On-farm and farmer-directed research is claimed to lack validity when produced by methods that limit the generalizability of its results. However, farmers may consider such findings sufficiently valid for use in agricultural production even though agricultural scientists may not consider them scientifically valid. A general social-psychological theory of knowledge and information processing called lay epistemology suggests that farmers may assess the validity of any research report by its plausibility in relation to their knowledge and experience. Other communication research suggests that readers will look for cues to help them decide whether the research and findings are valid and useful.
To identify validity cues used by farmers in evaluating production research reports, we asked 56 Illinois cash-grain farmers to mark phrases and other items that influenced their confidence in a popularized research report and to explain the reasons for each mark. The kinds of validity cues that farmers used or sought had little relationship to their personal or enterprise characteristics. The researcher's name, location and affiliation were critical cues, but information on the methods and results were no more important than data about costs, risks, growing conditions, and longer term outcomes. Plausibility plays a key role when farmers decide whether production research is valid. It would be useful to farmers if research reports included more information about the system being studied, such as its costs and risks, along with data on the research methods used.