Observing the Science for the People 134-strong list, mainly
USA leftists, I see strenuous insults tossed against persons, and by
implication some parties, disliked for e.g wanting to discuss what to
do about racism. I observe that the very concept of racial
differences in intelligence provokes drastic insults.
those concerned to lay aside for 10 min their strong disputes on
genetics, if only to pay due respect to Grandmother Smith, practical
geneticist of a Sydney suburb, who noticed a novel apple mutant.
I claim she has done more good than all the gene-jockeys put together,
and I can still buy cool-stored Grannie Smiths in this height of our
summer (tho' they're not as good, long-stored, as that more recent
mutant Braeburn fresh). In her honour I recount some practical
genetics and urge theorists to get out more and smell the
[broadcast Radio NZ 'As I Remember' 30-11-03]
in 1972 I found myself during a door-to-door collection at a 1920s
bungalow, surrounded by much more modern commercial buildings in the
Auckland suburb of Browns Bay. Deferred maintenance was evident;
the occupant turned out to be a dear simple elderly soul refusing all
would-be 'developers' - she was indeed going to see out her life where
she had always lived.
Looming over her bungalow was a
50-ft avocado tree, dripping with large green cannonballs.
moved into my own Auckland home just a couple year earlier, to find in
a smallish backyard an evergreen tree which bloomed profusely but
never bore any fruit. The 3-volume textbook 'The Evergreen
Orchard' told me that this was an avocado - which I'd
never seen, being from Wellington - and that only 1 in
10,000 seedling avocado trees was fruitful. Grafting onto a
mature tree small twigs from one of the few fruitful strains Hass,
Fuerte etc was said to be difficult, so I'd purged the tree.
the old woman how her tree came to be. "I just planted a
seed in the back yard when I was a kiddie - same as you do
with a peach stone", she replied. "Nothing to it"
she assured me.
I tried to tell
her what an unusual event had befallen her. She proved unable to
grasp the concept that an improbable blessing had come her way.
I tried a little too hard to expound 1-in-10,000. I even went so
far as to point out that almost everything of interest that happens is
extremely improbable - me, for instance; she then became
unable to conceal her conclusion that I was crazy.
I gave up on this
project of scientific education, and switched to a request.
"My colleague Professor Richard 'Mr plant viruses' Matthews has a
couple dozen avocado seedlings on his holiday property and can't get
any grafting wood of the fruitful strains from the commercial
growers. Might you
allow him to prune some twigs off your tree, please?"
"Why does he bother - you
just plant an avocado seed and it gives fruit like mine", she
repeated. Nevertheless she undertook to humour this other
deluded person I'd mentioned.
A few years later
Matthews told me he'd gone round and accosted the old woman. She
had again been unable to understand the need for grafting, and had
again appeared to think she was dealing with a loony. As he was
by then one of the two FRSs in NZ at the time, I felt in good
He had struck it lucky with his grafting.
Also he mentioned he had one such grafted tree at his Auckland
residence, producing very large fruit, but also very bland; herbs,
vinegar etc soon take care of that.
In 1981 I
met a big-time million-trees-annually nurseryman, who upon hearing of
it wanted to extend propagation of this 'Browns Bay' avocado. I
took him to Matthews' house: in deep porous volcanic soil, that
colossal net of fine roots had grown a new 50-ft tree, "a major
producer of human food October thru April" as Matthews put it.
He, unlike the old woman who in a sense created this mutant, had no
difficulty understanding why we wanted a dozen or so twigs off his
prof had just learned from his colleagues in plant science that,
during the intervening decade or so, new avocado seedlings in NZ had
become fruitful about 1 in 2 ! This shift of 4 orders of
magnitude, from 10^-4 to 10^0, intrigued me. I suggested some
transposon might have brought in a small package of DNA conferring the
trait of fruitfulness. He dismissed this idea on the sole ground
that I'd not given any evidence that this had happened to avocado;
but he had no alternative idea. Ah well - at least he
didn't deny the phenomenon on the ground that no mechanism had been
envisaged (a common fallacy). And of course he didn't deny that
horizontal gene transfer occurs in nature; indeed some plant viruses,
on which he was the leading expert, are among the best-known vectors
The avocado is a
peculiar plant, changing sex daily and, for some period of history, so
lacking fruitfulness that its survival as a species looks like another
puzzle for students to research. But for seeds to grow into
fruitful trees (most of them inferior little twisted fruit, I should
perhaps add - 'my' event remains valuable) when they
hardly ever had borne any fruit at all, looked to me like
micro-evolution in action.
assumed for many years that the variety should be named after the dear
old woman who thought I was crazy. Then I realised it should be
named, if after anyone, for the person who first brought it to the
notice of science. I don't know whether this has yet been done.
