older than 15 days for the second rice crop, as the plants could attain more growth within the nursery this way and there was only a little sacrifice of yield. This was an interesting adaptation of SRI practices to accommodate specific climatic constraints which should have been publicized.
What I found most valuable about the article was Wu’s documentation in the second part, in detail and in quantitative terms, the significant protection that SRI management methods confer on rice crops (a) against sheath blight, a major disease affecting rice in China and many other Asian countries, and also (b) against lodging due to rain and wind in the kinds of storms that are becoming more frequent with climate change. Some diverse evidence of these protective effects with SRI is seen in Chapter 12. Wu’s research on resistance to sheath blight and lodging was the most detailed and conclusive study on this to date.
Unfortunately, because of Huang’s intervention, these data have not been published. The journal’s peer-reviewers had found the methods used and the analysis and conclusions for the article quite acceptable and had recommended publication. Possibly Huang had no disagreements with this part of the research and thought that it was the other part of the chapter that contained “misleading viewpoints.” But the result was that important empirical information got buried. The journal editors and their peer-reviewers were supportive of publication, but personality factors or personal interests got in the way.
* * * * * * *
For the most part, after some initial reluctance to accept the new perspectives on rice cultivation that SRI presented, most journals have been open to research on SRI. The comments of some reviewers have showed preconceptions and even prejudice toward SRI and little knowledge about it, settling for stereotypes and hearsay. It was evident that they were not keeping up with the growing scientific literature on SRI.
But most reviewers took their task seriously and provided constructive criticism. Certainly, critical feedback was welcome and helpful where it was intended to ensure the sound use of data and defensible conclusions. Most articles were improved by reviewers’ feedback. But there were instances where the process of peer review fell short, even far short, of its idealized form. This should be a matter of concern for scientists and the public, whether or not they are involved with rice and care about its production.
Alternative channels for communicating about ‘trees falling’ are the more general media, whether print, radio and television, or electronic means that utilize the internet. These media do not have much influence on scientific opinion, but they reach larger audiences, often including farmers. So, they deserve attention and credit along with professional journals.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 The first kind of journal unfortunately opened the door to the second kind. The first was intended to advance the body of scientific knowledge by making it more widely accessible; the second emerged more to advance academic careers and make money for publishers.
 ‘Le système de riziculture intensive malgache,’ Tropicultura 11: 110-114 (1993). This journal on tropical agriculture is published in Brussels under the patronage of Belgium’s Royal Academy of Overseas Science. Tropicultura editors re-published the article 18 years later in English: 29: 183-187 (2011).
 Justin Rabenandrasana, ‘Revolution in rice intensification in Madagascar,’ ILEIA Newsletter 15:3/4 (1999). Because Justin’s English was limited, I helped him write this article.
 ‘Agroecological implications of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Madagascar,’ Environment, Development and Sustainability 1:3-4 (1999).
 Dawn Berkelaar, ‘SRI, the System of Rice Intensification: Less can be more, ECHO Development Notes, 70, 1-6 (2001); Uphoff, ‘The System of Rice Intensification: Agroecological opportunities for small farmers? LEISA Magazine, 17:4, 15-16 (2001); Uphoff and Fernandes, ‘System of Rice Intensification gains momentum,’ LEISA Magazine, 18:3, 24-29 (2002). These articles, plus Rabenandrasana’s, prompted SRI trials in Cambodia, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Zambia and perhaps elsewhere.
