Great Moments in Wrong Science: "Rain Follows the Plow"


From the 19th century up through the Dust Bowl a wide cross-section of farmers, politicians, and scientists believed that the more intensively you farmed the Great Plains, the more rain would fall and farming conditions would improve.

I'd certainly heard this myth, but I didn't realize it had standing that went beyond mere convenient superstition. At Wired, though, Adam Frank introduces us to some of the then-big-name experts who writings and rationalizations helped to prop up something everyone wanted to believe and turn it into a very truthy tru-ism. Here's my favorite of the bunch:

Next up was Richard Smith Elliott, publicity agent for the Kansas Pacific Railway, a sort of salesman for its plentiful land holdings. In a similar vein to Hayden, he suggested planting trees along his company’s railroad. And, really, you may not even need to go that far. Elliott thought the railroad itself encouraged rainfall, as did power lines. That may sound crazy to you, but it somehow made sense to the hallowed Smithsonian Institution: It published Elliott’s writings on the subject in its Annual Report of 1870.

Image: Some rights reserved by blamfoto