One of the triggers that prompted me to write this book was my attendance at a small symposium in New York on technology and democracy. The panel members were, by and large, liberal academic social scientists who talked about the loss of empowerment of ordinary people in making decisions regarding their own futures vis-à-vis technological developments. One of the speakers concluded his remarks by saying that it is always a mistake to think that problems caused by technology, such as pollution, loss of biodiversity, or damage to the ecosystem, could ever be “fixed” by technological solutions. Only widespread and complete social overhaul (not defined in any further detail) could accomplish this. The speaker then went on to say that in fact “there have never been any successful attempts at reversing the declining trend in environmental quality and public health, and therefore technology simply cannot be trusted.”
I asked the speaker how he could say such a thing in the face of the dramatic reduction in lead pollution and blood lead levels in children. I reminded him that sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particle emissions had been steadily decreasing for over a decade, that the ozone layer depletion had been halted and reversed, and that automotive emissions of toxic pollutants had been cut dramatically. And all of these reversals of technology-driven decline were accomplished with the help of science and technology. The speaker had the grace to admit his error but pointed out, correctly of course, that many more problems remain to be solved.
I realized that there is a pervasive attitude in this country among edu-