Thursday, July 30, 2009


There has been a lot of interest in the new science advisor, John Holdren, for remarks made in the book, Ecoscience, population, resources, environment (1977). He was the junior author of the third edition of the original by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Population, resources, environment: issues in human ecology. This was among the first of many “Environmental Science” texts that followed Silent Spring, from the earlier decade. Some years later I started and taught a course in Environmental Science and Management mostly to wildlife and fisheries science students, and I received a number of these books for adoption in the course. Although they were full of good information, well done, and for the most part factually accurate, they were clearly political statements. I recall telling one bookseller this and she seemed to have already heard the criticism.

I saved two-- Chiras, Environmental Science, a framework for decision making and Miller, Living in the environment, principles, connections and solutions, which I judged to be the worst, having errors in the fields I knew something about. Ironically, it probably had the best coverage of environmental problems. The two books I did use the most, both published about 1977, were never reprinted or reissued and are now classics that have been difficult to find since the 1980's.

Much of what these books said were factually true, as stated, because the period during and after WWII paid nearly no attention to pollution. However, even in the 1950's it was realized that things needed changing and some were begun. These “Environmental Science” books were popular and the course that replaced mine, named Conservation of Natural Resources, used the fifth edition of Miller.

In my rejection I was making no political or religious statement, as I simply wanted my students to adhere to good science, not the political value judgments of these books. As examples:

From Miller (Eighth edition, 1994)

Page 696
In a box labeled Earth Strategy is the following quote copied from Robert Fulghum

I do not want to talk about what you understand about the world. I want to know what you will do about it. I do not want to know what you hope. I want to know what you will work for. I do not want your sympathy for the needs of humanity. I want your muscle. As the wagon driver said when they came to a long, hard hill ’Them that’s going on with us, get out and push. Them that ain’t get out of the way.’” On the opposite page is another box labeled “Major components of an Earth Coalition.”

Page 688 has “The Earth’s Ten Commandments..” Number 3 is “Thy shalt not hold thyself above other living things, nor drive them to extinction.”

Page 696 “...there is no single correct or best culture, worldview, or type of society.”

From Chiras (1985)

Page 550, Fig. 23.2. “Roots of Environmental Damage Caused by Humans.” It shows BIOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM joining JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS leading to ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE. Other more psychological points are shown as contributing.

Page 589 begins the last chapter, “Politics, Government and Environment: toward a sustainable society.” After a reasonable discussion about how the government works and fails, it then discusses "Education and Future Planning, A New Economic Order," where the statement is made that “Another major task is converting the current economic system of unlimited growth to one a of a steady-economics (Chapter 24).” Sounds familiar. Then there are sections on “New Leaders and Longer Terms,” and others up to “Value free decisions and Science Courts.” I doubt if the author realized that a value free decision is a value judgment.

In 1994 I received a request from the Education Testing Service at Princeton “ help set standards for a new undergraduate examination entitled “Environment and Humanity: The Race to save the planet.” Again these types of Environmental Science books were given as references. There were three multiple choice sample questions. The first two were standard from ecology, but the last was telling.

“Which of the following statements is true about the near future of the biosphere.

(A) Human population will remain stable, (B) Coal will be the primary energy source, (C) The amount of food per person will remain stable, (D) Increased industrialization will not increase pollution.” Perhaps you know the answer, as we are now in the near future.

For several reasons I did not respond and do not know what happened, but I am told that this sort of thing is common across schools of education around the country. I have no problems with books like Chiras and Miller being published, but they do not belong in a science curriculum.

1 comment:

  1. According to liberalpedia, Holdren, who is Obama's "Science and Technology Adviser" (czar) has been a political scientist his entire career with a focus on climate change. No surprise he was at Berkley for 20 years. They don't just drink it... they manufacture the koolaid there.

    Here's the excerpt:
    Holdren trained in aeronautics, astronautics and plasma physics and earned a bachelor's degree from MIT in 1965 and a PhD from Stanford University in 1970. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley for more than two decades. His work has focused on the causes and consequences of global environmental change, energy technologies and policies, ways to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials, and science and technology policy.