cultural myths and misery

Brent Ladd laddb at ecn.purdue.edu
Mon Dec 10 09:55:23 EST 2001




Toby Hemenway wrote:

>
>
>  I have no data to prove that scientists, in general,  are more committed to
> "truth" than others, though it's not unreasonable to believe that a passion
> for science may select for this. But I think that science, as a profession,
> lends itself to truthfulness more than marketing or other jobs dedicated to
> increasing the size and power of an organization.
>
>

Who's "truth"? Universal truth? is there one? I usually find myself and others'
espousing truth from their own perspective-and alas this is the best most of us can do
most of the time-and here is where bias enters the picture-we all have one. I wish my
experience with science had been as good as yours, Toby. My past efforts spent in
agricultural research allowed me to see just how self-serving and corrupt scientists
can be. For one thing, few of these scientists recognized their own inherent bias'.
Just an example: When getting into discussions over animal welfare and the production
methods under which modern livestock are often raised-I noticed a pattern among ag
scientists; even if they finally conceeded that animals could feel pain, suffer, etc.
they resorted to religous underpinnings and would say something like-"well the animals
were put here for us to use as we see fit!" end of discussion. Their own
interpretation of biblical scripture and rationalized viewpoints were part of their
foundation to make decisions like this. we all have a bias (I don't know if they can
be called good or bad)-I just point out this one example from my experience with
tenured scientists. Attempting to recognize and account for our bias is difficult, but
necessary if scientific methods are to be used accurately. Check out Jerry Mander's
book "In the Absence of the Sacred" on this thread.

Indeed, in the field of land grant agricultural research the scientists are also in
many ways the marketers. As a graduate student involved in helping with various
research I saw data tampering more than once to support the claims of the agribusiness
industry and especially the granting "agency"-which turns out too often to also be
agribusiness. Scientists are sometimes asked to sign off on an agreement stating that
"harmful" results will not be reported. I know of only one instance where a lead
scientist refused to sign such an agreement-and low and behold the company did not
fund the research (and this upstanding fellow is no longer the dept. head either...)
For another, all too often I've seen the marketing end of things actually preceed the
research-one example was that bsT for dairy cows (an injectible hormone to increase
milk production) was being pushed by Monsanto at the top levels of land grant
universities before any research was done (sure, Monsanto was going to empty out the
cookie jar for land grant labs to do the research). This was eye-opening to me. In
fact I saw an internal letter from the dept. head stating 'find a way to convince
dairy farmers to use this and at the same time we must convince the public'. These
occurences led me to leave ag research and to have a healthy skepticism of what comes
out the other end in ag research circles.

Don't we need to get organized enough to start doing our own research and data
collection? Science (and good experimental design and statistical analysis) is indeed
a powerful tool for helping to sort out many "what if's and how's". But, it is only
one tool of many ways of knowing.

Brent

>
>
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--
Brent Ladd
Water Quality Specialist, Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146
Ph: 765-496-6331  Fax: 765-496-1356
Email: laddb at ecn.purdue.edu

Safe Water for the Future Web Site: www.ecn.purdue.edu/safewater

"If there is magic on this planet it is surely found in the spirit of water"-Loren
Eiseley





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