Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Killing Science: New York Establishment Births a Modern Dark Age

"...encourages and facilitates basic and applied research for the purpose of the creation and dissemination of knowledge vital for continued human, scientific, technological and economic advancement..."

Terrible news yesterday for New York State's academic freedom, public education, subject matter expertise, informed public policy, and a clear-minded approach to objective reality:  Brass at the SUNY University at Buffalo have reacted to howls of emotional protest, growing out of the fracking question, by yanking the rug out from under its nascent Shale Resources and Society Institute.

Probably no one but me statewide will say so, but this act is the modern-day American equivalent of the Vatican putting the screws to Galileo.

It is not so much the burning of witches, as it is — in parallel with the treatment throughout most of 2011 of New York State Geologist Dr. Langhorne "Taury" Smith — the muzzling of legitimate expertise.

It is a retreat from what is known and knowable, and an embrace instead of fear, feeling, and simply not wanting to know.  In this sort of Modern Dark Age, New York's educational institutions have flinched from their job of meaningfully informing the public, and training future expertise, with all that is necessary and proper for running and revising a modern society. 

SUNY has effectively said —
screw the mission of our founding and our purpose — we just don't want to get into it.  We are too afraid to get involved in any balanced way in the modern era of exploitation of oil and gas resources.  There is public controversy here, and most of the press seems bad, and so we flee from all that.

It might be a little late to be bringing this up, but, in New York State, "The Man" — that is, "The Powers That Be," or "The Establishment" — no longer seeks to value or balance development and enterprise with science, regulation,
or wisdom.

Instead, "The Man" in New York is a loose cabal of Anti-Development Activists and associated Appearance Jockeys — sensitive to gut persuasion, far more than rational substance — that simply doesn't want to know about such things, and is, in fact, afraid of knowledge, and the power it brings.

To me, it is very much like the official, simian crumpling of a paper airplane in a scene from the 1968 film "Planet of the Apes."  For some, knowledge is dangerous, and must be suppressed by any means necessary.

In September 2011, in Pennsylvania, after the passage of an over-tolerant year or so, the University of Pittsburgh killed off its activist-funded, activist-inspired FracTracker database, and associated exhortations.  Academic leaders said quite rightly their institution was not for sale — not to anyone, including the Heinz Foundation, which was outrageously open in its disappointment that its millions of dollars ultimately failed to buy the maximum amount of academically imprinted, anti-shale gas activism.  Heinz vowed to shop around for a replacement mouthpiece, but, to my knowledge, no one but the student newspaper felt compelled by duty to shed any alarming light on the underlying motives.

Now, in November 2012, in New York, just seven months after starting out, UB amputates its own shale gas policy research wing, without even any attempt at re-balance. 
Activists and media are celebrating the news statewide, like the rolling out of a guillotine before a righteous mob.  The experts involved are doomed for having previously done their work directly or indirectly through industry dollars, and for holding to the mainstream, professional premise that hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuel resources can and should be done in a regulated way.

Are both these muzzlings the same thing in reverse?

They are not.

By stated mission, right from its legislative origins, SUNY is host to a number of academic institutions that can be historically witnessed as relevant to, and supportive of, the generalized fields of — openly stated — resource extraction.  All are free to fight this, even while it is necessary work to support their lifestyles, but such enterprises represent a fact of modern life.  Without controversy or question, money flows from the public, and from vested interests, to support this work.  Sometimes the public, and these vested interests, get the answers they want to hear.  And sometimes they don't.

Science has been, and will be, like that, always.  It is in the nature of evolution of knowledge.  The ongoing generation of new, reliable, objective information is something that society can only flee, suppress, or crumple at its peril.

My graduate alma mater, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, was, in fact, initiated as the State Forestry College.  That school is most decidedly not devoted to the emotional proposition that all cutting of trees is "bad."  Sun, soil, water, and trees form the basis for a multitude of values, including values to exploitive industries, to consumers, and to the economy generally.

In Ithaca, Cornell University hosts the SUNY College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and numerous other programs statewide are similarly aligned with expertly guiding the fates of farming.  These schools are most decidedly not devoted to the emotional proposition that all human manipulation of the environment for the purpose of food production is "bad."  Sun, soil, water, and crops form the basis for a multitude of values, including values to exploitive industries, to consumers, and to the economy generally.



SUNY formerly stood for the proposition that only idiots prefer to engage the modern world in such uninformed, such simple-minded, ways.

Now, as for fossil fuels extraction generally, and as for the particular technological advent of extracting unconventional resources, SUNY stands for the proposition that public controversy trumps all.

It's a dark day dawning in New York, and I am shocked and ashamed to be living so powerlessly in this state's new era — as a native, as a resident, as a citizen, and as a SUNY alum.

1 comment:

john p. said...

Welcome to the world of politics within the SUNY system ! I have had my own personal experience with the hyprocrisy found in the administration of SUNY Oswego, where there's no such thing that they ever could do any wrong !! Fortunately we still have Cornell and ESF...a higher caliber of institutions within SUNY, as you so aptly pointed out..It may just all boil down to the issue of integrety !