Ecofeminist Critique of Science Policy
The Emperor has no Clothes ... Let us Paint our Loincloths Rainbow
A Classical and Feminist Critique of
First published in Environmental Values, 5:1, 1996, pp. 3-30. When I showed the draft of this to a senior manager in Edinburgh University where I was employed at the time, he responded, "be careful." By the end of the year in which it was published the Centre for Human Ecology had been mysteriously closed by the university. Summary versions were published in a number of places including New Scientist of 4-5-96. The editor's leader column in that issue condemned the university as a "narrow kirk" for having terminated the CHE's "tradition of fearless inquiry." Click here to view this and links to other articles.
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British government's White Paper on science together with government research
council reports are used as a basis for critiquing current science policy and
its intensifying orientation, British and worldwide, towards industrial and
military development. The critique draws particulary on Plato and Bacon as
yardsticks to address who science is for, what values it honours and where
current policy departs from imperatives of socio-ecological justice. Metaphors
of the "Emperor's new clothes" and incremental spectral shift in
attitude help illuminate both the problems and ways forward. The paper calls for
a re-integration of classical perspectives with added insights, often
ecofeminist, from philosophy, poetics and a theology of reverence. Predication
on the values of love, interconnectedness and orientation towards childrens'
all-round development should be central to curricular reform. Consistent with
the views of Plato, the original founder of the Academy, the utilitarian role of
science ought to be balanced with a contemplative role of science as the art of
knowing ourselves in relation to nature. Only with such a holistic academic
approach can it adequately rise to providing a pedagogy of authentic human
development, service to the poor and remedies, rather than contribution, to the
ongoing destruction of nature.
of science, ecophilosophy, ecofeminism, ecotheology, human ecology, geopoetics,
reverence, deep ecology, environmental education, Plato, Bacon, globalisation,
Objective and Values Basis
paper asks, has the "Emperor" of British science policy as dressed by
the recent White Paper and the research councils got any clothes? If not, do
alternative perspectives predicated upon social and ecological justice represent
as much as a loincloth?
the outset I wish to make explicit two values perspectives implicit to my
critique. One will be the presumption that government policy, post-publication
of the 1990 White Paper on the environment, should be consistent with the
statement that, "The foundation
stone of (policy for sustainability) is our responsibility to future generations
to preserve and enhance the environment of our country and our planet" (Secretaries
of State ... This Common Inheritance, p. 10). Secondly, the assumption is made
that an ethical science must be conducive of and consistent with "right
livelihood" (Schumacher 1974), meaning dignified, just and
compassionate relationship with nature and between peoples. I hold such
qualities, which are predicated upon love, to be self-evident percepts of the
human soul. As with all such empirical ethical percepts which provide the
metaphysical metanarrative from which non-vacuous logical argumentation always
proceeds, this is neither requiring of nor amenable to strictly logical
definition (cf. Maslow 1962, 1973).
The White Paper and the Perception of Science
May 1993 the British government published Realising
Our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology. This
White Paper is now being implemented in a pedagogical environment where science
is struggling to attract quality recruits. Whilst this is partly due to
unenticing career prospects, it also reflects a cultural shift in the perceived
social utility of science. As Sir
David Weatherall, president of the British Association for the Advancement of
Science has surmised, there is "a
widespread feeling that science had lost its way ... scientists were tampering
with life or unleashing environmental disasters" (The Guardian,
a recent presidential address to the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Crispin
Tickell lays the blame at the door of commercialisation. Warning that the human
species is in danger of becoming "a
suicidal success" due to the product of population, technology and
consumption exceeding nature's carrying capacity, he concludes that: "We
need to change the culture. Many have lamented the division between the cultures
of science and the arts. They are right to do so. But neither is now in charge.
Our real bosses are the business managers, and they are not known for their
ability to think long" (Tickell, 1993).
publication of the White Paper and what we have seen of its working through in
the first two years, offers an invaluable handle by which to grasp and examine
British science policy and its context in global academia and economy. For the
first time in twenty years we were given a yardstick of the highest political
authority. With it we should be able to ascertain who our science is for, how
policy shapes the epistemological constructs of science and who the
"bosses" of such processes are.
evaluating this new yardstick, I shall draw upon two major lines of scientific
teleology in Western thought which, for simplicity, shall be referred to as the
Baconian and the Classical or Platonic. Such drawing upon philosophical roots is
today unfashionable in many scientific circles. However, it should not be
forgotten why the highest degree offered by a university is not a DSc, a doctor
(or teacher) of science, but a PhD - a doctorate in philo-Sophia, the love of
the Goddess of wisdom. Science as a way of knowing is a branch of Western
empirical philosophy. Philosophy precedes science. To ignore the metanarrative
within which the epistemology of science has been constructed would be to fall
short of any aspiration of objectivity and thereby risk advancing
Francis Bacon and Scientific Utilitarian Utopia
principles of the inductive science were laid down in the early seventeenth
century primarily by Francis Bacon, "the father of modern science".
Bacon, who was made Lord Chancellor in 1618, saw the role of science as being to
master and control nature for economic benefit.
(1980, p. 169) remarks that for Bacon, "The
new man of science must not think that the 'inquisition of nature is in any part
interdicted or forbidden.' Nature must be ... put 'in constraint' and 'moulded'
by the mechanical arts. The 'searchers and spies of nature' are to discover
'her' plots and secrets".
with the statement, "knowledge is
power" (Russell 1946), Bacon likened nature to a woman in whose womb
can be anticipated "many secrets of
excellent use". In "The Masculine Birth of Time" he
proclaimed, "I am come in very truth
leading to you nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make
her your slave" (Merchant 1980, p. 170). Frequently describing matter
as a "common harlot", he
draws on metaphors of repressed sexuality and of torture (as used in the
inquisition of "witches" of his time) in showing how inductive
scientific method is the means by which the repeatable experimental situation
can be achieved and exploited. "For
you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings, and you
will be able when you like to lead and drive her afterward to the same place
again.... Neither ought a man to make a scruple of entering and penetrating into
these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his whole object - as
your majesty has shown in your own example (ie. witchcraft inquisition)"
(ibid. p. 168.).
1981, Pepper 1984, Jones 1987, Griffin 1989 and the Jungs (1993) constitute a
chorus of other environmentalist voices exposing these aspects of Bacon's
science. The issues were generally not perceived by more orthodox commentators
such as Eiseley 1961 or Weinberger 1985. Weinberger opens his preface saying he
intends to "restore the
now-forgotten eighteenth-century view that Francis Bacon was the greatest of all
the 'moderns' - the thinkers from Machiavelli to Hobbes who recommended turning
the human intellect from the contemplation of God and nature to the scientific
project for mastering nature and fortune" (p.9). Eiseley ends with a
more cautious note. "The rise of
technology (in the nineteenth century) gave hope for a Baconian Utopia of the
New Atlantis model. Problem solving became the rage of science. Today problem
solving with mechanical models, even of living societies, continues to be
popular. The emphasis, however, has shifted to power. From a theoretical desire
to understand the universe, we have come to a point where it is felt we must
understand it to survive.... If the physicist learns the nature of the universe
in his cyclotron well and good, but the search is for power" (pp. 81 -
Spretnak points out that various other philosophers of Bacon's period spurned "the
authority of the ancients ... in a quest to find an authoritative and infallible
method by which to determine truth ... Descartes declar(ing) ... a practical
philosophy by which we would 'render ourselves the masters and possessors of
nature'" (1991, pp. 253 - 254). Like Caroline Merchant (op cit.), she
emphasises that the closing years of the "burning times" of
"witches", which affected mainly women living close to nature,
coincides with the start of the industrial revolution, colonialism,
"improvement", "progress", and "development". Such
ecofeminist philosophers see direct linkage between the repression of women, the
rise of science-predicated technology and what the new U.S. Vice-President Al
Gore has described as, "a new kind of addiction ... the consumption of the earth itself
(which) distracts us from the pain of what we have lost" (Gore 1992, p.
