So They Say

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science. A Word From the Frost Fighters ... Those protesting the test of a frost-fighting substance in a Brentwood strawberry patch have sat through too many showings of "Attack of the Giant Tomatoes." Protesters have gone to great lengths to make the field test of genetically altered bacteria into a science fiction soap opera in which men in white coats from Advanced Genetic Sciences, an Oakland-based biotechnology firm, are the mad-scientist

May 18, 1987

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.

A Word From the Frost Fighters ...

Those protesting the test of a frost-fighting substance in a Brentwood strawberry patch have sat through too many showings of "Attack of the Giant Tomatoes."

Protesters have gone to great lengths to make the field test of genetically altered bacteria into a science fiction soap opera in which men in white coats from Advanced Genetic Sciences, an Oakland-based biotechnology firm, are the mad-scientist villains.

They have called the test a shocking and scandalous development that will make guinea pigs out of innocent men, women and children. They have acted out guerilla theater in which people have dressed up as strawberries and been attacked with "Frost ban," the name of the product to be tested. They have called on Brent-wood residents to throw their bodies down—in front of what, we're not sure. They have likened the test to a nuclear holocaust.

The only thing that members of the Berkeley Greens, Earth First and other protest groups haven't done is give the public any reason to take their claims seriously.

One Earth Firster says, "We're opposed to playing God." One suspects that a mystical fear of science and its achievements are at the root of the protest against testing a new weapon against crop-destroying frost. But if mankind hadn't attempted to better himself through science and technology, the frost test protesters would still be wearing loincloths and it would take them a day to get from Berkeley to Brentwood—if indeed, their short life spans hadn't already cut them down.

—Editorial: "Ignorant Protest Against Frost Test"
Contra Costa Times, April 12, 1987

...And the Frostban Fighters

Doesn't all of this sound familiar? Nuclear power was sold to Americans as being the clean alternative to fossil fuels and as being "too cheap to meter". It was suggested that it would provide many solutions to our national security concerns. We know better now. We should know better about biotech. It is minimally regulated, secretive and moving forward at an astonishing rate. Much of the work done in the industry is hidden from public scrutiny because it involves trade secrets. Again, we are being asked to trust the industry and trust our regulators to "act in the public interest."

The Berkeley Greens and Earth First! are calling upon the supervisors of Contra Costa County to follow the example of the Monterey County supervisors and pass a one year moratorium on the open-air release of any genetically altered organisms until the state sets up a regulatory system in the Department of Food and Agriculture which, among other things, re quires adequate liability coverage by the owners of these organisms. Otherwise our health, the safety of our agricultural producers, and the integrity of the environment are at too great a risk.

We are also calling upon the EPA to clamp down on AGS and establish regulatory practices that assure that our health concerns are adequately addressed. The EPA should require that more tests be performed and that all cultivated and endangered plants known to be vulnerable to Pseudomonas be tested with ice-minus (and these tests must be done properly!). Currently any pesticide which is developed must undergo much more rigorous testing than is required of genetically altered organisms. Pesticides don't reproduce.

Living organisms do. Biotech must be regulated AT LEAST AS MUCH AS chemical pesticides.

—Andy Caffrey
"Genetic Engineering"
Ecology Center Newsletter, pp.1-2 April 1987

Science vs. Technology vs. Humanity

[In his book Engines of Creation, K. Eric] Drexler writes about technology, not science. There's a difference. Technology involves learning how to make the universe work for you; science is learning why the universe works. It's possible to have either without the other. Often, inventors develop technology leaving it to the engineers to improve it and the scientists to ex plain why it works in the first place.

And, as we've learned in the last 50 years, science and technology in and of themselves are neither good nor bad; how human beings use technology is neither good nor bad and that involves a moral judgment. Drexier points out some of the enormous benefits for humanity in developing nanotechnology But he also realizes that human beings are still mean, nasty, covetous, jealous, deadly, deceitful, and other wise possess all the traits one might expect of the finest hunting animal the planet has ever known.

—G. Harry Stinc
Review of Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler (Anchor Press, Doubleday),
Reason, pp. 56-57
April 1987

Superconductive Stocks

Levitating trains. Electric cars. Superfast computers. With the possibility of such marvels conjured up by recent advances in the field of superconductivity, can the next investment craze be far behind?

Even as scientists scramble to find superconductive materials, money managers and analysts are scrounging around for super conductive stock plays that will go up without resistance.

So far, they haven't found much. But just wait. And then hang on to your wallet. Investors seem ripe for fleecing by anybody who so much as breathes the word superconductivity and wants to go public or just hype his company's stock price.

—Randall Smith
"Recent Advances in Superconductivity
Send Money Managers Seeking Possible Stock Plays"
The Wall Street Journal, p. 55
April 6, 1987

Bear Hugs From the Soviets

The Soviet Union is wooing Indian scientists in a big way, and Indians, who traditionally have looked to the West for inspiration, will soon build connections with the Soviet Union in both basic research and high technology. The change was signaled last week with the signing of a document for extensive and long-range cooperation in science and technology.

This has been interpreted as a proof of the Soviet wish to put science cooperation, now limited to sporadic exchanges of scientists and joint work in a few areas … on a higher plane.

