Tag Archives: activists

Essential response to anti-GM from Mark Lynas

No full length post here, just a suggestion that you all go to read Mark Lynas*’ fantastic deconstruction of various anti-GMO arguments. Obviously none of the arguments mean ‘go grow GM across the world immediately!’ but he gives some lovely detailed responses to the inconsistency in various people’s thinking (e.g. how objecting to Monsanto creating a monopoly on corn should not lead to trashing open source disease tolerant papaya in Africa) and explanations of how environmental groups are doing things that simply aren’t good for the environment.

It’s long, but a very good read.

Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact but in large parts the precise opposite of the truth.

This is why I use the term conspiracy theory. Populist ideas about conspiracies do not arise spontaneously in a political and historic vacuum. They result when powerful ideological narratives collide with major world events, rare occasions where even a tiny number of dedicated activists can create a lasting change in public consciousness.

The anti-GMO campaign has also undoubtedly led to unnecessary deaths. The best documented example, which is laid out in detail by Robert Paarlberg in his book ‘Starved for Science’, is the refusal of the Zambian government to allow its starving population to eat imported GMO corn during a severe famine in 2002.

Full link is here

*Mark Lynas as in the authors of Six Degrees, a pop science book about how the world would change as average global temperature increased by 1 degree, 2 degrees, 3 degrees etc… It’s basically a huge meta study of primary literature and very enjoyable. Apparently he’s good at writing about GM too – who knew?

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Why GM isn’t the end game

I’ve written a lot in the last couple of weeks about Rothamsted and Take the Flour Back. In my efforts to outline some of the many flaws in the activists logics, I’ve probably come across as extremely pro-GM. Now seems as sensible a time as any to take a step back and explain why, though I am keen that GM research be carried out, I don’t believe that GM alone will save the world from starvation. I’m horrified at the idea of anyone destroying scientific research, but I don’t necessarily see GM as the silver bullet that some people think it is.

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A quick round up

It’s been a busy few days, and in the meantime lots of other people (who may be more articulate than I am right now) have done some great coverage of the Take the Flour Back protest, and GM stuff in general. I kinda want to get out of my little Rothamsted loop and talk about something else, so here are some links to articles and blog pieces I enjoyed.

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More Q & A from Rothamsted

Sense about Science have published another interesting Q & A session with the Rothamsted scientists about GM in general and their experiment in particular.

You can read it all here.

And in related news a man has been charged with criminal damage (having vandalised the Rothamsted test plots).

When debate and petitions aren’t enough

For the last month or so, I’ve been blogging on and off about the GM wheat research at Rothamsted and the reactions to this by a group called Take the Flour Back. The group have been planning a ‘decontamination’ event for next weekend, at which they and their supporters will uproot the crop, thereby destroying many years of hard work and some really valuable research. I’ve mentioned the researchers’ open letter; and the Sense about Science petition, as well as some of the reasons why I think TtFB are just plain wrong.

The Rothamsted scientists did their darndest to communicate with these activists, in the hope that they could allay some fears and generate some useful dialogue. After several attempts to contact them and arrange a proper public adjudicated debate, TtFB declined to join in with this, and so the only debate that has really happened was via Newsnight.

More on that here.

Sadly yesterday somebody decided that waiting for a proper debate, or the published article in the Guardian just wasn’t an option, and decided to vandalise the trial a week ahead of the planned ‘decontamination’ date. I’m beginning to lose all faith that these activists will listen to any evidence, no matter how calmly and co-operatively it is presented.

The only debate we’re likely to get

Since the Take the Flour Back activists found themselves unable to find two or three speakers for a formal, lengthy debate the only real visible dialogue between anti-GM activists and Rothamsted has been this episode of Newsnight.

There are so many things that make me sad about this debate: not least that every time either Prof. John Pickett or Dr. Tracey Brown speaks they are shouted over by Jyoti Fernandes. Even in the opening comments, nobody jumps on Jyoti when she says that she thinks GM is ‘really dangerous’, but she won’t even allow Prof. Pickett to finish his opening spiel. She immediately challenges him on what he means by sustainable, and even before he’s finished answering her question she interrupts him again!

Since they didn’t get a chance to answer some of the questions, or meet some of the challenges I’m going to put my two pence in here:

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Got that Monday Feeling

Usually, I’m pretty good on Mondays. I’ve gone to bed in a good mood, having spent Sunday training and singing: both things likely to fill me with endorphins. I’ve probably been for a pretty good run, having forced myself to start the week the way I mean to go on. And I’ve had a chance to take a step back over the weekend and think about the problems I’m facing in my PhD.

Today, I am tired, starting with a cold, unable to run due to injury and in a spectacularly bad mood about various things that people have done in the lab to make my life more difficult. (I’m sure I will write about this another time, but for now let’s just say that I think labmate rules should be similar to housemate rules: things like ‘you don’t open or finish someone else’s milk/reagents, and you don’t use anything that’s monstrously expensive (read: alcohol / enzymes / Qiagen kits) without asking unless you’re utterly desperate.)

So instead of an actual blog post, here are some things I have read or seen while sat at my desk ‘doing admin’ that I have found interesting enough to share.

Fetal microchimerism on DoubleXScience: about how cells swap between mother and baby across the placenta, remaining in one another’s bodies long after the pregnancy ends. (Cool, even if it sounds like something out of Alien).

This shirt containing the ingredients of a human, which I really want. (I have too many science t-shirts!)

An article about the need for proper science out-reach over at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Society of Biology are asking for people to make videos of their Life in the Lab. (I am really keen on this. One of my slides for my generic ‘going into schools’ presentation has pictures of lots of my friends doing fieldwork, or even things other than science to get across this idea that ‘Not all scientists wear white coats’.

And finally, the podcast from the second Sense About Science Q & A session with scientists from Rothamsted is now live. I haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but it should be pretty good.