I continue to sool nurserymen onto this valuable cultivar for grafting
wood. Matthews FRS has passed away but his 'town tree' is still
looming over his former house, dripping with green cannonballs.
psychology of email was discussed a decade ago by Floridean prof
which still seems right to me.
I continue to reflect on this mode of communication 'email'.
I don't claim to understand it very well, but I do notice, after some
10^5 msgs since Oct 98, some generalities.
It brings out the worst in people - especially total
strangers who think they can vent their spleen without risk of ever
having to deal in person with any retaliation. More
surprisingly, some people who do expect to deal with me in person send
astonishingly rude messages. The psychology of this inherently
distorting medium deserves study.
> 2 I remain
sure of The Mann/Chomsky Lemma - email is far
too easily sent in ill-considered draft form, and should always be
slept on if possible.
Trendies, including some who should know better, insist that it is a
low-reliability, low-significance throw-away thing like an ansafone
> I cannot see why nothing serious can be sent
by email. It does have the potential, doesn't it?
The extent of privacy is unclear. To be told by a senior
academic that every email ever sent is stored in some central depot
exceeds even my capacity for paranoia. On the other hand I
accept that if the Security Intelligence Service insist on reading my
email they probably will be able to do so without my knowledge.
The loose analogy of a postcard may well be appropriate. Please
keep an eye out for availability of Pretty Good Privacy or similar
encryption method using large prime numbers, and let me know if such
becomes workable for us.
The scope for disinformation, e.g regarding gene-tampering, is
under-rated. I resent this but am not clear what to do about
you become interested in the psychology of email, you may find it
worthwhile to fetch the long essay by Prof Norman Holland's longish
essay. It will help you cope with the various outrageous
rudenesses which will come at youse sooner or later.
Of course those who think he may deserve the label 'neoFreudian' and
hate that theory won't look him up; but I reckon he's right. I
have seen a good email list, organised by concerned Cornell grad
students, wrecked by two PR agents for gene-tampering. Peculiar
epidemics of emotion can flame thru this depauperate communication
medium. I can just see a junior apprentice of Screwtape
murmuring smugly 'we have flame-thru' in view of the demoralised
shambles so quickly developed on e.g 'Science for the People'
chilling to find educated people saying that almost everyone will take
'whites are more intelligent than people of color' to mean 'all whites
are more intelligent than all people of color'; and that fear of this
furphy is reason to abandon research, and discussion, on racial
tendencies in various mental capacities. Am I a mere liberal for
wanting compensatory action for an identifiable group with innate
disadvantage? Especially those who say 'money is inherited'
should have no difficulty in grasping the world-leading epidemiology
of Ian Pryor on Tokelau & some other Polynesians migrated to NZ
compared with stayathomes with far less heart disease, obesity, and
other medical strife. Amusingly, Ian was to the fore in the
moral indignation at the pre-dawn raids on illegal overstayers by the
Kirk govt (1974) - they bid fair to mix up his sample
groups migrants v. stayathomes! His conclusions about racial
differences in metabolism led the world, and to say 'race is a very
vague thing' does not abolish their validity. Special help with
diet & exercise would seem warranted for those recent Polynesian
immigrants to the overdeveloped decadence of NZ.
amusingly, the same radicals who deny the meaning of race for some
purposes are by far the most enthusiastic racists when advocating that
Maoris be given hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets in
futile attempt to expiate vague white guilt.
anyhow, such heat & confusion has been injected into the threads
on race & mental abilities suggests that abandonment, at least a
truce, might be wise now. Step back, walk outside, and smell the
avocados, asking what good you can do by applying science -
preferably in widely-feasible vernacular ways.