Lumpers And Splitters

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


The Lumpers and the Splitters

At the interface of discussions between the generalists and the specialists, there always seems to be an unsettling void regarding the void, itself. Although seldom mentioned as an issue, filling in the void; or to use another clichéd expression…bridging the gap…. often is the point at which their personal views diverge. The result is a difference of opinion that is sometimes divisive in regard to forming and maintaining an agenda, or a policy, or a course of action.

As a mundane example of how people go their own ways with their own viewpoints, take the case about Jersey tomatoes as an object lesson in this trivial narrative. A native Jerseyite whose Italian heritage somehow qualified her to speak with authority about the taste superiority of Jersey tomatoes, was unshakable in her belief that Jersey tomatoes were the best because they grew in soils of New Jersey, the Garden State. She is a lumper. Yes, there are small cherry tomatoes that are different; and grape tomatoes, as well. Point taken! But those big, juicy Jersey tomatoes can’t be beaten because they come from the Garden State, she proclaimed.  So goes the typical argument with the typical lumper.

Along comes the Footloose Forester, a contrarian, irritating and dogmatic splitter. He contends that, indeed; the Jersey tomatoes he enjoyed growing up as a boy in Netcong, New Jersey were unsurpassed in taste. As a splitter, however; he believes that the genetic superiority of the Rutgers tomato was the single most important reason why Jersey tomatoes are so good. To make a point, he attempted to compare the vast differences in taste among the 1000 varieties of mangos, as an example of possible differences that might go overlooked. On the other hand, if one believes that a mango is just a mango, the typical lumper often does not want to include genetics, ecology, environment, and such; in the discussion. In short, facts don’t have much of an influence in making a case. Just as in the case of politics; opinions seem to trump the facts—on a routine basis. Thus, his female adversary, the lumper, gave little consideration to the principles of genetics (or other factors) as reasons for the differences in the taste of Jersey tomatoes.



Tomatoes fertilized at the right time in their development

The brief discussion brought forth another example from the past. It concerned On-the-Job training of new drivers when the Footloose Forester worked at Avis Rent-a-Car. New drivers were expected to learn their job duties by spending some time with experienced drivers who knew the routines. Unfortunately, the resident manager seemed to pick veteran drivers at random to teach the new drivers. The training lasted from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on who was conducting the training. One favorite driver often chosen to teach others usually spent a few hours riding with the trainee, until he decided that the trainee knew enough to take responsibility on his/her own. He, like the manager, was a lumper…. he believed that all cars are pretty much the same and new drivers will eventually learn on their own, or so he thought. The problem was, he never used the same criteria or procedures during the training periods, so some drivers knew things that others didn’t; conversely some drivers never were told about things they should have known…to do the job right. And not all cars are the same, nor have the same features.  But he was a favorite of the resident manager, so he was often chosen.

The Footloose Forester did things differently. When he was asked to train new drivers, the Footloose Forester used the 24-point checklist that he had devised. The training was a combination of verbal instruction, guidance, observation, and a period of hands-on implementation. At the end, he gave each driver a printed checklist of the items. In principle, the instructions and procedures covered car preparation and disposition in both summer and winter months, since the circumstances were not uniform in all seasons of the year. However, the manager—a lumper, never followed up on using a comprehensive checklist for training. Her lumper view was that any veteran driver could train new drivers; and she didn’t talk about seasonal differences. All drivers are pretty much the same; and all Jersey tomatoes are the best.  If you agree, you might be a lumper.  If you see differences, you might be a splitter.

Another example of a lumper talking with a splitter comes by way of a remembered encounter with a friend.  The friend invited the Footloose Forester to his house for a bit of lunch.  When the friend asked if the Footloose Forester wanted an apple, the Footloose Forester asked what kind of apple it was.  "What difference does it make? apple is an apple."   The admittedly snarky reply by the Footloose Forester was one he is proud to remember.  "No, all apples are not the same... there are Baldwins, Winesaps, Golden Delicious,  Granny Smiths, Galas, Staymans,  Red Delicious, etc."  He remembers the encounter precisely because he reveled in his answer.  He passed on the Red Delicious apple because it was definitely not one of his favorites.




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