Impact, or just citations?

I will probably retire within a few years — sooner, if my department can’t find new space for me when the college takes my current lab and office in a few months — so I’m thinking more about what impact I’ve had over the decades.  I may deserve some credit for the success of my former grad students, Andy McGuire, Toby Kiers, Will Ratcliff, and Ryoko Oono and for other students who’ve talked with me over the years or taken my classes.  But writing my book was a lot of work, so I often wonder how much impact it has had.  As far as I know, on-farm impact has been negligible so far.  I don’t think there are any crop varieties out there that were developed using my ideas, and if people are farming differently after reading my book, I haven’t heard about it.  But at least the ideas seem to be getting out there.  Here are two recent examples:

“…certain types of traits are currently missing, namely yield, photosynthetic efficiency and efficiencies of nutrient and water use. Some crop ecologists have expressed doubts about biotechnology providing major improvements to these traits because any simple (major gene) solutions would already have been found by millions of years of natural selection (Denison 2012).” — Bradshaw (2017) Potato Research 60:171-193.

Except, I would add, that past natural selection was based on individual-plant fitness in past environments, whereas what we need in agriculture is improved plant-community performance in environments that we can, to some extent, control.  In my book, journal articles, and talks, I have discussed many opportunities for tradeoff-based improvements, through biotechnology of traditional breeding.  I even had a potato example in my book: research in Argentina showing that genetic modification of crowding responses can increase yield.

[Fungus-gardening ants use fungicides] produced by a species of bacteria that grows on their bodies. (R. Ford Denison, author of Darwinian Agriculture, suggests that the bacteria probably produce the fungicide in order to compete better with a yeast that also grows on the bodies of the ants.) — Carol Deppe, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, page 1.

Although it’s obvious that she drew on multiple sources, the first five pages of her book have a significant overlap with my book.  We agree that it isn’t always a good idea for agriculture to copy nature, though we seem to reach that conclusion by somewhat different routes.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.



2 thoughts on “Impact, or just citations?

  1. How many copies of your book are out there? There’s one metric to consider. Google Scholar as of a minute ago reports you have over 80 cites to the book… over 6000 cites to the articles accumulated on your Google Scholar page…

    So citations are not exactly the (nor the only) measure for impact, but a start.

    I’ll be watching to see what happens as you consider retirement. I’m not so far behind you and I’ve a few ideas for when the time comes, but always looking about to see if there might be something I haven’t considered.


    1. Yes, I’m glad my ideas (many borrowed from Colin Donald or others) are getting out there, but it would be nice to see someone actually use them in a plant-breeding program or in the design of crop rotations….


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