Plant Science Bulletin archive
Issue: 1966 v12 No 1 Spring
PLANT SCIENCE BULLETIN
A Publication of the Botanical Society of America, Inc.
VOLUME 12, NUMBER 1, MARCH, 1966
Adolph Hecht, Editor, Department of Botany, Washington State University Pullman, Washington 99163
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Changes of Address: Notify the Treasurer of the Botanical Society of America, Inc., Dr. Harlan P. Banks, Department of Botany, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
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The biological sciences are undergoing changes as far reaching as those occurring in our political and social systems. The old and familiar boundaries separating scientific disciplines, such as those between botany and zoology, between chemistry and physics, and even between the biological and the physical sciences, are disappearing. As a result biologists in general and botanists in particular probably are suffering from greater feelings of uncertainty and insecurity today than at any time since Darwin shook the biological world a century ago. These feelings are aggravated by the pressures of increasing student enrollments and rapid increase in biological knowledge. It is evident that numerous important changes must be made in our course content, our methods of teaching, and our research if we are to keep abreast of these rapid changes.
Perhaps the most pressing problem on college campuses during the next decade will be to find ways of educating the rapidly increasing numbers of students. If the college enrollment doubles in the next decade where will we find competent staff to teach the additional sections of botany? It is difficult to find good replacements for existing vacancies, and the prospect of attempting to double our teaching staff in botany is appalling. In fact it probably is impossible.
We obviously must find new methods of instruction by which good teachers can instruct more students as effectively as they do by present methods. Perhaps we place too much emphasis on teaching students and should give more attention to developing methods by which students can learn for themselves. The introductory botany course at Purdue University is an interesting example of such an approach, and other new approaches are needed. I will not predict what form they will take, but I am certain that we will find it necessary to make changes in both the content and the methods of teaching during the next decade.
The increase in number of students in botany and zoology will be accompanied by an increase in diversity of ability and previous training which will increase the difficulty of teaching them. The increasing use of BSCS curricula in high schools means that many students will arrive with a knowledge of biology at least superficially equal to that of students who have completed some college freshman courses. On the other hand, many students enter college with no worthwhile knowledge of biology. Obviously, we must make greater use of advanced placement tests to screen out the better-trained students and to place them in advanced courses. Likewise, we must continually revise and update not only our introductory courses, but all of our other courses, in order to keep pace with the improved training and increased scientific sophistication of many of our students.
We face two problems in attempting to revise our introductory courses in botany. One is the reluctance of faculties to change their methods and schedules; the other is the uncertainty concerning our objectives in teaching botany.
Most serious is the lack of certainty concerning our objectives in teaching botany. Some years ago Waddington asked in his book, The Scientific Attitude, "What are the Universities really training their students for? Are they giving a general education in culture and citizenship, or are they trying to turn out technical experts?"
We might ask the same question about our objectives in botany courses. Are we trying to turn out professional botanists or broadly trained citizens with an appreciation of the importance of plants and plant science? Since less than 1 percent of the students who take introductory botany courses become botanists it seems reasonable to argue that our first objective in introductory courses should be to give students the kind of understanding of the importance of plants which will make them better citizens. In fact, I am taking the viewpoint in this paper that our first responsibility in developing introductory courses in botany and the other sciences is to make a worthwhile contribution to the education of our future citizens. This cannot be done with the single introductory course which currently fulfills the science requirement on most campuses. I believe that the average nonscience undergraduate should have at least two years of science. The first year should consist of a carefully integrated course in chemistry and physics, emphasizing the important principles of physical science, followed by a second- year
course in the biological sciences which emphasizes both the basic similarities and the important differences between plants and animals.
This kind of training will turn out citizens who have at least some appreciation of the importance of science, both biological and physical, and how it operates. It will enable them to view the world more intelligently, to understand the differences between science and technology, and to appreciate how the former contributes to the latter. Equally important, it will give college students a better basis for understanding the scientific issues on which they must soon pass judgment as citizens and voters.
Biology versus Botany and Zoology
Such a viewpoint concerning the function of introductory courses in science raises questions concerning their organization. Arguments over the relative merits of biology courses versus separate botany and zoology courses have raged as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, most of these arguments have been based on emotion and defense of self interest rather than on logic. Here again, if we could decide the objectives of our courses in the biological sciences we might be able to view this argument more reasonably. If we agree that the first objective of a college education is to produce well-informed citizens then there is a strong argument for giving college students some understanding of both plants and animals. Whether this can be done better by a biology course or by integrated courses in botany and zoology is debatable. Probably it depends on the individual preferences of the staff members involved.
