Respectful Insolence

Heidi Stevenson amuses me. I know, I know, I’ve started a previous post with exactly this sentence a mere month ago, but it’s so damned appropriate that I can’t help but try it again.

A homeopath (which means that she’s reality-challenged to begin with), she’s produced some of the most hilariously off-base, pseudoscientific, and downright antiscientific articles I’ve ever seen. Examples include the times when she launched a truly nonsensical attack on Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, lectured scientists about anecdotal evidence, or, most hilariously of all, utterly misunderstood the concept of prior plausibility in evaluating why homeopathy is so ridiculous from a scientific standpoint. So when I saw that she wrote an article in which she claimed that genetically modified wheat may damage human genetics permanently, I couldn’t resist. Never mind that somehow I missed it the first time around, when it was first published last October. Better late than never, I say, particularly when there is a “teachable” moment! I mean, Stevenson even includes a picture of a ghostly skull floating above a wheat field. It’s comedy gold, I tell you! It doesn’t get much better than this, as far as blogging goes. It also allows me to teach a bit about something I’m very interested in scientifically. Win-win!

Stevenson prefaces her article with this scary paragraph:

The Australian government, in the form of its science research arm, is joining Agribusiness profiteering by designing a GM wheat that could kill people who eat it & be inherited by their children.

Scared yet? Does Stevenson have your attention? Who are these nefarious scientists, and why would they want to make genetically modified wheat that would do these things? They wouldn’t, of course, but, like the Frankenstein that anti-GMO activists think scientists are, it’s a matter of messing with nature resulting in unintended consequences. In fact, the hilarity is such that I think it’s worth quoting a decent sized chunk of the first part of Stevenson’s article:

We have not yet seen the worst damage that genetic engineering may do. Australia’s governmental agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is developing a wheat species that is engineered to turn off genes permanently.

Professor Jack Heinemann at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety has studied the wheat’s potential. Digital Journal reports that he says1:

What we found is that the molecules created in this wheat, intended to silence wheat genes, can match human genes, and through ingestion, these molecules can enter human beings and potentially silence our genes. The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist.

The implications are clarified by Professor Judy Carman of Flinders University:

If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.

Silencing the equivalent gene in humans that is silenced in this genetically modified wheat holds the potential of killing people. But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations.

So basically, the claim being quoted by Stevenson is that a variety of genetically modified wheat under development by the CSIRO will kill your children. I kid you not. Of course, Stevenson apparently doesn’t see the contradiction between saying that this GM wheat will kill your children but that its gene-silencing effects will also be passed down the generations. In any case, I could recognize some amazing speculation and fear mongering right off the bat; so it’s time to explain.

Gene “silencing” means what the name implies: Shutting down the activity of a gene so that it stops making its gene product. Of course, gene silencing is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Like other forms of gene regulation, silencing happens on a continuum from zero to complete silencing, depending on the level and activity of the silencing agent. In this case, the silencing agent that is being turned into the bogeyman du jour is RNA. Specifically, it’s a type of RNA-mediated gene silencing called RNA interference (or RNAi), also known as post transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS). The idea is that the CSIRO is apparently engineering a strain of wheat that produces a short RNA molecule designed to silence specific genes in the wheat. Most of the time, when we talk about RNA, we talk about messenger RNA (mRNA), the RNA that is the intermediary between DNA and protein. However, back in the late 1990s, it was discovered that there are other RNA molecules that actually regulate gene expression by binding to complementary sequences on mRNAs. These molecules include classes of RNAs called microRNAs, as well as double-stranded RNA molecules known as short inhibitory RNA (siRNA), that can participate in cellular pathways that contribute to gene silencing, most commonly through binding to complementary sequences and inducing the degradation of different mRNAs in a sequence-specific manner. In fact, siRNAs were first discovered in plant genetics and only later was it discovered that short RNAs serve as a gene regulatory mechanism in mammalian cells as well.

An excellent video explanation of RNAi can be found, courtesy of Nature:

So what’s the problem? University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann is apparently worried that the siRNA that will be used to silence two genes in wheat called SEI and SEII. Heinemann apparently did an analysis based on the sequence of the SEI and SEII genes, comparing them against the human genome and looking for matches. He found them in the gene for the enzyme mentioned by Judy Carman. In humans, the equivalent gene is known as glucan (1,4‐alpha‐), branching enzyme 1, abbreviated GBE. Based on some similarities he found between SEI and GBE, Heinemann sounded an alarm through an anti-GMO activist group known as the Safe Found Foundation & Institute. Humans store carbohydrates as glycogen is our way of storing carbohydrates, and GBE makes branches in glycogen. There is a consequence to not being able to branch one’s glycogen, although not branching it in wheat could be useful for decreasing its glycemic index. There is a disease known as Glycogen Storage Disease IV, which leads to damage to the liver over time. That’s the disease that Judy Carmen was referring to.

Of course, the problem with Dr. Heinemann’s highly speculative analysis is that he didn’t know the actual siRNA sequences that were going to be used. Without that information his analysis was pretty pointless. At the very best, it was highly speculative. At the worst, it was ideologically and politically motivated.

So how could this possibly matter? After all, it’s RNA. It’s really unstable, isn’t it? Well, not exactly. Single stranded RNA is very unstable. It can’t survive long outside of the cell. However, dsRNA can be quite stable, even outside of a cell. But that still leaves the question of whether dsRNA from a plant that is eaten can have any effect. To do that, the siRNA would have to survive digestion, be absorbed into the bloodstream, enter other cells, and act on gene expression. Heinemann notes that such a phenomenon can be observed in insects and worms.

But can it happen in humans? Well, there is one paper that Heinemann latched on to because he thinks it demonstrates that the same phenomenon can happen in humans. It’s a paper by Zhang et al published in Cell Research that showed that showed that a plant-derived microRNA (miR-168a) from rice can be found in human serum after ingesting rice and that it can actually bind to the mRNA for low-density lipoprotein receptor adapter protein 1, thus inhibiting the expression of this protein. It’s an interesting observation, but there are a number of questions. For one thing, although the microRNAs are detectable in serum they circulate at a really low concentration, namely the femtomolar range (10-15 mole/Liter). News stories describing the study at the time were quite credulous, but a better discussion can be found at Sandwalk. In any case, the exceedingly low concentration of microRNA observed in the bloodstream leaves a huge question in that there is no known mechanism by which such a low concentration could have such an effect. When I first read the study, I thought it plausible, but the more I think about it the more I agree with the Sandwalk commenter who says it screams “artifact” to him. Or this commenter:

There is probably 10 fM of everything in the blood. Sheesh, that’s less than 4×10^9 molecules per whole body consisting of about 7×10^12 cells and containing no more than 7×10^10 hepatocytes. That’s less than 0.1 miRNA per liver cell in the best possible scenario. What are these RNAs, totally magic?

Stoichiometry is your friend when figuring these things out. Personally, I’ll wait for some confirmation that this happens from other groups before I buy it. True, another group has reported finding miR-168a, but it also reported a huge variety of microRNAs in the serum from a variety of sources, including including bacteria and fungi as well as from other species, such as various insects. Basically, we’re awash in microRNAs from other species that we come into contact with. So far, the only evidence that they have any effect whatsoever is that one study suggesting that miR-168a might regulate one gene, even though it’s hard to figure out by what mechanism it could possibly accomplish this. Add to that the utter lack of evidence that any circulating microRNA can not only silence a gene in human cells but actually induce epigenetic changes, and Professor Heinemann’s speculation becomes ever more…speculative. This is true particularly in light of the fact that we regularly plants that make many siRNAs and microRNAs. Why would GM wheat siRNAs be any different or more dangerous, particularly given the very low concentrations involved.

Let’s put it this way. For Heinemann’s fear mongering to be a real concern, any siRNA or microRNA from genetically modified wheat would not only have to be made in sufficient quantity at least to equal the normal concentration of miR-168a in rice, be stable enough to pass through stomach acid and the gut lining undigested, and get into the bloodstream at a high enough level to affect gene expression. That’s leaving aside the question of whether there is even enough sequence match that the siRNA could even target the human GBE mRNA in the first place, which is impossible to say because we don’t know the actual sequence of the siRNA being used. It’s true that Heinemann has updated his “report.” However, that update doesn’t really show anything new or contribute to the plausibility of Heinemann’s concerns. In fact, it trashes the plausibility even more because the homology (in laymen’s terms, match) to the glycogen enzyme that Heinemann was promoting pretty much disappears. Add to that the enormous lack of likelihood that, even if the siRNAs and microRNAs in GM wheat could actually make it into the bloodstream in concentrations sufficient to alter gene expression, it’s incredibly unlikely that such RNAs could actually induce “permanent” epigenetic changes to justify the fear mongering.

Even if there were a legitimate scientific concern raised by Professor Heinemann, as has been pointed out, the way he raised it was about as far from helpful as there is. It was fear mongering based on pure speculation, and Heidi Stevens—surprise! surprise!—eats it up to come to this mind-numbingly predictable conclusion:

The Australian government appears to have become nothing more than another Agribusiness corporate entity. They’re using the people’s money to fund a massive profit-making venture in genetic engineering without any consideration for the potential harm that may be done to either the environment or the welfare of the people. Not only are they willing to risk mass deaths from products they’re hoping to put on the market, they also seem to have no concern for whether they might be doing permanent damage to generations that follow.

There might be questions about GMOs, but by and large they are not issues of safety. Rather, they are issues of intellectual property; i.e., how large companies developing GMOs behave. Hysteria of the like generated by Professor Heinemann and parroted by useful idiots like Heidi Stevenson generate heat, but no light.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Rogers
    April 22, 2013

    The real ORAC would, of course, know that this article is ad hominem nonsense.

    And so would the much less ordinary Blake for that matter.

  2. #2 Elizabeth Briggs
    London
    April 22, 2013

    It is irresponsible and unscientific to dismiss the Zhang paper simply because there is “no known mechanism” (known to you, that is) that would enable the effects that were found, to be found. Fortunately science is based on data and reasoned analysis and does not depend on the belief system of people who hope against hope that GMOs will be accepted as safe. I remind you that proof of mechanism is NOT needed for any kind of regulatory action.
    I am grateful to Prof Heinemann and colleagues (who are actually experts on these issues) for raising important questions about dsRNA. I trust that regulators will not adopt the defensive, emotional, and irrational stance on display in this post.
    Meanwhile, there are plenty of other studies that show risks from GM foods, summarised in this report: http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary

  3. #3 Orac
    April 22, 2013

    It’s more than “no known mechanism.” What we do know about it is highly implausible from a scientific standpoint, which is why I reserve judgment. Although I suppose it’s possible that there might be a real phenomenon there, for the moment I tend to think that this result is probably a fluke. As I said, replication by other groups, along with mechanistic studies, will be key. As for the rest, it’s simply not convincing.

    Next up: Let the accusations that I’m a “Monsanto shill” (I’m not, BTW) begin! You know you want to. Come on, let it out!

  4. #4 Per Smit
    California
    April 22, 2013

    More about Orac: http://bit.ly/122ufqi

  5. #5 Graham
    April 22, 2013

    I can remember the Australian Green Party making similar claims that GMO foods would cause Genetic Modificatin of anyone who ate them back in the 1990s. It sounded like comic book science then and it still sounds like it now.

  6. #6 Orac
    April 22, 2013

    Interesting how Per Smit and Elizabeth Briggs both post from the same IP address, which is not from California. Sock puppets? Time will tell. In the meantime, Per Smit, you do know that Jake Crosby is about as clueless a git as one can imagine when it comes to science:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-price-of-skepticism/

  7. #7 elburto
    April 22, 2013

    Shill! Hater of Chinese scientists! Puppy eater!

    Ahem.

    I loved this bit:

    If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.

    [snip]

    But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations

    Sooo… the kids spawn prolifically then die at the age of five? Wow, are there salmon genes mixed up in there two! Scary.

    Before the hit’n’run science-deniers. jump in, I’m aware that babies aren’t jumping upstream to lay eggs before dying the ones passing on their genes, but the writing seems to imply that.

    I love hit’n’run trolls. Can we
    keep them

  8. #8 elburto
    April 22, 2013

    That’ll teach me to fall asleep while typing comments. Socks are super fun, everyone knows that more=better.

    Oh, and lollerskates at the attempt to smear our beloved puppy-eating leader. F grade. Must try harder. Oh, and turnabout is fair play so this is for you, “Per Smit”:

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2013/02/jacob-lawrence-crosby-a-catalog-raisonné-of-sorts-2008-2013-part-1-introduction-and-early-life.html

    Merck! Monsanto! GMO and Pharma shill activities, oh my!

  9. #9 Grant
    Tribute: http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2013/04/22/francois-jacob/
    April 22, 2013

    Jack Heinemann also put out a recent paper, which (also) received critical comments (relayed by the NZ Science Media Centre as linked).

  10. #10 Grant
    Tribute: http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2013/04/22/francois-jacob/
    April 22, 2013

    There’s also several articles written for the local newspaper (local to where Heinemann lives, not me) by Paul Gorman on this topic at the stuff.co.nz website for anyone who feels like tracking them down.

  11. #11 palindrom
    April 22, 2013

    a GM wheat that could kill people who eat it & be inherited by their children.

    The wheat is inherited by their children?

    If you’re trying to persuade people, it’s helpful to at least write clearly.

    It also helps to have accurate, persuasive content, but that’s another matter.

  12. #12 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 22, 2013

    Palindrom,

    If someone buys wheat, eats part of it, and dies, then who should inherit the remaining wheat if not the children?

  13. #13 LW
    April 22, 2013

    One thing I’ve learned from RI is how thoroughly contaminated I am with RNA and things from food. Ugh. Forget detox; I think I’ll become a breatharian. Or stare at the sun a lot.

  14. #14 Mary
    April 22, 2013

    Oh, I hadn’t seen his update. I shredded his previous analysis–which was both an egregious misuse of a giant sequence guaranteed to have false positives in a BLAST search, and he misrepresented what he had done so it was unreproducible. It was completely a case of yelling fire in a crowded theater.

    He also misused the searches to include both draft and reference sequences so he could pretend there were more hits than there were. In one interview he said he had 700 pages of hits, another 400. It kept dropping, it was funny. All of the pages were dross–just like dumpster diving in VAERS, in fact.

    I’ll take a look at the new matches later. But I’ll bet they are in regions that have no relevance to his claims at all.

  15. #15 herr doktor bimler
    April 22, 2013

    Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations.

    I’m kinda puzzled how this is supposed to work. If the siRNA blocks gene expression by “binding to complementary sequences” and degrading the sequence of mRNA corresponding to that gene(im in ur nucleus killin ur mRNAs!)… well, it doesn’t reproduce. It’s double-strand RNA, in the name of feck.

  16. #16 T.
    April 22, 2013

    I would really like the discussion about GMO (food) to be geared towards the geopolitical and intellectual property problems, instead than this. There are good reasons to oppose them, but they are not those.

  17. #17 Mary
    April 22, 2013

    Heh. Seems Jack had to do exactly what I discovered within minutes of looking at his first dreadful report. Use different sequences. Did someone really pay him to do that report? They should totally get a refund.

    Here’s where I figured out what he was doing last September: http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/genetic-engineering-group3/news-forum12/gm-wheat-causes-liver-disease-thread225.0/

    I love his claim that he got the sequences from Madeline of MADGE. I had them within minutes of looking into this. So anyone that actually knew how to use PubMed should have known.

  18. #18 Krebiozen
    April 22, 2013

    Elizabeth Briggs wrote:

    Meanwhile, there are plenty of other studies that show risks from GM foods, summarised in this report: http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary

    I took a look at that summary, specifically looking at what it had to say about glyphosphate and Roundup:

    Independent studies on human cells and experimental animals have shown that glyphosate and Roundup have serious toxic effects, in many cases at low levels that could be found in the environment or as residues in food or feed.

    The references supporting this statement are:

    Sudduth MA. Genetically engineered foods – fears and facts: An interview with FDA’s Jim Maryanski. FDA Consumer. January–February 1993; 11–14.
    When I tracked down this document (their link is dead) I found it does not even mention glyphosate or Roundup.

    Bittman M. Why aren’t GMO foods labeled? New York Times. 15 February 2011
    This newspaper article does not mention glyphosate or Roundup at all.

    US Food and Drug Administration. Biotechnology consultation agency response letter BNF No. 000001. 27 January. 1995.
    Another dead link, but when I tracked it down, it was a letter to Monsanto from the FDA about a glyphosate-tolerant soybean that states, “based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, you have concluded that the new soybean variety is not materially different in composition, safety, or any other relevant parameter from soybean varieties currently on the market and that it does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval”.

    I also noticed this statement in the summary:

    Roundup was a potent endocrine disruptor at levels up to 800 times lower than residue levels allowed in food and feed. It was toxic to human cells and caused DNA damage at doses far below those used in agriculture.

    The reference supporting this claim is Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Safety Evaluation of Foods Derived by Modern Biotechnology: Concepts and Principles: OECD Publishing; 1993. This document does mention Roundup-ready tomatoes (but not the effects of glyphosate itself) and states:

    Tomatoes that are glyphosate-resistant due to the insertion of a gene coding for 5-enolpyrovylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS). The EPSPS normally found in plants is inactivated by glyphosate (Roundup). The inserted gene is identical to the normal gene found in plants, except for a few changes (mutations) in the DNA sequence. [...] The EPSPS enzyme giving rise to the resistance has been analysed. It has the same enzyme activity as the equivalent EPSPS enzyme normally found in plants. According to reports (Kishore and Shah, 1988 for review), the differences are confined to the affinity of the enzyme to glyphosate. If results from such analyses show no other differences, the new enzyme should be considered as substantially equivalent in relation to food safety.

    So none of these references say anything remotely resembling what the summary claimed. At that point I gave up in disgust. I used to be deeply suspicious about GMOs, but the closer I look at the evidence, the less suspicious I become about GMOs and the more suspicious I become about those who generate scare stories that are not supported by the scientific evidence.

  19. #19 Grant
    Tribute: http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2013/04/22/francois-jacob/
    April 22, 2013

    hdb – haven’t looked at the work, but I’d think they’ll be inserting a construct that transcribes a siRNA under a constitutive promoter.

  20. #20 Krebiozen
    April 22, 2013

    I meant “glyphosate”, not “glyphosphate”.

  21. #21 baravelli
    Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey
    April 22, 2013

    I’m not a doctor or scientist, as this post may demonstrate all to clearly but I wonder; wouldn’t swallowing RNA that would then produce a permanent, inheritable change to human DNA be just about the biggest medical breakthrough of the century? The fact that GMO wheat will kill you and all of your ancestors (or whatever Stevenson is claiming) would be insignificant in comparison the potential benefit of such a technology.

  22. #22 Dangerous Bacon
    April 22, 2013

    “Fortunately science is based on data and reasoned analysis and does not depend on the belief system of people who hope against hope that GMOs will be accepted as safe… I trust that regulators will not adopt the defensive, emotional, and irrational stance on display in this post.”

    I have now given up on using irony meters permanently. Nothing, repeat nothing, can shield a meter sufficiently from statements like the above to prevent massive implosions and fusing of vital parts. The only thing Elizabeth Briggs missed was labeling Orac’s position a “religion”.

  23. #23 Lawrence
    April 22, 2013

    @baravelli – that’s a great point. If it was proven that this “effect” was real, wouldn’t it be such a huge boon to make all the other issues moot (meaning we could turn off any gene we wanted, forever – like color blindness, sickle-cell, MS, etc?).

  24. #24 Beamup
    April 22, 2013

    The question this immediately brought up for me is this. If this particular siRNA sequence will supposedly be taken up sufficiently to affect human gene expression, well, what about all the OTHER siRNAs undoubtedly in our food?

    Is there anything at all genuinely different about this one? Or is it just another example of something getting the label “GMO” and then the Luddites freak out, despite it being not the least bit different from what’s been going on for centuries?

  25. #25 bobh
    April 22, 2013

    lets see… we’ll make a product that will kill anybody who eats it, and the profit from this will be huge. Except for the fact that everybody who eats it DIES!

  26. #26 Mu
    April 22, 2013

    Beamup, this particular sequence is artificial and evil. All the other ones are natural and without fail.

  27. #27 Guy Chapman
    April 22, 2013

    Is that worse than Monsanto GM cucumbers causing genital baldness? http://www.thelapine.ca/monsanto-cucumbers-cause-genital-baldness-immediately-banned-nova-scotia

    The above was actually presented as justification for science denial by a homeopathy believer. I shit you not.

  28. #28 Renate
    April 22, 2013

    I don’t think we need GMO’s to kill people. There are enough natural products to do that job.

  29. #29 dandover
    Touring my local Coca Cola bottling facility
    April 22, 2013

    Why have our governments been hiding the fact that our food supply is awash in unregulated and untested genetic material?!? It’s a massive cover-up!! Ban genetic material from the food supply now!! It’s time we all started subsiting solely on sugar water.

  30. #30 dandover
    April 22, 2013

    subsiting => subsisting

  31. #31 Karl Haro von Mogel
    Madison, WI
    April 22, 2013

    Good analysis, Orac. I guess that filthy Monsanto Lucre has really paid off! A note about the sockpuppetry going on at the top of this thread – I note that the first commenter, “Elizabeth Briggs” is from London, and is promoting Earth Open Source, which is run by Claire Robinson, who also co-runs GM Watch. (Remember the “industry fixing the contest” claims years ago we made fun of? That was them.) GM Watch’s stock and trade is to play dirty politics on one hand with trying trash the reputations of scientists and doctors they don’t like, while putting up questionable and poorly-sourced information on the other hand. That the next comment from this same IP tries to trash Orac and call him a shill suggests the hypothesis that this anonymous commenter is a GM Watch’er, if not Claire herself.

    Anyway, I would like to point out that Jack Heinemann based his sequence match BLAST search on 25 kilobases of DNA – 25,000 bases! It turns out that the real sequence used for the RNAi construct was only 240 bases in length – that is off by a factor of 100. It appears that with the “updated” report that searches with these 240 bases, the match to the glycogen enzyme evaporates, which should be highlighted as a retraction because it undermines the central thesis of the report. My question is, why has the Safe Food Foundation not retracted its claims about liver disease and apologized?

  32. #32 elburto
    April 22, 2013

    dandover – Don’t forget chemicals. Ban all chemicals in food!

    Anyone remember Rustichealthy on SBM who claimed he had an entirely chemical free diet? What an inspiration to us all!

  33. #33 Militant Agnostic
    Where April showers just bring more damn snow.
    April 22, 2013

    @ORAC

    Stoichiometry is your friend when figuring these things out.

    Not if you are a homeopath.

  34. #34 Eric Lund
    April 22, 2013

    this GM wheat will kill your children but that its gene-silencing effectss will also be passed down the generations

    Heidi needs a reminder that children are hereditary: if your parents didn’t have any, you can’t have any.

  35. #35 Orac
    April 22, 2013

    Note that I just changed the title of this post to reflect more accurately the message that Profs. Heinemann and Carman are promoting and that Heidi Stevenson is parroting. :-)

  36. #36 Mark
    April 22, 2013

    I wrote extensively about the Zhang paper in this thread see comment #44 in particular.

    I’m sorry to say, the Zhang paper is simply not very good, I think it represents a failure of adequate peer review. A careful reading of figure 6 shows that the effects they were seeing were likely due to the poorly controlled nature of their diet scheme, and the femtomolar (femtomolar!) changes in miRNA levels in blood I think represent the study of noise. In particular the anti-miRNA experiment or regain of function in which they injected nanomolar concentrations of the anti-miRNA and got a statistically-significant, but meaningless recovery of the supposed knockdown, was totally unconvincing to me. Also it’s important to view the corrigendum to figure 5 and the full data the authors publish.

    The Zhang paper has got major problems. And for such exceptional claims, one needs exceptional evidence. It is not exceptional evidence.

    It’s hard to communicate how implausible the idea of cross-kingdom miRNA is. After all, there is no known existing pathogen using this mechanism. If poisoning another species was as simple as giving it a nasty miRNA, it’s amazing no pathogen, no plant, no venom has ever been selected for such an effect. Instead, evolution has created organisms that produce various small molecule agents, and proteins, that can target everything from another organism’s coagulation cascade to electron transport to direct cardiac and nerve toxicity. All this evolutionary time and we’ve never seen an miRNA toxin? Of course we haven’t. Because mRNA is fundamentally unstable, easy to degrade, and a poor vehicle for cross-kingdom toxicity.

    Then you show us the supposed evidence for a powerful cross-kingdom miRNA effect, using a picomolar feeding resulting in femtomolar increases (read noise), a failure of regain fo function with blockade, poor controls, and tell us that’s significant? Not yet. Not with that level of data. Not with those problems. Keep trying guys.

  37. #37 Shay
    April 22, 2013

    Guy@27

    This could spell the end of the entire hot-wax industry.

  38. #38 dandover
    April 22, 2013

    @elburto Ah, yes. The chemical-free diet. I forgot about that one. I hear it’s great for weight-loss.

  39. #39 Dangerous Bacon
    April 22, 2013

    Not only can cross-species mRNAs infiltrate our genome and permanently change our genetic inheritance – but all those nucleic acids will dangerously lower our bodies’ pH and make us susceptible to even more toxins causing ever greater chronic disease!

    Won’t somebody do SOMETHING!?!?

  40. #40 elburto
    April 22, 2013

    @dandover – So slimming. The bonus of being on the CFD is that you’ll never, ever experience weight gain in your life. Never. Awesome! Also there’s no more worries about financial difficulties in old age, global climate change, the burgeoning economic crisis, none of that.

    @Bacon – Easy enough to alkalise the blood, simply eat several lemons per day. Piece of cake!

    I have to add that I did get that advice from someone who was clearly hard of thinking. She subscribed to the (Robert O Young?) theory that acidic blood causes cancer, and insisted that up was left, black was right, lemons were alkaline.

  41. #41 Bronze Dog
    April 22, 2013

    I’m outside my element, but I get one familiar message from this post: The dose makes the poison, and the woos seem to be ignoring that rule like they always do.

    It’s hard to communicate how implausible the idea of cross-kingdom miRNA is. After all, there is no known existing pathogen using this mechanism. If poisoning another species was as simple as giving it a nasty miRNA, it’s amazing no pathogen, no plant, no venom has ever been selected for such an effect. Instead, evolution has created organisms that produce various small molecule agents, and proteins, that can target everything from another organism’s coagulation cascade to electron transport to direct cardiac and nerve toxicity. All this evolutionary time and we’ve never seen an miRNA toxin? Of course we haven’t. Because mRNA is fundamentally unstable, easy to degrade, and a poor vehicle for cross-kingdom toxicity.

    There’s probably a lot of things that could have evolved but didn’t, but overall, I think this is still a good point. Evolution is good at developing and exploiting new features. If producing this stuff could genetically damage predators and save future generations of prey animals or plants from being eaten, it’d probably flourish.

    Kind of reminds me of one point I read about ESP in my early skeptic days: If psychic powers are real, why aren’t there any animals specialized towards psychic abilities over conventional senses?

  42. #42 Khani
    April 22, 2013

    #38 They do say you can never be too rich or too thin!

  43. #43 Khani
    April 22, 2013

    #40 For the record, as someone who occasionally experiences acid reflux: LEMONS ARE NOT ALKALINE. Neither is orange juice, and if you take either on an empty stomach you might as well snack on Tums like they were M&Ms.

  44. #44 Eric Lund
    April 22, 2013

    The dose makes the poison, and the woos seem to be ignoring that rule like they always do.

    This is one of the few things homeopaths get right. The “law of similars” is based on the idea that substances that produce harmful effects in macroscopic doses are theraputic when diluted (effectively to infinity, but homeopaths think the stuff is still present). Of course, alt-med folks do forget this when it’s convenient for them to forget.

    If psychic powers are real, why aren’t there any animals specialized towards psychic abilities over conventional senses?

    That would happen only if having psychic powers gave an animal an advantage over animals that didn’t, and it’s far from obvious that this would be true (signal to noise issues, among other things). But that is a valid point against telephone psychics and the like: if they were truly psychic, why would you have to give them your credit card number?

  45. #45 Eric Lund
    April 22, 2013

    Khani @43: Please recalibrate your snark detector.

  46. #46 Mary
    April 22, 2013

    I took a quick look at the sequences that he claims are the new nefarious matches. They are all in introns, or tens of thousands of bases from a gene.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or not.

  47. #47 LW
    April 22, 2013

    If cells just scoop up and incorporate any old RNA that happens to float by, why do RNA viruses have protein coats?

  48. #48 Melissa G
    April 22, 2013

    I’m currently on a chemical-free diet, but not by choice! Discontinuation Syndrome is a bee-yotch, and this is WITH weaning off the stupid Paxil! The doc took pity on me and wrote me a Zofran script though, whose generic is ONDANSETRON, which is obviously not a drug but an evil robot, so I’ll be ruling the world any day now, look out!

    The people who claim lemons are acidic– and I know they are out there!– crack me up, because it reminds me of those acid-base problems in high school chemistry where you do the little equations to find out if a chemical is behaving as an acid or a base. I used to STINK at those, and so “This lemon is clearly a base!” puts me in mind of my many wrong answers on said test, LOL!

  49. #49 elburto
    April 22, 2013

    @Khani – I know, right? I actually have no shame in admitting that I laughed so hard that I wet myself, at the “alkaline lemons” theory. OME didn’t believe that I wasn’t exaggerating, so I handed over my phone and said “Look, right there, alkaline lemons!”. She immediately expressed the wish to stick her head into our aquarium and leave it there.

    I instead persuaded her that we could skip our respective omeprazole doses, and chug down pure lemon juice until we overdosed on it.

    It was a win/win suggestion. We either die thanks to our IBD -riddled guts dissolving, or it makes us so super alkaline that the hereditary cancers we’re both at risk for will NEVER get us, because the lemons will alkalise wor blood.

    We’ll either peg it quickly, or live on eternally .

  50. #50 AdamG
    April 22, 2013

    GMO cookie, please

  51. #51 Roadstergal
    April 22, 2013

    As a liberal vegetarian, a lot of my friends are anti-GMO to a ridiculous extent. And a lot of the tasty fake meat I buy says “NON-GMO” on the label. I always have to call bullshit; everything we eat has been extensively genetically modified by breeding and artificial selection…

    I remember being in a debate with one of the aforementioned liberal anti-GMOers. I asked how on earth recombinant DNA technology was _automatically_ unsafe and wrong, while mutagenesis + selection by chemicals or radiation _automatically_ wasn’t. The answer? The latter is the way nature does it. That was the point at which I just had to throw up my hands and walk away from the keyboard.

  52. #52 Roger
    April 22, 2013

    Orac, be careful: those hallmarks of obvious pseudoscience and fraud you decry (e.g. ghost skulls above fields of wheat) are what the peddlers of such filth call “Rhetoric.” It might not work on anyone with a rudimentary understanding of science, but I bet it works like a charm on the masses.

  53. #53 Melissa G
    April 22, 2013

    Elburto– that is really weird, I have friends in Durham, not too far from you and the OME, one of whom is also a total aquarium-fancier! Quelle coincidence! You two don’t also hang with the SCA and have Norwegian forest cats, do you? :-D

    Gawd, Mark H, I read the comments on your blog post, though for some reason SciBlogs won’t let me post a comment there, and MAN, the cranks are out in force! Nice to see a couple of rational arguers in there, at least.

    Why do people not understand that saying “This science is bad” does not equate to saying “Monsanto is good and we want to have all its babies”? I hate the all-or-nothing thinking that all too often pervades any GMO discussion.

    I could kick myself for not getting one of the “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that” t-shirts from Ben Goldacre’s site.

  54. #54 Krebiozen
    April 22, 2013

    Easy enough to alkalise the blood, simply eat several lemons per day. Piece of cake!

    Even easier, just hyperventilate until you experience dizziness* and muscle cramps**. Unlike the lemons it’s free, it really works and you may even get to reexperience your birth trauma***!

    * Be sure to stop before you lose consciousness
    ** Due to an increase in the proportion of albumin bound calcium to ionized calcium at higher blood pH, instant hypocalcemia.
    *** See rebirthing and holotropic breathwork.

  55. #55 Krebiozen
    April 22, 2013

    Did someone mention Norwegian forest cats? One of my best friends is a Norwegian Forest cat, much to his owner’s disgust.

  56. #56 herr doktor bimler
    April 22, 2013

    Cats and foxes, living together!

  57. #57 Denice Walter
    April 22, 2013

    @ elburto:

    Naw. it won’t do you in… as a matter of fact, I think I’ll grab the ex and come over to your place for cocktails.

    @ Krebiozen:

    re rebirthing:
    as I once remarked to an evangelical Christian: “Isn’t being born again a bit much?”

  58. #58 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2011/07/28/haemophilia-zfps-1/
    April 22, 2013

    baravelli (#21), “produce a permanent, inheritable change to human DNA” – is this what they’re claiming this RNA to do?? Jeez, that’d be connecting way too many dots in speculative fashion.

    baravelli (#21), Lawrence (#23) – there is research having some success (they report) shutting down particular genes associated with some disorders, e.g. using “designer” zinc finger proteins to trigger epigenetic silencing of a gene. (This isn’t targeting the silencing to be inherited, though. I wrote about one example in 2011 [see location]; there’s been further work in this area since.)

