September 29, 2016

"Tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses garner a lot of attention. But plants are often ignored."

"In fact, scientists even have a term for our tendency to overlook plants — plant blindness."
For example, if shown a picture of a lion on a tree, people would be more likely to point out the lion, and ignore the tree. This bias against plants is widespread, and seriously limits conservation efforts, scientists say....
1. Garner. The word. I must register my opposition once again.

2. I agree that people are gaga for animals and focus on them far more than on plants and (I would add) on the nonliving aspects of the natural world — rock formations, land, water, clouds. What's going on there? The animals are not more beautiful. It might have to do with an inborn instinct to hunt, and it might be that they have faces and eyes and we see ourselves in them, we narcissists.

3. I don't know if I would use the word "bias." That makes it sound as though we're against plants.

73 comments:

Jack Wayne said...

I am against all plants. Eat them all and save the whales.

Alexander said...

I dunno.

Ask people where they want to go to vacation, and they'll say.

By the water or In the woods or The mountains.

Nobody says, near the elephants.

Likewise, people either don't eat landscapes, or view them as purifying. It's the fountain of youth, not the beefsteak.

Landscape privilege exists, and the fact that you just HAVE to go after the one animal safe-space is proof of it!

Matthew Sablan said...

People don't notice plants that are plain and ordinary. They'll notice strange and interesting plants though.

Expat(ish) said...

My grandfather grew up on a truck farm in deepest south Louisiana, once of 11 (or 12, depending on who is telling the stories). He later got a PhD and taught at "the university." I asked him why he was the only person on the block who didn't mow his own lawn.

"I am not touching anything green except a salad at dinner."

That's bias.

_XC

YoungHegelian said...

I notice plants.

If there were aliens from space living among us they wouldn't be more different from we of the kingdom animalia than plants are.

They make their own food, for fucks sake! Since they have no powers of locomotion, everything takes place at the cellular level. They are thus incredibly efficient biophysical machines. Imagine the energy needed to move sap from the roots to the new growth in spring, or just the raw biomass needed to re-leaf a mature oak tree. Amazing!

Rob said...

Of course it's bias. Plus, even among those who appreciate plants, there's a bias toward the big showy plants and against the tiny, mundane plants--not unlike the paper bag test that blacks used to apply against each other. This bias against tiny mundane plants might be considered a microaggression.

Mac McConnell said...

Two biologist do research on psychologists and anthropologists studies on why "plant blindness". They call this science?

Lucien said...

You could argue that our sense should be organized to recognize, in order: 1) things that might kill or injure us, 2) things we might kill and eat that might get away if not recognized quickly, and 3) other stuff.

Out of habit we might then apply the same rules to looking at pictures of things.

You could also make up a plausible story that humans have evolved with just this set of priorities, but I doubt anyone really knows.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

They'll notice the triffids, but not until it's too late...

rehajm said...

People don't notice plants that are plain and ordinary. They'll notice strange and interesting plants though.

Plants that eat animals are way cool!

Terry said...

Scientists have a term for it!
Well, that's really something.

Henry said...

It's not easy being green.

Ambrose said...

Reminded me of this:

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/red-wheelbarrow

Henry said...

I have a Sibley's bird book and Sibley's tree book. I keep telling myself I need to get better at identifying trees. But the bird book gets more use.

A big reason is that birds come and go.

zipity said...

Reminds me of the old joke:

"I'm not a vegetarian because I love animal. I'm a vegetarian because I HATE plants..."

Yancey Ward said...

I doubt there were many trees on the savanna that were ambushing and eating homo erectus or his ancestors.

mikee said...

Back decades ago when a new dam was about to start impounding water in SC, a professor at my undergrad college "rescued" a native plot of very rare plants from drowning, and surreptitiously planted them along a wooded creek on our campus. Disturbing these plants was a serious felony for each individual one, had he been caught. So he used the 3S "steal, shovel, shut up" technique and never told anyone about it, just enjoying the knowledge that he'd helped an endangered flower live.

Fast forward several decades, and a college biology professor out walking around campus notices the still extremely rare plants growing along the campus creek. What a find! He announces his discovery, only to have the now-emeritus prof who did the planting come forward and admit his dastardly deed (statute of limitations having expired).

True story. The prof could also sing the entire Periodic Table song, and did so after only a few drinks at departmental parties.

Yancey Ward said...