In any event, the content of introductory courses ought not be determined by the vested interests of departments or by current fashions in biological research, but by careful consideration of what will best equip our future voters to understand the important biological problems of the world they live in. Most of these problems are related to the world's rapidly increasing population. Obviously, feeding these people will strain our biological knowledge to the utmost, but many other important problems will develop. For example, we need more research on the biology of reproduction to learn why the population explosion occurred. Population pressure and increasing knowledge of genetics is likely to bring about consideration of programs for the improvement of man as we now improve crops and livestock. The control of sex is likely to become possible, and other biologically interesting but ethically and socially disturbing discoveries concerning the modification of human heredity will doubtless be made. What was science fiction yesterday tends to become fact today. To deal with such problems sensibly requires a citizenry well educated in basic biological principles.
Equally important are the ecological and physiological problems resulting from man's disturbance of his environment. All of us are familiar with the increasing pollution of air and water which threatens to render certain areas uninhabitable (see Cottam, Bioscience, July 1965). The ability of man to change his environment seems unlimited, but the fu11 biological consequences of these changes are seldom considered. Engineers are seriously discussing changing the courses of rivers such as the Columbia, digging a sea-level canal from the Atlantic to the' Pacific, and modifying weather patterns to bring rainfall to deserts. Such drastic changes may have serious biological consequences which ought to be evaluated before irreparable damage is done.
Appreciation of the importance of these problems requires an understanding of plants and animals at the level of the organism and the community. Solving these kinds of problems is less glamorous than breaking the genetic code or putting a man on the moon, but it probably is much more important to the immediate survival of the human race. Solution of them seems to depend more on increased understanding of ecology and environmental physiology than on molecular biology. Thus we must be careful to maintain balance in our biology courses and not allow one area to dominate simply because it is currently fashionable.
Before leaving this problem a few words on the administrative
organization of biology are in order. There are seemingly logical arguments that combining the study of plants and animals in a single department should simplify curriculum planning, decrease duplication of courses and equipment, and reduce overhead. However, these assumed advantages may well be outweighed by the psychological advantages of smaller groups working toward common objectives. Perhaps in small schools a biology department is the most feasible administrative arrangement, but the staffs of large departments often tend to fragment and divide as badly as though they were in separate departments. Furthermore, as Dr. Cheadle commented to this group a few years ago, it is a great mistake to suppose that 30 good men in one department can obtain as much support as 15 equally good men in each of two separate departments. Nevertheless, modern biology requires greater cooperation among its various branches than generally exists today.
In considering this problem we should remind ourselves that the conventional organization of biology is not the only possible one. The Division of Biology and Medicine of the National Science Foundation has a very unconventional organization which makes no mention of botany or zoology, yet it has worked satisfactorily through a decade of dealing with botanists and zoologists. Some of the new universities are planning equally unconventional organizations. Possibly the terms botany and zoology may some day become obsolete, but the study of plants and animals will always be necessary. Our primary problem is not the defense of a term such as botany, but to make certain that the study of plants is so obviously important that it is supported adequately whatever it is called and in whatever organization of biology it is found in future years.
The New and the Old in Biology
One of our most troublesome problems results from the rapid increase in biological information and the development of new areas unknown one or two decades ago. Advances in chemistry and physics have provided new methods for research on plants and animals, and new fields are developing which are so productive and glamorous that they threaten to overshadow older fields in ability to obtain support. This naturally has aroused some resentment among classical botanists who are unhappy over the rapid expansion of these newcomers. However, it would be very unfortunate for botany if we fail to make full use of new methods and new concepts to produce a more interesting and more productive science.
We need research on plants at all levels, molecular, cellular, organismal, and community. We still need research in such classical fields as anatomy, morphology, and taxonomy, but this research should make use of new methods and new concepts. It is not so much the classical fields of botany themselves that are in danger of becoming obsolete as the methods and the intellectual approach of some workers in those fields. If botanists in classical areas insist on clinging to old concepts and methods they will lose students and support, and botany will be the worse for it.
Invasion of Biology by Chemists, Physicists, and Engineers
We also should take notice of an increasing tendency for nonbiologists to turn their attention toward biological problems. It has been suggested that the latter part of the 19th century was the age of chemistry, the first half of this century the age of physics, and the second half is the age of biology. If botanists are going to share fully in the discoveries of this age they must make full use of the intellectual concepts and methods of the period in which they are working. Otherwise the biochemists, the biophysicists, and even the engineers will take over the most important problems and make the most exciting discoveries in biology, leaving the botanists and zoologists with only the commonplace and the routine work.
This invasion by the physical scientists should be flattering, but it also poses dangers lest these outsiders carry off the honors in research. They certainly will do that if we stand still and let them take over our most interesting problems simply because these problems are in unfamiliar territory and require the use of unfamiliar methods.
