rBST, Biotechnology, electronic Free Speech--II
nmodena at ncsu.edu
Wed Mar 2 15:06:17 EST 1994
>Subject: Re: dairy debate, future of sanet-mg, &c.
> On February 3, Lara Wiggert promised us "an interesting next few days,
> weeks, months ...." While students in one of my courses are
> endeavoring to determine just how interesting the mass media have found
> the bST/science/technology issue, I'm ready to conclude that here on
> sanet-mg her promise has been amply fulfilled.
> With respect to l'affaire Wiggert, it's been tempting to let others
> speak for me, particularly in the face of repeated postings condemning
> impassioned argument and reasserting "the real purpose of sanet-mg."
> Nonetheless, I risk adding to the "clutter." I should note at this
> point that I'm doing so on "company" time and on "company" facilities.
> But they pay me to be a professor, so profess I shall, with the usual
> disclaimer that my views are my own and do not necessarily represent
> those of my employer (which, as a publicly supported institution,
> studiously avoids having views on anything beyond the proper size of
> its budget).
> The Feb. 28 posting from rmeyer at usaid.gov (sorry, but no name came with
> it) translates into printable language a good deal of what I felt
> reading some of the responses to Wiggert's Feb. 8 commentary on
> Bauman's list of studies supporting bST safety with regard to human
> physical health (something of which, by the way, I am fairly well,
> though hardly completely, convinced). As I read it, Wiggert's message
> simply pointed out Bauman's affiliations and funding sources -- it in
> no way impugned the integrity of Bauman himself, his research, or the
> other studies and sources he listed. In fact, Wiggert in a later
> posting urged readers to draw their own conclusions from what was
> (properly) public knowledge. From these facts, people drew different
> conclusions -- some read them as evidence of Bauman's credibility and
> expertise, others as reasons for skepticism. So long as no one
> disputed the facts themselves (and no one did), where was the problem?
> -- it was a matter on which reasonable people might agree to disagree,
> where one person's innuendo becomes another's (or, in this case, the
> same person's) endorsement.
> The point overlooked in many of the responses, the one that left me
> saying, "They just don't get it," and that rmeyer makes so well, is
> that funding sources, affiliations, ideological biases, and a host of
> other things color the work that all of us do. They impinge on our
> choice of research problem and methodology, and on our interpretation
> of the data we get. Yes, we can be "objective" (read methodologically
> rigorous) in gathering our data, but our training and other biases have
> already structured the problem for us, and they'll structure the way
> we interpret that data, too.
> As Luanne Lohr (also on Feb. 28) points out so well, every scientist
> ought to recognize that such bias exists and acknowledge that there are
> multiple ways to view many (if not all) of the problems we choose
> to study or solve. The failure to do so is bad science, and bad
> communication as well, in that it withholds information people might
> use to draw inferences from what we have to say. If you doubt this,
> ask why it is important to you to know the institutional and
> disciplinary affiliation of those who make assertions (of any
> kind) about bST, or to make known your own when *you* make assertions
> about your own science or your own opinions. Bauman's list of studies
> (in the Feb. 8 posting to which Wiggert responded) was prefaced with a
> statement of credentials -- "Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor, Cornell
> University ... eminent dairy scientist, internationally respected, ..."
> -- with the aim of helping us put his statement into rhetorical
> Going further, I'll assert that the *refusal* to recognize one's biases
> and acknowledge that there might be other ways of knowing or making
> sense of a topic is arrant scientific arrogance of the kind that has
> put land grant colleges (and scientific expertise of many sorts) under
> fire. Science is a way of knowing (and often a damned good one, I
> might add) characterized by certain rules of evidence. But it's hardly
> the only way people make sense of things, nor even always the best way,
> and its rules of evidence do not always and everywhere apply. Even
> among scientific disciplines the rules for what constitutes valid
> evidence (made manifest in method) vary considerably -- what's one
> person's control variable is often another's variable of interest.
> Arguing that science is value free (by itself hard to do with a
> straight face) and that judgments about science and technology, even
> among scientists, ought not to involve "non-scientific" values demands
> that scientific evidence be granted pre-eminence over knowledge derived
> in other ways.
> This may be all well and good when it involves matters of theory and
> occurs within a scientific discipline or across related disciplines --
> it's how theory is advanced. But when we're talking about technology,
> as we presumably are on this network, we're talking about applying
> knowledge to human activity with some kind of goal, usually a
> non-scientific one, in mind. And I don't see any way to judge the
> merits of a technology on the basis of science alone (particularly not
> if science is presumed to be value free -- can you imagine making a
> decision without using any values?). Furthermore, when we're talking
> about involving non-scientists in the discussion of our science and
> technology, as we presumably are on this network, I don't see any way
> to limit that discussion to scientists' values alone.
> Re Mac Horton's Feb. 28 suggestion that some of us at land grant
> colleges who have joined this discussion might be biting the hands that
> feed us, I offer a colleague's explanation of why he's occasionally
> critical of the land grant venture: What better way to prove you care
> for something you love that to point out that you fear it might be
> heading down the wrong path? For myself, I don't mean to condemn the
> LGUs, FDA, agroindustry or even agriculture as a whole -- I'm simply
> interested in doing what I can to help make the whole thing work a
> little better. Granted, I define "better" in terms of my own values,
> but I see no more "objective" way to do it.
> Gerry Walter Internet: gwalter at uiuc.edu
> Agricultural Communications Phone: 217/333-9429
> University of Illinois Fax: 217/244-7503
> 59 Mumford Hall
> 1301 W. Gregory Dr.
> Urbana IL 61801
Stephen A. Modena
nmodena at unity.ncsu.edu samodena at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu
More information about the Bioforum