Has Eve Framed Bacon?
draft copy of this paper was sent for criticism to Peter Dawkins of the Francis
Bacon Research Trust. He returned the view (personal correspondence, 11 November
1993) that I had "greatly misjudged
Bacon," adding that, "You
are certainly not alone in this, as there seems to be a growing number of
persons awakening to the fact that mankind is hurting and destroying his
environment, who blame science for this, who look for a scapegoat and who then
consider Bacon will do."
cites the Novum Organum where Bacon refers to, "Man,
the servant and interpreter of Nature ... for Nature is not conquered save by
obedience..." Refering to Bacon's hermeneutical exegesis of the
Biblical "Genesis", Dawkins concludes for his advocatee that, "A
gardener masters or conquers nature entirely by his loving service to the nature
of his garden ... nature is only commanded by love..."
are the ecofeminists framing Bacon? One of his best know works is about a
utopian state, the "New Atlantis" (1605). Weinberger (op cit.) shows
that this was revisionary attempt at completing Plato’s Atlantean vision in
The Critias. Here Bacon speaks admiringly and with astonishing prescient vision
of flying machines, submarines, climate control and what we would now know as
genetic engineering. All are described as contributing to a high standard of
living. But there is also a chilling aspect to this reality. It carries no moral
apology apart from the presumption of the superiority of humankind. We might be
forgiven for referring to the utilitarian view of science as being a
“Baconian” perspective in the context of such passages as where Bacon looks
forward to, "... parks and
inclosures of all sorts of beasts and birds, which we use not only for view or
rareness, but likewise for dissections and trials; that thereby we may take
light what may be wrought upon the body of man.... We try also all poisons and
other medicines upon them, as well of chirurgery as physic. By art (science)
likewise, we make them greater or taller than their kind is; and contrariwise
dwarf them, and stay their growth: we make them more fruitful and bearing than
their kind is; and contrariwise barren and not generative.... We make them also
by art greater much than their nature...." (Bacon 1974, p. 241).
Plato's "Splendid Entertainment"
recognising the importance of figures like Thales, Heraclitus, Empedocles,
Democritus and Aristotle, I shall predicate my exposition of a classical
alternative to Bacon on Plato (c. 427 - 347 BC), whose views on cosmology,
mathematics, evolution and human ecology have been so influentially expressed in
western thought through the Timaeus and Critias.
opens these twinned dialogues by portraying his mentor, Socrates, as hoping that
the outcome of the scientific discourse in which the assembled thinkers are
about to engage will be "splendid
entertainment" (Timaeus 27).
then gives the main part in this dialogue to Timaeus. It is reasonable for us to
class Timaeus as a scientist in the modern sense because Critias tells Socrates
that Timaeus, "knows more about
astronomy than the rest of us and has devoted himself particularly to studying
the nature of the universe" (27 - 28).
reminds Timaeus to invoke the gods before speaking. Timaeus enthusiastically
obliges. He replies, "... surely, if
we are not quite crazy, as we embark on our account of how the universe began,
or perhaps had no beginning, we must pray to all the gods and goddesses that
what we say will be pleasing to them first, and then to ourselves"
(27). Having so reinforced Socrates' anticipation of intellectual pleasure,
Timaeus proceeds with his famous and powerful dualistic metaphysical statement
of first principle: "We must in my
opinion begin by distinguishing between that which always is and never becomes
(and) that which is always becoming but never is" (27). I consider
Plato's making of this distinction, rather than recognising the underlying Zen-koanic
unity of these two processes, is the pivotal difference between dualistic
post-Socratic western thought and holistic eastern thought as exemplified by
this point on Plato, through Timaeus, lets the cosmos and its human ecology
unfold. The world was created "... a
living being with soul and intelligence" (30) which "in its imitation of the eternal nature resemble(s) as closely as
possible the perfect intelligible Living Creature" (39). Time is
defined as "... an eternal moving
image of the eternity which remains for ever at one" (37). Historical
human ecology is traced right down to Critias later telling of the felling of
the "thick woods" on the
mountains of prehistoric Greece at the time of Atlantis, so that, "You
are left (as with little islands) with something rather like the skeleton of a
body wasted by disease; the rich, soft soil has all run away leaving the land
nothing but skin and bone" (Critias 111).
soul is "endowed with (both) reason
and harmony" (Timaeus 37) and "(cosmological)
harmony ... has motions akin to the orbits in our soul" (47). The
faculty of sight and the observation of the heavens made possible by it, "...
has caused the invention of number, given us the notion of time, and made us
inquire into the nature of the universe; thence we have derived philosophy, the
greatest gift the gods have ever given or will give to mortals" (47).
The gift is both metaphysical and pragmatically ontological: it helps us know
what is, what we are, and it shows us how to live as happily as we can. Such
scientific inquiry enables us to, "...
see the revolutions of intelligence in the heavens and use their untroubled
course to guide the troubled revolutions in our own understanding, which are
akin to them, and so ... correct the disorder of our own revolutions by the
standard of the invariability of those of god" (47). Timaeus goes on to
say that the same applies to sound, hearing, rhythm and music. In so doing,
Plato justifies the contemplative hedonism of his holistic natural philosophy.
He claims that, "... as anyone who
makes intelligent use of the arts knows, (such percepts are) not to be used, as
is commonly thought, to give irrational pleasure, but as a heaven-sent ally in
reducing to order and harmony any disharmony in the revolutions within us"
as most universities now call natural philosophy, is therefore central to right
livelihood. In composing the soul it must be especially pleasing, Plato implies,
to "... Pan and the Muses"
(Critias 108; cf. Phaedrus 279). Plato is certainly not opposed to utilitarian
uses of science. Indeed he affirms, "two types of cause, the necessary and the divine. The divine we should
look for in all things for the sake of the measure of happiness in life that our
nature permits, and the necessary for the sake of the divine, reflecting that
without them we can not perceive, apprehend, or in any way attain our objective"
(Timaeus 68 - 69). But it is clear that the utilitarian uses must be in service
of the divine if the preconditions for human happiness are to be met. The main
emphasis is on the transcendental knowing of reality.
on the other hand, draws us more towards that uncomfortable edge of technology;
that portrayed by e.e. cummings (1969), where, "Progress
is a comfortable disease ... A world of made is not a world of born - pity poor
flesh and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this fine specimen of
hypermagical ultraomnipotence". In this, Bacon was distinctly modern.
