Activist Scientists

The article by Michael McRae (“Ethnobiologist Forced From Brazil After Harassment By Authorities,” The Scientist, Sept. 18, 1989, page 1) on the efforts of Darrell Posey to preserve the Amazon environment and its distinctive native cultures is a timely illustration of the concern of professional scientists for those values. This is not to say, of course, that the actions taken by Posey are necessarily in the interest of all the parties to the controversies in which he has been invo

Oct 16, 1989
Lawrence Cranberg

The article by Michael McRae (“Ethnobiologist Forced From Brazil After Harassment By Authorities,” The Scientist, Sept. 18, 1989, page 1) on the efforts of Darrell Posey to preserve the Amazon environment and its distinctive native cultures is a timely illustration of the concern of professional scientists for those values. This is not to say, of course, that the actions taken by Posey are necessarily in the interest of all the parties to the controversies in which he has been involved.

Of note on the general subject of scientists and their concern for the environment, when John Steele was appointed recently to the Board of Directors of Exxon Corp., a number of environmental groups attacked the appointment on the grounds that Steele, according to the report in the New York Times, August 31, “was more of a scientist than an environmentalist.” This was the gist of a statement issued by the Environmental Policy Institute, that includes Friends of the Earth and the Oceanic Society. That group and others had strongly supported the appointment of for- mer U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson.

The statement of the Environmental Institute that places scientists in contradistinction to environmentalists raises the interesting question of the attitudes of scientists generally to environmental questions. Fortunately, there is a study that gives some revealing information on that topic that has never been given proper publicity.

The unpublished report was titled “A Study Of Scientists’ Views On Ethics And Responsibilities, A Report Of The Survey 1967.” The work was undertaken by Anatol Rapoport at the request and with the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose Washington office mailed out 5,000 questionnaires to a random sampling of scientists, and received 2,500 replies.

The first of 23 questions posed by the questionnaire was the following: “It has been argued that scientists should assume responsibility in urging conservation on other than utilitarian grounds; for example, saving economically unimportant species or ‘backward’ cultures from extinction.”

The questionnaire results showed that 45.7% of the respondents “agreed strongly,” 39.2% “tended to agree,” 6.1% “tended to disagree,” 3.0% replied, “I am not concerned with the problem,” 2.8% were “concerned with conservation only with regard to economically important resources,” and the remaining 2.8% were ambiguous or gave no choice. The leading conclusion of the study was that a “large majority” supported environmental concern as defined by the question.

LAWRENCE CRANBERG
Austin. Texas