Our ancestors who noticed the tree first ended up as hyena shit.

Unknown said...

I see your point, but "bias" in this context isn't implying any judgement any more than bias in a quantitative measurement.

DKWalser said...

It also might mean that most people prefer action to inaction. It's really hard to get a group together to watch paint dry. Not nearly as hard to get them to watch a race. There's very little action in the plant world. But not none. People will stare at a venus flytrap longer than they will a rose bush. One has (the potential for) action and the other does not.

Wilbur said...

The two scientists are from a university in Australia. I was going to be less than pleased if they got a US government grant for this piffle.

If you look at the rest of the online magazine this was in, you won't be surprised.

Yancey Ward said...

It's really hard to get a group together to watch paint dry.

Been to any modern art shows?

Char Char Binks said...

The Bible warns against disregarding plants.

Joel 1:17
The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.

tcrosse said...

My stepson was being a big pain in the ass about being a vegetarian, which is mainly about shaming carnivores. I was able to point out to him the senseless slaughter of our green brothers and sisters in the plant community, this with an upraised fist.

amielalune said...

How about this: there are tons of trees outside my window; almost everywhere I go. Most of them don't have lions or tigers in them.

Alexander said...

True fact: If you said you wished that people noticed the trees and not the lions that may be in them, you would be accused of a hate crime against blacks on the basis of disparate impact. Most won't admit this.

Curious George said...

"Tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses garner a lot of attention. But plants are often ignored."

Pretty sure I could outrun a plant.

Sammy Finkelman said...

All plants look alike to me. well, that's not really true.

Wilbur said...

@ tcrosse
That's something which always puzzled me about vegetarianism. If you want to not eat meat or dairy or anything for health reasons that's fine with me. I might join you.
But the moral case for vegetarianism always seemed weak to me. Aren't plants just as alive as animals? Then I've been told, well, plants don't have spinal columns so they don't feel pain. So it's based on spinal columns? That's it? Okaaaay.

Bob R said...

I'm with Yancy at 1:15, except that noticing the tree before the lion probably meant you didn't get to be anyone's ancestor. We are descended from people who noticed lions who might be in the tree.

Richard said...

Plant life matters!

JaimeRoberto said...

This may depend on the culture of the person observing the scene. I recently read a book, I think it's called Geography of Thought, that claims that Westerners and Asians observe things differently. Westerners see individual objects, while Asians observe the context. In one experiment described in the book, people from different cultures were shown a picture of a fish in a pond. Westerners would say the picture is of a fish while Asians would say it was a picture of a pond.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Let's say the animal in the tree is a sparrow or a squirrel. Still true?

BN said...

"gaga" ok, "garner" not ok.

Lady G. vs Jennifer G. in a dictionary throwing cage match. I'd PPV that.

How do you feel about "gotcha!" as in "I understand what you're saying"? I'm hearing that a lot these days from all the cool kids. And when i do and find myself slightly annoyed, and i relate to your quirky diction pedantry problems and I get through it.

Wait, did i say "quirky?"

Now there's a good word.

Earnest Prole said...

plants are more plentiful than visible animals by many orders of magnitude, and our eyes and brains are adapted to focus on things that move

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Oh, that reminds me! How do you feel about "foster" as in "fosters a belief," etc, Professor?

Personally I worry that foster is the new garner.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

DKWalser said...
It also might mean that most people prefer action to inaction. It's really hard to get a group together to watch paint dry.


BBC Censorship Board Watches 607 Minute Film of Paint Dyring

They rated it safe for all audiences, though.

John Taylor said...

Round 2 will be, Plants Have Feelings.

https://www.wired.com/2013/12/secret-language-of-plants/

traditionalguy said...

The blue green algae are the ones with the complaint for mistreated ancestors. They have been ignored for three billion years. But they were the builders life as we know it by making and releasing Oxygen while they lived off a diet of sunlight, CO2 and rock.

Good thing the Enviro Wackos were not around back then, because the Oxygen algae slime released was a toxic pollutant that killed off the life forms that came before them. Oxygen release would have been totally prohibited by Enviros Wackos of today.

Even to this day the largest organism on Earth is a slime mold. Trump would be proud of that if he owned it.

The Godfather said...

I read a book years ago -- can't remember the title -- which described a fictional civilization so advanced that they not only refused to eat meat, they wouldn't even eat plants unless the plants had died a natural death. Basically, they lived on rotten fruit.

