cultural myths and misery

John Cropper j.cropper at
Thu Dec 13 22:24:43 EST 2001

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----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard Morris" <webmaster at>
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2001 13:51
Subject: Re: cultural myths and misery

> > 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
> > and a 1300-employee biotech company known for the excellence of its
> > Most of the descriptions of scientists and how science works in this
> > (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
> > women attempting to understand phenomena they were observing. They were
> > aware of the shortcomings of their tools (both physical and mental), did
> > 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
> > views, and were ruthless in looking for errors, false reasoning,
> > lies and artifacts, and distortions. They held their data, techniques,
> > results up for scrutiny, insisting that other scientists be brutal in
> > ripping their work apart to find weaknesses, and they would willingly
> > 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
> > non-scientists to discard cherished beliefs and face ugly facts than
> > 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
> points.
> 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
> Rich
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