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March 17, 2000


John W. Cross: A Tale of Two Botanies


- http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

From: "John W. Cross"
Subject: A Tale of Two Botanies

Dear Wired:

From the very first paragraph,

Plants, shaped into incredible diversity
by 3.8 billion years of evolution, make
possible all life and are resilient against
almost any threat - except human
destructiveness. From botany came the
genetics of Mendel and Lamarck,
formalizing the patient plant-breeding
that created 10,000 years of

it was apparent that I would take issue with this article. Even this first
paragraph contains buds of misinformation. For example, plant species are
not necessarily resilient against natural threats. The blight of the
American chestnut is a prime example, wiping out the mature plants of a
major plant species in a short period. Lamarck was not a geneticist, and
Mendel lived after Lamarck.

These factual errors are just the first of many, many found throughout the

Moving along, much of the article is in the form of an aggressive,
pessimistic, anti-human diatribe:

Now, however, in the name of feeding a
growing human population, a completely
different kind of botany, in the Cartesian
tradition of reducing complex wholes to
simple parts, strives to alter isolated
genes while disregarding the interactive
totality of ecosystems. Its ambition is to
replace nature's wisdom with people's
cleverness; to treat nature not as model
and mentor but as a set of limits to be
evaded when inconvenient; not to study nature but to
restructure it.

This paragraph says it all. According to the authors own words, the
application of human reason and skill to solving practical problems is
morally wrong.

The text of the article shows that the authors do not personally know
scientists who work in plant agriculture and are unfamiliar with the
course work provided in agricultural universities. Otherwise they would
not make statements, like:

Such patchwork, done by people who've seldom
studied evolutionary biology and ecology...

These authors base their inferences on erroneous ideas:

...and common crops can hybridize with completely
unrelated weeds.

The credibility of these authors appears to rest on their expertise in
other areas of science and philosophy, not in plant biology:

Amory Lovins, a physicist and MacArthur Fellow, and
Hunter Lovins, a lawyer and social scientist, are
cofounders of Rocky Mountain Institute

With no relevant credentials and having their facts wrong to boot, one
should not grant this article serious credibility.


John W. Cross