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Temple Grandin Talks 'Abstractification' At Franklin Pierce University's Commencement

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Renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin used her commencement speech at Franklin Pierce University to take a swipe at both Wall Street bankers and policymakers in Congress.

"I'm a child of the 50s," Grandin said. "Republicans built the highway system. The Democrats went to the moon. We did 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 issued a challenge for the country to stop arguing, and start making things again. She said more is spent on filing legal challenges on patents than investing in making new things to patent. She also said it concerns her how many people making decisions in Washington, D.C. lack a firsthand experience "with the things that they're making policy about."

"I think this is really bad," Grandin said.

Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. was Grandin's undergraduate alma mater.

Read an excerpt from her speech at Franklin Pierce's commencement:

Now when I was here at Franklin Pierce, I didn't know that other people were not visual thinkers. Now I know that there's other people that are mathematical thinkers, and there’s others that are word thinkers. And their skills can complement each other; they need to work together. Let's take something like the Japanese nuclear power plant. As a visual thinker, there's no way I would have put the emergency generators in the basement when you live next to the sea. Because I can see the water going in there – and I’ve done a lot of work with industrial equipment, and diesels don't work under water; it's just that simple. And when I was young I used to think that was due to stupidity. You know what? I think it's that they don't see it. The mathematicians that design the reactors don't see that water in the basement might be a really, really bad thing. All people with autism are bottom up thinkers; I form a concept by putting specific examples into file folders.

And one of my big concerns today – policy making – is what I call abstractification. We've got people going into Washington, DC, making policy, that have no firsthand experience on the ground with the things that they're making policy about. I think this is really bad. We're getting too far away from the world of practical things. Well you know people talk about big amounts of money. You know, like five billion dollars here, 20 billion dollars there. What does that mean? I have to convert it to a picture. Five billion dollars is what it cost to build our Denver airport about 15 years ago. So I take the thing and I say well, this costs two-thirds of a Denver airport, or this costs five Denver airports. That makes that money real. Maybe we need to be thinking about it that way.

I'm really concerned – that in this country, right now we spend more money litigating and fighting over patents than we do inventing things. That is beyond atrocious. And when I was a student here, they put the time capsule in the library, and I sneaked into the maintenance shop and added something to the time capsule. And what I added to it was, “What is knowledge and why do we seek it?” That’s an age old question. Well what we need to be doing is we need to be using our knowledge to get out and do real stuff.

I'm a child of the 50s. Republicans built the highway system. The Democrats went to the moon. We did 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. We need to be doing real stuff that makes real change and avoid abstractification. And it's been a real honor to be here.

Grandin is currently a professor at Colorado State University. She's a best-selling author, and consultant on animal behavior, and was portrayed by Claire Danes in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 HBO film, Temple Grandin.

Photo from WMUR's report on Grandin.

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