Straws in the Wind

Peter B Flegg

Work on compiling the ISMS Directory of Research Centres at the beginning of this year made it impossible to include in the January Newsletter any comment on the number of publications listed in the Newsletters during 1999. While last year (Newsletter No. 75) we commented that the numbers listed each year fluctuated between 400 and 450, with a maximum of 449 in years 1995 and 1996, in 1999 there was a marked decrease to 382.

A simple explanation is that we are failing to keep up. This could well be possible, but the basis on which the publicatons are collected has not materially altered. It is of course unwise to try to draw firm conclusions from too few data, but there could be some straws in the wind.

R & D – A Changing Emphasis?

The contents of the ISMS Directory of Research might reasonably be taken to show that R & D on mushrooms is running at a commendably high level and is widely spread throughout the world. Indeed we were able to find several countries with ten or more centres with an interest in mushroom science. For Italy we found 10, the UK and the USA 14 and 16 respectively. India provided 19 and Japan 27! These are likely to be minimum figures. Mushroom research is being undertaken in at least 43 countries around the world. Satisfying as these figures may sound, there might be another side to the story.

We mentioned, last year, that some journals or magazines dealing with mushroom science and cultivation had either disappeared or were being published less frequently. To counter that we reported in October 1999, Newsletter No 78, the launch of a new journal, the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. It is too soon to make positive statements, but one cannot help but wonder if there are trends and changes of emphasis – a decrease in interest here and a greater effort there, a reduced input into this area of interest and increased activity in that field of investigation?

Staff Reductions at some Centres?

At a recent informal meeting of some of the ISMS officers and secretariat, hearsay evidence was reported that, at least in some countries, there had been noticeable reductions in the number of scientists working on aspects of mushroom science. No firm figures were mentioned, but it was suggested that some senior mushroom scientists, on retirement, were not being replaced – not even by junior (and presumably cheaper) staff.

Clues from Listed Publications?

Having concluded last year that any changes in the number of times a topic appears as the subject of a listing in the ISMS List of Publications is probably the result of random fluctuation, we should be cautious in pointing to any differences between the figures for this year and last. As the total number of listed publications in 1999 is 12-13% down on 1998, with no major factors at work, one would expect that, on average, there would be a drop in numbers across the board.

I will mention then, without comment, just a few of the topic listings – which have moved against the general trend. Listings of A. bisporus are 16% down, Lentinus 26% down, but for Pleurotus there was a rise of 15%.

Other topics which showed considerable changes include ‘safety and medical aspects’ down 50%, ‘spawn/strains’ down 43%, ‘post harvest/quality’ down 38% and ‘cultivation’ down 36%. It could all be due to random fluctuation.

Well, they say that if you stare at something long enough you can see anything you want to. Perhaps some of our members may care to offer views which may confirm or refute the idea that the face of mushroom research is changing.

Is it? Should it? And, if so, in which ways? We will be pleased to receive your thoughts.