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Thoughts on the Passing of a Hero PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

norman_borlaugIt's gratifying to see the name of a real hero grace the headlines of the papers today. Norman Borlaug was 95 when he died in Dallas this Sunday. Not familiar with that name? I'll admit that I wasn't either. But I was familiar with the man who developed plants that saved an estimated 1,000,000,000 lives. No, that's not a typo - that is one billion (American usage).

Borlaug's passing gives us time to reflect on a man who used science and technology to improve the world. In fact, the Wall Street Journal article claims that because of his advances, all hunger in the world today is the result of political disasters, not natural ones.

Borlaug's dwarf wheat crop, known as triticale, was responsible for a mutli-fold yield increase. Star Trek fans will recognize the name "triticale" from an episode featuring "tribbles" - it's what they were feeding on.

Borlaug also helped create so-called "Golden Rice" which contained beta carotene, - an essential nutrient often lacking in the diets of the impoverished.

So here we have a man that used science to do incredible things. He won the Nobel prize, and demonstrated once again that a thoughtful man can do more than all the prayer in the world. I dare say that no one else in the history of mankind has ever saved as many lives. I would call him a super hero.

And yet I'm a bit bothered by something I saw on Twitter.

Someone in the skeptics community said something to the effect of "Just learned of Norman Borlaug's passing, and I feel very small."

I know this individual, and though I'm not going to name them, I will say that this person has done a great amount of work for skepticism, and is in no small way responsible for the growth we're seeing across the US. Because of his efforts, hundreds of people are now calling themselves "skeptics."

And yet he feels small. Why?

Norman Borlaug accomplished amazing things, but he couldn't have done so without a great many factors combining to make that result possible. He needed to be born at the right time, in the right environment. He needed to have support and funding and smart, dedicated people helping him. In short, and this takes nothing away from him, Norman Borlaug was fortunate. We have no control over fortune, of course, but we do have the ability to do the same thing Norman did.

We can try.

And that is what makes Norman Borlaug a hero. He CHOSE to try to improve the world. The "tweep" I mentioned earlier has also chosen this path, and in this regard, he and Norman are the same.

I know he'd bristle at the idea of being compared to Norman, but he'll just have to live with that because the comparison is apt.

So yes, by all means, let's hold up Norman Borlaug as a hero. Let's name airports after him, pave roads in his honor, and let his countenance keep watch over the $20 bill (I never liked Jackson much). Norman Borlaug WAS a hero.

But you can be too. All you have to do is try.

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written by daveg703, September 13, 2009
Thank you, Jeff! Heroes come in all shapes, colors and sizes, and no one should feel small because their heroic efforts are not on a scale such as Borlaug's. The point is that we are playing on the same team, should appreciate the efforts of every other member, and take pride in our personal contribution.
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Typo to fix, Jeff
written by trawnajim, September 13, 2009
I dare say that on one else in the history of mankind
...

Methinks you mean *no* one else.
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written by MadScientist, September 13, 2009
Unfortunately there are ignoramuses who claim that Norm Borlaug deliberately pushed a great evil onto the world, and like the creationists they refuse to educate themselves. One I've encountered likes to trot out a website (foodfirst.org) - I've pointed out that the website was full of diatribe and other bullshit and of course that earned me some foul language and epithets; suggestions to check out reputable sites like www.usda.gov or any number of reputable agricultural, forestry, and soil science journals is met with a scorn which I have only seen exhibited by creationists. I guess since I've been educated with USDA propaganda since I was about 8 and spent over 1/3 of my professional career with soil scientists and agronomists I must be part of the same Global Conspiracy which Norm was part of. Perhaps I should write out a list of conspiracies which I am involved in - the problem is that these conspiracies are so good that I'm not even aware that I'm involved.
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Dr. Borlaug on Penn & Teller
written by StarTrekLivz, September 14, 2009
Dr. Borlaug was featured in the first season of the Penn & Teller Show "Bullsh*t," where they described (I believe rightly) as one of the greatest heroes in history for his groundbreaking work to feed people.