    Beamup (#24) – it’s a point raised by Assoc. Prof Deardon in the Science Media Centre report I linked to earlier. (Those from the USA: Assoc. Prof. is a *senior* position, not a junior one – our system is like the Brits’.)

    Karl Haro von Mogel (#34) – do you have a link to this ‘updated report’? Perhaps you mean the one Orac linked? (If so, it a bit short on details for my liking.) What are the results of using the 240bp query sequence? (Obviously fewer hits, but specifically – ? FWIW, I pointed out the general issue at sciblogs at the time.)

    Orac (#35). Oh, dear. I guess they really *are* claiming this. Maybe I will write a blog on it, then. (Been putting it off. New Zealand is a small country, etc.)

    Shay (#37). Well, yes. Although I’m sure that’s not what they were after ;-) (JK, of course.)

  59. #59 herr doktor bimler
    April 22, 2013

    That would happen only if having psychic powers gave an animal an advantage over animals that didn’t

    The thing is that precognition is real, and we are experiencing events 3.2 minutes in the future. But the advantage of precognition is so strong that all other species evolved it too or went extinct, so no-one notices the difference.

  60. #60 Denice Walter
    April 22, 2013

    @ herr doktor bimler:

    I knew you would say that.

  61. #61 Mark Thorson
    April 22, 2013

    Uh oh. Let’s not mention miRNA. At low concentrations, they’re very effective for silencing the genes that make people resist taking vaccines and psych drugs. That’s what I put in the chemtrails I spray all over southern California. I got enough problems with this guy:

    http://purviancepyramid.net/

  62. #62 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 22, 2013

    @LW

    “why do RNA viruses have protein coats?”

    Because they want to be like Lady Gaga?

  63. #63 Narad
    April 22, 2013

    Is that worse than Monsanto GM cucumbers causing genital baldness?

    Feral cats eat cucumbers in Nova Scotia? This is totes going to be a coded statement when I set up my survivalist shortwave network.

  64. #64 Narad
    April 22, 2013

    Oh, drat, I read too fast. The cats eat the bald mice who eat the cucumbers. I’m still using the coded phrase.

  65. #65 herr doktor bimler
    April 22, 2013

    Code phrase? I’m going with “the bishop’s rectum is nice”.

  66. #66 Rebecca Gavin
    United States
    April 22, 2013

    I am also a liberal vegetarian, vegan actually, and I have pissed off a lot of friends on FB by pointing out the lack of evidence for GMO harm. I am not a scientist, so I appreciate this conversation because it is both accessible to me, and I can learn from it. I have laughed out loud numerous times reading this thread. I am definitely going to avoid GM cucumbers.

  67. #67 Khani
    April 22, 2013

    #45 I think yours might be broken, actually, unless you know someone who literally eats a whole container of Tums in a sitting. I suppose you might, but I buy mine 250 at a time, so I sure don’t. :)

  68. #68 Khani
    April 22, 2013

    #49 When I took chemistry in college we tested all kinds of things for alkalinicity/acidity. The slushies from the cafeteria were more acidic than coffee and orange juice, to my surprise and everlastin’ sadness.

  69. #69 herr doktor bimler
    April 22, 2013

    I am definitely going to avoid GM cucumbers.

    If my recollection of the memoirs of Captain Lemuel Gulliver is correct, the Laputan scientists devised these to capture sunlight. You’re probably not supposed to *eat* them.
    Mind you, this is equally true of non-GM cucumbers.

  70. #70 Melissa G
    April 22, 2013

    Well, now I just want to eat a cucumber.

  71. #71 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 22, 2013

    Can one be a lacto-pesce-carno-vegetarian?

  72. #72 Khani
    April 22, 2013

    #70 You’re allowed. Sometimes a cucumber is just a cucumber.

  73. #73 dogktor
    CA
    April 22, 2013

    This was a great read. The Nature vide gets a thumbs up! Thanks.

    For Heinemann’s fear mongering to be a real concern, any siRNA or microRNA from genetically modified wheat would not only have to be made in sufficient quantity at least to equal the normal concentration of miR-168a in rice, be stable enough to pass through stomach acid and the gut lining undigested, and get into the bloodstream at a high enough level to affect gene expression. That’s leaving aside the question of whether there is even enough sequence match that the siRNA could even target the human GBE mRNA in the first place, which is impossible to say because we don’t know the actual sequence of the siRNA being used.
    —————-

    To escape enzymatic degradation, these RNA molecules probably form complexes with proteins and/or lipid molecules, as has been previously reported for endogenous miRNAs…. from your link to a great paper: True, another group has reported finding miR-168a, but it also reported a huge variety of microRNAs in the serum from a variety of sources, including bacteria and fungi as well as from other species
    —>The digestion argument really should be put to rest, as there are other examples where it is false: IGF1 escaping digestion in the presence of casein comes to mind.

    If indeed the siRNA sequence has not been published ( and it needs to be), that you, Orac, are just as guilty dismissing the possibility that there is indeed homology, as Heinemann is, arguably jumping the gun.

    I am not at all convinced by the remaining argument that the amounts of miRNA are just too small to cause physiological effects. While being fascinated that the default food (microbiota and insect miRNAs) are regulating my genes, I am indeed disturbed by having novel silencing RNA introduced in novel foods, without publishing their sequence and thoroughly disproving homology to human and animal miRNAs involved in diseases. Unproven assumptions (whether by Heinemann or you, Orac) are still not evidence-based science. A guess remains a guess, whether the speculator is Heinemann or you, Orac-sorry.

  74. #74 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    April 23, 2013

    Cookie please.

  75. #75 Christine (the public servant Christine)
    April 23, 2013

    @elburto, do you think the alkaline lemons will cure fibromyalgia, as well as IBD? Damn I wish I’d found out about alkaline lemons before the 2 resections I had to have… I might still have an entire intestine. And like Melissa G, I think you’d like the SCA. Even if there are a lot of tin-foil hat wearers, there are also very many cool people.

  76. #76 Khani
    April 23, 2013

    #75 Alkaline lemons are like unicorns! They cure everything!

    … and they are just as hard to find…

  77. #77 Grant
    April 23, 2013


    #75 Alkaline lemons are like unicorns! They cure everything!

    … and they are just as hard to find…

    But, but, but… we could make a genetically-modified lemon that was alkaline…

    (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

  78. #78 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    I am not at all convinced by the remaining argument that the amounts of miRNA are just too small to cause physiological effects.

    Then propose a potential mechanism by which fM concentrations of miRNA that add up to only at most 0.1 molecule per liver cell could cause such a significant downregulation of a receptor. Then, while you’re at it, address Mark Hoofnagle’s detailed critique of the study in this comment:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/04/22/better-late-than-never-when-hysteria-about-gmos-takes-root/#comment-253296

  79. #79 Grant
    April 23, 2013

    While I know something of molecular biology and computational biology, food testing isn’t my thing. So a naïve question, then: Why not just do whatever whole-food tests you’d do however the food is made. If it tests fine, you’re done. If not, then look to what might be wrong.

  80. #80 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    Yeah–let’s wait to see if it’s really terribly, terribly harmful. Better to wait and be f’ing SURE that it’s really really bad., that the consequences are indeed dire and, as some worry, once done, fairly irreversible in their effects with knock-on effects down the line which are, quite simply beyond anyone’s capacity to predict.

    Then, when we KNOW that, yep, it’s at least as bad as predicted, if not, indeed, much, much worse, THEN and ONLY THEN can we legitimately and “respectably’” raise concerns. And then, of course, others who BS’d the earlier concerns can say, “Oh, well, now we agree, there’s a cause for concern. But who knew? Before we knew for sure that it was dangerous, there was “nothing” we could have done!”

    BASTA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  81. #81 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    I do so love drive-by anti-GMO commenters who can’t come up with an argument more coherent than proximity1. The whole point, of course, is that Prof. Heinemann’s claims are pure speculation to the point that there’s no real reason to take them seriously. It’s also that Zhang et al doesn’t convincingly show what people citing it claim it shows.

  82. #82 Brian Buchbinder
    April 23, 2013

    The sad thing here is that while your report does a pretty good job of debunking the scare claims, it’s way too long and too thoughtful to work against the ocean of anti-GMO propaganda out there. I’m an interested and scientifically-literate layperson, but in order to fully understand what’s at stake, it would take an hour or so to wade through all the info. For most people that skull will take care of “analysis”.

    And as I’ve (too) often said, having Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development is like having Hitler running the ASPCA.

  83. #83 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    Ah, I remember Dogctor from this GMO thread last September. Happy memories.

    If indeed the siRNA sequence has not been published ( and it needs to be), that you, Orac, are just as guilty

    If I may amplify this: the person pointing out not only the absence of evidence supporting Heinemann’s claims, but also the absence of details that would make it possible to tell whether such evidence might even exist, is JUST AS GUILTY as the person who failed to support his claims with evidence.

    “Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.”

  84. #84 Narad
    April 23, 2013

    And as I’ve (too) often said, having Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development is like having Hitler running the ASPCA.

    You might want to rethink that one.

  85. #85 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    having Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development is like having Hitler running the ASPCA

    This analogy makes no feckin sense and serves no purpose except to make Godwin cry. Are you suggesting that Monsanto might be fond of crop plants and call them “Blondi”?

  86. #86 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    I would totally have beaten Narad with my comment if it weren’t for that meddling WP hosting service and its “You are posting comments too quickly” message.

  87. #87 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    And as I’ve (too) often said, having Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development is like having Hitler running the ASPCA.

    Huh? That doesn’t even make any sense. I’d ask you to elaborate, but I highly doubt the answer would be sufficiently illuminating to erase the confusion. Even the Hitler Zombie wouldn’t touch that one.

  88. #88 Grant
    April 23, 2013

    herr doktor bimler #86 – it sucks being beaten to it, huh? :-)

    Just to add to #83: raising hypothetical “what ifs” even if they were found — say, the presence of matching sequences between the RNA and human genes — wouldn’t show that there’s a problem with the food, it’d just raise further what ifs.

  89. #89 ThickSantorum
    April 23, 2013

    @27

    Cucumbers that cause genital baldness? Awesome! Let’s start shipping them to Japan.

  90. #90 LW
    April 23, 2013

    having Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development is like having Hitler running the ASPCA

    My momma always said, if you can’t say something nice, throw out an argumentum ad hitlerum.

    Since when is Monsanto in charge of GMO crop development anyway? That’s like saying Microsoft is in charge of software development. They do it, sure, and they’re major players, but how are they “in charge”?

  91. #91 Ewan R
    Monsato R&D HQ
    April 23, 2013

    They do it, sure, and they’re major players, but how are they “in charge”?

    The very fact that you think we might not be merely shows that our PR people are very, very good.

  92. #92 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    “Drive-by” ?

    I “do so love” a hypocite who tosses around an epithet such as “Drive-by” to denigrate –without other useful or pertinent substance– another’s criticism even as he somplains of those who react without due consideration or supporting sound reasoning.

    Orac is offering what amounts to a pathetic reversal of the old adage, “Better ‘safe’ than ‘sorry’. ”

    As my post indicates, the trouble is that we’re in such a hurry to do something without understanding its potential harmful consequences. This is typical of the state to which modern science has brought us and now, by the support of dominant political power, the state in which we are held

    The presumed safety of GMO is pure speculation; the claims that we are on safe ground in resorting to such stuff is charlantanism.

    Orac, you should sweep in front of your own doorstep before you resort to such stuff in a “response.” “Science” is suffering and shall continue to suffer from the public’s well-founded contempt for what various short-sighted and morally bankrupt scientists do in the name of “science”.

  93. #93 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    This “Techno-evangelism” is going to one day come to earn the same reputation that, today, is associated with such terms as “Enron”, “Long Term Capital Management” and the genius of “derivatives” as financial instrumets (of mass stupidity).

  94. #94 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    proximity1 – based on the content and tone of your first message, apparently people made the unwarranted assumption that you had come to throw around a quick message and would never visit again. If that had been the case, it would hardly be worthwhile to try to counter your points, if any.

    I don’t think anyone presumes GMOs to be inherently safe. I personally have not read the safety studies; those who have tell me there’s no indication that GMOs that are currently on the market are dangerous.

    Orac’s post above takes a look at one paper that claims danger in a particular crop and shows what he sees as the problems with that paper. Do you have an issue with any of the analysis and, if so, what’s your issue and your evidence that the analysis is incorrect?

    Additionally, do you have links to other data that shows that some or all GMOs being used as crops (or about to be used as crops) are unsafe?

    You are, of course, welcome to your opinion that there have been insufficient safety studies if you’ve reviewed the existing data and have a basis for saying that.

  95. #95 Brad N
    April 23, 2013

    evolutionary changes to the planet take time to detect, introducing genetic changes on a constant basis to a plethora of food plants that are not sterile have made it impossible to know the end result of the tampering. There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s). defending GMO is like defending irradiation to promote mutations, there is no defence because there is no timeline to measure the results against, nor any attempt to protect the biosphere we live in from the results. eg. higher yielding gm wheat/corn in the u.s. midwest + an ongoing drought, larger producing crops require larger amounts of water, with this being on a huge scale, crop failure is a certainty with genetically modified crops under these conditions. the changes to the biosphere are unknown, the changes to organisms on an evolutionary scale are unknown, and the methods to test and substantiate results are unknown. Peer review, when there is no basis but belief (there is no proof), is a sad joke at best when there is money to be made.

    an idea (not mine but i agree with it)
    all genetic research should be off planet. merge it with a mars or asteroid colony program and create biospheres to play in rather than mess with the one we have to live in. the profits are still there and on a larger scale, the payoff in additional technology and terraforming another planet as a granary would ensure that.

  96. #96 JGC
    If there were evidence GMo was 'really terribly terribly harmful' you'd have an argument
    April 23, 2013

    Yeah–let’s wait to see if it’s really terribly, terribly harmful.

    Seems to me it makes sense to hold off panicking until there some actual evidence that it’s harmful at all, much less ‘really terribly, terribly’ harmful.

    As my post indicates, the trouble is that we’re in such a hurry to do something without understanding its potential harmful consequences.

    What evidence suggests that we don’t adequately understand the potential harmful consequence of developing GMO crops?

    The presumed safety of GMO is pure speculation; the claims that we are on safe ground in resorting to such stuff is charlantanism.

    GMO safety studies, however, have been conducted. While one might argue that they cold be designed better, or that additional studies are necessary, it isn’t accurate to suggest our understanding of their safety is presumption or speculation. On the other hand, the presumed dangers of GMO are speculative and the claims that we are not on safe ground in resorting to such stuff is fear-mongering.

    Here’s a simple question: what do you consider to be the single strongest piece of evidence that consuming GMO crops is likely to be ‘really terribly, terribly terribly harmful’?

    I get that you believe they are, but I just don’t understand why you believe as you do.

  97. #97 Brad N
    April 23, 2013

    btw this blog is semantically null. there is no proof that any gmo is “safe” for exactly the reasons it states. no one knows. to experiment in this regard in “our” biosphere is not only stupid, it is insane. (actually quite fitting for our species, we seem to have a penchant for destructive change)

  98. #98 Denice Walter
    April 23, 2013

    AND not a moment too soon…

    The Food Revolution 2013 Summit is scheduled for this upcoming weekend ( via Mike Adams, Natural News) and you can listen in FOR FREE!

    Created by John Robbins, who “could have inherited” the vast Baskin Robbins fortune but turned his back on the tainted money created by health-robbing ice cream 25 years ago.
    He and his son, Ocean, host an impressive cast of doctors ( Ornish, Hyman, Fuhrman), environmentalists and experts like Jeffrey Smith and Mike Adams.

    You’ll learn about micro-nutrient therapies, preventing cancer, the dangers of GMOs, geo-political scaremongering about food and how to win friends and influence people with your woo and altmed conspiracy blathering.

  99. #99 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N,

    To summarize your point, you believe that there is insufficient data to say what all the possible affects of genetically modified crops will be on people and the environment, therefore we should stop using them.

    You also mention that genetic modification is not the same as breeding in the way farmers have done historically. Outside of being faster and more directed, what do you think that difference is and why does it introduce a higher risk?

    Thanks.

  100. #100 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    April 23, 2013

    There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s).

    This is what I can’t wrap my head around. Can anyone explain why I should fear one, and not the other.

    This isn’t to say I have no worries about GMOs. However, my worry is that they may work too well, and we loose the diversity in a particular crop.

    For example, bananas. According to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banana_cultivars

    The total number of cultivars of bananas and plantains has been estimated to be anything from around 300 to more than 1000.

    However, almost all commercially grown bananas are the Cavendish variety. One good disease mutation and almost the entire world crop would be at risk.

  101. #101 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    And why the scare quotes around “breeding”? Isn’t that the correct word?

  102. #102 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    evolutionary changes to the planet take time to detect, introducing genetic changes on a constant basis to a plethora of food plants that are not sterile have made it impossible to know the end result of the tampering. There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s).

    I hear this argument all the time from GMO alarmists, but no one ever can ever explain what the difference is. I usually anwer this by pointing out that the entire history of agriculture has been about genetically modifying food, and the response is always something like “but NOW we’re DIRECTLY MANIPULATING the MOLECULES!!!! Frankenfood, ARRGGHHH….”

    If I still feel like rebutting, I then point out that the only difference I see is that we started out doing modifications by trial and error, and now we have the knowledge and the technology to make very specific changes. That either ends the conversation or, if I’ve been diplomatic enough, the person thanks me for giving them something to think about (really, it did happen once!)

    Anyway Brad, my point was you need to expand on what you think “the difference” is.

  103. #103 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N. – I left off a key point in my summary of your point – not only should we stop using genetically modified organisms, but we should not even experiment with the technique.

  104. #104 Pareidolius
    Cydonia Planitia Granary, Ltd.
    April 23, 2013

    brad n,
    Your terraforming idea is swell, and sure to be profitable! Now, what it the cost to get 1kg of . . . anything to Mars? Of course, I’m just being an earth-hating, caps-using tool of Big Science™. But have you considered that if your grasp of the economics of space-farming is this off, might your interpretation of the dangers of genetic engineering be similarly flawed?

  105. #105 Dangerous Bacon
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N: ” There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s)”

    Actually, “traditional” breeding techniques wouldn’t succeed without genetic manipulation of genomes (thank you, Dept. of Redundancy Dept.). That’s how they work, creating new organisms by getting their DNA to create different combinations. Genetic modification technology accomplishes similar changes; it’s the speed and extent of such changes to which you object.

    For the sake of ease of reading, Brad, could you use more capital letters where appropriate? Thanks.

  106. #106 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    RE: Mephistopheles O’Brien
    April 23, 2013

    So much ex post facto rationalization from you as to how “everyone” (I use that as a paraphrase of the gist of your argument, i.e; “apparently people ” ) must have “made the unwarranted assumption that you had come to throw around a quick message and would never visit again.”

    Thus another example of how, here, it’s apparently standard procedure to leap to unwarranted conclusions. We see where that takes us, don’t we? (No, we don’t. If we did, there’d be much less of it.)

    This: ‘ I don’t think anyone presumes GMOs to be inherently safe. I personally have not read the safety studies; those who have tell me there’s no indication that GMOs that are currently on the market are dangerous. ‘ is simply beside any interesting or useful point in the discussion. “No one assumes that GMOs are inherently safe”? So what? That gets us nowhere. The working assumption is different: GMOs, unless clearly proven unsafe are apparently acceptable for release into the general environment. Brad (@95) explains above, cogently and correctly, why such a working hypothesis is utter madness. But you missed the also obvious fact that your own observation (“No one assumes that GMOs are inherently safe”) was irrelevant to the real issues. So, what are the chances that you’re going to recognize the good sense in Brad’s points? How, I wonder, should it even have been necessary that Brad point out those facts?

    Here, again, you show your capacity for missing the point:

    ” Do you have an issue with any of the analysis and, if so, what’s your issue and your evidence that the analysis is incorrect?”

    My concern is that the analysis is biased, the product of a now general practice of corrupt research and “verification” by lab studies and statistical analyses–the logical soundness of which are also quite questionable, never mind the source/beneficiary (a.k.a. classic conflict of interest) relationship that is now everywhere in such work.

    “Additionally, do you have links to other data that shows that some or all GMOs being used as crops (or about to be used as crops) are unsafe?”

    No, my evidence is drawn from the plethoa of real-life examples of stupendous error and, in many cases, “error” has to be modified or replaced with “grievous fraud”, concerning unsafe food products, cosmetics, drugs, additives–all manner of consumer “consumables” that, despite “studies” which failed to show actual or potential dnager, proved, after production and sale and consumption, to be actually dangerous and harmful.

    If one’s reply is, “Well, there’s never 100% surety about such things, (a.k.a. “mistakes happen”) then I say that this is the sufficient reason that those mistakes happening is a risk that should not be allowed.

    But Brad explained the essence of this. And you’ve missed it.

    In our societies, it is now more common than not to confuse two very distinct dangers:

    one, a tremendous calamity which has a relatively tiny liklihood of occurring, and, the other, a less calamitous event which has (comprarably) a much greater liklihood to occur. We’re overconfident about the remote possibility that truly terrible events simply won’t happen since the probability (whether rightly or wrongly, by the way) is believed to be so very, very small.

    And this is because so many people are so completely confused about the distinctions between risk and probability of occurrance –they are different issues, though in cases, related in ways of the most profound importance. But, it does not pay to give that factor the attention it deserves. In fact, doing anything that puts commercial interests second to honest and fair science and testing doesn’t pay (as much in the short-run—which, as part of our present-day insanity, is all that we find it useful to concern ourselves with).

    Google some terms, for example:

    “2013 meat adulteration scandal”

    “Jean-Claude Mas” + “Poly Implant Prothese”

    “Servier” + “Mediator” + “scandal” + “trial”

    See also:

    VI. Conclusion

    “Conflicts of interests are a common ethical concern in scientific research, especially research related to regulation or litigation. Since millions of dollars may hinge on the outcome of a regulatory decision or a lawsuit, financial pressures can have a significant impact on scientific decision-making and judgment. To minimize the impact of COIs in regulation or litigation, all aspects of research, including experimental design, data, methods, and financial interests, should be disclosed to the relevant parties. Disclosure can overcome potential biases by providing independent experts with the information they require to evaluate the research. When disclosure does not sufficiently address the ethical concerns, stricter measures, such as conflict management or prohibition, may be appropriate. Government agencies and the courts should take appropriate steps to protect legal processes from adverse impacts of COIs related to scientific research. To maximize fairness and impartiality in regulatory decision-making, there should be no financial ties between regulatory agencies and their employees and the companies they regulate. In litigation, there should be no quid-pro-quo financial arrangements between researchers and the litigating parties. ”

    David B. Resnik, JD, PhD (2007) “Conflicts of Interest in Scientific Research”…

    I suppose that each “should be” above, implies a “but there is not”. What do you suppose?

  107. #107 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    correction:

    ” We’re overconfident about the remote possibility that truly terrible events simply won’t will in fact happen since the probability (whether rightly or wrongly, by the way) is believed to be so very, very small.”

    the italicized part should be struck and read as …”will in fact” …

  108. #108 Krebiozen
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N #95,

    defending GMO is like defending irradiation to promote mutations

    I hate to break it to you, but radiation and chemicals have been used to generate useful mutations in plants since the 1930s:

    Though poorly known, radiation breeding has produced thousands of useful mutants and a sizable fraction of the world’s crops…including varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, sesame, bananas, cassava and sorghum.

    Without mutations, many of them caused by naturally occurring radiation, evolution would not be possible, and life could not exist. Why are natural mutations OK, but those caused by humans somehow deadly?

  109. #109 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    “Can anyone explain why I should fear one, and not the other.”

    Yes. Someone can explain that. In fact, someone did explain that. His name was Charles Darwin. Among other places, he explained it in Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and in Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (all, reprinted, 1988, London, William Pickering, (as parts (Vols. 15 & 16; 21 & 22; and 19 & 20, respectively ) ) of “The Works of Charles Darwin”)

  110. #110 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    My concern is that the analysis is biased, the product of a now general practice of corrupt research and “verification” by lab studies and statistical analyses–the logical soundness of which are also quite questionable, never mind the source/beneficiary (a.k.a. classic conflict of interest) relationship that is now everywhere in such work.

    Evidence, please?

    No, my evidence is drawn from the plethoa of real-life examples of stupendous error and, in many cases, “error” has to be modified or replaced with “grievous fraud”, concerning unsafe food products, cosmetics, drugs, additives–all manner of consumer “consumables” that, despite “studies” which failed to show actual or potential dnager, proved, after production and sale and consumption, to be actually dangerous and harmful.

    That’s a pretty comprehensive indictment – again, based on what evidence?

  111. #111 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    RE: @ 99 :

    ” You also mention that genetic modification is not the same as breeding in the way farmers have done historically. Outside of being faster and more directed, what do you think that difference is and why does it introduce a higher risk? ”

    Wow. Just “wow”! You mean Brad needs to explain this to you and to others here?

    You don’t see a greater risk involved in humanly induced gene-modifications as opposed to, on the other hand, those which arise through the crossing (that is, planned mating of existing species which are naturally compatible genitors of offspring) of existing plant or animal types? Jesus H Christ!!!

  112. #112 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    @111 – any chance you and “Brad” are the same person?

    You don’t see a greater risk involved in humanly induced gene-modifications as opposed to, on the other hand, those which arise through the crossing (that is, planned mating of existing species which are naturally compatible genitors of offspring) of existing plant or animal types? Jesus H Christ!!!

    No, I don’t see a greater risk.. Unless you can explain yourself without resorting to spit-flecked raving, I’ll assume you’re under the sway of the naturalistic fallacy (i.e. nature GOOD, manmade BAD!!)

  113. #113 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    RE post @ 110: “Objection: Asked and answered, your Honor.”

    see my post @ 106 —which you didn’t read carefully enough to note:

    Google some terms, for example:

    “2013 meat adulteration scandal”

    “Jean-Claude Mas” + “Poly Implant Prothese”

    “Servier” + “Mediator” + “scandal” + “trial”

    See also:

    VI. Conclusion

    “Conflicts of interests are a common ethical concern in scientific research, especially research related to regulation or litigation. Since millions of dollars may hinge on the outcome of a regulatory decision or a lawsuit, financial pressures can have a significant impact on scientific decision-making and judgment. To minimize the impact of COIs in regulation or litigation, all aspects of research, including experimental design, data, methods, and financial interests, should be disclosed to the relevant parties. Disclosure can overcome potential biases by providing independent experts with the information they require to evaluate the research. When disclosure does not sufficiently address the ethical concerns, stricter measures, such as conflict management or prohibition, may be appropriate. Government agencies and the courts should take appropriate steps to protect legal processes from adverse impacts of COIs related to scientific research. To maximize fairness and impartiality in regulatory decision-making, there should be no financial ties between regulatory agencies and their employees and the companies they regulate. In litigation, there should be no quid-pro-quo financial arrangements between researchers and the litigating parties. ”

    David B. Resnik, JD, PhD (2007) “Conflicts of Interest in Scientific Research”…

    I suppose that each “should be” above, implies a “but there is not”. What do you suppose?

  114. #114 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    @ 112

    In view of your post @ 110, Edith, I suggest: you go take a remedial reading course and then come back when you’re ready, able and willing to read and comprehend stuff that’s already in the record here.

  115. #115 Krebiozen
    April 23, 2013

    proximity1,
    Since siRNAs occur in plants, animals, fungi and bacteria, all our food, whether vegetable, fungal, animal or whatever, must contain considerable quantities of siRNAs. Why do you think the siRNA in genetically engineered wheat might pose a terrible threat to humanity, when we appear to have survived ingesting natural siRNA in every meal for millions of years?

  116. #116 JGC
    April 23, 2013

    His name was Charles Darwin. Among other places, he explained it in Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and in Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (

    Given that Darwin had no understanding of the biological mechanism of inheritance or the existance of genes, I find it hard to believe that he argued we should fear using molecular biology to modify genomes but need not fear modifying genomes through controlled breeding.

    But I’m wlling to entertain the notion Darwin may have somehow, some way addressed this claim–if you can provide a direct quote from On the Origin of Species demonstrating this.

  117. #117 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    Yes. Someone can explain that. In fact, someone did explain that. His name was Charles Darwin. Among other places, he explained it in Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and in Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (all, reprinted, 1988, London, William Pickering, (as parts (Vols. 15 & 16; 21 & 22; and 19 & 20, respectively ) ) of “The Works of Charles Darwin”)

    That’s funny. I’ve read Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. I didn’t see where either explained why we should fear human-induced genetic change and not natural genetic change due to evolution. Perhaps you could cite the exact passages where Charles Darwin explained this.

  118. #118 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    No, my evidence is drawn from the plethoa of real-life examples of stupendous error and, in many cases, “error” has to be modified or replaced with “grievous fraud”, concerning unsafe food products, cosmetics, drugs, additives–all manner of consumer “consumables” that, despite “studies” which failed to show actual or potential dnager, proved, after production and sale and consumption, to be actually dangerous and harmful.

    None of which, in and of itself, constitutes evidence that GMOs are unsafe. You’ll have to do better than that. Edith was correct to ask you for evidence.

  119. #119 Mewens
    April 23, 2013

    … proximity1, are you actually using Google searches as your “sources”? Also, you may want to re-read the conclusion from that paper you’ve posted; I don’t believe it says what you think it says.

  120. #120 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    “Can anyone explain why I should fear one, and not the other.”

    Yes. Someone can explain that. In fact, someone did explain that. His name was Charles Darwin.

    Since none of what we cannow do to induce mutations in plants was possible at the time Darwin was writing, I highly, doubt that, unless your argument also involves time travel.

  121. #121 JGC
    April 23, 2013

    “Additionally, do you have links to other data that shows that some or all GMOs being used as crops (or about to be used as crops) are unsafe?”

    “No.”

    FTFY.

  122. #122 novalox
    April 23, 2013

    @proximity1

    [citation needed]

    You do know that civilizations have crossed plants since he beginning of agriculture, and that it was a long, slow process, with a lot more failures than sucesses, right?

    You also do know that these crosses involve genetic material, the same material used in genetic modification?

  123. #123 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    Also RE post 112: ” @111 – any chance you and “Brad” are the same person?”

    Zero chance. I’m not the the person posting here as “Brad”.

    Why don’t you apply some similar skepticism to the industry-financed studies that “prove” their own products are quite safe enough for poduction, sale and consumption? Maybe it’s because you have a conflict of interest of your own?

  124. #124 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    In view of your post @ 110, Edith, I suggest: you go take a remedial reading course and then come back when you’re ready, able and willing to read and comprehend stuff that’s already in the record here.

    Back atcha, sunshine. What’s “in the record” from you is a lot of sweeping generalizations based on…well, you don’t actually say. You’re making the claims, it’s up to you to substantiate them. Screaming louder doesn’t count.

  125. #125 novalox
    April 23, 2013

    Let’s give proximity1 3 posts to answer the questions given to him.

    I do want to see if he will answer my questions straightforward, without sounding like he is yelling and screaming.

  126. #126 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    Hey, yes, at times I do refer to Wikipedia. But, concerning Darwin, I can draw on the complete works–on the library shelves nearby. But I can’t do that any further today because this is GMT +1 and the library is closing. More later, maybe, on another day. I ‘ll check this thread tomorrow.

  127. #127 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    Maybe it’s because you have a conflict of interest of your own?

    YAWWWWWWN,, the old “you must be a SHILL!” gambit. Sorry to disappoint you, but the answer is no. Not a scientist, not a farmer, not employed by the food or agribusiness industry, just an average person with a low tolerance for hysterical and unfounded claims based on erroneous notions about what’s “natural.”

  128. #128 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    RE: “You do know that civilizations have crossed plants since he beginning of agriculture, and that it was a long, slow process, with a lot more failures than sucesses, right?”

    Yes.

  129. #129 JGC
    April 23, 2013

    You don’t see a greater risk involved in humanly induced gene-modifications as opposed to, on the other hand, those which arise through the crossing (that is, planned mating of existing species which are naturally compatible genitors of offspring) of existing plant or animal types?

    No, I don’t. Why do you?

    Again: to make it as easy as possible for you to respond, what in your opinion is the single strongest piece of evidence supporting a claim that ‘humanly induced gene modification” through directed molecular biological techniques poses a significantly greater risk than ‘humanly induced gene modification” trhough controlled breeding?

  130. #130 JGC
    April 23, 2013

    Why don’t you apply some similar skepticism to the industry-financed studies that “prove” their own products are quite safe enough for poduction, sale and consumption?

    Be happy to, if you’ll provide a link to the specific industry financed studies you’re concerned about, and indicate what your specific concerns are. (I mean, surely you’re not arguing that just because they’re industry-financed we must discount them?)

  131. #131 JGC
    On the Origin of Species is available online
    April 23, 2013

    But I can’t do that any further today because this is GMT +1 and the library is closing.