His livelihood aspirations went beyond the demands of frugal sufficiency.
Unlike that of Plato, his science contained implications which inevitably
harnessed science to an economy, one increasingly to dominate as the
economy (Duffy, 1994) colonising both the commons and knowledge.
Plato and Ecofeminism
I shall argue shortly for a recovery of Platonic scientific teleology, its
predication of the rational over feeling falls short of ecofeminist ideals. Some
of Plato's thought is astonishingly feminist to the extent that he himself
remarks upon it through Socrates in the opening dialogue of the Timaeus. Gender
equality was a distinctive though contradicted characteristic of parts of the
Republic. And in the Symposium (201), Plato attributes his whole philosophy of
love to the wisdom of a woman, Diotima of Manitinea. But Plato sharply loses
"new man" points in the Timaeus. The text starts by articulating a
Goddess predicated cosmology (24 - 28). But then, as the character, Timaeus,
takes over from Critias' preamble, Plato effects a theocratic gender paradigm
jump. Matrifocality in the form of the Goddess is displaced by a transcendent
patrifocal deity, "the maker and
father of this universe" (28). Plato's creation myth is beautiful and
Gaia-like. Nevertheless, with the outstanding exception of the nature-inspired
passion-driven divine madness of the Phaedrus (244-245), the broader context of
his thought is a transcendent spirituality at the expense of the immanent. The
created world is but an inferior representation of the eternal. The eternal, and
not the world, is thus the proper focus of a philosopher's life, this being
articulated not through the feelings, but through reason.
in history, Church philosophers could only delight at the rediscovery of
writings which could be interpreted to so corroborate a theology of creation
fallen through the imputed sin of Adam.
spiritualities, on their own, have not provided adequate defence of women,
nature, or the gentle souls of men over time (Watts 1976). The influence of
ancient Sparta on Plato's thought (Russell op cit.) may have effected this
philosophical "poisonous pedagogy" (cf. Millar 1987) which is
reflected in his denigration of the body, scorn of passion and censorship of
feeling in literature. His ecology, though sound, is ambivalent. The same Plato
who later in life established his Academy in a grove just outside Athens and
ends The Phaedrus with Socrates venerating "beloved Pan" of the "holy
place of the nymphs" (Phaedrus 278), earlier echoes the ivory tower
aloofness of many subsequent academics; Socrates telling the country-loving
Phaedrus that, "I'm a lover of
learning, and trees and open country won't teach me anything, whereas men in the
town do" (231).
(op. cit.) concludes that scientific rationalism, which has been the final
outcome over time, has caused "the
death of nature". Nature requires our embodied concern, our empathy if
we are to live sustainably, at-one with it. This is not to discard reason or the
transcendent. They are a vital parts of the whole. But to divorce reason from
feeling and sensuality in a hierarchy of epistemolgical validity can only split
the psychosomatic totality of life and eventually, injure both psyche and soma.
is a movement that attempts a re-weaving of world and spirit (cf. Diamond &
Orenstein 1990, Plant 1989). Later in this paper, we shall draw upon it as an
understanding which can recover much of value from the Classical world view -
what Empedocles might have predicted as a return of the Golden Age of Aphrodite
after a long period of love being overwhelmed by strife (Russell, op. cit., p.
The White Paper: a Neo-Baconian Charter
in the following extracts is added.)
Platonic classicism and Baconian utilitarianism two major poles in scientific
teleological thought can be identified. The need for a tripole has been hinted
at - an ecofeminist perspective grounded, as is ecofeminism, in deep ecology
(Seed, Naess et al. 1988). We shall return to this later. For now, holding these
cognitive tools as yardsticks in the mind, let us analyse and evaluate British
White Paper opens with the statement that, "The
understanding and application of science are fundamental to the fortunes
of modern nations ... (being) intimately linked with progress across the
whole range of human endeavour.... They provide ... a vital part of humankind's
armoury for solving long-standing, world-wide problems, such as
poverty and disease, and for addressing new global challenges such as those
facing the environment" (1.1).
is here presented not as a way of knowing, but as a means of problem solving.
Problem solving is, of course, part of the role of science, but heavy use of
such language as "challenge" and "fighting back" augments a
combative rather than a co-operative or symbiotic approach to nature. The causes
admitted to, however, are laudable. Poverty and ecology are rallied to bolster
the continuing need for scientific advance.
are not necessarily combative when they first enter the field. Gaillard (1991)
has shown that social utility, as in concern for humankind, is the dominant
motive influencing practitioners to choose or alter a scientific career. One
wonders about the psychology of those many school leavers who choose veterinary
science because they love animals, or forestry because they like trees, then
find themselves employed in factory farming or clearfelling. Does scientific
training, as distinct from education, somehow square the dissonance often
apparent between the ideal and the job? Could there be a form of intellectual
dishonesty at work; what Tart (1988), based on his work with consciousness and
hypnosis, calls a "consensus trance
induction process", whereby a consensually validated world view is
shaped by pedagogy, advertising, media, etc. to the detriment of alternative
Levine (1991), a former director of the US's Public Understanding of Science
Programme, has argued the importance of making explicit "the
implied social contract, or bargain, between science and the larger society".
But for the White Paper, it becomes apparent after the first paragraph that the
contract is to be a three-way closed shop in a market place subsidised by the
taxpayer: "Technology foresight,
jointly conducted by industry and the science and engineering communities, will
be used to inform Government's decisions and priorities. The process will be
carefully designed to tap into the expertise of people closest to emerging
scientific, technological and market developments. The aim is to achieve a key
cultural change ... between the scientific community, industry and
Government Departments" (1.18.2).
is to be the first line of defence in the armoury which Britain's historic role
in free trade demands. We must apply science to remain on top in what financier
Sir James Goldsmith (speaking elsewhere) has called "a Hell's
merry-go-round" of development. Without alluding to any critique of
techno-economic history and its environmental consequences, the Paper says: "The
history of the United Kingdom has shown the intimate connection between free
trade, the application of science to tradeable products, and national
prosperity. The industrial revolution which played so large a part in
creating the modern world was made possible by our great engineers of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In a world where ever fiercer competition
prevails, history's lessons are highly pertinent" (1.2).
motivated not by the sense of wonderment (which Aristotle said is the root of
philosophy), but by fear of being trampled from behind on the racetrack
of competitive progress, science must "generate
relevant and industrially applicable results" (1.8). The paradigmatic
mindset is one in which, "The major
challenge facing the United Kingdom today is an economic one. The nation's first
priority must be to improve the performance of the economy to meet the
competitive challenge..." (2.1). It is therefore necessary that "opportunities
should be generated, on a much larger scale, for interaction between scientists
and businessmen involved in the day-to-day business of selling in
competitive markets" (2.29).
