There was an interesting interview over at Wired with the Yes Men, a corporate ethics activist group. They were spot-on when talking about the way dissent is manufactured using science out of context:

Scientists depend on doubt, on not knowing for sure until a certain point. It’s part of the language of science to say that this may be true, almost surely is true, but there is always doubt, and you keep your mind open to the unlikely chance that maybe it’s not right.

Good science and good political activism aren’t necessarily the same thing. I think scientists do tend to have strong political opinions, but they can’t express them as scientists in the way that they’d be effective as politics.

There’s so many devious forces out there that take advantage of the way that scientists have to express themselves. In fact, all the articles published about climate change agree that it’s happening and is grave, but there are a couple of authentic scientists who doubt, so it’s presented as a debate — and the ones who believe strongly that it’s happening will never say there’s no doubt, because that’s not scientific, and the PR companies take advantage of that and cast it for their clients as real doubt, in the conventional nonscientific sense.”

It’s not hard to see the parallel here in the “DDT/Rachel Carson is the AntiChrist” controversy. All it takes is one entomologist–or one publication–to serve as the opposition, and the actual, real consensus of scientific opinion is completely lost.

There is a substantial wariness on the part of scientists who’ve been burned by journalists adding to the mix–Just look at those comments at Aetiology. It’s not surprising that many scientists choose not to engage with the media.

I have been seriously thinking about “outing” myself as a blogger, and taking on the Rachel Carson/DDT issue in a more public way via the Entomological Society. And then….

I think about the last time I became an activist for an issue. It had a (sort of) happy ending– 15 years later, I get big props for taking a stand–but no one wants to give me a job in their department. Because I’m a trouble-maker. (And a known feminist. Eeek!)

I am trying to decide whether to revel in my position as an outsider, and use it for all it’s worth, or to continue being a quiet, good little bug and try to get back in the big boy’s entomology game.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. The whole media nonsense about “presenting both sides of the argument” becomes an absurdity when discussing good science; there’s no real “argument” about evolution or the earth revolving around the sun. As Wolfgang Pauli said of a paper submitted by a colleague, “This isn’t right. This isn’t even *wrong*.”

    Hmn, let me pull a few other things from my quote-box.

    I think Einstein had it right:
    “Scientific truth is determined as much by the social climate of the times as by the dictates of reason and logic.”
    ~Albert Einstein

    Talk about feeling on the fringe; Audre Lorde was a disabled Black lesbian feminist writer.
    “We could lose. But we couldn’t not fight.”
    ~Audre Lorde

    “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
    ~Elie Wiesel

    Dunno who Betty Reese is, but she has a good point that seems especially apropos here:
    “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”
    ~Betty Reese


  2. stay anonymous until you get tenure – the Rachel Carson fight will not go away.

  3. hey sorry to bug you but i saw you on the css forum- how do you create multiple options to the right?It seems i can only create the stylesheet but no sidebar, etc…if you can give me some assistance that’d be great

  4. Oh, I’ll never have tenure, simply because I’ll never seek or accept a tenure track position again. I’m tired of killing myself with 70+ hour weeks.
    It’s a broken system, and I have no desire to play that game.

    I would, however, like to get a position as an education specialist, or as a technician. I’m at an age where I don’t care about the glory of being a PI. I just want to do work I like.

  5. Your timing on this posting is interesting. About a week and a half ago I was interviewed about an issue that I take an unorthodox position on. I was very uncomfortable. The media are the last folks that I want moderating this type of discussion (plus there has been almost no discussion- so far- between myself and other people actually working in this area). I was relieved when they decided not to run with the story. You have been doing a very credible job in all of the postings that I have read from you on the Carson issue. If you do decide to run with it, I have no doubt that you will be very effective. Still, I understand your reticence.

  6. […] Insight from Bug Girl:  “Scientists, media, and political activism;”  also check out her post on new research on mosquito bed […]

  7. Regarding taking a stand and ‘outing’ oneself to fight for a principle: Why not ask yourself, what would Richard Branson do?

    Personally, I find it liberating to be one’s self on the internets rather than assuming an anonymous identity. It has also had the unintended benefit of limiting turnover in my secretarial pool—they seem to enjoy, or at least gather some pride, in working for an internet ‘star’.

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