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Summary

Soils have often been viewed as a black box. Soil biology is difficult to study with the precision we would wish, due to the presence of considerable soil heterogeneity, a huge diversity of organisms, and a plethora of interacting processes taking place in a complex physical-chemical environment. We have isolated a tiny fraction of the known organisms, and the possible interactions of soil parent materials, landscape, land use, depth and time with the biota mean that we are to some extent still fumbling in the dark. There have been great advances, but we argue that the pace of advance could be faster. To progress, science needs new theory and concepts but also acceptable methodologies. Coherent and generally accepted theoretical knowledge exists in many areas, but there is a shortage of valid and exact methods to test new and sometimes even old hypotheses. New methods add knowledge, but they also can add to the confusion if they are not tied to the existing knowledge base. We speculate on how to improve soil biology through improving the way we perform and interpret research. Can we deal with soil variability? Can we measure the critical variables with adequate precision to test our hypotheses? Can we avoid reinventing the wheel? Can we find a balance between the freedom to test new and maybe even controversial ideas and the control and direction of research required by society?