is not to deny that some research may have "intrinsic
scientific merit" (1.8), or
that "there are educational and
cultural reasons for funding research", but the White Paper leaves us
in the dark as to what these might be, except where Big Science is concerned,
now re-named "Mega Science"
(6.19) by the OECD. In Mega Science it is conceded that, "the
prospects of commercial exploitation and 'spin-off' are severely limited"
(6.15) and a competitive approach would be too costly because, "like
the science itself, the cost (of competition) nowadays can be
astronomical". Thus, "science needs Government and public funds" (1.7) and
co-operative global collaboration is appropriate in pursuing (undefined) "worthwhile
opportunities" (6.19) in areas like particle physics and astronomy. The
"pooling of effort in the pursuit of common research
objectives" is also appropriate "where
shared human problems are addressed". The two examples given are the World Climate Research
Programme, which, of course, addresses probable links between climate change and
technology-fuelled development, and the Human Genome Project.
acknowledging that "science and
technology do not respect political or national boundaries (6.1), the Paper
avoids serious mention of economic boundaries other than to remark that
international co-operation will involve "facilitating
foreign access to the patented findings of research undertaken in the
United Kingdom....". This might be worrying for the Third World, given
the findings of Gaillard (op. cit) that far from helping to develop indigenous
science, the increasing commercialisation of science accelerates the brain drain
from South to North. However, through the Technology Partnership Initiative the
UK is willing to build on its "track record in transferring environmentally-sound
developing countries and "the
Overseas Development Administration has a key role to play in promoting
sustainable development in countries supported by the British Aid Programme"
(6.4). Notwithstanding the weighty consideration given to the topic in the
Government's White Paper on the Environment (This Common Inheritance, 1990),
this is the only mention made of sustainability in the Science and
Technology White Paper. It is curious that the appliance of science in this
respect appears to be confined to developing countries. Curious too that "key
issues" globally include "environment,
human population and AIDS" (6.1), but there is no suggestion that
population is only a problem inasmuch as it combined with levels of consumption,
such as economic growth promotes and for which the Third World is not primarily
Prosperity and Quality of Life - the New
Paper states that "when (Government)
funds science, as it must ... (with) large sums of public money" it is
to achieve "wider benefits, above
all the generation of national prosperity and the improvement of the quality of
life" (1.7). Prosperity and quality of life are repeatedly linked in
this way. While prosperity has clearly been argued as being a function of
competition in free global markets and therefore concerns material wealth, no
definition of quality of life is offered. Neither is any mention made of the
distribution of prosperity and quality of life, either within British society or
between nations. Mission statements are reproduced for all six reorganised
research councils, including the Economic and Social Research Council. Four are
paragraph-long statements, 20% of the space being taken up by the same
mantra-like ending, "... thereby
enhancing the United Kingdom's industrial competitiveness and quality of
life" (pp. 29 - 31). There are two variations. The Medical Research
Council, turns priorities round, claiming it is, "... thereby enhancing health, the quality of life and the United
Kingdom's industrial competitiveness" (p. 30). The Particle Physics and
Astronomy Research Council's equivalent is given below. Each research council
will have, "Chairmen ...
selected ... to bring in relevant experience from the industrial and commercial
sectors most closely related to the Council's missions" (3.31).
is difficult to see how such proposals can be referred to as anything other than
a businessman's science charter. None of the mission statements refer to
anything other than a utilitarian function for science. With the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council the neo-Baconian intent is particularly
manifest with the statement that it aims at, "... enhancing the management of biological resources and their
utilisation and interactions with the environment, placing special emphasis on
meeting the needs of users of its research and training output, thereby
enhancing the United Kingdom's industrial competitiveness and quality of life."
(p. 29). No mention is made of such issues as environmental sustainability,
biodiversity or meeting the needs of the poorest in society. No concession is
made to the Platonic perspective. The implicit values structure speaks to a
scientistic (not a scientific) paradigm of control and domination over nature,
reinforced by gender-exclusive patrifocal language.
support that the White Paper is rooted in the thought of the general era of
Bacon is provided by a speech delivered to the British Association by the
Paper's instigator, William Waldegrave, now associated with the "Arms for
Iraq" scandal. In addressing the audience about the "ignorance of and even hostility to science, which is too
widespread in Britain," he reminded them of the "spectacular English (sic) explosions of intellectual energy" under
Elizabeth I and Queen Anne (The Guardian, 3-9-93, p. 6).
Science Policy to Profit from War
a chapter on defence science and technology, the Paper notes that, "As the Gulf conflict illustrated, technology can provide the
decisive edge in military operations" (4.1). It is in this chapter that
the only mention is made of a specific environmental technology: "water
pollution control" (4.7) is cited as one of the 'spin-offs' from
military research. New conceptual ground is broken with the frank statement that
military purchases of commercial technology "produces
opportunities for 'spin-in' from the civil to the defence sector"
such as the Defence Research Agency's Pathfinder programme will ease
opportunities for industry and "allow
industry to influence the nature of the Agency's work to facilitate wider future
applications" (4.12). In these respects the White Paper is commendable
for its openness in rendering so lucid the relationship between state and the
military-industrial complex which has placed Britain second in the league of
global arms exporters, with 20% of world market share (Guardian Weekly,
failure to define the non-economic "worthwhile" aspects of fundamental
or basic research might raise questions regarding its possible military
applications. The mission statement for the new Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council states that it has, "To
promote and support high-quality basic research and related post-graduate
training in astronomy, planetary science, and particle physics, which takes
account of the potential for contributing to the United Kingdom's industrial
competitiveness and quality of life, but whose main objective is the improved
understanding of the concepts and principles underlying physical phenomena and
their consequences" (p. 31).
is quite possible, and hopefully the case, that here we do have a genuine
aspiration towards the Platonic ideal. If so, it is an expensive one, and should
be made more explicit so that its social contract in relation to the poor, the
old, the sick, the degraded in nature, the ordinary taxpayer, and so on can be
subjected to scrutiny. If fundamental research is not significantly for
contemplative purposes, then the long term contribution to industrial
competitiveness and quality of life should be monitored, perhaps with due
application of normal discounting procedures to the stream of distant benefits
duly weighted for the probability of their occurring (Van Horne 1980, Bromwich
1976). Should basic research not be justified on grounds of either contemplative
or social utility,it ought to be clearly stated as an elitist activity (parallel
to the dominant group in Bacon's New Atlantis), or its military rationales ought
to be subjected to democratic scrutiny. Such scrutiny must include ethical
is disturbing to see ethical sensitivity seemingly lacking in certain
applications of science. For instance, the Economic and Social Research Council
report 1991 - 1992 tells that: "When
Ronald Reagan announced his 'Star Wars' Strategic Defense Initiative there was
widespread astonishment at the audacity of the scheme. Some found it difficult
to comprehend the scale of the project, others railed against the astronomical
costs involved. However when the public came back to earth, their amazement was
eclipsed by growing concern within the scientific community about one vital
question: how can you know that a system as complex and as important to the
world's security will work on the day?" (p. 24).
impact of such technology on human lives is too great for questions as to its
probity to be left unaddressed. Recognising this, an OECD report on American
science policy in the sixties warned, "What
is at stake, ultimately, is not the growth rate of basic research but the view
that the scientist has of himself and his role in society.... Somehow the R
& D explosion spearheaded by the military has permitted the scientific
community to live with something near to a personality split: to be a principal
agent of change in our society during the work hours in the laboratory and yet
not feel committed to the consequences of such change as it enters our daily
life. The state of 'pureness' of intentions and 'non-involvement' in
consequences will no longer be possible in a society fully permeated by science
... (representing) a betrayal of the very principles that made science possible
and made it great" (OECD 1968).
