THE FAIL-SAFE SOCIETY by Charles Piller

THE FAIL-SAFE SOCIETY

Community Defiance and the End of American Technological Optimism

KIRKUS REVIEW

 According to a 1957 poll, Piller reports, Americans held science in almost religious awe. Now decades of environmental alarms and disasters have turned that faith into fear of technology, distrust of the government officials in charge of protecting the public, and--in the case of the ``Nimby'' (``Not in my backyard'') groups--active opposition. Piller (coauthor, Gene Wars, 1988) looks at three such cases: the campaign to shut down the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility near Denver; the legal battle in Monterey County, California, against a corporation's field-testing of genetically engineered bacteria as a plant spray for frost control; and the resistance in the Laurel Heights community to the Univ. of California at San Francisco plan to move biomedical research laboratories there. In telling the stories, Piller raises a number of questions regarding the boasted ``objectivity'' of science, the charges of Nimbys' selfish ignorance (``I am for research and I am for helping the poor but not in this neighborhood''), the conflicts and alliances between the grass-roots Nimbys and more ideological peace or environmental activists, the conflicts between democracy and science, and the confusion between technical and political issues. Generally sympathetic to the Nimbys, he concludes that the Laurel Heights residents, those with the least factual support, ``converted generic feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability that are endemic to modern society into a belligerent protectiveness of the home environment. In this way, UCSF was hit hard by a backlash against aloof, unresponsive, undemocratic conduct by all manner of institutions that control science and technology.'' There are Nimbys and potential Nimby battles everywhere, and Piller's integration of the case reports with more general issues should interest combatants on both sides.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1991
ISBN: 0-465-02274-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991