If anybody prides himself on objectivity, it is University of Minnesota horticulture professor Jeff Gillman. Yet, here at GR headquarters, where passion trumps proof every time, we nonetheless persist in the fantasy that Jeff Gillman is a kindred spirit. He is a marvelous writer, and the rare scientist willing to speak to gardeners. And given all the unscientific nonsense in gardening advice, we are sincerely grateful.
I spoke to him Wednesday about his new book, How the Government Got In Your Backyard, the first time this horticulture professor has written in tandem with his college friend Eric Heberlig, a political science professor.
Q: How The Government Got In Your Backyard is something new, in that it deals with environmental issues that range from invasive plants to GMOs to global warming without any of the advocacy that we're used to. You present all sides, but don't take a stand.
A: I've read Ann Coulter, I've read Al Franken, and I'm tired of both of them. The facts rarely point unambigiously to a single side's being right.
A: People angry about pesticides will say that pesticides kill everything. Well, probably not at the rate at which they are actually applied. There is a balance that has to be struck.
Q: That's very Obama-esque of you.
A: Thank you. I think he's done a decent job of making compromises.
Q: You don't seem to like the way that climate change has been used as an issue.
A: The idea that CO2 raises the temperature of the atmosphere makes sense, but not necessarily to the extent foisted upon us. By the the same token, we can't ignore our carbon emissions, and the right is wrong to suggest that we can. They are causing ocean acidification, and they are messing with agriculture, in that certain plants become weeds at high CO2 levels. I wanted to take a balanced view, and to offer the politics behind what is happening. That's where my colleague Eric came in.
Q: You seem to feel that the people who write about environmental issues of any kind need to slow down and get their facts straight. Well, experience has taught me that gardening books are full of misinformation. Can you tell me why?
A: It falls into two categories: First, there are subjects like companion planting, which is probably good, but where there is simply not much evidence to support the claims. And second, there are subjects for which there IS evidence, but the literature is produced without understanding it. People take the information second- or third-hand, from the New York Times, which got it from a scientist but may not have understood the science. It's whisper down the lane. We need to back up our opinions with understanding.