Sunday, September 13, 2009

Greatest Human Being You Never Heard Of


Penn and Teller profile Norman Borlaug and his contributions to genetically engineered food (some strong language).

New York Times article today -- Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist who did more than anyone else in the 20th century to teach the world to feed itself and whose work was credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday night. He was 95 and lived in Dallas.

HT: Johan Norberg

Update: Reason Magazine interview with Norman Borlaug (Hat tip: HappyJuggler)


23 Comments:

At 9/13/2009 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet we recently splattered the media with the death of someone who couldn't even save one person.

 
At 9/14/2009 12:26 AM, Blogger OA said...

It's a shame that I've never heard of this guy until he died. I remember George Washington Carver's story, and yet Norman Borlaug was never mentioned in any history class.

 
At 9/14/2009 3:42 AM, Anonymous richard said...

Mark,

You misspelled the name of Johan Norberg.

 
At 9/14/2009 5:38 AM, Blogger threecollie said...

I have actually written about him a number of times in my newspaper column, the Farm Side. Brilliant man who understood hunger and the true cure for it better than anybody in Washington ever will. I was so sad to see that he had passed away....and I hope his amazing work survives him.

 
At 9/14/2009 6:00 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Richard: Thanks for pointing that out, I fixed it.

 
At 9/14/2009 6:38 AM, Blogger Akshay Birla said...

I'm traveling in India right now, and the Economic Times had about a 2"X1" piece on him. It really is a pity, given his contribution to India.

 
At 9/14/2009 6:54 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> It's a shame that I've never heard of this guy until he died.

True for most people about Julian Simon, too. But at least everyone knows all the circumstances about MJ!!

 
At 9/14/2009 7:22 AM, Blogger 1 said...

Want to know more about Dr. Borlaug?

Anthony Watts has some good info worth a read: Agricultural pioneer and climate skeptic – Dr. Norman Borlaug

 
At 9/14/2009 10:11 AM, Blogger Cranky said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9/14/2009 10:30 AM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

It is amazing what one person can accomplish with hard work, a vision and goodness. Thnak you for highlighting this positive force for mankind.

 
At 9/14/2009 10:35 AM, Blogger QT said...

Cranky,

Borlaug has been around for a long time. Ag issues don't tend to have much traction with the public likely because only 2% of the population is engaged in farming.

Borlaug worked in conventional cross-breeding. He failed the university entrance exam yet went on to get a PhD in plant pathology and to revolutionize conventional crop breeding. He supported the use of all agricultural breeding (conventional & GMO), and cultural technology to raise crop yields and to combat crop diseases like wheat rust. He also continued to work right up into his 90s.

The world's food supply depends largely on 3 staple crops, corn, wheat and rice. In the discussion of GMOs, it is often overlooked that crop breeding is essential to combat crop diseases.

The video stated that Borluag had worked on rice breeding after his transformation of wheat crops, however, this is incorrect. Borlaug's idea was to create a shorter plant that would put its energy into the seed heads instead of leaves & stem, which he applied to wheat. Other researchers applied this same idea to rice.

There is a great bio on Prof. Borlaug who taught in TX U for many years: The Man Who Fed Millions.

 
At 9/14/2009 10:45 AM, Blogger QT said...

President George W. Bush congratulates Dr. Norman Bourlag during the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the doctor's efforts to combat hunger Tuesday, July 17 ,2007

 
At 9/14/2009 11:25 AM, Blogger Dean Kalahar said...

I will say that Thomas Dale, the man who instituted private property in the Jamestown colony, is the greatest person you never heard of.

 
At 9/14/2009 1:39 PM, Blogger Cranky said...

Thanks, QT. My comments (which I deleted before seeing your post) were questioning whether Dr Norman Borlaug's contributions were in the GMO field. What I have read about him confirms that he was involved in conventional cross breeding as you say, and not in the controversial gene splicing etc. though he did voice some support for it. Penn and Teller do a good service shining the spotlight on this man's amazing accomplishments, but they sidestep the GMO controversy, certainly the science of it.

 
At 9/14/2009 2:20 PM, Blogger QT said...

Cranky,

Glad to be of assistance.

