RE: Norplant as social engineering device?

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Tue 09 Sep 2003 - 05:32:53 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "RE: Norplant as social engineering device?"

    Good example, thanks, Scott.

    In the mid and late 70s, Technology Assessment (TA) was explored aggressively by the National Science Foundation and other organizations. The idea and hope was that by studying secondary and tertiary effects carefully, one might avoid the pitfalls that seemed to plague well-meaning social engineering. The Aswan Dam had been a salutatory example, one that Americans could accept because it was a 'Soviet' project. It also became clear to non-chauvinistic Americans that Americans too might make such social engineering mistakes. Demonstration TA projects suggested that even with the most thoughtful looks at effects, society was complex enough that predicting the consequences of a social policy (or of a technology) was very difficult. Complex models were developed, using the increasingly available computers, to establish base-lines of societal variables, against which developmental scenarios might be assayed and otherwise unidentifiable effects detected. For example, EPA developed the massive SEAS model, which, as far as I know, never rendered a practical result. (If anyone knows different, I would be delighted to know it....) It was an Leontiev input-output model of the US economy, showing material transfers among sectors, and included waste/pollutants. Very ambitious, and a lot of hope was held out for it.

    If anything, the degree of care that is brought to the consideration of candidate public policies is worse than it used to be. TA seems now to be given short shrift.

    So I share your thoughts, Scott, on the need to proceed most cautiously and thoughtfully, and with a lot of monitoring of effects, and a willingness to modify the program. And in the light of current experience, as well as past, I would add that the utmost transparency, accurate reporting, and vigorous debate would be essential accompaniments to social policies and to the deployment of new technology. And even with all of that, mistakes will be made, and, sometimes, they will be big ones. But I don't see human beings giving up on innovation and hope for progress.

    And: "hypnopedia"?

    Cheers, Lawry

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Scott Chase
    > Sent: Mon, September 08, 2003 11:50 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Norplant as social engineering device?
    > I'm finishing up the first read of Patricia Turner's book _I Heard it
    > Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture_ (1993.
    > University
    > of California Press. Berkeley) and in her Epilogue she touches
    > upon a topic
    > relevant to recent discussion wrt birth control as social policy for
    > population control measures. After submitting a draft of her book Turner
    > noticed the emergence (ca 1990) of rumors that usage of the birth control
    > device Norplant was forced upon black women as a condition for receiving
    > welfare benefits. Though a rumor she comments on there being a kernel of
    > truth to it citing some suggestions in popular media that welfare
    > mothers be
    > encouraged via incentives (eg- $500 in money) to use Norplant.
    > Turner says (page 222): (bq) "In all probability, the rumors that
    > began to
    > circulate about these devices [Norplant] were heavily influenced by media
    > attention. Since policymakers *have* suggested that welfare
    > mothers be urged
    > to have the devices implanted, some might argue that this
    > constitutes "real
    > news" as opposed to "mere rumor"." (eq)
    > Focusing more on the kernel of truth here that these suggestions
    > have been
    > entertained, though Turner points out the outcry citing critics including
    > arch-conservative Cal Thomas casting this as a new form of
    > eugenics, I urge
    > caution about putting forward birth control measures (even
    > voluntary ones)
    > as a strategy for population control. Even a benign sounding idea
    > to curtail
    > population growth, a situation which putatively leads to people
    > feeling the
    > tears of privation and incubating xenophobic "memes", could have negative
    > implications, even if unintended.
    > Having choices available to individuals needing them is a noble
    > cause, but
    > when this becomes an exercise in social engineering, for instance
    > if someone
    > were to think that by encouraging certain people not to have children
    > because their socioeconomic situation might breed a sense of privation
    > leading to deleterious "memes", that's when we should be a little more
    > cautious IMO.
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