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Blogs: 144
Pages: 1
Memos: 119
Invitations: 1
Location: Kyoto and Auckland
Work interests: research, editing, ethnobotany, prehistory, plant genetics
Affiliation/website: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka
Preferred contact method: Any
Preferred contact language(s): English, German
Contact: email = researchcooperative-at-gmail-dot-com
Favourite publications: Aroideana, Economic Botany, Farming Matters, PLoSOne

Founding Member

Work: ethnobotany, plant ecology and genetics, human ecology, agricultural history, archaeology, museology
Affiliations: 1996-present: National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. 1995: Freelance editor, Kyoto. 1994: JSPS Research Visitor, Kyoto University, Kyoto. 1993: Research Visitor, Australian National University, Canberra. 1991: Visiting Researcher, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.1990: STA Fellow, National Institute for Ornamental Plants, Vegetables, and Tea (NIVOT), Ano, Japan
Contact: National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka, Japan 565-8511
Biographical: Established the Research Cooperative in 2001
Favourite Publications: Economic Botany, Ethnobotany Research and Applications, New Scientist, Minpaku Anthropology Newsletter, Archaeology in Oceania

Category: Books

Readings 2018 - a mixed bag

By Research Cooperative, 2018-11-13

I tend read whatever happens to come to hand, when a free moment lets me get started -- and then I try to finish what I start, but sometimes it's just not possible; sorry to the authors.

Here's a list of finished readings in 2018 (to help me recall where I went in spare hours).
Wohlleben's book gave me good food for thought while looking at forests in China and Vietnam.

* * *

Crumley, Jim (1997) The Company of Swans (Engravings by Harry Brockway). Harvill Press. London. Non-fiction.

Drucker, Peter F. (2001) The Essential Drucker. Collins Business: New York [2005]. Non-fiction.

Fermour, Patrick Leigh (1953) The Violins of Saint Jacques. John Murray: London [2004]. Fiction.

Follett, Ken (2017) A Column of Fire. Penguin, New York. Fiction.

Garfield, Simon (2000) Mauve: How one man invented a color that changed the world. W. W. Norton: New York and London. Non-fiction.

Gopnik, Adam (2000) Paris to the Moon. Random House: New York. Non-fiction.

Hemingway, Ernest (1929) Across the River and Into the Trees. Arrow Books: London [1991]. Fiction.

Higashino, Keigo (2015) Malice. Abacus, London. Fiction.

O'Brian, Patrick (1973) H. M. S. Surprise. Norton: New York and London [1991]. Fiction.

Wohlleben, Peter (2017) The Hidden Life of Trees. W. Collins: London. Non-fiction.

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Mr Bloomfield's Orchard

By Research Cooperative, 2017-02-26

Nicholas P. Money (2002) Mr Bloomfield's Orchard: The mysterious world of mushrooms, molds, and mycologists. Oxford University Press: New York.

This is a book that anyone with an interest in biology can enjoy. I came to the book as a botanist who has been gradually becoming aware of the possible complexity of interactions between the crop I study, insects, and fungii. I needed a basic and relatively recent overview of how fungii behave in the world, and this book proved to be a good choice.

My concern is with Phytopthora colocasiae, a leaf blight disease on taro (Colocasia esculenta). Phytopthora infestans, the cause of potato blight, is introduced near the end of the book. It is famous for contributing to the Irish Famine of 1845 (the other contribution came from land, tax and trade policies that did not take into account that a starved and jobless population cannot simply purchase the food it needs: supply cannot meet demand when those in need have no capital. Phytopthora blew in on the wind, and the Irish blew out on sailing ships. One diaspora generated a second.

Money writes in an easy-to-read style that is based on long experience of explaining complex life cycles to university students. The humour used to lighten the reading is sometimes more than needed, but is usually pulled back just in time to reach the serious crux of each topic. The orchard of the title was located in the author's home village in Oxfordshire, UK. It was where he first encountered fungii in large quantities, on rotting fruit. It seems he did not immediately take to fungii, but rather found them a second time through a teacher at university.

My own research trajectory is a little similar - I first ecountered taro, a Pacific crop, growing wild next to a derelict whaling station in northern New Zealand, during a family camping trip. My academic interest did not develop until I met teachers who were passionate about the study of deep history - archaeologists of the Pacific. In this region, taro arrived early, as a crop introduced from island to island. The disease followed centuries later, in the 20th century, spreading out from somewhere in Southeast Asia. After reading a book written by a passionate mycologist, my interest in Phytopthora colocasiae has grown.

It is unlikely that I can help stop the present spread of this disease, but I might learn something useful if I keep my eyes open while studying wild populations of the host plant. And my host plant in its natural habitat might even be a good place to look for fungii that have not been seen before.

It seems that any microcosm that has not already been visited by myocologists is likely to reveal new forms of fungal life. Although most fungii are inconspicuous, they are not insignificant - they play an outsized role in wider ecology of life on Earth.


