Return of the minute-long treatise

Daniel Janzen says most of the world is plant illiterate.

That is, people can’t read nature. And, as a result, most of us don’t know enough about the natural world to make any sense of it.

“ If you couldn’t read, that library over there would just be a stone cave full of firewood,” Janzen, a biology professor and biodiversity expert in the Department of Biology, told his audience at the first of this fall’s 60-Second Lectures. “Well, 5.5 billion people in the world can’t read this,” Janzen added, picking up a plant. In the not-so-distant future, he said, that will change.

Technology, he said, will soon be available that will allow just about anyone to identify anything they find in nature—a weed in their garden, a pest in their kitchen, food at the supermarket.

Such technology, similar to reading a bar code, will have as big an impact on the world, he said, as common literacy.

“ If — and, really, this is no longer an ‘if’ but a ‘when’—people are able to put a name on any object, it will change human relationships …just like reading has changed the world we live in today.”

To find out about upcoming 60-Second Lectures, go to

Originally published on September 23, 2004