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Science at any time can be used for the benefit of mankind. If the people of the world determine that this is the use they will make of science and they organize themselves wisely enough politically that their their effort in science and technology can be put to the benefit of all people. What science does is two things one is it provides enormous benefits Secondly it produces changes which require adaptation and most of the problem most of the severe problems are of this form new adaptation which requires many kinds of environmental change or carried out by people who see one particular goal and who. Push their activity to achieve that goal and in almost all cases the goal itself was a very worthwhile. On the other hand the environment as a whole is so dependent one part upon another that whenever we and if we push one place. An effect takes place somewhere else.
Our ecological crisis part to one program in the series. The circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on society. In our last program we discussed our country's capacity to disrupt the web of life to alter our environment at unprecedented speed. The great difference between what we were doing two or three decades ago and today is largely one of scale. The time required to develop some of our modern technologies is now so short that there is a danger of causing serious damage to man before he is aware of the new hazards. We asked several of our outstanding scientists to pinpoint the major problem areas of our ecological crisis. First Dr. Barry Commoner director of the Center for the biology of natural systems at Washington University in the United States. We have been using our I would say misusing the cycle of nitrogen by intruding upon it with very massive
use of inorganic fertilizer as a result we have forced nitrogen out of its natural balance in the soil pushing various nitrogen compounds into the water where they cause water pollution. And in fact increasingly nitrate content of certain foods beyond medically acceptable levels. But that is certainly one area of importance I would speak of that as the balance of nitrogen in the soil and in the water. The general problem of water pollution is one which is widely recognized as being critical. It's been calculated that a water pollution will become critical in all surface waters in about 20 years. What that means is that the ability of the natural system which occurs in water to purify itself is going to be disrupted in that time. And this occurs because we impose an increasing load of organic wastes
on surface waters. These organic wastes are acted upon by bacteria that require oxygen. If we put too much waste in the water then the bacteria run out of oxygen and the entire cycle is disrupted. The calculation has been made that at the present rate of the livery of waste the surface waters in about 20 years we will exceed the total oxygen content of all surface waters during the summertime. And this would be a very serious crisis. Air pollution is another critical area. It seems to me that our large cities are rapidly reaching the point where we can expect catastrophes to occur from time to time when air conditions are such as to keep the pollutants localized for a period of time. New York City had a near catastrophe about a year ago Thanksgiving time and I think we have to expect these sorts of events to
continue unless we really take very strong steps to roll back pollution. Now these are some of the critical areas. There are others. Dr. Walter Roberts president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research feels that the problems could arise in almost any area of science. I mentioned of course. A bombs and nuclear physics but the problems and benefits that it's brought. But you could say the same about the medical field with the possibility of the control of the genetic heritage of people in the near future. He can speak in the computer field with the tremendous benefits that can come from improving the learning process. But you can also see the problems the invasion of privacy and the many many problems that come with that TV with
its enormous possibilities to come into our homes with the classroom and to give us the image of the world but consonant with that is the possibility of Big Brother watching from the corner of every room survey of us keeping us under observation at all times. I suspect that the. Nearly every area where the progress of science is rapid there will be problems. My own field for example of weather weather research has within it the tremendous possibility of weather modification and if you get to thinking about weather modification for whose benefit are you going to modify it for the farmers who want rain or the baseball operators who want good weather. There are problems in every that Dr. Donald Hornig the president's advisor on science cites some critical areas in science and technological advances that are likely to present problems. There are some areas of course one of them is plant is in the realm of
automation automatic control and computers. As we look ahead it's plain lapped up many routine intellectual tasks are going to be replaced by computers for example in the same way that simple manual skills were replaced at an earlier time by machines. So people are going to have to adapt themselves to a higher level of activity. There is going to be continuing automation of our production apparatus. Actually this produces benefits for everyone concerned if we make the social adaptations which provide new opportunities for the people who no longer can do the old jobs. Another area though is we're going much more for instance about the transplantation of organs. About the genetic and physiological systems of the body. This again will produce a new social problems if you can keep a man alive indefinitely for instance with borrowed organs and artificial
