Book Review

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Allen V. Barker Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Introduction to the Academic Politics in Agricultural Research. Richard L. Cooper. 2009. Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc., Pittsburgh, PA. 25 pp. $15.00 hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-4349-0241-2.

This book provides information on political situations that agricultural scientists may encounter in their careers. The author notes that the academic education of scientists does not provide them with knowledge to deal with academic politics, and unless the scientists have mentors, politics will have to be dealt with by trial and error. His trial-and-error experience in 40 years in research is the basis for writing this book. The book includes examples of political situations that agricultural scientists are likely to encounter and gives guidance to help scientists avoid hazards that could hamper their careers. He writes about how situations might differ between state systems and the federal system but does not make an issue of this difference.

The book is divided into a number of short chapters or situations, none being more that about two or three pages long. The chapters present 15 lessons to be learned. For example, Lesson One addresses the seniority system at research organizations. Young scientists are advised to recognize the importance of the seniority system and to work within the system and to gain the support of senior members in the organization. An example is given of a young scientist, who had trouble getting senior scientists to accept his results for a production practice to increase yields and who went directly to the public with various presentations and publications, actions that resulted in widespread adoption of his recommendations but that cost him his job.

In Lesson Fifteen, concerning using political skills to achieve desired objectives, the same individual who lost his job in the situation in Lesson One used his political skills to save his job that had been targeted for cutting in the President's budget. The scientist first concentrated his efforts on an influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives but failed to get his position reinstated. Recognizing his problem, he then got commodity groups and state agricultural agencies to write letters of support of his position to all members of the House and Senate in his state and to the Senate appropriations committee. The Senate reinstated his position in markup bills for four years until things improved in Washington. The lesson here is do not put all of your eggs in one basket. A single individual may not want to use up political capital for a particular situation, when many situations require consideration.

Other lessons involve becoming aware of the institutional political culture, knowing your supervisors and administrators, knowing when to speak out, looking for political explanations for something that does not make sense, fighting politics with politics, developing political allies, having patience, and weighing the political costs of an action and more lessons that involve use of politically gained knowledge.

The author notes that although the book is directed toward agricultural sciences, the basic political truths are not limited to agricultural research and have importance in all organizations. He addresses the book to young scientists. However, any scientist at any stage in a career would benefit from the lessons to be learned in the book.

Allen V. BarkerPlant, Soil, and Insect SciencesUniversity of Massachusetts, Amherst

Allen V. Barker Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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