A leading article for The Ecologist Vol. 5 No. 1, January 1975. Republished in The Doomsday Funbook (Jon Carpenter Books, February 2006).
See ordering information for the Funbook.
Scientists accept at least some of the blame for the mess we are in. That is why there is now a British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. After all, without scientists there would be no atom bombs, no biological warfare and none of the pollutants, which poison our rivers, the air we breathe and the food we eat.
Having helped us to get into our present mess, however, are they doing anything constructive towards getting us out of it? A casual glance at their current activities, as reflected in the pages of that august periodical Nature, shows that it continues undaunted to describe the results of boring, trivial and largely irrelevant experiments. Consider the following typical titles from the last issue: “Anomalies in Particle Shape during Seeded Growth of Polystyrene Lattices”, “Fever in the Lizard”, “Relationship of A-adrenergic Receptors in Rat Pineal Gland to Drug-induced Stimulation of Phospholipid Metabolism”.
Worse still, when anyone from outside the scientific establishment attempts to do anything constructive, a veritable witch-hunt is mounted against them. The Limits to Growth, for instance, was mercilessly attacked, as was our Blueprint for Survival.
The latest witch-hunt has been mounted against the International Cultural Foundation, which has dared do something really constructive: to organise a series of conferences on the Unity of the Sciences, of which the third took place in London last November (1974). Both Nature (“Bringing Men to the Moon”, October 25 1974) and New Scientist (“Neither Unity nor Science”, November 28 1974) have published hysterical denunciations of this conference. The pretext is that the foundation in question is financed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Most of us would object to many of Mr. Moon’s ideas and of the way he uses his organisation. But is this the real reason for the demonstrations?
It is clear that many second-rate scientists feel threatened by an enterprise which seeks to bring about radical changes to their work. They would like to go on indefinitely playing their little games in their laboratories, but the unification of science would undoubtedly force them into more constructive occupations. This is what they wish so desperately to avoid.
From the point of view of society, at large, however Mr. Moon’s initiative cannot be too highly commended. The ecosphere of which we are part, developed as a single process, and is a single integrated system. It cannot begin to be understood in terms of the separate disciplines into which science is at present divided. Interpretations and predictions based on knowledge limited to a particular discipline must inevitably be wrong. Consider the Green Revolution. It has been a disastrous failure mainly because it was the work of plant geneticists working in a vacuum. The strains of rice and wheat which they developed would indeed produce more food, but only if one assumed ideal conditions in a large number of other areas of which the plant geneticists had no knowledge.
For instance, the insect pests had to behave themselves. Irrigation water had to be available, as did vast amounts of fertiliser and agricultural machinery. The world’s transport systems had to be capable of transporting these things to where they were required. The political situation had to be ideal to avoid interferences from that direction. Jobs had to be available for all the small farmers and agricultural labourers made redundant by the industrialisation of agriculture, which is what the Green Revolution is all about.
Adequate housing had to be provided for them, also schools and roads, sewage works and other services. Producers of essential and increasingly scarce primary products such as petroleum, phosphates, etc. had to behave in a saintly manner and refrain from putting up their prices. Even the climate had to be ideal as the new strains were untested in poor weather conditions.
If all these conditions had been satisfied, then the Green Revolution might indeed have worked. Needless to say, they were not. It is not by looking at isolated events within the artificial environment of a test-tube that we will understand the world in which we live. Rather, we must examine it within the framework of a yet-to-be established unified science. Only when science has been unified will it cease to be the disrupting influence it is today.
·Ω·Back to top