organs. How long will you want to do that. And by what kinds of moral and legal standards will you decide how long you should keep a man alive and functioning or if you have. And we have that. How will the artificial kidney right now. By what standards do you rationalize a scarce supply of transplantable or artificial organs. So then there are many problems of that sort of course. The more obvious ones are the problems of environmental pollution and the effect on the world ecology. Will the problems of new technology ever become greater than the benefits. Dr commoner. We may have reached that position already I would say for example that the problems produced by the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere certainly exceeds the benefits. Frankly I don't see any benefits in this atoll in the hazards which
have been caused by fallout. The medical hazards therefore exceed the benefits which I regard to be as zero in the case of. The largest problem with the agricultural problem in this country there are of course enormous benefits associated with the increased production. However the increased production of food in this country is now beginning to cause water pollution. I think that there is a time may be reached with further increase in production will be outweighed by the hazards resulting from the increased use of fertilizer. Dr. Walter ROBERTS How do you equate problems and benefits take atomic energy for example. Here is a fantastic development of modern physics and engineering it broad. But it also has brought enormous
benefits to mankind. It promises clean power for use in the cities of tomorrow clean power that will make it possible for us to have good air to breathe air over the cities. And yet at the same time have all the available electric power that we need. So that it seems to me that while I do agree with Loren Eiseley statement that science is a two edged sword that it creates problems as fast as it solves problems. But I suspect that it is man's use science and technology that creates both the problems and the benefits. And it seems to me that science at any time can be used for the benefit of mankind. If the people of the world determine that this is the use they will make of science and they organize themselves
wisely enough politically that their their effort in science and technology can be put to the benefit of all people. DR DONALD horning it's not only that science creates problems it creates problems because it's exploring new territory. And of course this always opens up more problems than you saw in the first place so it's not so much that it creates problems in the sense of perhaps making making things worse. It's you know more there for you to see more of therefore you're aware of the problem. What I think on balance you see we have or we have problems of many sorts we have problems of side effects of drugs but on the other hand we couldn't sustain the earth's population keeping alive if we didn't have penicillin and sulfa drugs and many of the new medical products and I think I think this is generally true that what science does is two things one is it provides enormous
benefits Secondly it produces changes which require adaptation and most of the problem most of the severe problems are of this form new adaptation which is required. Dr. T.S. Byerly director of the cooperative state Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was the lives of the Berkeley little issues people debated interpretively a little resource could be contained only here to the point of appeal. I'm sure that so long as there are people we will never run out of things to argue about. Well we may create problems that seem more significant to us. Finally it is in this area it seems to me where there is a boy's ability the two of. You may finally wind up playing a zero sum game that you talk about simply for the sake of doing it. This is as old as man in this argument for the sake of argument. We all do it sometimes.
It's lots of fun. So we think I can see where it would be true. Dr. John Buckley director of the office of ecology of the Interior Department. I'm not convinced that it is science but more particularly technology which creates these problems and in a sense technology is under the control of man. There are a lot of things that we're able to do but because we're able to doesn't mean that we necessarily must. I think we have thinking increasingly that we haven't got a requirement for. Examining with care what we do because of the profound nature of the changes that we're able to exert make more and more we as a as a civilized intelligent people will do this. I'm not worried about that by the science. Getting out of control is where one of the major difficulties in dealing with the side effects of contemporary science and technology appears to be our problem with
accurately foreseeing the consequences in developing means of protection. And the answer really doesn't seem to be too easy but are there any recent developments that might help us deal with this aspect of modern science. Yes I think simply the recognition of the problem has certainly advanced a great deal in the last few years. Dr commoner until a few years ago I think most people had the notion that science and technology was an undiluted benefit that whatever we did in our industry and rapidly developing science would do some good and that the side effects were more nuisance value had a more of a nuisance value than anything else environmental pollution until a few years ago was looked on as a you know this anesthetic problem. The question of whether you were bothered by the smoke that came out of it. It came out of a new industrial plant. I think the recognition that every time we intrude by our technology
