Politically Corrected Science: The Early Negotiation of U.S. Agricultural Biotechnology Policy
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During the 1980s, the first rDNA microbial pesticide, Ice-Minus, struggled through a policy gauntlet of federal agency approval processes, a Congressional hearing, and many legal actions before it was finally released into the environment. At the height of the controversy (1984-1986), the Reagan Administration would admit no new laws or regulations to slow the development of technologies or hinder American international competitiveness. At the same time, Jeremy Rifkin, a radical activist representing a green world view, used the controversy to agitate for social and economic reform. Meanwhile, a group of Congressional aides who called themselves the "Cloneheads" used the debate to fight for more public participation in the science policy-making process.
Conflicting perspectives regarding biotechnology originated, not in level of understanding of the science involved, but in personal perspectives that were outwardly expressed as political group affiliations. The direction of federal biotechnology policy was influenced most successfully by politically best-positioned individuals (what I call a "hierarchy effect") who based decisions on how biotechnology harmonized with their pre-existing beliefs. The success of their actions also depended on timing.
Historical events during the rDNA controversy followed the same periodic pattern--gestation, threshold, crisis/conflict, and quasi-quiescence--through two consecutive eras--the Containment Era (1970s) and the Release Era (1980s). These periods are modeled after Fletcher's stages through which ethical issues evolve (1990). However, an agricultural perspective on the debate reveals that such stages also occur in finer detail on repeating, overlapping, and multi-level scales. Knowledge of this periodicity may be useful in predicting features of future episodes of the rDNA controversy
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