The New Yorker’s “A Valuable Reputation” examines yet another case of an ethical scientist vs. a large corporation. This is not the first nor the last case of science vs. profit, and in this unfortunate system of deregulation and privatization, the only solution, it appears, is to completely change the system.
When science, economics, and politics become so intertwined that the goal of safeguarding humanity becomes obsolete, it’s clear that the system is fundamentally flawed.
A few days ago, I visited the Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm, and after being in the concrete jungle of New York City for so long, seeing nature really refocused my attention on its importance and relevance, even in the city.
While many people follow the notion of “out of sight, out of mind,” the importance of knowing what is going into our bodies is ever so important in a world of profit driven farming, where corporations will do anything, including breaking the law, to make more profit at the expense of the environment, our health, and the law.
Scientists like Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Rachel Carson, and Frances Oldham Kelsey work diligently to maintain ethics in science and research and it’s unfortunate and unnerving to read about the mistreatment of scientists who solely wish to protect humanity. Targetting his credibility as a scientist, Syngenta made Dr. Hayes paranoid and seemingly mentally ill. The power they had to control his life in order to hide the truth about their harmful product is frightening, and surely the government and the EPA needs to take better steps to regulate products in an objective way. It’s refreshing to hear about people like Frances Oldham Kelsey, though, and to see how their dedication and ethics can truly prevent disasters.
This article deeply explores the idea of “sound science,” a campaign by corporations to “slow the pace of regulation,” as stated by the article’s author, Rachel Aviv. As we’ve seen in Merchants of Doubt and various other articles and films, corporations need only produce a certain factor of doubt and uncertainty to divide the public and keep their products in the marketplace. And focusing their attention on these issues, as opposed to the science itself, corporations lose track of what’s important in the grand scale of the world and long term impact.
What surprised me about corporations such as Syngenta is their focus on public relations departments. While one might think the purpose of such a company is to provide safe products that enhance, for example, the way vegetables are grown, these companies instead focus on convincing the public that their product is safe, rather than spending the time and money to make a new, hopefully safer one.
This article, however, introduced my to the process of cost-benefit analysis, in which, according to Aviv, “a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.” This system frightens me and I expect a majority of the public would agree that no product, regardless of its economic benefits, would be worth the lives of innocent citizens.
Thinking about how different products might impact my daily life, I think about NYU’s food service Aramark. From the personal scale of seeing the workers pour gallons of pre mixed eggs from huge bags onto the stove to make scrambled eggs to seeing the precut fruit coming out of sealed packages rather than being freshly cut, I am disgusted by their practices here in the dining halls. But, I can only imagine where this food is coming from and how they and their contractors treat the animals, fields, and workers.
Of course, everything I read online about Aramark and every corporation is going to be biased, but I’ve learned through this article to continue questioning everything, to look closely at the sources of all research and products, and to never sell myself out for money.