    Don’t worry about closing time, proximity–,i>Origin of Species” is availabe free online.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2009

  132. #132 Brad N
    April 23, 2013

    Mephistopheles O’Brien
    there is no data. we do not have data to even make a so called normal set. we have been manipulators for a long time. we can start now but the gigo rule applies, the box
    has been opened.
    gm is adding genetic material not currently able to be expressed in the genome. ie wheat that is not capable of being “bred” from the original wheat. “i just like the quotes” lol (even better if they are scary, most people do not think of plants as being bred, see i stopped using the quotes).
    there is proof that breeding any species for a specific set of characteristics can be detrimental to the actual individual members of that species survival. many of our pure bred companions would not survive without our help. (ie today’s dairy cattle would have an interesting time surviving in the wild (or an extended power shortage at the farm)
    adding specific traits may benefit a particular perceived need for a while but at the cost of escalating modifications to meet new needs. (pesticide/herbicide resistance is well documented, so the advantage of including it in the genetic structure is? ah an escalating gm war – good for?)
    [an interesting thought is how wheat may well be fighting back to poison us lol]
    do the risks of gmos outweigh the good it may do?
    no proof of any good comes from any of our technologies.
    the least protected people always end up as fodder for what we want, look around where industries are/have been located.
    a subset of us benefit for a time, but there is always a
    down side.
    we as a species talk ourselves (hype, marketing) into allowing many things using acceptable risk, mostly as convenience to ourselves, the end motive being to allow profit taking. gmo tech appears to be another one.
    stop the research lol, rather enforce closed biosphere experimentation, (when the ice goes from the antarctic so we can mine there, maybe the habitats can include gmo stocked farms lol – next stop mars rotfl) so we might have a chance to out evolve our current state.

    Pareidolius
    learn to read, not my idea lol
    but we are already space farming.
    been doing it for millennia on this planet, terra forming
    areas into so called habitations, plantations etc. that
    took riches beyond imagination.
    there are companies contemplating moving and mining asteroids, off planet farming isn’t a stretch, going to mars for example, justs takes money and incentive. transportation costs rotfl, money is nothing, costs just have to be justified, as a planet we spend more on just guns and ammo (or shipping toys) now than it would take lol. lets keep wrecking the planet for profit, life will continue.
    ps there really is no such thing as economics, check out the planet, it has fixed resources that are manipulated by a few for their “profit” which historically means absolutely nothing. (there always seem to be ways to transfer the profit to another group using other tools than economics lol).
    get some perspective, your grasp of reality is somewhat flawed, science is just magic, with better hype. applied science, technology is where the rubber hits the road, if it works then it supports the beliefs that created it. nothing works exactly the way it is supposed to. all of our current tools and techs poison the world in one way or another, as i use and benefit from many of them who am i to say that this is not the way it should be, forcing ourselves to change with it. (the fact we have limiting/stopped using other harmful technologies just proves the point that sometimes acceptable risk becomes no longer acceptable)

  133. #133 Brad N
    April 23, 2013

    Krebiozen

    time scale – we are introducing changes in an instant of time
    extinction events occur naturally, we are natural lol
    manipulating the world for our needs is our way,
    hopefully we will evolve as well to keep up.

  134. #134 Pareidolius
    April 23, 2013

    I suppose that each “should be” above, implies a “but there is not”. What do you suppose?

    So, are you “supposing” that all science everywhere is corrupt? Is that a fact or does it just fit what you want to believe about science and business? Is it even possible? Or, is it more complicated than that? There are good and bad actors in pretty much every area of science and industry, and not having the deep math and science skills to analyze studies for yourself means relying on expert’s assessments. How do you choose your experts? Degrees and publishing in high-quality journals is a good start. Following money is good too, but not a sure indicator of malfeasance.
    It’s a complicated world, and if you spent time here regularly, you’d know that most of us are very skeptical when it comes to the board room behavior of corporations, be they pharma, ag or tech. Many commenters here have extensive science backgrounds and are skilled how to research and how to watch out for confirmation bias, which we are all subject to. Like the late, great Richard Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  135. #135 Pareidolius
    April 23, 2013

    Brad, you’re an idiot. I know this because you sound like me 15 years ago . . .

  136. #136 Edith Prickly
    the restaurant at the end of the universe
    April 23, 2013

    Pareidolius@135 – you meant you wrote Vogon poetry too? That’s what Brad’s posts make me think of…

  137. #137 Mewens
    April 23, 2013

    “Respectful Insolence: We’ll read your Vogon poetry, then demand more”

  138. #138 Calli Arcale
    April 23, 2013

    Being a rabid space geek, I cannot help but respond to this:

    Your terraforming idea is swell, and sure to be profitable! Now, what it the cost to get 1kg of . . . anything to Mars? Of course, I’m just being an earth-hating, caps-using tool of Big Science™. But have you considered that if your grasp of the economics of space-farming is this off, might your interpretation of the dangers of genetic engineering be similarly flawed?

    Getting anything to Mars is extremely difficult. It is easier to land stuff on Titan. This is because it has a very thin atmosphere — thin enough that parachutes will only change how big of a splatter you make on impact, and yet thick enough that you will need a heat shield and have to fight the air buffeting your rocket plume during a powered descent. It costs hundreds of millions to get anything to Mars. Add a few hundred million more if you want it to get there in one piece rather than being splattered across the landscape. For terraforming, you might not need the latter; many proposals start with redirecting comets to Mars in an effort to deliver vital water and perhaps even boost the atmosphere.

    There is more wrong with the idea of using other worlds as a lab for genetic engineering experiments. One of the biggies is that if landing is hard, it’s a total cakewalk compared to sample return. But let us pretend that money is no object whatsoever. Is it even a good place to do our research? Well, maybe. One problem is that your samples will not be experiencing anything like normal growing conditions. All other worlds that we can reasonably get to are, to all practical intents, dead. Oh, maybe Mars has some subsurface bacteria which have so far escaped detection, but it’s clear it has nothing that would support crops. The air pressure is so thin it is far below the triple point of water; ice sublimates directly to a gas there. The soil is an excellent substrate, but needs nutrients that normally come from decaying organic material. And it is bitterly cold. The tropics on Mars (which are also the driest parts of Mars) are similar to a winter day in Antarctica, temperature wise. You would need to do all your work in a controlled habitat of some kind — and even then you have the problem that Mars gravity is about 1/4 that of Earth, and this will certainly affect the growth of the plants, making it difficult to adapt the information you learn from studying plants there to studying plants on Earth. Alternately, you suggested an asteroid; well, that would be cheaper than the Mars mission, especially if NASA does do it’s little asteroid lasso plan and hauls one over to Earth-Moon L2. But such a tiny asteroid will have negligible gravity; you might as well be studying on the ISS. And of course plant research *is* done on the ISS, but the gravitational effects are far more pronounced. In fact, that’s the whole point of plant experiments on the ISS; remove gravity and see how that affects the plants. This is not useful for safety testing a new GMO plant; it’s more useful for studying the basic science behind plant growth by messing with one of the major variables (gravity) and seeing what happens. And of course there’s another big variable changed when you leave Earth: the radiation environment is far less benign out there. And scientists already know that evolution is accelerated in space (a fact researchers are exploiting to study the development of antibiotic resistance; they can compress decades into months). And if you’re worried about radiation-induced mutations, maybe then space farming isn’t quite the path you ought to take.

    And the scale is very very limited. An ISS experiment package is quite small. Many can be easily carried in one hand. This is totally useless for research that will require very large numbers of the organism in order to detect more subtle effects. For that, only fields on Earth make sense.

    So I’m sorry. Requiring that all new plant research take place on another world is completely ridiculous. It might seem like a novel way of getting more funding for a manned space program, but of course all it would really do is make it financially impractical to research GMO organisms at all.

    Which maybe is your real intent here. Hmm.

  139. #139 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with gentically modified aurochs around
    April 23, 2013

    What is it with Luddites and the shift key?

  140. #140 JGC
    April 23, 2013

    gm is adding genetic material not currently able to be expressed in the genome. ie wheat that is not capable of being “bred” from the original wheat.

    Not necessarily. Consider GM glyphosate tolerant crops: glyphosphate inhibits the enzyme 5-enolpyruvyl-shikimate-
    3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), already present and able to be expressed in the crop’s genome. The genetic modification simply introduces a glyphosate resistance EPSPS gene, which is expressed and confers resistance.

    there is proof that breeding any species for a specific set of characteristics can be detrimental to the actual individual members of that species survival.

    Yes. Did you have apoint with respect to GM crops?

    (pesticide/herbicide resistance is well documented, so the advantage of including it in the genetic structure is?

    Pesticide resistance can occur whenever pesticides are used, regardless of whether or not the crops being grqown have been genetically modified. The advantage of introducing genes conferring resistance to crop species is that it allows pesiticides to be used more widely, greatly increasing crop yields (a very real benefit in a world where hunger remains a real problem globally.)

    Consider glyphospate again: it was in use before GM resistant crops were availalbe, but it’s use was largely limited to clearing fields of weeds prior to cultivation of food crops.

    no proof of any good comes from any of our technologies.

    Any of our technologies? Really? Water purification–no good comes of it? Mass transit–no good comes of it?
    Pulmonary by-pass machines used in cardiac surgery–worthless? MRI’s? Cat scans? Irrigation? Refirgeration? No good comes from any of these?

    My wife’s a Type I diabetic. The technology allowing us to produce safe and effective replacement insulin is the reason why she and many others are alive and functioning. But you don’t consider that a good thing…

    What color is the sky in your world, brad?

  141. #141 novalox
    April 23, 2013

    @Militant Agnostic

    Because they thing they sound more convincing when they yell and scream?

    Or maybe it is because it sounds more “natural”, like speaking like a caveman?

    @proximity1

    You are also aware that with modern science, we know what regions in plant genomes control certain phenotypes?

  142. #142 Orac
    April 23, 2013

    Don’t worry about closing time, proximity–,i>Origin of Species” is availabe free online.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2009

    Hah! You beat me to it. I was going to point out that all of Darwin’s works are available free online. There’s no need to go into the library, and, even better, the online versions are usually searchable.

  143. #143 Narad
    April 23, 2013

    Google some terms, for example:

    “LHC” + “earth eating” + “black holes”

  144. #144 Edith Prickly
    April 23, 2013

    I think proximity1′s reference to closing time meant losing access to the library computer he/she/it was posting from rather than to Darwin’s work, but I look forward to more shouty cranksplaining tomorrow if it makes good on its promise to return.

  145. #145 dandover
    The pit of despair
    April 23, 2013

    OT (But is discussion of GMO quackery combining forces with anti-vaccine lunatics ever REALLY off-topic at RI?)

    At my place of employment, a respected federally-funded research and development center adminstered by MIT, someone has invited GMO-quack extraordinaire Jeffrey M. Smith to speak about the “Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Food” in celebration of Earth Day / Earth Week (I kid you not). He will be accompanied by none other than Dr. Stephanie Seneff, whose, um, work, has been discussed on this very blog just a few months ago. Again, I kid you not. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime (god I hope) opportunity for my colleagues and I to sit through a one-two punch seminar of all kinds of anti-GMO, anti-chemical, pseudoscientific woo (maybe Dr. Seneff will even bring up some of her kuh-raaazy anti-vaccine theories).

    What’s my point? I don’t have any really. It’s just that I was more than a little depressed when I learned of this and feel a little like ranting. I expect better of my institution. It was sobering to see that the quackademic blitzkrieg’s front line has reached my doorstep.

  146. #146 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s).

    True, selective breeding is a manipulation of the genome, but Brad is calling our attention to the crucial difference — that it allows the selectively-bred animals and plants to express themselves.

    Wild pigeons (for instance) had held within themselves a Platonic ideal of Pigeonhood, but were only approximations to it, and it took breeders to come along and bring out their innate, potential True Pigeonness. It’s all in Darwin!

    Either that, or selectively breeding has taught them the arts of action painting and interpretative dance.

    blog is semantically null
    Evidently Brad’s mastery of linguistics is down there with his knowledge of genetics.

  147. #147 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    Wow. Just “wow”! You mean Brad needs to explain this to you and to others here?

    You don’t see a greater risk involved in humanly induced gene-modifications as opposed to, on the other hand, those which arise through the crossing (that is, planned mating of existing species which are naturally compatible genitors of offspring) of existing plant or animal types? Jesus H Christ!!!

    I suppose I could have assumed I knew what Brad N meant and, if I felt so inclined, argued for or against that. On the other hand, I might well have done him a disservice, argued against the wrong thing, and looked like a fool.

    When in doubt about why someone argues what they do, I find it useful to ask.

  148. #148 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    proximity1 – for someone who complains so much about people jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing, and acting reflexively, you sure do get bombastic, over generalize, and act apparently reflexively. You’ll note that my first message that referred to you was calm, respectful, and asked you to state any particular points you might have in sufficient detail that they could be discussed. It’s your choice how you proceed.

  149. #149 proximity1
    April 23, 2013

    RE; “I think proximity1′s reference to closing time meant losing access to the library computer he/she/it was posting from rather than to Darwin’s work”…

    That’s right. the library’s closing was the direct and immediate cause of my having to discontinue at that point. I can at times go to alternative sites to get on-line access, but I don’t have the same access to the library’s resources at all of those. Nor do I relish the thought of using “e-texts” when real bound and printed paper books are available.

    ————-
    @ 143: “Google some terms, for example: “LHC” + “earth eating” + “black holes”

    Which proves, of course, that science doesn’t run afoul of corporate corruption in the circumstances under discussion in this thread?

    And you lot mock Brad for silliness!

    ————–

    RE : post N° 138:

    “So I’m sorry. Requiring that all new plant research take place on another world is completely ridiculous. It might seem like a novel way of getting more funding for a manned space program, but of course all it would really do is make it financially impractical to research GMO organisms at all.
    Which maybe is your real intent here. Hmm.”

    Duh. You think so? After all, the clear context of his point came with this as the presupposed given circumstance:

    from post N° 95

    an idea (not mine but i agree with it)
    all genetic research should be off planet. merge it with a mars or asteroid colony program and create biospheres to play in rather than mess with the one we have to live in. the profits are still there and on a larger scale, the payoff in additional technology and terraforming another planet as a granary would ensure that.”

    So, indeed, it would mean putting off such GMO idiocy until we can demostrate sufficient survival and thinking skills to actually get to Mars (or wherever) –and then to do it in an off-Earth environment.

    The only really far-fetched aspect of such a picture is the presupposition that People of Earth won’t defintively settle their own shit –with the indispensible help of the idiotic science-driven hubris on display here in this thread — far before they ever get to colonize Mars (lol!). You people may be hilarious Techno-evangelicals but you’re dreaming in La-La land if you imagine that we’re up to managing adequately even the far more modest challenges which, in our supreme stupidity, we’ve arranged to have to cope with.

    The issues which will combine to overwhelm this silly make-believe vision of humanity’s limitless potential to meet and overcome all challenges to techno-based prospertity aren’t especially scientific or technical ones; rather, I think they involve the ancient naturally-occurring flaws in our kind. A stubborn capacity to be fatally stupid and an inability to manage to keep from creating ever more efficient means to kill ourselves. How’ve we done on those items–as science is our witness, guide and help?

    We’re so very smart that we can easily engineer the means to wipe ourselves out over the expanse of the planet but not the means to avoid doing that eventually.

    For all our techno-prowess, there’s nothing available in our friggin “tool-bag” to sufficiently dampen our idiotic tendency to commit mass suicide in the crazy quest to dominate all nature for our silly short-sighted (or outright blind) “interests”.

    E.g. “We can’t afford not to have nuclear power. Think of the jobs we’d lose!”

    That we haven’t already killed our silly selves off is nothing short of semi-miraculous.

    What is it about Techno-evangelists and damned-fool digital blindness? Hmmm?

  150. #150 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N – you stated that “no proof of any good comes from any of our technologies.” Do you really mean that? You don’t consider the current historically low infant and child mortality rate to be good? You don’t consider modern agriculture’s ability to feed 7 BILLION people with less effort (as a percentage of total human activity) than was required to grow food for < 1 billion to be good? You don't consider computer technology that lets you argue with complete strangers good?

    Is there no evidence that any technology has done any good?

  151. #151 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    proximity1 @111:
    Wow. Just “wow”! You mean Brad needs to explain this to you and to others here?

    If no-one understands his vague assertions then Yes, he does need to explain himself. Unless you expect readers to sit reverently at his feet and cherish every aphoristic word that drops pearl-like from his keyboard.

    planned mating of existing species which are naturally compatible genitors of offspring
    “Naturally compatible genitors of offspring” comes perilously close to the language a creationist might spout. It’s OK for the Lord hath Ordained it!!

    Brad (@95) explains above, cogently and correctly, why such a working hypothesis is utter madness.
    Brad has explained nothing, cogently or otherwise. His comments are shapeless word hairballs which I search in vain for any sign of explanation-shaped arguments. Are you really relying on his uncapitalised effusions to do the intellectual heavy-lifting for you? OK.

  152. #152 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2013

    The naturalistic argument that random mutation and selective breeding is better than more direct means of manipulation strikes me as similar to those danger-sensing glasses in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When the glasses sense something that would alarm the wearer, they turn opaque so that he doesn’t have to mentally deal with the danger. He can then proceed to his doom in blissful ignorance. Granted, it’s not likely to be that extreme, but the general rationale seems to be the same. They think ignorance is safer than careful consideration because ignorance is what they’re used to.

    It’s also about a grandfather clause. Recklessly blind breeding was done forever, so it must be automatically allowed. It’s just the new guys who have to prove themselves to a ridiculously high double standard. Why not have uniform standards?

  153. #153 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    I’m actually willing to grant a point – direct genetic manipulation certainly has the potential to create crop varieties that are unexpectedly hazardous. People have modified goats to produce spider silk protein in their milk, and that could be dangerous to someone allergic to spider silk. I suppose one could create corn that generated, say, botulinum toxin if one were of a mind to, which would be substantially easier via genetic modification than via traditional breeding or “breeding”.

    I’ve not heard of any GMOs deliberately designed to kill people, but agree that testing is justified.

  154. #154 Denice Walter
    April 23, 2013

    @ dandover:

    ” OT ( But…….RI?)”

    Ha ha ha!
    Imitiation is the sincerest form of flattery so I thank you for that!

    You might want to check out Smith at the aforementioned woo-fest… er..Food Revolution Summit ( see my # 98 above).

  155. #155 Krebiozen
    April 23, 2013

    Brad,

    time scale – we are introducing changes in an instant of time

    All mutations occur in an instant of time. It takes time for a natural mutation that generates a beneficial change to occur in an organism, but the mutations that drive natural selection happen instantly and continually There is no distinction between mutations induced naturally by background radiation (for example), and mutations deliberately induced by humans.

    In the case of genetic engineering, instead of natural mutations leading to random genetic changes that in the vast majority of cases are detrimental or even fatal to the organism, we induce genetic changes that are very likely to be beneficial for the organism, allowing it to resist pests or herbicides for example.

    In most cases the genetic sequences produced by genetic engineering arose through natural mutations, though sometimes in a different type of organism, like Bt genes from bacteria being transferred to plants. We share DNA sequences not only with animals, but plants and bacteria too. If you look at a gene in isolation there is no way of knowing if it came from a bacterium or from a human. This idea that it is unnatural for genes from one type of organism to occur in another type is simply wrong.

  156. #156 dogctor
    April 23, 2013

    # 78
    1. Even though the concentration of RNA …. we cannot exclude the possibility that certain cells in the body have an active uptake system which can pick up the circulating RNA (both endogenous and exogenous RNAs) at low concentrations.
    2. How many cells do you think need to be affected in a fetal liver or the liver of a patient on the verge of cirrhosis exposed to a cocktail of xenobiotics?
    3. Sorry Orac. I refuse to engage with Mark for several different reasons.

  157. #157 dogctor
    April 23, 2013

    Oops, almost forgot…. from the same PLOS paper, the concentration of corn miRNA in Caucasians is 6x the concentration of rice…..the proportions are different in Asians

  158. #158 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    This idea that it is unnatural for genes from one type of organism to occur in another type is simply wrong.

    If it is, someone had better tell those viruses to knock it off with the horizontal gene transfer.

    Greenpeace are fond of the argument that genetically-modified plants are a Bad Thing because traces of the plants’ DNA remain in the soil afterwards, whereupon viruses can take them up and transfer the genes to microbes, and soil fungi, and other multicellular organisms. They accept that Nature doesn’t give two tugs on a dead dingo’s dick for “Species integrity” and “Species Boundaries” and “Purity of Bloodline”… that the soil is a veritable WWW with genes in transit rather than packets. But if one of those genes came from somewhere else before being inserted into the crop plant, it is all Cats and Dogs Living Together.

  159. #159 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    2. How many cells do you think need to be affected in a fetal liver or the liver of a patient on the verge of cirrhosis exposed to a cocktail of xenobiotics?

    Do these chemicals target the liver?

  160. #160 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2013

    They accept that Nature doesn’t give two tugs on a dead dingo’s dick for “Species integrity” and “Species Boundaries” and “Purity of Bloodline”… that the soil is a veritable WWW with genes in transit rather than packets. But if one of those genes came from somewhere else before being inserted into the crop plant, it is all Cats and Dogs Living Together.

    That’s one of the disturbing undercurrents I see at the moment: In their conception of a perfect, simple, Disneyfied version of nature, they’re buying into pseudoscientific notions of genetic purity that are more at home in Creationism and eugenics, not in real science or real policy.

  161. #161 Krebiozen
    April 23, 2013

    But if one of those genes came from somewhere else before being inserted into the crop plant, it is all Cats and Dogs Living Together.

    It’s not just cats and foxes dogs, even brother yeast shares a remarkable amount of its genome with humans.

    Biologists have studied yeast, known by its scientific name Saccharomyces cerevisiae, for many decades because it offers valuable clues to understanding the workings of more-advanced organisms. Humans and yeast, for example, share a number of similarities in their genetic make up. For one, many regions of yeast DNA contain stretches of DNA subunits, called bases, that are very close or identical to those in human DNA. These similarities tell scientists the genes in those regions play a critical role in cell function in both species, or they would have been lost during the 1 billion years of evolution that separate yeast and humans. About one-third of yeast genes are related to those in the human. Some of these critical processes include DNA copying and repair of damaged DNA, protein synthesis and transport across membranes, and control of metabolic processes. In cancer research, S. cerevisiae has emerged as an important model for studying control of the eukaryotic cell cycle.

    You would think that people concerned about the environment who embrace the idea of Gaia wouldn’t worry so much about different life forms exchanging information. We’re all part of the Web of Life maaan.

  162. #162 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013
  163. #163 Grant
    April 23, 2013

    herr doktor bimler,

    “If it is, someone had better tell those viruses to knock it off with the horizontal gene transfer.”

    In a different context, not just viruses. There are some natural soil microbes that insert genes into plant roots to generate foodstuff for them, e.g the well-known legume–Rhizobium symbiosis. Literally, natural gene engineering.

  164. #164 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2013

    You would think that people concerned about the environment who embrace the idea of Gaia wouldn’t worry so much about different life forms exchanging information. We’re all part of the Web of Life maaan.

    That brings me to another issue I have with a lot of the anti-GMO rhetoric: They treat humans as intrinsically special, like our actions are inherently bad, even if we’re doing the same sorts of things “nature” does.

    They treat nature as inherently servile and deferential to human needs while treating humans as inherently unable to do anything to help themselves, if not deliberately malicious to their fellow humans. Nature doesn’t care about us. Humans are a mixed bag, which includes those of benevolent intent and intelligence, and thus humans shouldn’t be summarily dismissed with blanket proclamations.

  165. #165 madmidgitz the prophet
    your metaphysical un-reality
    April 23, 2013

    i clicked on .per smits. link, WTF it makes no sense, orac blogs about vaccines so people get autism and then he can sell autism drugs…. WTF thats some severe begging the question(is that the right fallacy?) , they are assuming in the premise that vaccines cause autism so he can sell autism drugs, there is no link between vaccines and autism thats been demonstrated countless times,the mechanisms proposed in which vaccines would cause autism are straight out false.

    if your going to lie about someone to discredit them at least make them GOOD lies

    may he touch you with his noodly appendage
    and may pesto be upon you
    r’Amen

  166. #166 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    They treat nature as inherently servile and deferential to human needs

    Any talk of “Mother Nature” squicks me out. Nature is not gendered. It is not there to nurture us and clean up the mess after us. It does not care if we forget to send it a card on Mothers Day.

  167. #167 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    2. How many cells do you think need to be affected in a fetal liver or the liver of a patient on the verge of cirrhosis exposed to a cocktail of xenobiotics?

    More to the point, how many liver cells does *Dogctor* think needs to be affected? And how many cells *can* be affected?

    If I correctly understand the hypothetical mechanism through which, hypothetically, RNA molecules can affect gene expression, it takes at least one molecule per cell. In the case of siRNA, it hangs around in the nucleus killin ur doods degrading mRNA strands en route from DNA to ribosome. If that siRNA molecule moves to another cell, the first cell goes back to normal. The siRNA does not reproduce and there is no epigenetic effect on the DNA.

    Then in the case of microRNA, hypothetically binding with the mRNA strands, a separate microRNA invader is required for every mRNA strand to have any effect on protein production.

    Let us further postulate that these femtomolar concentrations of alien RNA molecules magically manage to ignore 98% of the host body and concentrate themselves within the liver. Even then, there is only one molecule per 10 hepatocytes. Further stipulating that it enters a cell, the molecule is rattling around like a fart in a bottle with no innate homing instinct attracting it to the specific section of chromosome that it can affect.

    Am I missing something here?

  168. #168 LW
    April 23, 2013

    @herr doktor bimler: “Further stipulating that it enters a cell…”

    I’m still wondering how that’s supposed to happen. If all kinds of non-self RNA is found floating around in our blood just from eating non-GMO food, we must have some way of preventing it from interfering with cell metabolism or we’d have gone extinct some time in the Cambrian.

    Further, RNA viruses seem to have to go to some trouble to get into a cell; they don’t just drift around as naked RNA and let cells scoop them up. In fact, if they could just drift around as naked RNA and cells would just scoop them up, I’d think anyone who was infected with an RNA virus would rather promptly melt down into a puddle of RNA goo.

    But then, I’m only a layman.

  169. #169 herr doktor bimler
    April 23, 2013

    Brad N @95:
    terraforming another planet as a granary

    Let us consider for a moment the energy efficiency of growing food on Mars, then lifting each kilogram into Mars orbit followed by a Hoffman transfer to Earth and the final delta-V to bring it and its re-entry shielding down to Earth. As a way of feeding 7 billion people. Apparently, in Brad’s mind, this is preferable to increasing the productivity of growing crops closer to home.
    This is not rocket science. No, wait, it is.

    Let us consider as well that proximity1 frequently defers to Brad as a pillar of intellectual gravitas.

  170. #170 Politicalguineapig
    April 23, 2013

    Baravelli: wouldn’t swallowing RNA that would then produce a permanent, inheritable change to human DNA be just about the biggest medical breakthrough of the century?
    I think I read a science fiction story about that..

  171. #171 Grant
    April 23, 2013

    LW,

    Without meaning to stir any pots, re “they don’t just drift around as naked RNA and let cells scoop them up”, restricted to plants (AFAIK) there are viroids. (Do note the restriction to plants.)

  172. #172 LW
    April 23, 2013

    @Grant: thank you. That is very interesting.

  173. #173 Grant
    April 23, 2013

    LW – my pleasure. Life is weirder than fiction if you ask me.

  174. #174 Khani
    April 23, 2013

    #80 No, let’s not wait, let’s panic now! PANIC!!!! AHHHHH!!!! Our food is going to rise up and kill us! LEAVE NO TOMATO ALIIIIIIVE!!

    … really, I’m sorry to tease, but it really is best not to panic, don’t you think? Instead let’s make sure adequate testing has occurred or will occur. Much better for everyone.

  175. #175 Khani
    April 23, 2013

    #166 As far as I can tell, nature pretty much wants to kill us.

  176. #176 Melissa G
    April 23, 2013

    #174, there was a Powerpuff girls episode where the kids had to eat all the broccoli to prevent it from taking over the world, as I recall. ;) Maybe some people thought it was a documentary!

  177. #177 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 23, 2013

    khani,

    I remember a movie featuring George Clooney and a tomato. Not as good as the first movie in the series, though.

  178. #178 Khani
    April 23, 2013

    #177 I still remember the theme song from the cartoon version. :) Attack… of the killer tomatoes! Attack… of the killer tomatoes! … I wonder if it’s on YouTube.

  179. #179 THS
    A bit late to the thread
    April 24, 2013

    Yikes – lots of gibberish brought in to set the minions straight.

    Don’t be so quick to assume that old-time plant breeding happened only by incremental change. Wheat for example has a hexaploid genome that incorporates entire genomes of three species. So this involved breeding or – field selection of wild crosses – that involved wholesale changes in gene expression. Many other examples of plant hybridization or change in ploidy that was intentional or just happenstance quals natural (until a primate chooses to propagate it?).

    Loss of crop variety is a shame. This has noting to do with the technology of targeted genetic modification.

  180. #180 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    RE: (169)

    “Let us consider as well that proximity1 frequently defers to Brad as a pillar of intellectual gravitas.”

    Indulge in puerile bombast much? —- “a pillar of intellectual gravitas”? No. You exaggerate there just a teeny-weeny bit, now, don’t you?

    On the other hand, Brad N might, in contrast to you, for example, and in the context of the present thread, qualify as a pillar of moral gravitas.

    The self-satisfied hypocrisy among the techno-evangelists here is thick enough to cut with a butter-knife.

    Pareidolius, @ 134, offered us this: “Like the late, great Richard Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” —almost as though the citation of an ideal is as good as proof of the mastery in the faithful practice of that same ideal. That speaks of the level of naivety on display here.

    Yes, let’s do quote the great Feynman, as I, too, am a fan of his:

    “‘Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.”

    Let’s think about that. Much of the work-a-day world o “science” itself is constituted of “expert opinion”. So, it seems that scientists, in order to practice science, have to be skeptical of their own expert opinions and those of their fellow professions, peers in science. And, yeah, when they’re actually doing what we could call respectable science, they are practicing that skepticism toward their own and their peers’ opinion.

    But what’s on display here is just about the farthest one can get from such an approach. What we have in this thread is a bunch of real or supposed experts, holding forth in terms that rely greatly on sarcastic mockery of those who challenge (i.e. apply skepticism) current received science orthodoxy.

    So, whether our resident experts in science understand it or not, by their patent arrogance, they’re offering the lay reader a proseminar in “How and Why Scientists Promote in the Lay Public a Healthy Disgust for Scientists’ Blindness to Their Own Human Frailties”

    This thread is really about conflicting interests which concern socio-economic “values” –hence, a matter which is eminently in the lay-public domain. And yet, the scientists here, as near as the reader can tell, aren’t at all shy about asserting their self-assumed professional authority to weigh and settle such issues.

    That’s what’s called breath-taking (and blind) hubris on their part.

    I’ll repeat what I wrote above: today, scientists are earning for their profession a reputation that is something akin to what, today, Enron Cororation has, or Long Term Captial Management has, or, the world of Wall Street hedge-fund managers–whose self-assured complacency knew no bounds as they, having all trained in the same MBA group-think, proceeded to apply their dogmas right through to blowing up the economy.

    Now, scientists are going to offer the same spectacle with regard to the biosphere.

    Watch how that goes. I have been and I am watching.

  181. #181 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/
    April 24, 2013

    proximity1,

    Perhaps you’re missing whose ideas Orac’s article and this discussion is addressing.

    It’s not addressed at the actions or ideas of ‘the public’.

    It’s addressing what Jack Heinemann presented in his reports.

    Note that Jack Heinemann is himself a scientist.

    (Regards the last, I hope you can see that in this case your diatribe leaves you slating both sides! More generally, it’s not helpful to stereotype or characterise. It’s also not helpful to create fictional ‘received orthodoxies’ that are being ‘rallied against’. Crying martyr doesn’t focus on evidence, the thing that might resolve an issue.)

  182. #182 herr doktor bimler
    April 24, 2013

    I have been and I am watching.

    I will govern myself accordingly!

  183. #183 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    Grant,

    As I read the article, the themes are quite clear. We have, on one hand, Heidi Stevenson, who’s characterized here as in effect, a clown, already mentioned so often in Orac’s threads that he feels obliged to start with a kind of semi-apology for again taking her up as a target of ridicule. Stevenson, who I’d never heard of prior to this thread’s mention, is in for the full treatment (again) from Orac since, as he explains in the concluding lines, she’s a “useful idiot” –a term we owe to Lenin, (Wikipedia : “a pejorative term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they do not understand, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause” …)

    While I can see how some regard her as a crank, she doesn’t seem to me to fill the bill as a “useful idiot” except in the most abstractly loose sense of that phrase. Does anyone seriously think that, in her citations of Jack Heinemann, who, as you point out, is himself a scientist, she’s being made a tool of some other agency?

    As just a term of abuse, though, “useful idiot” can be applied freely and that is how I gather that Orac really intends it to be understood here–a synonym for a clownish character.

    On the other hand, Jack Heinemann gets treated as a science peer who has gotten a bit lost and allowed himself to get overexcited from what we’re given as being his too questionable interpretations of one or two science studies. That’s presented as unfortunate but it doesn’t make Jack Heinemann a clown, just a peer who has wandered off the reservation a bit, but who is expected to in most circumstances know and keep his place in science practice.

    Then, finally, there’s the general direction and tenor of the thread’s reader-comments which, taking Orac’s post as their jumping-off point, in their majority, launch into a merry collective act of ridiculing the poor useful idiot ideas of the layman figure, Stevenson, and giving a good metaphorical ‘Tsk, tsk’ shake-of-their-head as concerns the scientist figure in this now-trite morality play about what science is and who does it and how, and the rightful & respectful place of the observer lay-public.

