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Sweet story

Ricardo J. Salvador salvador at iastate.edu
Tue Sep 1 22:39:44 EST 1998

At 7:27 PM -0500 9/1/98, Benjamin Burr wrote:
>It was Betty Fussell's misleading story in the NY Times a couple of
>weeks ago that lead to Bill's interview this morning.  According to
>her se and sh2, but not su1, are the product of "bioengineering".
>Our letter to her has gone unanswered.

Poor Betty Fussell. She LOVES corn, but unfortunately she quickly gets out
of her depth when she attempts to explain technical information. I reviewed
her "Story of Corn" when it came out a few years ago, and could barely get
through the thing until I finally decided to stop correcting every instance
of an error. To give you just a few glaring examples that I remember: (1)
she was evidently thrilled when someone explained double fertilization to
her, but she failed to understand that this is common to flowering plants
and mistakenly attributes this ONLY to corn (in general, the notion of
plant sexuality seems to have overwhelmed her). (2) She would have us
believe every corn farmer crosses their own inbreds in the field EVERY
season to produce their own hybrids, and that then hybrid vigor is
expressed instantaneously  during grain fill on the mother plant! (3) She
repeatedly refers to the Reid Yellow Dent open-pollinate as the "Reid
hybrid"; (5) She calmly reports the famous Coxcatlan caves explored by R.
McNeish are in southern Oaxaca, Mexico, (they are in southern Puebla). (6)
She tells us the archaeological site of Monte Alban is in the west and Tula
in the east of Mexico (they are south and north, respectively). And so on.

To be fair to her, she did a prodigious amount of research, and talked to
all the right people in the field, but unfortunately she lacks both the
cultural (anthropological) and technical background to make sense of all
the information she has gathered. Her real expertise is in preparing food
stuffs from corn recipes, and her book is actually enjoyable when she
describes her family history and its relation to corn production out in
Nebraska. BUT, anytime she attempts to get technical or anthropological it
unfortunately always seems to get her in trouble. A couple of years ago she
managed to awe an audience at an El Paso conference on food in history with
her confused ideas about the evolution of corn. At any rate, its good to
know that the damage of the NY Times article has been repaired.

Ricardo J. Salvador         E-mail: salvador at iastate.edu
1126 Agronomy Hall       Voice: (515) 294-9595
Iowa State University      Fax: (515) 294-8146
Ames IA 50011-1010      WWW: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~rjsalvad

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