What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by DANIEL CHAMOVITZ

Cosmos - - Spectrum - — AN­DREW MASTER­SON

Scribe Pub­li­ca­tions (2017) RRP $29.99 SOME­TIMES SCIENCE IS about be­ing wrong, and some­times hon­esty is about ad­mit­ting it.

The first con­di­tion is an un­avoid­able con­se­quence of in­quiry: you make find­ings and build the­o­ries on the avail­able ev­i­dence. Later, if more ev­i­dence be­comes avail­able that doesn’t fit, the the­ory must change.

Us-born bi­ol­o­gist Daniel Chamovitz, now dean of the Ge­orge S. Wise Fac­ulty of Life Sci­ences at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, is an hon­est sci­en­tist.

His pop-science book What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses was first pub­lished in 2012. A de­tailed and witty ex­am­i­na­tion of plant ge­net­ics and phys­i­ol­ogy, it be­came a global hit, ar­guably the best-sell­ing botany book since The Se­cret Life of Plants by Peter Tomp­kins and Christo­pher Bird in 1973.

Given the book’s suc­cess, it is not sur­pris­ing Chamovitz and his pub­lish­ers opted for a re­vised edi­tion. How­ever, what does raise eye­brows – and elic­its re­spect – is the state­ment by the author in the pro­logue “that the new edi­tion con­tains ground­break­ing in­for­ma­tion that com­pletely con­tra­dicts con­clu­sions made in the first”.

The de­tails of these con­tra­dic­tions need not con­cern us here, but some­thing more gen­eral should be un­der­lined. De­spite al­ter­ing his anal­y­sis from time to time, Chamovitz does not al­ter his ap­proach, which is that of a rig­or­ously dis­ci­plined ge­neti­cist. There is much en­thu­si­asm in his writ­ing, but it is al­ways bol­stered by re­search, broadly con­ducted and metic­u­lously ref­er­enced.

As with the orig­i­nal edi­tion, Chamovitz ex­plores plants rang­ing from al­gae to Dou­glas firs, char­ac­ter­is­ing their re­sponses to en­vi­ron­men­tal stim­uli and ge­netic me­chan­ics in terms of five hu­man senses, as well as mem­ory and sense of place. It is a de­vice that works very well.

What A Plant Knows is a fas­ci­nat­ing read. “My book is not The Se­cret Life of Plants,” Chamovitz writes. “If you’re look­ing for an ar­gu­ment that plants are just like us, you won’t find it here.”

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