 The following papers or chapters were published by myself, often with colleagues, between 2001 and 2007, by which time journal publication was becoming more possible: ‘Scientific issues raised by the System of Rice Intensification: A less-water rice cultivation system,’ in Water-Saving Rice Production Systems: Proceedings of an International Workshop at Nanjing Agricultural University, China, April 2-4, 2001, eds. H. Hengsdijk and P. Bindraban, Report 33, 69-82, Wageningen University and Plant Research International, Wageningen, Netherlands (2001); ‘Possibilities for reducing water use in irrigated rice production through the Madagascar System of Rice Intensification (SRI)’ with Robert Randriamiharisoa, in Water-Wise Rice Production, eds. B.A. Bouman et al., 71-88, IRRI (2002), proceedings from an international workshop held in Los Baños, Philippines; numerous research reports published in Assessments of the System of Rice Intensification, Proceedings of an International Conference, April 1-4, 2002, Sanya, China, CIIFAD, Ithaca, NY (2002); ‘Opportunities for raising yields by changing management practices: The System of Rice Intensification in Madagascar’ in Agroecological Innovations: Increasing Food Production with Participatory Development, ed. N. Uphoff, 145-161, Earthscan, London (2002), paper from a 1999 conference at Bellagio, Italy; ‘Agroecological thoughts on zero-tillage: Possibilities for improving both crop components of rice-wheat farming systems with rice intensification’ in Sustainable Agriculture and the International Rice-Wheat System, eds. R. Lal et al., 83-108, Marcel Dekker, New York (2004), papers from a conference at Ohio State University in 2002; ‘Possible explanations for the productivity gains achieved with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)’ in Transitions in Agriculture for Enhancing Water Productivity: Proceedings of an International Symposium, 23-25 September, 2003, Killikulam, India, eds. T. M. Thiyagarajan et al., Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, and Plant Research International, Wageningen, Netherlands (2004); ‘The development of the System of Rice Intensification’ in Participatory Research and Development for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, eds. J. Gonsalves et al., Volume 3, 119-126, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa (2005); ‘A remarkable civil society contribution to food and nutrition security in Madagascar and beyond,’ with Glenn Lines, in Food and Nutritional Security in the Process of Globalization and Urbanization, eds. Uwe Kracht and Manfred Schulz, Lit-Publisher, Münster, Germany (2005); ‘Prospects for rice sector improvement with the System of Rice Intensification, considering evidence from India’ with A. Satyanarayana and T. M. Thiyagarajan in Rice Industry, Culture and Environment, Vol. I, 131-142, eds. S. Suparyono et al., 131-142, Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development and International Rice Research Institute, Bogor (2006), papers for AARD-IRRI international rice conference in Bali, Indonesia, 2005; ‘Soil biological contributions to the System of Rice Intensification’ with R. Randriamiharisoa and J. Barison in Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems, eds. N. Uphoff et al., 409-424, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (2006); ‘The System of Rice Intensification: Using alternative cultural practices to increase rice production and profitability from existing yield potentials,’ International Rice Commission Newsletter, Number 55, 103-113, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome (2006), paper for the 21st meeting of FAO’s International Rice Commission in Chiclayo, Peru; ‘An opportunity to enhance both food and water security with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)’ in Food and Water Security, ed. U. Aswathanarayana, 117-130, Taylor and Francis, London (2007); ‘Making farmer-managed irrigation systems more productive and profitable with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI),’ in Irrigation in Transition, eds. P. Pradhan et al., Farmer-Managed Irrigation Systems Promotion Trust, Kathmandu (2007), the proceedings of a 2006 conference in Nepal.
 Thomas Sinclair, ‘Agronomic UFOs waste valuable scientific resources,’ Rice Today 3:43, IRRI, Los Baños (2004); Thomas Sinclair and Kenneth Cassman, ‘Agronomic UFOs,’ Field Crops Research 88: 9-10 (2004).
 The editor wrote “… your findings are intriguing, but the paper is quite unsuitable for formal review at Nature, at least as formatted.” He suggested rewriting it as a ‘Letter to Nature’ or submitting it elsewhere (December 18, 2000).
 ‘Feast or famine? Proponents call it a miracle, detractors call it smoke and mirrors,’ Nature, 428: 360-361 (March 25, 2004). The subtitle reflected the somewhat sensationalist tone of the article. Proponents of SRI evaluation have never to my knowledge called it a ‘miracle,’ believing that there must be sound scientific explanations for whatever is observed and achieved. The article made no effort to sort out the conflicting claims. It reported, for example, without challenge, an assertion by a skeptic that SRI requires two weeks longer to mature, even though most evidence was showing the opposite.
The article accepted the argument that the difference in reported yields could be due to our not adjusting respective grain weights to a standard moisture content (14%), implying that SRI’s yield increase represented water rather than dry matter. A scientific assessment would have questioned how this proposed explanation for reported SRI effects could account for a four-fold increase in production (how could grains hold this much more water?), especially when the same methods had been used to weigh both the SRI and conventional yields.
