|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. CCCXCII April 1, firstname.lastname@example.org||Victoria, B.C.|
[Below is a loose translation of an article published by Prof. Josef Dostal
as a reaction to an unethical action in which a botanist made about 250 new
nomenclatural combinations without ever seeing a single specimen of those
plants. Prof. Dostal did not mention the name of this 'botanical pirate' for
political reasons, and I am also withholding his name, since the culprit
was once a friend of mine. The 'three flawed paths' are general enough that
many of us botanists have probably been tempted to follow them at least once
in our careers. About twenty years before Prof. Dostal wrote this article,
he himself was criticized for making a large number of unnecessary or faulty
new nomenclatural combinations. - AC]
Many scientists are motivated by the hunt for new discoveries. Nevertheless, we are only human beings, and in order to get our'name' recognized in scientific circles, we have to publish our research results in scientific papers. Scientists are only people after all, and our species, Homo sapiens, is quite diverse. Some of us are satisfied by fulfilling our ongoing desire to know more, others seek only to have their names in print. In the history of [Czech] botany, we can see some authors who were not very forthcoming with new ideas, but whose names have been appearing in the botanical nomenclature for the last 150 years. On the other hand, Mendel, who certainly was not a prolific writer, is known more as a term, rather than an author. We used to have some botanists who published more than 2000 papers, but their names are known only for their first few monographs, and the rest have been forgotten in the last 30 years.
Many young botanists have become determined writers of scientific papers after they first saw their names published in a leading scientific journal. There are several ways to scientific fame, and every scientific worker can chose one of them.
The first of them is the honest, in-depth study of a scientific problem and the solution (even if a subjective one in some cases) to that particular scientific problem. This route is long and the scientist needs enormous patience for a great amount of mechanical and sometimes boring study. In addition, the scientist needs a lot of 'brains'. Such work deserves our high appreciation, even though it usually does not result in quick fame.
If the scientists lack the patience (Germ.: 'Sitzfleisch') or 'brains', they have to chose another route.
There are three easier, but false, ways to achieve the same goal: a large number of publications that spread the authors' names throughout all the literate nations.
The roots of these misleading ways to botanical fame are in the monopolization of science, the craving for recognition, selfishness, and the lack of ability or willingness to do original scientific work; but most importantly, it displays the wrong attitude towards the botanical community.
Although I must acknowledge that excellent work is being done by many of our younger botanists, it seems as though some of our young scientists lack collegiality. Everyone seems to be working on his/her own problem, often in secret, jealously hiding his/her own material-but why, and from whom? Is it from the competition, from potential pirates, or just from fear of criticism? In the end, the perpetuators of these unethical practices will pay for such behaviour.
I have to remember the good old times when all of us juvenile botanists looked for interesting projects to work on. We all knew who was doing what and what problems we were trying to tackle. Without exception, we were bringing literature excerpts and collected specimens to our colleagues, and we indulged in long discussions about the problems we were working on. I received numerous specimens of 'my' Centaurea from my colleagues, and we collected numerous specimens of Poa, Festuca, or Sesleria for our other colleagues. We showed unpublished new species to each other, and no one would ever have thought about snatching those results to publish them by himself. Those discussions were useful and productive and nothing, including formal seminar presentations, could have yielded similar results.
I will always remember a post card that I once received from the doyen of the Czech botanical community: "Dear colleague, I collected some Lycopodium specimens for you. Please, come pick them up." I can only hope that our young botanists will learn that cooperation, camaraderie and pure love of the science are essential elements of a successful and ethical botanical career.
At the beginning of March, two international conferences were convening to discuss markedly different responses to global warming. In New York City, 500 people met for the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change from March 2 to 4, 2008. The keynote address came from Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has said, "Global warming is a false myth." Although this conference for climate change "skeptics" achieved its mission of attaining widespread media coverage, the world has moved on to discussing solutions.
March 4, 2008 marked the beginning of the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC). This global, ministerial-level conference was organized by the U.S. government for top officials from dozens of nations, the heads of BP, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and other corporations, and representatives from multiple NGOs. The keynote address was delivered by President Bush. Although Bush has been forced to concede the threat of human-induced climate change since 2005, now the question is whether the president will stop globally talking and nationally postponing positive action on global warming..
FLAT EARTH REDUX: Unfortunately for the Heartland Institute-- which has been heavily supported by ExxonMobil and right-wing foundations-- the success in drawing mainstream coverage to its sham scientific conference has only emphasized the fact that global warming deniers resemble a Flat Earth Society meeting. The only product of the convention was a self-published report - the "work of 23 authors from 15 nations, some of them not scientists" -- arguing that recent climate change stems from natural causes.
This yawn fest of attendees with inflated bios and industry ties were cheered by a presentation from a staffer to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who blamed belief in global warming on Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbara Streisand. As Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author and Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer said, climate change skeptics "have to get together to talk to each other, because nobody else is talking to them."
In 2000, Canadian cannabis consumers spent at least $1.8 billion on bud. British Columbia export market alone was estimated at 1,433 metric tons worth $2 billion dollars in 2000, almost 3 per cent of the provincial GDP. That was nearly the size of the British Columbia mining and oil-and-gas sectors combined.