    Throughout it all, it’s almost as though we’re thought to be living in or ought to be living in some sort of ignorant limbo in which we have neither awareness nor understanding of the many ways in which 20th-century scientists and, now, 21st-century scientists have run amok and continue to run amok in a more general social, political and economic climate that reeks with the cynically corrupt habits of what seems to be virtually all sorts and levels of authority.

    So, you call me to order with,

    …”your diatribe leaves you slating both sides! ”

    Excuse me, but, as George Costanza was heard to ask,

    “Is that wrong? Should I not have done that?”

    Between a general public which is too often intellectually AWOL and a scientific profession which is too often grossly arrogant—almost as though, oddly, it seeks to provoke the public’s contempt—and very often ( for selfish interests of professional advancement ) morally AWOL, there’s plenty of
    ground for slating “both sides”.

    Though there remains a portion of both the lay public and of the community of practicing scientists, which are outliers in this pathetic picture. That, too, is granted as a given.

    But as to the rest, which far out-number the cases which I could cite as laudable, it seems to me that a certain amount of generalization is warranted since it happens that what I’m slating constitutes the general norms and habits, not the insignificant minorities–those exceptions which test the rule (‘s validity).

    “Generalize,” moi? What a terrible thing to do! A good scientist would never do that!. I mean, just review this thread if you doubt it. No generalizations among them. Oh, no!

  184. #184 Denice Walter
    April 24, 2013

    @ proximity1:

    re:
    “.. in which we have neither awareness nor understanding of the many ways in which 20th-century and, now 21st-century, scientists have run amok in a more general social, political and economic climate that reeks with generally corrupt habits of what seems to be virtually all sorts and levels of authority.”
    “.. a scientific profession which is too often grossy arrogant..” et al.

    Where do you get these ideas? Can the person who supplies them show evidence for these accusations?
    What are *your* sources? Although I can guess..

    People can say anything about anyone… doesn’t make it true or relevant. And some might have ulterior motives for accusing others of malfeasance.

    If we shouldn’t trust ‘experts”, why should we trust their critics?

  185. #185 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    a correction:

    I see from the same Wikipedia page, concerning “useful idiot, ” that its origins aren’t clear and firm. There’s doubt as to whom the phrase’s origin is due, whether it be Lenin, Stalin or some other Russian or someone of another nationality ( William Safire wrote an article on the phrase for his New York Times column “On Language” of 12 April, 1987, “Useful Idiots of the West.” )

  186. #186 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    ” Although I can guess..”

    “If we shouldn’t trust ‘experts”, why should we trust their critics?”

    Right, I agree: why trust the critics, just because they are critics, that is? Why?, indeed! No reason, in fact, that I can think of. And that may be why I haven’t and I don’t suggest any such recourse to trusting “the critics” –just because they are critics, that is.

    We “have to” (loosely speaking, though, strictly speaking, obviously, of course we don’t have to) try and use our common sense and judgment.

    “People can say anything about anyone… doesn’t make it true or relevant. And some might have ulterior motives for accusing others of malfeasance.”

    No doubt. Take, for example, the stuff posted above in derision of Brad N–or this rubbish about myself, for that matter:

    (@ 151) ” ‘ Naturally compatible genitors of offspring’ comes perilously close to the language a creationist might spout. It’s OK for the Lord hath Ordained it! ! ”

    or this, (@ 169) ” Let us consider as well that proximity1 frequently defers to Brad as a pillar of intellectual gravitas. ”

    You’re right, “People can say (‘write’) any old damn thing they want. Let the reader be the judge–if he has the sense to do so.

    With rare exceptions, my sources are published books–from which I draw my interpretations. So, in some form or other, there is little or nothing I’ve written and argued here that I haven’t found presented by others–typically smarter than I–in their published writings. Many of them are scientists. But, as you prefer to guess, you may do so and I leave you to that.

  187. #187 JGC
    April 24, 2013

    Now that the library’s open again, proximity1, do you think you could answer the question I asked above: what do you consider to be the single strongest piece of evidence that developing and consuming GMO crops is likely to be ‘really terribly, terribly harmful’?

  188. #188 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    Darwin, writing in “The Variation of Animals”… (at chapter 20, “Selection by Man” (pp. 176/7 – 177/8) :

    “Man does not attempt to cause variability; though he unintentionally effects this by exposing organisms to new conditions of life, and by crossing breeds already crossed. But variability being granted, he works wonders.” …

    “the principle of selection may be conveniently divided into three kinds. Methodical selection is that which guides a man who systematically endeavours to modify a breed according to some predetermined standard. Unconscious selection is that which follows from men naturally preserving the most valued and destroying the less valued individuals, without any thought of altering the breed; and undoubtedly this process slowly works great changes. Unconscious selection graduates into methodical …. Lastly, we have Natural Selection, which implies that the individuals which are best fitted for the complex, an din the course of ages changing conditions to which they are exposed, generally survive and procreate their kind. With domestic productions, Natural Selection comes to a certain extent into action, independently of, and even in opposition to, the will of man.”

    So, we find Darwin making distinctions in three varieties of processes of what he calls a principle of selection–these three are not to be equated since their operations are distinguishable.

    While here, in our wisdom, we throw everything into one and the same “sack” and call it all a single and undifferentiable work of natural variations–since, it seems, humans are creatures of nature, they simply cannot, by definition, I suppose, be said or thought to do anything that isn’t to be seen as inherently natural in precisely the same senses that other non-human-agency processes found in nature are “natural occurrances.”

    Such a view, it seems to me, is one which should have struck Darwin as patently absurd. And it seems to me that he didn’t view man’s roles and products of his efforts as being inherently and indistinguishably ‘natural’ in that way.

    That, of course, is my own reading and opinion. And I recognize that for many decades people have imputed to Darwin’s texts all sorts of beliefs–many mutually incompatible and this started well within Darwin’s lifetime; so he was hardly a stranger to seeing his views distorted into all sorts of wild nonsense.

  189. #189 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    Please note: By the way, 188 was written without having read 187 and is not at all intended as a direct response to post 187.

    I have no intention of making a methodical case, and laboriously going through Darwin’s main relevant texts to point out example upon example of where and how his views do not support the claims about the indistinguishability of every conceivable manner of plant or animal variation–leaving, by definition, every human act on a par with those that occur outisde of human intervention.

    The gist is that again and again, Darwin distinguishes between the natural world as it occurs without human interventions, and, the natural world which, by human intervening, comes to be whether accidentally or by human designs, more or less “denatured” from its former state.

    To imply, for example, that since “we (i.e. people) split logs,” there is really no distinction in any meaningful sense–scientific, social, economic or, most of all, moral–between that activity and the splitting of any other material—-the nucleus of atoms of Uranium 235, for example. To put all such things on one and the same level –if because nothing on Earth can ever occur that isn’t “natural”, is, I think, the stuff of insane hubris on the part of some in science.

    Naturally occurring variation of plant and animal life happens without an active interest as motive. Thus, it is a “disinterested” phenomenon of life. Secondly, naturally occurring variation, whether it results in harms or in benefits from a human point of view, is a given, an ineluctable part of the living world. In other words, whatever one may argue about our having or not having “free will”, humans don’t have a “choice”–in any sense of the term–about nature’s workings in variation of plant and animal life. We couldn’t, even if we wanted to, stop or prevent it. The case is at least theoretically different when it comes to humanly-intended variation in plant and animal life’s features. That is, whether successful or not, something which is an “interested act” and, because it is consciously “interested” is qualitatively different from any non-human, i.e. uninterested, kind of variation.

  190. #190 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    When Darwin wrote that passage he was establishing the existence of evolution via variation and natural selection. At that time the concept of natural selection was not common but everyone knew about husbandry. Even though people could easily see that a farmer, pigeon breeder, or what have you could breed his stock for particular traits, the concept that this could happen naturally without someone to ensure that the desired traits would be produced was radical.

    In this passage Darwin lists three kinds of selection in order of decreasing intent, to show a continuum leading to the concept that selection can, indeed must, occur without some intelligence to perform the selection. If you concede that someone can intentionally change a breed, and if you can believe that someone might change the breed simply by preserving members that one finds desirable without any particular intent, then you can conceive of changes happening with no intent at all.

    The passage does not state any particular risk or moral quality to any of these. It shows that all are the same.

  191. #191 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    At least, all are the same in their ability to change the breed and, eventually, create speciation.

  192. #192 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    191: No, they aren’t all the same in that way. Darwin points out how, with human intervention, plants and animals have been made into the sorts of humanly servicable forms and characters which nature simply had never (to our knowledge) produced, and with the implication–or I should say, at places, the explicit assertion, –would not have produced otherwise.

    “Our improved heavy breeds of cattle and sheep could not have been formed on mountainous pastures;nor could dray-horses h

  193. #193 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    (continued) …nor could dray-horses have been raised on barren and inhospitable land, such as the Falkland Islands, where even the light horses of La Plata rapidly decrease in size.” Chapter 21 “Selection” (continued); at p. 219/20 or page 190 of the modern edition re-print’s pagination.

  194. #194 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    Once again, I think you’re drawing the exact opposite lesson than Darwin intended. The cattle and sheep that were bred on low altitude farms in the rolling countryside of England would not have occurred naturally in mountainous pastures. Indeed, it’s unlikely farmers would have attempted to establish the same breeds there as they would have done relatively poorly. Different cattle and different sheep would have been better choices (if bred by farmers or by natural selection) for mountain pastures.

  195. #195 JGC
    April 24, 2013

    Man does not attempt to cause variability; though he unintentionally effects this by exposing organisms to new conditions of life, and by crossing breeds already crossed.

    While this may have been true when Darwin was writing this, it no longer is. I remind you again that Darwin had no notion of the biological mechanism of inheritance. We do, and that knowledge provides the ability to introduce genetic changes in a very controlled and specific manner (e.g., introducing a glyphosate resistant enzyme into the genome of a wheat or soybean cultivar.)

    The gist is that again and again, Darwin distinguishes between the natural world as it occurs without human interventions, and, the natural world which, by human intervening, comes to be whether accidentally or by human designs, more or less “denatured” from its former state.

    Perhaps he does–did you have a point? My question if you recall, was not whether or not darwin distinguished between a natural world as it occurs without human intervention and a natural world as it occurs with human interventions, but where in his writings he argued we should fear using molecular biology to modify genomes but need not fear modifying genomes through controlled breeding.

    That is, whether successful or not, something which is an “interested act” and, because it is consciously “interested” is qualitatively different from any non-human, i.e. uninterested, kind of variation.

    For the sake of argument let’s accept that there is a qualitative difference between an interested and dis-interested act. The question taht logically follows is how does such a qualitiative difference support your claim that development and consumption of GMO crops must likely be ‘really terribly, terribly harmful’?

  196. #196 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    Likewise, dray horses were selected for in the Falkland islands either by natural or human processes. Any dray horses that might have been there (and I have not looked up to see whether such were there) were imported from where they had been bred and were maintained by creating an environment more suitable to those horses than what would have existed without human intervention.

    The traits that a person would choose for are not necessarily those that would be encouraged by natural selection. However, in concept there is no difference as regards the modification of breeds and the creation of species.

  197. #197 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    er, dray horse were NOT selected …

  198. #198 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    at page 241:

    “No one doubts that domesticated productions are more variable than organic beings which have never been removed from their natural conditions. Monstrosities graduate so insensibly into mere variations that it is impossible to separate them; and all those who have studied monstrosities believe that they are far commoner with domesticated than with wild animals and plants;3 and in the case of plants, monstrosities would be equally noticeable in the natural as in the cultivated state. Under nature, the individuals of the same species are exposed to nearly uniform conditions, for they are rigorously kept to their proper places by a host of competing animals and plants; they have, also, long been habituated to their conditions of life; but it cannot be said that they are subject to quite uniform conditions, and they are liable to a certain amount of variation. The circumstances under which our domestic productions are reared are widely different: they are protected from competition; they have not only been removed from their natural conditions and often from their native land, but they are frequently carried from district to district, where they are treated differently, so that they rarely remain during any considerable length of time exposed to closely similar conditions. In conformity with this, all our domesticated productions, with the rarest exceptions, vary far more than natural species. The hive-bee, which feeds itself and follows in most respects its natural habits of life, is the least variable of all domesticated animals, and probably the goose is the next least variable; but even the goose varies more than almost any wild bird, so that it cannot be affiliated with perfect certainty to any natural species. Hardly a single plant can be named, which has long been cultivated and propagated by seed, that is not highly variable; common rye (Secale cereale) has afforded fewer and less marked varieties than almost any other cultivated plant;4 ….”

    And then, note, Darwin uses the term “danger” only infrequently in this text. But in a couple of these cases, the term refers to either the occurrance of in-breeding, on the one hand as a “danger” or its opposite, over-worked crossing by human intervention.

    “Before giving the few recorded cases of forms, which must be ranked as varieties, being in some degree sterile when crossed, I may remark that other causes sometimes interfere with varieties freely intercrossing. Thus they may differ too greatly in size, as with some kinds of dogs and fowls: for instance, the editor of the ‘Journal of Horticulture, &c.,’2 says that he can keep Bantams with the larger breeds without much danger of their crossing, but not with the smaller breeds, such as Games, Hamburgs, &c. With plants a difference in the period of flowering serves to keep varieties distinct, as with the various kinds of maize and wheat: thus Colonel Le Couteur3 remarks, “the Talavera wheat, from flowering much earlier than any other kind, is sure to

    2 Dec. 1863, p. 484.

    3 On ‘The Varieties of Wheat,’ p. 66.

    [page] 80

    continue pure.” In different parts of the Falkland Islands the cattle are breaking up into herds of different colours; and those on the higher ground, which are generally white, usually breed, as I am informed by Sir J. Sulivan, three months earlier than those on the lowland; and this would manifestly tend to keep the herds from blending.” …

    (and)

    “With respect to Pigs there is more unanimity amongst breeders on the evil effects of close interbreeding than, perhaps, with any other large animal. Mr. Druce, a great and successful breeder of the Improved Oxfordshires (a crossed race), writes, “without a change of boars of a different tribe, but of the same breed, constitution cannot be preserved.” Mr. Fisher Hobbs, the raiser of the

    —————————————————

    17 Stonehenge, ‘The Dog,’ 1867, pp. 175-188.

    18 ‘The Art of Improving the Breed,’ &c., p. 13. With respect to Scotch deerhounds, see Scrope’s ‘Art of Deer Stalking,’ pp. 350-353.

    19 ‘Cottage Gardener,’ 1861, p. 327.

    20 Mr. Huth gives (‘The Marriage of Near Kin,’ 1875, p. 302) from the ‘Bulletin de l’Acad. R. de Méd. de Belgique’ (vol. ix., 1866, pp. 287, 305), several statements made by a M. Legrain with respect to crossing brother and sister rabbits for five or six successive generations with no consequent evil results. I was so much surprised at this account, and at M. Legrain’s invariable success in his experiments, that I wrote to a distinguished naturalist in Belgium to inquire whether M. Legrain was a trustworthy observer. In answer, I have heard that, as doubts were expressed about the authenticity of these experiments, a commission of inquiry was appointed, and that at a succeeding meeting of the Society (‘Bull. de l’Acad. R. de Méd. de Belgique,’ 1867, 3rd series, Tome 1, No. 1 to 5), Dr. Crocq reported “qu’il était matériellement impossible que M. Legrain ait fait les expériences qu’il annonce.” To this public accusation no satisfactory answer was made.

    [page] 101

    celebrated Improved Essex breed, divided his stock into three separate families, by which means he maintained the breed for more than twenty years, “by judicious selection from the three distinct families.”21 Lord Western was the first importer of a Neapolitan boar and sow. “From this pair he bred in-and-in, until the breed was in danger of becoming extinct, a sure result (as Mr. Sidney remarks) of in-and-in breeding.” Lord Western then crossed his Neapolitan pigs with the old Essex, and made the first great step towards the Improved Essex breed. Here is a more interesting case. Mr. J. Wright, well known as a breeder, crossed22 the same boar with the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter, and so on for seven generations. The result was, that in many instances the offspring failed to breed; in others they produced few that lived; and of the latter many were idiotic, without sense, even to suck, and when attempting to move could not walk straight. Now it deserves especial notice, that the two last sows produced by this long course of interbreeding were sent to other boars, and they bore several litters of healthy pigs. The best sow in external appearance produced during the whole seven generations was one in the last stage of descent; but the litter consisted of this one sow. She would not breed to her sire, yet bred at the first trial to a stranger in blood. So that, in Mr. Wright’s case, long-continued and extremely close interbreeding did not affect the external form or merit of the young; but with many of them the general constitution and mental powers, and especially the reproductive functions, were seriously affected.”

    But your efforts here at point-counterpoint decryption of Darwin’s actual intent are precisely the sort of folly I refuse to enter into–especially, by the way, with you, who have offered us such marvelous examples of your faulty capacity to read and interpret others’ words.

    Such a task is a fool’s errand. You read Darwin for yourself— and whatever you’ve predetermined to believe is the stuff with which you’re going to be sure to wind up.

  199. #199 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    Once again, everyone knew about artificial selection and how that could be used to change a breed or create new breeds. Darwin is here showing how natural selection works the same way. One of the questions people had to ask was why there were different breeds at all. After all, if the best survives and, eventually, replaces the other less capable breeds, why is there more than one breed? Darwin’s answer – a combination of traits that helps the breed survive in one location may be utterly useless in another due to local conditions. Conceptually, this is the same as one farmer breeding for meat cattle and one for dairy.

  200. #200 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    RE: ” Darwin’s answer – a combination of traits that helps the breed survive in one location may be utterly useless in another due to local conditions.”

    Yep. And “duh” –that, indeed was precisely Darwin’s point in the passage to which you objected, (197)

    “er, dray horse were NOT selected …”

    Indeed. And neither Darwin nor I have claimed otherwise. Darwin’s point, which you completely missed is this–

    in the passage read in full and in context, Darwin cites two distinguished instances: in the first, he refers to “Our improved heavy breeds of cattle and sheep could not have been formed …” as examples of cases where the selections were the products of human intevention. Then, he contrasts this case with a second, beginning an new independent clause after a semi-colon — “nor could dray-horses have been raised (emphasis added; i.e. raised, selected by human intervention) on a barren and inhospitable land, such as the Falkland Islands, where even the light horses of La Plata rapidly decrease in size.”

    The gist and upshot of this is that, indeed, the dray-horses of Britain, like the light horses of La Plata reflect the exigencies of each peculiar local climate’s influences–as, indeed, both arose first without a human selection.

    At the same time, the utility of the natural dray-horse led quite readily to its practical adopted/selected use and breeding by humans who recongized an obvious benefit.

    You read Darwin and you lept to a conclusion–completely contrary to his point, or mine, in objecting that

    “er, dray horse were NOT selected …”

    when, again, that wasn’t Darwin’s claim nor mine.

    Once again, your reading ability is seriously in default here and I have no intention in another tedious exercise in tutoring you in the writer’s meaning and import which you miss.

    Basta!!!!

  201. #201 Scottynuke
    April 24, 2013

    @ proximity1:

    I have been and I am watching.

    Hi Ceiling Cat!!

    I take you as seriously as I do CC, by the way.

  202. #202 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    195: ” The question that logically follows is how does such a qualitiative difference support your claim that development and consumption of GMO crops must likely be ‘really terribly, terribly harmful’?”

    “Must”? Where did I assert “must be” rather than “can be”?

    What difference does it make whether GMO produce disaster because they “had to” rather than because “they could” ? The point –and apparently, depsite Brad N’s efforts, this is lost on you—is that in the one case, namely, nature’s disinterested processes, we have an inescapable “given”–we deal with and live with the consequences, good, bad or indifferent, of the variations which occur in nature absent our intervention.

    That isn’t necessarily–or needn’t necessarily be–the case where humanly intended variations are at issue and at work. If our designed variations produce a health disaster, we have no place to retreat into pleading that,

    “Well, that was gonna happen or coulda have happened one way or another anyway, even if we hadn’t been the active agent in the variation’s rise.”

    How many times and in how many ways does this cardinal distinction have to be made before you “get it” ?

  203. #203 proximity1
    April 24, 2013

    201 : Consider growing up. Or, failing that, run along and play.

  204. #204 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 24, 2013

    @proximity1

    So are you proposing that we have a choice between:

    a) do nothing, let nature take it’s course and if something bad happens, go “Oh, well. That’s nature!”

    and

    b) engage in genetic manipulation (either through breeding or targeted genetic modification) and if something bad happens, go “Well, crap!” and we have only ourselves to blame?

    It seems, and correct me if I’m wrong, that these are the two options you are saying we have and that a) is necessarily the better option. However, I still have not seen a cogent argument from you as to why it is better. A natural disaster that occurs because of our inaction can be just as much our fault as on that occurs because we took action.

    And none of this speaks to your apparent opposition to any genetic modification done by humans.

  205. #205 Krebiozen
    April 24, 2013

    proximity1,
    You still haven’t explained why you think genetic variation produced by genetic engineering is more likely to be dangerous than genetic variation produced through natural selection or artificial selection. You seem to have ignored my point about mutations produced through chemicals or radiation, that have been used to develop many of the food crops in current use.

    All these genetic changes involve alterations in sequences of nucleic acids, nothing more. Why would artificially induced changes be more dangerous than natural ones? In fact naturally selected plants are far more likely to be toxic than artificially selected or genetically engineered ones, as plants produce toxins to discourage animals, like us, from eating them. We have produced ways of dealing with these toxins; our livers detoxify many plant toxins and we have developed cultural ways of dealing with others, cooking for example, or we have bred varieties that are less toxic.

    Potatoes, for example, contained toxins that had to be removed by freeze drying them or burying them in clay that absorbed the toxins – some South American peoples still do this with the toxic potatoes they grow at high altitudes. The potatoes we buy in the store have been selectively bred to produce much smaller amounts of these toxins. Their natural ancestors that have not been genetically altered by humans could make you very sick or even kill you.

  206. #206 Krebiozen
    April 24, 2013

    That should read adsorbed the toxins (“d” not “b” – it matters).

  207. #207 JGC
    April 24, 2013

    Must”? Where did I assert “must be” rather than “can be”?

    Would you prefer “may likely be”? You seemed in your initial posts to be seriously concerned about the safety of developing GMO’s. Did I mistake that apparent concern, and do you in fact not believe that GMO’s are likely to be really terribly, terribly harmful?

    What difference does it make whether GMO produce disaster because they “had to” rather than because “they could” ?

    After the fact none I suppose, but your intial argument seemed to be that at the present time–obviously before the fact–the development and consumption of GMO’s is prohibitively dangerous.

    If our designed variations produce a health disaster, we have no place to retreat into pleading that, “Well, that was gonna happen or coulda have happened one way or another anyway, even if we hadn’t been the active agent in the variation’s rise.”

    I interpret this as the argument that “If evolutionary processes cause a health disaster we’re not to blame, but if directed genetic modification causes a health disaster we must accept, to some degree, responsibility.” Is that an accurate summation?

    If so, how does assigning the responsibility for a hypothetical health disaster speak to the risk versus benefits of GMO development?

    How many times and in how many ways does this cardinal distinction have to be made before you “get it” ?

    It’s not that you need to make ‘this cardinal distinction’–recall I stipulated for the sake of argument that the interested/disinterested distinction be accepted. It’s that you have to explain why that distinction argues developing GMO’s poses a sufficient risk of causing such a health disaster that it requires the paractice be discontinued.

  208. #208 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    Yep. And “duh” –that, indeed was precisely Darwin’s point in the passage to which you objected, (197)

    You’ve clearly misunderstood both Darwin and me. I did not object to Darwin’s point. My comment in 197 was correcting a typo in my 196.

    Once again, your reading ability is seriously in default here and I have no intention in another tedious exercise in tutoring you in the writer’s meaning and import which you miss.

    That’s what we call projection.

    Your claim is that Darwin believed artificial selection and natural selection were fundamentally different. Mine is that he used the well known capabilities of artificial selection and showed that natural selection acted exactly the same way – though clearly selecting for different traits.

  209. #209 Scottynuke
    April 24, 2013

    @ proximity1:

    Given that a) you think you’re presenting the naturalistic fallacy in some new and interesting way [you're not, really, and if you'd been "watching" this blog for very long you'd know that] and b) you think there’s something noteworthy in your having been “watching” us, I’d say I’m not the one in need of growing up.

  210. #210 Bronze Dog
    April 24, 2013

    A natural disaster that occurs because of our inaction can be just as much our fault as on that occurs because we took action.

    It reminds me of a discussion of incentives and performance evaluation at a bank: The tellers were evaluated based on the number of mistakes they made and the number of people they served was not considered at all. The tellers were thus encouraged to be as idle as possible because you can’t make mistakes if you do nothing. If you try to help anyone, you get no praise or benefit but you risk making a non-zero number of mistakes and getting savaged for it.

  211. #211 Shay
    April 24, 2013

    Apparently we can add Origin of the Species to the Bible and the US Constitution on the list of “References most likely to be noisily brandished by cranks who completely misunderstand them.”

  212. #212 Mewens
    April 24, 2013

    I find it odd that Darwin’s even mentioned in the discussion at all. I mean, bringing him up when talking about modern genetics is a little like trotting out the Magna Carta when talking U.S. jurisprudence.

  213. #213 Edith Prickly
    April 24, 2013

    @Mewens – I think Poxy1 was just using Darwin to try and give his tiresome content-free bloviating some scientific legitimacy – in other words, what Shay said.

  214. #214 Narad
    April 24, 2013

    To imply, for example, that since “we (i.e. people) split logs,” there is really no distinction in any meaningful sense–scientific, social, economic or, most of all, moral–between that activity and the splitting of any other material—-the nucleus of atoms of Uranium 235, for example.

    Leaving aside that this isn’t a sentence and that natural fission reactors are known, I’m still waiting to hear whether you think the LHC posed an unacceptable risk.

  215. #215 herr doktor bimler
    April 24, 2013

    puerile bombast
    self-satisfied hypocrisy among the techno-evangelists
    asserting their self-assumed professional authority

    Some nice long words there, proximity1. Mind if I steal some?

  216. #216 herr doktor bimler
    April 24, 2013

    I am beginning to suspect that like me, proximity1 is a fan of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Any request for an explanation, or a coherent argument, and all we get is “You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

  217. #217 Grant
    April 24, 2013

    proximity1 #183

    “As I read the article, the themes are quite clear.” – but you went on a largely irrelevant tangent about people treating ‘the public’ poorly.

    “[…] but it doesn’t make Jack Heinemann a clown, just a peer who has wandered off the reservation a bit, but who is expected to in most circumstances know and keep his place in science practice.”

    Not what the issue is. It’s not about ‘falling in ranks’. Like anyone he can say what he likes, but if it looks inaccurate or misleading it’ll get criticized. He volunteered to put in the public arena, so it’s open to criticism. It’s about the things said, his case.


    So, you call me to order with,

    …”your diatribe leaves you slating both sides! ”

    Not what I did (and your tone is wanting some attending to IMHO). You can see very well that remark was an aside and that my main point was that things ought to be about Heinemann’s case.

    “and a scientific profession which is too often grossly arrogant”

    You’re stereotyping and slanting a ‘side’ there.

    You’re still not focusing on what might help – the evidence (or not) for the issue at hand. (This naturalist stuff is another tangent, really. By all means pursue it if it rattles your cage (I won’t be joining in), but it’s not really about Heinemann’s case.)

  218. #218 Grant
    April 24, 2013

    herr doktor bimler #216 — :-) He does seems to rally against every and anything (like this whole Darwin sideline). Entertaining in it’s own way to some, I suppose… (As for me, I’ll get back to analysis of some gene regulation data!)

  219. #219 herr doktor bimler
    April 24, 2013

    Entertaining in it’s own way to some, I suppose
    Oh yes. I have not seen such orotund pomposity and sanctimony since Blackheart last saw fit to grace RI with his commentary.

  220. #220 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    I think people may be being a bit harsh on proximity1. Yes, I find his style abrasive and a bit (a bit?) trollish. And yes, he’s been more insulting to me than my typically mild mannered comments would call for, as well as more insulting in general than I think is appropriate for polite discourse. But at least he does read, is willing to cite his sources, and tries to explain his viewpoint once he’s aware that it’s not immediately obvious to the most casual observer what his short rants mean.

  221. #221 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 24, 2013

    I should have said “his or her”, as I don’t want to presume proximity1′s gender.

  222. #222 Ceiling Cat
    DA CEILING
    April 24, 2013

    #201 Mew!

    Blessinz of teh Ceiling Cat be apwn yu, srsly!

  223. #223 Phoenix Woman
    The about-to-be-summery tundra
    April 24, 2013

    Scientists spend lots of money on pricey reagents intended to get RNA into cells. This wouldn’t be necessary if what Heinemann posits about RNA were true. If RNA could just waltz from your gut into your bloodstream and thence into your cells, I strongly suspect life on earth would look a whole lot different than it does now.

  224. #224 herr doktor bimler
    April 24, 2013

    I strongly suspect life on earth would look a whole lot different than it does now

    This happens in physics sometimes… a theorist will come up with a mathematical picture which is exquisitely satisfying in every detail except that it predicts the non-existence of the theorist (for instance, matter is unstable, or the curvature of space-time is measured in inches).
    This is taken as a sign that the theory is flawed in some way and requires further attention.

  225. #225 dogctor
    April 24, 2013

    @ herr doktor bimler

    If I correctly understand the hypothetical mechanism through which, hypothetically, RNA molecules can affect gene expression, it takes at least one molecule per cell. Then in the case of microRNA, hypothetically binding with the mRNA strands, a separate microRNA invader is required for every mRNA strand to have any effect on protein production…… Let us further postulate that these femtomolar concentrations of alien RNA molecules magically manage to ignore 98% of the host body and concentrate themselves within the liver. Even then, there is only one molecule per 10 hepatocytes. Further stipulating that it enters a cell, the molecule is rattling around like a fart in a bottle with no innate homing instinct attracting it to the specific section of chromosome that it can affect.

    Like yourself, I am just beginning to learn about RNA silencing.
    Here is what Heinemann has to say on this subject:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412013000494

    In theory, very few molecules of siRNA are needed to cause a therapeutically relevant effect, and possibly fewer still to cause some effect even if complete silencing is not the outcome of exposure to an siRNA. First, there is evidence of a sequence-independent toxic effect of dsRNA. This kind of toxic effect is length dependent, e.g., molecules over 30 base-pairs in length ( Bass, 2001 and Elbashir et al., 2001). Second, sequence-determined risks can be primed in some organisms by an initially small number of dsRNA molecules. “It has been suggested that one siRNA can cleave as many as ten cognate mRNAs. This catalytic nature of mRNA targeting by siRNAs…suggest[s] that a potent siRNA will effectively function at much lower concentrations without saturating the endogenous miRNA machinery.

    The siRNA does not reproduce and there is no epigenetic effect on the DNA.

    It appears to me ( a novice, mind you) that there is an epigenetic effect. Per Heinemann’s paper:
    …chemically modify DNA sequences by addition of methyl groups and cause modification of DNA-associated histone proteins (the nuclear pathway). The nuclear pathway is known to inhibit transcription and to seed heterochromatin formation (Ahlenstiel et al., 2012, Grewal and Elgin, 2007, Reyes-Turcu and Grewal, 2012 and Zhang and Zhu, 2012).

    Once a silencing effect is initiated, the effect may be inherited. The biochemistry of this process varies depending on the organism and remains an area of active research with many unknown aspects. Nevertheless, it is known for example that human cells can maintain the modifications necessary for TGS, creating actual or potential epigenetic inheritance within tissues and organisms (Hawkins et al., 2009). In some cases the dsRNA pathways induce RNA-dependent DNA methylation and chromatin changes (TGS) that persist through reproduction or cell division, and in other cases the cytoplasmic pathways remain active in descendents (Cogoni and Macino, 2000)………
    RNAi can cause heritable changes (through epigenetic transmission) that may result in persistent changes either within cells or entire tissues of people, and be heritable through reproduction in some animals and other organisms (Cogoni and Macino, 2000, Cortessis et al., 2012 and Lejeune and Allshire, 2011).

    In the case of siRNA, it hangs around in the nucleus killin ur doods degrading mRNA strands en route from DNA to ribosome. If that siRNA molecule moves to another cell, the first cell goes back to normal.

    I think it depends on the length and the cell types, as some are toxic.

    >23-bp dsRNA can influence cell viability and
    induce a potent IFN response (highlighted by a strong up-regulation of the dsRNA receptor, Toll-like receptor 3) in a cell typespecific manner. This finding suggests that the length threshold for siRNA induction of the IFN response is not fixed but instead varies significantly among different cell types.
    http://rnajournal.cshlp.org/content/12/6/988.full.pdf+html

  226. #226 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    April 25, 2013

    Every time I try to read the comments, the list gets ahead of me.

    MicroRNAs can actually be coded from intronic sequences embedded in genes for mRNAs.

    Back about 175 comments ago, Mark referred us to his own blog, which I found to be of interest. Thanks. In reference to some discussion about anti-GMO sentiments being the leftist equivalent of global warming denial on the right (I’m paraphrasing here), I refer to a comment written by Carl Pope when he was executive director of the Sierra Club, and referred to “the horror” of genetic engineering. The club adopted an anti-GMO policy that was characterized as much by bad writing as by bad science.

