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Bold Scientists


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As governments and corporations scramble to pull the plug on research that proves that they are poisoning our planet and rush to muzzle the scientists who dare to share their disturbing data, it seems the powerful have declared a war on science.

Michael Riordon asks deep questions of bold scientists who defy the status quo including: an Indigenous biologist who integrates traditional knowledge and a trickster’s wit; an engineering professor who exposes the myths and dangers of fracking; a forensic geneticist who traces children stolen by the military in El Salvador; a sociologist who investigates the lure and threat of mass surveillance; a radical psychologist who confronts psychiatry’s dangerous power; and a young marine biologist who risks her career to defend science and democracy.

Who controls science and at what cost to the earth and its inhabitants? Can we change? This is unspun science for dangerous times.



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Published 20 September 2014
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EAN13 9781771131254
Language English
Document size 1 MB

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Bold Scientists: Dispatches from the Battle for Honest Science © 2014 Michael Riordon
First published in 2014 by Between the Lines 401 Richmond Street West Studio 277 Toronto, Ontario M5V 3A8 Canada 1-800-718-7201 www.btlbooks.com
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be photocopied, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of Between the Lines, or (for photocopying in Canada only) Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5.
Every reasonable effort has been made to identify copyright holders. Between the Lines would be pleased to have any errors or omissions brought to its attention.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Riordon, Michael, 1944–, author  Bold scientists : dispatches from the battle for honest science / Michael Riordon.
Includes bibliographical references and index. Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-77113-124-7 (pbk.). ISBN 978-1-77113-124-7 (epub). ISBN 978-1-77113-124-7 (pdf).
1. Science—Political aspects. 2. Research—Political aspects. 3. Scientists—Canada— Interviews. 4. Scientists—Interviews. I. Title.
Q175.5.R55 2014 500 C2014-902459-2
Cover design by Gordon Robertson Text design by Gordon Robertson
Between the Lines gratefully acknowledges assistance for its publishing activities from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit program and through the Ontario Book Initiative, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
For the wondrous Brian
In the Beginning
1. When the River Roared First Nations, a long view
2. Digging Thistles A post-oil farm
3. A Dialogue with the World Biology, from the ground up
4. Blood on My Hands In the garden, life and death
5. Stolen Children Genes and human rights
6. The Cloud Watching Big Brother
7. ODD Psychology and power
8. Awe The wisdom of a spider web
9. Pesky Data Under lakes, dark truths
10. The Unsolved Problem Shattering the earth
11. When the Lights Go Out
Awakening in an ice storm
12. No Time for Cowardice The fight for science and democracy
My deep thanks to:
The bold thinkers who trusted me with their thoughts, stories, and challenges.
And many kind folks who provided suggestions and contacts, smoothed my travels, asked questions and made arguments, invaluable for testing and clarifying free-range thought.
And the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, without which this book would not exist. They are essential, and under constant threat from the wrecking crews. Also the Access Copyright Foundation, which supported the creation of a companion blog,Nature, Science & Power: Questions need to be asked.
And all who care enough to think for themselves, to imagine, to ask questions, and to resist the seduction of easy answers in a world where easy answers always carry price tags.
In the Beginning
The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall. — SIR FRANCIS BACON,Essays,1625 CIENTISTS KNOW. Sometimes they know less than they think they know, but often they know more than most of us, at least in the particular realms they study. In a time when cleSrgy. They are supposed to know. science carries a certain authority, we tend to believe its practitioners as some of us believe Sadly, some scientists turn this trust into a lucrative trade as experts for hire, paid to convince the rest of us that we have nothing to fear from whatever product or process their benefactor designates: genetic manipulation, smoking, nuclear power, pharmaceuticals, tar sands, global warming. The pay is good, and a well-trained mind can rationalize almost anything. Other scientists go about their work with their heads down, wrap themselves in innocence, and deny any responsibility for malignant end uses of their knowledge. In doing so, they disconnect cause from effect. I went looking for scientists of another kind, people who create new paths by defying the status quo, bending the rules, and asking prickly questions they aren’t supposed to ask. Such actions have costs. But these thinkers have each concluded in their own way that the price of silence and complicity is intolerable. These are not famous people, except in circles that know enough to appreciate their contributions. I hope you’ll find each of them as unique and splendid as I do. My original impulse to write this book sprang from an encounter some years ago with 17th-century politician-philosopher Francis Bacon. I was writing a radio play about the origins of the King James Bible, which was published during Bacon’s lifetime. Bacon famously asserted that if we could break down nature into its parts—her parts, he said—we would learn her secrets and thus be able to control her to our benefit. The tool he proposed for this conquest was analytical science. Four hundred years later, I’d say the results are mixed, and