July 11 2012 09:32 AM

No doubt, there's no modern animal scientist who has received as much recognition in recent years as Temple Grandin. She recently spoke to graduates of her alma mater, Franklin Pierce University, on May 12, 2012.

by Lucas Sjostrom, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

As one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, there's no doubt that Temple Grandin is the world's most influential autistic person. Obviously, agriculturalists familiar with her work will know that she had a huge impact on the meat processing side of the industry.

During this year's Franklin Pierce commencement, Grandin was asked to speak to the graduating class. Although it has not been widely distributed, it is a speech that deserves a lot more attention. Especially considering she speaks for less than 4 minutes and packs a lot of punch.

Thinking differently is needed
First, Grandin talks about herself as a visual thinker, and all the other kinds of thinkers that exist like mathematicians that build nuclear power plants. For example, she wouldn't have put the diesel emergency generators in the basement for the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, because she visualized water flowing into them from the sea.

One new term Grandin invented can be understood by all Americans: "abstractification." It describes policy makers in D.C. that have no firsthand experience with what policy they're making. "This is really bad," said Grandin as she was met with a spontaneous ovation from the crowd.

For example, when Grandin hears the millions and billions of dollars being spent for something, she has to convert it to a picture. The Denver airport cost $5 billion to build 15 years ago. So when she hears new proposals, she can imagine that a $3.3 billion project is two-thirds of a Denver airport. Likewise, a $25 billion project costs five Denver airports. It makes the money real, and she suggested maybe thinking about things that way.

One of the things Grandin is most frustrated about is that we spend more time and money litigating patents than we actually do inventing things. "That is beyond atrocious," exclaimed Grandin to another applause.

She capped off her speech talking about doing stuff. As a child of the 1950s, Temple Grandin saw the Republicans building the interstate highway system and the Democrats go to the moon. Grandin worries we've gone away from that, "We need to using our knowledge to get out and do real stuff. We've got to get back to doing real stuff."

"One thing you definitely should not be doing is being the inventor of the next credit-default swap," Grandin continued to laughter and applause. "We need to be doing real stuff that makes real change and avoid abstractification."

What more can you say? As dairy editors, we're lucky to rub shoulders with Temple Grandin at industry events from time to time. She's still working to improve the animal industries and is always looking to answer the next question, never just sitting on what we've learned already.