Cover Image

PAPERBACK
$33.00



View/Hide Left Panel
Click for next page ( 114


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 113
CHAPTER 14 Science, Technology, and the Public Peter Spotts The focus of this chapter is science one of the two significant trends that is shaping the future of agriculture. Robert Goodman explained this trend earlier in this volume. I begin with a high-tech tale of two cities: Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, California. In July 1976, controversy erupted in Cambridge over recombi- nant DNA research at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M1T). This research was in its infancy then. In fact, on the day that public hearings were held during a Cambridge City Council meeting, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its safety guidelines for recombinant DNA research. Some people including Nobel Prize-winning physiologist George Wald of Harvard argued that the two universities lacked sufficient safeguards to be allowed to conduct such research in the city itself. Nor did these opponents think much of the N1H guidelines. Both Wald and his wife, Harvard biologist Ruth Hubbard, argued that the NIH guidelines were self-serving and dangerously inadequate. In contrast, other scientists argued that the research could be conducted safely under those NIH guidelines and that fears among the public and some of their colleagues about what could happen if genetically~tweaked" microbes managed to escape into the envi- ronment were overblown. Clearly, something had to give. Recombinant DNA research held out the promise of significant advances in agriculture and medicine. Other industrialized countries were poised to compete with the United States in this field. Still, many people were concerned about the safety, if not the wisdom, of rearranging the fundamental building blocks of living organisms. The last thing Cambridge residents wanted was a strain of Teenage Mutant Ninja microbes running rampant up and down the sewers of Massachussetts Avenue. 1 13

OCR for page 113
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE The Cambridge City Council voted to establish a 6-month Good faith" moratorium on recombinant DNA research in Cambridge; Har- vard and MIT halted their research. The city established the Cam- bridge Experimental Review Board, which was assigned the task of determining whether recombinant DNA work was too dangerous to be allowed within the city limits. After 75 hours of hearings with testimony from all sides, 25 hours of discussions within the board itself, and still more hours spent wading through stacks of related documents, the eight-member board unanimously agreed that the research should continue, but only under a set of guidelines more strict than those of N1H. in addition, the city council was to set up a Cambridge Biohazards Committee, which would oversee all recombinant DNA research and report safe- ty violations. it should be noted that not one of the eight members of the board that made these recommendations was a scientist. How has the regime worked? I recently put that question to Robert Alberty, a chemistry professor at MIT who was dean of sciences during the period when the recombinant DNA debates in Cambridge threatened to split the city and the research community. He says that the regime is functioning very smoothly. The universi- ties and the Cambridge Biohazards Committee are working very closely together. Despite concerns that strict regulations might force researchers to move their work elsewhere, that has not been the case. In fact, he says, not only is the basic research progressing, but so is growth in the city~s commercial biotechnology industry. At least a dozen firms now call Cambridge home. Why? Clearly, the presence of two prestigious universities both leaders in the field of biotechnol- ogy is a magnet. But ironically, says Alberty, so is the city's regu- Jatory regime. Companies, he says, look at the tough regulations, see that they are workable, and set up their firms in Cambridge. It is better to locate where the battles have already been fought, they say, than to set up their firms somewhere that has yet to go through the same process. Next, take the situation in San Francisco. in 1985, the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) bought an office building in Laurel Heights, a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood. According to the residents, the university told them the building would be used for "academic" purposes, without being more spe- cific. initial opposition centered around issues of traffic and noise. Opposition stiffened, however, when residents found out that the building would be used as a laboratory for 150 researchers from the school of pharmacy. Work would include research into parasi- tology, toxicology, and drug development. Community members worried about recombinant organisms, virulent germs, the venting of chemicals without treatment, and the use of commercial carriers for transporting radioactive isotopes to the facility. 1 14