 ‘Rice, research, and real life in the field,’ Nature 429: 803 (June 24, 2004).
 Surridge was the Nature editor who wrote the article cited in the preceding endnote 9. He left Nature in 2005 to become managing editor of the new open-access journal PLoS One (Public Library of Science), returning to the editorial staff of Nature three years later.
 In 2016, I submitted a proposal to Scientific American for a review article on SRI, following carefully its prescribed procedures and format, citing extensive peer-reviewed scientific literature, and providing some eye-catching pictures since this journal favors visuals along with written text. This proposal was rejected by Scientific American editors without even sending it out for review. The reason given: the subject is not of broad enough interest.
 W. Stoop, N. Uphoff and A. Kassam, ‘A review of agricultural research issues raised by the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) from Madagascar: Opportunities for improving farming systems for resource-poor farmers,’ Agricultural Systems, 71: 249-274 (2002).
 One reviewer summarized the paper as “not convincing” because it did not report the kind of experimental data, with tests of statistical significance, that most agronomy papers were based on. At this initial stage of SRI, we were trying to get others to join in scientific evaluation. The reviewer did say: “Nevertheless, SRI appears to add some extra opportunities for farmers, and appears to represent an interesting situation indeed.”
 Christine Moser and Chris Barrett, ‘The disappointing adoption dynamics of a yield-increasing, low external-input technology: The case of SRI in Madagascar,’ Agricultural Systems 76: 1085-1100 (2003); Achim Dobermann, ‘A critical assessment of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI),’ Agricultural Systems 79: 261-281 (2004).
 Indeed, Barrett and Moser together with two other Cornell researchers, who had a larger and more longitudinal data base from their studies of SRI in Madagascar, published another article the next year in a respectable journal. This showed that even in Madagascar where rice production is mostly very labor-extensive (and thus more labor would be required from farmers to raise their yields by any means), once farmers gained proficiency with SRI practices, these reduced their per-hectare labor requirements. C.B. Barrett, C. M. Moser, J. Barison and O.V. McHugh, ‘Better technology, better plots or better farmers? Identifying changes in productivity and risk among Malagasy rice farmers,’ American Journal of Agricultural Economics 86: 869-888 (2004). This article received hardly 10% as much attention as the first one did, however.
 At the time Dobermann was a professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska in the U.S. He joined IRRI’s staff in 2007 and became deputy director for research in 2008.
 In personal communication, I had suggested that the coefficients that Achim was using in his modeling probably would not apply to SRI plant phenotypes. His numbers were derived from rice plants that were being grown under flooded, crowded conditions. With inorganic N provided, root systems did not need to grow deep, and being hypoxic they probably could not grow very deep. Achim’s response was that his analysis was dealing with photosynthesis and not with roots, as if the latter have no bearing on the former.
 In 2005, Agricultural Systems published a review by Willem Stoop and Amir Kassam of several published critiques of SRI: ‘The SRI controversy: A response,’ Agricultural Systems 91: 357-360.
 Alfred Gathorne-Hardy, D. Narasimha Reddy, M. Venkatanarayana and Barbara Harriss-White, ‘System of Rice Intensification provides environmental and economic gains but at the expense of social sustainability: A multidisciplinary analysis in India,’ Agricultural Systems 143: 159-168 (2016).
 A.K. Thakur and N. Uphoff, ‘How the System of Rice Intensification contributes to climate-smart agriculture,’ Agronomy Journal, 109: 1163-1182 (2017).
 Disclosure: For the first 10 years of IJAS’s publication, I was an associate editor of this journal.
 Uphoff, ‘Higher yields with fewer external inputs? The system of rice intensification and potential contributions to agricultural sustainability,’ International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 1: 38-50 (2003).
