Animal Rights Terrorism - the new Fascism?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Jan 22 12:41:12 MST 2001

>The policy of demanding PROOF of no harmful effect (since such PROOF is
>necessarily unobtainable) is not just a recipe for stagation in the "Western
>World", but, in effect, also the "new imperialism" - since without further
>developments in science and technology the rest of the world would be for
>ever condemned to continuing poverty and malnutrition while the "Western
>World" continues to embrace the benefits of past scientific and
>technological developments - which if transferred, as they at present exist,
>throughout the world would, we all agree, have parlous effects on the
>"natural world" - and even threaten the "Western world" itself.....

Actually, there is no PROOF that such things as PCB's, etc. cause cancer.
There can only be strong circumstantial evidence since science currently
lacks the tool to show how in a given cell cancer can result from certain
kinds of irritants. This is one of the reasons fights over the links
between DU and leukemia, for example, can be so subject to industry or
military red herrings. Obviously nobody can prove that depleted uranium
automatically causes leukemia, etc.

In a court of law there is a demand for proof as opposed to circumstantial
evidence. In the battle for socialism, we are appealing to a different kind
of jury, namely the masses who feel that their lives are being imperiled by
corporations whose "technological breakthroughs" have more to do with
profit rather than human welfare.

I might recommend that Paddy take a look at Barry Commoner's "Closing
Circle" which explained how most of the new technologies that came into
existence after WWII had more to do with profit rather than improving our
lives. For example, aluminum and plastics began to be introduced massively
around this time. What these substances have in common is that they are not
biodegradable. This means that pollutants from such substances are
qualitatively more toxic. And carcinogenic.



Where did the grass-roots environmental movement come from? Most people
would say it began with action by citizens in the late 1970s and early
1980s --and of course they would be partly right. But the world was
prepared for grass-roots environmentalism because of certain IDEAS, and to
a surprising degree those ideas originated with one person --a scientist in
St. Louis, Missouri, named Barry Commoner.

Commoner was born May 28, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of a Russian
immigrant tailor. In 1933 he entered Columbia University, then Harvard,
earning a Ph.D. in cellular biology in 1941. During World War II he served
in the Naval Air Force. In 1947 he took a faculty position with Washington
University in St. Louis where he soon distinguished himself as an
exceptionally creative and insightful researcher, studying viruses and
elusive "free radicals" in living tissues.

Commoner continued to publish work on proteins and free radicals for 20
years, but in the early 1950s, something happened that caught his attention
and turned his interest to larger questions. On the morning of April 25th,
1953, a nuclear bomb was exploded at the Nevada Test Site. Thirty-six hours
later, an intense rain storm occurred in the city of Troy, New York, 2300
miles distant from the Nevada Test Site, and radiation counters at
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) began recording atomic fallout three
times as high as natural background radiation.[1] Radioactive debris
falling out onto Troy became an important news event and suddenly the
public began to understand that you didn't have to live near the Nevada
Test Site to get yourself irradiated by atomic bomb tests.

That event started Barry Commoner thinking in a new direction --a direction
that would eventually lead to the present grass-roots environmental movement.

When Commoner tried to learn more about atomic fallout in 1953, he found
that much of the information was secret --classified so by the U.S.
government. This made it impossible for academic scientists to examine the
data --a violation of the principles of science.

As Commoner expressed it, science can only work when scientists can
communicate freely their data and their interpretations of the data. "We
need to recall," he wrote in SCIENCE magazine in 1958, "that the
development of a scientific truth is a direct outcome of the degree of
communication which normally exists in science. As individuals, scientists
are no less fallible that any other reasonably cautious people. What we
call a scientific truth emerges from investigators' insistence on free
publication of their own observations. This permits the rest of the
scientific community to check the data and evaluate the interpretations, so
that eventually a commonly held body of facts and ideas comes into being.
Any failure to communicate information to the entire scientific community
hampers the attainment of a common understanding."[2] The heart of science
is open communication, so secrecy --whether imposed by government or by
private corporations --is antithetical to science.

Commoner restated many times his view that the scientific method rests
squarely on open communication: "Scientists are, individually, no more
truthful than anyone else. Nevertheless, science IS a way of getting at the
truth, and scientists --most of them --practice their craft in truthful
ways. Why? The reason is that science gets at the truth through open
discourse. Scientists learn how to practice science truthfully by making
their mistakes in public. This permits their colleagues to correct mistaken
information and modify faulty conclusions. This is the meaning of open
publication of scientific results; it is the essential way in which science
approaches the truth."[3]

The issue of atomic fallout occupied Commoner for a dozen years. While
studying it, he derived many of the principles of environmental protection
that now form the unspoken basis for grass-roots environmentalism.

For example, he clearly established the principle that, in a democracy,
scientists have no more right to make decisions than anyone else. Today
grass-roots activists might express this as "It's your world. Don't leave
it to the experts." Commoner said the same thing 40 years ago: decisions
with major social consequences must not be left to experts. On the
contrary, Commoner said, experts have an obligation to inform the public
about the scientific facts and then let the public decide:

"Anyone who attempts to determine whether or not the biological hazards of
world-wide fallout can be justified by necessity must somehow weigh a
number of human lives against deliberate action to achieve a desired
military or political advantage. Such decisions have been made before-- for
example, by military commanders--but never in the history of humanity has
such a judgment involved literally every individual now living and expected
for some generations to live on the earth."[2]

He went on to ask, who should make such judgments, which require a
determination of the value of human life: scientific experts or elected
political representatives?[2]

Commoner pointed out that scientists have no special competence in matters
of moral judgment. Further, he said "scientists must take pains to disclaim
any special moral wisdom" on the issue of continued above- ground nuclear
testing. Scientists should speak on the issue, if they have relevant
information to convey, but their expertise does not confer upon them any
special capacity to draw moral conclusions from their data. When it comes
to balancing citizens' lives against military goals, a scientist is just
one more citizen making a moral judgment -- his or her scientific expertise
does not enter into the moral equation.

