Citizen Science and Halloween

For the better part of two decades, we’ve been growing these Baby Bear pumpkins whose seed we get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. They are great eating pumpkins, pie pumpkins, carvers for the not-too-ambitious, and keep well into winter. They have semi-hulless seeds that toast into a most delicious snack. They are the antithesis of what goes on in some corners of the pumpkin patch.

My wife showed me a picture back in the very beginnings of our hanging out together showing a child draped over her father’s giant pumpkin, a whopping 165 pounder. It was not long after that when I first read the name Howard Dill in, I believe, Organic Gardening. Dill’s claim to fame was that he had grown a 439 pound pumpkin, eventually patenting the results of his breeding program as Atlantic Giant seeds, His final largest pumpkin, per Wikipedia, weighed in at 459 pounds.

In the ensuing years, giant pumpkin growing seemed to become quite popular with weigh-ins being held yearly in several strategic locations. A local gardener actually had one of the main heavyweights a dozen or so years back at 1 565 pounds, but I don’t believe it was a record. This morning in the Guardian, I was confronted with a whole tale of this year’s big pumpkin results, always interesting, and it lead to some thoughts about what these growers are accomplishing and some parallels to other areas of human endeavour.

For decades, the weather service in the U.S. was supported by a network of citizen observers and chroniclers who faithfully filed data with the service, building an enormous data base for the study of weather patterns and climate, though this may have fallen by the wayside as populations got more mobile and as satellite data became available to fulfil the same function as the citizen observers. We have a network of air quality sensors around many communities in the province, and I’m sure that similar efforts are in place around the globe. but these networks are much more structured than the pumpkin breeding folks, and it speaks well for the hive mentality that results on the current scale have been achieved over a relatively short span and with minimal outside coaxing. Perhaps the greatest influence here is the lack of profit motive, derived from the growers’ sense that this is a fun and worthwhile past time, and that money shouldn’t enter into it.

Would that our medical and pharmaceutical research might be conducted on the same basis, where research would be funded, but not for profit, where the benefits could be universally available, and where publication wouldn’t be a smoke screen to hide flaws and downstream consequences in aid of turning a buck in the meantime.

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