Most Frequent Hate Mail

I get a lot of mail, much of it complementary, some of it not.  This increased dramatically after I started the podcast.  I am making an effort to dump the less interesting subjects into blog posts so that I don’t have to keep answering them.

1. You don’t ship to other countries.

This one is often accompanied by various assumptions about why I don’t ship to other countries, none of which are ever correct.

There is one major reason why I don’t ship outside the USA: your country’s laws.  When I explain that, you will probably tell me that you order from outside your country all the time with no problem.  I understand that.  You will probably tell me that nobody follows the rules.  I also understand that.  You can believe me when I tell you that it is frustrating to follow rules that are so rarely followed that people become angry when you follow them.  The 10-20% of additional business that I could do if I shipped worldwide would make a big difference, so it is not as if there is no temptation.

Even if the rules are rarely followed, they exist for a reason and that reason is to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.  Since I began our virus testing program here, I have become much more aware of plant diseases and the countries where they are found.  While some diseases are common worldwide, others vary by region and the rules exist to try to at least slow their spread.  It doesn’t appear to work very well, probably largely because people don’t follow the rules or even know that they exist, but you will still suffer penalties if you get caught.  I have seen this happen and you will regret it if you are one of the rare few who gets punished as an example to others.  I don’t want that to happen to you.

2. You have the wrong opinion about GMOs.

This one is always amusing, because I can never be sure about which direction I am wrong at any given time.  My opinion on this matter does not reduce to pro or con and people seem to have a hard time with that.

You are a shill for the GMO industry.

Well, that’s just silly.  Take a look around.  See any GMOs?  The answer is no.  I am not very interested in big agriculture, GMO or conventional.  I am interested in plants and plant biology.  I think genetic engineering is interesting and can teach us useful things about plants.  I am definitely in favor of learning whatever it is possible to learn.  In theory, I am in favor of genetic engineering to breed useful plants.  In practice, the existing crop of GMO varieties that overwhelmingly exist to sell more agricultural chemicals and employ more lawyers is deeply uninteresting to me.

You are a science denying Luddite and shill for the Organic industry.

I am completely open to the idea that there may be unanticipated and unknown problems with GMOs and I am happy to give time to people who have something interesting to say on the subject.  I am equally willing to consider the opposite side.  For that matter, I am totally open to the idea that there may be unanticipated and unknown problems resulting from completely conventional breeding.  It is shocking how little we know about the plants that we eat every day.  I am not a genetic engineer, so I regularly come up against the limits of my knowledge on this subject.

3. You are a climate change denier.

This one surprises me every time.  It appears to be the result of either one throwaway comment in a podcast or the blurb in my bio about not breeding to solve climate change.  You guys are really working hard to find villains.

Here is the greater context: The few times that I have talked to media, they overwhelmingly want to know how my breeding work is going to solve the world’s problems.  It isn’t.  Even if I had the ability, I can’t imagine anything more tedious than saving the world.  Plenty of people are working on those large scale problems and I am happy to cheer them on.  So many people in plant breeding are working on those goals that the default assumption is that the only reason why anyone breeds crop plants is to “fix agriculture.”  I don’t work for grant money, so there is no reason for me to try to convince people that I am going to solve society’s problems.  As far as I’m concerned, my work is frivolous.  I breed for fun.  I hope that you buy what I produce because it gives you a little joy.  There is no deeper purpose.

As far as climate change goes, I am not an expert on climate, but the science looks reasonably convincing to me.  I try not to make pronouncements on subjects that I don’t know much about.

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2 thoughts on “Most Frequent Hate Mail

  1. Richard Boyd says:

    Hi there, I am a plant molecular biologist that worked on potato tubers (Russets). At first I worked on mitochondria and their electron transport chains, then I moved into DNA and RNA to study gene regulation (Russets again). Potatoes were convenient source of tissue, easy to work with (aside from the starch), but I knew little about the whole plant. Your images of flowers and fruit are an education for me: thanks. I think what you are doing is pretty cool.
    Rich Boyd (PhD)

  2. john berglund says:

    I always wondered why no one was growing all the interesting potatoes they have in the Andes.just the boring commercial stuff. I’m glad there is some one doing this breeding and selling seed and tubers.. I’m glad I found you! A thousand thanks for your effort!

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