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How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History

By Research Cooperative, 2017-01-21

Sanjeev Sanyal  (2016)  The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History, Penguin (297 pp. incl. index).

I found the book in December last year in a great bookshop hidden away on an upper floor of an Indian cottage crafts emporium in New Delhi. Sanyal, an Oxford-trained economist, takes us deep into the prehistory, human migrations, and social upheavals of all regions that lie around or near the Indian Ocean, from our human evolutionary past to modern economic present.

The Ocean of Churn is an expansive journey across time and space, informed by the author's own footwork in many of the places he writes about. The Indian continent is geologically and socially central to the story. Although the author is himself Indian, and is very interested in India's position in world history, he provides a refeshingly frank and balanced view of all the characters in his narrative, in India and beyond.

Sanyal has pulled many diverse subjects into a single coherent, readable narrative that expresses sympathy for ordinary people, admiration for the achievements of extraordinary people, and shows how ordinary people can often be seen as extraordinary when we look back in time.

An implication of all this is that our "ordinary" today would certainly be extraordinary to people in the past. The fact that "ordinary" readers from almost anywhere in the world might chance to read this book review is one example.

A larger purpose of Sanyal's writing may be to help people today understand that human movements and social interractions have been complex and wide-ranging for many thousands of years. His hope, I imagine, is that we can continue adapting to ever-changing circumstances without resorting to the kinds of greed, violence and short-sighted planning that have characterised so many human endeavours in the past.

In this journey around the Indian Ocean, the author introduces the best and worst traits of human nature, and suggests how we may all have significant roles to play in human history -- even if our lives are never recorded in stone memorials that will in any case be buried in the detritus of later ages.

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Spaceship Earth - a 50th Anniversary

By Research Cooperative, 2016-04-10

In 1966, the London-based political scientist Barbara Ward published a book titledSpaceship Earth (Columbia University Press: New York, 152 pp.).

She wrote at a time when the revolutionary impacts of computers and global communication were becoming evident.

Now, 50 years later, her ideas seem prescient.

"...the process of change is accelerating. Technology and science have become the common mode of human living and are invading every human institution and activity."

"...Today, suddenly, the experience of the human race is much more like that of being put in a barrel and sent over Niagara Falls."

"...This extension of all our senses by electronic means of communication creates a world awareness of what is going on in our planetary society, and this is bound to become a new factor in the pressures at work in world politics."

It seems we are still in the falling barrel.

The fact that we can make a phone call from inside the barrel has not changed the fact that it is falling.

I am not far into the book yet, but look forward to reading it all.

The chapter titles are:

1. "A New History"

2. The Balance of Power

3. The Balance of Wealth

4. The Balance of Ideology


Concrete Elephants of the Upper Mekong

28th Jan 2016

(author's sketch)

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Famous robots

By Research Cooperative, 2015-11-23

Many fictional robots have achieved literary and cinematic fame. I am sure the following list should be longer. Please add a comment with your own list!

Why robots? The working kinds that already occupy factories around the world are merely unthinking machines, but there is serious discussion of what might happen if truly thinking robots are invented. The challenge is scientific, ethical, and philosophical all at the same time.

Has anyone produced a philosophical robot, in fact or fiction?

Will IBMs' Watson ever have it's own philosophical point of view, or will it merely be a tool ("cognitive assistant") that can be used for good or bad purposes?

Famous Robots (with a Japan-located bias)

Bokko-chan in Bokko-Chan, The story of a B-girl who didn't have a heart of gold

R2D2 in Star Wars

Gundam in Mobile Suit Gundam

Doraemon inDoraemon series

Evangelion in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Baymax in Big Hero 6

Wall-E in Wall.E

Sonny in i-Robot

Ava in Ex Machina

After reading the story of the mindless but dangerous Bokko-chan, I wonder if she was a literary ancestor for the very mindful and dangerous Ava.

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Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes

Amy Eisenberg, Ph.D.

Photography by John Amato, RN

Kutarapxiw quqanakasxa, ukatxa phichantapxarakiw, quqa tunu lawanaks jikirapxi, ukatsi janipu-niw jiksupkit qhuya tunu saphanakasxa.

One should take pride in ones land and culture. There is a popular saying in Aymara, They cut our branches, they burn our leaves, they pull out our trunks . . . but never could they overtake our roots. This was addressed to the Spaniards.

- Aymara agriculturist of Chile

Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes presents our collaborative research with the Aymara people in the Andes of northern Chile. We conducted ethnographic interviews with Aymara people in more than 16 villages from the coast to the high plateau, 4600 meters above sea level. With-in a multidisciplinary framework and with a detailed understanding of issues from the Aymara point of view, together we explore the enduring reciprocal relations between the Aymara and the elements of land, water, and the supernatural amid exogenously imposed development within their holy land. We discuss the paving of international Chile Highway 11, diversion of Altiplano waters of the Ro Lauca to the arid Atacama Desert coast for hydroelectricity and irrigation, mining within Parque Nacional Lauca, a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, and Chilean national park policies regarding Ay-mara communities and their natural and cultural properties within the protected area.