Thought you might be interested in the alternatives to GMO such as the use of gene marker technology to identify desirable genetic traits and accelerate traditional cross breeding.
Seed Firms Bolster Crops Using Traits of Distant Relatives

 
At 9/14/2009 2:52 PM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

Here is an interview with Borlaug from 2000. It is much better than the NY Times obit in my opinion.

 
At 9/14/2009 3:43 PM, Anonymous WestWright said...

Dr. Perry, I have enjoyed your blog for some time. Thanks for the good background about the brilliant Dr. Borlaug, truly a true man of science. The Penn & teller video was a great comparison between true humanitarians and the phony Enviro/World Peaceniks who really are deranged. These groups should walk the walk and move to some 3rd world utopia such as Zimbawe!

 
At 9/15/2009 12:14 AM, Blogger QT said...

Happyjuggler,

Nice to hear from you. Your comments are generally balanced and well argued.

I rather miss the time when Mankiw had comments on his blog. The content was a bit more international in flavour and a little more in depth. Is there any blog that you would recommend?

As always, it is a pleasure, sir.

 
At 9/15/2009 3:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although i completely agree with Dr Borlaug's efforts, one has to distinguish between how GMOs can immensely help starving population and how inefficient the current food industry is in the so called civilized world. We lucky ones do not need more food, in fact, we've got too many. Most people are not aware of just how much food is wasted or transformed into non edible form, and this is certainly one of the criticism the sustainable movement raises very clearly. The incentives the USDA applies do NOT produce more food for the hungry, but mainly a pletoria of byproducts used in aesthetics, sodas, glues etc etc, even fuel! Movements like Slowfood are trying to raise the quality and enhance the varieties of food the more fortunate countries feed on, and GMOs are feeding millions starving. These are not two clashing forces. Read Michael Pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma" for another good source of information on the sins of our current food industry.

 
At 9/15/2009 6:52 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"Read Michael Pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma" for another good source of information on the sins of our current food industry"...

So Michael Pollan doesn't understand the free market, is that something to be proud of?

 
At 9/15/2009 11:23 AM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

Thanks QT, I also enjoy reading your comments here.

I can't even begin to list everything I read online, but in the realm of both liberty, economics/business/finance and ideally their intersection, the blogs I turn to first these days are, in no particular order:

Carpe Diem, Mankiw (he sometimes provides useful links and occasionally puts in his own two cents worth), Marginal Revolution (I personally avoid the culture posts, but your mileage may vary), Coyote Blog (also his environment blog), Jeff Miron's blog (he is head of undergraduate econ at Harvard, and an ardent libertarian), and The Money Illusion which is a blog about monetary policy where the author, Scott Sumner has an unusual idea (which I think I agree with) that the Fed and most central banks have been too tight, not too loose as some say, indeed not loose at all according to Sumner. Anyway, he favors NGDP targeting using forward looking indicators. He also responds to everyone in the comments section of each post, which is pretty rare to nonexistent amongst most bloggers. I recommend reading his FAQ though before asking him anything.

The sites I didn't provide links for are provided on the side of Carpe Diem.

Oh yeah, I also read Reason magazine online (they provided the interview I linked to in my earlier post here) and their Hit And Run blog. It is all over the map on subjects, usually focusing on freedom in general and government injustice somewhere. I don't read all their stuff though, much like Marginal Revolution.

Also Cato @ Liberty blog. I'm probably forgetting a couple of my favorites, oh well.

I also read many more blogs, but those are the ones I usually turn to daily. I don't post much stuff these days (anywhere) like I used to at Mankiw's blog before he turned off comments.

 
At 9/15/2009 11:46 AM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

By the way, I can't figure out how to leave a comment that doesn't disappear into the ether at Miron's blog using Firefox. However I just learned that I can do it with Explorer.

Just a word to the wise.

 
At 9/16/2009 6:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

QUOTE
"Read Michael Pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma" for another good source of information on the sins of our current food industry"...

So Michael Pollan doesn't understand the free market, is that something to be proud of?
UNQUOTE

errr... you're talking about a multi-billion industry, generated by the free market request for better produce for the consumers that can afford it.

 

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