I think the questions that Sharon has raised from (to some, the Phoenix
rising from the ashes) the discussions of rBST are at the heart of
achieving sustainability. Information access and how we use it are the
heart of our quest. Indicators are a subset, which we hope lead us to
information we need, much of which may be present but unrecognized.
Paradigms may interfere with our recongition of relevance.
Among the hats I wear is Chairman of the Library Committee at the
University of Texas at Austin. It is our job to work with the Director of
the General Libraries to make available the resources to as wide a
population as possible. The resource includes 7 million volumes, 5 million
microforms, 70K linear feet of manuscripts and archives, 350K maps and, of
course, online access to hundreds of electronic databases via Internet.
The growth of volumes is projected at 3-4% per year. We are overwhelmed
with inadequate information and woefully uninformed. We're dying of
thirst in a lakeful of fresh water in the midst of a drought.
However, it is also the function of the General Libraries to allow access
to Internet for students, which is achieved on a public facility with more
than 200 computers. More are planned for next year. Phone access is also
provided. Access includes color and graphics as well as text. We see
electronic media as the developing front of the library that will
eventually dominate all other media. But, we don't know how to use it
efficiently/effectively most of the time, and the volume seems to grow
faster than we can understand what we have.
Rural and outlying areas have access via phone or satellite, and this
population will assuredly grow rapidly. All campuses of the UT System will
have direct high speed links from El Paso to Port Aransas, to Dallas, to
Tyler, and more, probably before the end of this decade. The students are
paying for much of the cost of these developments with a designated fee of
$6/semester-hour. This sounds like a lot, but the tuition cost is near the
bottom of the stack compared to the remaining 49 states. Most of the
public school teachers have access to the resource and many are beginning
to take advantage of it for classroom activities. (Of course, we don't
have funds and facilities to teach many labs, but that is another story.)
Our inadequacies are like an epidemic. We spread them everywhere we
connect the network.
I use email to communicate with many students in my classes. I forward
items from sanet and other Internet sources to my classes, adding comments.
Sometimes the students reverse the pattern. Sometimes "manners" are
rough, but that is part of learning how to operate in a new medium. It may
improve when we have widespread use of video so we see the person,
eye-to-eye as we read our email. However, I find it interesting when I
communicate "blind". I can't tell how "dignified" or how influential the
other person seems to be. I have to judge from the message most of the
time. In general there is a vast increase in "openness" of communication,
and sometimes after a bit of use, the rough edges get smoothed. Patience
and being a good role model pays huge dividends!
I push for public support of the Information Highway, in a similar way to
the support of libraries and schools. It is clear that the technology will
profoundly affect our society, and we must be careful to not develop
"haves" and "have-nots", either by cost of the technology or complexity of
it's use. If I don't like, need, or have storage space for what someone
"says", I "trash" it. That's why the "language" or possible lack of
etiquet are not threatening. Unpleasant, maybe, but that's MY problem. I
won't quit using the medium. That gives me a BIGGER problem. Libel
(instead of slander, which is harder to prove) is still an option with
legal recourse, but in such an open forum, we see how it tends to backfire.
I might mention a feature of the "far out" discussions, emotional or not,
that we benefit from on the sanet (and elsewhere in cybespace). We have a
paradigm today that we need "facts" and "models" and "systems" and
"indicators" that tell us what we SHOULD BE DOING, like a blueprint to
follow in construction. In general this is based on a reductionistic and
mechanistic paradigm. It has served us well for the last couple centuries,
and more. However, coming on the horizon is a formalization of a new kind
of thinking, forced on us by the limitations of the former paradigm. In
math and physics we see "chaos" and "complex systems" concepts developing.
What can we do if we cannot predict an outcome, even if we know exactly the
nature of the relationships? A plan for operation is much less useful if
we cannot count on it's relevance when applied. It's a map drawn on a
flowing, often turbulent, surface.
A colleague in physics answered my question, "Is the ecosystem chaotic?"
by saying that we may never know in a formal way -- it may be too complex
to find out! Recall that trying to predict weather was an endeavor that
lead to the development of "chaos" as a field of study. Even our economic
system, a human invention, shows similar signs of complexity that prevents
predictability. Sustainability surely depends on some combined effect of
all three of these complex systems, and more. Is it parsimonious, or
rational, to think the resultant system is less complex, more predictable,
as a result?
Complexity comes in more than one form. In formal studies, the
investigator knows "everything" about the system, and it's future state
usually is not predictable. In other contexts unpredictability may be from
limited information, maybe in addition to the complexity of the formal
studies. In either case we are "lost" in a realm of unpredictability, EVEN
ON THE AVERAGE. Bias has become irrelevance, and the Central Limit Theorem
is no longer a comforting theoretical safety net. The common paradigm is
unable to effectively deal with this situation as a guide to management.
Science as we have known it is rapidly becoming the astrology of tomorrow.
(I write this line with a sypathetic nod to both my astrologer friends and
my scientific friends. That's just my call of the way I see things.) The
questions we ask and the tools we develop will change radically, I believe.
The very lack of peer review in early stages of changing paradigms is an
advantage. Publication and acceptance in "standard" journals tends to
follow the same responses we have seen recently on "values" and "validity"
of rBST, and models of ag systems. Those who are placing their priorities
thinking in one paradigm may find the value received from discussions based
in another are not worth the cost. Nevertheless, even if they "sign off"
they had a brief exposure. Education is a never-ending process, and is
definitely non-linear and complex! (I'll stay on unless my Dean phones me
to suggest that I send in THAT late report, or he'll have my Ethernet line
unplugged. Note he's not using email, thank goodness!)
Janet Bachman recently added to our electronic discussion on sustainable
agriculture the following:
"At a conference on the topic in Ohio in 1988, Bob Rodale
said: IT (sustainability) IS A QUESTION. He was quoted several times on that
definition during the remainder of the conference! Check on the
book *Sustainable Agricultural Systems*, edited by Clive Edwards,
Patrick Madden and others. Rodale's presentation is one of many
chapters - (and I found the quote: ". . . sustainability is not
basically a method; rather it is a question about permanence.")"
This is what management in a complex system means to me as one among many
that forms a whole -- moving with permanence of options in a life support
system to approach my desired quality of life. Studies in chaotic systems
have, as far as I know, shown only one technique for sometimes achieving a
desired result. We're back to fundamental learning, which is fundamental
science for development of a skill. (Since everything we do affects the
entire system, the best way is by skillful trying, monitoring the effects
comprehensively, and correcting the next time.) One cannot do more than
repeatedly make decisions skillfully -- in a way that keeps us heading
toward a goal. We ask a question repeatedly, "where am I now and how do I
move from here toward the goal". Instead of developing "systems as
blueprints" we will begin to develop ways of making decisions, each time to
jump from one tendency no longer moving to the goal to begin another that
is doing so if only for a while.
I do not doubt that this change in paradigms will have important effects on
what we now consider "scientific methodology" and "rules" for publication
and what we consider "relevant facts." One thing that frequently
accompanies a paradigm change is an emotional reaction followed by a
reversal of judgement. It's just part of the process of learning. When I
get comfortable, I begin to wonder "what am I missing?".
R. H. (Dick) Richardson * (512) 471-4128 (w)
Zoology Department * (512) 471-9651 (FAX)
University of Texas * (512) 476-5131 (h)
Austin, TX 78712 * firstname.lastname@example.org