    One curious thing — I notice that the Europeans have a higher incidence of anti-GMO feelings and also a much higher incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Maybe the vaunted European intellectualism shouldn’t be so vaunted after all. Or maybe it’s a subset of Europeans who aren’t that intellectual — I don’t know. Maybe somebody can tell me. I do know that there is a lot of brilliant European medical and biological science, but I don’t have a strong feeling that there is a lot of outstanding agricultural science over there. I do know that the anti-GMO campaign has had successes in acts of terrorism against research facilities over there.

  227. #227 herr doktor bimler
    April 25, 2013

    Like yourself, I am just beginning to learn about RNA silencing.
    Here is what Heinemann has to say on this subject:

    Thanks, Dogctor. More reading! Oh joy!

  228. #228 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    post N° 212 speaks volumes about one of the most fundamental problems here. Of course, though this is quite an important matter–the view stated there and what it implies—it follows from the same erroneous thinking that to discuss this here and now would almost certainly be regarded as “off topic”; everything has to be confined to its little exclusive domain. Scientists have largely made their own mess and, more and more, as with, for example, the captture of huge swaths of Big Science-research by the powers and the priorities of high finance, they are stuck in a dilemma they helped make possible. If it were so serious for all us, non-scientists as well as scientists, it’d be damned funny. But it’s not funny. A heavy toll is exacted by this corruption and distortion of science practice by big business. And, today, huge research universities are “Big Business”, too. But that is also idiotically “off-topic” here eventhough logically and philosophically, it’s at the heart of the matter.

    Ph.D.s. heal thy f’ing selves!

    ————————-

    @ 220 I appreciate those comments. Oh, yeah, it’s true, I’m a prickly pear, and I know it. I’m also furious at the icnredibly insane and cruel stupidity we live in and with today, and how, in its especially stupid “modernized” way, inflicts such grievous harm on all who get left behind in the rush to a “knowledge economy”, lol.

    I think that, in the main, though my criticisms were direct and unsoftened in the way that is usual in such threads as these, still, am I, was I in fact mistaken in what I argued was your faulty reading in the instances above? If so, you’re due an apology. But it seems to me that you had in some respects missed the point of parts of some of the passages I cited. No? Had you not, I’d have had no occasion to be so critical.

    I’m a guy. But I don’t mind much what gender others suppose as its usually not very much part of the issue.

  229. #229 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    Bob G,

    One curious thing — I notice that the Europeans have a higher incidence of anti-GMO feelings

    That’s true, but there are a number of reasons for that, perhaps partly that the US introduced GM foods without most people noticing:

    By late 1999, it is estimated that approximately 60 percent of grocery-store food in the United States was grown from genetically modified seeds. Yet so rapid was their introduction that even as an increasing number of food products from biotechnology were being introduced into the American market beginning in the mid 1990s, consumer awareness of biotechnology remained low. Indeed as late as August 1999, only 33 percent of Americans were aware that genetically modified foods were being sold in supermarkets, while less than 3% were aware that soybeans were genetically engineered.

    Maybe if people find out they have been eating GM foods for years without any noticeable ill effects it’s less worrying. Even so, there is definitely a very different attitude to GM foods each side of the Atlantic – the article I linked to discusses the possible reasons in some detail. I wonder if food scares we have had in Europe, such as BSE, make us more suspicious in Europe. I suspect the media plays a large part, with UK newspapers often gleefully printing scare stories about “Frankenfoods”.

    and also a much higher incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

    It depends which specific VPDs you are you referring to. We had 1,118 cases of pertussis in the UK in 2011, the US had 18,719, around twice the incidence (US population is roughly 5 times the UK population). In 2012 we had 2,290 cases, the US had 41,880, around 4 times the incidence. MMR vaccine uptake in England last year was 91% (number children under the age of two received the first dose), comparable to that in the US, but we had over 2,000 cases of measles, as compared with just over 200 in the US. I think the media played a major role in reducing MMR uptake during the Wakefield debacle, which explains the temporary fall in vaccine uptake and increase in incidence.

    Maybe the vaunted European intellectualism shouldn’t be so vaunted after all. Or maybe it’s a subset of Europeans who aren’t that intellectual — I don’t know. Maybe somebody can tell me.

    I think you grossly overgeneralize. I very much doubt that the average European is any more intellectual than the average American, and I (a Brit) have never thought of European as being more intellectual than Americans, I suspect that’s an American stereotype. We Europeans may have a Luddite attitude to GMOs, but you do have the Bible Belt, creationism and alien abductees. I’m not at all convinced that any of this explains the different attitudes we see to GMOs or vaccines: they are not about intellect, they are about emotions.

    I do know that there is a lot of brilliant European medical and biological science, but I don’t have a strong feeling that there is a lot of outstanding agricultural science over there.

    That made me laugh – you “don’t have a strong feeling”? Perhaps you should do a little cursory research yourself before making statements like that. I spent my teens and early twenties living in Cambridgeshire, where there was a plant breeding insititute (the National Institute of Agricultural Botany), an animal research institute (the Babraham Institute), a nutritional institute (the MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit) and Cambridge university itself with its School of the Biological Sciences which includes the Department of Plant Sciences all within the space of a few miles. All of these institutions do excellent agricultural research, including work on RNA silencing, and there is equally excellent agricultural research done in other parts of the UK and across Europe.

    I do know that the anti-GMO campaign has had successes in acts of terrorism against research facilities over there.

    I don’t think destroying crops should be described as “terrorism”, as this belittles real acts of terror against scientists, which do happen. I think “vandalism” or “criminal damage” are more appropriate terms.

  230. #230 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    I came across an interesting interview with Mark Lynas, one of the founders of the anti-GM movement who has changed his mind, that some might enjoy:

    “The GM debate is over,” he told Oxford University’s annual farming conference. “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”

    Something else in the interview, where they are discussing how “GM denialism seems to come from the left, and is particularly motivated by an anti-corporate world view” made me think of proximity1′s arguments:

    Q: It strikes me that this is very much a story about the power of ideology—how it can blind people to the facts.
    A: I agree, but you have to look at where the ideology is coming from, and why it’s so powerful and self-supporting. To my mind, anti-GM is a backward-looking, reactionary ideology, where you have a mythological, romanticized view of pre-industrialized agriculture being taken as the ideal. GM is seen as the opposite of that because it’s the epitome of technological and human progress in agriculture. So you have this collision of world views, where people who are fixated on doing things the old way simply cannot accept that you can even understand DNA, let alone work with it precisely and intentionally.

  231. #231 JGC
    April 25, 2013

    Scientists have largely made their own mess …

    What mess is that, exactly?

  232. #232 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    RE : N° 231

    By “Scientists have largely made their own mess” I am referring to how, since at least the early 20th century, the work of scientists –from academics to research labs, when those differ– has become hyper-specialized. Some of this was fostered by narrowing of foci across many perviously larger domains, it is true. However, probably as much or more came, I believe, from ordinary human egoism at work. And I think the latter continues to drive increased specialization where it occurs.

    The situation has reached absurdity when within disciplines, there are researchers who practice in cloistered ignorance of others in the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-specialty “next door.”

    Imagine pianists who specialized. Some playing only on the white keys and others only on the black keys.

    I think that the specializations have hurt research, leaving fruitful avenues where as a hypothetical example, some interesting coinicidence (in phenomena that are currently but erroneously, deemed distinct and unrelated), happens but isn’t noticed, recognized because researchers in area specialty “A” have never heard of or read about goings on in area “R”. Does, or could such ever actually happen? I believe it could and it does. Though I don’t have a handy real-life example to offer.

    Then there is another side-effect of specialization. Growing up with it, since the 1880s, 1890s to the present-day (so we’re dealing with a trend that has increased for some 130 years or so), is the bifurcation which C.P. Snow wrote of in his lecture, “The Two Cultures.” If anything, the situation since Snow wrote is far more extreme. Unless an individual’s personality is such that he or she has many widely ranging interests beyond a single scientific specialty, it can happen that a young person, developing a keen interest in science by high school age, never comes to have more than the most scant and superficial exposure to culture outside of science. All the while, moreover, the level of general cultural sophistication has similarly declined. I know that this observation draws a trite reply: “that’s what every gerneration thinks, looking back”; but, it just may be that this is because, indeed, the decline, while both absolute and relative, persists over many, many generations.

    There are of course easily cited examples of exceptional individuals in sciences who, by their peculiar talents and genius, had very eclectic interests. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the most outstanding examples from the mid-20th century. And there are still some (relatively speaking, that is) today, of course. These people are both wonderful and beside the point, since, by themselves, they cannot and do not “leaven” the whole of even a specialty, let alone science in general.

    So, the present-day picture of scientists is one of people who are extremely specialized, whose special knowledge is tremendously focused and who, outside it, have some knowledge of science but, again, unless very exceptional, very little and often simply next to none or no knowedge at all of the world of culture beyond science–art, literature, history, politics, and philpsophy.

    As a result, society has suffered and suffered greatly and we are only recently beginning again to take notice of this situation and, in a few very early and timid respects, think about and discuss the need for and the possibility of change. But an ingrained power-structure, built up since the late 19th century, is largely reflexively opposed, and the higher you go up the hierarchy, the more resistance, in general, you meet.

    Moral corruption and financial corruption are mutually reinforcing social phenomena.

  233. #233 Narad
    April 25, 2013

    I am referring to how, since at least the early 20th century, the work of scientists –from academics to research labs, when those differ– has become hyper-specialized.

    Ah, yes, it’s the Doc Savage/Buckaroo Banzai model.

  234. #234 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 25, 2013

    @proximity1

    Some of this was fostered by narrowing of foci across many perviously larger domains, it is true. However, probably as much or more came, I believe, from ordinary human egoism at work. And I think the latter continues to drive increased specialization where it occurs.

    So, specialization is driven mostly by egoism? Not the fact that the world is incredibly complex and in order to understand it all requires that large numbers of scientists specialize?

    And while there are a lot of specialists, you also have a broad spectrum of scientists, ranging from those focusing on a few select genes for study to those doing translational research, taking those specialized findings and applying them to broader, more generalized areas.

    very little and often simply next to none or no knowedge at all of the world of culture beyond science–art, literature, history, politics, and philpsophy.

    Citation needed.

    As a result, society has suffered and suffered greatly and we are only recently beginning again to take notice of this situation

    Again, citation needed.

    You seem to be quite ready, willing and able to make broad generalizations and speculation, but seldom provide any real substance to back up your claims. Big on ideas and opinions, lacking in data.

  235. #235 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 25, 2013

    @proximity1

    And you still have not answered the question of why you think (or at least, have intimated) that GM food is more dangerous than traditionally bred/cultivated techniques.

  236. #236 Denice Walter
    April 25, 2013

    Comparing specialisation within disciplines based on intrinsic meaning is not equivalent to superficially dividing black and white keys- whose value are based on the tonal relationships between them not the arbitrary surfaces assigned to them.

  237. #237 Shay
    April 25, 2013

    I wonder why prox considers scientists (or anyone else for that matter) who become specialists to be a causing a “mess?”

    Should I find a farrier who can fix my car?

  238. #238 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    Todd @ 235:

    “GM food is more dangerous than traditionally bred/cultivated techniques”

    In part, the answer is here, from N° 95, from Brad N, with which I agree:

    “…evolutionary changes to the planet take time to detect, introducing genetic changes on a constant basis to a plethora of food plants that are not sterile have made it impossible to know the end result of the tampering. …”

    But there’s another factor. It’s not just that the time requied to discover a harmful consequence could be not only many decades, but numerous generations, this presupposes that we have both the techniques and the insights into the genetic processes involved in extremely complex mixes required to even recognize the harms going on in the first place–that is, by the time this happens, the damage could have been done, and not only in a single generation but perhaps in several. How, then, does one return to the status quo ante?

  239. #239 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    proximity1,
    You were asked what mess you think scientists have mostly made. You mentioned over-specialization and added:

    As a result, society has suffered and suffered greatly and we are only recently beginning again to take notice of this situation and, in a few very early and timid respects, think about and discuss the need for and the possibility of change.

    Do you have any examples of how society has suffered greatly from over-specialization by scientists? The examples you gave earlier were all cases in which regulatory laws were ignored or side-stepped: horse-meat mislabeled as beef, contaminated silicon used for medical implants, and an amphetamine-based drug that caused damage to patients despite evidence it was both unsafe and ineffective. In each case it was science that uncovered these problems, I don’t see how it caused them. Over-specialization was certainly not to blame.

    I don’t understand your hostility to science. It seems to me to have improved our lives immeasurably in a very large number of ways. I’m finding it difficult to think of ways in which “society has suffered and suffered greatly” as a result of poor science. The misuse of science seems to me to argue for better regulation and scrutiny of corporations.

  240. #240 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    “…evolutionary changes to the planet take time to detect, introducing genetic changes on a constant basis to a plethora of food plants that are not sterile have made it impossible to know the end result of the tampering. …”

    We have been doing this for at least 10,000 years – is that long enough to detect any disastrous effects?
    If our ancestors had adopted the precautionary principle to the degree you seem to be suggesting, we would never have come down out of the trees in the first place.

  241. #241 Renate
    April 25, 2013

    I think society has suffered more when a lot of scientific insights didn’t exist.

  242. #242 JGC
    You've got a very sterotypical idea of what scientists are like
    April 25, 2013

    By “Scientists have largely made their own mess” I am referring to how, since at least the early 20th century, the work of scientists –from academics to research labs, when those differ– has become hyper-specialized… And I think the latter continues to drive increased specialization where it occurs.

    How is increased specialization a problem, such that it can accurately be considered a mess?

    The situation has reached absurdity when within disciplines, there are researchers who practice in cloistered ignorance of others in the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-specialty “next door.”

    If the work of the others next door doesn’t impact their own discipline, why is that a problem?

    Imagine pianists who specialized. Some playing only on the white keys and others only on the black keys.

    I see this as a false analogy, I’m afraid. It’s more like professional athletes who specialize only in swimming, others who specialize only in curling, etc.

    Does, or could such ever actually happen? I believe it could and it does. Though I don’t have a handy real-life example to offer.

    Why, given an admitted lack of any evidence demonstrating the ‘mess’ you believe exists actually does exist, are you blaming scientists for having gotten themselves into it?

    Then there is another side-effect of specialization. Growing up with it, since the 1880s, 1890s to the present-day (so we’re dealing with a trend that has increased for some 130 years or so), is the bifurcation which C.P. Snow wrote of in his lecture, “The Two Cultures.” If anything, the situation since Snow wrote is far more extreme. Unless an individual’s personality is such that he or she has many widely ranging interests beyond a single scientific specialty, it can happen that a young person, developing a keen interest in science by high school age, never comes to have more than the most scant and superficial exposure to culture outside of science.

    Just as if they develop a keen interest in theatre, or in sports, or politics, or history, or literature, or music, or rap (which is at best vaguely reminiscent of music), etc., they may never acquire more than a superficial exposure to culture outside their limited interest. If this is a problem–and it doesn’t appear to be a widespread one–it isn’t a problem with scientists but with human nature.

    All the while, moreover, the level of general cultural sophistication has similarly declined.

    In 1999 scientists and engineers represented 2.6% of the US workforce. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that that’s tripled, and now talking close to 10% of the US workforce are scientists and engineers. Why are you blaming a general decline in cultural sophistication on this small segment of the general population?

    So, the present-day picture of scientists is one of people who are extremely specialized, whose special knowledge is tremendously focused and who, outside it, have some knowledge of science but, again, unless very exceptional, very little and often simply next to none or no knowedge at all of the world of culture beyond science–art, literature, history, politics, and philpsophy.

    How many scientists do you actually know, proximity1? I work with hundreds annually, and as a whole they display just as much knowledge (or more) of art, literature, etc. as any other profession you care to name.

    As a result, society has suffered and suffered greatly and we are only recently beginning again to take notice of this situation and, in a few very early and timid respects, think about and discuss the need for and the possibility of change.

    Concrete evidence that society has not only suffered but suffered greatly because scientists as a whole have less knowledge of art, philosophy, etc. than members of other professions?

    Oh, that’s right—you stated above you believe this is so, but are unaware of any real-world evidence this is in fact the case.

  243. #243 JGC
    April 25, 2013

    It’s not just that the time requied to discover a harmful consequence could be not only many decades, but numerous generations, this presupposes that we have both the techniques and the insights into the genetic processes involved in extremely complex mixes required to even recognize the harms going on in the first place–that is, by the time this happens, the damage could have been done, and not only in a single generation but perhaps in several.

    Except the principle utility of GMO’s is we’re not talking about changes involving complex mixes–we’re talking about specifix discrete changes in genome (for example, introducing a single gene expressing a glyphosate resistant EPSPS enzyme.

    It’s when you develop new cultivars by traditional brossbreeding or hybridization techniques that you’re talking about creating complex mixes of new genetic elements.

  244. #244 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 25, 2013

    @proximity1

    Your quotation of Brad N and your own added thoughts don’t actually address the real question, though.

    With GM, we take one (or a few) select genes for which we have a great deal of knowledge about what they do. We insert those genes into the plant’s genome to create a very specific effect. Can there be unintended consequences? Sure, but that’s true with anything.

    Compare that to breeding. In breeding, we take a plethora of genes, many of which we have little or no knowledge about, and combine them, not knowing exactly what the results will be. We have a general knowledge (e.g., combining these varieties produce larger, sweeter fruit),but there are likely a s**tload of other effects that we may have zero knowledge have actually taken place. For example, perhaps by combining the genes that make fruit larger and sweeter, we also have selected genes which make the plant more prone to disease, thus increasing the risk of massive crop failure and potential famine.

    Frankly, I do not see (and you have failed to prove this point) how targeted genetic modification is worse than the relatively blind genetic modification that results from breeding or cultivation. The big difference, I think, is that we’re more likely to see the bad effects sooner with GM than with breeding. This is not, as far as I can see, a bad thing, because it means we can also work on ways to fix it sooner, rather than pawning off responsibility onto the next generation (or generations).

  245. #245 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    “With GM, we take one (or a few) select genes for which we have a great deal of knowledge about what they do.”

    What they do where? In the laboratory? Or in the wild? How much knowledge do you have (other than purely conjectural, based on comparisons, done inside a lab environement–i.e., by definition ( ” ‘God’ help us, if not”) a controlled environment?

    “We insert those genes into the plant’s genome to create a very specific effect. Can there be unintended consequences? Sure, but that’s true with anything.”

    Not in quite the same way is it “true with anything.” In cross-breeding flora and fauna, the elements involved in the mix are already present in the wild (or domestic) environment. Not so in the case of manufactured entities which did not exist outside the laboratory in the forms produced inside the laboratory. Isn’t that the case?

    “Compare that to breeding. In breeding, we take a plethora of genes, many of which we have little or no knowledge about, and combine them, not knowing exactly what the results will be. We have a general knowledge (e.g., combining these varieties produce larger, sweeter fruit),but there are likely a s**tload of other effects that we may have zero knowledge have actually taken place. For example, perhaps by combining the genes that make fruit larger and sweeter, we also have selected genes which make the plant more prone to disease, thus increasing the risk of massive crop failure and potential famine.”

    Again, the point is, as above. The variations described there are at least entirely possible as naturally-occurring kinds, since the fruits taken for hybridization are already in nature in their pre-hybrid forms. Thus, by the way, I wonder: why isn’t it, for just the same reason, all the riskier to proceed with the other sort of purely laboratory genetic manipulations–those, that is, for which no unmodified source elements are available in the natural environment and thus, have to be artificially contrived?

    “Frankly, I do not see (and you have failed to prove this point) how targeted genetic modification is worse than the relatively blind genetic modification that results from breeding or cultivation.”

    I hope I’ve made some progress here, then, with the foregoing.

    “The big difference, I think, is that we’re more likely to see the bad effects sooner with GM than with breeding.”

    I don’t see why that should be the case. Can you explain why GM’s effects would be “seen” sooner than those via cross-breeding? Don’t the “effects,” after all, have to be allowed a similar time or the same time, in each case, to appear, before they can be examined and judged?

    “This is not, as far as I can see, a bad thing, because it means we can also work on ways to fix it sooner, rather than pawning off responsibility onto the next generation (or generations).”

    Again, I don’t follow your point here. I suppose your answer to the above would clarify this, though. Does ‘the next generation (or generations) ” refer to our successors or to generations of the GMO subjects?

  246. #246 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    RE : 240 “We have been doing this for at least 10,000 years – ”

    No. I’m concerned with genetic materials (broadly considered) created in a laboratory via artificial techniques which produce modified organic substances intened for use in altering plants and animals which are otherwise free of such materials and which cannot reasonably be thought to develop these modifications absent the lab scientists’ intervention.

    By this time, it ought to be completely clear that what we are concerned with here is anything but what has been done already over thousands of years.

  247. #247 proximity1
    April 25, 2013

    (Note, With this post, I’m now out of time for the day. )

    JGC @ 242:

    All these issues are, for me, essential and so I’d love to treat them in detail.

    Question: can that be done here?

    We are, I recognize, getting into areas which, by the silly standards of pertinence usually applied, are more and more “off-topic” from the original post of this thread. Though, in my opinion, to discuss properly the original topic, these issues very much ought to be “on the table”.

    For example, this: ” Why are you blaming a general decline in cultural sophistication on this small segment of the general population?”

    The short answer, which I don’t now have enough time to develop, can be put this way:

    In 2013, we are living in “The House That Science Built” (“Since the Late 1800s” /&tm)

    For social, economic, cultural, political–from virtually all important angles, nothing else even comes close to science for its overwhelming influences –for better and fore worse—on every aspect of our lives.

    Citing the proportion of scientists in the general population in such a context is simply absurd. Since I dont know you that well, I guess I have to put it down to incredible naivté rather than something a lot less respectable in argument.

  248. #248 Beamup
    April 25, 2013

    @ proximity:

    You are aware that for quite a while selective breeding has included deliberate exposure to radiation or chemicals which promote mutations? And that even before that, novel mutations would tend to get jumped on if they were useful?

    The idea that the relevant genes have been in circulation for any extended time is almost as false for selective breeding as it is for GMOs.

  249. #249 Narad
    April 25, 2013

    By this time, it ought to be completely clear that what we are concerned with here is anything but what has been done already over thousands of years.

    I still want to hear whether you opposed the LHC on the basis that it might be “really terribly, terribly harmful.” It fits precisely into your mold, and you brought up fission.

  250. #250 herr doktor bimler
    Techno-evangelist, except for the Techne or the evangelism
    April 25, 2013

    “GM food is more dangerous than traditionally bred/cultivated techniques”
    In part, the answer is here, from N° 95, from Brad N, with which I agree:

    Turning to Brad’s comment, we find that in fact it makes no distinction between GM and older techniques for transferring genes and modifying plant genomes. So we are left with the appeal to Brad’s authority… an authority who also promotes the “terraformed Martian granary” solution to famine, perhaps under the impression that Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky” was a documentary.

  251. #251 Grant
    April 25, 2013

    proximity1 #245,

    Not in quite the same way is it “true with anything.” In cross-breeding flora and fauna, the elements involved in the mix are already present in the wild (or domestic) environment. Not so in the case of manufactured entities which did not exist outside the laboratory in the forms produced inside the laboratory. Isn’t that the case?

    He wasn’t saying ‘anything’ as in ‘all species’, but as in all things people do.

    Sorry about this, but your argument misses what actually matters. It’s the combination of genetic elements that determines what properties the plant has. Swop the gene regulatory elements in front a gene with those present in front of a different gene from the same plant and you can get a completely different pattern of expression of that gene. Note here every genetic element involved is already from that plant, nothing has been ‘introduced’ from outside the plant.

    Conventional breeding mixes genetic elements in the fashion I’ve just described. It creates new genetic combinations. These can result in different—for want of a better word (short on time)—‘chemistry’ for the plant. (Analogy: using the same set of parts, you build completely different things.)

    Furthermore, GM isn’t defined by if the genetics elements altered are from other species or not, it’s defined by that the modifications are directed by using so-called genetic-engineering techniques. (Analogy: randomly changing things then screening the results in th hope of creating something useful v. making one directed change then observing the outcome.)

    Genetic engineering doesn’t always need to add new genes, but can work by altering existing ones.

    The difference isn’t really conventional vs. GM: both introduce new genetics. They’re the same in that both can introduce new ‘chemistry’.

    The ‘different species’ thing in and off itself has little to do with the practical issues and is mostly either ideology (particularly in some religious circles) or populist scaremongering.

    Again, the point is, as above. The variations described there are at least entirely possible as naturally-occurring kinds,

    But the combination of the genetic elements wasn’t, and that‘s what determines what the plant does – see my point above. A large part of how species differ is how the equivalent genes are used differently in different species; “mixing” the different gene regulatory elements plays a large part of those differences. That’s the same type of differences involved in the conventional breeding situation referred to there. (See my earlier analogy of building things from parts.)

    To complicate things, a number of crops were derived from inducing mutations in the plants — the variations induced were not present in the wild type plants. This isn’t GM, has been around for years, and resulted in some safe (and tasty) foods. You’d think it also should really be considered more likely to come up with ‘dangerous’ plants. Again the difference isn’t how you make the plants, in and of itself. (It’s about the properties of each new plant, however it was made.)

    I don’t see why that should be the case. Can you explain why GM’s effects would be “seen” sooner than those via cross-breeding? Don’t the “effects,” after all, have to be allowed a similar time or the same time, in each case, to appear, before they can be examined and judged?

    As others pointed out, GM involves ‘directed’ work, where you know what differences are present (you made them). So you know where to start looking, what likely things to look for, etc. With conventional breeding, problems have to start with a completely open enquiry scope. (See my earlier analogy of either making many random changes or one change. Which do you think is easier and quicker to track down issues in?)

    Personally, I think it’d help if you recognise the difference between ‘I am concerned things might be like this’ and saying ‘it is like this’.

  252. #252 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 25, 2013

    @proximity1

    What they do where? In the laboratory? Or in the wild? How much knowledge do you have (other than purely conjectural, based on comparisons, done inside a lab environement–i.e., by definition ( ” ‘God’ help us, if not”) a controlled environment?

    Ah, so are you saying that ecological disasters that are wrought by nature are okay, because they’re natural, but ecological disasters wrought by humans are bad, because they’re wrought by humans?

    Also, the genes being used in GM are natural. They are found in nature. In some cases, they are inserting something already in the plant, but in a more robust form. In others, they may be taking something from a related plant that, maybe, through decades of propagation may eventually be expressed in the descendent crops, and in some cases, they are taking material from other kingdoms. But the genes are all things found in nature and, given sufficient time, may eventually make their way into or be expressed by the plant.

    You talk about material “created in a laboratory via artificial techniques”. Tell me, what is the difference between H2O created in a lab via artificial techniques and H2O found in, say, a lake?

    I don’t see why that should be the case. Can you explain why GM’s effects would be “seen” sooner than those via cross-breeding?

    With GM, you have an immediate genetic change that is expressed to a specific, and known degree. With breeding, it can take many generations before a genetic change will be expressed to a degree that is observable. With GM, you insert a gene (or genes) that cause an increased production of vitamin A by, say, 25%. If you wanted to achieve this through breeding, it would take many successive generations, selecting those plants which have a lightly higher vitamin A production, until you achieve the same 25% increase over the starting sample.

    Again, whether it is GM in a lab (well, really, an agricultural field) vs. successive seasons of selective cultivation, you still get genetic changes for a specific goal. Cultivation takes longer, but it can get you there, and has a greater inherent risk for unintentionally selecting genetic changes that are not desirable.

  253. #253 Grant
    April 25, 2013

    proximity1 #246,

    No. I’m concerned with genetic materials (broadly considered) created in a laboratory via artificial techniques which produce modified organic substances intened for use in altering plants and animals which are otherwise free of such materials and which cannot reasonably be thought to develop these modifications absent the lab scientists’ intervention.

    By this time, it ought to be completely clear that what we are concerned with here is anything but what has been done already over thousands of years.

    Clear? No. You should be a lawyer. The was complete gobble-de-gook :-)

    Seriously: same difference to conventional breeding – it does the same. There’s a disconnect with how the genetic variations are created and the product made in your arguments. Conventional breeding also results in, to paraphrase you, “[modifications] which cannot reasonably be thought to develop [in the absence of] the lab scientists’ intervention”.

  254. #254 Grant
    April 25, 2013

    proximity1 #247,

    “Since I dont know you that well, I guess I have to put it down to incredible naivté rather than something a lot less respectable in argument.”

    Since you don’t know their mind, you can’t draw any conclusions how they came to their thinking, yet you do.

  255. #255 Ewan R
    April 25, 2013

    What they do where? In the laboratory? Or in the wild? How much knowledge do you have (other than purely conjectural, based on comparisons, done inside a lab environement–i.e., by definition ( ” ‘God’ help us, if not”) a controlled environment?

    I can answer, in part, where this is done, given that it is something that I actually do, along with my various colleagues (who, between them, know more of art, philosophy, history and such ephemeral activities than any similar sized group I’ve ever met, although I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

    Disclaimer up front and center – I work for Monsanto, and the musings herein, and anywhere else in this thread, are entirely my own and not theirs.

    So, back, as Euclid would say, to the question at hand. Where are these genetic modifications done, where are they characterized?

    Initially a scientist will have their eureka moment (or possibly their boss will tell them to pull their thumb out and nominate some genes) and they’ll quickly transcribe their idea into a legally binding notebook, after this they’ll spend some time gathering evidence around their gene and they’ll persuade whichever team said gene is going to work for to go ahead and nominate it. At this point it becomes a reality in silico – all manner of algorithms poke and prod at the gene – is this likely to be a toxin? An allergen? What does the intellectual property landscape look like? At any point in the process if things look bad in silico is where the idea will stay, for perpetuity, unless you can figure out how to do things sans whatever it is that caused the issue.

    Then a whole bunch of other scientists and robots and whatnot make the idea a reality. Vectors are made, bacteria are transformed, plants are transformed. Somewhere in the region of 2 years following your idea not being rejected in silico it’ll find itself sitting in the genome of a plant in a nursery, producing seed that will go on to be tested in various ways.

    This seed will go off into efficacy trials, generally controlled multi-environment screens (for say insect protection, or herbicide resistance, or say, yield (my own area)) – it’ll be looked at for multiple years to assess performance alongside literally hundreds of other ideas, a stunning small proportion will be seen to be good, and will move to the next step in their testing – they’ll be characterized in depth. They’ll be considered in multiple germplasms, against many genetic backgrounds. The protein will be isolated and sequenced, most likely its 3d structure will be figured out, it’ll be rechecked for allergenicity and toxicity hits (the databases are constantly being updated and tweaked), its exact mode of action will be furiously figured out by teams of highly skilled scientists working in an interdisciplinary manner (which is where your whole specialization arguement agaisnt science falls on its stupid ass). If, after a few more years (perhaps as few as two, perhaps as many as six) it still appears to be efficacious it’ll be given to the regulatory organization, who’ll start testing it in earnest, tests that make the prior 5-8 years of testing look almost silly in comparison. They’ll confirm the mode of action, they’ll do feeding studies, they will do everything they humanly can to say “bugger it, this isn’t going to work as a product” – they’ll take the seeds and plant them in Japan, right where the Japanese regulators can watch them right close, they’ll introgress the trait into even more elite germplasm and look for offtypes.

    And finally, at the end of the process, you’ll have plants containing what has now become one of the most highly studied and well understood (albeit by one single institution) proteins within a plant in the world.

    And then a bunch of people who don’t know what on earth they are jabbering about will start inventing scenario’s, badmouthing science in general, and pretending against all evidence that GMOs get released willy nilly with no thought as to what they may actually do. They could, after all, be disasterous right? I mean, 16+ years without a single incident of harm occuring simply screams ticking timebomb.

    It’d be great if you’d stop falling back on the naturalistic fallacy also. It’s boring, and fallacious.

  256. #256 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    By this time, it ought to be completely clear that what we are concerned with here is anything but what has been done already over thousands of years.

    What is now completely clear to me is that you have very little understanding of genetic and what genetic engineering actually entails. You are railing against your idea of what science is doing, not the reality of what is actually happening.

  257. #257 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    ^genetics

  258. #258 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    I now have two check boxes asking me, in German, if I would like to be informed of follow-up comments by email. Is it just me?

  259. #259 Grant
    April 25, 2013

    Krebiozen #258 – me too. (I commented on that in another post somewhere.)

  260. #260 Denice Walter
    April 25, 2013

    Me also.

  261. #261 Krebiozen
    April 25, 2013

    Weird. Why 2 check boxes, and why German?

  262. #262 Shay
    Halbweg nach Detroit
    April 25, 2013

    Warum nicht?

  263. #263 lilady
    April 25, 2013

    I’ve got a bunch (6) of German phrases and 3 of them have other German phrases superimposed on top of them…plus 2 check boxes.

    (I thought I had somehow messed up again)

  264. #264 Denice Walter
    April 25, 2013

    I just remembered : the other day I had a few ads in French asking me to contribute to medecins sans frontieres etc.

  265. #265 sheepmilker
    Watching to many WW2 documentaries...
    April 25, 2013

    heute die Kommentar-Box, morgen die Welt!

  266. #266 Narad
    April 25, 2013

    I got nothing. One sec….

