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Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities
Seminar

Science, lobbies and the environment: marking the 60th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

We owe to Rachel Carson’s book "Silent Spring" the birth of the environment as a subject of public discourse and policies.

To the left: Book cover for Silent Spring: black, white and yellow text on dark green background and a yellow illustration. Left: Black-white picture of a woman with short hair, a white shirt and a dark jacket
Rachel Carson completed Silent Spring against formidable personal odds, and with it shaped a powerful social movement that has altered the course of history.
Photo:
Book cover: Lois Darling. Photo of Rachel Carson: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Main content

Published 60 years ago, on September 27th 1962, the book created at the same time a new genre and a new sensitivity to environmental issues.

Carson's book documented the devastating ecological impacts of pesticides, a theme that is still hot today [1], [2]. She was fiercely criticized by industry lobby, and chemical companies launched vicious anti-Carson campaigns. Whatever the subject of ecological concern, science has always occupied a core position in environmental conflicts. At the same time, corporate lobby groups deploy "science" to manipulate the public, as discussed by a recent book by investigative journalists and sociologists [3].

Corporate Europe Observatory and the University of Bergen have recently studied new strategies of regulatory capture played out in the public arena that mobilize an image of science and innovation to corporate advantage [3]–[7].

In the spirit of Rachel Carson, UiB's BeeCaution project and CEO are honoured to jointly host a half-day international seminar aimed at policy makers, civil society, journalists, and scientists to discuss the new frontiers of regulatory capture and environmental conflict.

Key questions:

  • How exactly is science instrumentalised by corporations in environmental conflicts (focus on Europe)?
  • How can science defend itself?
  • How can (investigative) journalism contribute?
  • What would need to happen to stop corporate capture through science and corporate attacks on individual scientists, and who is responsible?
  • What is the link with the current political context in the EU (EGD/Farm to Fork, etc)?

After the meeting, we will serve drinks and light snacks.

The event will be in English.

See registration link to the right. The registration closes at Friday 23 September at 4 pm CET, or by the time we reach 100 participants. If you have registered after this, we cannot guarantee you a place at Norway House, but we can send you a recording of the event afterwards.

Program

14.30 Welcome - TBA

14.35 Introductory keynote by Naomi Oreskes

Discussion chaired by Hans van Scharen

15.05 Science and precaution: lessons from the neonicotinoids case - Jeroen van der Sluijs

Discussion chaired by Hans van Scharen

15.20 Science and regulatory capture - Andrea Saltelli

Discussion chaired by Daniele Vidoni

15.35 Guardians of reason - Stéphane Foucart

Discussion chaired by Daniele Vidoni

16.05 Coffee break

16.25 Lobbies in action - Nina Holland

Discussion chaired by Franziska Achterberg

16.40 Pushing pesticides onto Norwegian gardens, fields, and forests, 1945-1995 by May-Brith Ohman Nielsen

Discussion chaired by Franziska Achterberg

17.10 Round table discussion with speakers and organizers, plus Román Arjona Gracia, chief economist at DG Grow, European Commission.

Discussion chaired by Jeroen van der Sluijs

17.50 End of the meeting - light snacks and drinks will be served.

Speakers

Organizers

Corporate Europe Observatory

Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT), University of Bergen

    Abstracts

    Naomi Oreskes:

    See recent piece in Scientific American.

    Jeroen van der Sluijs: Science and precaution: lessons from the neonicotinoids case

    For the last 65 years we have been on a pesticide merry-go-round: successive generations of pesticides are released and subsequently banned a decade or two later once the environmental harm they cause becomes evident. While pesticides are typically replaced by new ones, this new generation of chemicals often raises new and unanticipated risk concerns.

    Risks that in retrospect required precautionary action have been systematically overlooked as a result of blind spots in overly reductionist risk assessment protocols. These protocols in are largely shaped by pesticide lobbies. Knowledge about risks that do not fit into such protocols (e.g. academic scientific studies in the peer-reviewed literature and knowledge regarding end-points not covered by the protocols) is often systematically downplayed, marginalised or ignored. Too often, coalitions of concerned scientists and societal actors have needed to step in and ‘break the script’ of routinised assessment and management processes in order to recognise key uncertainties and the potential for serious harm to human, animal and environmental health. Based on the results of the EU-funded project ‘REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders’ (RECIPES), we can learn important lessons for the necessary reforms of environmental risk assessment frameworks and beyond.

    Andrea Saltelli: Science and regulatory capture

    New frontiers of regulatory capture involving an instrumental use of science have become visible. Here corporate interests from pharma to agro-chemical operate over several epistemic levels, from invalidating the evidence, the methodology or the legitimacy of regulators, all the way up to the more recent use of platform technologies to construct a vision of reality where regulatory 'interference' is to be restrained. What specific responsibilities pertain to scientists overall and to academia specifically?

    Stéphane Foucart: Guardians of reason

    The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1970, was one of the consequences of the alert launched by Rachel Carson on the damage of the indiscriminate use of pesticides on the environment and public health. Following this model, other countries have created their own agencies in charge of expertise. Initially opposed by the companies, most of these agencies have become over the years allies of the industries generating health and environmental risks. Today, the very existence of these institutions creates confusion between regulatory decisions and scientific consensus.

    Nina Holland: Lobbies in action

    Corporate lobbies fund and promote science and scientists that are selected or paid to back their narrative and interests. This – they hope – contributes to the credibility of their arguments, that for example manufacture doubt on the harmfulness or confirm claims of economic losses to their sector and to ‘innovation’.

    May-Brith Ohman Nielsen: Pushing pesticides onto Norwegian gardens, fields, and forests, 1945-1995

    The second and third generations of pesticides were pushed onto Norwegian farmers, family gardeners and foresters by corporate interests, state institutions, branch organisations and broad membership associations, both before and after Silent Spring. How was this done in practice? And how was this system resisting reforms and voices of environmental concern?

    References