contemplative contribution of Big Science should not be underestimated,
particularly now that it provides new perspectives on philosophies of
interconnectedness and consciousness (Bohm 1983, Penrose 1989, Tarnas 1993,
Zohar 1990). But society has a right to call to account scientists who display
such dangerous arrogance as did Enrico Fermi who, after working on building the
atom bomb, is reputed to have said, "Don't
bore me with your moral scruples. After all, it's superb physics" (Hallen
1989). Lack of public
accountability and respect for the implicit social contract can lead to sudden
disruption of Big Science programmes. Alter and Logan (1991), for instance, show
how NASA's budget was slashed by 75% between 1967 and 1974 as political support
waned following the moon landing. The loss of the space shuttle Challenger was
arguably a symptom of the organisational strains induced by subsequent
organisational degeneration. This in turn further fuels public distrust of Big
science to be valued in society it must be practiced with humility. It must take
its place alongside other epistemologies and not presume to establish
technocracy. As Jacques Delors' said in his address to European church leaders
when President of the European Community, "Believe
me, we won't succeed with Europe solely on the basis of legal expertise or
economic know-how.... If within the next ten years we haven't managed to give a
soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up. This
is why I want to revive the intellectual and spiritual debate on Europe. I would
like to create a meeting place, a space for free discussion open to men and
women of spirituality, to believers and non-believers, scientists and
artists" (Hulbert 1993).
Science Education: Children
to address such implicit critiques as that of Delors are felt by some scientific
educators to account for difficulties in attracting bright young people into
their faculties. The White Paper attempts to address this, expressing such
pedagogical intentions as: "The
government wishes to harness the intellectual resources of the science and
engineering base (ie. graduates from tertiary educational institutes) to improve
economic performance and the quality of life". Reference to this
happening, "in future" (3.9),
indicates policy change. It is suggested that PhD training in universities
should become "more closely related
to the needs of industry" (7.17).
graduates undertaking a PhD are in mature control of their own lives, there is
little cause for concern here and many would welcome a move towards more applied
PhD research. But such is not the case for children within an age category or a
social class where schooling to a government curriculum is compulsory. Of these,
the Paper disturbingly states that,
"the Government ... has embarked on a radical agenda of changes in
the education and training system, including changes in the school curriculum
... for the whole of compulsory schooling". This will "ensure
for the first time that all pupils, girls as well as boys, will study a broad
and balanced programme of science and technology right through to the age of
16" (7.2). It continues, "more
young people must perceive science and engineering in industry as an attractive
and worthwhile career. They must also see the value of developing the
entrepreneurial skills which will help businesses exploit more effectively the
results of research, science and technological development" (7.7). Such
mechanisms as science festivals should be used to persuade the public of the
importance of these changes, encouraging "diffusion
among the public at large of an appreciation of what science is" (7.32). Significantly,
"what science is" goes undefined. However, we are reassured that in
our schools, steps towards the "radical agenda of changes" mean that "Pupils can now expect impartial and accurate careers
guidance and access to work experience" (7.2).
might ask whether this will be "impartial" within the wider playing
field of life, or only on the field drawn up within the paradigms of the White
Paper's "key cultural change". With such an inadequate philosophical
base, what safeguards are there to prevent a limiting of children's horizons on
life, a shutting down of their world views, so they are induced to understand
the economy's relationship to life as being perforce a Baconian application of
science, engineering and technology to competitive industry? The White Paper
after all makes no concession to the possibility that the excitement, wonder and
joy of pursuits like science and the other arts might be worthy ends in
themselves. Instead, it hijacks what we might call the "wow factor" of
a child's enthusiasm and packages it into feeding greed beyond sufficiency's
need. There is no hint that the Platonic "splendid entertainment" of
such pursuits might actually substitute for material consumption, thereby
reducing the need for wealth creation as a contributor to quality of life and
correspondingly, reducing human impact on nature. Instead, we might be forgiven
for feeling not a little empathy with Pink Floyd's controversial chart-topping
1980's lyric from The Wall, "We
don't want no education; we don't want no thought control; no dark sarcasm in
the classroom - Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!"
is important for policy makers to realise that such countercultural views run
surprisingly close to the mainstream surface and will breed cynicism of
manipulative policy. As a few academics and civil servants were scrutinising the
government's intentions in the White Paper, hundreds of thousands of British
children were being exposed to a contrary perspective put forward in Michael
Crichton's best-selling book, Jurassic Park, made into a Spielberg
blockbusting movie. Reflecting on a Baconian New Atlantis-type dinosaur
theme park gone mad, Crichton's character, Malcolm, says of a scientist:
"He's an engineer, they're technicians. They don't
have intelligence. They have what I call 'thintelligence.' They see the
immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it 'being focused.' They
don't see the surround. They don't see the consequences. That's how you get an
island like this.... Scientists have an elaborate line of bullshit about how
they are seeking to know the truth about nature. Which is true, but that's not
what drives them. Nobody is driven by abstractions like 'seeking truth.'
Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on
whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do
something. They conveniently define such considerations as pointless. If they
don't do it, someone else will. Discovery, they believe, is inevitable. So they
just try to do it first. That's the game in science. Even pure scientific
discovery is an aggressive, penetrative act. It takes big equipment, and it
literally changes the world afterward. Particle accelerators scar the land and
leave radioactive byproducts. Astronauts leave trash on the moon. There is
always some proof that scientists were there, making their discoveries.
Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always. The scientists want it
that way. They have to stick their instruments in. They have to leave their
mark. They can't just watch. They can't just appreciate" (Crichton 1991, p.
Science and Women
White Paper also addresses ways of drawing more women into science: "Women are the country's biggest single most under-valued and
therefore under-used human resource" (7.13). Whilst valuing the
gender-inclusive intentions, one might ask whether a woman would have expressed
it in such consumptive language. Women have other ways of seeing such
instrumentalism (Kirkup et al., 1992). Scots poet, Mary McCann (1992 pp. 64 -
65), addresses profound concern in her poem, "Working for Moloch".
Consistent with theologian Walter Wink's view that in a modern context we must
again name, unmask and engage the age-old "principalities and powers"
(Wink 1992), she re-invokes Moloch, the Old Testament fire-filled stone idol
into whose red hot arms the children were sacrificed to ensure material
the cleaners are scrubbing the Institute lavatories
because women are supposed to do that...
the young men are doing their PhD's
because young men are obedient and ambitious
and someone wants warheads...
multichannel night seeking radar...
and science is neutral...
at the top of the tower the old men and the middle aged
and sometimes one woman professor
meet to form plans, cadge funds and run the place
because obedient young men turn into obedient old men
and it's all for the good of the country...
and science is neutral
and no one notices Moloch...
and it's hard to see Moloch because he is both far away
and no one asks to whom whey are all obedient
and they say, "Who's Moloch? Never heard of
as out in the dark Moloch belches
and grows redder and redder
and fatter and fatter
as he eats the children
Existing Research Council Policy - 1991-92
line of approach in ascertaining the drift of British Science policy can be
gleaned from the reports of the research councils. The three most relevant to
environmental issues are the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Agriculture and Food
Research Council (AFRC). Here I shall refer to the two most recent reports to
each, those for the years ending 1992 and 1993.