OCR for page 113
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE PUBUC Earlier in this volume, Frank Press mentioned the anecdote about the college-educated woman who stood up and said, "We know you're releasing DNA into the atmosphere, and we oppose it." The res- idents of that neighborhood were frightened. Fear is a very concrete emotion to those who experience it, even if it is based on a lack of knowledge. The Laurel Heights Improvement Association sued the university, arguing that the environmental impact statement associated with the facility was inadequate. The association won, and the decision was upheld by an appellate court. The court accused the university of carrying out its activities in Laurel Heights "in a cavalier fashion." After the court shut down the laboratory, the university appealed to the state supreme court. In addition, the university announced that it would spend $1.6 million on environmental monitoring. The state supreme court also held that the initial environmental impact statement was inadequate and sent it back to the university to be done again, although it also allowed work at the laboratory to continue. The Laurel Heights improvement Association challenged the second environmental impact statement as well. In January 1991, a superior court judge tossed out the challenge. The university is now proceeding with work at its laboratory, but at what cost? Apart from the cost of legal fees and two environ- mental impact statements, what can be said about relations with the community? Moreover, the original protests spilled over into other Bay Area universities, such as Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. One Stanford media relations specialist called the UCSF experience "a public relations disaster." What accounted for the difference in outcomes in these two ex- amples? ~ suggest that the difference, in its broadest sense, can be summed up in four words: a sense of community. To my mind, when two universities openly discussed concerns about the nature and safety of scientific research and agreed to work with their host city in order to allay public fears, those universities displayed a sense of community that extended beyond that of a single disci- pline, category of disciplines, or institution. Although officials at UCSF may have thought that they were meeting community con- cerns, the results suggest that they were not. Remember, "cavalier" was the adjective the appellate court applied to the university in its initial handling of the laboratory issue. When 1 peel back ale the layers of the issues examined in this volume, I come away with a sense that, at its core, undergraduate education in science-be it agriculture or any other field must help students know that they are part of a larger community, one that extends beyond the bounds of a particular discipline or even of the sciences as a whole. 1 once spoke with a physics professor from MIT who marveled at the intelligence of his students. "They are absolutely brilliant," he 1 15

OCR for page 113
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE exclaimed. "Social misfits, but brilliant." He may have been exag- gerating for effect; but to me, his comment serves as a not-so- subtle reminder of the need to be sure that students even in such specialized disciplines as are found in the sciences emerge from their universities well-rounded and able to function in a society that looks upon "experts" with a mix of admiration and suspicion. This is no mean feat. Often, it requires a way of thinking that in some ways differs from the scientific method. When starting a research project, a scientist may ask a What if', question. Or he or she may be trying to test a hypothesis through experimentation. in either case, the approach is to conduct the experiment and see where the results lead. One may anticipate a result, or even a series of possible results. Ultimately, however, a scientist will await the outcome of the experiment before shaping his or her next move. Broadening the sense of and working with the larger community, however, requires anticipating and preparing for contingencies pegged to a range of possible outcomes. It is becoming especially important to train the coming genera- tion of scientists to consider the ethical, economic, environmental, and social effects of their work- to see that they have a broad, as well as deep, education. The need for these skills in those who conduct and direct re- search is growing daily. if you need a reason, start with money. According to the National Science Foundation (1990), nearly half of the money spent for research and development (R&D) in the United States in 1991 came from the taxpayers. Their concerns, and those of the lawmakers whom they elect to represent them, are broader than how to pay for the next experiment or grant. It is to them, in magazine and newspaper articles, in television programs, and in testimony before legislative committees, that scientists must build a case for spending federal money on projects or defend current levels of federal R&D support. To millions of Americans, the need to spend several billion dollars on a high-energy physics facility buried deep in the heart of Texas is not self-evident. Nor is it just the federal government that is signing the checks. The recession of the early 1980S put the fear of economic collapse into many so-called Rust Belt states. They began to invest in R&D efforts to help keep their economies going. Ohiots Edison program is one of the most frequently cited examples. E3y 1988, according to a survey conducted by the state of Minne- sota, 44 states spent a combined S550 million that year on pro- grams to encourage R&D, foster innovation, and help boost the competitiveness of their industries. Programs range from Texast support for high-temperature superconductor research and the su- perconducting supercollider to Utahts investment of S4 million for cold-fusion research. (That particular project is discussed in greater detail below.) 1 16

