Facts & Data
Fact v. Fiction: Learning about Aquaponics on the Internet
1. What is the source of the information?
If you can, identify the primary source of the information whenever
possible. If the information comes from one person in the form of
an essay, op-ed piece or blog, look for citations or references to trusted sources. While there are many well-practiced and credible aquaponics practitioners and scientists, there’s also many armchair theorists and unseasoned hobbyists. Passion for aquaponics is necessary but not sufficient to become a credible expert.
Wiki-pages, site reviews, DIY blogs, and forums are also open sources of information where anybody can post or publish information that may be false or opinion-based. Information on product pages (anybody trying to sell something) should be critically assessed as claims or information can be biased and slanted. Always look for the data, a third-party verification, or source to back-up product claims. In the case of product pages, user reviews and well-documented client satisfaction can be helpful but do not give the full story since typically the most-satisfied or dissatisfied users are the most likely to post reviews. Unfortunately, many pages and websites can disguise themselves as credible sources. When in doubt, you can use as a tool to determine the owner and origins of a website or webpage.
2. Where's the evidence?
If claims are being made, there should be data from credible sources to back it up. Sometimes the data is anecdotal, a personal story or experience. Sometimes the data is a study conducted by a third-party. If the information is not cited or referenced, feel free to ask for the source of the claims, "data" and information. If the person or organization is not willing to share the origin of the information, that’s a good reason to be skeptical.
Anecdotal data can be very useful information, but it’s also not entirely reliable. Individuals are not perfect at remembering and recalling details. Consider this anecdotal (false) claim about aquaponics:
"Aquaponics is not a good way to grow fruiting vegetables. I only grow lettuce and leafy greens in aquaponics - fruiting vegetables just don't work, I've tried."
In this anecdotal account, the individual fails to describe the type of aquaponic system he is using, how he tried to grow fruiting vegetables or the type of vegetables, his environmental conditions like weather, water or use of a greenhouse structure. He didn't describe his stocking densities of fish or system size, and this speaks nothing of the potential of his own operator error, which could be significant. The devil is in the details. Just because someone has grown 200 pounds of tomatoes over two months in a 40-square-foot system does not mean that everybody will be able to do the same or that somebody won't be able to grow more.
Furthermore, data can be verified or unverified, published or unpublished. In general, published, verified data provide the strongest evidence. Peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard for published, verified data. Data published in peer-reviewed journals means that a group of credentialed, expert scientists has deemed the research methods to be up to standards, soundly conducted and the topic worthy of interest. This being said, every scientific study has limitations, and just because something has been found to work (or not work) in one study, does not mean that it is the end of the story. The field of modern aquaponics is young. What we know about aquaponics continues to grow. What we know to be true today may not be the case in the future. However, evidence-based science and empirical research are what will help us learn and practice the most efficient and effective aquaponics.
The Internet can be a great place to learn about aquaponics. It's also a great place to find an abundance of bad information. Anybody can publish anything they want online and, when paired with a legitimate-sounding web address such as www.AquaponicEncyclopedia.com, fiction and opinions can look like facts. In your quest for scientific and empirical data, we've compiled a couple tips to help you sort through the Google-search wasteland of information.
Our Commitment to the Facts
If we want our families, friends, communities and strangers to support aquaponic technology and farms by buying produce or by using systems personally, then it is up to us, those already interested and passionate about aquaponics, to do our part to promote the facts, be transparent about the source of our data and always honest in our failures. We aim to provide our partners, consumers and clients with factual information and to promote the advancement of the field through education and practice. Scientific research as well as anecdotal evidence has a place in this field. When possible, the two should overlap. As of summer 2016, Symbiotic Aquaponic has three higher education partnerships in the United States to research and explore the uses of our aquaponics systems. All research is being conducted by the third-party institutions, through third-party acquired grants or outside funding, and under the guidance of experts and scientists in their respective fields.
While it is important to have credentialed scientists study aquaponics, is it also important for the average person to experiment with aquaponics. Exploration, innovation, creativity and curiosity are the playground of everyone. We encourage you to play, test limits and try new things in your practice of aquaponics. Your findings and failures inspire the future research and use of aquaponics. The study of modern aquaponics is still in its infancy. There is so much to learn and discover. We (the scientists, practitioners, farmers and purveyors) have just begun to unlock the potential of aquaponics practice in our modern societies. We look forward to learning more.
Please feel free to explore any of the following resources that make us love aquaponics even more. This is just a small sample of the evidence-based, scientific information that has been published. While we did not write or conduct this research, if you have questions, we're glad to help, but also encourage direct contact with the corresponding listed authors and scientists.
The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop product - M. M. Mekonnen and A. Y. Hoekstra (2011)
Just Beyond the Eye: Floating Gardens in Aztec Mexico - Philip Crossley (2004)
A Case Study of Indoor Garden-Based Learning With Hydroponics and Aquaponics: Evaluating Pro-Environmental Knowledge, Perception, and Behavior Change - Andrew Jon Schneller, Casey A. Schofield, Jenna Frank, Eliza Hollister & Lauren Mamuszka (2015)
Enhancing Student Interest in the Agricultural Sciences through Aquaponics - George W. Wardlow,* Donald M. Johnson, Carol L. Mueller, and C. Eugene Hilgenberg (2002)
Conservation of Aquaculture Wastewater and Nutrients through Vegetable Crop Production - T. Yang, H.J. Kim (2016)
The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative Review of the Benefits of School Gardening - Dorothy Blair (2009)
Home gardens: neglected hotspots of agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity - Gea Galluzzi, Pablo Eyzaguirre, and Valeria Negri (2010)
Challenges of Sustainable and Commercial Aquaponics - Simon Goddek, Boris Delaide, Utra Mankasingh, Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, Haissam Jijakli, and Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir (2015)
Recirculating Aquaculture Tank Production Systems: Aquaponics—Integrating Fish and Plant Culture - James E. Rakocy, Michael P. Masser, and Thomas M. Losordo (2006)
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics: Production and Quality of Lettuce Crop - E. Pantanella, M. Cardarelli , G. Colla, E. Rea , A. Marcucci (2010)
Aquaponic Production of Tilapia and Basil: Comparing a Batch and Staggered Cropping System - James E. Rakocy, R. Charlie Shultz, Donald S. Bailey and Eric S. Thoman (2003)
A comparison of three different hydroponic sub-systems (gravel bed, floating and nutrient film technique) in an Aquaponic test system -Wilson A. Lennard and Brian V. Leonard (2006)
Effects of foliar application of some macro- and micro-nutrients on tomato plants in aquaponic and hydroponic systems - Hamid R. Roostaa and Mohsen Hamidpour (2011)
Comparative Growth Performance of Tar0 Plant in Aquaponics vs. Other System - M.A. Salam, M. Y. Prodhan, S. M. Sayem, and M. A. Islam (2014)
On-Farm Food Safety: Aquaponics - Jim Hollyer, Clyde Tamaru, Allen Riggs, RuthEllen Klinger-Bowen, Robert Howerton, Darren Okimoto, Luisa Castro, Tetsuzan ‘Benny’ Ron, B. K. ‘Kai’ Fox, Vanessa Troegner, and Glenn Martinez (2009)
All data provided within this infographic are based on peer-reviewed, scientific research related to aquaponics, aquaculture, and hydroponics. Data and information may vary based on study. Infographic last updated January 2014.