Competition for Money, Time and Prestige
There are other important sources of tension on campuses which affect botanists. Among them are the competition for men, money, space, and prestige between the humanities and the sciences, between teaching and research, and among the various fields of science. All of these forms of competition have been intensified in recent years by the increased amount of money made available to science by government agencies.
Perhaps the most striking change in botany since World War Two has been the great increase in support of research by government agencies. This has been very beneficial to botany, but it also has created some problems which deserve our consideration. For example, serious questions are being raised in Congress and elsewhere concerning possible undesirable effects of our grant system on colleges and universities. It is claimed that the present system diverts emphasis from teaching to research, weakens the loyalty of faculty members to their institutions, and produces unbalance among various fields, particularly between the sciences and the humanities (Walsh, Science, July 2, 1965). These complaints contain enough truth to make them dangerous, and they deserve our careful attention. Unfortunately, they also tend to arouse emotional responses, and it is difficult to keep discussion of them on a logical basis.
Research and Teaching. There is no doubt that research competes with teaching for personnel, for time, and even for money, and there is little doubt that the time and energy of many good teachers are diverted from the classroom by the easy availability of research funds and the prestige of grant-supported research. On the other hand if there were no research there would be nothing new to teach and science would stagnate. Furthermore, teachers who do no research are much more likely to fall behind in their knowledge of new developments than those who carry on research. It is likely that the heavy
teaching loads often found on small college campuses which prevent any research are a greater menace to good teaching than are overexpanded research programs on larger campuses.
Critics should be reminded that teaching is only one of the functions of a university. The other two are the preservation of existing knowledge and the acquisition of new knowledge, that is, carrying on research. These activities are essentially inseparable on a university campus, and if properly balanced they result in better teaching rather than worse. However, to keep them in balance requires more courage and leadership than is usually found on college campuses where too often programs are allowed to grow and proliferate without reference to any overall plan.
The most effective way of insuring that we have enough teachers is to make certain that good teaching is rewarded as generously as good research. Sometimes it is, but the rewards are often slower in coming because it is more difficult to evaluate teaching than to count publications.
The Sciences and the Humanities. The extent of the conflict between the sciences and the humanities probably has been exaggerated by writers such as Sir Charles Snow and certainly has been aggravated by the complaints of humanists who resent losing their dominant place on the campus. The decline in influence of the humanities was not caused by the hostility of scientists but results from the fact that we are living in a period when human action is increasingly dominated by the effects of scientific discoveries and technological developments. Science therefore tends to occupy an increasingly important place in our educational system, whether we like it or not. Perhaps, however, we need to pay more attention to the humanistic values in science and should be more willing to discuss the moral implications of scientific discoveries. It is doubtful if anyone has the right to carryon his scientific work without regard to its effects on the society in which he works and which supports him. When properly taught, courses in science can broaden the viewpoint of students as effectively as courses in the humanities.
Competition among Fields in Science. The hottest conflicts are likely to develop within science itself because they involve competition for large sums of money to build and operate expensive research facilities. The conflict within botany becomes particularly lively when workers in classical fields compete with workers in newer and more glamorous fields which are currently better supported.
The situation in botany is only one aspect of the large and complex problem of how to allocate research funds among the various fields of science. This problem will become more serious if the present trend toward leveling off appropriations for support of research in various government agencies continues. Some people argue that all competent scientists ought to be given adequate support to work on problems of their own choice and all fields are equally deserving of support. I doubt if this view is correct in theory, and I am certain that it is impossible in practice.
There never is enough money to support everyone, and some kinds of research will always seem more important than others. Alvin Weinberg discussed this problem in the winter issue of Minerva for 1963, and Orlans discussed it in the July 2, 1965, issue of Science. Weinberg suggested that we must consider not only the intrinsic scientific merits of research projects, but also their extrinsic merits in terms of their contributions to other fields of science and to society in general. If such criteria are applied to research in various fields of botany it becomes inevitable that at a given time certain fields will seem more important than others and will therefore receive more support. It may be depressing to those who prefer to work in fields currently judged to be less important, but it does no good to complain against the better-supported fields. It would be more effective for the complainants to search for ways of making their fields more productive and therefore more deserving of support.
Discussion of the relative importance of various kinds of research inevitably leads to discussion of basic versus applied research. I rather regret that this distinction is made so frequently. What we really need is effective research on important problems. Good basic research often supplies information needed to solve applied problems, and applied problems often supply the stimulus and even the financing for good basic research. The two are most productive when they proceed together. There have been and perhaps still are botanists who look with disdain on its applied branches such as agriculture, forestry, and horticulture. We can no longer afford to hold such a view. Botany as a basic science should never lose sight of its important relationships and its contributions to these applied areas.