into the environment some hazards are associated. This recognition I think has become more widespread. Also I think that we are beginning to realize that we need to develop a new attitude a new approach toward science and technology in order to cope with this problem. That approach has been variously described as the systems approach or the holistic approach that is that we regard the environment for example as an integrated whole and something which can't be dealt with in one place let's say in the putting fertilizer on the soil without causing consequences elsewhere. For example in the runoff of fertilizer into surface waters I think that. This notion the idea that we are dealing with an integrated whole environment has begun to be recognized more effectively and that this will lead I think toward a way of
understanding the way in which science and technology improves our environment. I suspect that the key to this is really not anything from science and technology but it's just a general awareness of what is happening and a concern for what is happening. Dr. Walter Roberts the American Association for the Advancement of Science for example. It seems to me has an enormous responsibility as a broad scientific organization Embracing many disciplines in many fields has a tremendous responsibility to to see that the scientists speak articulately to the intelligent laymen of our public so that they can share their concerns with the developments and share their awareness of the possibilities. If an awareness and a concern. It is throughout our entire population. Then I think that we will
learn to. Do and dissipate the difficulties and take steps to protect ourselves from them long before the problems become serious. There are also many groups of scientists who are now much concerned about this. I think perhaps one of the most significant developments now in history was the concern of the groups of scientists directly after the invention of the A-bomb which expressed itself in the formation of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and so on. To speak about what they foresaw the benefits and also the hazards. And you see similar groups forming today around this ecological crisis around many of the other problems that face us as the result of modern science and technology. The work of scientists like doc to do both or Roger Revelle in oceanography or Barry Commoner and biology or Apple spill House is concerned with the future of the city. If the opportunity
is given to these people and if they feel there is bias ability to speak about the developments of science I think we'll all be greatly protected by this. Another important point in respect to developing the means of protection and also seeing the foreseeing the consequences of scientific advance is to see that the appropriate institutions undertake responsibility for developing means of protection through extending the range of awareness and concern about these problems. I think institutions not only like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Science but also our universities. It seems to me that there is an enormous institutional responsibility in these universities of the country colleges and universities to develop not only in young people but in the
population at large to develop awareness and concern of where science is going and what its potentialities for good and for bad. Our Dr. barley feels that we now have a better means of protecting ourselves from technological problems because we have expanded the state of the art to a point where we can monitor the potential side effects. This to me you want a real risk that you can enter the room. Through growth techniques where substances and their degradation products have gone. You can follow them through the environment much better than we could even a few years ago. So I think we have that for the other Berkeley awareness both sides are said to be reductionist in a large measure it is to the degree of specialization violin brings. Each research man down to the point where it contains his attention on an immediate problem before him without concern to problems to the right or to the way the consciousness has grown a lot of scientists of the
consequence of the appreciation of their results. I think I've Stoppard that point I think this is a real advantage that the so at least is thoughtful about what may be done with the work you do. So then we can foresee more accurately our consequences in time but have we been able to at the same time develop the means of protecting. Ourselves from these problems for years because when a problem was recognized it too becomes researchable and over time there is a merging for example with respect to radiation damage or a means of protecting or preventing relieve eating the radiation damage. And when you said that produces its own problems some of it is a measure of truth to that. So it's also a way of solving the problems that this is identified I think identified as better than the
produce because of. Problem problems there. It probably wasn't invented by scientists who simply identified it but it was one of the solutions to our ecological problems appears to be secretary of the interior Udall suggestion that we establish an early warning system for ecological protection. If you mean. Getting many people to work thinking about what is happening what is possible if we take steps and live in the consequence. And changing our. Policies and actions that will form the analyses. Certainly it is possible and necessary. The director of the Office of Science and Technology Dr. Donald Hornig. I think the sort of very formal system which will put a ring of value on things that I don't know of that's what he had in mind. Many kinds of environmental change are carried out by people who see one particular goal and who. Push their. Activity to achieve that