Does anyone remember this book?

Dr Weevil said...

I had a boss years ago (in the air-pollution-measurement-from-moving-trucks-and-airplanes business) who liked to say "One of these days scientists will discover that plants feel pain, too, and we'll have nothing left to eat except non-dairy coffee creamer."

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I am all in favor of mind-controlling our impressionable young children so as to counteract the pernicious evils of pro-animal bias.

And HERE is where the battle begins!

Shawn Levasseur said...

Animals are easier to anthropomorphize.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Look, it's silly. Trees are several orders of magnitude more common than lions. Also, we have things in common with lions (like, say, consciousness) that we don't with trees. (Outside of Orson Scott Card, anyway.) Also, lions are frakkin' dangerous, and trees (except in very rare circumstances) aren't. None of this is remotely puzzling.

Just another couple scientists angling around for another paper. Or did "angling around" make me anti-fish? Or, for that matter, pro-fish? Which is it?

Me -- well, for me (as for more or less everyone), the natural emphasis is on the things that move. We don't generally privilege all of them. I wouldn't be at all sorry if the Egyptian mosquito and the tsetse fly were to disappear tomorrow; no more sorry than I am about the eradication of smallpox. But the things that are warm and breathe are our not-all-that-distant cousins, and the things that breathe but aren't warm are our more-distant cousins, and the things that make their food via chlorophyll are our awfully distant cousins, and the things that don't photosynthesize (like fungi) are more distant yet. I don't see any problem in acknowledging this.

ddh said...

How many times have people said, "I'm not a potted plant here"? Check your animal kingdom privilege!

MadisonMan said...

My eyes are drawn to things that move. Are you stationary? I'm not going to pay attention to that. So a tree that isn't moving? I'm vaguely aware. The lion that is moving towards me? Awareness.

Imagine the brain exhaustion you'd have if you were hypervigilantly aware of things that weren't moving. I suppose people like that could exist, but they're likely to be killed by automobiles pretty quickly.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

The animals are not more beautiful.

Sez you. Animals are ineffably beautiful. I mean, not to make invidious comparisons, but when I see my cat looking out the window at the Steller's jay on the rhododendron, I feel much more emotion about two of these things than the third. Part of that is just responsibility. The rhododendron can take care of itself. The cat would starve to death if I didn't feed her, and the jay also relies on food put out by humans. But part is also just what I see. Lili isn't a rhododendron. She's a personality. She and I each gain from the other.

mockturtle said...

Animals do interesting things. Plants don't.

ganderson said...

James Garnered a lot of attention. Of course being the tall dark stranger there didn't hurt.

n.n said...

Animals exhibit greater degrees of freedom than plants, so they are more interesting. Humans exhibit greater degrees of freedom than animals, but the similarity between behaviors and attributes encourages conflation through correlation.

Animals are easier to anthropomorphize

Exactly. This also happened with chaotic processes (e.g. evolution). Ironically, this enabled evolutionary creationists to deny the evolution of human life from conception, which was a gateway to resuming abortion rites in a final solution, which was a gateway to clinical cannibalism (e.g. Planned Parenthood). The normalization of this confused perception has, among other things, served to rationalize [class] diversity or institutional judgment/discrimination by "color of skin".

Wilbur said...

If a human sees a lion moving, it's because the lion doesn't see him first, unless the human spots her ambling along outside of the lion's scent range.

A human would get a beautiful chance to see a lion move from close up range for two or three seconds as the lion charged and caught him.

Mrs Whatsit said...

Please insert my usual rant about the irrationality of your bias against the word "garner" here.

JamesB.BKK said...

Five words for those in North America (around which all of the USG funded sciency stuff mostly swings): "Poison Ivy and Poison Oak." In tropics, it's probably more to do with fire ants.

wildswan said...

Well we don't have rhinos, lions or zebras in the trees in Milwaukee so I can't say how much attention I would pay if I saw that. (I suspect I wouldn't spend much time at all looking at it but you never know.) But how many people go out driving to see fall colors as compared to how many go to the Zoo? How many people plant roses as compared to keep an elephant? How many people go out every spring and get plants for the yard vs. how many get an anaconda? And if you look on the internet you will countless pictures of dandelions along with dandelion lore - how to make a bracelet, how to blow the fluff, how that milky stuff tastes - people love dandelions. You pretty much don't get through childhood without a time when you learn dandelions. And after, a lot of us like photographing sunsets through the ball and drops of water hanging from the flower and the life cycle of the dandelion. It's true that nobody wants to see these great pictures except those of us who do want to. I never understood why attention could not be garnered but I see now that the inattentive others are, perhaps, watching for a zebra in the catalpa.