The pressures of increasing enrollments and the rapid increase in knowledge are bringing about changes in the biological sciences as far reaching as those occurring in our political and social systems. The boundary lines between botany and zoology are becoming blurred, and new concepts and new fields are appearing which were unheard of a decade ago. As a result, botanists are being forced to make important changes in their curricula, their teaching, and their research in order to avoid becoming obsolete.
It may be disturbing to some botanists to find new concepts, new methods, and even new fields developing which are beginning to overshadow the classical fields in attractiveness to students and in ability to obtain support. However, such changes are inevitable, so instead of complaining about them let us see how we can use the new concepts and new methods to revitalize old fields and solve problems which we could not solve by old methods.
If we stand still and waste our energy in defending the past we will be unable to share in the future. If we wish to preserve botany as an important part of biological science we must be willing to modernize our courses, our research procedures, and even our methods of teaching. Only by continually adjusting to new ideas and new methods can we keep botany vigorous and productive. If it does not prosper in the next decade we have only ourselves to blame.
1 Abbreviated version of the address of the President of the Botanical Society of America, presented at the Society’s annual banquet, August 18, 1965 at Urbana, Illinois.
Carrying out of projected plans for the business operations of AJB during the period 1965-1970 will depend on general economic conditions in the country and in the world. A number of factors present in America's economic picture today may result in the cancellation of any or all of the plans itemized below: 1. If the already spiraling inflation gets out of hand; 2. The dollar is devalued; 3. The British pound sterling collapses; 4. Foreign demand for our gold drastically increases; 5. More wars, petty or large, break out and spread. The financial structure of our Journal will be strongly influenced. Although America is skating on very thin ice in some of these areas (1967 will very likely be the crucial year), I personally believe the USA will weather the storms.
A number of well-known, privately or societally owned scientific journals are having financial difficulties. AJB is not, and I hope will not during the coming years. The Botanical Society supplies about $16,000.00 per annum toward the financial operation of AJB; this is enough to run the Journal for about 3.5 months. The remainder of our income comes from institutional subscriptions (divided equally between foreign and domestic), advertising, back order sales, and interest.
Five years ago we were publishing approximately 80 pages per issue, and it is hoped that in the coming five years this figure will double. However, if we are to publish 160 pages per month, the editor of that day will be editing the equivalent of 20 issues of the 1959-1960 period! The burden on the editorial office will be staggering. Our editors are usually chairmen of departments, full professors with graduate responsibilities. Unless the editor, now and in the future, receives considerably more assistance, the editing of AJB could become a job no one would or could afford to take on. In respect to this situation, some changes have already been instituted, as it must be recognized that the editor needs as much editorial and secretarial help as he can get. Reserves, built up over that last few years, will aid in the immediate future until several plans can be put into effect which will (hopefully) supply not only funds for editorial assistance, but continued improvement and expansion.
Of course more pages per year will reduce the waiting time between submission of papers and then publication; this, however, depends on the increase in volume of papers during the period, a phenomenon with which both Dr. Bold and Dr. Heimsch have contended.
The Council has approved raising the price of the Journal to institutional subscribers and has left the spacing of the raise or raises to the discretion of the business manager. A complete revamping of the excess pagination charges is also envisioned. Heretofore it has been our policy to be content when excess pagination paid for itself. If the Journal is to hold its own, especially if it is to go on to greater things, this concept has to be changed, and excess pages must not only pay for itself, but for a portion of other functions of the Journal. Granting agencies and many institutions realize that publication of scientific articles is an expensive proposition, and are ready and willing to support publication of articles. (Neither the editor nor the business manager plan any kind of change of the policy, in effect during the last five years, of allowing publication of excess pages by individuals who must support the charges personally, i.e., waiving such charges on writing to either the editor or business manager. Needless to say, it will continue to be the responsibility of the editor to judge the value of the excess pages so published.)
During the Council meeting held at Urbana the editor and the business manager proposed changes for the cover of AJB. Not drastic changes, but changes which will make the cover more attractive; a definite lightening of the green and more interesting print for that portion of the covering in which titles are not listed. Ideas are presently being circulated among Council members. No change in the dimensions of the Journal is contemplated; rows of AJB on your shelf will be even! The quality of the paper used in printing will be maintained or improved where possible (paper quality is a very costly item).
Advertising during the last two years has shown signs of improving. Large scientific instrument companies are beginning to advertise (and, indeed, E. Leitz also became a Sustaining Member for 1965). It is hoped that advertising will continue to increase, and efforts will be made (and are being made) to bring this about.
Circulation increases can also be planned on during this period. Smaller institutions are growing and expanding their libraries. The government will no doubt continue to pour money into higher education.
Therefore, barring unusual world or American economic conditions, the state of AJB should remain sound, and we should continue to grow and improve during the coming years.
Is a Microscope a Viewer or a Research Tool in the Beginning College Botany or Biology Course?