Books to Note

Jacob Darwin Hamblin. Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008. x + 311 pp. $49.95.

By Nicole Rietmann

Jacob Darwin Hamblin follows up his 2005 offering, Oceanographers and the Cold War, with another look at the state of the world’s oceans during the mid-20th century. Despite the growing concern about radioactive waste disposal, the real history of the problem has been relatively unknown to the general public. In Poison in the Well, Hamblin explains how the ocean became the dumping ground for the world’s radioactive waste. He focuses on the years between the end of World War II and the 1970s, when dumping was at its height and nations were ignoring the warnings of scientists and oceanographers. Nuclear power was the wave of the future, and international tensions dominated over scientific protest when it came to the lackadaisical applications and unsafe disposal methods of radioactive substances. Hamblin addresses the issue from many sides, citing political motives and international diplomacy as the cause of such irresponsibility.

 

 

Christopher R. Henke. Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: Science and Industrial Agriculture in California. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. xi + 226 pp. $32.

By David Schleifer

Given the proliferation of current efforts to rebuild local food systems, Christopher Henke asks a timely question in Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: how did the Salinas Valley in California become the center of American vegetable production? Variables in soil, weather, water, and bugs can threaten high-risk, high-profit agricultural businesses. As part of the Progressive Era ethos that led to the founding of land-grant universities, growers came to rely on University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural scientists to stabilize those unruly aspects of farm ecology. Starting around the 1910s extension scientists developed and deployed what Henke calls “mechanisms of repair” to save crops, discipline workers, and mitigate environmental damage on large monoculture farms. By highlighting the work of unsung extension scientists, Henke’s concept of repair contributes to the already significant literature on science and California agriculture. But repair can also become a framework for understanding the maintenance of power in other production systems, as well as a model for applying place-based knowledge to the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

 

 

Roger A. Pielke, Jr. The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 198 pp. $91 cloth, $31.99 paper, $24 ebook.

By Jody A. Roberts

The Honest Broker is part of a growing cadre of books working to elucidate the complex and sometimes contentious relationship between science and politics. However, Roger Pielke doesn’t assume that science and politics ought not play together; rather he focuses on the different ways scientists can or cannot engage in policy and politics. The book examines four core roles that scientists play in politics: “pure scientist” (uninterested in policy and politics); “science arbiter” (will engage in politics, but generally uninterested); “issue advocate” (engages policy with an agenda); and “honest broker” (engages, but without an agenda). The book, though, is really only about two of these roles: the issue advocate (and the even more nefariously named “stealth issue advocate”) and the honest broker (with heavenly bells ringing in the background). While this approach helps unfamiliar readers gain perspective, it is also counterproductive. In boiling down the complexity of these four types Pielke runs the risk of convincing people that these roles actually exist. His ahistorical account confuses more than it clarifies. In reality the roles scientists play are much more complicated. Ironically, Pielke’s not-so-subtle endorsement of the “honest broker” model can be seen as his own form of stealth issue advocacy.