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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  August 2003

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE August 2003

Subject:

Re: Science Without Scruples

From:

Michael H Goldhaber <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 19 Aug 2003 16:16:39 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (281 lines)

Satya Sagar's statement reminds us of why SftP was founded. Even though
it may be a tad shrill in places, the first two thirds of it certainly
are worth broadcasting to students, colleagues, the press, etc. When he
gets to payoffs I think he goes more wrong. For the most part
scientists are satisfied with personal comfort, not enormous wealth.
They do want funding for their research on a massive scale, however.
They are seduced, as J.R. Oppenheimer put it, by the "technically
sweet," which is certainly not the same as truth. Many of them also very
much want recognition, citations, a following, which in practical terms
means to succeed at putting forth what is taken for the truth (see Kuhn)
and of course most believe it is the truth. Probably most start out
wishing to do good things in the eyes of their fellow humans, often
enough with truly altruistic motives. then they begin to confront the
reality that research requires government or corporate support, and to
get that, they have to side with some larger social project which they
then help perpetuate, of which, of course, weapon making, patriotism,
imperialism, and sheer power projection are among the most potent.

Sixty (plus) years of that in the US has played the main role in our
having the most expensive and technically sophisticated attack forces
the world has ever seen, in theory incomparably stronger than any
opponent now in existence. As I have been arguing of late, given the
usual logjam of domestic politics, the military superiority has finally
proved an irresistible option for an administration ruthless (and
stupid?) enough to dare to use it, in large measure for its domestic
impact (winó or appear to winó a war and then,e.g., a huge tax cut for
the rich can be yours) . Putative WMD's in the hands of Saddam and sons
was hardly a reason, merely a necessary excuse.

Best,
Michael

Michael H. Goldhaber

[log in to unmask]
http://www.well.com/user/mgoldh/


What have I learned in all these years, by way of wisdom? Most
importantly, I would say the notion that we humans came into a world
without meaning, but we invented meaning; it is to us to give things,
including ourselves what meaning we choose to give, and though our power

to do that is not unlimited, it is the most difficult and most important

power we possess, a task we can never successfully assign to others, and

can hardly avoid, a task that is always open before us, and one in which

there are no predetermined right answers, and quite possibly not even
any absolutely wrong answers, much as I would like there to be. The
world is not a book we can read, but our very existence as humans makes
it a book we can--and inevitably do--write.


Phil Gasper wrote:

