Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] 60 Mins

Kate Parker Adams kate@dnki.net
Sun, 17 Nov 2002 20:15:11 -0500

At 04:31 PM 11/17/02 -0800, Jim Macdonald wrote:
>It's a crooked game, and it's not about science, and it's not about 
>all rhetoric on both sides.  Even though there are scientists working on these
>issues, most of them then draw conclusions well beyond the reach of their 
>and draw fallacious inferences that always tilt toward whatever interest 
>is paying
>the bills.

Right on!

I AM a scientist and have whored as a consultant until I had my fill of 
that and I know exactly of what you speak.  Science is a tool among many 
tools for arriving at the truth.  It is informative, but informative only 
within that limited universe under which it may be definitive.  And that 
limited universe is a very small universe indeed.

Unfortunately, the informative limitations are lost on both the structure 
which produces scientific findings and the scientists themselves who often 
practice it as though it is an arcane religion understandable by only a few 
select priests who then interpret it for the rabble.  In my own field, 
epidemiology and biostatistics, I have often encountered people neglecting 
the limitations of their methods but declaring the results to be truth even 
though their system is no better suited to the problem than astrology.

Another oft discussed issue of science that my mentors and I have bandied 
around over many lunches involves the policy-science relationship.  Science 
should inform policy, but all too often policy is set and then goes looking 
for a scientific cosigner or witness to validate what has already been 
decided.  The resulting narrow inquiry is then structured to produce the 
desired results, the holy name of science is stamped upon its head, and it 
is delivered to the patron as ordered.

The problem extends beyond environmental public health to all levels of a 
society which refuses to let the needs of the people who are ultimately 
paying for the research set the national science agenda.  Until science is 
democratized and set within its proper place in the structure of 
decision-making information and the political input to those decisions is 
acknowledged and validated, all will continue to be smoke, mirrors, and 
validated pretense.

Some links of potential interest:

Lowell Seminar on Science and Precautionary Principle (personal involvement 
here):  http://www.uml.edu/centers/LCSP/precaution/

The Science and Technology Policy Research group at University of Sussex, UK
(Andy Stirling is an amazing mind in the science/policy area - I believe he 
may have served concurrantly with PG on the International Board of 
Greenpeace and has about as much use for pretense and demagoguery)

Blinded by science,

Kate Adams
Gradual Student
UMass Lowell
Remember your childhood
Remember the journey
Hope is what you say and do
         -Midnight Oil
         (Minutes to Midnight)