OCR for page 113
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE PUBLIC The $550 million is small compared with the amounts that the federal government and industry are spending. But given the amount of responsibility that the federal government has passed back to the states without giving them the wherewithal to follow through, that represents a noteworthy and politically vulnerable contribu- tion to the country~s R&D efforts. All the more reason, then, to instill a clear sense of ethics and accountability in the future scientists and university administrators coming up through our institutions. Unfortunately, the Bay Area and Boston more recently have illus- trated what could turn out to be the less responsible side of han- dling federal R8`D money. Recently, a congressional subcommittee called Stanford University to account for allegedly overcharging the federal government S200 million in indirect research costs. After a 5-month investigation, the General Accounting Office pointed to Use- rious deficiencies in Stanford~s cost allocation and charging prac- tices," as well as "inadequate oversight" by the Office of Naval Re- search, as the root cause of the alleged overcharges. Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office is looking into the Harvard Medical Schoolts indirect research costs as well. As for ethics in research itself, return to the example of cold fusion. The commercial use of fusion, by which two hydrogen nuclei are combined to release vast amounts of energy, has been pursued for decades. Unfortunately, the progress has been very slow, owing to the vast amounts of energy needed to fuse the nuclei and to uncertainties about the best way to confine the reac- tion. Indeed, one of my colleagues suggests that physicists have discovered a new physical constant: No matter what date you choose as a base, commercial fusion is always 20 years down the road. Then, along came two chemists, one from the University of Utah and the other from Southampton University in Britain, who claimed that they had seen evidence of fusion at room temperature in a tabletop device. Researchers worldwide sought to replicate the results, with little, if any, luck. Subsequent analyses of their 1989 work appears to have uncovered a shift in a critical set of data that somehow occurred between the time the experiments were con- ducted and the time the two published their work- with no explana- tion for the change. One physicist, Frank Close of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Rutherford Laboratory in Britain claim that the two chemists violated scientific ethics. Another, Richard Petrasso of MIT, says that he has downgraded his criticism from outright fraud to a viola- tion of how science should be done. The researchers themselves stand by the validity of their work. Where is the harm in this? Apart from the hopes that were raised and then dashed, there is the issue of 84 million that the state 1 17

OCR for page 113
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERG~UATE decided to contribute to cold-fusion research. Four million dollars may not sound like much, but it is money that the state might have spent on its public schools, for example, where not long ago teach- ers were complaining of poor salaries and overcrowded classes. Representative Ray Thornton warned earlier in this volume that scientific illiteracy may result in misguided public policy and misdi- rected public money; so, too, can badly or fraudulently conducted research. Aside from the ethical questions related to the conduct of re- search or the oversight of research funds, there is the issue of the ethics involved in pursuing a particular line of research and the ability to communicate them to a wider group. I recall an interview had with Thomas Wagner, who, at the time, was the director of the Edison Center for the Study of Animal Biotechnology at the University of Ohio. The discussion was broadly centered on a U.S. Patent Office ruling that genetically engineered animals-except Homo sapiens-could be patented. The ruling sent activist Jeremy Rifkin and others through the roof. They were dismayed at what they termed the mind-boggling moral and ethical issues raised by the Patent Offices ruling. The ethical question was succinctly posed by Philip Bereano, an associate professor at the University of Washington who taught courses in technology and public policy. Where do we draw the line?," he asked. "Do humans exist in and with nature, or is nature for mants exclusive use7" (Spotts, 198~b: l). When I turned the questions to him, Thomas Wagner replied, "1 put animal life forms into three categories philosophically and mor- ally. The first is wild animals who live in a natural ecosystem; the second is agricultural animals living in a synthetic ecosystem; and the third is human beings. 1 think the patent decision speaks to the second category. Since we have created an artificial ecosystem, we almost have a moral requirement to alter farm animals to fit that ecosystem." He added that there's "no way that man can make a deer better able to survive in the wild than nature" (Spotts, 1 987b: 1 ). While one may or may not agree with his line of reasoning, found myself appreciating the fact that he had clearly thought through the ethical or moral component of his work and could clearly state it to someone who is outside the field. This brings up another point; that is, as educators consider ways to train the next generations of researchers, they must pay equal attention to instilling in the rest of their students a level of scientific literacy that helps them to respond intelligently when public policy issues affecting science and research arise. It is interesting to note that when Stanford University was feeling the ripple effects of the donnybrook over UCSFs Laurel Heights research laboratory, Stan- ford president Donald Kennedy argued that scientists and educa 1 18

