The conservation of biodiversity is a universally applauded good, bringing to mind the aesthetic values of elegant felines and brilliantly plumaged birds. The rain forest and other plants have also been the source of many important pharmaceuticals, which can be assessed for their economic and health-giving powers. We need but mention familiar examples like quinine and aspirin (and we cannot ignore morphine and cocaine-albeit opium poppies and coca bushes are in no danger of extinction). We should then, the argument goes, make additional investments in preserving the rain forest to have the opportunity of further pharmaceutical discovery. I strongly support the conclusions, but warn that this reasoning is far too narrow.

Illustration: John Overmyer
To begin with, the premise would open the door to triage founded entirely on economic value. Once some plant species had been investigated-and most of them will be devoid of pharmacological activity-then these would be candidates...

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