Speaking for science

Rachel Carson was undoubtedly a force for good in the 1960s. She singlehandedly started the environmental movement by calling attention to the dangers of unregulated pesticide use. As a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park, I especially appreciate Carson’s work in the Chesapeake Bay.
Kate Neville, in The Science Creative Quarterly, calls for scientists today to do as Rachel Carson did. She enthusiastically concludes:

We should take from Rachel Carson the hope that her actions conveyed: that great change can come through research, that people do want to know more, and that narrative can bridge the gap. We need not all take on a public role to engage in this process: Carson’s influence came from her ability to synthesize work across many fields, which relied on the willingness of many researchers to take the time and effort to share their findings with her, and explain the significance and the debates. We must support our public intellectuals – question their conclusions, but champion their causes; critique their claims, but provide them with alternative information. We need to communicate our research more clearly, participate in dialogue and explanation, and engage with the issues of our time in collaborative, constructive, critical, and public ways. We have the potential to effect great change, even in the most improbable of cases, and even on the most intractable of problems.

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m blogging, after all. I share Kate’s optimism, believing that the best way to make our world better is through new collaborations and communication that defies traditional boundaries.
Unfortunately, it seems that the movement started by Rachel Carson has forgotten the science their mentor championed and succumbed to pessimism. A few weeks ago, I flipped through Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson. Many of the essays are appropriate, but some go too far, essentially saying that we should stop many types of research in medicine and agriculture.
Rachel Carson, herself a scientist, conducted a a cost-benefit analysis. She saw that the costs of pesticide overuse and industrial pollution outweighed the benefits, and acted accordingly. I don’t think we can predict what she would think about therapeutic cloning, genetic engineering, or many other technologies that have been developed since she passed. I do think she would have considered carefully, educating herself on the ramifications each would have on ourselves and our natural world.

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