1992 reports precede the science White Paper, but reflect policy which had time
to absorb the 1990 environment White Paper. We shall address 1992 and 1993
1992 the NERC, which had one woman other than the Secretary on its Council of
twenty, described its purpose as being to develop "understanding of Man's impact on his surroundings and ... sensible
policies for the exploitation of natural resources" (p. ii). It
recognises that space science has "brought
to public consciousness for the first time (sic) the essential unity, and
fragility, of the Earth's environmental systems ... (and that) Man's activities
are having profound global effects on the natural environment" (p. 6). It
is not until the section on "Highlights from the Universities" on page
17 that sustainability is mentioned for the first and only time, though
fittingly with the statement that: "(For
taxonomy) to be a really useful science, an understanding is needed of what
species do for the structure of ecosystems, and which species perform vital
keystone tasks; then judgments can be made of the sustainability of human
activities and future policies". The neo-Baconian utilitarian
presumptions underlying this research are apparent from the statement that, "it
is not known how many kinds of plants and animals live on this planet...; it is
not known what they all do, or how many of them are vital to the functioning of
the Earth's ecosystems; and it has not been decided on moral, aesthetic
or economic grounds how many species should be conserved". Scientific
reserve permits no hint of outrage that, "it
is known that, largely as a result of human activities, species are disappearing
at a rate unprecedented over the past 600 million years of evolution".
for the ESRC, its growing emphasis on high quality data collection is
consistent, says its research director, with wanting "high
quality research that has a sense of leadership and intellectual excitement -
research that will push the frontiers of our knowledge and understanding
forward. We are not here to make subjective judgements on whether a proposal
is 'socially' important. Academic excellence is our principal yardstick"
(p. 7). Just how academia has managed to resolve Moore's naturalistic
fallacy (Frankena 1939) in so doing is not explained.
presumption of value neutrality notwithstanding, the ESRC is sponsoring several
research programmes which are welcome for their direct or indirect relevance to
sustainability. Their Global Environmental Change programme in particular
includes components which address several of the concerns of this paper,
particularly Lancaster University's programme on "Science, Culture and the
Environment" (GEC 1994).
ESRC funded programme has developed a taxation structure to use market
mechanisms to reduce waste in packaging. Another explores food and nutrient
flows between London and the agricultural periphery since the 14th century. It
concludes, "There are no indications
that there was ever a sustained food crisis in the city. This shows that
comparatively simple agricultural systems have the capacity to meet
sophisticated demands. Perhaps the future will have more respect for traditional
systems" (p. 22). A third, entitled "High-Tech
Myths" looks at the relationship between small firms and technology,
concluding that most of the benefit of technical innovation spirals up to large
companies (pp. 26 - 27). The implications of this might be pondered in the light
of the White Paper's emphasis on industry.
AFRC, having made no mention of sustainability in its 1990 - 91 report, makes a
wholehearted commitment in 1991 - 92 by entitling its report, "A Basis for Sustainability". It is clear that most of the
work still being sponsored has no relation to sustainability, indeed,
sustaining soil quality (which is perhaps the most significant quantifiable
physical sustainability indicator) gets no mention until page 33 in a 65 page
document. But the Council is clearly making a start with new ways of thinking: "On
the one hand molecular biology and genetics describe individual molecules or
organisms; they are reductionist in emphasis. On the other hand, nutrient
management, ecology, pest control and environmental studies require more holistic
approaches involving the study of integrated systems. These are usefully brought
together in the concept of sustainability..." (p. 5).
might hope in future to see reference to the human ecology/community of
sustainable agriculture which is not mentioned at present. This could militate
against such statements as, "Farming
can be viewed as an engineering process..." (p. 33), or the
agriculture-as-molecular biology thrust of the Government’s “Forward
Look” and “Foresight” reports (Whittemore, 1995), which came
out too late for discussion to be included in this paper.
might also hope to see some addressing of questions as to whether sustainable
land and sea use is possible in a framework of global agricultural
economics. In what is acknowledged to be "an
increasingly competitive and international market place" (p. 3), it
would be valuable to see research commissioned to explore whether a process like
GATT can uphold agricultural communities, biodiversity and soil structure, or
whether pressures of free trade will undercut everything to the lowest common
denominator of greatest exploitation (Lancaster and McIntosh, 1995). If research
councils are to serve quality of life as the White Paper suggests, such
questions should become paramount. But if they are to do so mainly via the
wealth creating filter of industry and with councils overwhelmingly biased
towards the cultural perspectives of white upper middle class men, the nature of
their social contract with broader British society may be called increasingly
Research Council Reports - 1992-93
NERC's 1993 report places considerable stress on science which bears on
environmental problems such as trace gas exchange between atmosphere and ocean,
the adaptability of plants to climate change and species diversity in farm
woodland ecology. In what is his last annual report as chairman, John Knill
comments that, "NERC's submission to
Government on the White Paper argued, as it had at the time of the Morris Report
in 1989, for the holistic nature of environmental research but clearly
identified areas where change was desirable. Evolution was preferred to
revolution...." (p. 3).
ESRC is less ambivalent in demonstrating that its science contributes to
industry. Thus we are told of its semantics research that, "A
leading computer manufacturer has used some of the findings to develop a new
word processing package" (p. 5). We are advised that an outcome of
research into road psychology is that, "A
major driving school is seriously considering using the technique" (p. 6).
And the chief economist of ICI considers that, "In many ways, the results of social science research are more
important than those coming from the natural sciences. They are more relevant to
wealth creation and policy making" (p. 10).
is little of environmental significance in the ESRC report, but in a section
headed "Science Fiction", there is a telling account of Brian Wynne's
research into differences in risk perception between scientists and the public.
Wynne finds that "The scientists may
calculate the risks, but this involves social assumptions, which often
inadvertently suppose an ideal world. The public is interested in how these
scientific advances are going to be controlled and managed in the real world....