  267. #267 Narad
    April 25, 2013

    Oh, wait, there it is at the bottom of the page. I thought it was supposed to be a pop-up. That’s generated by Akismet, which remains a poor WP security option. Perhaps somebody “upgraded” it.

  268. #268 Denice Walter
    April 25, 2013

    @ sheepmilker:

    Ha ha ha.

  269. #269 Shay
    April 25, 2013

    RI ueber alles.

  270. #270 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    April 25, 2013

    Krebiozen: Thanks for the comments. I noticed the differences in measles largely because of the coverage on this blog. The pertussis numbers are a little scary. Maybe I’ll get the booster for that one. Checking the CDC website — Apparently the US still has endemic pertussis with a three to five year cycle of ups and downs. There has been a lot of publicity about pertussis in the last couple of years, so perhaps the US population will become a little more sensitive to the issue. Perhaps the medical profession should be pushing routine boosters for us older people. My doctor seems to be very careful about lots of things, but I’ve never been advised to get a Tdap.

    I’ve been in Italy and southern Germany several times over the past decade, and saw graffiti objecting to GMOs, so I suspect that there is a wider public awareness and hostility over there. More importantly, the political systems in Europe seem to be more affected by such protests.

    The point about GMO crops being introduced into the US rather quietly has a certain plausibility. On the other hand, I can certainly remember a lot of discussion, much of which rapidly evolved into rank demagoguery, about the introduction of GMO foods. There was a highly vocal activist anti-GMO crowd in the US and I can assure you that the arguments about genetic crossover to other species, spread beyond one farm to another, damage to butterflies, and the immolation of the human race were all flogged heavily. What may have been different (and I will confess a near complete ignorance of how the British, French, and Italian mass media handled things) is that the American media did not react negatively, by and large, to GMOs. There was some objection (witness the fairly silly remarks in Sierra magazine which I mentioned earlier), but I don’t recall any screaming headlines or anxious television stories in the mass media. It may be that the stories and screaming headlines that did occur were localized to the more lefty publications and would have been routinely ignored by a large part of the population.

    Regarding British agricultural science and plant biology — no offense intended. It’s just that I worked at Purdue University at one time, and there must have been at least a dozen different departments related to agriculture at one level or another, everything from plant pathology to agronomy to ag economics, and with a certain overlap in the biochemistry and biology departments. This is apparently not uncommon for the US land grant colleges, and a lot of this organizational structure goes back a century or so. There has certainly been an interesting cross fertilization between places like Indiana University or Iowa State and the more famous research institutions.

  271. #271 Militant Agnostic
    Hiding from the genetically modified aurochs
    April 25, 2013

    Never underestimate the Hitler Zombie.

  272. #272 Krebiozen
    April 26, 2013

    Bob G,

    Regarding British agricultural science and plant biology — no offense intended.

    No offense taken – my amusement was because in my youth I seemed to be surrounded by agricultural research of one sort or another, with several people I knew working on it. It was Prof. Sir David Baulcombe who, with Andrew Hamilton, discovered siRNA – he started his career in plant sciences at the Plant Breeding Institute I mentioned and has a fearsome set of citations to his name. I don’t doubt the US has a lot of high quality agricultural research going on, but don’t underestimate Europe, and indeed the rest of the world.

  273. #273 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE : N° 250 : ” Turning to Brad’s comment, we find that in fact it makes no distinction between GM and older techniques for transferring genes and modifying plant genomes.”

    Sheer baloney.

    Here’s the relevant cite from post N° 95 (with emphasis added to help you out, Herr Doktor:

    There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s).

    ON THE OTHER HAND

    defending GMO is like defending irradiation to promote mutations, there is no defence because there is no timeline to measure the results against, nor any attempt to protect the biosphere we live in from the results. eg. higher yielding gm wheat/corn in the u.s. midwest + an ongoing drought, larger producing crops require larger amounts of water, with this being on a huge scale, crop failure is a certainty with genetically modified crops under these conditions. the changes to the biosphere are unknown, the changes to organisms on an evolutionary scale are unknown, and the methods to test and substantiate results are unknown. Peer review, when there is no basis but belief (there is no proof), is a sad joke at best when there is money to be made. ”

    Brad’s post makes no distinction between the risks attached to direct genetic manipulation and those attached to the irradiation techniques. And I agree with that view. So, by the way, Irradiation, too, has not been practiced for the last 100,000 yeas.

  274. #274 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE : post N° 251

    “Swop the gene regulatory elements in front a gene with those present in front of a different gene from the same plant and you can get a completely different pattern of expression of that gene. Note here every genetic element involved is already from that plant, nothing has been ‘introduced’ from outside the plant.”

    I wonder: Do you contend that GM begins and ends with this and only this sort of manipulation?

    If that were the case, my view would be different.

    Another question: Given that, from natural selection’s evolutionary processes over eons, succeeding generations of evolved life carry all manner of and any number of inherited DNA from precursor organisms, my question:

    Do you contend that this is scientifically, (i.e. biologically and chemically) necessarily and absolutely indistinguishable from what results from lab GM work?

  275. #275 Krebiozen
    April 26, 2013

    proximity1,

    So, by the way, Irradiation, too, has not been practiced for the last 100,000 yeas.

    Yes it has – natural background radiation, and UV light created many of the mutations that humans have exploited through selective breeding.

    I don’t see any reason why natural selection could not produce the exact same genetic changes as genetic engineering, given enough time. There are weeds that have developed a natural resistance to glyphosate, analogous to the Roundup-ready plants produced by genetic modification. Is one more dangerous than the other? If so, why?

    BTW I think you mean 10,000 years, which is roughly the currently estimated age of agriculture.

  276. #276 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    Todd @ 204:

    “It seems, and correct me if I’m wrong, that these are the two options you are saying we have and that a) is necessarily the better option. However, I still have not seen a cogent argument from you as to why it is better. A natural disaster that occurs because of our inaction can be just as much our fault as on that occurs because we took action.

    Indeed it can. In fact, some so-called “natural disasters” are in fact man-made– most (though I grant, not necessarily all) cases of human mass-starvation are really “natural disasters” which are man-made, and, so, at least hypothetically preventable–if, that is, one supposes that people are not, as social creatures, simply incorrigbly cruel and stupid and hell-bent on a suicidal egoism; and I can’t and don’t completely exclude that possibility.

    So, I agree that, where we can and should foresee a preventable catastrophe, and we don’t foresee and prevent it, yes indeed we are responsible in such cases.

    Now, as concerns natural selection’s variations in plant and animal life and the consequent evolutionary developments that ensue—can we ever reasonably foresee & prevent the consequences? As a matter of fact, never mind whether the consequences are, from our particular “species’ point of view” (as if there were one of these) “negative”–good, bad or indifferent, we aren’t in a position to foresee or prevent natural selection’s evolutionary effects –at least over the broad expanse of nature. Perhaps in the tiniest ways, working at the margins (to speak very, very loosely, since in fact I dont think that there is a valid sense to ‘the margins’ when it comes to the natural environment), we can effect some small and temporary results.

    So, I see your presentation of my supposed choices as a mistaken one and a picture of what is a false choice.

    As I see it, the case is not that between A and B as you describe them. It’s rather between

    “A”: allowing a commercially-captive science to practice the commercially-interested and commercially-driven arts of genetic manipulation for, before all else, coporate profit

    and “B” Not allowing “A”

    nor, indeed, any laboratory GM’s products (too late now for irradiation, but I would also argue in favor of the cessation of the use of radiation for any food or food-source treatments) being released into the natural environment. So, like Brad N., I favor sending such science and such scientists to some extra-terrestrial colony for such work. And waiting, in the meantime, until “we” can “get (them) there.”

    “And none of this speaks to your apparent opposition to any genetic modification done by humans.”

    I’m not opposed to what, for lack of a better phrase, I’ll describe as ordinary practice of cross-breeding, that is, the sorts which >really have been practiced for some 100,000 years or so.

  277. #277 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    But why? You still haven’t shown that there is a real difference between GM, cultivation or natural selection, at least as far as end results go. The only difference is a matter of time. As far as genetic changes go, there is no significant difference.

  278. #278 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    Krebiozen @ 275:

    Oh fucking please

    –if you don’t or won’t see the difference between the natural background radiation that in which environment all presently existing life has evolved, and, on the other hand, a deliberate and long-term direct use, by design, for, again, commercially-derived-and-driven purposes, then, really, think you’re a prime candidate for employment at Monsanto, if you don’t already work there–and, yes, that’s “bad” . And, if you do work for Monsanto or any other interested commercial entity germane to this discussion, why not disclose that interest on your part?

    Yes, I intended 10,000 years, not the 100,000 I mistakenly wrote. Thank you.

  279. #279 Krebiozen
    April 26, 2013

    proximity1,

    I’m not opposed to what, for lack of a better phrase, I’ll describe as ordinary practice of cross-breeding, that is, the sorts which >really have been practiced for some 100,000 years or so.

    So exploiting accidental random changes to a plant or animal’s genome is OK, but deliberately producing the exact same changes is not OK? I struggle to understand why anyone would believe this.

  280. #280 herr doktor bimler
    April 26, 2013

    Here’s the relevant cite from post N° 95 (with emphasis added to help you out, Herr Doktor:
    ” There is a difference between “breeding” traditional forms to express themselves and genetically manipulating their genome(s).

    Yes, Brad claims that there is a difference — and you have repeatedly endorsed his claim that there is a difference, and deferred to it as your authority — but he does not say what that difference is. He makes no distinction.
    Brad tells us that “there is a difference because they aren’t the same“.

    Putting things in bold does not make them any truer.

  281. #281 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    Todd,

    at post 251, Grant claims the following, RE your post, N° 244 :

    “He wasn’t saying ‘anything’ as in ‘all species’, but as in all things people do.”

    I don’t read it that way. I understood you to mean, by “Can there be unintended consequences? Sure, but that’s true with anything.” that it’s true of any type of science or, more particularly, any type of intervention in horticulture and animal husbandry.

    Since you are present, would you please settle that question.

    If you meant “everything people do” entails unintended consequences, then you’re operating a cicular reasoning–since the whole issue turns not on “what people do” but, rather, “what people ought or ought NOT .” Instead, your view assumes that GM is an ineluctable given; indeed, that is the unemphasized assumption by practically every one here arguing in its favor and that assumption is categorically and logically false–and when insisted on, its also blatantly dishonest in the discussion.

  282. #282 herr doktor bimler
    April 26, 2013

    Proximity1 at #278 tells the readers that if we do not automatically share his intuitions — instead, stubbornly asking for explanations or at least an explanation-shaped collection of words — then we are obviously Working For the Enemy and it devolves upon us to explain how we square that with our consciences.

    There’s a persuasive argument if ever there was one.

  283. #283 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    No, I meant exactly what I said. Everything has unintended consequences. Nut just science.

    You claim that our arguments see logically false, yet you have failed to show that that is so. For example, go back to my example involving vitamin A production by a plant. If the end result is an increase of 25% over baseline, how is it okay if we get there by natural selection, selective cultivation, or targeted genetic modification? Also, explain how GM is more risky than the uncontrolled modification from cultivation.

  284. #284 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE 280:

    For argument’s sake as a hypothetical example, let’s take the case of H.I.V.

    Suppose, (though I don’t believe this is actually the case, there are some who do suspect it, –that’s irrelevant for this point), just suppose that H.I.V. had first arisen not in a natural environment, i.e. outside any laboratory environment, but, instead, inside a laboratory, and then somehow escaped into the open environment with all the consequences which we know have ensued–

    Suppose that for this exercise. Do you contend that the two situations are in any respectable sense equivalent, scientifically, socially, or morally? Is it not obvious that, in this case, people should have every legitimate right to object that such work should not have been undertaken in the first place?

  285. #285 herr doktor bimler
    April 26, 2013

    So, by the way, Irradiation, too, has not been practiced for the last 100,000 yeas.

    This brings back fond memories of Isaac Asimov’s 1956 essay “The explosions within us” about that very subject.

  286. #286 herr doktor bimler
    April 26, 2013

    Proximity1 @284:
    Suppose that for this exercise.

    I have asked for an argument, any kind of argument, no matter how pathetic, that A and B are different.
    Your response is “Let us stipulate that A and B are not the same. Would you then concede that A and B are different?”
    Most trolls do better.

  287. #287 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE 282

    Proximity1 at #278 tells the readers that if we do not automatically share his intuitions — instead, stubbornly asking for explanations or at least an explanation-shaped collection of words — then we are obviously Working For the Enemy and it devolves upon us to explain how we square that with our consciences.

    There’s a persuasive argument if ever there was one.

    Perhaps. But mine is just an argument.

    Your case is more, much more:

    Your case consists, in essence, of this:

    We’re scientists, Goddamnit. Since we find much lucrative work in the employ of industry, and since our employers (or our employers’ industrial backers by one remove,) see immense commercial advantages in the marketplace by the pursuit of genetically-modified organisms, produced commercially for sale–the latter being entirely within our capacity to produce for their use and interests, then, ignorant laypeople, that is what we’re going to do, and, by the way, you can’t stop us from doing it. And those who suggest that our work is anything other than the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge and the betterment of mankind (fuck all non-mankind,) such people belong to the ignorant lay population and we, scientists, pity them –that is, when we aren’t mocking them. Though, on occasion, we do both at once.”

    There’s your “case”, enforced on the public, which is obliged, like it or not, to submit.

  288. #288 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    Speaking of things not never explained clearly, and, in response to this:

    JGC @ 207: “It’s not that you need to make ‘this cardinal distinction’–recall I stipulated for the sake of argument that the interested/disinterested distinction be accepted. It’s that you have to explain why that distinction argues developing GMO’s poses a sufficient risk of causing such a health disaster that it requires the paractice be discontinued.”

    I answer: Please explain to us what “sufficient risk” means, how to find and measure it, and, by the way, who is to do these tasks.

    Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather that “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.

    Thank you.

    the onus should be that of GMO’s opponents’ proving danger rather than GMO’s advocates proving

  289. #289 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE: 286

    See my post @ 287. then, re-read Post 286.

    Q.E.D.

  290. #290 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    herr doktor bimler #286 – an ideologically-based difference, in other words.

  291. #291 MarkL
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    Q.E.D?

    The only things that have been demonstrated here are your evasiveness and your lack of logical thought processes. Insisting that you are right because “you say so” doesnt really impress anyone other than 3 year olds.

    Your arguments are vacuous, your logic impaired.

    “Give up before you make a total tit of yourself” would be my advice .

  292. #292 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    So now Proximity1 is trying to be “demanding”.

    proximity1 #273:
    “I wonder: Do you contend that GM begins and ends with this and only this sort of manipulation?

    If that were the case, my view would be different.”

    AFAIK you haven’t said what you think so there’s no real way to interact with the latter part. The first part depends not on me, but how others see it. GE opponents tend to see GE and other forms of GM as creating different products, rather than as different methods that can create essentially the same class of products.

    “Another question: Given that, from natural selection’s evolutionary processes over eons, succeeding generations of evolved life carry all manner of and any number of inherited DNA from precursor organisms, my question:

    Do you contend that this is scientifically, (i.e. biologically and chemically) necessarily and absolutely indistinguishable from what results from lab GM work?”

    Missing the bit saying different in what way – no real way to interact with it. Calling for absolute differences is just playing word/logic games. (Think about it: every single form of life is different, even every single individual.) More relevant and practical is to ask for, say, differences in food safety.


    Oh fucking please

    –if you don’t or won’t see the difference between the natural background radiation that in which environment all presently existing life has evolved, and, on the other hand, a deliberate and long-term direct use, by design, for, again, commercially-derived-and-driven purposes, then, really, think you’re a prime candidate for employment at Monsanto, [etc, etc]”

    You seem to be losing it a bit there. The aim of these approaches was, loosely speaking, to mimic the natural mutation process, but speed it up so that mutants might more quickly be generated than waiting for them to happen along.

  293. #293 Heliantus
    April 26, 2013

    if you don’t or won’t see the difference between the natural background radiation that in which environment all presently existing life has evolved, and, on the other hand, a deliberate and long-term direct use, by design, for, again, commercially-derived-and-driven purposes,

    In most aspects, it’s about the same difference as between hunting buffalo and rising cattle for food.
    Or else, between gathering wild veggies and growing them in man-made fields.

    One is making do with whatever we can find in the wild. Which, historically, was often not enough and certainly not without risks. Unless you discount liver flukes as risk.
    The other is taking a hand to ensure higher production and benefits by breeding and selection. Which brings in different risks.

    So what?

  294. #294 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE: 279

    “So exploiting accidental random changes to a plant or animal’s genome is OK, but deliberately producing the exact same changes is not OK? I struggle to understand why anyone would believe this.”

    The lab-produced changes might be “exactly the same” in their real-environment effects, but you don’t and you cannot know this for a certainty in advance of those changes being allowed to operate in the open environment–where, once there, it is impossible to recall them.

    When General Motors or Toyota produce defective products, they can (and they do) recall them.

    So far, no one has made the slightest effort to explain how GMO’s advocate-scienctists recall their defective products once they’ve been produced, sold and are in not only the marketplace but in the viscera of the consumers.

    How, again, is this done, Krebiozen? Or don’t you scientists make mistakes–ones found only too late to reverse in their effects— in this particular field?

    Who made Dioxin? Natural selection, or a scientisits in a laboratory? Why weren’t its harmful effects discovered prior to its sale and use?

    Who made the pregnancy drug, DES? Or Thalidamide? Natural selection’s work or scientists in a lab? Why weren’t their harmful effects discovered before producing hideous birth-deefects in thousands of infants?

    And, I wonder, why, not until I mentioned them here, have none of these instances been part of the thread’s contents, and invoked, with regrets, by the proponents of GMOs?

  295. #295 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    Let me draw a parallel argument for you:

    The lab-produced naturally-produced changes might be “exactly the same” in their real-environment effects, but you don’t and you cannot know this for a certainty in advance of those changes being allowed to operate in the open environment–where, once there, it is impossible to recall them.

    A subtle change, but there is no logical difference between what you stated and what I have just put above. At least, you have yet to make any logical distinction, other than simply asserting that man-made is bad because…well, you haven’t given any cogent reason.

    Who made the pregnancy drug, DES? Or Thalidamide? Natural selection’s work or scientists in a lab?

    Umm…since when were DES and thalidomide connected, in any way, to GMOs and agriculture? I’m confused.

    Oh, you’re engaging in non sequitur. Got it. BTW, the reason no one has brought up DES or thalidomide is because this thread is about GMOs. Do try to stay on-topic and don’t let your luddite ideology get in the way of logical thinking.

    Oh, and who made dioxins first? That would be natural selection:

    In addition to manmade sources, natural processes, such as brush and forest fires, produce dioxins.

    And while you are busy bashing science and scientists, please tell us who discovered the negative effects of dioxins, thalidomide or whatever other bogeyman you dredge up? I believe you will find that it was scientists who discovered these things.

  296. #296 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    ” Umm…since when were DES and thalidomide connected, in any way, to GMOs and agriculture? I’m confused.”

    Mutatis mutandis.

    GMO’s, what a “nice”, neutral term, isn’t it? However, the label leaves out the source of the modification, its interested role and, more particularly, in present-day contexts, how “intrerested” here is a term which itself carries unmentioned, “commercially” as its modifier—, and how that is inherently distinguished from what happens in nature.

    Natural selection’s freely working operations aren’t, in the first instance, susceptible to corporate money’s power and so its directions and outcomes can’t be corupted by human power-interests. They can be “exploited,” yes. But somewhere prior to that initial exploitation, first a natural process, uninfluenced by lucrative interests, had to arise.

    You are neithe “confused” nor sincere.

  297. #297 Lawrence
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity – care to address the description of the process as described by an individual who actually does it for a living?

  298. #298 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    My comment is stuck in moderation it seems. Guess that’s what I get for quoting proximity’s “Oh f—— please”

    Sigh

  299. #299 Shay
    Farm country
    April 26, 2013

    Prx -

    It is true that genetically altered crops won’t survive a severe drought but neither will “natural” crops. Do some reading in 19th century agriculture.

  300. #300 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    [ Editing to see if it'll let me get this past the moderation filter. Tidied a little while I was at it. The editor in me :-) ]

    So now Proximity1 is trying to be “demanding” by “insisting” people answer to him.

    proximity1 #273:
    “I wonder: Do you contend that GM begins and ends with this and only this sort of manipulation?

    If that were the case, my view would be different.”

    AFAIK you haven’t said what you think so there’s no real way to interact with the latter part. The first part depends not on me, but how others see it. GE opponents tend to see GE and other forms of GM as creating different products, rather than as different methods that can create essentially the same class of products.

    “Another question: Given that, from natural selection’s evolutionary processes over eons, succeeding generations of evolved life carry all manner of and any number of inherited DNA from precursor organisms, my question:

    Do you contend that this is scientifically, (i.e. biologically and chemically) necessarily and absolutely indistinguishable from what results from lab GM work?”

    Needs a bit saying different in what way. Calling for absolute differences is playing games. Think about it: every single form of life is different, even every single individual. More relevant and practical is to ask for differences in, say, food safety.

    ”Oh f—— please

    –if you don’t or won’t see the difference between the natural background radiation that in which environment all presently existing life has evolved, and, on the other hand, a deliberate and long-term direct use, by design, for, again, commercially-derived-and-driven purposes, then, really, think you’re a prime candidate for employment at Monsanto, [etc, etc]”

    You seem to be losing it a bit there. The aim of these approaches was just to create mutants more quickly than waiting for them to happen along.

  301. #301 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    RE: 294

    “And while you are busy bashing science and scientists, please tell us who discovered the negative effects of dioxins”….

    I don’t know, just off-hand but I suppose I could look it up.

    but, from your link, I learn this:

    “CDDs and CDFs are not created intentionally, but are produced inadvertently by a number of human activities. Natural processes also produce CDDs and CDFs. PCBs are manufactured products, but they are no longer produced in the United States.”

    Do I understand, then, that by asserting that natural selection first produced dioxins (that is, the CDDs and the CDF mentioned above), we’re talking there about the natural occurrance of forest fires? And, if that’s the case, then, am I to understand that it’s your point and purpose in making that observation that we should take the coincidence that, if forest fires produce, among other things, CDDs and CDFs, then this fact has probative value when considering the matter of the harms which attended the production and uses of the non-natural dioxins? the PCBs, produced only from human industrial activities and their direct by-products?

    Is this seriously the line of argument you’re offering on behalf of the great and humane enterprise called science?

    Those are questions.

    Again, if certain-rather, many—aspects of present-day science and its practitioner scientists leave me disgusted, it’s because I read sites such as this and commentary from scientists (or their knee-jerk, unconditional defenders) such as you.

    Why not also ask who discovered the negative effects of Thalidamide, of DES, as well? Don’t you want to think about the fact that the answer is, obstetricians, in the delivery-room discovered those negative effects.

  302. #302 LW
    April 26, 2013

    Natural selection’s freely working operations aren’t, in the first instance, susceptible to corporate money’s power and so its directions and outcomes can’t be corupted by human power-interests.

    Natural selection’s freely working operations aren’t, in the first instance, susceptible to corporate money’s preference not to kill off their customers or get sued for harming their customers.

  303. #303 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    ” The aim of these approaches was just (for for-profit industrial interests) to create mutants (plant and animal products, for commercial sale) more quickly than waiting for them to happen along.”

    FIFY.

    But I already understood this, Grant. By the way, are you your own self-employed consultant to industry?

  304. #304 proximity1
    April 26, 2013

    By industry’s view, whether that means the company’s board of directors, its lower management or even the firm’s investors–often themselves corporate, too– how to regard customer-death and injury are matters that depend on the individuals’ ethical standards —and the potential lawsuits and fines that may ensue are so much business expenses and, thus, though I may be mistaken— perhaps a tax accountant or lawyer specialist could tell us— also a tax deduction.

  305. #305 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    GMO’s, what a “nice”, neutral term, isn’t it? However, the label leaves out the source of the modification, its interested role and, more particularly, in present-day contexts, how “intrerested” here is a term which itself carries unmentioned, “commercially” as its modifier—, and how that is inherently distinguished from what happens in nature.

    Ah, so you’re playing semantics and changing definitions, now? The topic of this thread is genetically modified organisms for food. Stop shifting goalposts and stick to the question at hand. Non sequiturs only serve to distract and ultimately illustrate that you are dodging the questions being asked of you.

    Natural selection’s freely working operations aren’t, in the first instance, susceptible to corporate money’s power and so its directions and outcomes can’t be corupted by human power-interests.

    So the problem is not genetic modification per se, but rather the corrupting influence of money? That is an entirely different question than the original post and what the rest of us have been focusing on. Now, try to focus here. How is a genetic change brought about by genetic engineering physically different than a genetic change brought about by natural selection? Again, refer to my vitamin A example. How are those cases different?

    You brought up dioxins in an attempt to show that scientists, as opposed to nature, are awful, horrible people producing dangerous things. The implication being that dioxins were created by people, not by nature. I merely showed that dioxins originated in nature, not with humans.

    You keep arguing that scientists are awful, based on a very prejudiced viewpoint reinforced by selection and confirmation bias. You ignore that there is a spectrum of individuals. Yes, some are driven by greed and power-grabbing, but you casually dismiss those who are driven by a desire to improve the state of the human condition. You’ve already been shown that your specialization argument is bogus. But human motivations are a totally separate issue. Let’s focus on the science, shall we?

    Now, can you please answer the questions asked of you, rather than wandering off on tangents only related in your fevered imagination?

  306. #306 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @proximity1

    it’s because I read sites such as this and commentary from scientists (or their knee-jerk, unconditional defenders) such as you.

    BTW, be careful about making assumptions. I’m not a scientist (nor a knee-jerk, unconditional defender). You’re showing your anti-science bigotry, there.

  307. #307 Ewan R
    April 26, 2013

    The lab-produced changes might be “exactly the same” in their real-environment effects, but you don’t and you cannot know this for a certainty in advance of those changes being allowed to operate in the open environment–where, once there, it is impossible to recall them.

    One also cannot recall the products of naturally produced variation once released. So by this measure I assume you’re arguing for equivalence of the techniques? Seems a tad out of character, but I’ll take it.

    So far, no one has made the slightest effort to explain how GMO’s advocate-scienctists recall their defective products once they’ve been produced, sold and are in not only the marketplace but in the viscera of the consumers.

    Odd this, given that traits which have inadvertently been released have been recalled/removed from production (I believe one of Syngenta’s traits, although I could be wrong there, possibly Pioneer? I think the trait had star in the name)

    On the risks of doing things – these nebulous undefined risks of some harm at some point in the future maybe occuring, despite the fact we haven’t seen it yet, not even the remotest inkling – I think we may take this into consideration if we also take into account the risks of not doing these things.

    Lets look at roundup ready products. The risk of doing these things remains your nebulous unfounded risk which has yet to be realized plus the risk of weed species developing resistance (a rather obvious risk, in my mind, which was vastly underplayed until the last 5-10 years). The risk of not doing these things? Well, we have a nebulous unfounded risk which I can wave my hands at (you can’t prove that the universe wouldn’t have imploded if the RR system hadn’t been deployed exactly when it was, perhaps it pleased the vogons such that they turned around and went home) and then the very real risks of not using the system – the RR system reduced the environmental impact of herbicides used in the systems it was used significantly by replacing more toxic chemistries. Don’t do RR and you’re left with the status quo, which is indubitably worse. You have the financial and time investment component for farmers – they can spend more money and more time dealing with weeds, or they can use the RR system. They use the RR system and save both. Remove it and you cost farmers time and money.

    Then we can take a look at Bt. Again, both sides have made up nebulous risks. Bt has the real risk of resistance arising (which we knew, because resistance had arisen in pockets due to the use of Bt sprays pre-GMOs) which is again being realized somewhat. Again however not using the system and you have all the risks which go along with increased insecticide use. You have a multibillion dollar across year savings to farmers using the system (and indeed to those not using the system – Bt has been so effective that in some areas it has practically made itself obsolete – much like a well adopted vaccination). You have thousandsd of developing world farmers who can double their profits using Bt cotton who otherwise would still be spraying class I and II insecticides in order to realize 50% the net profit they see today.

    Risks cut both ways. The risks of adoption remain largely nebulous, undefined, and invisible (other than resistance, which is a problem with any control and thus, in my opinion, not a reason to not adopt a technology – its a reason to keep developing and to deploy smartly (ie not the way RR was initially done)) – the risks of non-adoption for the current set of traits however is tangible, real, and would negatively impact both the environment and the lives of farmers.

    We can do similar for Golden rice. Nebulous risks. No risks of resistance (it isn’t an -icide). The risk of non-adoption is a continuation of the status quo. Kids going blind by the thousands because of Vitamin A deficiency. If the product works you alleviate this. By your logic does your ill defined non-existent risk outweigh quality of life for thousands? Even for hundreds? (assuming a worst (ish) case scenario where GR doesn’t actually help as much as it could, which given the ubiquity of rice farming and the massive increases in vit A availability from GR is quite a stretch)

  308. #308 Heliantus
    April 26, 2013

    @ proximity1

    Natural selection’s freely working operations

    Oh, so you are against animal breeding and crop selection? None of them are letting natural selection freely working. Without our meddling, silkworms would be extinct. Or completely different.
    Should we go back to stone age hunter-gatherer lifestyle?

    Re: dioxin and other man-produced poisons. Yeah, as a tool-using species, we tend to create new issues when trying to solve old ones.
    There is a layer of lead dust buried in the South pole ices, dating from the time of the old Roman empire. Lead, as you may know, was used extensively by the Roman civilization as petrol’s plastics are used today, for similar uses. With, in both cases, accompanying health adverse effects. I would be tempted to place lead poisoning as worse than today’s known plastic ill-effect, although bisphenol-A is apparently not that nice either. And that we lack by quality, we made it for quantity…
    So what? GMO, or most of them anyway, are not creating new chemicals, but expressing old ones in new places. Biodegradable chemicals, on top of it.

    GMO’s, what a “nice”, neutral term, isn’t it? However, the label leaves out the source of the modification [...]

    Do you mean GMOs should be judged individually, taking into account what has been added, and for what purpose, and who will sell it? What a novel idea!
    Let’s debate it!
    Oh no, sorry, let’s condemn and abort all GMO production, rip out modified crops under studies, and generally drop the idea altogether.

    As for “source of modification”, I hope you mean “where the inserted gene is coming from”.
    If you mean to include under the GMO umbrella the crops which have been subjected to radiation or mutagenic agents, that’s not the usual definition of GMO and that’s a completely different and bigger kettle of fish.

    am I to understand that it’s your point and purpose in making that observation that we should take the coincidence that, if forest fires produce, among other things, CDDs and CDFs, then this fact has probative value when considering the matter of the harms which attended the production and uses of the non-natural dioxins?

    No.
    Strawman.

    Our point is not that, because it is natural, then it is safe. It’s actually your point. This, or the opposite, that something non-natural (for your definition of “natural”) is inherently toxic.

    Our point is that a substance’s potential for harm should be evaluated on its own, regardless of its source. That nature is perfectly able to create nasty chemicals all by itself, and since it had a head start of a few billion years, much better than us.

    Our body doesn’t care if the cyanide it’s ingesting is coming from organic-farmed manioc or has been derived from prussic acid. With the same quantity, it will suffer all the same.

    So, testing a new product, either a natural one or a synthesized one? Having tests done (or at least paid for) by the producers proposing it, and then by independent research teams (like, say, tax-funded public labs)? OK, no argument here, I’m all with you. And it has been done, damnit. More to come, more to do, but it’s not a complete unknown.
    Example: a recently published review of 24 older studies on GM food, either long-term or multi-generation. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50 (2012) 1134–1148; doi:10.1016/j.fct.2011.11.048
    Conclusion of this review: no reproducible evidence that the studied GM feed were causing any harm.

  309. #309 JGC
    April 26, 2013

    The short answer, which I don’t now have enough time to develop, can be put this way: In 2013, we are living in “The House That Science Built” (“Since the Late 1800s” )

    No more than we’re living in the house that politics built, or that mass-media has built, or that economics have built. But I’m curious—if you’re going to blame science for a perceived “general decline in cultural sophistication”, are you also going to credit science for all the cultural advances since the late 1800’s? Woman’s rights, child labor restrictions, desegregation, etc? Or are we only living in the house that science built when you elect to assign blame for what you perceive to be an adverse consequence?

    Citing the proportion of scientists in the general population in such a context is simply absurd.

    I don’t see how. Your argument, after all, is that a narrowing of focus on the part of young people developing a keen interest in science by high school age such that they never come to have more than the most scant and superficial exposure to culture outside of science is the root of the problem. We have to consider then whether this represents a sufficient sampel of the entire population to drive a general decline in cultural sophisticaion. Lacking a direct measure, and given the reasonable prediction thatt individuals focused to this extent will seek employment as scientists (indeed, would be poorly qualified for employment in fields outside their narrow focus) the number of sceintists in the total workforce is a logical surrogate metric.

    And again, Inote you’re ignoring the fact the problem you’re you’re perceiving–teens exhibiting a narrow interest outside of a preferred focus–isn’t a problem with science itself. It’s a function of focusing on any one interest to the exclusion of others: athletics, music, literature, art, politics, economics, etc.

    Since I dont know you that well, I guess I have to put it down to incredible naivté rather than something a lot less respectable in argument.

