[iDC] Discussion: The Edupunks' Guide - research and sustainability

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Tue Aug 9 14:27:14 UTC 2011

Hello Simon,

I can only assume that you steadfastly maintain that science has no  
social responsibility because you think that pure research 'should'  
be free of all social concerns. But the issues we face are too real  
to permit that sort of misguided ivory tower idealism these days. It  
is not just corporate bad guys causing our problems. Academia works  
hand in hand with business and there is not really any way to pretend  
this is not so. Not just through institutional partnerships but also  
by training people for careers in industry and by promoting an  
epistemology that - as you demonstrate - refuses responsibility for  
its own knowledge.

If we want to solve our most pressing problems we need to look at  
them whole and that includes weighing the merits of an academic  
culture that has again and again unlocked very specific, very  
destructive and very profitable commercial opportunities. You can't  
just say research is good but those nasty people who misuse it are  
bad. There are no clean hands. Not yours and not mine.

As for the risk of a Luddite reaction, there are a few ways to look  
at this. Luddites were not motivated by an inherent antipathy to  
technology. They did not reject every new technology that came along.  
They were motivated by the very real fear that their future was being  
destroyed by the introduction of certain specific new technologies.  
So they tried to get rid of those new technologies. We could do much  
worse than to emulate their common sense and initiative - if not  
necessarily their methods - since we are very much in the same boat.  
At least they fought for their future, not against it, as the academy  
seems to be doing.


> Hi John
> On GM and nuclear power I generally agree with you John. However, I  
> am not against nuclear power because I am against nuclear  
> technology. I am happy for nuclear research to be undertaken. I am  
> against the commercial and military exploitation of such  
> technology, in the first instance because of nuclear power's  
> contribution to the weapons cycle and nuclear waste and in the  
> second instance because nuclear weapons are part of the problem,  
> not the solution.
> As for GM - I have no problem with the technology itself nor with  
> research undertaken into it. Nor do I have a problem with research  
> into the human genome, smart implants, nano-systems or other  
> emergent technologies. I am however against the commercialisation  
> of such technologies, due to the manner in which it locks farmers  
> (and others) into a controlled loop economic model controlled by a  
> small number of multinationals. This is not a question of the  
> technology but the socio-economic context in which it is applied.  
> Therefore this is about politics, not science.
> The danger of being against a technology per se is that we risk a  
> Luddite reaction that may serve us up to the dangerous forces  
> gaining traction in the US and elsewhere - the Tea Party, religious  
> cranks, creationists and other dangerously ignorant groups. It  
> might be possible to not take sides in this argument (that may  
> become a war) and keep one's hands (seemingly) clean. But is it wise?
> best
> Simon
> On 9 Aug 2011, at 02:31, john sobol wrote:
>> On 8-Aug-11, at 2:34 PM, Simon Biggs wrote:
>>> I will sustain my question concerning how the model Anya proposes
>>> goes beyond the instrumental (satisfying the immediate learning
>>> needs of the student) and offers a means to build the sophisticated
>>> and large scale knowledge making platform we require on a planet as
>>> large and diverse as ours. I do not see this in her argument. If
>>> Anya's model was generally implemented I think we would be looking
>>> at a regressive situation. In this respect I think her proposal is
>>> well motivated but naive.
>> Hi Simon,
>> it is in my opinion gravely naive on your part to assume that on a
>> planet as large and diverse as ours we 'require' the sophisticated
>> and large scale knowledge making platform that is 'academic
>> research'. On the contrary, in light of Fukushima and the global
>> climate cataclysm and the overall assault on our bio-diversity being
>> driven by PhDs in and out of university, it should be clear that
>> radical changes are required to save us from an unsustainable
>> economic infrastructure fuelled by the very research culture you
>> champion. Not that very useful work isn't being done. But useful -
>> ultimately - to whom?
>> You mentioned Peter Higgs and his work on the 'boson'. Now, I do not
>> know the man personally, much less anything substantial about
>> theoretical physics. He is obviously quite brilliant and he may also
>> be an absolutely great guy. But I do note on his wikipedia page the
>> following:
>> "Higgs was a CND activist while in London and later in Edinburgh, but
>> resigned his membership when the group extended its remit from
>> campaigning against nuclear weapons to campaigning against nuclear
>> power too. He was a Greenpeace member until the group opposed
>> genetically modified organisms."
>> It is a free world (for some of us) and Peter Higgs can think what he
>> likes. But by the same token it is my opinion that blind and
>> unwarranted faith in the 'need' for genetically modified foods and
>> nuclear power is the blind spot in 'your' model, Simon. And given the
>> choice between the two pedagogies under consideration - and taking
>> into account the almost certain knowledge that sooner rather than
>> later the well-educated TEPCOs and Monsantos of the world are going
>> to do us all in - I prefer to take my chances with the alternative in
>> the rather desperate hope that there may be time to change a few
>> things that matter before it is too late.
>> js
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> Simon Biggs | simon at littlepig.org.uk | www.littlepig.org.uk
> s.biggs at ed.ac.uk | Edinburgh College of Art | University of Edinburgh
> www.eca.ac.uk/circle | www.elmcip.net | www.movingtargets.co.uk

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