Kudos to investigative reporter Ian Mulgrew for so effectively penetrating the veil that hides most of the currently illegal operations that supply much of the Canadian and U.S, demand for 'grass' and its various by-products. The author met many of the key figures, both public and private, whose lives are inextricably meshed with the weed. They are a strange group - not always the kind of people you would want in charge of your recreational or medicinal supplies. Some have an evangelistic drive to convert people to the joys of 'grass', some just want to make a quick buck, and some need the stuff to help them cope with chronic illnesses of many kinds. Worst of all, biker gangs and ethnic gangs are a shadowy but pervasive presence. Well, if something is illegal, and there is a ready market for it, someone is going to supply it, for a price that takes into account the risk of being, as the term has it, 'busted'. Marijuana is a $6 billion industry in British Columbia.
Legalization and taxation would seem to be simple ways of solving most of the difficulties. But to win a campaign of civil disobedience, to force a Government to change the law in your favour, you need lots of people willing to put themselves on the line, as Mahatma Ghandi did. At present, the battle is being fought by remnants of the 60's culture, and their numbers will not overwhelm the system. So for the present, marijuana remains outside the law.
I am a scientist by profession. When I need to make decisions on many issues, I look for applications of the scientific method. This is, after all, the process of observation, hypothesis and experiment that has propelled us from the short, brutish life of the cave-man to the comforts and enrichments of modern technology. After I had read this book, I was left with a feeling of deep frustration. Frustration generated by the amazingly intractable and irrational approach taken by our politicians and law enforcement agencies, who apparently prefer denial and un truth to the answers provided by science (see the endangered species, habitat destruction and climate change files for more of the same). There is a refusal even to finance the kinds of science that would give us most of the answers we need. I suspect that this is because the Government knows it would not get the answers it is looking for. What little science there is suggests that marijuana is not a devil weed, and that it certainly does not deserve the unsavoury reputation and steady persecution it has received in recent decades at the hands of the political and legal authorities.
The arguments in favour of legalizing marijuana are easy to marshal. Irrefutable statistics prove that the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, cause many times more societal and individual harm, but the major North American attempt to outlaw alcohol - Prohibition - was a signal failure and was eventually abandoned. Piecemeal attempts to outlaw tobacco are in progress as I write, but the tobacco companies still make money, and only the proven dangers of smoking are making this addiction less pervasive in the western world, though these threats have not yet had much impact elsewhere. As Nicole Pankratz of the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C, noted recently: "47,000 Canadians die of smoking-related diseases every year, but not before making full use of the health-care system."
Like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is widely used as a recreational drug. It may be addictive to some people. It does not seem to be addictive to most, since they do not feel the need to use it every day. Its effects are most often calming and tranquilizing, leading to such things as inactivity, quiet contemplation, euphoria, eating, and sometimes, sex. As far as the author can determine, no deaths have been attributed to marijuana overdose. It does not lead to drunken brawls. The only violent crime it seems to engender has to do with gang turf wars and 'security' for illegal grow-ops.
Even if a minority do become addicted to marijuana, Gabor Maté has pointed out in his recent book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts - Close Encounters with Addiction, that many of the rest of us are subject to behaviours that could be described as addictions (to work, to shopping, to food, to sex, to gambling, among others), and that our 'holier than thou' attitude toward drug addicts is distinctly hypocritical.
There seems to be good evidence that many people find marijuana to be good medicine for what ails them. Much of this evidence is anecdotal, but the people who claim medical need are often obviously sincere, and appear willing to face the legal consequences of using marijuana if challenged. The huge apparatus assembled to suppress the growing and use of marijuana, particularly in the US, has a built-in self-perpetuating momentum. Large budgets and numerous jobs depend on it. Prisons are a big industry in the States, with more than 1% of the adult population incarcerated, many of them following marijuana convictions. So change, if it happens, is bound to be gradual.
Dan Gardner reports: "Every year since 1990, the Chinese Government has marked the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse with show trials of drug traffickers which end...with the defendants being convicted and sentenced to death. Then they shoot a bunch...One can accuse the Chinese Government of many things but being soft on drug offenders is not one of them. And yet, trafficking and abuse are rising steadily in China." (Times-Colonist, 9 March 2008).
People like Marc Emery, and the proprietors of Da Kine café, who test the waters of public opinion by openly smoking, or selling, or proselytizing for, marijuana, exposing themselves to the possibility of being arrested and prosecuted, seem to have a feeling that enforcement is slowing down, that a kind of truce is in effect. For a while they seem to lead charmed lives, but something eventually triggers a response from the police. You can apparently tease the beast for a while, but don't expect your immunity to last...
There is little doubt that Canada's laws are less punitive than Federal law in the States, though a number of individual U.S. states, such as California, have considerably liberalized their approach in recent years, which has obviously generated considerable tension between State and Federal authorities. It is apparent that there is a tug of war within Society, with many (but not, apparently, a strong majority) leaning toward legalization, and the political arm lacking the will to enact it. This probably has more to do with arm-twisting by the United States and its DEA than with any inherent Canadian fear or hostility toward pot. Those who still work for reform in the U.S. are pushing for medical dispensations, not for legalization, since they see the latter as a pipe-dream (pun unintentional).
Ian Mulgrew has shown us the can of worms. As he writes on one of the last pages in the book: "Right now, society gets all the headaches, none of the benefits, and scant share of the prodigious profits. In spite of the mounting evidence that the pot prohibition is not working, Ottawa continues to push a ticketing regime for users and tougher sentences for growers and traffickers. It remains to be seen whether the courts will change tack and get onside." Let us see what Larry Campbell and Philip Owen can do.
This book provides an authoritative inside look at the industry and the issue, and is an enlightening read. But don't expect to feel uplifted when you finish it. John Stuart Mill would not be pleased at the state of our civil liberties.
Send submissions to email@example.com
BEN is archived at http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/