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The Fail-Safe Society: Community Defiance and the End of American Technological Optimism Hardcover – August, 1991


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this book, Piller, an associate editor of MacWorld magazine, portrays science and technology as monolithic sectors of society controlled by technocrats who neglect the environmental impact on local citizens. He asserts that there is a national trend of protests by local citizens when they are excluded from the planning process of building large development projects such as nuclear energy plants, recombinant DNA research laboratories, and biotechnology research facilities. While Piller gives examples, there is a lack of primary evidence that such cases are part of a national trend, and his tendency to oversimplify such a complex issue weakens his argument. A more substantive treatment of risk analysis is H.W. Lewis's Technological Risk ( LJ 9/15/90). An optional purchase for subject collections.
- Christopher R. Jocius, Illinois Mathematics & Science Acad., Aurora
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

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. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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