When I was in London, England, a couple years ago, I noted the huge memorials to various generals, admirals, and monarchs. But in a garden in Hyde Park was a little statue to Edward Jenner, a pioneer in the Smallpox Vaccine (and we easily forget how SmallPox can be a deadly epidemic, and can leave scarring, infertility, and induce birth defects). I couldn't help but think that things were backwards: Jenner deserved the huge memorial.
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Monuments
written by Joslin, September 14, 2009
In response to StarTrekLivz. You have big monuments in the USA to former presidents. Do you have huge momuments to scientists?
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monuments
written by Joslin, September 14, 2009
My previous email should have read: "Do you have huge monuments" etc., not momuments. Apologies for the typo.
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Making a Huge Difference in a Small Way
written by Josh111485, September 14, 2009
Norman Borlaug fed 1,000,000,000 people. That's an amazing accomplishment, to say the least. While we may not be able to achieve that accomplishment we can still feed people in need. Donate food to a local food drive or charity that accepts food donations. Go to http://skeptilove.com/Skeptilove and get inspired to do Norman Borlaug type work. It may not be on the mass level that he did it, but it will make a world of difference to people, children, and families in need.
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Skeptilove
written by Josh111485, September 14, 2009
Skeptilove:

http://skeptilove.com/


Share the love!
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written by Steel Rat, September 14, 2009
Dr. Borlaug was also skeptical of the claims of Anthropogenic Global Warming.
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written by pikaia, September 14, 2009
I don't understand this. In the third world population is limited by the food supply, so if you increase food production then the result is an increase in population, not the elimination of hunger. As evidence, there are still a billion starving people in the world. We also have a population of 6.5 billion instead of 5.5 billion, with the resulting environmental impact. So how is the world a better place?
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Pikaia
written by Griz, September 15, 2009
Malthusian, are ya? Starve out all those excess brown people, we don't need 'em!
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Re: Steel Rat
written by MJG, September 15, 2009
Dr. Borlaug was also skeptical of the claims of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Dr. Borlaug was a brilliant and heroic geneticist. However, he was neither a climatologist nor a geologist. Great man, but not an expert on in that particular field.
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Hi,
written by Turveyd, September 15, 2009

Well he wasn't physic ofcourse, he did the best he could at the time what happened afterwards wasn't his fault.

In a imperfect world there are only imperfect solutions.

RIP!!!

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written by Steel Rat, September 15, 2009

Dr. Borlaug was a brilliant and heroic geneticist. However, he was neither a climatologist nor a geologist. Great man, but not an expert on in that particular field.


James Hansen isn't a climatologist or a geologist either, he's an astrophysicist. Yet his opinion seems to matter more than, say, MIT's Richard Lindzen, who is a professor of Climatology.

Borlaug would have been intimately familiar with the scientific method, and therefore his opinion matters.
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Spelling Mistake - Normal?
written by Chunick, September 16, 2009
Please correct the spelling mistake (twice) of Norman's name...
this line starting:
Normal Borlaug accomplished amazing things,

and this one:
And that is what makes Normal Borlaug a hero.
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Jesus H. Christ on a Bicycle!
written by Caller X, September 16, 2009
Quadrotriticale, not triticale. Would a little fact-checking kill you, Jeff?
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written by MJG, September 16, 2009

James Hansen isn't a climatologist or a geologist either, he's an astrophysicist. Yet his opinion seems to matter more than, say, MIT's Richard Lindzen, who is a professor of Climatology.

Borlaug would have been intimately familiar with the scientific method, and therefore his opinion matters.


Well, that makes no sense whatsoever. What do you mean by "matters more"? To whom and in what sense? And Hanson absolutely does possess acknowledged expertise in the field of atmospheric processes. As does Lindzen. As do thousands of other scientists studying the issue. Borluag did not. My doctor has knowledge of the scientific method but I wouldn't ask him to explain quantum physics to me. I fail to see what point you are trying to make, other than to grind an ax about a topic that is almost entirely unrelated to this article.
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written by Steel Rat, September 16, 2009
If you fail to see the point, then I suppose there's no point in discussing it.
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written by MJG, September 17, 2009
If you fail to see the point, then I suppose there's no point in discussing it.

I guess not, though I might humbly suggest you look up the Argument from Authority Fallacy for future reading.
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written by Steel Rat, September 17, 2009
You mean like the IPCC being the authority you should listen to, regardless of conflicting facts.
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written by MJG, September 18, 2009
Did I mention the IPCC? Try a little harder, you'll get it eventually.
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written by Steel Rat, September 18, 2009
Or perhaps you'll get it.
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