Advisory Committee on Pesticides, 1963
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Teaching Notes -- Discussion Guide
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As noted elsewhere, discussion may be led by the Instructor or a student in the role of Jerome Wiesner.

The aim is for participants to not merely express their views, but to develop a joint recommendation. Reasoning is central. Thus, one major role of the discussion leader is to ensure that comments clearly articulate the reasons for a particular claim, based on evidence, ethical principles or other shared values. A helpful standard for facilitators is a courteous journalistic tone of gathering information and seeking clarity.

Another role of the discussion leader is to ensure that all stakeholder voices are addressed in developing the final decision(s). See table below as a general guide for where to expect, and possibly draw out, particular positions. Students often exhibit a tendency to "correct" history to reflect modern interpretations. The discussion leader can help amplify the contemporary disagreement in 1963. Similarly, the leader can help clarify items of disagreement and actively engage those with contrary perspectives in fruitful exchange.

The leader may wish to clarify, possibly through group discussion, the standards for agreement -- consensus, simple majority, 2/3 majority, or other.

Where the aim is to write a collective document, language can possibly be excerpted from individual position statements or proposals, with the final document a "collage." The Wiesner role may include compiling the final report, in lieu of an original position paper.

The other major challenge for leading discussion in this simulation is helping to deepen the level of discussion, especially where participants may be underprepared. For example, policy proposals may be vague -- advocating a position, not concrete actions or remedies that embody that position. Participants may need to be encouraged and supported in developing specifics.

Also, students tend to appeal to "easy" solutions, such as "we need more research" -- thereby avoiding the "real" issues of managing any current problem. Decisions must often me made under circumstances of scientific uncertainty or incomplete knowledge. Again, one may need to offer further guidance:

  • Who pays for the research? How much? (This raises ethical questions about who benefits and who bears risks and costs. It may also help expose the historical problem of incentives.)
  • Are biological controls truly practical? (Their specificity and cost, in contrast to cheap, broad-based pesticides, may be easily overlooked.)
  • How long will the development of alternatives take? What do we do in the meanwhile?
  • Assuming participants document errors in the past (such as exceeding recommended dosages, or human error in safe application), why did such errors occur? What problems (and prospective regulations) should be considered at this deeper level? For example, are the problems with the system of agriculture/forestry or insect-pest control? (Here, Carson's arguments about control of nature become relevant. Bookchin may present a case for the economic system and the regulation of industry, echoing some of Carson's statements about big business.)

The Extension Activity, on whether Carson should receive the Medal of Freedom, allows deeper discussion of Carson's rhetoric and persuasive methods, the relationship of her scientific claims to her emotional imagery, the relevance of arguments about the control of nature, and her scientifically unfounded claims about the "balance of nature."

The following table lists the various issues and maps them to the particular roles:

Carson Supporter Carson Critic
  • documentation of sources
  • reliability of facts
  • bias/balance of presentation
  • rhetoric/tone/style
  • Cole (science)
    Bookchin (content, style)
    Baldwin (bias)
    [Jukes, Darby]
    harm (non-target species)
  • insect pollinators
  • shared habitat
  • food chain (*fish, birds)
  • other
  • Cole
    [Wallace, Barker, Rudd]
    benefits (target species!)
  • crops: food/fiber/forest
  • disease control
  • nuisance/comfort
  •   Rothberg
    Baldwin (incl. forestry)
    [Decker, Gill, Jukes, Darby, Simmons]
  • food (carcinogens?)
  • worker safety
  • Cole?
    Baldwin (workers)
    insecticide resistance Brown
    White-Stevens (alternatives)
    indiscriminate use
  • excess/runoff
  • Cole
    Cottam: aerial emulsions
    [Decker, Gill]
  • biological (+)
  • earlier organics (-)
  • pesticide persistence
  • research

  • *Freeman (biol.)
    Baldwin: wary until further research
    balance of nature Clement White-Stevens
    control of nature Clement ~Bookchin

    Simulation assembled by Douglas Allchin. || last revised November 7, 2009