 Some of these articles in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability include: Mustapha Ceesay, W.S. Reid, E.C.M. Fernandes and N. Uphoff, ‘The effects of repeated wetting and drying on lowland rice yield with System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods,’ 4: 5-14 (2006); Abha Mishra, Max Whitten, J.W. Ketelaar and V.M. Salokhe, ‘The System of Rice Intensification (SRI): A challenge for science, and an opportunity for farmer empowerment toward sustainable agriculture,’ 4: 193-212 (2006); Erika Styger, G. Aboubacrine, M.A. Attaher and N. Uphoff, ‘The System of Rice Intensification as a sustainable agricultural innovation: Introducing, adapting and scaling up SRI practices in the Timbuktu region of Mali,’ 9: 67-75 (2011); W.A. Stoop, ‘The scientific case for system of rice intensification and its relevance for sustainable crop intensification,’ 9: 443-455 (2011); and Prabhakar Adhikari, Hailu Araya, Gerald Aruna, Soumik Banerjee, P. Baskaran, B.C. Barah, Debraj Behera, Tareke Berhe, Parag Boruah, Shiv Dhar, Sue Edwards, Mark Fulford, Biksham Gujja, Harouna Ibrahim, Humayun Kabir, Amir Kassam, Ram Bahadur Khadka, U.S. Natarajan, Rena Peréz, Debashish Sen, Asif Sharif, Gurpreet Singh, Erika Styger, Amod K. Thakur, Anoop Tiwari, Norman Uphoff and Anil Verma, ‘System of Crop Intensification for more production, resource-conserving, climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture: Experience with diverse crops in varying agroecologies,’ 16: 1-28 (2018). By the end of 2018, Research Gate had tallied 3,500 ‘visits’ to read this article for which we had paid, after it was accepted, to make it open-access and thus freely available. As a journal, its impact factor by 2021 was 2.9.
 X.Q. Lin, W.J. Zhou, D.F. Zhu and Y.B. Zhang ‘Effect of SWD irrigation on photosynthesis and grain yield of rice (Oryza L.),’ Field Crops Research, 94: 67-75 (2005).
 What I did not know at the time was that the FCR editor who handled the article, Jillian Lenné, was very close to IRRI and was a member of its Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2012.
 X.Q. Lin, D.F. Zhu, H.Z. Chen, S.H. Cheng and N. Uphoff, ‘Effect of plant density and nitrogen fertilizer rates on grain yield and nitrogen uptake of hybrid rice (Oryza sativa L.),’ Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainable Development, 1: 44-53 (2009).
 J.E. Sheehy, S. Peng, A. Dobermann, P.L. Mitchell, A. Ferrera, J.C. Yang, Y.B. Zou, X. H. Zhong and J.L. Huang, ‘Fantastic yields in the system of rice intensification: Fact or fallacy?’ Field Crops Research, 88: 1-8 (2004); and A.J. McDonald, P.R. Hobbs and S.R. Riha, ‘Does the system of rice intensification outperform conventional best management? A synopsis of the empirical record,’ Field Crops Research, 31-36 (2006).
 The McDonald article was accepted within 10 days for publication and was published on-line within seven weeks of submission, an unusually short time for review and a decision.
 T.R. Sinclair and K.G. Cassman, ‘Agronomic UFOs,’ Field Crops Research, 88: 9-10.
 W.A. Stoop and A.H. Kassam, ‘The SRI controversy: A response,’ Field Crops Research, 91: 357-360 (2005), which took almost 3 months to get accepted; and N. Uphoff, W.A. Stoop and A.H. Kassam, ‘A critical assessment of a desk study comparing crop production systems: The example of the ‘system of rice intensification’ versus ‘best management practice,’ Field Crops Research, 108: 109-114 (2008). The latter was accepted 6.5 months after submission.
 J.E. Sheehy, T.R. Sinclair and K.G. Cassman, ‘Curiosities, nonsense, non-science and SRI,’ Field Crops Research, 91: 355-356 (2005), was accepted in 7 days; A.J. McDonald, P.R. Hobbs and S.R. Riha, ‘Stubborn facts: Still no evidence that the System of Rice Intensification out-yields best management practices (BMPs) beyond Madagascar,’ Field Crops Research, 108: 188-191 (2008), accepted in 9 days. This latter rebuttal made no attempt to defend the article’s data base, which as shown below was constructed without consistent criteria and which was demonstrably biased. As seen in Chapter 11, an article by Amod Thakur et al., published in Experimental Agriculture in 2010, provided data from scientifically impeccable trials that the rebuttals’ assertions were untenable.
