Review of book critical of science behind blacklists

Lee Poulsen
Mon, 08 Dec 2003 17:25:14 PST
Since this has been discussed here before in relation to Agric. Dept. 
blacklists and the fairly recent invoking of a new US policy 
requiring phtyosanitary certificates for all seed imports, I thought 
I should mention a review of a book related to these topics, that has 
just come out in print, that just appeared in HortIdeas (good 
newsletter published monthly by Greg and Pat Williams, 750 Black Lick 
Rd., Gravel Switch, KY 40328 U.S.A. E-mail: Available 
in either a paper edition or  PDF file attachment via email). The 
book might be of interest to some.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 9-10

Here is their review of the book:

Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience,
by David I. Theodoropoulos,
Avvar Books, Blythe, CA, 2003, 236 pp., $14.50, ISBN 0-9708504-1-7. 
(Available directly from David Theodoropoulos, Star Rt. 2, Box 337, 
La Honda, CA 94020, for $16.25 postpaid via media mail to U.S. 
addresses (add 7.2% sales tax in California, 8.25% sales tax in San 
Mateo County), for $19.00 postpaid via priority mail to U.S. or 
Canadian addresses, for $20.00 postpaid via letter post to Mexican 
addresses, and for $23.50 postpaid via global priority mail 

This might be fated to be the most controversial book we've
reviewed since we began publishing HortIdeas 20 years ago.
Not only has David Theodoropoulos written about an extremely
contentious and polarizing subject; he has also adopted a
stance-based on evidence he has gathered from the scientific
literature-that is diametrically opposed to the received wisdom.
Stopping invasions of exotic plants has become a rallying
cry for nature lovers across America, with some "experts" calling
for stringent bans on the importation and transport of alien
plant species, but this book makes a case for enhanced deliberate
dissemination of many (but not all) plants on a global basis,
arguing that local ecological systems can be expected, by and
large, to benefit from human dispersal of plant germplasm.

The author does not suggest that all exotics are desirable
everywhere they are capable to grow-he is not advocating the
deliberate spread of agricultural pests! But his examination of
biological research turns up little evidence for ecological disasters
that can be solely attributed to the introduction of exotic
plants. He notes that damage to ecosystems due to even such a
notorious invader as purple loosestrife has been questioned by
some scientists, and he concludes that species diversity typically
goes up, rather than down, when exotics become established.
For Theodoropoulos, human-assisted movement of plants
is simply another stage in the age-old process of natural mixing-
up of genetic pools. And, countering dire warnings of economic
losses attributable to invading organisms, he demonstrates
that the most widely publicized attempts to quantify
such losses show questionable methodology.

We think that the major points in Invasion Biology would
have been much easier to "sell" without linking the motivations
of (some) of those who are pro-natives and anti-exotics to
"psychopathologies" similar to those which the author identifies
in eugenics and National Socialist thinking. Much of the
book is devoted to sociopsychological theorizing about why
the "pseudoscience" of invasion biology has such appeal to so
many, including both scientists and laypersons. Relatively little
is said about the political and economic motivations behind
government and corporate support for the "pseudoscience"-
but enough to make us think that exposing such motivations
might do far more to win over folks to less-extreme positions on
dealing with exotics than theorizing about xenophobia.

We hope that most readers won't be so turned off by the restorationist/
Nazi parallels that they fail to make it to the last
chapter, in which Theodoropoulos presents his impressive
vision of purposeful dispersal of plants as a necessity to boost
the chances of survival for particular species and perhaps even
entire ecosystems (not "restored," but reconstituted in different
forms, to be sure) under threat from climate change and habitat
alteration by humans. This vision has considerable appeal
for conservation-minded gardeners, who could move to the
front lines of battles against extinction by working to preserve
and disseminate a diversity of plants to a much greater extent
than ever before. Gardening might then become a truly noble
profession devoted to preserving the world's genetic heritage.

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