cultural myths and misery

Toby Hemenway hemenway at
Sun Dec 9 14:02:28 EST 2001

on 12/8/01 6:17 PM, John Schinnerer at eco_living at wrote:

> I know that scientists paid by Monsanto are going to (except for a
> maverick martyr or two) praise the safety and appropriateness of GMOs.

I worked for 15 years with scientists at Harvard, University of Washington,
and a 1300-employee biotech company known for the excellence of its science.
Most of the descriptions of scientists and how science works in this thread
(on several sides; I just picked John's quote because it was handy) have
little resemblance to what I observed. What I saw was intelligent men and
women attempting to understand phenomena they were observing. They were well
aware of the shortcomings of their tools (both physical and mental), did not
believe they truly understood what was going on,  didn't believe that
science was the only way of knowing, were ready to revise or discard their
views, and were ruthless in looking for errors, false reasoning, statistical
lies and artifacts, and distortions. They held their data, techniques, and
results up for scrutiny, insisting that other scientists be brutal in
ripping their work apart to find weaknesses, and they would willingly toss
flawed work in the trash. A nearly negligible fraction behaved as "hired
guns," and were held in contempt for it by their peers.

What I did see was administrators, reviewers, editors, marketers, and
business executives trying to distort the scientists' work to fit their
beliefs or economic desires, to the outrage of the scientists. I'm not
saying the scientists were perfect--though I hold them in very high
regard--but my observation is that scientists seem much more willing than
non-scientists to discard cherished beliefs and face ugly facts than those
who use their work.

Would love to blather on, but am on my day off from a PDC and must run;
still enjoying this thread.


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