> http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4473.htmScience
> Without Scruples
>
> Satya Sagar
>
> 08/18/03 (InformationClearingHouse)They say one should not speak ill
> of the dead. And yet I propose to do precisely that about the late Dr
> David Kelly. The `shy, mild mannered, dignified' and now mysteriously
> DEAD British scientist.
>
> I am willing to break convention on this occasion for several reasons.
>
> The first one is a very practical reason. I have always found it very
> safe to speak ill of the dead. For, not only do dead men 'tell no
> tales', they also 'pull no triggers'.
>
> Secondly, I find it difficult to subscribe to the popular media
> fiction that Dr Kelly was a mere innocent 'outsider' caught in a dirty
> crossfire between warring elites of the UK political establishment. As
> I will try to show later Dr Kelly and his ilk are the real 'political
> establishment' in most modern, industrial nations.
>
> Thirdly, to portray Dr Kelly as an 'expert on disarmament' and
> ostensibly a man of peace is disingenuous given that he was for long
> valued by the British government for being precisely the very
> opposite- an 'expert on armament'. From 1984-1992 Dr Kelly was Head of
> Microbiology at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment,
> Porton Down. The name and history of the establishment suggests his
> job was certainly not about improving yeast varieties used for baking
> cakes.
>
> And lastly, I am a bit upset with the way Dr Kelly, despite his
> physical remoteness from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, became
> one of its most prominent casualties. By turning up dead the way he
> did Dr Kelly broke a golden rule of our age- that, men of science are
> not supposed to die in times of war- whatever their personal
> contribution to its atrocities. (Formal degrees in science, may well
> be among the most potent antidotes to death humankind has ever known.)
>
> And by the way, if it is indeed turns out to be true that Dr Kelly
> took his own life that too would be a violation of the current ethos
> of his profession. An ethos that sends scores of his fellow scientists
> scurrying to find newer and newer ways of taking the lives of others.
> (A homicidal scientist is normal and understandable- a suicidal one is
> incredible stuff. Someone should check the man's credentials.)
>
> All this calls for an inquiry, not just into the manner and
> circumstance of Dr Kelly's death, but the role of all scientists in
> the modern industries of death itself. For too long, in contemporary
> warfare, the personnel of science, who invent the devices that make
> people disappear, have themselves, remained the most invisible lot.
>
> Peace activists and the common citizen often rail against politicians,
> generals, capitalists, lobbyists and journalists for profiting from
> war but 'scientists' - the people who make modern warfare so deadly -
> are too often spared scrutiny- shielded as they are by rings of
> charming adjectives. The Shy, Mild Mannered and Dignified (SMD) men of
> science like Dr Kelly. The SMDs, who are the brains who decide both
> the making and unmaking of all the world's WMDs.
>
> For tell me, how does any country-whether it is the United States or
> Iraq or Britain or North Korea- acquire WMDs without the original
> contribution of a set of scientists (and engineers and technicians of
> all kinds) to the production of these devices somewhere?
>
> Scientists going about their cold cerebral calculations in the dark,
> doing things that affect the lives of millions of people they don't
> know and don't want to know about. Scientists, quite like the deadly
> microbes they mess around with, shunning the dreaded 'spotlight' but
> feverishly working on the concept and design of an entire arsenal of
> diabolical products.
>
> If you don't believe all this go read about some of the scary stuff
> these fellows are right now in the middle of making. Products that
> range from ethno-bombs that targets victims racially to the so called
> `army ants '- small, almost invisible nanotech robots that can be sent
> to assassinate political opponents, dissidents and of course the usual
> 'terrorists'.
> What am I blabbering on about? Of course, this is not a new story at
> all. The story of Science without Scruples is as old as Science
> itself. If magic was the Science of the ancients there is plenty of
> evidence to show the evil ends to which power hungry shamans used it.
> If technique was the key to success in medieval warfare- there was
> never a shortage of those putting their know-how at the service of
> blood-thirsty monarchs.
>
> But never has specialized knowledge been as decisive an influence on
> warfare as in the past few hundred years. Was not all of European
> colonialism underpinned by their 'superior' science, technology and
> ways of organization? The rise of Science and the rise of the Imperial
> West are well recognized as tightly entwined trends in modern history.
> And this terrible collaboration continues today, even more than ever
> before.
>
> The ability to master and apply Science is what still decides the
> difference between colonizers and the colonized, victors and victims,
> and the varying fates of a Jeb and George Bush versus an Oday or Qusay
> Hussein. For what otherwise distinguishes these spoilt scions of two
> elite families than the quality of scientists at their command. The
> acquisition of WMDs could have closed this gap and potentially put the
> Husseins on par with the Bushes. And hence they had to go the way they
> did.
>
> Of course, over the years, the role of Science in the crimes of war
> and the creation of WMDs has not gone unquestioned or unchallenged. At
> least since the Jewish Holocaust and the nuclear horrors of Hiroshima
> the debate has been on- to what extent does scientists bear
> responsibility for the casualties of war?
>
> There have been courageous members of the profession itself, who
> horrified by their own powers of destruction, have rallied for a safer
> and better world. The campaigns for nuclear disarmament, the fight
> against manipulation of genetic material, the patenting of life forms
