plant phys use in breeding

Ricardo J Salvador rjsalvad at IASTATE.EDU
Tue Sep 29 19:06:54 EST 1992


In article <1992Sep20.224710.4587 at ncsu.edu>, samodena at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu
(S. A. Modena) writes:
> In article <1992Sep20.130810 at IASTATE.EDU> rjsalvad at IASTATE.EDU (Ricardo J
Salvador) writes:
   [...]
> >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.
> 
> This still sounds like before: change is the problem; change impinges on
> everyone else; change is the biggest evil itself, because *change* has
> unknown consequences; whereas the status quo, if carefully maintained
> assures *acceptible* sameness.

I've been called a luddite! I consider this the highest of compliments. :) 
Thank you.

More directly, I'd recognize that change is in the very nature of being.
Yet I think that the cycles of human existance ought to demonstrate trends
far different than the logistic type of competition/interference patterns
that describe energy flow, nutrient cycles and animal population levels
in "undisturbed ecosystems."  Human behavior, I'd pose, ought to  demonstrate
foresight, planning, strategizing, in a way that cannot be expected of
beavers for example, who may literally eat themselves out of house and home
and pay for it in terms of population and/or survival, all in the course of
simply doing what beavers do.  I'd say if living luxuriously at the top
of the the food and technological chain is an opportunistic behavior that
will cost the human species long-term viability, then humans ought to be
able to react to that and consider desired states of being, reflect upon
long term effects of their actions, plan for the future, modify their
behavior; rather than mindlessly plod along in self-exalted "innovative"
fashion, blindly trusting the next technological escape/miracle. The buffer
for that sort of behavior used to be immense, these days it is rather tenuous.

> >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.
> 
> Would you agree that when most plant.biology academics talk about basic
> research, they are talking about continuing to win tenure and assure
themselves
> pay increments and lowering their probability of having to teach warm-bodied
> undergraduates.......and don't they, like many others, expend most of
> their time and emotional capital worrying about whether they be able to
> garner enough grant money to keep their cottage industries humming.?

Allow me the following long-winded quotation from Root-Bernstein's (1989)
"Discovering," I think it will be of general interest:

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
Jenny: So what are all the other scientists doing? Wasting their time and
our money?
Hunter: No, they're doing paperwork and directing other people's work (or
lack of it). According to one study I saw, 90 percent of British chemists 
(I assume the same is true here in the U.S.)-and this study included every-
one from postdocs to full professors-spend less than 10 percent of their 
time doing experiments and writing up results. The majority of their time's
devoted to raising money, administration, teaching, and travel. In con-
sequence, it may take-this is conjecture, mind you-five chemists to do as
much research today as a hundred years ago, when the average chemists had
only a handful of students whom he taught by direct example at the lab
bench.
Richter: You know, of ocurse, Leo Szilard's parody of the current system-
"The Mark Gable Foundation"? Szilard asks how may science best be retarded.
His answer: by just the sort of bureaucracy that runs science today, in
which we spend all our time justifying, planning, and evaluating, and none
of it simply trying things. You get what you pay for.
Hunter: Yes. J.J. Thompson used to say that if government patronage of
science and technology had existed in the Stone Age, we'd all have
wonderful stone tools today, and no metals. But that's only part of the
problem. The other answer to Jenny's qustion requires a look at what
scientists do when they actually get into the lab. Most don't attempt to
make major discoveries, or at least they don't succeed. You can see this
historically. Constance once showed me a graph of the name entries in a
major chemistry textbook plotted according to the date of the person's
contribution. It differentiated between citations referring to data and 
those referring to concepts and novel techniques. Overall, the number of
citations grew exponentially with time between the renaissance and 1975.
However, the number of sicentists contributing fundamental concepts and
techniques formed only a small fraction of the number cited, and showed
a very slow, linear growth. The overal exponential growth was completely
accounted for by references to data citations. New determinations
usually supplant old ones.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

I find this passage entertaining because it reveals basic scientific
conceit about what constitutes wasted effort (e.g., administration, teaching
justifying, planning, evaluating), and what constitutes respectable activity
(e.g., "simply trying things;" "make major discoveries...").  All the more
reason, I'd say, for social constraints and the need for vigilance over such
pompous and potentially wasteful elites.

> So how many cutting edge applied or basic plant.biologists can Mexico
> support, or India, or the Russian Federation or <<fill in your favorite
> target country>>?

Interesting that you should ask this. Recently, a poll conducted among the
readership of SOC.CULTURE.MEXICAN asked the following question:

"I agree that the higher priority in Mexico ought to be development of
applied research over "basic" or theoretical research."

The readership responded (a small and self-selected group composed of
middle-class and above, highly educated Mexicans with access to computer
networks, mind you) like this:  73.7% agree, 26.3% disagree.

More to the point, the current Mexican president, Mr. Carlos "I studied at
Harvard and I think just like an American" Salinas de Gortari has given
ultimatums to the Mexican equivalent of the USDA to the effect that within
three years they need to document their economic contribution to the
state of the nation or face elimination (of course similar talk about the
USDA in the US has circulated in Congress in recent days....).  A related
process concerns Salinas' dim view of the effectiveness of the postgraduate
college of agriculture (government supported).  In brief, his reasoning
goes like this: (the figures are not actual, because I don't remember them)
"So it costs us  120 million dollars a year to float this place, and you
graduate 20 Ph.D. and M.S. people per year, therefore the cost per
advanced degree is 6 million dollars.  Well, for $45,000 we can send the
same person to the US for a 3 year Ph.D. program and get trainig FAR
SUPERIOR than we'll ever be able to manage by playing catch up here in
Mexico, so let's just close down the postgraduate college and send
everyone to study in the U.S. ECONOMICALLY, it will be far more effective."
This is how a man reasons who is actually in a position to answer the
question you ask.

-Ricardo


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