I disagree with your frustration with the people, and it should be obvious that the corporate media WANTS you to look upon them with disdain and ridicule. But I just wanted you to know that not all acitivists are young hooligans. Some are scientists! Please read on
The Nature of the Machine
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Imagine this: you study your entire life to reach the pinnacle of your
profession. First, you secure an undergraduate degree in biology from Oregon
State University. Then a PhD in developmental biology at Yale University.
Then on to Indiana University, where you teach and run a lab on the cutting
edge of plant research.
And you have tenure. But you wake up one day and realize that by doing the
scientific research, you are creating the road map for corporations to come
in and apply the science for profit, thus destroying the nature that
attracted you to the study of biology in the first place.
By this time you have become well known in your field. You are "respected."
In 1990, your lab gets the cover story in The Plant Cell, the leading
journal of the field. But exactly one month later, you decide to write an
editorial for the same publication announcing that such scientific research
is unethical and that you will no longer conduct such research, thus
effectively ending your scientific career.
That, in a nutshell, is the career trajectory of Martha Crouch, a Professor
of Biology at Indiana University in Bloomington.
As a leading researcher in the field of plant molecular biology, Crouch got
in on the ground floor, when corporations were just starting to become
interested in biotechnology. In fact, Crouch consulted with a few of the
them in the late 1980s, including the giant British multinational Unilever.
Then, in 1989, Crouch picked up a copy of the New Scientist magazine and
read how Unilever was using her tissue culture research to harvest palm
trees in the tropics. Palm trees are grown for the oil in their seeds. The
seeds are used for snack foods and industrial lubricants. Unilever wanted to
expand its palm oil operations, but the trees were too variable in size to
So, Unilever tried to make genetically uniform oil palm trees through tissue
"Some of the work that we did on rapeseed tissue culture helped them perfect
their techniques so they could make identical copies of the plant and create
large plantations of genetically identical palms," Crouch told us recently.
Unilever started buying out small farmers in places like Malaysia. Crouch
learned that the resulting oil palm boom was responsible for the cutting
down of tropical rainforests and the displacement of indigenous peoples.
Also, processing factories for palm oil caused severe water pollution.
After reading the article, she asked herself: How could the research we did
in our lab be applied in this way that damaged nature?
That question, combined with her day-to-day feeling of disconnection from
nature, stopped her in her tracks. She began to re-examine what she was
doing with her life. And that re- examination led to her editorial in Plant
Cell announcing that she was quitting research because she thought it could
not be done ethically. The editorial drew scores of responses, many of them
from scientists who, like Crouch, felt uneasy about the new emerging
biotechnology companies and how they were hijacking basic plant cell
But many others were angry with Crouch. One of her colleagues confronted
Crouch and told her she was "more dangerous than Hitler," apparently on the
grounds that her views might limit government funding for researchers like
him, and that might slow the progress of medical or agricultural discovery.
"Therefore millions of people would die that wouldn't have to die if science
was progressing at a faster rate," she says. "And I would be responsible for
this carnage. "
But Crouch had come to a different world view. She came to believe, for
example, that the Green Revolution -- the use of mechanized and chemical
agriculture -- had resulted in an incredible increase in hunger around the
world. Farmers worldwide were better off growing food organically and with
appropriate technology -- as they had done for thousands of years.
"You are basically treating the agricultural environment as if it was a
factory where you are making televisions or VCRs," Crouch said. "If nature
is not a machine, if organisms are not machines, then to treat them as if
they are, is going to create big problems."
Some of her students have quit the study of biology to pursue sustainable
agriculture -- one is a logger in Kentucky who uses draft horses -- but most
are working for the biotech industry -- one is at Monsanto and is
responsible for helping to commercialize genetically engineered corn and
soybeans. Crouch herself will quit her tenured position at Indiana
University at the end of this semester. After deciding in 1990 to not
continue her research, the department prohibited her from teaching science
students. For the last ten years, she has been teaching non-science students
about the food system.
Crouch taught her students that we would be better off if we prevent the
food system from being further industrialized. And she urges everyone to
reconnect with nature. She's taking the lead, leaving the high-tech
university setting and heading back to the local farmers market --
inspecting mushrooms for the City of Bloomington.
"Local people all over the world know from experience which mushrooms are
poisonous and which are not," she says. "We've lost that ability."
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt
for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage
Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)