 In the first version of the Sinclair and Cassman critique of SRI (endnote 30) which somehow got sent to me before publication, the authors dismissed SRI as “voodoo science.” Apparently FCR editors considered this ascription too emotional, because this wording was omitted in the version that was published. But they kept the characterization of SRI as based on “unconfirmed field observations,” equating SRI with UFOs, unidentified flying objects.
 Based on a large number of trials all across China, an IRRI study at this time concluded that the optimum application of N fertilizer on rice crops was only 60-120 kg per hectare, much less than was being widely used. S.B. Peng, R. Buresh, J.L. Huang, J.C. Yang, X.H. Zhong, Y.B. Zou, G.H. Wang, R.F. Hu and J.B. Shen, ‘Improving fertilizer-nitrogen use efficiency of irrigated rice: Progress of IRRI’s RTOP Project in China,’ paper for International Conference on Sustainable Rice Production, China National Rice Research Institute, Hangzhou, October (2004).
 See Yuan’s keynote to the 2002 international conference evaluating SRI at Sanya, China, which he hosted.
 Wei Wu and N. Uphoff, ‘A review of the system of rice intensification in China,’ Plant and Soil, 393: 361-381 (2015).
 In 2003, Peter Hobbs, a long-time friend and colleague at Cornell, asked me for any data sets that compared SRI yields with yields from best management practices (BMP). We did not have many such comparisons, as mostly we were trying to make improvements upon farmer practices, but I provided him with whatever data sets at I could put my hands on. What I passed on to Peter made up about 40% of the data base for the FCR article.
 Because I knew most of the data sets pretty well, I knew that there was not enough information available in them to carry out the methodology that the authors described. Indeed, one of the authors, Peter Hobbs, acknowledged this after the article had been accepted for publication, but before it was published. In a personal conversation, he conceded that “probably half” of the data used in their study should not have been included in the quantitative analysis because the data did not meet the criteria that the authors had specified. But, he said, they had needed to “relax their criteria” because otherwise the size of their sample would have been “too small” for statistical analysis.
 The data from these trials, reproduced in endnote 20 in Chapter 7, are posted on the SRI-Rice website. The email that accompanied the data read: “Attached is the summary of the SRI trials that were conducted by the various organisations during the rainy season June-November 2002. We all came to the conclusion that (with one exception in Huay Khot), we could not adhere to all the SRI principles in this first year of our trials as there were either problems with the trial design, incorrect measurements, different treatment by farmers (e.g. one plot weeded, the other one not), or that the plot was flooded and we could not adhere to the ‘drying out’ period recommended), or other reasons. We would regard this first year as an observational year and continue our evaluation.”
 When I pointed out to Hobbs that the Laos yield reports had been dismissed by IRRI/Laos as inconclusive, he looked at the data again and concurred in an email: “Laos SRI trials -- No description of control plot when used -- several didn't have check plots … Hardly data we can use for comparing SRI and BMP” (May 23, 2005). So, he agreed with my assessment that the data were not admissible for the kind of analysis that the authors said they had done.
 These were the average yields from four farms where the researchers had gotten the farmers to make a comparison of the alternative methods, as reported by R.B. Neupane, National Wheat Research Program, in 2006.
 M.A. Latif, M.R. Islam, M.Y. Ali and M.A. Saleque, ‘Validation of the system of rice intensification (SRI) in Bangladesh,’ Field Crops Research, 93: 281-292 (2005). This evaluation was discussed in the preceding chapter on research institutions’ contributions.
 This report, submitted to the IRRI office in Dhaka in June 2004 upon completion of the study, was provided to Hobbs: Final Evaluation Report on Verification and Refinement of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Project in Selected Areas of Bangladesh (SP 36 02).
 This justification made little sense because the article included in its data base three data sets from Bangladesh that were listed just as ‘personal communications,’ i.e., not published.
 The meta-analysis by Wu and Uphoff, cited above, had both a more defensible data base and a more rigorous methodology. It showed an SRI yield advantage of at least 20% over BMP, with both more rigorously defined and accurately represented than in the 2006 article. The yield advantage of SRI over BMP was still higher when SRI methods were more fully and well used, but there were not enough of such comparisons to apply statistical tests of significance.
