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Chapter 2 – The political sociology of science and undone research

2.11 Intervention

According to Brian Martin, in the science studies field intentional and planned intervention is rare. In his article, “Sticking a Needle into Science: The Case of Polio Vaccines and the Origin of AIDS”, Martin describes his experiences of partisan intervention.76 Martin reports that one of the benefits of intervention is the large volume of correspondence received from the activists and scientists. Similarly, my intervention in the controversial issues also generated new ideas and strategies along

76 Martin B, 1996, Sticking a Needle into Science: The Case of Polio Vaccines and the Origin of AIDS, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 26(2), pp 245-276

with confidential material, drafts of letters, articles, submissions and emails. Like Martin, the benefit to me was that had I not been perceived as a participant, I would not have been privy to this information. I was also able to make enquiries, raise issues and questions, and provoke responses from which I was able to evaluate the veracity of my own assessments of the various situations as they arose. Sharon Beder also undertook an interventionist role in her investigation of the Sydney Water Board’s system of disposing of sewerage from ocean outfalls and the subsequent pollution of Sydney beaches.77 In her investigation it was the actions of participants that prompted her to

‘delve deeper’ into the issue.78 I have also found that actions of participants have guided my research, leading to new discoveries.

2.11.1 Intervention in the chemical contamination controversy

I approached the activists involved in the chemical contamination controversy as a researcher willing to assist in their aim to control the use of hazardous chemicals. As the controversy is centred in Tasmania and I conducted the majority of my research from mainland Australia, most of the contact was via email or telephone, although I did travel to Tasmania and elsewhere to speak to activists in person. Initially, I spoke to the oyster farmers in St Helens on the east coast of Tasmania who had instigated an independent investigation into the cause of the mass mortality of their oysters in the Georges Bay at St Helens. They related local anecdotal knowledge about the practices of chemical use in plantation forests. It was from these initial conversations that I gained a sense of the seriousness of the problem of water contamination in Tasmania.

77 Beder S, 1996, Sewerage treatment and the engineering establishment in Brian Martin (ed), Confronting the Experts, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY

78 ibid, p 12

On 29th April 2005 I contacted Craig Lockwood, an oyster farmer and activist, via email and asked if he could put me in contact with Alison Bleaney. Alison was the local Area Medical Practitioner and an activist who had published with Marcus Scammell, marine ecologist, the Scammell Report in 2004. This report had made a correlation in time and space between the increase in plantation forests, the ongoing oyster health problems and mass mortality and the Tasmanian devil disease. It concluded that further research was needed, including toxicity assessments of water following aerial spraying and subsequent rainfall events, and the biological monitoring of non-target organisms. It also recognized that this research would take several years.

As an alternative, it called for the implementation of the precautionary principle to immediately halt the aerial spraying of chemicals in the plantations in the Georges River catchment until such practices could be shown to be safe. Although this action has not been implemented, some concessions on the part of the Tasmanian government and the forestry industry have been made, such as monitoring of surface water. However, the continued detection of chemicals used in plantation forestry indicates the issue is far from resolved.79

In July 2005 Alison sent an email to say she would like to have a chat. I sent my telephone number and we soon developed a mutually beneficial relationship. We assisted each other by communicating, via email, telephone and in person, our specific knowledge on each aspect of the controversy as it arose. Alison also kept me informed of relevant conferences, talks, meetings and discussions, which I subsequently attended, when practical. For the research, I travelled to Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Sydney

79 Tasmanian Government, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, 2014, Latest Pesticide Water Monitoring Results. Available at:

http://www.dpipwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/LBUN-96T943?open last accessed 3 April 2014

and Brisbane. On these trips I was able to share knowledge with other activists involved in similar controversies thus expanding my knowledge.

In June 2007 I was invited by Alison to attend a meeting in Canberra organized by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), the government regulators, to discuss a review of registration for the chemical atrazine. At this meeting, I was introduced to Jo Imming, a member of the APVMA Community Consultative Committee and the National Toxics Network. I also met and spoke with Professor Tyrone Hayes, head of Integrative Biology at the University of California and an outspoken activist against the use of atrazine. He has undertaken many studies on the effects of atrazine on frogs and it was the concerns he raised that focused my attention on this particular chemical. In August 2008 I attended a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Conference in Sydney where I again met and talked with Dr Scammell and Professor Hayes. It was at this conference, following Hayes’s presentation, that a pro-industry scientist, who was also a former colleague, challenged the veracity of his data. In 2009 I attended the Combined Scientific Meeting of the Tasmanian Haematology, Immunology and Neoplasia Group (THING) organised by members of the Menzies Research Institute and DPIPWE in Launceston.

Through my association with Alison I also gained access to the media. This included, Matthew Denholm, the Tasmanian correspondent for The Australian and John Watts of The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. However, following discussions based on my research, the correspondents informed me that because the issue was politically sensitive, and some feared legal action if they reported my findings, nothing ever came of the conversations.

On a more personal level Alison and I exchanged ideas and drafts of newspaper articles, letters, submissions and strategies. This correspondence would be conducted via email, each seeking comments, suggestions, appraisal or assessment depending on the type of material being produced. Likewise we would send ideas, chapters and articles for comments and verification. This process engendered a deep respect for each other’s opinions, which sometimes differed, and was extremely useful as a sounding board for ideas. This approach gave me access to information via personal emails and facilitated my introduction to DFTD research scientists. This also led to my being made privy to confidential information.

2.11.2 Intervention in the proposed pulp mill activism

I was invited by activists to attend meetings of the Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill (TAPP) group where I was viewed and introduced as a supporter and as such gained access to other activists and information. These meetings provided a forum for members actively seeking to address what they saw as corrupt or unjust practices of both the Tasmanian government and the forestry industry. My experiences and conversations encouraged me, as Beder found in her research, to ‘delve deeper’. These activists gave freely of their information at all times. I met and spoke to Frank Strie, a former forester whose expertise allows him to expose flaws in the forestry industry’s claims of best practice.

I have interviewed the Deputy Mayor of the Meander Valley Council, Bob Loone, in relation to chemical use practices in the plantation forests. I was also given the opportunity to observe devils feeding on a carcass in the wild on the west coast of Tasmania.

I sometimes took an interventionist role at the meetings I attended. At one particular meeting in Launceston in July 2010 I advised an activist group, Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill, not to be disappointed that they were not included in a government round table meeting on forestry. I advised them that according to Martin’s backfire model, official channels are best avoided. They accepted this advice in good faith. It transpired that the round table meetings were held in secret and included members of the Greens Party, Forestry Tasmania, the Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania. The outcome was a proposed end to harvesting of native timber. Under conditions that proved contrary to the group’s position, the round table gave tacit agreement to the proposed pulp mill. Given this outcome it is speculative as to whether their involvement would have produced a different result.