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The construction of global warming [Source: CHE]

Climate warming, whatever one concludes about its effect on the earth, is insufficiently understood as a concept that has been constructed by scientists, politicians and others, argues David Demerrit, a lecturer in geography at King's College London, in an exchange with Stephen H. Schneider, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University. Many observers consider the phenomenon's construction -- as "a global-scale environmental problem caused by the universal physical properties of greenhouse gases" -- to be reductionist, Mr. Demerrit writes. Yet "this reductionist formulation serves a variety of political purposes," including obscuring the role of rich nations in producing the vast majority of the greenhouse gases. Mr. Demerrit says his objective is to unmask the ways that scientific judgments "have both reinforced and been reinforced by certain political considerations about managing" global warming. Scientific uncertainty, he suggests, is emphasized in a way that reinforces dependence on experts. He is skeptical of efforts to increase public technical knowledge of the phenomenon, and instead urges efforts "to increase public understanding of and therefore trust in the social process through which the facts are scientifically determined." In response, Mr. Schneider agrees that "the conclusion that science is at least partially socially constructed, even if still news to some scientists, is clearly established." He bluntly states, however, that if scholars in the social studies of science are to be heard by more scientists, they will have to "be careful to back up all social theoretical assertions with large numbers of broadly representative empirical examples." Mr. Schneider also questions Mr. Demerrit's claim that scientists are motivated by politics to conceive of climate warming as a global problem rather than one created primarily by rich nations: "Most scientists are woefully unaware of the social context of the implications of their work and are too naive to be politically conspiratorial." He says: "What needs to be done is to go beyond platitudes about values embedded in science and to show explicitly, via many detailed and representative empirical examples, precisely how those social factors affected the outcome, and how it might have been otherwise if the process were differently constructed." The exchange is available online to subscribers of the journal at

New ways to look at the debate over globalization [Source: CHE]

Articles in the two magazines offer new ways to examine the debate over globalization. In "The American Prospect," Benjamin R. Barber writes that discussions about globalization have focused on businesses and governments -- excluding the role of citizen-led groups. Mr. Barber, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, cites numerous examples in which citizens have reshaped public debate worldwide, including the campaign against land mines, efforts to protect dolphins from the tuna industry, and the "microcredit" movement in which small loans are made to women in developing nations to help them start businesses. Such movements, Mr. Barber writes, are having a tremendous, positive impact, and deserve attention and support. At the same time, he cautions against overstating their import. "These transnational civic projects should not fool us into thinking that Amnesty International or Medecins are the equivalent in clout of AOL Time Warner" or the International Monetary Fund, he writes. In "Foreign Policy" meanwhile, Robert Wright, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, asks whether globalization, in addition to creating wealth, is also creating happiness. Of course, he writes, Nike stockholders want their company to profit and the workers in Nike factories in developing nations want to put food on their tables. But "are those Nike stockholders really happier behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V. than they would be driving a Hyundai Accent? Might some Indonesian factory workers be better off if they had never left the farm?" Mr. Wright asks. He cites evidence that globalization has indeed made people happier, both in some economically wealthy nations and some poor nations. In poor countries, he argues, greater economic wealth is not a zero-sum game because people "are attaining things -- decent nutrition, health care -- that raise their happiness level without reducing anyone else's." At the same time, Mr. Wright argues that a utilitarian approach to globalization might well slow it down a little while not trying to stop it or to seriously stall it -- goals that he suggests are "beyond our mortal capacity."

How genetic engineering gained legitimacy [Source: CHE; A glance at the winter 2001 issue of "Dissent". ]

When scientists gathered in 1975 at the Asilomar Conference Center in California, the new field of genetic engineering took center stage. But self-interest was more evident than altruism at the conference, writes Susan P. Wright, a historian of science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and director of an international research project on biological warfare. "Asilomar was about fashioning a set of beliefs for the American people and their representatives in Congress that would allow scientists to pursue genetic engineering under a system of self-governance," she says. Organizers of the conference were far from politically neutral, Ms. Wright maintains. They wanted to persuade the American public -- alerted by the antiwar movement to the dangers of biological warfare -- that genetic engineering was under control, that scientists developing the technology knew what they were doing, and that the field was therefore in good hands. It was necessary, then, for the organizers to restrict the agenda of the conference, "excluding the awkward questions of biological warfare and human genetic engineering that molecular biologists obviously had no more claim to pronounce on than other people," says Ms. Wright. She argues that in order to show the public that the interests of the Asilomar conference were also the interests of society at large, the public had to be convinced that if the scientists regulated themselves, "the fruits of genetic engineering would benefit everyone." She notes that when Sen. Edward Kennedy proposed that decision-making authority be given to an independent commission (instead of to the National Institutes of Health), the biomedical researchers organized a massive lobbying effort against the move. The consequences of that effort? According to Ms. Wright, harmful applications have now advanced beyond the reach of national, or international, controls -- with biological warfare being the main example. It is a "myth" that scientists in the field have ever been self-governing, she says. Since the 1970's, military agencies and pharmaceutical corporations have invested heavily in genetic engineering, leaving researchers "increasingly influenced by these huge interests," says Ms. Wright.

