On precaution.

I just got around to listening to a January episode of one of my favorite radio programs, Radio Lab. They did a segment on Fritz Haber, father of, among other things, chlorine gas used for chemical warfare during WWI, Zyklon B used in WWII gas chambers, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Interestingly, Jad and Robert were weighing Zyklon B and chlorine gas against nitrogen fertilizer to decide whether Haber’s life was a net positive or negative, whereas I would call into question whether the invention of nitrogen fertilizer was entirely positive. That issue aside, Robert vocalized this relationship between science and humility that feels really important, especially as we think about our agro-ecosystem:

“There’s part of me that says, you know, here’s a guy that just wanted to do everything better than it had ever been done before, whether it was feeding or killing, and he does. But he does it with a kind of amoral athleticism, you know. He does it without humility, without a lot of doubt, and you know, it’s a craft, but it’s a craft with consequences, and to approach it with a kind of crazy joy? I don’t know, I would rather have scientists who carry doubt with them as they proceed.”


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