Scientists, however, rarely recognise that their own knowledge is shaped by
social assumptions too.... The experts impose their own social assumptions about
what is useful and consequently undermine their own credibility. Scientific
bodies do not appear to understand these conflicts" (p. 31).
is in the 1993 AFRC report that we see some of the most interesting adaptations
to the White Paper. The report is speckled through with quotations from the
Paper as the Council demonstrates its readiness to transmutate into the new
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Almost
disappeared is last year's keynote emphasis on sustainability. The 1993 report
is entitled, "Meeting UK Needs in the Biosciences". A picture of a
Council meeting at the Royal Society in 1993 reveals that, behind the
androgynous initials in the listing of Council members, all but one of the
twenty-one present are men, and all are white.
are told by the end of the next century to anticipate a 2 - 4 Centigrade degree
rise in temperature. In anticipation, research into crop management under
environmental change is being sponsored. Animal welfare in production farming
also receives support, as does organic dairying and the modelling of
silvopastoral systems. £11.2 million out of the Council's £48.8 million
expenditure on Coordinated Programmes could be said to be environment related,
the largest tranche of which (£8 million) is allocated to the Biological
Adaptation to Global Environmental Change programme. By comparison, similar sums
are spent on Stem Cell Molecular Biology (£7.5 million), Plant Molecular
Biology (£8 million) and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (£9 million) (p.
particular interest is the AFRC's public relations research into attitudes to
biotechnology and its "schools liaison" work. The Council seeks "to
understand better the basis of public perception of biotechnology. This will
help the Council to present its research in ways that both provide the public
with objective information on issues of legitimate concern and provide a basis
for rational decision-making" (p. 52). To achieve this a conference is
planned to seek consensus on biotechnology. This will allow for dialogue between
experts and citizens, with the National Museum of Science and Industry having
agreed to take responsibility "for
ensuring impartiality and publishing the findings" (p. 52). The Council
is considering both sponsoring and providing expert evidence to this,
recognising that "Public attitudes
will influence the extent to which the potential of biotechnology is realised in
new products and processes for industry" (p. 52).
AFRC’s research into consumer and school pupil attitudes shows that the extent
to which different sources of information are trusted when there is no
information attribution include tabloid newspapers (33%), government minister
statements (38%), government information leaflets (48%), food industry leaflets
(52%), environmental group publications (60%), TV news and quality newspapers
(62%), research publications and supermarket information leaflets (63%) and TV
current affairs programmes (67%). An ESRC sponsored Institute of Food Research
study finds that people "feel they
have little control over the technology which they see as controlled at the
level of society .... however, detailed examination of the issues underlying
these ethical concerns reveals many of them to be addressable concerns such as
animal welfare or human health" (p. 52). Given that the Council sees
its programmes as aiming to "increase
public awareness and widen debate on issues of biotechnology that will influence
its acceptability" (p.52), it would appear to be a legitimate concern
that symmetrical resources should be placed into addressing areas which might
conclude that certain aspects of biotechnology or the socioeconomic construct
within which it operates may be not acceptable.
Has the Emperor a Loincloth?
the values basis stated at the outset of this paper, it must be evident that
British science policy represents an Emperor with a substantial vestment
deficit. The White Paper in particular perverts science primarily to utilitarian
ends, splitting it off from any wider context of seeking to know the harmonies
of the soul in relation to nature - that is to say, it denies the holistic
framework of a human ecology.
deficiencies in the White Paper are all the more remarkable given cultural
changes in attitude of a growing number of scientists and educators, such as
that evidenced by the University of Edinburgh's Environmental Initiative. This
requires that "all undergraduates
... should be exposed to teaching about wider and more fundamental issues of
society's relationship to the environment, including complex social, ecological
and ethical questions...." (Loening et al., 1991, p. 5). Such
indications show that in some quarters of Court, the Emperor's nakedness has
been recognised and efforts are being made to halt the procession and tailor at
least a loincloth. To call it more than a loincloth would be presumptuous at
this experimental stage when, as Loening comments, "Universities can and do try (alternative) approaches, but
nevertheless tend to maintain and transfer the traditional abstracted and
reductionist culture" (ibid. p. 38).
might we find a loincloth given that the classical one is better, but still
hardly tailored to modern needs?
thinking on science is currently emerging from sources which are often feminist
or feminist informed. I say "new", but as the controversial
archaeological revisionary work of Marija Gimbutas (1991) et al. arguably
demonstrates, they may be rooted in ways of relating to nature which served
humankind for the greater part of its evolution. Patsy Hallen is one example of
the new wave. She calls her feminist critique of science "Careful
of Science", the title being, "... a dialectical play on the word 'careful', embracing three meanings: (1)
be careful of science or 'beware' of science because its capabilities are so
life-threatening; (2) take care of or 'cherish' science because it is so
precious, one of our most important ways of understanding; and (3) be full of
care or do science with care and hence 'transform' science into a life-affirming
pursuit by caring labour" (Hallen 1989, p. 3).
is reminded of how Rachael Carson was said to have returned her marine specimens
to the shore after observing them in the laboratory, taking care to do so at the
same tidal stage as when they were removed. Such love is perhaps not unconnected
with bringing about the clarity of vision which resulted in Silent Spring.
Perhaps by denying feeling, empathy and compassion as ways of knowing alongside
rationality, our knowing itself becomes deficient. Perhaps thus our science
policy becomes unbalanced. True objectivity calls for inclusion of the
subjective. This makes manifest the relationship between attitude, values and
observation. As educationalist David Orr shows: "Science without love can give us no good reason to appreciate the
sunset, nor can it give us any purely objective reason to value life" (p.
Watts (1976, pp. 68 - 69) further develops this vital point, citing a Chinese
poem by Chia Tao:
I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, "The Master's gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.
Western thought, Watts writes, "But
there is a kind of brash mental healthiness ever ready to rush in and clean up
the mystery, to find out just precisely where the wild geese have gone, what
herbs the master is picking where, and that sees the true face of a landscape
only in the harsh light of the noonday sun. It is just this attitude which every
traditional culture finds utterly insufferable in Western man, not just because
it is tactless and unrefined, but because it is blind. It cannot tell the
difference between the surface and the depth. It seeks depth by cutting into the
surface. But the depth is known only when it reveals itself, and ever withdraws
from the probing mind."
to cross-cultural scholar, Gifford lecturer and chemist, Raimundo Panikkar, the
heart is central to epistemology:
"Love", he suggests, "is
at the root of knowing.... Knowing without love is not true knowledge. It is
only grasping, apprehending, appropriating, ultimately a robbery, a
plunder" (1993, p. 66).
therefore can and must have a loincloth to clad its Baconian nakedness. It is
based on the capacity of the soul to know harmony as well as rationality;
a combined drawing upon the faculties of thinking, intuition, feeling and
sensing (Jung in Jacobi 1942); head, heart and hand. It demands a sensitivity to
if, when and how it might be appropriate to probe, and what if not. It calls for
a science of the utmost responsibility, in which knowledge is not divorced from
wisdom ... the science of a well-centred philo-Sophia. This may be not easy to
contemplate because it requires epistemologies developed most fully in modern
theology. Whilst theology might arguably not demand restoration to its
traditional place as the "Queen of Sciences" for the reasons Newman
(1852) gives, it must at least be heeded for the metaphysical role it can play
in shedding light upon the inner structures of reality (Wink 1992, Panikkar
1990b). Many great scientists, not least Einstein, have always recognised this.
the curriculum, such science might involve studying, for example, how the
biochemistry of an approach like organic farming equates with local
biodiversity; how biodiversity equates with the optimal balance of arable and
stock ... with animal welfare ... with micro and possible macro climatic effects
of land use ... with ecological restoration, including the computer modelling
thereof for differing eco-niches ... with linkages and multipliers in the local
economy ... with the inspiration of artistic creativity through the landscape
created ... with using all the senses and treasuring their pleasures ... with
the spiritual ability to see anew why food and its production is blessed ... and
with the strengthening of human community through people moving more into
"right relationship" with one another and nature (Darwin 1994).
