rBST, Biotechnology, electronic Free Speech--II

Stephen Modena nmodena at ncsu.edu
Wed Mar 2 15:06:17 EST 1994


>Subject: Re: dairy debate, future of sanet-mg, &c.
> 
>     Sanetters,
> 
>     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
>     context.
> 
>     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



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