Thursday, October 03, 2013

democracy and civilization depend on intellectuals resisting conformity and power...,


guardian | It's as clear and chilling a statement of intent as you're likely to read. Scientists should be "the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena". Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? No, Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the UK's Department for Environment.

Boyd's doctrine is a neat distillation of government policy in Britain, Canada and Australia. These governments have suppressed or misrepresented inconvenient findings on climate change, pollution, pesticides, fisheries and wildlife. They have shut down programmes that produce unwelcome findings and sought to muzzle scientists. This is a modern version of Soviet Lysenkoism: crushing academic dissent on behalf of bad science and corporate power.

Writing in an online journal, Boyd argued that if scientists speak freely, they create conflict between themselves and policymakers, leading to a "chronically deep-seated mistrust of scientists that can undermine the delicate foundation upon which science builds relevance". This, in turn, "could set back the cause of science in government". So they should avoid "suggesting that policies are either right or wrong". If they must speak out, they should do so through "embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena".

Shut up, speak through me, don't dissent – or your behaviour will ensure that science becomes irrelevant. Note that the conflicts between science and policy are caused by scientists, rather than by politicians ignoring or abusing the evidence. Or by chief scientific advisers.

To be reasonable, when a government is manipulating and misrepresenting scientific findings, is to dissent. To be reasonable, when it is helping to destroy human life and the natural world, is to dissent. As Julien Benda argued in La Trahison des Clercs, democracy and civilisation depend on intellectuals resisting conformity and power.

A world in which scientists speak only through minders and in which dissent is considered the antithesis of reason is a world shorn of meaningful democratic choices. You can judge a government by its treatment of inconvenient facts and the people who expose them. This one does not emerge well.

19 comments:

Vic78 said...

I come from the school that says it's the loser's fault for consistent failure. I'm not going to sit here and put it all on oil companies and a corrupt government. There's something they aren't doing right. Why are they selling green energy patents to oil companies? That's just one thing that happens quite a bit.

It's so easy to say government is crooked or whatever. Have they ever tried talking to normal people(non PhDs)? Their positions give them a platform that environmental groups don't have. Environmentalists seem like they're only interested in dealing with other environmentalists. You won't hear the science unless you're taking classes or watching certain channels.

There's something else to say about today's class of intellectual. It looks to me like they've accepted what we see today. Every now and then we have someone "speak truth to power." But it doesn't mean anything if there's no risk. It's pretty irritating when I see certain Ivy League professors acting like they're doing something when they open their mouths. What good is it if it doesn't lead to action? I could go to church for that shit.

Tom said...

Shrug. If everyone ignores scientists, then someone is the loser. Who?

CNu said...

Vic, what did you think about this book http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2013/09/speaking-of-unspeakable.html - and how what it describes unfolded over the course of the 1960's?

CNu said...

Lol, where are the scientists authorized and enabled to address a mass audience on the topic of Fukushima spent fuel rods containment about now?

CNu said...

Scientists are not exempt from the same status seeking pressures to conform which keep all the bass out of the voices of afrodemically vetted public intellectuals who haven't had anything substantive to say for generations...,

Tom said...

I thought this was a foundational catch-22 that we'd long laid to rest around here. The status-seeking process is what gets people listened to. Vic's "losers" are precisely those who lose the public status contest. One way to lose that contest is to talk about sustainability.

Today a new Sagan could easily rise up -- so long as s/he ignores (or misrepresents) sustainability (climate, aquifers, peak oil, etc.). "Truth to power" is fine, there are lots of academics doing it, the press ignores them. Here's a political conservative who became irate about the silliness coming from PR firms on climate change and wrote a popular book saying man-made climate change is real:

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/what-we-know-about-climate-change-2

So the scientists are speaking out. Nobody cares. It's not obvious to me that responsible scientists are a large enough minority to organize a civil-rights-like movement.

mcnamara@stny said...

Authorized by whom? By Obama? By Exxon? There's a link in my comment below to one of many who have published sustainability-related work oriented towards a mass audience. These things sink without a trace.


Academics can be called "losers" and that settles their rhetorical hash, but sustainability affects everybody.

Tom said...

Gah! C, could you possibly fix my name & email info? I put it in the wrong fields.

CNu said...

It's not obvious to me that responsible scientists are a large enough minority to organize a civil-rights-like movement.


12 strong-willed, conscious men working together can rule the world. Please read Schuyler's Black Empire.

Tom said...

I believe it's fiction. I'd rather understand the Jefferson/Franklin/Adams crowd, Frederick Douglass, or SNCC.


(Ok as a matter of fact I just got my copy in the mail two days ago, sensei, nevertheless ....)

CNu said...

The status-seeking process is what gets people listened to. Vic's
"losers" are precisely those who lose the public status contest.


Getting listened to and influencing a member or members of the power elite - guarantees some degree of public status because it guarantees a platform from which to address the public.

Acquiring grassroots public status, OTOH, is a far more difficult and dangerous path, and a path very seldom - if ever - tread by scientists. Can you think of a scientist who managed to cultivate a grassroots following?

Was Bear a "scientist" - or did he just do a bit of scientistic cooking which attracted and influenced a mass following? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owsley_Stanley

CNu said...

