What's up at Ravens March.

Vintage pens-Handmade books-Silly statements

The Age of Ludd

Posted by Dirck on 6 August, 2014

This whole entry is, as happens occasionally, absolutely nothing to do with pens, writing (however you interpret that word), or olde-fashioned hats.  There is, possibly, a vague connection, though, so this caveat lector isn’t as pressing as I had thought when I began it.

Over the weekend, I had what I would call an argument with someone on the Facebooks.  I’ll reproduce it here, with the identities expunged to protect those involved.  Except one well-known astrophysicist:

{Not Me} shared a Link:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Annihilates Anti-GMO Argument

[in which he essentially says GMO creation and traditional husbandry arrive at the same result, so if you’re not up in arms about silkworms, Kobe beef, or Meyer lemons, you should knock it off about GMOs]

{Me}: There is, however, a difference between selective breeding and slipping a specific gene into a sequence. The problem with the latter is that these things aren’t “one gene = one quality”; they interact, and the interactions are not always readily apparent. Too glib, Neil.

{Not Me}: Ya but they aren’t selling us the prototype. Scientist know this and GMO foods go through years of testing.

{Me}: I still have hesitation because (a) the parameters of the tests are frequently rather limited, and (b) the people paying for the tests are often the ones looking to sell the thing. If we hadn’t dismantled government oversight of such things so much, I‘d be on the other side of the line. As it is, GMO seems to be be unwise tampering; you might have got there by selective breeding, but you might also have dropped it a few generations in as a bad idea.

{Not Me}: No offence, but this just sounds like the general distrust of science that I’ve noticed people of your generation has. That is just an observation, not an insult.

{Me}: Fair enough, but in my case at least it’s an informed distrust rather than knee-jerk; too many years of Magnificent Wonder Products with claims of backing from scientific studies that prove to be problematical; neonic pesticides once flew the banner of “Science sez it’s safe!”, as a current example. I’m bang alongside scientific method, and it’s less the science I’m leery of than the corporations wrapping themselves in it. Climate change, on the other hand, I’m thoroughly convinced of because of the science.

Also– in that clip, NDG, who I generally respect as an astronomer and fountain pen fancier, is being used somewhat as an Appeal to Authority. If it were a well-known and widely-respected biologist saying the same thing, I’d be less sideways over it. I’ll admit that I have extra wariness of astronomers speaking outside their fields because there are some who, despite doing good work in astronomy, support creationism vocally. There’s another area that I’m more for than agin’ science.

As you can see, I became a little heated in that last bit, mis-identifying the fellow’s profession and making an uncited claim about some other astronomers (and, if this list is to be believed, they’re in a minority as far as that goes).  However, the thing that’s got me venting steam several days on is that bit which {Not Me} said about my generation.

Because I wonder if it’s true.  {Not Me} was born 23 years after me, so we are definitely of different generations, but from that statement it sounds rather like we come from entirely different centuries.  Our experiences are not the same, but there is certainly overlap, and {Not Me} is generally speaking a pretty bright person.  So I wonder whether the fact that I’m twice {Not Me}’s age has that much of an influence on our respective notions about science.

I grew up, after all, in an era when it was still being suggested that science might cure all things, and that computers for every home were just around the corner to usher in a bright age of communication and understanding.

…and you can tell from the set-up of that sentence that I’m still a little bitter over the disappointment.  I also grew up in the era where we figured out that science was causing plenty of trouble too; freon was busily eating the ozone layer, population growth (thanks to better medicine) was getting out of hand, and home computers turned out to be rather dumb when compared to HAL or other popular media examples.  The frequent cry of “where’s my flying car?” is a result of the benefits of science not living up to the promise; I freely admit that expecting real to live up to fictional is stupid but it’s hard to resist.

I will also plump up that mention {Me} made of neonicotinoids with the idiocies of Triclosan and similar super-bug generators, the problematic effects of things like BPA… gosh, I’m running out of time, so I’ll leave off at that.  I’ll bet, with a little effort, you can supply your own examples.  The point is, science is great, but insufficiently tested science trotted out to make someone money is often a disaster.  It has proven to be cornucopia and Pandora’s box all at once, and so I’ve become deeply conservative regarding any positive claims, if not outright suspicious.  All the moreso given, as I mention in the exchange, the gradual dismantling of external oversight by what should be neutral agencies; given the way modern politics runs, those neutral agencies that haven’t been done away with by budget cuts tend to have agendas thrust upon them.

Now, here’s where my confusion lies– I’ve come to this opinion by watching how things have gone since 1975 or so (I wasn’t really paying attention before then).  However, I would expect later generations who didn’t have the opportunity to watch the whole thing develop to the current pass would still have a similar sense of that development because, thanks to the science boon of The InterWeb!!!, it’s all written down for all to see and understand.  They didn’t need to be there.  We’re told that the current face of politics is in large part a result of no one considering politicians trustworthy in the wake of Watergate, which did not happen recently.  If the collective memory is so long, how is it so selective?  Politicians are tarred with the elderly brush first dipped by Woodward and Bernstein, but science in the service of a buck demands a new Rachel Carlson every five years or so?  Can such things be?

I hope that this isn’t a generational thing.  I’d like to think that healthy skepticism is available to people of all ages (once reason sets in, of course).  Since things like GMOs amend the world, and we have but one (another disappointment– where’s the interplanetary colonies?), it seems only rational to cast the light of Murphy on them; show us, before we let you loose, just what can go wrong.  If the answer is truly “nothing”, or at least “nothing as bad as will happen if we keep it on the shelf,” then I’m fine with it.  I rather hope these kids and their loud music take a similar view.

Here endeth the rant.  I’m away tomorrow for first aid re-certification, so there won’t be an entry.

Today’s pen (which shows signs of not-quite-sufficient testing before release): TWSBI Diamond 540
Today’s ink (see placard for toxicity info): Diamine Syrah

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