    You claim that narrowing of focus on the part of 10% of the total population has caused a decline in general cultural sophistication of society as a whole, without offering support for that claim. In fact, you haven’t offered any support for the premise there has been a general decline in cultural sophistication in the first place.

    I’m not being naïve—I’m simply considering your argument and finding it not only unfounded but improbable.

  310. #310 Edith Prickly
    April 26, 2013

    So, like Brad N., I favor sending such science and such scientists to some extra-terrestrial colony for such work. And waiting, in the meantime, until “we” can “get (them) there.” Todd, Grant, HDB et al, I greatly appreciate your efforts to elicit something other than self-important bloviating from proximity1, but I think he’s been given more than enough airtime here. He’s plainly a shill for the space program. Aerospace engineers appear to be OK in his personal Great Chain of Being (I guess he thinks they work for free?) but genetic engineers are always evil minions of the Dark Lord Voldemort Davros of the Sith Monsanto.

  311. #311 Edith Prickly
    the corner of Blockquote and Fail
    April 26, 2013

    The windy effusion from proximity1 was meant to be in blockquotes:

    So, like Brad N., I favor sending such science and such scientists to some extra-terrestrial colony for such work. And waiting, in the meantime, until “we” can “get (them) there.”

    Todd, Grant, HDB et al, I greatly appreciate your efforts to elicit something other than self-important bloviating from proximity1, but I think he’s been given more than enough airtime here. He’s plainly a shill for the space program. Aerospace engineers appear to be OK in his personal Great Chain of Being (I guess he thinks they work for free?) but genetic engineers are always evil minions of the Dark Lord Voldemort Davros of the Sith Monsanto.

  312. #312 JGC
    April 26, 2013

    I answer: Please explain to us what “sufficient risk” means, how to find and measure it, and, by the way, who is to do these tasks.

    You’re the one who’s been arguing GMO’s are likely to be “really terribly, terribly harmful”, so much so that their development and consumption poses an imminent threat. Are you now saying that not only do you have no idea what the level of risk translates to ‘ really terribly, terribly harmful” but lack any idea how to determine risk?

    I personally would conclude, that after trillions of GM meals produced and consumed with no evidence of “really terribly terribly harm”, the risk is not demonstrably greater than non-GM production and consumption.

    The lab-produced changes might be “exactly the same” in their real-environment effects, but you don’t and you cannot know this for a certainty in advance of those changes being allowed to operate in the open environment–where, once there, it is impossible to recall them.

    Exactly as impossible to recall than a ‘naturally’ produced change once allowed to operate in the open environment. In fact, it’s easier to recall a laboratory produced change than one that occurs naturally, since a) you know it exists in the first place and b) you know where it’s been planted.

    So far, no one has made the slightest effort to explain how GMO’s advocate-scienctists recall their defective products once they’ve been produced, sold and are in not only the marketplace but in the viscera of the consumers.

    In 2001 Monsanto recalled all food products containing traces of the GM corn variety Starlink not approved for consumption. They did so in exactly the same manner that non-GMfoods are recalled. The same way that defective non-GMO products are recalled. Recent examples? Spokane lettuce contaminated with listeria in 2011, Naturipe strawberries in 2011 for e coli contamination (from deer’s pooping in the fields where they were naturally grown), Sealtest milk products in 2011, etc.

    The recall of foods is actually a fairly common occurrence– in the fourth quarter of 2013 the FDA reported that recalls hit a 2 year high, 552 recalls (averaging 6 recalls a day) affecting 18.4 million products.

    I hope you are’t going to argue that a significant fraction of those recalls were directed against GM foods…

  313. #313 JGC
    maybe I'll abandon blockquoting altogether
    April 26, 2013

    Start using brackets or something…

  314. #314 Ewan R
    April 26, 2013

    In 2001 Monsanto recalled all food products containing traces of the GM corn variety Starlink not approved for consumption. They

    Monsanto did no such thing. Starlink isn’t a Monsanto trait (Bayer, I believe own Aventis who hold the patent)

  315. #315 Beamup
    April 26, 2013

    As far as I can tell, proximity is arguing that randomness is better than anything done deliberately… because apparently Monsanto’s goal is to deliberately kill as many people as possible and cause ecological disasters?

  316. #316 JGC
    Apologies to Monsanto!
    April 26, 2013

    Sorry for attributing Satrlink to Monsanto in error–I’ve checked and you’re correct, it’s licensed from Aventis.

    Hopefully my mistake didn’t obscure the point I was trying to illustrate: the systems in already in plce for the recall non-GM foods are not only adequate but have been used to recall GM foods when a problem has been identified.

  317. #317 Glaxxon PharmaCOM Orbital
    Musing in Observation Port 449, Level 6
    April 26, 2013

    MESSAGE BEGINS———————

    Shills and Minions,

    This Proximity creature does go on, doesn’t he? He really ought to be nattering on to the chitinous bores over at the Mon’sheev Weaver Collective. Genetic manipulation is their specialty, not ours. It would give me no small amount of glee to see him lecturing a few drones in the hallway over at Syngenta or Monsanto. It would be delicious payback for all of the monotonous reports I’ve had to sit through at their utterly inedible Collective dinners.

    But I digress . . . ol’ Proxy has a lot of theatrical verve and an almost palpable earnestness in his presentations. He does, however, tend to wander from the core topic with tedious regularity. This is unsurprising since monkey brains are endothermic and fevered, unlike our cool, one-track intellects. Was that a cricket? Mmmmmm. Crickets. He’d make so many more points if he just stuck to the matter at hand. But after observing him in his natural habitat, I can say that he’s like this in the analog world a well.

    Telemetry from a surveillance orb shows him at work, cleaning out the mung bean trough at the co-op, expounding on the evils of, well, us to a rapt audience of young, ink-patterned human females, all decorated with myriad small metallic appliances. Fascinating to watch, actually. He thinks they’re enthralled with his exposition on extraterrestrial farming and the corporate hegemony’s refusal to expend capital on it. But they’re really just staring into his dreamy, brown eyes and wondering if someday they might be the one to braid his mousey-brown, patchouli-scented, matted hair modules after a long, romantic night of anti-capitalist monologues fueled by one too many cups of wildcrafted yerba maté and Venezuelan rum. Your species can make anything into a mating ritual!

    Humans. I never get tired of you. Annoyed, yes. Bored, no. So much more varied than the unvaried insectoids at the Planetary Subjugation Roundtable meetings.

    Our xenocultural team will have a field day with this information.

    Now, back to work Shills and Minions! You can’t spend all day in the photon mines. Go outside and crush the opposition and keep the riches of the Corpus flowing into your bloated coffers. Cadre Leader, Class XV, Elburto and her Sloth will be keeping an eye on you and reporting any slack directly to me.

    Lord Draconis Zeneca, VH7ihL
    Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Grand Vitara of Centauri B Prime, Pompatous of Love

    Glaxxon PharmaCOM Orbital
    1111111111111111101111111111

  318. #318 Krebiozen
    April 26, 2013

    proximity1,

    Oh f-cking please –if you don’t or won’t see the difference between the natural background radiation that in which environment all presently existing life has evolved, and, on the other hand, a deliberate and long-term direct use, by design, for, again, commercially-derived-and-driven purposes, then, really, think you’re a prime candidate for employment at Monsanto, if you don’t already work there–and, yes, that’s “bad” .

    The physical process of mutations being caused randomly by natural background radiation or deliberately using x-rays or gamma rays, is exactly the same. The only difference is intent. Why is a useful mutation created by the former process “good” and the by the latter “bad”? Why do you think the former is harmless but the latter is dangerous? I honestly don’t get it.

    And, if you do work for Monsanto or any other interested commercial entity germane to this discussion, why not disclose that interest on your part?

    I don’t, and I never have. A few years ago I was suspicious of GMOs too, until I did some in-depth reading about the subject, at which point I changed my mind.

  319. #319 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @Lord Draconis

    You mean proximity1 isn’t one of those new Bloviator 3000 automaton models I’ve heard so much about?

  320. #320 Glaxxon PharmaCOM Terrabase DIA
    Down to Earth
    April 26, 2013

    MESSAGE BEGINS——————

    Shill W.,

    We had to recall the Bloviator 3000 practice drones because their heads tended to explode once the biocircuitry packs heated past 40ºC. We lost several Shills in New Jersey during one unfortunate incident with a 3000. The ladies on Level 7 are working on the Blovimaxx 4000 which promise maximum annoyance with minimum detonation.
    To order one for your local squadron, contact your Cadre Leader, or drop Miss Flinders a request.

    Lord Draconis Zeneca, VH7ihl
    Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Pharmaca Magna of Terra, Spanner in the Works of the Orion Arm

  321. #321 Glaxxon PharmaCOM Terrabase DIA
    April 26, 2013

    0110111101011010101011111
    ————————–MESSAGE ENDS

  322. #322 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 26, 2013

    @Lord Draconis

    Sorry to hear the exploding head issue. I will say, though, that the programmers are getting quite good with the SIWOTI Initiation Protocol (S.I.P.).

  323. #323 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 26, 2013

    I’ve been busy, but I feel a need to respond to this comment from way above:

    I think that, in the main, though my criticisms were direct and unsoftened in the way that is usual in such threads as these, still, am I, was I in fact mistaken in what I argued was your faulty reading in the instances above? If so, you’re due an apology. But it seems to me that you had in some respects missed the point of parts of some of the passages I cited. No? Had you not, I’d have had no occasion to be so critical.

    Two points:
    1. So far, you’ve not shown anything to indicate that I misunderstood your point or Darwin’s. If you’d like to tell me how I misunderstood you, please do.
    2. The statement, “Had you not, I’d have had no occasion to be so critical” is strikingly close to the spousal abuser’s lament that “I wouldn’t have to hit you if you didn’t …”. You chose to be as critical as you were. You should take responsibility for your own actions – you’ll feel better for it.
    Note: I am not calling you a spousal abuser. I merely find the similarity of statement interesting.

  324. #324 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    April 26, 2013

    And yes, you were mistaken.

  325. #325 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    #303:

    “But I already understood this, Grant.”

    You argued them to be different – probably you’re confusing yourself: see #318.

    “By the way, are you your own self-employed consultant to industry?”

    Not really worth responding but you (‘conveniently’) leave out that my line of work doesn’t introduce conflicts of interest. Perhaps that’s an unfamiliarity of science showing? Potentially my skills could assist safety checking in a way that Heinemann in fact calls for, so I’d have thought you’d do well not to rub me up the wrong way. Food for thought: I generally consider people who resort to arguing the person to be tactically admitting they’re running out of substantiative arguments for their position. It’s the sort of thing politicians do when they’re running out of options, eh?

  326. #326 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    Eurgh. End-quote fail. More like this (sorry):

    “By the way, are you your own self-employed consultant to industry?”

    Not really worth responding but you (‘conveniently’) leave out that my line of work doesn’t introduce conflicts of interest. Perhaps that’s an unfamiliarity of science showing? Potentially my skills could assist safety checking in a way that Heinemann in fact calls for, so I’d have thought you’d do well not to rub me up the wrong way. Food for thought: I generally consider people who resort to arguing the person to be tactically admitting they’re running out of substantiative arguments for their position. It’s the sort of thing politicians do when they’re running out of options, eh?

  327. #327 Grant
    April 26, 2013

    Edith Prickly #311

    I’m failing to close italics myself :-)

    I generally agree: he seems stuck on an ideological position rather than really taking in replies. One thought though: some of us reply to comments like his for those that might be “lurking” — reading, but not commenting.

  328. #328 Khani
    April 27, 2013

    # 287 “We’re scientists, Goddamnit. Since we find much lucrative work in the employ of industry, and since our employers (or our employers’ industrial backers by one remove,) see immense commercial advantages in the marketplace by the pursuit of genetically-modified organisms, produced commercially for sale–the latter being entirely within our capacity to produce for their use and interests, then, ignorant laypeople, that is what we’re going to do, and, by the way, you can’t stop us from doing it. And those who suggest that our work is anything other than the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge and the betterment of mankind (fuck all non-mankind,) such people belong to the ignorant lay population and we, scientists, pity them –that is, when we aren’t mocking them. Though, on occasion, we do both at once.”

    Or:

    “We’re scientists, Goddamnit. Since we find so much desperate starvation in the entire world, and since we (or our employers’ industrial backers by one remove,) see immense ethical advantages to feeding the world by the pursuit of genetically-modified organisms, produced commercially for sale worldwide–the latter we have made entirely within our capacity to produce for everyone’s use and interests, then, ignorant laypeople, that is what we’re going to do, and, by the way, you can’t stop us from doing it. And those who suggest that our work is anything other than the pursuit of helping people for the sake of helping people, and the feeding of all humankind (and all the animals fed by all humankind,) such people belong to the ignorant lay population, and we, scientists, pity them–that is, when we aren’t trying to explain things to them rationally. Though, on occasion, we do both at once.”

  329. #329 Khani
    April 27, 2013

    #294

    Who made cyanide?

    Who made arsenic?

    Who made lead?

    Who made uranium?

    Who made oleander?

    Who made castor beans?

    Who made nightshade?

    Who made these terrible, terrible poisons, that have absolutely no product recall mechanism?

  330. #330 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    To expand on something Ewan R touched on above, I find it ironic that the main objection to GMOs seems to be that they are “unnatural”, yet their use in many cases leads to a large reduction in the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides. I have mentioned here before that tests of glyphosate safety (PDF) found that the detergent added to the herbicide was as toxic as, and in some cases more toxic than, the glyphosate itself, which does not bioaccumulate and breaks down rapidly in the environment. When you compare that to the herbicides that were used in agriculture just a few decades ago, it is a vast improvement.

    I suspect that the objections to GM crops in Europe are already leading to environmental damage. For example there is currently a debate about the possible effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees, while anti-GM protestors tear up oilseed rape that contains lepidopteran-specific Bt toxins and glucan-degrading enzymes which are extremely unlikely to affect bees or other non-target organisms. Neonicotinoids, though less toxic than organophosphate and carbamate, are undoubtedly toxic to birds, aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife (PDF).

    It seems clear to me that GM oilseed rape is much less dangerous to the environment than neonicotinoids, yet in the UK environmental groups attack the former, which results in farmers using the latter.

  331. #331 Denice Walter
    April 27, 2013

    Gaia?

  332. #332 Denice Walter
    April 27, 2013

    That should be:

    @ Khani:
    Gaia?

    Not only does this system give me random pieces of German instructions, French and now ITALIAN ads but it splices and dices my comments!

  333. #333 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    According to the Gaia philosophy, GMOs are surely just as much a part of her as you and I and genetic engineers are.

  334. #334 proximity1
    April 27, 2013

    RE: 309

    No more than we’re living in the house that politics built, or that mass-media has built, or that economics have built. But I’m curious—if you’re going to blame science for a perceived “general decline in cultural sophistication”, are you also going to credit science for all the cultural advances since the late 1800’s? Woman’s rights, child labor restrictions, desegregation, etc? Or are we only living in the house that science built when you elect to assign blame for what you perceive to be an adverse consequence?

    But a general decline doesn’t preclude select instances where a reasonable case can be made for a certain relative progress having been made. My view in criticizing the part that scientists, particularly, since the post-U.S. Civil War, have had in a general decline in culture doesn’t mean that since then its impossible to point to any gains or improvements socially or culturally. So, you’re confusing a trend in the general circumstance with other particular facts which, even taken togther, don’t, in my opinion, anyway, invalidate the general circumstances.

    But there’s something else that’s erroneously implied in the picture you’re offering in rebuttal.

    Yes, compared to the pre-1880s, Western women, especially, (and, non-Western women, not especially,) then and since then have, on average, seen certain kinds of gains in their general social and political situations.

    Take any particular instance of an arguable social gain,

    “Woman’s rights, child labor restrictions, desegregation, etc?”

    we are still entitled to ask, in this context,

    How much credit, and of what sort, do scientists deserve for that, and why?

    To put it another way, were any of these (U.S.) advances in any valid sense the direct objective of scientists or of their work over the decades we’re considering?

    The answer is obvious, “no, they were not.” In general, over this time, scientists and the general influence of their work, taken as a whole, has been, since the 1880s more and more allied to the ideals and the interests of the political power structure, and in particular, allied to a very narrow and conservative financial ideology–laissez-faire capitalism, today, a virtual religious faith to which scientists have fully accomodated themselves either willingly or by resignation. This means in practice that scientists have in that period, generally made themselves part of the corps of politically conservative power interests.

    Which scientists, or what scientific work stands out as having directly and intentionally notably contributed to the successes of the women’s rights efforts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? of the child labor reform movement? of even of desegregation?

    Throughout, there were scientists on both sides or, probably most often, simply not involved personally on one side or the other of these social struggles. On the other hand, whatever the scientists’ personal political views, the objective facts are that his (or, on occasion her) work lent direct material aid to virtually all of the political and economic power structure’s conservative interests–and, to this extent, were more a hindrance than a help to any struggling social reform movement.

    Since the end of World War II, the tendency for science to be the central nervous system of power’s hold has only increased and today it is simply a basic acquired armament in the arsenal of conservative power–and one of the most fundamental.

    Where, for example, has any important scientific operation–in research or in academics–by standing firmly on principles of universal rights and liberties, refused, to its detriment, to lend itself to the ends of the social and political forces which dominate Saudi Arabia? Yemen? Soudan? the Arab Gulf States?

    So in my view, you’re trying here to do what you accuse me of doing; focusing on “the forest” when that serves your purposes and, when it doesn’t, focusing then on “the trees” instread.

    What credit we owe to scientists is in those areas where their work, by intention, has contributed to human betterment. The most outstanding examples which aren’t severely tainted by other corrupting interests are, in my opinion, in the areas of medicine.

    Scientists have, as scientists, sought and found effective treatments against terrible diseases. Thus, there you have an example that’s squarely on the credit side of the ledger.

    It’s in that way that an examination of the roles played by scientists should be taken into account. Where as individuals and as a profession, the primary objective has been to achieve this, that or another advance, and this has met with success, then the community and the individuals deserve credit.

    But why on earth are advances in women’s rights, in child labor reform, or in racial desegregation of any particular credit to the scientists who lived through the hieght of these epic struggles? –most of which continue to some greater or lesser extent today in the West, and, moreover, continue in so many other parts of the world as though progress in the West had never been achieved. Do we find scientists in general, and conspicuously in these places leading by example? Aren’t there just as many or, indeed, a good many more scientists who are either simply not noticibly involved or squarely on the side of the power structure which is against those reforms?

    I think the answer, ovre the past 130 years is obvious heavily skewed in the direction and the interests of conservative power and, in that, practically always, as a consequence, against what a disinterested view of a general public interest would want –if it could only choose.

  335. #335 Denice Walter
    April 27, 2013

    @ Krebiozeen:

    You are so correct: all life forms consist of the very elements – the Material ( see Mater) of the Earth ( see Erde)-we are all part of the Great Goddess-enhanced symbiosis of life anddirt resting upon a volcanic birthing substrate ( see Pele) but ULTIMATELY that Material was delivered from the fertility of the Mother Universe itself and
    “We are all made of stars” [ play song]
    Dude.

  336. #336 Denice Walter
    April 27, 2013

    Pardonnez mes errata-
    if it’s not the computer, it’s me.
    Praise Gaia!

  337. #337 ARD
    April 27, 2013

    Why on earth is your alleged cultural decline of any particular credit to the scientists who have been living and working since the late 19th century?

    Actually, what is your evidence of any decline in cultural sophistication? Sure, people listen to crap music nowadays–but they’ve done that for ages. Most of it isn’t remembered because–news flash–people tend to selectively remember the good parts of times gone by. For every Beethoven we remember, there were many popular (at the time) composers we’ve forgotten. For every good novel, there are legions of mediocre ones forgotten after their fad passes–look up a fellow named Horatio Alger for an example. So people place less value in the words of dead philosophers–good, I say. Anyone who alleges that objects fall perpendicularly to the ground after flying up in a straight line no matter at which angle they are thrown deserves to fade into obscurity, as far as I’m concerned. (Aristotle) Leaving aside my own opinion on the relative value of old cultural authorities, science and technology have enabled greater participation in human culture than ever before–through the internet.

    So I ask again–what is your evidence of a general cultural decline, and why are scientists in particular responsible for any of it?

    And, finally, what is your evidence that the risk of an extremely well-studied gene producing harmful side effects outweighs the potential benefits of, say, rice that prevents blindness?

  338. #338 Narad
    April 27, 2013

    In general, over this time, scientists and the general influence of their work, taken as a whole, has been, since the 1880s more and more allied to the ideals and the interests of the political power structure, and in particular, allied to a very narrow and conservative financial ideology––laissez-faire capitalism

    Which, of course, is why the lab I worked in as an undergraduate was sneaking chips to a Soviet lab and why science overwhelmingly rejects anthropogenic global warming.

    Please answer the question about the LHC.

  339. #339 Narad
    April 27, 2013

    And, finally, what is your evidence that the risk of an extremely well-studied gene producing harmful side effects outweighs the potential benefits of, say, rice that prevents blindness?

    There isn’t any. Indeed, Proxy seems to have no notion whatever of science except as an undifferentiated blob that refuses to take a proper back seat to a sloppy postmodernist construction in which political discourse is properly in the driver’s seat. It’s not just a power struggle, it’s a petty power struggle. At least we haven’t gotten any Luce Irigaray yet.

  340. #340 Khani
    April 27, 2013

    #332 Yep. Natural doesn’t mean “safer for humans,” though, that’s for sure.

    Also, having studied a lot more history than your average bear, I don’t think there’s been a decline in general sophistication at all. Shakespeare: full of dirty puns. Chaucer: Full of lowbrow sexual innuendo. Austen: Full of gossip. Homer: The gods get into slapping fights and run off and tell daddy. Beowulf: Startlingly reminiscent of a superhero comic, but much more stupid.

    Most of what we now see as culturally sophisticated wasn’t considered such at the time, from Shakespeare to Impressionism. In fact, a lot of it was, when made, considered trash, or else just good old-fashioned entertainment, pretty much on a level with Duck Dynasty or Lady Gaga.

    Plus, ARD, #337, is correct. People do remember the good more than the bad in these types of discussions, and part of that is because the bad isn’t always preserved or played as much. If the only things you read from Shakespeare’s day are Shakespeare and Marlowe, you’re going to have a very skewed idea of the time period’s literature.

    Nevermind the fact that the printing press was seen as a terrible innovation that would lead to the corruption of society, just like radio, just like film, just like television, just like video games, just like the internet, just like… whatever will come down the pipe next at us.

    Either way, however? Not much to do with science here.

  341. #341 Denice Walter
    April 27, 2013

    @ Khani:

    And how could anyone- even an elitely educated social scientist ( ahem)- ever go about ascertaining if and how people of various eras stack up against each other vis a vis “a general decline in culture” ( or education or general level of skills) ? You have to account for the fact that information – especially in science- has exploded. Even information about people’s everyday lives and culture worldwide has become general information.

    In 1900, not all people, even in the enlightened west, were educated until age 16 or so. Those who were, usually had rigidly circumscribed curicula. Education varied based on gender and social class and from country to country.. Elitist education might focus on the classical era, rather than modernity. To study biology, chemistry or physics in different eras is like studying different disciplines because those subjects themselves have been transformed.

    Media has also become a source for general information and news. Oh I could go on but won’t.

    Interestingly, the complaint that today’s young adults are educated pathetically often comes from alt media … the usual suspects carp about this continuously.
    I am not joking.

  342. #342 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    we are still entitled to ask, in this context,
    How much credit, and of what sort, do scientists deserve for that, and why?

    Rarely have I seen a point so completely and spectacularly missed.

  343. #343 al kimeea
    www.quackademiology.com
    April 27, 2013

    “Sure, people listen to crap music nowadays”

    Big Nana warned Mum away from The Devil’s Music. Jazz.

  344. #344 Heliantus
    April 27, 2013

    @ proximity1 #334

    “Woman’s rights, child labor restrictions, desegregation, etc?”

    I should admit, your post got me thinking.
    My initial reaction was “no we are not’ [re: the most part the scientific community siding with the establishment/the conservative forces]
    And then I started thinking on how, in my country (France), there are currently two big bastions for the old order of white males: the National Assembly, and the Educational System. The glass ceiling against women or non-white people has been broken, but large pieces of it are still in place :-(
    Equal job opportunity is still a work in progress…
    So yeah, grudgingly, I have to concede your point, on average scientists tend toward conservatism.
    I could be biased, of course. Or dropping in the middle of the conversation and missing the point.

    I think, however, that you are more than a bit unfair and very narrow-sighted in dropping everything on scientists. If the scientific community has a conservative core, so is the rest of the population.
    Let me develop:

    Where, for example, has any important scientific operation–in research or in academics–by standing firmly on principles of universal rights and liberties, refused, to its detriment, to lend itself to the ends of the social and political forces which dominate Saudi Arabia? Yemen? Soudan? the Arab Gulf States?

    Or take your previous paragraph on the work of scientists supporting the existing social order.

    I said this is unfair because the same could be asked of any other trade, and the answer would be the same. Except for a few individuals (e.g. the ones which volunteered to go fight Franco in Spain in the 30′s, or the people who followed Martin Luther King), most people in western countries did nothing on the topics you raised, they simply did their job.
    And the plumber who is maintaining the military barracks’ lavatories is doing as much to support the existing social order as the scientist designing a new assault rifle. If you don’t believe me, read up on how many nations losed wars or social order crumbled because their internal chains of supply were broken.
    Why do you trust your plumber to do an honest job, but not a scientist? Both are getting money for it, and both have ways to increase their gains by cheating with the truth. You can check on your plumber’s job, but so can you on the scientist’s.

    Come to think of it, everyone of us here is using petrol, one way or another. Hence supporting de facto the political forces of the oil-producing countries you named.

    From what I have read of social struggles in the 60′s, glorifying – or blaming – a single trade as being sole responsible of the continued existence of the current social order is called determinism, and it was a flawed assumption: we are a society. No part could be working and doing that it is doing without the others.
    Well, except maybe in the context of a military coup, when coercion is being used to force the others to tag along.

    It’s actually very interesting. If I read you correctly, you want scientists to be holding a level of virtue and social responsibilities which was expected of priests and shaman – in short, holy men – in more primitive societies. Living separated from the society, not accumulating wealth. Working for free, living out of public charity.
    And if things go wrong, we can always burn them.

    How much credit, and of what sort, do scientists deserve for that, and why?

    If you want scientific contributions studying religious or social prejudices… then you have dedicated scientific fields. Sometimes tainted by political agenda, but still.
    If you want the names of individual doctors or scientists who, outside of their usual job, took philosophy as a hobby and lobbied for human rights or something close to it, I’m sure we can find some, but what would it prove? In any group, you have heroes, you have cowards, with most people falling in-between.
    Come to think of it, does Benjamin Franklin count as a scientist concerned with human betterment? Maybe too ancient, you wanted 20th century. Albert Einstein and the other physicists who expressed misgivings about nuclear weapons, sometimes to the detriment of their career, even if late in their life?
    And if you want to meet US scientists fighting for women’s right, religious freedom, etc, hop over at Pharyngula or any other Freethought blog. I’m sure they will love your input.

    It may also be nice if you could share your definition of human betterment. That’s one of these notions which sounds nice when spoken by politicians, but history has shown that people generally disagree strongly on the details.

    Uh, what a wall of text.

    tl;dr: What would it take for you to trust a scientist’s job? To go back on topic, what would be the conditions for you to accept the results of some GMO study? Or what would be a good GMO?

  345. #345 herr doktor bimler
    April 27, 2013

    In general, over this time, scientists and the general influence of their work, taken as a whole, has been, since the 1880s more and more allied to the ideals and the interests of the political power structure, and in particular, allied to a very narrow and conservative financial ideology––laissez-faire capitalism

    I know, I know. Instead of laissez-faire capitalist biology we need more of that old-fashioned Marxist-Leninist genetics that accepts the principles of dialectical materialism.

  346. #346 Heliantus
    April 27, 2013

    women’s rights, plural.
    ESL – still dropping my esses at random.
    Or is it a lapsus? Thinking too much, I do.

  347. #347 Heliantus
    April 27, 2013

    @ herr doktor bimler

    …that accepts the principles of dialectical materialism.

    Ah, you felt it too.
    I’m down memory lane, listening to my dad and his friends from the local PCF cell, discussing politics…
    Things were simpler then. But then, I was a child.

  348. #348 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    I do wonder what planet proximity1 is living on. I see steady improvements in life expectancy, health, standards of living, literacy, numeracy, access to education, access to clean water and a hundred other measures of well-being in most parts of the world for at least the past 200 years. Where is this cultural decline?

    I’m reminded of Bjorn Lomborg’s book ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ which is best known for his controversial suggestion that it would be better to spend money on alleviating the expected effects of climate change, instead of trying in vain to prevent it. The rest of the book examines the claims of many environmentalists that everything is getting worse and worse (‘the litany’, he calls it), and concludes that on the contrary most things are getting better and better. It’s worth a read or at least a browse. I’m a bit of a hopeless optimist, but I think there is evidence to support optimism in many areas, and we have science to thank for a great deal of that.

  349. #349 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    I remember reading that Darwin may have over-emphasized competition over cooperation. He did his research in places like the Galapagos Islands, where there are lots of resources, and competition is more common. Soviet scientists who did similar research in places like Siberia where there are fewer resources found that cooperation and symbiosis are more common.

    Whether these findings were influenced by ideology, or vice versa, I’m not sure. I am fairly sure that social Darwinism and the idea of the survival of the fittest has had quite an influence on political and economic ideas in Europe and America.

  350. #350 Mary
    April 27, 2013

    Not that anyone probably cares about the original claim at this point–that the wheat would silence this gene that would kill children–but with Jack’s new sequence switcheroo he was unable to pull a match to that gene out of his…er…analysis. I checked. That claim that Carman’s report hinged on is gone. Vanished. Nada. Zip.

    I hope she didn’t spend too much money on the lawyers for the defamation claims she was making.

  351. #351 Grant
    April 27, 2013

    Mary,

    I care ;-)

    More details? Or perhaps a refresher on what was claimed before – I’m losing the thread myself! You’re saying “unable to pull a match to that gene” meaning no match to GBE? I recall pointing out to him on sciblogs (those months ago) that if ‘extra’ sequence was included he‘s risking getting spurious matches and that I thought he’d have been better not to present the analysis. (I’d still like to see an analysis of the probability of getting matches by chance alone and thence if he could say something meaningful if he found a match, re the short query sequence, etc.)

  352. #352 Mary
    April 27, 2013

    Yeah, the new sequence that he uses in the updated report. Run that with default settings (as Jack indicates he does) as a BLAST2 with GBE.

    I noticed he didn’t mention GBE in the update. So I went back to re-run vs GBE to be sure.

  353. #353 Narad
    April 27, 2013

    Not that anyone probably cares about the original claim at this point

    Quite the contrary; thanks.

  354. #354 Krebiozen
    April 27, 2013

    Mary/Grant,
    Am I right in thinking that since siRNAs have been found in plants and animals, a lot of our food contains them?

  355. #355 Khani
    April 27, 2013

    #341 Yep. Exactly.

    I’ve always thought people who claim decline are generally people who don’t have a very deep or accurate view of the past. It would be like assuming everyone in England lived the way the relatively-privileged people in Jane Austen’s books did at that time. The reality was quite different.

  356. #356 proximity1
    April 28, 2013

    RE (348)

    fact, I live on “Planet” France

    And for that reason, Heliantus @ 344 is particularly interesting and I appreciate it a lot; though I don’t have time top go into all the reasons.

    Instread, I want to take advantage of your situation–I gather you are, if not French, then at least francophone. Thus, I can refer you to some sources which neatly and brilliantly summarize important aspects of views expressed in this thread

    For the first, I refer you to a radio interview of Roland Gori of 25 /04/2013 with Mathieu Vidard. See: http://www.franceinter.fr/emission-la-tete-au-carre-sommes-nous-tous-des-imposteurs

    In his most recent books, “La Dignité de penser” (2011) and “La fabrique des imposteurs” (2013) he presents some of the core ideas which inform my argumetns here.

    Second, same for the author Vincent de Gaulejac, whose work “La société malade de la gestion” (along with related works, and the most recent concerns the same themes applied directly to the realm of science research, “La recheche malade du management”) like Gori, I first heard of only recently via these radio programs.

    Taken together they do a very good job of presenting the same points I’m trying to argue here.

    Try looking up and listening to their radio interviews. Then, you may want to read their books.

    For English-only readers, Gori cites Thomas Mann’s charcter Felix Krull, as an archetype of our times. You could do worse thatn take up and read that work for a view of which charcter traits are today so advantageoous—in business and, now, in science.

    My criticisms aren’t about what science “always has been” or what it “must be” but rather about what it “has become” under these circumstances of today.

  357. #357 Narad
    April 28, 2013

    For the first, I refer you to a radio interview of Roland Gori

    Told you so. Rather than than offering up a single relevant response, one is treated to references to two psychoanalysts. (Gori also seems to be fond of Bartleby, the scrivener.) Proxy apparently has nothing to offer but poorly digested Lacanian post-structuralist soup.

  358. #358 ARD
    April 28, 2013

    For the benefit of the non-francophone among us, and for the benefit of those whose reading list is already several months long (damn you, library book giveaway, and your books on Bonaparte!), would proximity1 care to sum up Gori’s and Mann’s arguments, and the evidence behind them?