goal. And in almost all cases the goal itself was a very worthwhile. Dr. John Buckley of the Interior Department's Office of ecology. On the other hand. The environment as a whole is so dependent one part upon another that whenever we. And if we push one place. An effect takes place somewhere else. And I would conceive of an early warning system in this sense of simply the application of what we now know in the process of making decisions. There are other things that that. Might be done. In some cases that it's not at all clear that there will be some kind of an effect for example. When we began to use. Persistent. Pesticides of modern organic chemical kinds it wasn't at all clear that these would persist for the length of time that we now
see that they do. It wasn't clear that they'd move. Or. Be persistent enough to be moved in the vast distances that they have. I mean these things were not readily predictable. On the other hand we now know from observation that this has occurred and it suggests that there may be other kinds of chemicals other kinds of things that we can look at. And and if it becomes necessary that we can prevent. This too was a kind of early warning system. Dr. Walter Roberts concurs an early warning system for environmental protection is possible. And he makes the following suggestion. I suspect that an explicit assignment of responsibility to a particular institution probably an institution of government is essential if for example one of the federal agencies like for example asked the environmental sciences services
service administration if this institution had an institutional responsibility if this organization had an institutional responsibility. To monitor that the rate of change of the environment under the impact of the various developments and to recommend means of alleviating these difficulties of holding the line against further degradation of the environment in every kind of way. I suspect that it would be enormously beneficial at the very least it would make people aware to a greater degree. But it could also pave the way for the development of laws for the development of political actions zoning and things of that sort that would improve the utilization of land and the protection of the natural environment. You know it's an incredible thing but. When you think about such a
simple thing for example as available agricultural land of the nation in the face of the increasing population of the nation you see that there's a part of this crisis ahead. And yet when we expand our cities build our suburban developments it's incredible how we very often take the most productive agricultural land because it's flat and then simply bulldoze it off and build buildings there build suburban developments. Taking this beautiful agricultural land out of production for the future making it more difficult in the future for us to provide food and fiber for the expanded population and for the wealthier population. When you realize that by a very simple alternatives by the choice of very simple alternatives we could build the houses on land that isn't suitable for agriculture and have that agricultural land as a source of beauty
as a source of emptiness and as a place to produce food and fiber. So I'm quite convinced that this is the most important thing that we can do and to begin to cope with the problems of environmental pollution. Dr. Barry Commoner several years ago those of us who were Army AAAS Committee on Science in the promotion of human welfare analyzed this problem and proposed to the Triple-A us of that a watchdog committee of scientists be established essentially to warn about impending intrusions on the environment. This was proposed several years ago and at the time there wasn't too much interest in doing something about it. It's good to report the Triple-A as actually set up such a committee for exactly this purpose. At the same time in the intervening years missed the D'Addario in Congress has called for a similar kind of approach which he calls a technology assessment that is
an advance assessment of the impact of new technologies on the environment. I don't think that the problem is really very difficult in a technical sense because we do understand a good deal about the complex effects of new environmental intrusions. What is required is simply the development of a strong intention to do something about it. And I certainly feel that if the independent scientific community establishes effective committees for overseeing problems as they arise that an enormous amount can be accomplished. In effect we've already accomplished this with respect to the dissemination of radiation in the environment during the international controversy over nuclear tests. The scientific community developed a rather effective way of warning the country about the consequences of continuing this kind of intrusion. And I think this is an example of the way in which
the scientific community can help the country protect itself against the intrusions on the environment. You've been listening to the fourth program in the series the circumstance of science exploring the forces of contemporary science and technology and their possible effects on society. You're invited to be with us for our next discussion dealing with noise pollution effects and solutions to our noise problems highlight the discussion and two unique organizations for noise abatement as well as a congressman's bill to limit noise provide topics for consideration. A transcript of this program is available without charge from W. K. R.. Michigan State University East Lansing. This series is prepared under a grant from the Louis W. and Maude Hill Family Foundation of St. Paul Minnesota produced by Steve new save for Michigan State University Radio. This is NPR national educational
The circumstance of science
Episode Number
Episode 3 of 13
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Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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The Circumstance of Science. Documentary series. No information available.
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Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-23-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:36
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