What science doesn't tell us about global warming. [Source: CHE]

In the global-warming debate the logic behind public discourse and political action has been precisely backwards," write Daniel Sarewitz, a research scholar at Columbia University's Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes, and Roger Pielke Jr., a scientist with the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The two men trace, from the 1980's to the present, the debate over global warming -- a debate that they write has focused disproportionately and misguidedly on science, discarding practical solutions to the problems of a changing climate. The authors write that the "defining event" of the debate came in June 1988, when James Hansen, a federal climate scientist, told Congress "with '99 percent confidence' that 'the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.'" Since then, the international focus with regard to global warming has been an "obsession with carbon dioxide" and combating the greenhouse effect. While Mr. Sarewitz and Mr. Pielke are quick to note that research is a necessary component of understanding global warming, they write that such a strong focus on research provides no viable ground for policymaking. More attention needs to be given to the economic and social circumstances that make events, like hurricanes and floods, so devastating to the human populations they affect, the authors write. When 10,000 Central Americans died in 1998 because of Hurricane Mitch, the authors argue, it should not have been seen as a harbinger of climate-change catastrophes, but as a contemporary example of how the climatic shift can affect "countries where dense and rapidly increasing populations live in environmentally degraded conditions." Write the authors, "[E]nvironmentalists and scientists, in focusing their own, increasingly congruent interests on carbon-dioxide emissions, have framed the problem of global environmental protection in a way that can offer no realistic prospect of a solution." The article is available online at

Why plagiarism is a sexist term [Source: CHE]

English professors are of two minds about plagiarism. They create regulations that punish students for borrowing language from another text, yet agree that no writing is fully original. Rebecca Moore Howard, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, discusses the implications of this conceptual blurring in two forthcoming scholarly books. In the March issue of College English, she suggests that scholars discard the term plagiarism altogether, in large part because efforts to regulate against it run counter to the political aims of their teaching. "To adjudicate plagiarism in these circumstances is to work against the liberatory, democratic, civic, and critical pedagogies that prevail in English studies," she writes. At heart, Ms. Howard's problem is that plagiarism depends on "gendered metaphors of authorship" that equate originality with masculinity and diminish the benefits of collaboration, a strategy often employed by women writers. These metaphors, which Ms. Howard locates in writing guides new and old, describe plagiarism as a kind of sexual disease that threatens the male writer and his work. Or they go further, and turn the stealing of language into a kind of rape, in which the author of the original text, and his readers, are violated. In all of these cases, "plagiarism represents authorship run amok ... and thus incites gender hysteria in the community in which it occurs," she writes. As an antidote, Ms. Howard suggests replacing the term plagiarism with "more specific, less culturally burdened terms" like "fraud," "excessive repetition," or "insufficient citation." Students can and should find their grades lowered, or even be flunked, for these offenses. But Ms. Howard calls on fellow scholars to embark on the "revisionary/revolutionary" task of making room for less novelty. "Let's get out of the business of valorizing an elusive originality, criminalizing imitation, and reinforcing prejudices of gender and sexual preference," she concludes. "Let's leave sexual work out of textual work."

Learning about writing by sitting at a bar [Source: CHE]

Encouraging students to think critically -- to ask, "What if?" -- is a hallmark of the college writing classroom. Yet in working-class circles, the willingness to speculate, to bandy about ideas for their own sake, is suspect. So Julie Lindquist, an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi, discovered when she began doing ethnographic research in the blue-collar barroom where she had worked before becoming an academic. Bellying up to the bar at the Smokehouse, in suburban Chicago, Ms. Lindquist found that the "regulars" responded with ambivalence to the values she came to represent for them. In the December issue of College Composition and Communications, Ms. Lindquist writes "Earning a degree is seen as a route to upward mobility even as identification with the university is perceived as a kind of cultural abandonment." In particular, the patrons were impatient with academic styles of argument, which didn't seem to have practical consequences. In the classroom, writing teachers can expect similar resistance, if critical thinking is presented as just a way to be more like the professor. "It merely teaches working-class students a trick of achieving class distinction," writes Ms. Lindquist, "a trick that entails seeing those in their home communities -- and worse, those parts of themselves that remain at home -- as dupes." Professors need to make a stronger case for how such skills will help students in various settings, Ms. Lindquist concludes. "When students invested in acquiring practical knowledge want to know what learning to write in the ways we sanction will do for them, we should take the question seriously."