For Andean people, economic, spiritual, and social life, are inextricably tied to land and water. The Aymara of Chile are the indigenous people of the northern border Region XV, Arica y Parinacota, who are struggling to maintain their sustainable and traditional systems of irrigation waters distribution, agriculture, and pastoralism in one of the most arid regions of our world, the Atacama Desert. Inter-views with Aymara people reveal the social and environmental dimensions of the larger conflict be-tween rapid economic growth and a sensitive cultural and natural resource base. The Aymara help us to understand indigenous issues and their cosmological vision.


We are human beings; hence we must communicate. We are obliged to dialogue, in spite of all the conflicts in which humans act, we also face and resolve with communication. The Aymara believe in the unity of humankind and that only as one can we make this earth a good place for all of us. Aymara perceptions and needs are the most important consideration in this study.

Development in the Andes must consider the individual and collective needs of the Aymara people. Environmental transformation must be grounded in a careful understanding of the Aymara and their way of life. This book attempts to contribute to that understanding.

Through the lens of visual ethnoecology, John Amato vividly and respectfully photodocuments details of Aymara life, culture and the environment.

Amy Eisenberg, Ph.D. is an ethnobotanist and botanical artist who works collaboratively with indigenous peoples internationally and nationally. She recently conducted organic sustainable agriculture and agroforestry research in Asia and the Pacific.

John Amato, RN practices Emergency and Intensive Care nursing. His exquisite photographic gallery can be viewed at:;

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ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-8666-5


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"Read your stuff aloud" says Ben Yagoda

By Research Cooperative, 2015-02-15

Last week I received a copy of a book by Ben Yagoda (2004):

The Sound on the Page: Great Writers Talk about Style and Voice in Writing. Harper: New York, London, Toronto and Sydney.

Ben Yagoda was (and perhaps still is) a teacher of non-fiction writing at the University of Delaware, USA.

I like this book. I like this author. He is writing about something that is difficult to define, that others have avoided writing about for reasons that he explains well.

He puts our efforts as writers in historical perspective.

I'd like to re-read my own papers after finishing this book, to understand my own writing better.

Here's a key statement, from page thirty-six:

"After all my years of teaching and being taught, I am convinced that there is only one specific, consistently reliable tip writers in training can be given: read your stuff aloud, if not literally, then with an inner voice attended to by the inner ear."

The need to read and hear our own writing is something I try to tell my own students.

When I first started building the Research Cooperative website, I wrote a poem to the same effect. The title is:

Read it.


Please do.

It's just a poem. It won't bite.

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Of course it did not start with nothing, but in just one night I was able to pull together a book production team to meet our deadline with the printer last Monday.

We already had a full set of manuscripts and the basic book design ready, but I could see a wall of logistical impossibility fast approaching. I was heading for a crash.

First I had to break down the work into smaller tasks, and then I could delegate.

Here's what happened, when I looked though our Research Cooperative members list:

1. Copyediting the reference list at the end of each chapter - found Julie Martin in the USA (previously recommended to me by a friend in New Zealand).

2. Copyediting the main text of each chapter - Julie recommended another Co-op member in the USA, Elizabeth Humphrey.

3. Cross-checking references, in the text and reference list of each chapter - found a highly experienced, but retired researcher in New Zealand, with a general interest in the subject of our book, and some spare time: Richard Benton, also a Co-op member.

4. General problem spotting and checking figures - contacted Mark Smith, a Research Cooperative member here in Osaka, to come to the museum and look for problems of any sort, alongside my Research Assistant Ms Etsuko Tabuchi (also a Co-op member). Mark came, and settled into checking figures for each chapter, then continued the work at home.

5. Drawing new figures - we found several figures that either had to be abandoned or redrawn; Tabuchi-san gave herself a crash course in computer graphics, and has fashioned a number of excellent maps in a short amount of time. (Truly, it would help if more authors could employ illustrators to produce maps, if they cannot to the work themselves, when submitting papers for publication!)

I will pay them all a fair price (I hope it is fair!) soon. They have already done most of what was needed.

We are on schedule!

While the team dealt with all these technical details, I could give time to further substantive editing, co-ordination with our authors, and co-ordination with my main co-editor.

Tomorrow we will begin work on the first proofs, I expect.

5. Indexing - found an expert indexer, Mary Coe (also a Co-op member). She has already read our chapters, and is ready to jump into the last-minute indexing process when the second or third proofs arrive -- with page numbers added.

I will write again when we have a book to announce!

Addendum: see a related discussion of cartography 'standards'.

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