The bigger picture (a short rambling)

..........”I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
........................- A. Maslow (1966) The Psychology of Science

Tempting indeed. A plant breeder and geneticist by training, my golden methodological "hammer" is a collection of field-based and lab-based tools for germplasm characterization and improvement: assessing variation, conducting field trials, advancing populations, dissecting traits, developing genomics resources, and the like. While certainly such activities play some role in our large, collective endeavor to create a more productive, healthful, equitable, and sustainable agricultural system, that role requires constant scrutiny. Not all challenges are nails: many, if not most, of the fundamental challenges we face in our food system fall outside the realm of plant genetic resources (perhaps even outside the realm of the life sciences). And not all nails deserve pounding: of all the potential breeding objectives that can be formulated, only a fraction are truly relevant to the fundamental task of achieving wise resource use.

As a scientist whose object of research is agricultural plant genetic resources, I am keenly aware of the limits and contingencies of my work. Every breeding objective is an assertion of values, a chosen vision of how resources should be used, a contextual response to cultural preferences, and a prioritization of one idea over countless alternatives. I am fascinated by the way such objectives are identified and how they interface with the broader, systems-level pursuit of sustainability. Increasing relevance to that transdisciplinary pursuit is the long-term goal of my research program.