He said, "[W]e must not allow this issue [nuclear testing], by default, to
rest in the hands of the scientists alone. A question of this gravity
cannot be handed over for decision to any group less inclusive than our
entire citizenry."[2]

Indeed, it is "self-evident," Commoner argued in 1958, that "the public
must be given enough information about the need for testing and the hazards
of fallout to permit every citizen to decide for himself whether nuclear
tests should go on or be stopped."[2]

Commoner put his ideas into practice: he helped organize scientists and
citizens into the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI). They
started a newsletter called NUCLEAR INFORMATION, which evolved into a
magazine with the important (and telling) title, SCIENTIST AND CITIZEN.

Commoner, and his fellow scientists at CNI in St. Louis, formed a working
alliance with many local citizens. Commoner's work studying atomic fallout
had convinced him that fallout represented a biological hazard to humans.
However, the U.S. government insisted that fallout was benign. For example,
President Eisenhower in 1956 said, "The continuance of the present rate of
H-bomb testing[,] by the most sober and responsible scientific judgment...
does not imperil the health of humanity."[4]

The Committee for Nuclear Information began collecting baby teeth and
sending them to a lab for analysis of radioactivity. The goal was to show
that strontium-90, one of the main components of fallout from A- bomb
testing, was building up in humans. They succeeded. Eight years later, the
official U.S. position on atomic fallout had changed completely. In a
televised address, in 1964, President Johnson said, "The deadly products of
atomic explosions were poisoning our soil and our food and the milk our
children drank and the air we all breathe.... Radioactive poisons were
beginning to threaten the safety of people throughout the world. They were
a growing menace to the health of every unborn child."[4] In fact in 1963,
President Kennedy had signed an international treaty phasing out
above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. It was a triumph of citizen
action, with scientists helping bring critical facts to light.

Commoner often acknowledged the important role of an active citizenry: "Nor
is the collaboration between scientist and citizen a one-way street.
Citizens have contributed significantly to what scientists now know about
fallout. Through the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey, the children of that city
have contributed, as of now, some 150,000 teeth to the cause of scientific
knowledge about fallout.... By such means, and through hard work and
financial support many citizens have become partners in the scientific
effort to elucidate the fallout problem."[5]

>From this story, we can learn that Commoner pioneered another aspect of
modern thinking about the environment. He did not call for less atomic
testing. He called for an END to atomic testing. His training as a
biologist convinced him that human intrusions into the global biosphere
would have unsuspected consequences:

"Moreover, whenever the biological system exposed to a possibly toxic agent
is very large and complex, the probability that any increase in
contamination will lead to a new point of attack somewhere in this
intricate system cannot be ignored. Finally, the toxic effects of many
organic pollutants, like those of radiation, may appear only after a delay
of many years. For these reasons, it is prudent to regard any addition of a
potentially toxic substance to the biosphere as capable of producing a
total biological effect which is roughly proportional to its concentration
in the biosphere," he wrote.[5]

Thus the only way to prevent environmental damage from toxics would be to
exclude them from the environment completely. Today we call it POLLUTION
PREVENTION. Barry Commoner argued for it, and provided the rationale for
it, nearly 40 years ago.

Discussing the role of scientists in controversies involving nuclear
fallout, nuclear war, or "environmental contamination in general," a
committee chaired by Barry Commoner wrote in 1965, "In a number of
instances, individual scientists, independent scientific committees, and
scientific advisory groups to the government have stated that a particular
hazard is 'negligible,' or 'acceptable' or 'unacceptable'-- without making
it clear that the conclusion is NOT A SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION, BUT A SOCIAL
JUDGMENT. [Substitute the word 'risk' for 'hazard' in that last sentence
and notice the modern ring that it takes on.--P.M.] Nevertheless, it is
natural that the public should assume that such pronouncements are
scientific conclusions. Since such conclusions, put forward by individual
scientists, or by groups of scientists, are often contradictory, a question
which commonly arises among the public is, 'How do we know which scientists
are telling the truth?'[6]

Thus in 1965 Commoner and his colleagues warned us that risk assessments
are political in nature, not merely scientific, and that many scientists
overstep the bounds of scientific legitimacy and try to impose their (or
their employer's) political decisions and views upon the public, using
science as a screen.

These ideas seem entirely modern and universal because they are deeply held
today (based on experience) by grass-roots environmentalists everywhere.
But really these ideas only sound modern and universal. They are at least
35 years old, and they came to us through the hard work of one man of
extraordinary vision --Barry Commoner.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] Herbert M. Clark, "The Occurrence of Unusually High-Level Radioactive
Rainout in the Area of Troy, N.Y.," SCIENCE Vol. 119 (May 7, 1954), pgs.

[2] Barry Commoner, "The Fallout Problem," SCIENCE Vol. 127, No. 3305 (May
2, 1958), pgs. 1023-1026.

[3] Barry Commoner, "Toward a Humane Science" Reed College SALLYPORT
(August, 1970), pg. 7.

[4] Quoted in Barry Commoner, "The Myth of Omnipotence," ENVIRONMENT Vol.
11, No. 2 (March 1969), pgs. 8-13, 26-28.

[5] Barry Commoner, "Fallout and Water Pollution--Parallel Cases,"
SCIENTIST AND CITIZEN Vol. 7, No. 2 (December 1964), pgs. 2-7.

[6] AAAS Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare, "The
Integrity of Science" AMERICAN SCIENTIST Vol. 53 (1965), pgs. 174-198.

Louis Proyect
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