Books: Social demoncratic thought, peer review, and genetic engineering

1) Henry Farrell on Crooked Timber asks for suggestion for The New New Left Book Club that considers “which books are useful for understanding where the ‘left’ are now.  He suggests:

  • Thomas Geoghegan – Which Side Are You On? Trying To Be For Labor When It’s Flat On Its Back
  • Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
  • Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart
  • Mark Blyth, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century
  • Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

I’ve only read one of the books that he suggests, Tom Slee’s No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart. I thought Slee’s book was insightful and clear.  I adapted a number of examples of it for my adaptive management class at McGill.

2) Michèle Lamont’s book How Professors Think : Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment examines how social scientists review each others proposed research:

Judging quality isn’t robotically rational; it’s emotional, cognitive, and social, too. Yet most academics’ self-respect is rooted in their ability to analyze complexity and recognize quality, in order to come to the fairest decisions about that elusive god, “excellence.” In How Professors Think, Lamont aims to illuminate the confidential process of evaluation and to push the gatekeepers to both better understand and perform their role.

3) The US National Academy has published its assessment of Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.  Their bottom line:

Many U.S. farmers who grow genetically engineered (GE) crops are realizing economic and environmental benefits — such as lower production costs, improved pest control, reduced use of pesticides, and better yields — compared with conventional crops, says a new report from the National Research Council. However, GE crops could lose their effectiveness unless farmers use other proven weed and insect management practices.

But they also state their is a lack of research on social impacts of GE crops, and along with improving social research they recommend:

  • Stakeholder group needed to document emerging weed-resistance problems and develop cost-effect practices to increase longevity of herbicide-resistant crop technology
  • Infrastructure needed on the water quality effects of GE crops
  • Public and private research institutions improve monitoring and assessment capacity to ensure GE technologies contribute to sustainable agriculture
  • Increased support for the development of ‘public goods’ traits through collaborative approaches to genetic engineering technology

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