 A.K. Thakur, S. Rath and K.G. Mandal, ‘Differential responses of system of rice intensification (SRI) and conventional flooded-rice management methods to applications of nitrogen fertilizer, Plant and Soil, 370: 59-71 (2015). The time between article submission and acceptance was 3.5 months.
 Humayun Kabir and N. Uphoff , ‘Results of disseminating the System of Rice Intensification with farmer field school methods in northern Myanmar,’ Experimental Agriculture, 43: 463-476 (2007); Abha Mishra and V.M. Salokhe, ‘Seedling characteristics and the early growth of transplanted rice under different water regimes,’ Experimental Agriculture, 44: 365-383 (2008); L.M. Zhao, L.H. Wu, Y.S. Li, X.H. Lu, D.F. Zhu and N. Uphoff, ‘Influence of the System of Rice Intensification on rice yields and nitrogen and water use efficiency with different nitrogen application rates,’ Experimental Agriculture, 45: 275-286 (2009); A.K. Thakur, N. Uphoff and E. Antony, ‘An assessment of physiological effects of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) practices compared with recommended rice cultivation practices in India,’ Experimental Agriculture, 46: 77-98 (2010); Anchal Dass and S. Chandra, ‘Irrigation, spacing and cultivar effects on net photosynthetic rate, dry matter partitioning, and productivity of rice under System of Rice Intensification in mollisols in northern India,’ Experimental Agriculture, 49: 504-523 (2013).
 Shuichi Sato and N. Uphoff, ‘A review of on-farm evaluations of system of rice intensification methods in Eastern Indonesia,’ CAB Reviews, 2:54 (2007); Tareke Berhe, Z. Gebretsadik and N. Uphoff, ‘Intensification and semi-intensification of tef production in Ethiopia: Applications of the system of crop intensification,’ CAB Reviews,12:54 (2017).
 A.K. Thakur, S. Rath, S. Roychowdhury and N. Uphoff, ‘Comparative performance of rice with System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and conventional management using different plant spacings,’ Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, 196: 146-159 (2010); Abha Mishra and V.M. Salokhe, ‘Flooding stress: The effects of planting pattern and water regime on root morphology physiology and grain yield of rice,’ Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science, 196: 368-378 (2010); A.K. Thakur, S. Rath and A. Kumar, ‘Performance evaluation of rice varieties under the System of Rice Intensification compared with the conventional transplanted system,’ Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science, 57 (2011); Abha Mishra and N. Uphoff, ‘Morphological and physiological response of rice roots and shoots to varying water regimes and soil microbial densities,’ Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science, 59 (2012); Shiv Dhar, B.C. Barah, K. Vyas and N. Uphoff, ‘Comparing System of Wheat Intensification (SWI) with standard recommended practices in the northwestern plain zone of India,’ Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science, 62: 994-1006 (2015)
 S.K. Sinha and J. Talati, ‘Productivity impacts of the system of rice intensification (SRI): A case study in West Bengal, India,’ Agricultural Water Management, 87: 55-66 (2007); W.A. Stoop, A. Adam and A. Kassam, ‘Comparing rice production systems: A challenge for agronomic research and the dissemination of knowledge-intensive farming practices,’ Agricultural Water Management, 96: 1491-1501 (2009); T.J. Krupnik, J. Rodenburg, V.H. Haden, D. Mbaye and C. Sherman, ‘Genotypic tradeoffs between water productivity and weed competition under System of Rice Intensification in the Sahel,’ Agricultural Water Management, 115: 155-166 (2012); J.A. Ndiiri, B.M. Mati, P.G. Home, B. Odongo and N. Uphoff, ‘Adoption, constraints and economic returns of paddy rice under the System of Rice Intensification in Mwea, Kenya,’ Agricultural Water Management, 129: 44-55 (2013); A.K. Thakur, R.K. Mohanty, R. Singh and D.U. Patil, ‘Enhancing water and cropping productivity through Integrated System of Rice Intensification (SRI) with aquaculture and horticulture under rainfed conditions,’ Agricultural Water Management, 161: 65-76 (2015); A.K. Thakur, K.G. Mandal, R.K. Mohanty and S.K. Ambast, ‘Rice root growth, photosynthesis, yield and water productivity improvements through modifying cultivation practices and water management,’ Agricultural Water Management, 206: 67-77 (2018).