> - all have seen concerned scientists speak out and call for change.
> And yet these brave souls are but a minority. A majority of scientific
> personnel today are involved in research on products that could well
> destroy our planet forever.
>
> Worse still, despite the disastrous implications of their work,
> everywhere the scientific community continues to enjoy both high
> privilege and access to resources way beyond proportion. The debate on
> the ethics of science has obviously not fully reached most members of
> the public for whom the image of the 'scientist' is by and large that
> of a gentle, noble soul, immersed in 'seeking the Truth'. A Dr No or a
> Dr Strangelove is still an aberration in the public imagination. The
> world of scientists according to them is full of SMDs like the late Dr
> Kelly.
>
> So how does any scientist end up working on the construction of a WMD
> ? What really motivates these fellows? Are such scientists exceptions
> or is it the case that WMDs are the product of very normal and routine
> activity undertaken by vast numbers of scientists - who simply don't
> care about the social consequences of what they produce ?
>
> To my mind there are three broad reasons why scientists have become so
> implicated today in the global military-industrial complex and the
> pursuit of WMDs.
>
> Greed: As always the first reason is money. (In the beginning there
> was Money. Then came the weasel Word) With a combined budget of 800
> billion dollars every year (half of it spent by the US alone) the war
> industry is where the big bucks are. And since, despite their playing
> God, scientists too have all the weaknesses of flesh and blood human
> beings- they end up selling their souls to the service of the highest
> bidder.
>
> Even scientists who are not directly employed by the war industry
> contribute to it through their work for large corporations that market
> their products wherever the money comes from. If it sells well in the
> civilian, commercial sector well and good. But if the same product can
> be sold to make WMDs - too bad- that's how the market economy works.
>
> Many scientists like to pretend that they have nothing to do with WMDs
> or even the increasingly destructive weaponry of war. The fact is they
> have become willing spinners in the deadly web of vested corporate
> interests that seeks to profit from the destruction of our planet.
> Politics: The history of the Indian nuclear program is a good example
> of how the politics of the WMD industry works vis a vis the scientific
> community. It may not very well known that in the early seventies when
> India tested its first nuclear bomb- the event was really the result
> of intense rivalries within the Indian 'scientific' establishment over
> resources, prestige, power and political clout. Promising the BOMB to
> politicians was simply a means that ambitious scientists found of
> boosting their own importance in national affairs and getting scarce
> resources allocated to the nuclear research industry.
>
> No politician after all can put together a nuclear bomb on his/her own
> whatever the degree of jingoist patriotism they spout in public. It is
> the scientist who fulfils the politician's fantasies all around the
> world by making the creation of WMDs technically possible. In the
> process it is the scientist who emerges as the most despicable and
> dangerous politician of our age- hidden from public view and immune to
> all human laws.
>
> 'Truth' : " Seeker of truth'- that's what the media tells us Dr Kelly
> was . That is a key phrase worth examining closely. Ever since the
> European Enlightenment 'scientists' have displaced the medieval clergy
> as our globe's official 'seekers of truth'. Nobody else comes anywhere
> close in competition. Nothing can pass muster in our age without being
> certified 'scientific'. For too long now the stamp of science has
> become the sales pitch of everyone from millenarian messiahs to
> multinational junk food vendors.
>
> It is indeed true that there are many of those with an insatiable
> quest for the 'truth'. As a former student of science I can vouch for
> how seductive the Pythagorean notion that disinterested science
> purifies and liberates the soul can be. A vast number of scientists
> involved even in the war industry probably see themselves as
> professional 'seekers of truth' about the world we live in.
>
> But 'seekers of truth' is simply too pretentious a title for the
> world's scientific community irrespective of the technological tricks
> and treats that they have managed to trot out in front of the masses.
> Apart from the fact that scientists are not always known to be very
> honest about work in their own narrow disciplines the simple question
> to ask is - how broad really is the scope of the so called 'truth' the
> scientist is supposed to be busy pursuing?
>
> Is it not pretentious to call the solving of narrow technical puzzles
> the very 'pursuit of truth'? Can the truth about the structure of our
> genes and the composition of exotic chemicals be equated to the truth
> of a child running, burning at the end of a napalm raid? How far
> really are these puzzles of science from the puddles of blood they
> often end up creating?
>
> It is becoming increasingly clear that science is too important a
> discipline to be left to scientists alone. Scientists are no longer
> the innocent amateur astronomers of yore who fell into wells while
> gazing at the stars.
>
> This is a runaway tribe of self-important people who cannot control
> their urge to control the entire universe - to command the power to
> create and destroy life itself. And it is not about educating them to
> be better human beings either for their destructive power is not just
> a function of their knowledge or ignorance but of the influence they
> wield in our societies. It may well be time for a collective social
> clipping of the wings of unscruplous science.
>
> I am sorry Dr Kelly. My sympathies are surely with your family but not
> with you or your profession.Satya Sagar is a journalist based in
> Thailand. He can be reached at [log in to unmask]

--

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