Stuart Smith is hosting a lively discussion debunking biodynamics on his blog.

My contribution:

While my sentiments are with you in that the origins of BD are pretty shady, and as fond as I am of Stu personally, I am disappointed in the smug, self-assured tone of this blog. As someone who knows a little about science, let me play Devil’s advocate and challenge some statements here, not so much to support Steiner but more to strengthen true science by pointing out what it is not.

Your arguments are largely circular: BD seems absurd, and therefore why investigate? Our inability to imagine the mechanisms of biodynamics does not by itself constitute proof of its invalidity, and neither does a smear campaign regarding its founder.

Say it’s the 18th century, you’re Isaac Newton, and I tell you I’ve got a box that can pull invisible waves out of the air and show us pictures and voices from people in other parts of the world and from other times. Yeah, right. Say you can discredit my credentials: does that make the claim less accurate, or just less credible?

It is this very complacency which has by its nature created alternatives to scientific progress such as the BD movement, out of shear frustration with its limitations and its lack of imagination.

The only thing I can see that really distinguishes the process which established BD from science is that the latter has a well organized system of verifiable inquiry. But this is not as cut-and-dried a recommendation as one might suppose. As practiced in the last 100 years, this inquiry is based on arbitrary and often inapplicable statistical assumptions. It also is better suited to elucidating simple, linear, analytical phenomena than evaluating whole systems, particularly human responses to intricate stimuli such as a glass of wine.

Science’s focus on isolated problems rather than systems thinking has led to a lot of problems. A pill for this, a pill for that, with no notion of the impact for this particular person’s body as a whole. The USDA importation of Asian ladybugs has been a disaster for the wine industry from Ohio to Niagara. Need I go on?

Yet science is not fundamentally reductionist; all areas of inquiry are, in theory, fair game, even astrology, voodoo and biodynamics. In winemaking, UCDavis would do well to abandon its outdated solution chemistry paradigm and to give at least tentative credibility to phenomena such as minerality, aromatic integration and profundity.

Overconfidence in science as a repository of truth, despite its inability to tackle currently vexing problems like balancing a sustainable ecosystem or turning a $30 Pinot into a $50 Pinot, has driven some very smart people such as Randall Grahm and the Benzigers to try another way.
Just as Western medicine has a theory of disease but not one of wellness, scientific winemaking has stumbled badly by trying to dissect wine. It’s great for fixing defects, but has no advice for increasing wines soulfulness, harmony or even longevity.

Having solved the easy problems, our current scientific practice is no longer the engine of progress in these areas – it is the caboose. It will fall to scientists in the future to evaluate the efficacy of BD systems wrought by true believers rather than to second guess now in an area where our methods have no predictive traction.