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How to waste limited research money

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 31, 2009

Let’s try experimenting on talking to tomatoes to make them grow more/faster. I kid you not (Hi Gov. Palin!)

Much-derided claims that talking to plants can help them grow are being tested in a serious study at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) gardens.

For 30 days tomato plants at Wisley in Surrey will “listen” to voices through MP3 headphones attached to their pots.

Growth will be measured before, during and after the experiment and compared to “control plants” left in silence.

Wisley gardener Colin Crosbie says there is “solid evidence” certain sounds encourage healthy growth.

“We’re taking it very seriously. A lot of people are thinking this is an April Fool but it’s quite serious,” he told the BBC.

“We want to get a great diversity of voices. There’s great variation in the human voice, and there might just be the perfect voice for talking to plants.

Well I think this is an April Fool too, just for the record. Because this is quite silly, and I can’t imagine a serious researcher actually going through with this. Although I must say, for the sake of the truth we must do research on ridiculous claims as well, but I am willing to go on the record with this prediction: Study will fail to show that “talking” has any effect on plants. True believers will immediately rationalize that you can’t use headphones, or the volume wasn’t quite high or low enough, or that it has to have “intention” behind the talk, or that it takes a certain kind of voice etc. etc.

And the silliness does not end here, for it appears they have high hopes for this experiment.

“We’re having fun too, but it could be very beneficial.”

“For the first time we will be able to advise people not only whether it’s worth talking to their plants but exactly how it should be done.

“We may even be able to standardise the practice by recording the perfect voice for those less confident in conversing with their plants.”

Toby Buckland, lead presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World, said: “A lot of thinking behind this is that if a gardener is relaxed, it helps the plants grow better.

“Plants do pick up on your stress, that’s something that’s well known, and if you’re not confident, it’s as if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.

“As soon as you’re relaxed, it comes together. It’s well worth looking into and I’d be interested to see the results.”

You know I still think is is an April’s Fool joke, but then I saw something that kinda makes me reconsider. The article has a photo of Prince Charles. They may be serious about this after all!

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4 Responses

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  1. Geeve said, on March 31, 2009 at 6:13 PM

    Clearly, results will be dependant on the acoustic properties of the pot and I believe that various species may show marked differences in their preferences for the rhythmic nature of the sound being broadcast. In previously unpublished research, it has been observed by an unreliable but otherwise amiable source, that the genetically modified tomato, TOMASH, responds vigorously to Reggae.

  2. Betsy said, on April 1, 2009 at 2:35 PM

    As any gardener worth his/her salt will tell you, talking to plants works because it focuses the person’t attention on the plant. More plants are killed from neglect of their needs than from any other reason. If you are talking to the plant you are paying attention to it and will see lack of water, or insects or disease etc. DUH

    • Skepdude said, on April 1, 2009 at 3:05 PM

      Fine, I can accept that as long as it is clear that the extra attention and the better work is what is causing the effect, not the talking and the whole “intentions” thing.

  3. Andy Bradbury said, on April 5, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Firstly, Colin Crosbie was not just “a gardener”, and one wonders why he was demoted in this telling of the event (he was actually the current Superintendent of the Woody Ornamental and Alpine Plants Department at RHS Garden Wisley. He is now the curator at Wisley and definitely not somekind of illiterate looney.

    Secondly, on what basis is this research being dismissed? Other than the fact that it doesn’t fit the author of this blog’s idea of what makes sense and what doesn’t?
    I have no firsthand knowledge of whether plants react to certain kinds of noise, but it seems at least theoretically possible.

    If we stop talking about music and voices and simply refer to physical vibrations why should it be impossible for plants to be affected by simple vibrations (no New Age influence implied)? In human males a strong drum beat causes stimulation in the area of the groin (you didn’t think those car drivers were simply trying to deafen themselves, did you?) So why not some a physical relationship between plant physiology and certain frequencies?

    This may be labelled as skepticism, but it looks like simple mental inflexibility to me.


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