A plague on both your houses [Source: CHE]

As the contentious battle between analytic and continental philosophy approaches its 100th anniversary, Hans Johann-Glock examines both the history of the divide and the possibility of bridging the philosophical chasm. Mr. Johann-Glock, a reader in philosophy at the University of Reading and a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, notes the difficulty of defining the two camps, but still attempts to do so. Continental, or Germanophone, philosophy -- predominant in Latin America and mainland Europe -- is championed by those who "purport to carry the torch of the great philosophy of the past." Its adherents examine such classic philosophical problems as the meaning of life. Analytic philosophy, which grew out of mathematical logic at the turn of the century, defied its predecessor by attacking traditional problems with an approach informed by that logic, as well as by the natural sciences. Still the dominant school among English-speaking philosophers, the analytic, or Anglophone, approach broke from its continental counterpart initially with its concentration on analysis. Today, Mr. Johann-Glock writes, the accusations by both sides are less vehement, their pronouncements less dogmatic, their boundaries less well-defined. Still, perhaps the best solution, he concludes, is to abandon efforts to synthesize the two, and simply "wish a plague" on them both. Their fundamental differences still, and may always, remain: Analytic philosophy remains "prone to scientism, the view that there is no knowledge outside natural science," Mr. Johann-Glock writes, while German philosophers "often present themselves as guardians of humanism."

Are the foreign born a source of strength for U.S. science?
[Source: Science 285, 1213-14 (1999).]

The heavy flow of foreign talent is changing the face of American science. From 1980 to 1990 the proportion of foreign doctoral students has grown from one in four to one in five of the total pool. Natural concerns are whether they crowd the workplace and whether they disproportionally contribute to U.S. science. A recent study by Sharon Levin and Paula Stephen answers the second question in the affirmative. They found that "foreign talent contributes significantly about what could be expected from their numbers." This was true in all the sample areas: members of the National Academies; first author of highly cited papers, of "hot" papers and of highly cited patents; and founders of biotechnology companies. Not only has the U.S. benefited from the influx of foreign talent but also this talent is more likely to have been educated abroad than would be expected from the incidence of foreign-educated scientists and engineers in the populations. "Clearly the U.S. has benefited from the educational investment made by other countries." Still to be studied is whether native-born talent is disadvantaged by this inflow, and, if so, whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

I'm O.K.; you're O.K. [Source: NYTimes, March 11, 2000, p.A1.]

"An overwhelming majority of Americans believe creationism should be taught along with Darwin's theory of evolution in the public schools" writes James Glanz in NY Times reporting a poll commissioned by the People for American Way. The polling firm DYG Inc. asseted the sampling error was 3 per cent. This and other apparently contradictory views emerged from a recent survey based on extensive interviews of 1500 people presentatively drawn from all segments of society across the country. On the one hand, 83% generally supported the teaching of evolution in the public schools while 79% believed creationism has a place in the curriculum. At one extreme were 30% believing creationism should be taught as a scientific theory whether or not evolution was mentioned. At the other were 20% believing evolution should be taught in science classes without any mention of creationism. Most took a middle road: "evolution should be taught as a scientific theory, while creationism should also be discussed -- as a religious belief rather than a scientific theory." Strikingly, people on all sides of the issue found something to like in the survey. Dr. James B Miller, an associate with a AAAS program of dialogue on science, ethics and religion, noted that the "broad public support for the teaching of evolution" does not "represent any conflict with their religious views." Dr. Duane T. Gish, vice-president of the Institute for Creation Research, was generally pleased with the results. However, he maintained that "creationism should be taught as a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory, a position that most poll respondents did not take." While the survey found little variation in responses by geographic region, it did find that 18- to 24-year-old Americans and Americans with relatively high education levels were more likely to support teaching evolution and less likely to favor teaching creationism.

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Edited by: on Thursday, 26-Jul-2001 12:15:33 EDT