 Although not without some difficulty in finding reviewers, something that the editor found unusual. Most of the reviewers whom he invited seemed reluctant to get involved with reviewing SRI and SCI, he confided, so it took some time and effort to get the manuscripts reviewed and approved. N. Uphoff, ‘Supporting food security in the 21st century through resource-conserving increases in agricultural production,’ Agriculture and Food Security, 1 (2012), 10.1186/2048-7010-1-18; and B. Abraham, H. Araya, T. Berhe, S. Edwards, B. Gujja, R.B. Khadka, Y.S. Koma, D. Sen, A. Sharif, E. Styger, N. Uphoff and A. Verma, ‘The System of Crop Intensification: Reports from the field on improving agricultural production, food security, and resilience to climate change for multiple crops,’ Agriculture and Food Security, 3 (2014), 10.1186/2048-7010-3-4.
 A. Balamatti and N. Uphoff, ‘Experience with the System of Rice Intensification for sustainable rainfed paddy farming systems in India,’ Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 41: 573-587 (2017); N. Uphoff, ‘SRI: An agroecological strategy to meet multiple objectives with reduced reliance on inputs,’ Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 41: 825-854 (2017).
 A.K. Thakur, N. Uphoff and W.A Stoop, ‘Scientific underpinnings of the System of Rice Intensification: What is known so far?’ Advances in Agronomy, 135: 147-179 (2015); Wei Wu, J.L. Huang, F. Shah and N. Uphoff, ‘Evaluation of SRI methods applied in the double-cropping system in central China,’ Advances in Agronomy, 132 (2015), withdrawn by Huang after the article was published on-line, as discussed below.
 The country-based articles were as follow: A.K. Thakur, S. Rath, D.U. Patil and A. Kumar, ‘Effects on rice plant morphology and physiology of water and associated management practices of SRI and their implications for crop performance’ (India); L.M. Zhao, L. Wu, M. Wu and Y. Li, ‘Nutrient uptake and water use efficiency as affected by modified rice cultivation methods with reduced irrigation,’ and X. Lin, D. Zhu and X. Lin, ‘Effects of water management and organic fertilization with SRI crop practices on hybrid rice performance and rhizosphere dynamics’ (both China); A. Mishra and V.M. Salokhe, ‘Rice root growth and physiological responses to SRI water management and implications for crop productivity’ (Thailand); I. Anas, O.P. Rupela, T.M. Thiyagarajan and N. Uphoff, ‘A review of studies on SRI effects on beneficial organisms in rice soil rhizosphere’ (India and Indonesia); J. Barison and N. Uphoff, ‘Rice yield and its relation to root growth and nutrient-use efficiency under SRI and conventional cultivation in Madagascar’; S. Sato, E. Yamaji and T. Kuroda, ‘Strategies and engineering adaptations to disseminate SRI methods in large-scale irrigation systems in Eastern Indonesia’; R. Adusumilli and S. Bhagya Laxmi, ‘Potential of SRI for systemic improvement in rice production and water use: The case of Andhra Pradesh, India’; V. Thomas and A.M. Ramzi, ‘SRI contributions to rice production dealing with water management constraints in northeastern Afghanistan’; A. Sharif, ‘Technical adaptations for mechanized SRI production to achieve water-saving and increased profitability in Punjab, Pakistan’; K. A. Hameed, K.J. Mosa and F.A. Jaber, ‘Irrigation water reduction using SRI compared with conventional cultivation methods in Iraq’; M. Ceesay, ‘An opportunity for increasing factor productivity for rice cultivation in The Gambia through SRI’; E. Styger, M.A. Attaher, H. Guindo, H. Ibrahim, M. Diaty, I.. Abba and M. Traoré, ‘Application of SRI practices in the arid environment of the Timbuktu region of Mali’; B.M. Mati, R. Wanjogu, B. Odongo and P.G. Home, ‘Introduction of SRI in Kenya: Experiences from Mwea Irrigation System’; M.S. Turmel, J. Espinoza, L. Franco, C. Pérez, H. Hernández, E. González, G. Fernández, C. Rojas, D. Sánchez, N. Fernández, M. Barrios, J.K. Whalen and B.L. Turner, ‘On-farm evaluation of a low-input rice production system in Panama.’