OCR for page 113
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE PUBLIC tors were partly to blame for a "disappoin tiny level of scientific literacy" that he felt underlay the dispute. The late Roger Nichols, a microbiologist who left Harvard Medi- cal School after a productive career in research and teaching to become head of the Boston Museum of Science, put it to me this way by drawing an analogy to the Middle Ages: {A)rguably the preeminent cultural trait was religion and the preemi- nent cultural institution was the church. Yet unless we spoke Latin, or read or wrote Latin . . . we would have had to sit there nodding our heads when the priests said this is good for you, because we could not participate in the theological discussion. Teats where we are today. The preeminent cultural traits of our time are science and technology. And yet most of our people are disenfranchised from participating in the preeminent cultural traits of our time.... The echoes of the Reformation which was really people saying, awe no longer want our major preeminent cultural trait to be conducted in a language we can't understand'-are still with us (Spotts, 1987a:3). As educators consider training the priests, they also should con- sider training the laity giving them enough of the language to al- low them to ask basic questions. How might one do this? Instead of teaching introductory biology straight from a textbook, why not base the course on an issue, such as the open-air testing of genetically altered microbes. One still would have to deal with the basic science. But for someone not going into research, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a subject he or she should pay attention to, because it is an issue that is taken up at the most fundamental levels of government, the city or town. Remember that one of the key battlefields over the open-air testing of frost-retarding bacteria in 1987 was the hearing room of the Monterey County (California) Board of Supervisors. For the student who intends to go on to a career in research, such an approach to teaching would communicate clearly from the outset that ethical, economic, and environmental issues and the ability to discuss them are as crucial to the progress of his or her career as a grasp of the basic science involved is. The role of educators, however, does not stop at the classroom door. Whether educators are comfortable with the prospect or not, the fact remains that they also educate by their responses to ques- tions posed by members of the media. They not only educate the reporter, but if they are doing their Job right, they are helping to educate the public as well. I am not speaking of public relations here, at least in the narrow sense. To me, public relations is what someone engages in after the reactor has melted down. Taken in a broader context, however, maybe the phrase fits. Many reporters may come to scientists with little background on the 1 19

OCR for page 113
AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE subject they want to pursue. They should be treated the same way a freshman student would be treated. The most gratifying experi- ences I had as a science writer were those spent with researchers who were willing to stick with me until it was clear 1 understood what they were talking about. Each story was the fruit of min~seminars whether on some discovery in a particular field or on some public policy question. 1 close with a plea. Our oldest child is in the first grade. He obtained an honorable mention in his elementary schools science fair. Will he sustain his interest in science? 1 hope so. Will he pursue a career in science? Perhaps, but that is his choice, not mine. Whatever the answers to those questions, 1 hope that scien- tists and researchers and those they train will include in their sense of community my children and millions of others and their par- ents. Through whatever outlet available and with all the patience that can be mustered, help them learn the language of the priest- hood. References National Science Foundation. 1990. National Patterns of R&D Resources logo. NSF Report 9316. Washington, D.C.: National Science Founda- tion. Spotts, P. 1987a. Science does not have to be 'all Latin' to adults, says museum director. Christian Science Monitor, March 24, 1987, p. 3. Spotts, P. 1987b. U.S. stands at cross-road on genetic alteration. Chris- tian Science Monitor, April 27, 1987, p. 1. 120