plant phys use in breeding

Ricardo J Salvador rjsalvad at IASTATE.EDU
Sun Sep 20 13:08:10 EST 1992


In article <1992Sep11.131520.26242 at gserv1.dl.ac.uk>, ajt at rri.sari.ac.uk (Tony
Travis) writes:
> In article <92810232720.MIN-LDJAa00157.bionet-news at uk.ac.daresbury> you
write:
> : [...]
> : Tony, I know what you mean, but it must be noted that the infrastructure
> : necessary to make it possible for you and I to happ'ly sit in our offices
> : and push buttons to accomplish heretofore labor-intensive tasks is 
> : significant, as I am sure you realize.  In certain respects, I wonder if
> : benefiting from such luxury without recognizing the tremendous human and
> : ecological costs involved is not some form of latter-day "colonial"
> : haughteur.  I am as intoxicated with the power conferred upon us by
> 
> I do, of course, recognise the human and ecological cost of the
> networking infrastructure that we all take for granted.  I also
> recognise that the technology can be used to improve communication and
> the free exchange of ideas.

Agreed, a couple of recent examples of this come to mind: 1) during the
attempted coup of Gorbachev's government the Internet soc.* groups were
abuzz with reports from the scenes of action and many analyses I've read
suggest that it was an important ingredient of the failure that the
dinosaurs who engineered the coup did not realize that such networks
existed and therefore did not effectively control the flow of information
regarding the key events; 2) similar electronic activity emmanating from
the former Yugoslavia have provided personal and independent insight on
events there that constrast starkly with the official pronouncements of
the contending parties.

> I don't regard this infrastructure as a luxury, I regard it as an asset
> (when used wisely).  I'm rather surprised to be accused of "colonial"
        ^^^^^^^^^^^                         ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
   and therein is contained the seed        Not my intent, and my apologies
   of an argument, but I suppose that       if it seemed that way.  Note
   on 'bionet.plants' it is best to         the use of inclusive pronouns in
   let it lie....                           the original message.

> haughter (I had to look that up in the dictionary), but I am more
> concerned with exploiting the opportunity that the infrastructure
> presents than apologising for its existence.

I'd say that "exploiting" is perhaps not the best choice of a word.  My
feeble attempts to understand the deleterious effects of technology on
societies, in spite of the potential for great generalized benefit, has
led to the conclusion that very few cases of outright evil intent or 
conspiracies can actually be found, rather people make decisions and 
"exploit the opportunities" of the moment without adequately considering
(or perhaps even being able to consider) the full extent of the consequences.
I'd say that this applies particularly to the daylaborers in the trenches,
whether those be auto assembly line workers, or you and I myopically entranced
by the physiology of the third molecule from the left within the inner
sanctums of our respective universities.

> : computerized tools, all the more impressive when one realizes that many
> : tasks accomplished by such tools were utterly beyond the imagination or
> : intent of the individuals who engineered the tools in the first place,
> 
> Isn't that what scientific investigation is all about ?

My opinion is that it is not.  I'd say that that given the extreme urgency
of most problems facing humanity in the present era the luxury of doing
anything that is not directed toward dealing with a tangible and readily
identifiable need should be carefully scrutinized.  Personally, I think
the scientific folklore that much basic research has eventually proved to
be of use is maddeningly misundestood and abused.  Given that contemporary
"scientific" activity is complex and expensive, and that resources to
conduct all conceivable projects are limited, what science gets performed,
by whom, and for what intent (who benefits) comes down to an economic
decision.  If one aims at specific targets the use of one's limited
resources is much more responsible than the shotgun approach glorified
because one in a thousand aimless projects proved to have some serendipitous
application.  When such examples are trotted out I think it only fitting
that the balance of all the dead end projects must also be considered.  It
is difficult to do, but I'd say scientific investigation is most definitely
NOT about endowing academics with high tech toys so that they might 
happly frolic and hope that perchance a byproduct of their enjoyment might
be of benefit to humankind.  I'd say this applies to all scientific fields.

> : but I think it is wise to pause and consider costs and consequences of
> : technology before appraising such subjective attributes as "advancement,
> : ease, progress, increased efficiency," etc., particularly when the
> : putative benefits are demonstrably enjoyed by  only a small sector of the
> : human population, yet depend upon (or detrimentally affect) resources that
> : can reasonably be considered common property resources of vast sectors of
> : humanity.
> 
> In my opinion, we are all part of a global community made posible by
> modern communications technology.  Communication is the only way to
> achieve real understanding of each other's point of view.  The
> technology needed to achieve computer networking is largely shared by
> telephone/fax communications.  Would you pause and consider the costs
> and consequences of using the telephone in the same way ??

Yes, and here are a few points that such consideration yields:  we are
currently a very _small_ community, in proportion to the population at
large.  The community is made up primarily of highly educated, economically
priviliged academics and industrialists in the the northern hemisphere (with
the appropriate tendrils to certain outposts of christendom, e.g. Australia,
in the otherwise heathen and electronically remote extremes of the
southern hemisphere).  Grossly simplifying, you and I could not enjoy our
"shared telephone/fax communications" without the resources of that
southern hemisphere, be they such basic items as food and lumber, or items
such as copper, potash, uranium, and including human labor.  Yet while it
is possible for me to reach just about anyone I please in the northern
hemisphere via that "shared telephone/fax communication" network, this is
a more difficult proposition if I intend to communicate with uncle
Obasanjo in a village of central Africa.  How are we to claim that this
asymmetrical benefit of a "commonly shared" network is justified?  Is it
because Obasanjo's family does not work as hard as the basic U.S. citizen?
Is it because Obasanjo's kin are not as intelligent or ingenious as the
average Scot?  Well, you recognize of course that the example is contrived,
but the point should be evident.  Substitute medicine, agriculture, or any
other example you please and I believe the example only becomes stronger.

> : I pause now because this sounds more tendentious in writing than I
> : intend.
> 
> It does, and I'd like to get back to plant biology.

I share the joy of 'plant biology' with you.  However, I'd insist that
questions and answers framed in terms of human needs ought always to steer
and guide our practice of any science or industry.  In comparison to the
former, the latter are clearly the small stuff and are therefore much
easier to deal with.  That a thing is easier to do than alternatives, that
it provides satisfaction, or that it is possible to do, need not always
justify that it be done.

-Ricardo



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