 ‘Challenges of increasing water saving and water productivity in the rice sector: Introduction to the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and this issue’; P. Jagannath, H. Pullabhotla and N. Uphoff, ‘Meta-analysis evaluating water use, water saving, and water productivity in irrigated production of rice with SRI vs. standard management methods’; Zheng J.G., Chi Z.Z., Li X.Y. and Jiang X.L., ‘Agricultural water savings possible through SRI for water management in Sichuan, China’; J.A. Ndiiri, B.M. Mati and N. Uphoff, ‘Water productivity under the System of Rice Intensification from experimental plots and farmer surveys in Mwea, Kenya’; A.M. Ramzi and H. Kabir, ‘Rice production under water management constraints with SRI methods in northeastern Afghanistan’; K.A. Hameed, F.A. Jaber and A.J. Mosa, ‘Irrigation water use efficiency for rice production in southern Iraq under System of Rice Intensification (SRI) management’; S.H. Lu, Y.J. Dong, J. Yuan, H. Lee and H. Padilla, ‘A high-yielding, water-saving innovation combining SRI with plastic cover on no-till raised beds in Sichuan, China’; A. Gathorne-Hardy, D. Narasimha Reddy, M. Venkatanarayana and B. Harriss-White, ‘A life cycle assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas emissions from SRI and flooded rice production in SE India’; S.K. Rajkishore, P. Doraisamy, K.S. Subramanian and M. Maheswari, ‘Methane emission patterns and their associated soil microflora with SRI and conventional systems of rice cultivation in Tamil Nadu, India’; B.I. Setiawan, A. Irmansyah, C. Arif, T. Watanabe, M. Mizogushi and H. Kato, ‘Effects of groundwater level on CH4 and N2O emissions under SRI paddy management in Indonesia.’
 Other LEISA contributions to the acceptance of SRI are discussed in Chapter 21. This special issue of Farming Matters (vol. 29, no. 1) is available on-line.
 LEISA-Revista de Agroecologia published the special issue in Spanish from Lima, Peru; the French edition of AGRIDAPE was published in Dakar, Senegal; the SRI issue of LEISA-China was brought out in Chinese from the Institute of Botany in Kunming; an East African issue was published by the journal Baobab in Nairobi, Kenya; and an Indian issue by the AME Foundation in Bangalore.
 This journal had an Impact Factor score of 2.259, putting it in the top quartile of Agronomy journals, and the 2nd quartile (78/228) of Plant Science journals. Originally it was expected that the issue would be published in 2021, but completing a 2nd edition of Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems (CRC Press, 2006) which was ‘in the queue’ ahead of the special issue took longer than planned, mostly due to the Covid pandemic, so publication was delayed until 2022.
 Wei Wu and N. Uphoff, ‘A review of the system of rice intensification in China,’ Plant and Soil, 393: 361-381 (2015).
 Wei Wu, J.L. Huang, F. Shah and N. Uphoff, ‘Evaluation of SRI methods applied in the double-cropping system in central China,’ Advances in Agronomy, 132 (2015), published on-line as an ‘article in press.’
 ‘Withdrawn: ‘Evaluation of SRI methods applied in the double-cropping system in central China,’ Advances in Agronomy, 132 (2015).
 To summarize the findings on sheath blight and lodging, evaluated at different levels of N fertilizer application, the average sheath blight index score was 8.4 for SRI at zero fertilizer and 11.6 with recommended management practices; with 180-195 kg of N per hectare, these average scores were, respectively, 13.9 and 32.6. The lodging index with zero N fertilizer was lower for RMP (170) and 16% higher for SRI (198); with 195 kg of N applied per hectare the respective lodging index scores were 325 for RMP and 250 for SRI, the latter one-third lower. With heavy fertilizer applications, the susceptibility of rice to sheath blight was 58% less with SRI management. It would have been good to have had such information published. Some of the data are included in Chapter 12. Since Huang is a very senior rice scientist in China, Wu did not want to contradict him for personal and professional reasons.