Warren Fahy said...

I've published six books and managed to never use the word "garner."

Man in PA said...

Down with plantphobia!

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ohhhhh, James B.BKK, could I tell you tales about poison ivy. My little sister and I, having moved to Schenectady, NY, with a big field out behind the house, plunged happily into all that leafy greenness -- until we discovered what it was. After that I became almost paranoiac about poison ivy. I could recognize it by the roots in the dead of winter. When we moved downstate, our woods were still full of it. By then I knew that poison ivy wasn't a bunch of individual plants, but one big one. There were four huge patches on our property, and I gave each of them names (forgotten now, sorry). The biggest was a vine growing up an oak tree, a good three or four inches in diameter, and heading all the way up, so that its leaves were more numerous than the oak's own. Yeepers.

Once my mom and my sister were walking in a nearby forest, and I suddenly realized that we were tramping through a vast forest of poison ivy. I panicked and we all went home to wash ASAP. Another time we were all out picking blackberries, and that was the first time I noticed the odd symbiotic relationship between blackberries and poison ivy. (Later, I figured it out: The only common element is that both bear berries, and birds eat both, so naturally they get seeded in the same places. But I was still a kid, and this seemed to me creepy.)

I'd always been told that poison ivy and poison oak were the same thing, but not so; on the West Coast we have a different species (Rhus diversiloba, vs. Rhus toxicodendron), and the leaves are often actually oak-like. I love the bit in a Heinlein novel where the Sierra Club is taking action on behalf of the endangered Rhus diversiloba. In your dreams, dude.

MadisonMan said...

Ah yes, Poison Ivy. My best friend growing up -- they had a cabin in the woods on the river, and a small dog. The dog would just run all over the poison ivy covered mountain, then come back and rub against your legs. Result: I always came back from a cabin visit with a rash, and the allergic reaction got quite impressive because of the repeated exposure.

When I was a Junior in College, I was at the cabin for a weekend, and got a nice gash on my leg, that then was exposed to poison ivy, so I had a huge weeping sore of poison ivy (this while I was taking summer classes). It was really chilly for two weeks, and I just remember having to wear shorts (sorry Althouse) in that cold weather because I had poison ivy all over my legs, including under the skin, and the amount of goop oozing from the poison ivy would have soaked through pants pretty quickly. It's pretty distracting to be sitting in class and feeling the weep from the poison ivy drip down your leg.

sinz52 said...

Somebody else already said it: It's hard to get excited about watching paint dry.

Plants live at super-slow motion compared to ourselves. They DO move--but so slowly, we usually don't notice it (with a few exceptions like the famous Venus flytrap).

However, if you make a film or video of the plants, and then speed up the playback by a factor of ten or a hundred, you get to see how plants really move--and that's a fascinating world to explore.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrrSAc-vjG4

It's the same reason why we don't pay much attention to continental drift either. The continents are moving, driven by plate tectonics, at a speed roughly comparable to the speed at which our fingernails grow. So we normally don't notice it. But over hundreds of millions of years, the continents have sailed back and forth over the Earth's surface many times.

madAsHell said...

I really enjoyed James Garner in "Maverick".

madAsHell said...

Does anyone remember this book?

"Lord of the Fries"?

tim in vermont said...

It's pretty obvious that animals have to be considered first when they come into view. For the last six million years of human evolution anyways. If it's a prey animal, or a threat, it is not likely to sit around for patient consideration. A lot of these claims of "bias" are really just complaints about evolution.

I will say it again, most liberals are creationists in denial, who think that evolution never happened, whenever one gets to the finer details.

tim in vermont said...

"Lord of the Fries"

You mean Al, right?

Laslo Spatula said...

"Town Boy Cheats Death, Inadequate Barrier Blamed."

In the wake of the killing of a gorilla after a boy climbed into its zoo exhibit comes another story of children endangered by inadequate safety measures.

Local boy Terrance Ivers was enjoying a day with his mother at the Rutabaga Garden Patch, a cooperative farming area and park, when terror struck.