The bear-hug is also regarded by some as a move by the Soviet Union to reduce Western influence on Indian science. "A lot of Indian scientists go to the United States to work and contribute to its economy, and the Soviet Union would like to divert this flow", said one Indian physicist who took part in the negotiations.

—K.S. Jayaraman
"Soviets Woo Cream of Indian Science by Multi-Faceted Projects,"
Nature, p. 632
April 16, 1987

Giving Science a Bad Name

Japan recently announced the end to five decades of commercial whal ing. Yet now it plans to send its whaling fleet to the Antarctic— through a giant loophole in the whaling treaty.

Tokyo would kill 875 whales for "research purposes," almost half the number it caught for commercial purposes this season. When the "research" has been accomplished, the meat and other products would be, as usual, sold.

Under the international ban on commercial whaling, any nation may issue itself a permit to kill any number of whales for scientific study, however spuriously. This has emboldened Iceland and South Korea to embark on "scientific" whale hunts whose motives are transparently commercial. Japan now joins the club; Norway may not be far behind.

When the International Whaling Commission meets this June, it will consider closing the research loophole. Tens of thousands of whales have already been killed and studied. It's not scientific knowledge that will profit from killing more. What's urgently needed are data from tracking, tagging and sighting whales. However boring and unprofitable, that's real science.

—"Japan Hunts for Science"
The New York Times, p. A26
April 22, 1987

Chemical Cheats

Some chemists see a growing tendency to publish short communications rather than full papers as a potential threat to the integrity of the scientific literature. "A lot of leaders in my field—synthetic organic chemistry—have quit writing full papers," says Clayton H. Heathcock, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley. "If your experimental procedures are never published, it's that much easier for either outright fraud or honest self-deception to slip by. If you don't have to hang your laundry in the neighborhood where everybody can see it, you don't have to be so careful about removing all the spots."

[Columbia University chemistry professor Gilbert] Stork disagrees that communications need to be less than complete. He thinks all the details necessary to judge or use a piece of research can be included in short notes and that full papers are often packed with uninteresting filler. "It's an editorial problem if the essentials are not there," he says. "The editors and referees have a duty to ask for more details. If you are cheating, it doesn't matter whether you write a telegram or a long letter."

—Pamela S. Zurer
"Misconduct in Research:
It May Be More Widespread Than Chemists Like to Think"
Chemical & Engineering News,p. 16,
April 13, 1987

Another Brick in the Wall

A number of foreign scientists visiting here have expressed concern that for reasons of either national security or economic competition, walls are gradually being built around American science, preventing international access. I would say that the American scientific community, those who do the work, are against this, because any working scientist will tell you that he builds on the concepts and findings of scientists everywhere in the world by reading the journals and discussing the research. American scientific progress is not based solely on the ideas of Americans. If we were to erect barriers to the exchange and communications of research, we would be damaging American science and not protecting American interests....
—Frank Press
"Reelected to Lead Academy, Press Talks About Science Issues"
Physics Today, p. 49,
April 1987

Distinguishing Characteristics

For years I have wondered what distinguishes us scientists from the general public. For starters, our outward appearance is often different. Because many of us work in isolated laboratories with potentially spillable materials, it is often impractical for us to wear Christian Dior suits or Calvin Klein trousers. The typical scientist wears faded, ill-fitting clothing that is years out of fashion. We are so preoccupied with solving the mysteries of the Universe that we put little emphasis on our outward appearance.

I believe that most people have an image of scientists similar to the one just described, but appearance is perhaps only a small part of the total image. After considerable observation and thought, I have come to the conclusion that the common characteristic linking all scientists is our innate desire to put numbers to things.

…Scientists' attitudes about science and their lives can best be summed up by the words that Julius Caesar would have used if, instead of being a general, he had been a research scientist: "I came, I saw, I quantified."

—Richard Dansereau
"Say it With Numbers"
New Scientist, p. 60,
April 2, 1987

The Two Faces of Sociobiology

[Sociobiology critic] Philip Kitcher notes: "Sociobiology has two faces. One looks toward the social behavior of non-human animals. The eyes are carefully focused, the lips pursed judiciously; utterances are made only with caution. The other face is almost hidden behind a megaphone. With great excitement, pronouncements about human nature blare forth."
—Naomi Mallovy
"Sociobiology: The Science of Mating?,"
Dimensions, p.37
April 1987

Labour Party Proposals

The new programme [proposed by the Labour party] is on such a scale and involves such a wide range of government departments that a new post of Minister of Science and Technology would have to be created to coordinate overall efforts….

A Council for Science and Technology, chaired by the Prime Min ister, would be set up as the government's central consultative body on science and technology and would replace the present Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development. The idea is that it should spread its roots wide: into "every department and boardroom and laboratory in the country". And, on top of these changes and most important of all, in [science and technology spokesman

Jeremy] Bray's closing words, would be a determination on the part of the scientific community to present itself as an integral part of our national industrial, economic, political, and cultural scene so it is not simply a declining outpost of past national glory".

"Restoring Technological Competitiveness"
Nature, p. 438, "
April 2, 1987

Advertisement

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
BioTek
BioTek
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist