Mycology: Science or Hobby? A Modest Proposal

Joe Harrington joeh at
Thu Oct 26 02:36:32 EST 1995

I don't see why this forum can't be use for "Pros" and "Hobbyists" alike. 
The problem with this forum is its non-use. Not much of anything is said 


On 25 Oct 1995, Steve Pencall wrote:

> Date: 25 OCT 1995 21:33:51 GMT 
> From: Steve Pencall <spencal at>
> Newgroups: bionet.mycology
> Subject: Mycology: Science or Hobby? A Modest Proposal 
> Mycology: Science or Hobby?  A Modest Proposal
> (NOTE: This is a lengthy post--I even spell-checked it.  However, I urge  
> bionet.mycology users to read all of it before hitting "Delete."  In fact,  
> I would urge you to forward this post to friends or colleagues who only  
> occasionally read bionet.mycology.  It is my hope that discussion of, and  
> eventual action on, this proposal will prevent the possibility of any  
> conflict about the content of bionet.mycology.)
> Before I get to the heart of my proposal, I should note that I have long  
> eschewed the use of the term "hobby" for amateur mycology.  I prefer to  
> use "avocation" as I believe that it better describes the approach of many  
> amateurs to mycology.
> Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary tells us that avocation is "a  
> subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one's vocation especially  
> for enjoyment."  A vocation is of course, one's regular employment.   
> Webster's defines hobby as "a pursuit outside of one's regular occupation  
> engaged in for relaxation."
> Although the difference is subtle, there is an unmistakable suggestion  
> that although both refer to leisure activities, "avocation" refers to a  
> deeper commitment to that activity.  In popular usage, "hobby" has often  
> been used to imply an activity used to while away leisure hours, while  
> "avocation" is generally used to describe something which is seriously  
> pursued to add meaning to those leisure hours.  In short, "hobby" suggests  
> something trivial, "avocation" something of greater significance.
> Anyway, I find it an eerie coincidence that as I was walking back to my  
> car last Friday afternoon (Oct. 20) after sending e-mail to several  
> mycological correspondents, I was thinking "What a shame it is that there  
> is no UseNet newsgroup specifically for amateur mycologists!"  On the  
> drive home from school through LA rush hour traffic, I cogitated on the  
> matter and thought about it from every angle conceivable to me.   
> Blissfully unaware of what was going on in the ether around me, I came up  
> with a proposal to (possibly) solve this "problem," as well as answers to  
> what I believe are most of the possible objections to it.
> When I checked into the mycology newsgroup on Monday, October 23 and read  
> the post from John Pitkin and the thread that followed, the feeling of  
> deja vu that overcame me was almost (but not quite) enough to make me  
> believe in such a thing.  Anyway, here goes.
> Start a NEW newsgroup for amateur mycologists in the rec. group,  
> tentatively to be called rec.mushrooms.  This assumes that such a new  
> group can be established, i.e. develop sufficient online support to  
> impress the UseNet overlords that such a new group is as vital to the  
> future of humanity as the groups and others.  As has often been  
> noted, UseNet is NOT a democracy, so such a proposal will have to get  
> solid support from the online mycology community, amateurs and pros,  
> otherwise it will fall faster than a deliquescing Coprinus.
> I realize that right away some people will object, while others will  
> simply be bewildered.  I have anticipated most of the objections and  
> questions, so BEFORE you warm up the flame-thrower, please read on.
> 1. Q. What's wrong with bionet.mycology?
>    A. There is nothing "wrong" with bionet.mycology.  It is just not the  
> most appropriate place for amateurs.  Many amateurs, especially those new  
> to mycology, check into bionet.mycology and are confused or turned off  
> when they see "Tenure track position in Plant Pathology" or "14th  
> International Symposium on Zygomycetes"--my abject apologies to  
> zygomycologists.  Several amateurs have told me that they checked out  
> bionet.mycology a few times, found it not to their liking, and haven't  
> gone back.  Some feel intimidated by posts that they don't understand, or  
> may feel like they are trespassing on the turf of academics.  Even if you  
> put out the welcome mat, some people will be turned off by what they see  
> inside.
> To use a nineties term, amateurs need their own "space".  Even if "most"  
> of the pros on bionet.mycology are friendly and helpful, amateurs feel  
> like guests, not residents.  Amateurs need a place to be themselves; to be  
> able to swap recipes or collecting tips.  As much as love bionet.mycology  
> and I do, it is NOT that place.  Many amateurs feel as though they are  
> being judged, and it is not a comfortable feeling.
> 2. Q. Why put the new group in the rec. groups?
>    A. For the reasons I have mentioned above.  The whole bionet looks like  
> academic turf to a lot of Netizens--be on your best behavior lest someone  
> swat you with a virtual ruler for getting out of line.  I've lurked on  
> quite a few of the rec. groups and people seem to be a lot more relaxed  
> and informal in them, and that should facilitate communication between  
> group participants.  Isn't communication what the UseNet is all about?
> 3. Q. As has been pointed out, bionet.mycology has very little traffic.   
> Won't TWO groups be starved for traffic?
>     A. I'm sure that someone told Sam Walton that his first WalMart would  
> be starved for traffic.  Anything is possible of course, but I think not.   
> I believe the audience of each group will feel a sense of freedom, even  
> liberation, that is bound to result in an increase in traffic in both  
> groups.  Professionals will be liberated from wading through "trivia", and  
> amateurs can feel free to express themselves without fear of disapproval  
> from the pros.  
> After a period of adjustment, traffic in both groups will climb because a  
> tighter focus on the real interests of each community will make each group  
> more attractive to its respective audience.  It is a demonstrable truth of  
> economics that having more choices always means more customers.  Let us  
> not forget that all mycologists, both pros and amateurs, will benefit by  
> having more of us communicating online.  WE ALL WANT MORE CUSTOMERS!
> 4. Q. Won't communication between amateur and professional mycologists be  
> hindered by fragmentation of one of their few common outlets?
>    A. No, this assumes that amateurs and pros will go their separate  
> ways--never to meet again.  As long as both groups are aware of one  
> another, this should not be a problem.  People can (and should) configure  
> their newsreaders to receive both groups.  I expect that frequent  
> cross-postings, casual references to postings in the other group, and  
> mention of the other group in the FAQ's should alert sentient habitues of  
> one group to the existence of the other.  I don't worry too much about the  
> non-sentient habitues, do you?
> 5. Q. Isn't starting a new newsgroup a lot of work?
>    A. Probably.  I've never done it.  Any volunteers?
> I welcome additional questions, comments or suggestions, but most of all I  
> would welcome the earnest efforts of ALL online mycologists, amateur as  
> well as professional, to get behind the establishment of a REAL HOME for  
> amateur mycologists on the UseNet.
> Steve Pencall
> <spencal at>
> Editor, The Spore Print
> Journal of the Los Angeles Mycological Society
> "Leave the beaten path and dive into the woods"
> --Alexander Graham Bell

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