"I don't know what happened," the boy's mother Vera Ivers said. "I was just admiring a cucumber when I heard the screams."

Terrance had climbed over a small fence and fell into a patch of radishes.

"We put that fence there for a reason," Sal Carson, manager of the Rutabaga Garden Patch, said.

While surrounded by radishes the boy did not seem to be in imminent danger. That did calm his mother, Ms. Ivers.

"He could've been killed!" she said, recounting the experience. "What if that enclosure held tigers or gorillas? They need to make the fence more sturdy."

After the initial confusion Mr. Carson stepped over the fence and retrieved the boy, who was not hurt in the incident.

"Need more sturdy fences?" Mr. Carson said, when told about Ms. Ivers' comment. "It's just to keep people from stepping on the dang radishes."

Ms. Ivers said she is considering suing the Rutabaga Garden Patch.

"I don't want to see anyone else's child face the same terror that my boy did.

"Sue me?" Mr. Carson said, when told of Ms. Ivers' comments. "She can take those d*mned organic cucumbers she buys and shove them up her a**."

Ms. Ellen Payne, who was there for the horrible scene, had this to add.

"That Ms. Ivers is a real handful. She drives a Suburu."

When asked what that had to do with the story, Ms. Payne smiled.

"Oh, we all know what she and her girlfriend do with those cucumbers."


I am The Replacement Laslo.

Char Char Binks said...

Warren Fahy said...
I've published six books and managed to never use the word "garner."

Lucky number seven.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

MadisonMan, I forgot another anecdote. The woman across the street from us was going to burn her poison ivy, which encircled a tree in her backyard. I was horrified; I'd heard tales of the poison getting into one's lungs. I talked her out of it, I think, but never knew how she did get rid of it.

She got her revenge, if such it was, when her Pekingese crossed the street and bit my leg.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

To which I should add that what you went through with your open wound was probably nearly as nasty as what my neighbor's neighbors would've gone through if she'd decided to burn her poison ivy. Though I imagine she herself would've had the worst of it. In retrospect, I would be more worried about the dog. We ourselves were "neighbors" but at least 200 feet up a steep hill, so not much danger, except when checking the mail or meeting the school bus.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Anyone here seen poison sumac? I haven't, but ordinary sumac still makes me jump a bit.

Mary E. Glynn said...

MadisonMan said...


My eyes are drawn to things that move. Are you stationary? I'm not going to pay attention to that. So a tree that isn't moving? I'm vaguely aware. The lion that is moving towards me? Awareness.

Imagine the brain exhaustion you'd have if you were hypervigilantly aware of things that weren't moving. I suppose people like that could exist, but they're likely to be killed by automobiles pretty quickly.
-----------------------
No, if you can appreciate a tree swaying (they're alive, you know) and a rock holding its place for centuries generally you are not the hit-by-a-bus type. But nice try. That's why the young people are paying for your healthcare...

(think about it before responding with your immediate exalted thoughts -- bet you can't even do that anymore, so addicted are you to action... ;-)

Moneyrunner said...

Just when you thought that the politicization of science could not get any worse, along comes a study of plant bias. "Pacific Standard: stories that matter"

Right Arm!

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Major lesson here is there are people who actually write such crap, a place where it is actually published, and - most frightening - a seeming market for it.

If shown a picture of lions on a tree, people are more likely to point out the lions, and ignore the tree.

Lions are carnivores and we humans are - to lions - carne. After that issue is dealt with - in the first quarter second - the tree is more visually interesting.

...high school biology books devote less than 15 percent of their chapters to plants and botanical topics, the authors write. So ensuring that school biology classes give equal space to plant biology...

The volume of Jupiter is 1.5x10^3 that of Earth. Schools should apportion their "space" accordingly.

NEWS - 2016 ELECTION - ECONOMICS - EDUCATION - THE ENVIRONMENT - SOCIAL JUSTICE - sub-page headings at the Pacific Standard

damikesc said...

For example, if shown a picture of a lion on a tree, people would be more likely to point out the lion, and ignore the tree. This bias against plants is widespread, and seriously limits conservation efforts, scientists say

It's always a hoot to ask the "moral" vegans ("Meat is murder" types) why living plants don't matter.

Plant Lives Matter!

Mac McConnell said...

Gardening is a $40+ billion industry in the USA.