cultural myths and misery

Richard Morris webmaster at
Tue Dec 11 12:51:42 EST 2001

> Subject: Re: cultural myths and misery
> From: Toby Hemenway <hemenway at>
> Date: Sun, 09 Dec 2001 11:02:28 -0800
> X-Message-Number: 7
> 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.

I've also spent a good long time in academia and would back up Tobys
Indeed it would be good to see some of the rigor of scientific study
applied to more alternative fields. 

I think permaculture could do 
with some serious studies. Say giving comparisons of total yields
produced by permaculture plots contrasted with organic and conventional
systems. Maybe the first step on this would be a establishing a 
framework for assessing the success of a permaculture system. Say
establishing way of measuring al the benefits of a permaculture
system, something along the lines of an ecological footprint 
with characteristics like long term soil health, inputs and output,
improvements in wildlife and workers conditions. Good solid
evidence like this is going to be necessary it permaculture is to
be attractive to the mainstream.

Back to science. Whilst I agree with Toby about the integrity of
the scientists themselves there are big problems with the system
in which they operate. The three year funding cycle places limits
on the type of investigations which can be undertaken. There is
great pressure on publishing as often as possible leading to
they type of investigations for which they are pretty sure will produce
good results. Quantifiable investigations are far easier to work with
than qualitative ones, you can produce results which can be measured.
But how do you quantify the benefits of permaculture?

		cheers for the interesting discussion


Plants for a Future: 7000 useful plants
Web:  or
Main Site: Blagdon Cross, Ashwater, Beaworthy, Devon, EX21 5DF, England
           Tel: (+44 845) 458 4719
Email:     webmaster at (web related queries only)
Why not join Friends of PFAF and help our project grow
see for details.
PFAF electronic mailing list

More information about the permaculture mailing list