questions need to be asked. Some of them are vital to our survival. I’m no scientist, but my work as a writer is propelled by a spirit of restless inquiry, a lifelong habit of asking questions and then questioning the answers. I consider this spirit fundamental to any pursuit of knowledge, including science. Bold Scientistsfrom my own fear, anger, and curiosity. I’m afraid for the earth, for emerged imagination, for compassion, truth telling, humility, and common sense. We are so smart in our inventions that we believe we’re omniscient, and so powerful in our effects that we believe we’re omnipotent. But we are neither, and believing we are makes us crazy. I’m angry because so few people hold so much power, with no just cause, and do so much harm with it. I’m angry because so many of us fail to exercise the limited but real power we still have. I include myself in that charge: it’s not that I do nothing, but neither do I do enough. To satisfy my curiosity, I’ve searched for a range of scientists in Canada, the United States, and Central America who insist on revealing knowledge that the authorities would prefer to conceal. The scientists you meet here may seem a random selection, but I chose them carefully for who they are, what knowledge they pursue, what they find, and what they risk. Bold Scientiststhe deepening fault lines between nature, science, and power. By plumbs natureI mean the universe, which is not of our making and in which we are becoming, more and more, a pest. ByscienceI mean the pursuit of knowledge, which can be sought and used in infinite ways. And bypowerI mean the capacity to act, which all of us have. Tyrants are fond of telling us there is no alternative. They lie. There are alternatives, always. When tyrants prevent us from seeing them, visionaries insist on imagining alternatives and fighting for them. Bold Scientistsemerges from that imagining and that fight. I think of it as an antidote to despair.
When the River Roared
T KAWEHNO:KE the leaves have fallen. The air is crisp, the sky laden with dark cloud, winter pending. Traffic whines overhead, crossing the steel-grate bridge between Canada A and the United States. Linking the two countries, the bridge stands squarely on Akwesasne Mohawk land. Off the island’s south shore, the bulk freighterMaccoaglides east. The freighter, registered in Cyprus, rides low in the water, its passage through the St. Lawrence Seaway marked by a deep throb. Flowing around Kawehno:ke, named Cornwall Island by English invaders, the St. Lawrence River—so named by French invaders—licks at manicured shores and wetlands bustling with invisible life. On a windless day the river flows deep and flat, slate grey, silent. It wasn’t always so docile. At his office at the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Environmental Science Officer Henry Lickers takes me back a few millennia. “Some of our earliest stories about this area talk about a time when the river roared. Now, as a scientist I know that the last ice age occurred about fifteen thousand years ago, when a glacier came down and covered this area. Five thousand years or so later, a fault in the land shifted and split that tongue of ice. The ice had functioned like a dam, holding back an inland sea that covered the whole area of the present Great Lakes. When the dam gave way, this enormous volume of water flowed out to create the river. That’s when the river roared. As a biologist, I look at stories like this not as myths, but as sometimes really accurate accounts of how things were.” In my initial approach to Henry Lickers, I mentioned that I’d like to explore with him the deepening fault lines between nature, science, and power. What did he think, could we talk? Henry replied, “This question is most intriguing and has occupied much of my thoughts for many years. I’d say nature, science, and power can co-exist if they are viewed through a lens of peace. But used as engines of greed or commerce, they are unbridled and destructive. Yes, I think we should talk.” He opened his reply withShe:kon (How goes the way with you?) and closed w i thSken:nenyou go in peace). These, he tells me later, are elemental courtesies. (May Refreshing, I’d say, in this age of txt.
The power of stories Of the Seneca Nation, Turtle Clan, and father of three children, Henry is a scientist who understands the power of stories, whether it’s other people’s held over your head, or your own, found and lived. He learned his stories young. Henry came into the world on May 1, 1947. “A red letter day,” he says, his long grey hair gathered and loosely tied behind his head. “In the Celtic calendar that’s Beltane, when the dark of winter gives way to the light of spring.” He was born at home, on the kitchen table, in Six Nations of the Grand River, the only territory in North America where all six Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations live together. Henry got off to a rocky start. “I was very premature,” he says. “They rushed me to hospital in Brantford, and from coming out so early, I’ve always had a tricky heart.” On his bulletin board I notice a yellow Post-it, emphatically reminding: “Take your pills!!” “Back then,” he continues, “they used to put you on pure oxygen, which damages the eyes. So mine haven’t worked too well. Growing up I was always the sick kid—scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and so on—and until eight or nine, I was the only one of thirteen kids [in the family] who couldn’t go outside. At the time that was horrible, the worst thing. Everyone else was out playing and my mother out working, but I had to stay home all day listening to my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my grandfather too when he came home at night. Now I realize this is when I took in all the legends, the stories of our people, in several languages—Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, a little Tuscarora. My grandparents and uncles would speak one of these when they talked about us kids, thinking none of us would understand. But I learned pretty quick!” He