My man...,



Yeah, it's "fiction" - allegedly satirical fiction. But marinate on the period during which it was widely serialized in the Pittsburgh Courier 1936-1938 - and ask yourself how.in.the.world Schuyler got away with anything like that put before a mass audience during the heyday of the young J. Edgar Hoover?

Tom said...

Jeez, interesting point. It's on my nighttable.

CNu said...

Context is key. Schuyler was about as free as it's possible to be. A Harlem Renaissance student of Orage's Gurdjieff Group, his fiction is not only radical as hell (Black No More is an earlier nearly as radical skewering of race politics in America just as relevant today as it was then) - but it's also chock-a-block with Gurdjieffian cyphers.

Schuyler's personal life as interesting as his literary work/life.....,

CNu said...

Right off the top, did you notice that Mills wrote in plain, non-academic English that everybody could understand? Second, as I noted to Tom wrt the much maligned George Schuyler, you have to take into consideration the McCarthyite context in which Mills wrote this work. Considered in context, he's a badass the likes of which hasn't existed in generations. (this has much to do with why his books have fallen off the academic radar and are no longer taught, even though they're seminal and exemplary social science texts.) Third, I hope you caught the fact that Mills is a strident critic of capitalism without resorting to a Marxist or communist critique.



The other indispensable book by Mills is The New Men of Power, America's Labor Leaders. In it, Mills explains how organized American labor, in its failure to establish, maintain, and grow a grassroots political base - failed to establish a third line of political organization in the U.S. strong enough to ward off the concentrated oligarchy of the military industrial complex. In a nutshell, according to Mills, it is organized labors lazy and non-inclusive methods which accounts for the failure of democracy in America.


He is correct in his assessment. It is the way in which MLK began courting and working with labor that made him acutely dangerous at the end of his career, so dangerous in fact that the military establishment felt it necessary to dispatch on of its costly Manchurian assassins to take care of that problem. MLK was leveraging national prominence to go directly at the wellsprings of power in this country and for that crime, could no longer be tolerated.


As for Malcolm, notwithstanding his shining and emotionally gratifying oratory and debate, after the passage of the civil rights act, he was relegated to strictly fringe small potatoes. Fringe firebrands scrapping over crumbs that have fallen off the Big House table are of so little consequence to the true powers that be, that Farrakhan is still permitted to run his mouth with no constraints and to pocket his followers money, because it is clear to one and all that he constitutes no genuine power or power potential that anyone in governance need fear or respect.

Vic78 said...

I didn't think about his writing in the context of the McCarthy time he was living in. Mills was a definite badass. He would be sick today just because he talks normal. For some dumbass reason academians talk in in public the way they talk to their colleagues. I didn't notice because I use plain English as well. And I come to a lot of the same conclusions.

It sucks that his other books aren't in PDF format. I like how he talked about the elite. They weren't mutant reptiles or the illuminati. They were just people working to maintain their status.

Labor squandered their potential. I guess those psychic wages meant more than tangible wages. Now they want to change and do better. Good luck to them.

You'll have to agree that Malcolm's on a bit of a higher level than Farrakhan. Malcolm saw that the NOI wasn't serious about doing anything and he had to go. He walked away from a 12 year investment. It was that or be marginalized. It was hard for him start from scratch after having the profile he had with the Nation. He was making progress with the foreign leaders and was on his way to putting some plans forward. He was going to have a nice profile had he been allowed to see 40.

The unfortunate thing was that people latched on to his speeches more than they did his practicality. For the most part his pragmatism is glossed over and he's made to look like he wanted a war.

I'm not saying that King wasn't a problem. The land of opportunity is setting dogs on schoolchildren. Not a good look. Naturally, after beating legal Jim Crow he wanted more. He would've helped labor get their act together. So he was going to be more of a pain then he already was. It would've been pretty sick had he been allowed to see his 40th birthday.

I'll have to say the elites were smart in their concessions. Lyndon Johnson saw where things were heading and pushed some civil rights legislation. He wisely calculated that it was best to lose the rednecks.

CNu said...

Labor squandered their potential. I guess those psychic wages meant
more than tangible wages. Now they want to change and do better. Good
luck to them.


Say what? Which labor union where is trying to change and do better?

Malcolm saw that the NOI wasn't serious about doing anything and he had to go. He walked away from a 12 year investment. It was that or be marginalized. It was hard for him start from scratch after having the profile he had with the Nation.

True dat. Thanks for re-minding me and putting what was at stake into perspective.

Lyndon Johnson saw where things were heading and pushed some civil rights legislation. He wisely calculated that it was best to lose the rednecks.


Fascinating captain! It makes a whole lot of sense that as a savvy politician and as the reigning (albeit designated) narrator/doer in chief of the elite power - that LBJ knew his people well enough to know that they were "no account" and that their ways and values constituted a long-term political liability of such great magnitude that it was worth it in the generational short-term to take it in the shorts rather than continuing in the longer term to try and cater to evolutionary intransigents.

John Kurman said...

Amazon reports my copy is in the hands of DHL.

Vic78 said...

United Steelworkers made an agreement to work with Mondragon to build coops. http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/language/en-US/ENG.aspx

We'll see what comes of it.

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