of the humility essential to science should be for scientists themselves to
address seriously such questions as whether billion dollar space probes to Mars
can be justified when homelessness and poverty abound on planet Earth. Teaching
children about socio-economic justice, substituting consumerism with creative
activity and reducing the likelihood of war through conflict resolution training
could be more pressing priorities than preparing them for careers in the arms
industry, "Mega Science", or even research such as how to cope with
problems of climate change. Whilst not denying the importance of such research
as NERC undertakes, it partakes of displacement activity when pursued whilst
not, at the same time, seriously addressing how to live as a society without
continuing to damage the ecosystem. As Loening (1994) puts it, for biologists
not to express active concern is for them shamefully to "preside over the
progressive diminution of their subject of study".
kind of science are we left with? Perhaps one in which radical honesty becomes
the single most distinctive empirical epistemological characteristic. One in
which the definition of science might be, the
uncompromising application of truthfulness to knowing reality. Such is no
more that what "good and accountable science" has always been, and it
is something to celebrate. We may have only a loincloth; our science may be
humble; but let us paint it rainbow.
rainbow loincloth can be symbolic in a number of ways. It represents the
reassertion of humility in science. It reflects the importance of being a
joyous, celebratory, co-operative, compassionate community in concord through
the covenant of social contract, not competition. It recognises that in
socio-environmental issues we are all working on a long and difficult front,
each like differing hues in the spectrum. Some may seem more colourful than
others; others, less so, particularly if we suffer partial colour-blindness; but
all are probably vital to shedding wholesome light.
our metaphor, the visible spectral range should not be thought of as rigid. Change
means spectral shift. The transformative as distinct from the revolutionary
way of achieving change is to encourage and help one another move to the next
hue, shade by shade. In so doing, in community, the entire spectral range
gradates. This may seem a slow prescription, but it is the only way which
recognises where people are at; working with them rather than violating the
presumption of deep motivational integrity owed to them. Such an approach also
creates enough space to entertain the doubt that in some of the changes we are
seeking to encourage, we may be wrong.
a CSIRO paper, the eminent Australian rainforest ecologist, L. J. Webb
acknowledges that, "We have enough
scientific evidence ... to appreciate the singularity of the Australian
rainforests..." (1990 p. 117). Whilst acknowledging the scope for much
more science to be carried out, he goes on to say that it is time to come clean
and establish that our reasons for wanting to save the rainforests are not just
scientific, or utilitarian for cancer cures etc., but because, "the tropical rainforest is indeed a sacred forest.... It is hard to
explain scientifically that this teeming forest is a special reality, sculpted
and detached from water, carbon and dust, that somehow reassures us about our
origins and destiny as human species" (ibid. p. 122).
we see fulfilment in the second half of life of that "wow factor"
perhaps first experienced as a child when seeing newly into nature, maybe
looking down a microscope or up a telescope. Webb articulates for us a recovery
of Plato's ideal of science's role in "reducing
to order and harmony any disharmony in the revolutions within us". In
practical terms, Webb's concept of the "sacred" might be expressed as
reverence towards one another and nature. Invoking this concept recently with
Professor Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College and Warrior Chief Stone
Eagle of the Mi'Kmaq First Nation, Nova Scotia, in the Lingerabay (Harris)
Superquarry Public Inquiry, I suggested that such an attitude of reverence means
being, "concerned with the integrity
of a thing or person; to value it for itself; to work with it symbiotically, in
celebration of its being, with that grace which is consistent with the
"saying" of grace, and not with a graceless spirit of mere
utility" (McIntosh et al., 1994, p. 9).
1971, a year before the publication of "Limits to Growth", it was
quite in keeping for the President and Fellows of Harvard Business School at a
conference on science policy chaired by Lord Zuckerman to have said of
themselves, "Who are these men ...
working as they do at the centers of power in industry and government (feeling)
the pulse of a new economic system (and hearing) the drum beat of a new
technological march?" (Ewing 1973). Such militaristic language hankers
back to a patriarchal Dr Strangelovean era of the cold war. It belongs to that
same militarily driven school of physicists who gave us "Big Bang"
conceptualisation, with its implication that violent birth is at the heart of
physicist, Brian Swimme (1990), refutes such a construct. He shows how different
a feminist account can be; an account predicated on reverence towards the sacred
birthing and ongoing becoming of the universe. Swimme's view is characteristic
of how science might alternatively construe reality. Is it necessarily less
scientific given that we necessarily move into the realm of the rhetorical, the
poetic, once we depart the world of equations?
illustrates his point using Starhawk's (1990) poem, "A Story of
Beginnings". She uses not the language of the weapons physicist, but that
of gentle birthing, reminiscent of the biblical womb of God of Job
38:8,29, or Romans 8:22 in which "up
to the present time all of creation groans with pain like the pain of
childbirth". Such imagery is subjective in its objectivity; personal in
the calling of its political message:
Out of the point, the swelling
Out of the swelling, the egg
Out of the egg, the fire
Out of the fire, the stars
Out of the rain of stars
congealing, molten world...
The air you breathe passed through the lungs of
Feel yourself rocking
in the night sky womb arching around you
with a billion billion dancing points of life
Hear the story woman
labor is hard, the night is long
are midwives, and men who tend the birth
bond with the child...
pull a living child out of ... the mother
are simultaneously poisoning,
moves on to roll out the history of the "First
Mother": the condensation of the waters, the softening of "every
sharp edge into soil", and the evolution of life, so that:
She is alive in us: we are alive in her as in each other
all that is alive is alive in us
all is alive
concludes with an understanding of power very different from that of the
gentlemen from Harvard, or the writers of the White Paper. She points not to
power over, but to empowerment from within:
When we are afraid, when it hurts too much
We like to tell ourselves
we lost it
how we can reclaim it
We tell ourselves
cries we hear may be those of labor
pain we feel may yet be that of birth
a practitioner of goddess predicated spirituality - an unburned
"witch", an un-hemlocked philosopher - might be considered by many not
to be an appropriate "authority" with whom to end this paper. Perhaps
so. And yet, note how similar it is to the following poem, On
the Pulse of the Morning, by another feminist writer, Maya Angelou (1993):
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly,
You ... have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter ... do not hide your face...
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one...
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American....
They all hear
The Speaking of the Tree...
I, the Rock, I, the River, I, the Tree
I am yours - your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces ... for this bright morning dawning
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
occasion of this work's first reading was globally televised; the poem
universally syndicated. It set in train a new surge of interest in poetics,
having been commissioned as it was for the Clinton and Gore presidential
inauguration at the White House.
for our science to be complete, we need poetics to complement mathematical and
literal truth with metaphoric truth (White 1992). Science is generally a way of
knowing reality from the outside probing in, whilst poetics knows, spiritually,
from the inside out (Wink, op. cit.). We need both for a holistic epistemology.
Both unite if we treat our object, nature, with reverence as subject; even as
who knows ... perhaps as claimed in the title of the school textbook on which
many of us were reared, "Physics is Fun". Or as Plato put it,
"splendid entertainment", old chap.
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