  359. #359 Shay
    April 28, 2013

    My criticisms aren’t about what science “always has been” or what it “must be” but rather about what it “has become” under these circumstances of today.

    Except that your view of what science has become bears very little relation to reality.

  360. #360 Narad
    April 28, 2013

    One thing that Proxy apparently fails to note is that Gori “places the break from what he calls ‘humanist traditional capitalism’ in the 1980s” (here), which doesn’t seem to quite sync up with Proxy’s century-plus timeline.

  361. #361 herr doktor bimler
    April 28, 2013

    would proximity1 care to sum up Gori’s and Mann’s arguments

    The Mann reference is not an argument, but fictional. “The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man” is indeed a delight. The narrator describes his brilliant career, untroubled by any sense of sincerity or authenticity.

  362. #362 herr doktor bimler
    April 28, 2013

    In the absence of contrary evidence, I am going to suppose that “Roland Gori” and “Vincent de Gaulejac” are actually fictional figures, invented by the Deconstructionist philosopher Henri Mensonge.
    Otherwise the irony of a Lacanian psychoanalyst decrying the scientific endeavour as a breeding-ground of fraudulence and confidence trickery would be too strong.

  363. #363 Narad
    April 28, 2013

    In the absence of contrary evidence, I am going to suppose that “Roland Gori” and “Vincent de Gaulejac” are actually fictional figures, invented by the Deconstructionist philosopher Henri Mensonge.

    I take it you noted Lévy’s quoting of Jean-Baptiste Botul. At least when Spivak* attributed an epigraph to Nicholas [sic] Bourbaki, it was by wise order rather than fiendish design.

    * All these years, and only now do I know that July 17 is Yellow Pig Day.

  364. #364 herr doktor bimler
    April 28, 2013

    I take it you noted Lévy’s quoting of Jean-Baptiste Botul.
    I may even have blogged about it.

    I like Bradbury’s summary of Lacanism — “The Unconscious is structured like a Language, and that language is French”.

  365. #365 Narad
    April 28, 2013

    I may even have blogged about it.

    Oh, dear, I’m hopelessly behind the curve.

  366. #366 ChrisP
    April 28, 2013

    Krebiozen, you are correct endo siRNA are present in both plants and animals and will be in every meal you eat. Oh, no!

  367. #367 Bob G
    Los Angeles
    April 29, 2013

    Re: science and the relationship to free societies, contrary to comments by proxy –

    Timothy Ferris wrote The Science of Liberty, which argues that free societies begin with the openness of scientific thought, and that the two support each other. The book is kind of a long read, as it includes several chapters on various historical eras. Particularly interesting are separate chapters which view the American revolution and then the French revolution, the success of one and the failure of the other.

    http://www.amazon.com/Science-Liberty-Democracy-Reason-Nature/dp/B0044KN08G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367210929&sr=1-1&keywords=the+science+of+liberty

  368. #368 proximity1
    April 30, 2013

    RE Bob @ 367

    There is a confusion there and it is central to the numerous issues here. I describe the confusion this way:

    The problem–as I see it–with the thesis concerns a confusion which has two related but distinct aspects. In the first of these, there is an historical coincidence that occurred: that between a rise in the social and political prominence and influence of scientists in the late 17th century through, especially, the European Enlightenment on one hand, and, on the other, the concommitant decline in the power and authority of both Church and (less so) nobility as a socio-political order–which many, though not all, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists deliberately sought to counter at the same time that they promoted a rationalist view of nature and of human society.

    Looking back from our perspective, we tend to assume that these factors are inherently and logically related. We tend to suppose that, if scientists as actors, and science, as a general approach, were, through the decades of the Enlightenment, so often opposed to both Church and nobility, that this must be due to an inherent inimical character at work. But this is an illusion. Neither the scientific method, which is an abstract tool, a set of particular methods and reasoning practices, nor scientists, who, like everyone else, come from the same “crooked timber of humanity” that supplies all other human endeavors—philosophers, writers, composers, etc.—are first, last and always the champions of liberty and of humane civilization.

    Instead, like literature, like philosophy, like engineering, the practice of science may, more or less generally, lend itself to the enhancement of human freedom but it (and they, no less than science) need not necessarily do this. It can, just as easily, if the dominant social forces favor oppressive, arbitrary power, lend itself to those ends instead.

    In other words, neither science nor scientists are inherently advocates and defenders of justice.

    Secondly, by the same confusion, rationality, supposedly at the heart of scientific methods, is regarded as intrinsically a proponent of human freedom and not only necessary but sufficient in seeking and finding facts about nature in processes which are, again, erroneously, supposed to be in the main a disinterested ones. Rational reason is not inherently on the side of justice. It’s one of the tools which scientific practice employs, but it may be turned to any ends, positive or negative.

    Ferris is right to note that, in the history of society with which he concerns himself, science and scientists were, to a very important, to a decisive, extent, aligned with the opposition to nobility’s power and to the Church’s power.

    Today, the tables have turned and scientists and science are forces in the main aligned with power, not opposed to it. They are aligned, especially, with the now dominant religions of quantitatively-driven finance and with the technocracy which implements it. This supremacy of finance and of technocracy are the modern-day analogs to the Church and nobility of the 17th and 18th centuries. And today, rather than opposing them, scientists are among their most essential pillars of support.

    None of this means that there are not some number of scientists who practice according to very different moral priorities and who tacitly or actively oppose the manic logic on technocracy and of high finance. There are such people today just as there have always been. But they do not represent the mainstream of scientists or of the mainstream practice of science.

    I appreciate the recommendation of Ferris’s book and I intend to read it. But I contend that it should be read in context and with the understanding that the historical circumstances it describes were true by coincidence, not by necessity.

    Anyone looking at modern science today, and imagining that it is still the faithful reflection of its Enlightenment past, must be, in my opinion, either very poorly informed or given over to a view which precludes a fair and honest review of our circumstances.

    While reading Ferris, try reading along with it, Franz Neumann’s Behemoth a picture of what did actually happen under what was, at the time, one of the the world’s two most technically and scientifically advanced and civilized.

    The trajectory we are currently on is no less one of social and historical happenstance. Science could, again, become a force for human freedom, and an opponent rather than an essential ally of rationalized inhumane power interests. But as things now stand, we are in the 21st century, not the 18th. And our reality is a mirror-opposite of the sort of picture depicted by the thesis as here attributed to Ferris.

    Note: Both the American and the French revolutions of the 18th century were undone, reversed, for all practical intents and purposes–though in ways and by processes which were only superficially similar and, in their details, quite different. That may be due to the fact that France, unlike the American colonies, experienced a “Terror” which placed events in a different cast. But both revolutions, though premissed on the universal rights of man, failed, within only decades, to deliver on the meaningful achievement of the hopes that the revolutions had carried and inspired. In their wakes, society returned to a highly inequitable class system which reserved opportunities out of all proportion to justice’s requirements, to a privileged class which consolidated and kept for itself its privileged place against the reclamations of the rest of society’s members not to join an unjust elite, but to eliminate it and establish a society based on the ideals of the revolutions which were systematically betrayed in both America and in France.

    References :

    Neumann, Franz (1942) Behemoth; the structure and practice of national socialism, Oxord University Press.

    Harris, Sam (2010) The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values; Free Press.

    TED talk (2010) available at the same page with :

    Harris: Moral Confusion in the Name of “Science”

    and, also at Huffington Post:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/a-science-of-morality_b_567185.html

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/a-science-of-morality_b_567185.html

  369. #369 proximity1
    April 30, 2013

    link for Harris’s “Moral Confusion in the Name of ‘Science’ ”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/moral-confusion-in-the-na_b_517710.html

    which I intended to include in the post above.

  370. #370 proximity1
    April 30, 2013

    “… nations. ”

    …” one of the the world’s two most technically and scientifically advanced and civilized nations.”

  371. #371 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 30, 2013

    tl;dr version of proximity1′s wall o’ text: scientists are human.

    Way to go way off-topic, there, proxy. Did you have anything substantive to say regarding the main article’s subject matter (i.e., GMOs somehow killing children and altering heritable genes)?

  372. #372 proximity1
    April 30, 2013

    Consider, FYI :

    Article at “Marketwatch.com”

    April 29, 2013, 10:14 a.m. EDT
    Capitalism is killing our morals, our future
    Commentary: In a Market Society, everything is for sale

    By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

    Paul Farrell review and comments on Michael Sandel’s book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets :

    (excerpt from the article)

    … In one generation, market ideology consumed America’s collective spirit

    “The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.”

    “And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”

    Today “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel.

    “Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

    My principal quiblle : (quoting Sandel’s views)

    ““The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.”

    Yes, various elements of our present circumstances took on a super-charged aspect ” in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom,” but to regard that as the important watershed period is to imagine that our present-day world came into being in the 1980s, that everything changed in that decade, with Thatcher’s and Reagan’s rule.

    Instead, with some patient effort, we can see that in the main institutions and living-assumptions, our present-day had and has its important watershed period in the decades following the U.S. Civil War, the 1880s to the 1920s, in particular. It is in those decades that American saw the advent of what we now refer to as “The Robber Barons”, those decades which saw the rise of giants of finance, of industry, of major research universities, and, crucially, of the Ph.D. specializations and the increasingly narrowed focuses of science specializations.

    1861 M.I.T. founded ; 1890 University of Chicago founded; 1876, Thomas Edison establishes research laboratory at Menlo Park, N.J.; 1877 Chase National Bank formed; Drexel University founded, 1891; J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel found Drexel & Morgan, Co., 1871; J.P. Morgan with Elbert H. Gary, 1901 founds U.S. Steel Co., 1892 Carnegie Steel Co. founded; T. Mellon & Sons, founded, 1880; 1889, Union Trust Company and Union Savings Bank of Pittsburgh organized; 1870, John D. Rockefeller founds Standard Oil of Ohio. 1891, Stanford University founded; 1870-1910, “Analytical Engine” of Charles Babbage conceived and constructed; General Mills Co., founded 1866; 1898, Union Carbide Co. founded; 1897, Dow Chemical Corp. founded ; 1902 3M Corp. founded; 1877, Bell Telephone Co. founded; 1851, Western Union Co. founded ; 1903, Ford Motor Co. founded; Nabisco, (National Biscuit Co.) founded, 1898; Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., founded, 1898; Kraft Foods founded, 1903; United States Rubber Co., founded 1892; Dow Jones & Co., founded 1896; American Sugar Refining Co. (later, Domino Sugar), founded, 1891;

  373. #373 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    April 30, 2013

    @proximity1

    Please stop hijacking the thread. It’s annoying.

  374. #374 JGC
    April 30, 2013

    Why do I keep thinking “Bringing philosophy to a scientific debate” is synonymous to the classic “Bringing a knife to a gunfight”?

  375. #375 Mewens
    April 30, 2013

    It’s truly amazing to be lectured, on one hand, that the Enlightenment and the decline in nobility and church aren’t linked, but that, on the other, the Gilded Age and doctorate specializations are.

  376. #376 Narad
    April 30, 2013

    1890 University of Chicago founded

    That’s the second University of Chicago. The first, founded in 1857, was devoured by the earth not too long after deciding to admit women on an equal basis to its medical school. All that remains is a commemorative chunk of limestone in the passage between Wieboldt and Classics.

  377. #377 AdamG
    April 30, 2013

    All that remains is a commemorative chunk of limestone in the passage between Wieboldt and Classics.

    This is collectively known as Old Stony among undergrads, and it’s become traditional to curse it in a dead language as you pass by.

  378. #378 Narad
    April 30, 2013

    This is collectively known as Old Stony among undergrads

    First I’ve heard of this, but if it’s true, I blame Sonnenschein.

  379. #379 AdamG
    April 30, 2013

    I blame Sonnenschein.

    I think it’s more the fault of Admissions, who about a decade ago decided to invent a bunch of weird-but-amusing “traditions” to amp up the whole ‘we’re weird and we love it!’ attitude that my alma mater is known for. “Don’t step on the seal in the Reynolds Club” is another one with similar origins.

  380. #380 Khani
    May 1, 2013

    #374 Hey now, philosophy is a wonderful, powerful thing. Unfortunately, like science, it can be misused.

    And like threads, it can be hijacked off-topic.

    So, what about those GMOs?

  381. #381 proximity1
    May 1, 2013

    Khani, 380 –

    Yes, philosophy can be a wonderful thing and a powerful thing. So, by that observation, I gather that you may be more receptive to what follows than a good many of the others here who have registered some opinion in this thread:

    In discussing an issue such as genetically modified organisms, the validity of claims about its safety or its potential danger to society, the accuracy with which researchers have determined and understood the mechanisms at the molecular level, etc–, how is it possible to preëmptorily bar as “off-topic” in such a discussion the areas which relate to potential serious corruption of scientific experimentation, of the gathering and the evaluation of the data upon which scientists claim that their judgments are based, due to a demonstrable, a clearly factual situation in which, very, very often, the research conducted is funded by for-profit commerce which has a direct vested interest in the methods, evaluations and the resulting determinations of the scientific research ? The preëminent funders of the research are very often also among the both the most interested parties and the most influential parties concerning the research’s outcomes.

    How is it that this glaring conflict of interest–a factual state of affairs, not a mere disputable opinion about that state of afffairs—how is it that this feature of the issue is allowed to be ruled “off topic” by fiat, according to those whose interests are, themselves, served by such a finding of “off topic”?

    The answer is simple: they can be biased, self-interested, self-serving, and self-deceiving (as to their own honesty and moral probity) “scientists” who so object. They can be scientists who, whatever they teach their own children about the ends not justifying the means, practice a very different ethic when it comes their interests and their domains of influence.

    I have more to state and to argue about the details of GMOs in history and in contemporary agriculture–studies to cite, historical facts to observe and offer– but first, before getting on to taking those up, I have to try and urge the defense of a debate that isn’t rigged from the outset by simply ruling out arbitrarily whole swaths of pertiment matters by which perspective the full range of the importance of the topic of GMOs may be properly considered.

    Notice, too, please, how it is, while not exclusively, but, still, mainly, those here who are themselves scientists, who, in such a situation where what’s being proposed is open and blatant censorship, simply have nothing to say in defense of a more open and widely-defined topic, nothing to say against the call for censorship under the guise of the catch-phrase and thought-saver, “off-topic”.

    Notice where, in practice, the scientist-participants here show their moral standards and piorities to be.

    First I was denounced as a “drive-by” phenomenon; then, after proving that assumption false, I was first allowed to raise other aspects of the pertinent issues–ones which, interestingly, those regarding themselves as the spokespeople for the so-called mainstream science veiws hadn’t seen fit to raise on their own initiatives, and now, having presented arguments which remain unanswered and which, apparently some of the mainstrean views’ defenders find an embarrassment to their case, I am told that my comments have become “annoying”.

    Here is what scientists exhibit about their moral standards in practice–where it counts. As I’ve been arguing, the picture is not a flattering one.

  382. #382 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 1, 2013

    @Khani

    So, what about those GMOs?

    Well, I think all of the cogent, succinct and intelligent things have already been said. All that’s left are off-topic walls o’ citation-free natterings, accusations of censorhip, and spurious implications of conflicts of interest (again, with no evidence to support them).

  383. #383 JGC
    We haven't ruled it out--just waiting for evidence it might be so
    May 1, 2013

    How is it that this glaring conflict of interest–a factual state of affairs, not a mere disputable opinion about that state of afffairs—how is it that this feature of the issue is allowed to be ruled “off topic” by fiat, according to those whose interests are, themselves, served by such a finding of “off topic”?

    You’re mistaken in your beleif that it’s been ruled off topic by fiat or in any other manner, However. We’ll happily consider the possibility the potential for a conflict of interest has resulted in under-estimating the risk of developing and consuming GM crops.

    Before we can consider this, however, we’ll need to identify credible evidence supporting the premise that the risk of developing and consuming GM crops actually has been underestimated–i.e., that this possible conflict of interest actually has led to “serious corruption of scientific experimentation, of the gathering and the evaluation of the data…etc”

    So again, the dialogue gets stuck at the question you can’t quite seem to answer: what evidence, exactly, supports the premise that the development and consumption of GM crops might be ‘really, really terribly harmful’?

  384. #384 Shay
    May 1, 2013

    How is it that this glaring conflict of interest–a factual state of affairs, not a mere disputable opinion about that state of afffairs—how is it that this feature of the issue is allowed to be ruled “off topic” by fiat, according to those whose interests are, themselves, served by such a finding of “off topic”?

    How ironic, given that everyone is vainly trying to keep prx ON-topic.

  385. #385 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    May 1, 2013

    I’m curious how we reconcile the still mostly hypothetical risks of GMOs with the actual risks of natural organisms, particularly:
    - garlic mustard, a prolific, invasive weed brought to America in the 1860s which has taken over as the predominant under-story woodland plant in some areas.
    - emerald ash borer, an Asian native introduced accidentally into the United States and which is killing ash trees over a large area.
    - asian long horned beetle, doing the same as the ash borer for multiple commercially grown tree species.
    - rabbit, introduced in Ausralia in 1859 and which is considered an invasive pest

    If I recall correctly, none of these went through trials or approvals.

  386. #386 Narad
    May 1, 2013

    “Don’t step on the seal in the Reynolds Club” is another one with similar origins.

    I can assure you that that one well predates the efforts to “fun up” the joint.

  387. #387 Narad
    May 1, 2013

    Yes, philosophy can be a wonderful thing and a powerful thing.

    Too bad you’re not very good at it, then. I’m tempted to quote Harry Frankfurt, but the poor sod didn’t know the difference between bullshıt and horseshıt.

  388. #388 proximity1
    May 1, 2013

    385 : “If I recall correctly, none of these went through trials or approvals.”

    So what? What is there to ‘reconcile’ between the instances of the 19th century mentioned and practices of the present? The fact that foreign plants and animals are today subject to quarantine at national frontiers, or that today, plant and animal products which are produced through human interventions are often or nearly always subject to testing at some stage does is not evidence that today’s procedures in GMO design and approval are free of taint of corrrupting influence such as can occur in any instance where a party in effective control over or repsonsible for the tests also has an interest (as in potential commercial gains as a result of approval), recognized or not, in the test results.

    RE: “I’m curious how we reconcile the still mostly hypothetical risks of GMOs” …

    I take it that “risk” is meant to indicate that the actual, not hypothetical, possibility of a harm is only “hypothetical”. Thus, your phrase contains a contradicion in terms: If there is no possible harm entailed, then to what does “risk” refer? If the harm is in fact a real possibility , then in what sense is that risk “mostly hypothetical” ?

    I imagine that you mean that the the probability of the harm–an actual possibility, not a “hypothesis of a possibility”–is undetermined. That is, it’s not known either approximately or definitely what the statistical liklihood of the harm occurring is, except as a sheer speculation over non-testable, non-repeatable real-world circumstances which are emergent and, thus, ever-changing in their details.

    So, rather than admit that “risk” refers to some specific danger–one that we simply have not quantified and which, in general, we perhaps cannot quantify—you offer, instead, the use of the term “risk” in a different sense, one less disturbing.

    It’s to be understood as merely “a supposed or imaginable danger”–which suggests a danger one which does not in fact exist as an actual possibility.

    In this way, we’re invited to believe that the risk is only on some more or less distant “horizon” which shall, it’s implied, never arrive in fact. There is no such horizon except as an abstraction intended to reassure us—as in the hypothetical risk of a nuclear power-plant’s reactor melting down.

    —————-

    384: “How ironic, given that everyone is vainly trying to keep prx ON-topic.”

    Circular reasoning: e.g. “Prox keeps asserting that his comments are not off-topic while “we” are, “ironically” all trying to keep him ON topic –i.e., his comments are, thus, presumed to be off-topic and his protestations that they shouldn’t be defined as such are simply his failure to recognize and accept our prescriptions as to what does or doesn’t constitute an off-topic comment.

    In other words, as participants, our judgments as to topicality are what should and what do matter, not his views to the contrary. In other words, we claim for ourselves–implicitly (since it would be flagrantly and embarrassingly unjust to claim it explicitly) a status that is apart from and superior to that which Prox, by our views, does or should enjoy here.

    I could not have asked for better –or more inadvertent–proof that you and your cohort on the thread assume that this thread is not a level ground for discussion but, instead, your ground, with ground rules which your self-selecting and self-confirming group determines to its own advantage; namely you and yours decide and determine for me what does or doesn’t constitute ” vainly trying to keep prx ON-topic”.

    This is more in the way of how people who pose as defenders of science can apply reason and authority in ways which are arbitrary and self-serrving rather than clear and even-handed

    —even as others among your group protest that “(I’m) You’re mistaken in (my) beleif that it’s been ruled off topic by fiat or in any other manner,…”

    In this and other ways, this thread reveals itself as an ersatz debate, not a debate or a fair and open discussion but a parody, a spectacle version of one in which anyone who maintains a view which is out of conformity with the prevailing self-selected group-think is ridiculed by having his views caracatured into absurdity–as was done, for example, above,

    elburto @ 7:

    April 22, 2013 Shill! Hater of Chinese scientists! Puppy eater!
    Ahem.
    I loved this bit:
    If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat—well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.
    [snip]
    But it gets worse. Silenced genes are permanently silenced and can be passed down the generations

    Sooo… the kids spawn prolifically then die at the age of five? Wow, are there salmon genes mixed up in there two! Scary.
    —————–

    palindrom April 22, 2013 @ 11;

    Rather than crediting Jack Heinemann with enough sense to not have overlooked or forgotten that it cannot happen that “the kids spawn prolifically then die at the age of five” and looking for a more reasonable interpretation of his meaning, this absurd notion was represented as his actual view and the thread went into a repeat of what is apparently the most established routine here, and perhaps the main occupation of this thread: looking for things which don’t conform to the thread’s operator and main group of regular participants and, taking these, ridicule what amounts to a characature of those views –alll for the amusement of the conformist regulars.

  389. #389 Krebiozen
    May 1, 2013

    proximity1,

    The fact that foreign plants and animals are today subject to quarantine at national frontiers, or that today, plant and animal products which are produced through human interventions are often or nearly always subject to testing at some stage does is not evidence that today’s procedures in GMO design and approval are free of taint of corrrupting influence such as can occur in any instance where a party in effective control over or repsonsible for the tests also has an interest (as in potential commercial gains as a result of approval), recognized or not, in the test results.

    Of course tests of new foodstuffs can be interfered with. So can tests of every product on the market. Are you suggesting we never introduce any new products in case the tests that show they are safe have been faked? If not, what is so special about GMOs, which have more safety tests than the vast majority of new products?

    If the harm is in fact a real possibility , then in what sense is that risk “mostly hypothetical” ?

    Don’t you understand what the word “hypothetical” means? The risk is hypothetical in the sense of, “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”, and in the sense that no one has come up with any plausible mechanism by which the GMOs on the market might cause the terrible problems you claim they could.

    In this way, we’re invited to believe that the risk is only on some more or less distant “horizon” which shall, it’s implied, never arrive in fact. There is no such horizon except as an abstraction intended to reassure us—as in the hypothetical risk of a nuclear power-plant’s reactor melting down.

    The risk of a nuclear power-plant’s reactor melting down is not hypothetical, it has happened in the past, and we understand exactly under what circumstances it can occur and what the consequences can be.

    I could not have asked for better –or more inadvertent–proof that you and your cohort on the thread assume that this thread is not a level ground for discussion but, instead, your ground, with ground rules which your self-selecting and self-confirming group determines to its own advantage; namely you and yours decide and determine for me what does or doesn’t constitute ” vainly trying to keep prx ON-topic”.

    You don’t understand what is meant by the topic of a discussion either? Whenever someone pins you down you change the subject and claim victory. It’s evasive and dishonest. I don’t know where you learned to argue like that, but you won’t get away with it here.

    Rather than crediting Jack Heinemann with enough sense to not have overlooked or forgotten that it cannot happen that “the kids spawn prolifically then die at the age of five” and looking for a more reasonable interpretation of his meaning, this absurd notion was represented as his actual view

    Perhaps you could give a more reasonable explanation of how siRNA in food could both kill children before the age of 5 and also be passed on to subsequent generations. Perhaps you could explain to me why the siRNA in GM wheat might have these dire consequences, when the siRNAs in the food humans have been eating for thousands of years do not?

    and the thread went into a repeat of what is apparently the most established routine here, and perhaps the main occupation of this thread: looking for things which don’t conform to the thread’s operator and main group of regular participants and, taking these, ridicule what amounts to a characature of those views –alll for the amusement of the conformist regulars.

    Some things which are obviously contradicted by large amounts of evidence, or that go against well-understood scientific knowledge deserve ridicule. You wrote earlier:

    I was first allowed to raise other aspects of the pertinent issues–ones which, interestingly, those regarding themselves as the spokespeople for the so-called mainstream science veiws hadn’t seen fit to raise on their own initiatives, and now, having presented arguments which remain unanswered and which, apparently some of the mainstrean views’ defenders find an embarrassment to their case, I am told that my comments have become “annoying”.

    What are these arguments that have remained unanswered, and which we find an embarrassment to our case? I can’t find any.

    The only person who should be embarrassed in this discussion as far as I can see is you, as you waded into a discussion about something you very clearly have very little knowledge or understanding, and have since been floundering about desperately, looking more and more foolish.

  390. #390 JGC
    May 1, 2013

    The fact that foreign plants and animals are today subject to quarantine at national frontiers, or that today, plant and animal products which are produced through human interventions are often or nearly always subject to testing at some stage does is not evidence that today’s procedures in GMO design and approval are free of taint of corrrupting influence such as can occur in any instance where a party in effective control over or repsonsible for the tests also has an interest (as in potential commercial gains as a result of approval), recognized or not, in the test results.

    The obvious next question to consider, once we’ve noted taht conflicts of interest may exist, is “Is there any actual evidence that due to such conflict of interest these tests have uniformly of predominantly not been free of that taint?

    Your argument really seems to reduce to

    A) Humans are corruptible and greedy

    B) (sound of crickets)

    C) Therefore GM crops pose too great a risk to be developed or consumed.

    Can we expect you’ll ever fill in part B, adn offer evidence that your concerns are rational?

  391. #391 Shay
    on-topic
    May 1, 2013

    I could not have asked for better –or more inadvertent–proof that you and your cohort on the thread assume that this thread is not a level ground for discussion but, instead, your ground, with ground rules which your self-selecting and self-confirming group determines to its own advantage; namely you and yours decide and determine for me what does or doesn’t constitute ” vainly trying to keep prx ON-topic”.

    So what you are saying is that you refuse to address the topic under discussion and instead go off on tangents.

    I could not have asked for better — or more inadvertent proof — that you don’t have a clue to what you’re talking about. If you did, you’d answer JGC’s question instead of shouting “SQUIRREL!” all the time.

  392. #392 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/
    May 1, 2013

    If those that want further reading: Nature special issue on GMOs (just out).

  393. #393 Grant
    May 1, 2013

    Rats, For those… (What I get for fast typing and changing my mind on-the-fly. *Need coffee*)

  394. #394 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    389: “Don’t you understand what the word “hypothetical” means? The risk is hypothetical in the sense of, “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”, and in the sense that no one has come up with any plausible mechanism by which the GMOs on the market might cause the terrible problems you claim they could.”

    Yes, I think I do understand what “hypothetical” means and what “risk” means; and, as I said, I think these are being flagrantly abused.

    You, too, don’t seem to understand the mistake involved as you offer what is, both logically and syntactically, nonsense, in replying thus:

    “The risk is hypothetical in the sense of, “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”

    That is not a coherent sentence–and the incoherence indicates either that you don’t understand what you’re talking about, or, you do understand the point and you hope to obscure the fact that the point goes against your claims and assumptions, so, to obscure it, you offer nonsense.

    Here is an example which may help you recognize the stupid nonsense contained in your “The risk is hypothetical in the sense of, “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”

    Suppose we examine a case of a “risk”–namely, that of a fatal event. In one example, we could take the game of “Russian roulette” in which a revolver having six chambers, is prepared with a single live round in one of the chambers. In the process of an example game, one of two participants tries the trigger, muzzle against his temple. In the example, nothing happens, the gun doesn’t fire. Round two, the 2nd participant spins the revolver’s chamber, & etc., pulling the trigger in his turn. Again, as in the first instance, the gun doesn’t fire. Let us suppose the sequence is repeated by turns for, say, nine rounds, and in all of these the gun doesn’t fire.

    Questions: Is there a risk involved in this scenario?

    If so, what is that risk?

    Is the “probabilty” of the gun’s firing the same thing as what is indicated by the term (noun) “risk”?

    If so, does the number of turns taken in the scenario–in and of itself–change either the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance of the series, or, alternatively, the “danger” being courted, (i.e. “death”) ? If you think either or both are answered by “Yes,” then please explain to us why that is true.

    Now, let us say that the case concerns not a revolver with a known and fixed number of chambers, (six, in the former example) but, instead, the “revolver” is replaced by an unknown probability of the same danger –death, with, as actuator, an “event” involving the production and consumption of GMOs.

    Questions: What, in the second example, (GMOs) is the statistical probability of such an event (i.e. a death)?

    If your answer is other than “No one knows and no one can know such a probability”

    —and, further, without, at best, a statistical record based on real-world experience which presupposes that what occurred over a given period, “P” is reliably indicative of the continued practice, without interruption or conclusion over an indefinite time, no one can even offer a guess as to the probability of the event. Again, if you dispute that, please explain why it is false.

    What ensues from the above examples? This: the number of meals consumed has no logical bearing on any actual risk that may be involved nor can it be logically taken as indicative of any real-world risk –just as, in the example of the game of Russian roulette, the number of rounds between two participants has no bearing on the actual probability of a fatal event. In every round, the “risk” being run is a “fatality”, and in every round, its probability is the same, and never reduced as a consequence of numerous rounds having been played and survived.

    Question: How is the RR example essentially different from the case of risks and probabilities of a fatal event due to production and use of GMOs–EXCEPT, that is, for the fact that no one actually knows the real probabilities of fatal events in the case of GMO. Instead, they are inferred from experience. But we don’t know whether the experiences already in hand are analogous to one single round of a game of RR or to a thousand rounds, or a million rounds of that game.

    For all you or anyone else knows, your “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm” could be, in the case of GMO production and consumption, the statistical equivalent of trying a single round of the RR game. In that case, the “fact” –even supposing that this claim of yours is actually true– that “there has never been a single substantiated case of harm” is simply insignificant.

    You are asserting that we can assume that a risk–the probability of an event occurring–is negligible, when, in fact, you don’t have any idea of what the real-world probability of harm (i.e. that event) is. Instead, you presume to arbitrarily define it as insignificant–which is logically false, morally dishonest and intellectually stupid on your part.

    from Wikipedia’s pages:

    “A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words “hypothesis” and “theory” are often used synonymously, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A scientific hypothesis is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon which still has to be rigorously tested.”

    from Oxforddictionaries.com:

    Definition of hypothetical
    adjective

    based on or serving as a hypothesis: let us take a hypothetical case

    supposed but not necessarily real or true:the hypothetical tenth planet

    Logic denoting or containing a proposition of the logical form if p then q.

    noun
    (usually hypotheticals)

    a hypothetical proposition or statement: officials refuse to discuss military policy except in coy hypotheticals

    ————————————————
    “risk” (noun and verb)

    Definition of risk
    noun

    a situation involving exposure to danger:flouting the law was too much of a risk [mass noun]:all outdoor activities carry an element of risk

    [in singular] the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen:reduce the risk of heart disease
    [with modifier] a person or thing regarded as a threat or likely source of danger:she’s a security risk gloss paint can burn strongly and pose a fire risk

    (usually risks) a possibility of harm or damage against which something is insured: all-risks insurance for professional photographers

    [with adjective] a person or thing regarded as likely to turn out well or badly in a particular context or respect:Western banks regarded Romania as a good risk

    [mass noun] the possibility of financial loss:the Bank is rigorous when it comes to analysing and evaluating risk

    verb
    [with object]

    expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss:he risked his life to save his dog

    act in such a way as to bring about the possibility of (an unpleasant or unwelcome event):coal producers must sharpen up or risk losing half their business

    incur the chance of unfortunate consequences by engaging in (an action):Shelley was far too intelligent to risk attempting to deceive him

  395. #395 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 2, 2013

    Pedantic troll is pedantic.

    I wonder when (if ever) he will actually answer the questions asked of him?

  396. #396 TBruce
    May 2, 2013

    proximity1:

    You really should do that in private.

  397. #397 JGC
    "Show me the bullet!"
    May 2, 2013

    How is the RR example essentially different from the case of risks and probabilities of a fatal event due to production and use of GMOs–EXCEPT, that is, for the fact that no one actually knows the real probabilities of fatal events in the case of GMO.

    It’s different in that, in the RR example, we have sure knowledge there’s a live round in one of the chanbers, which if discharged will cause injury or death.

    In the case of GM crops, you have yet to provide any evidence there’s the equivalent of that ‘live round in the chamber’, despite being asked to do so repeatedly.

  398. #398 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE: Todd @ 395

    Todd, @ 288 I wrote, (addressing JGC @ 207: …”you have to explain why that distinction argues developing GMO’s poses a sufficient risk of causing such a health disaster” …)

    Please explain to us what “sufficient risk” means, how to find and measure it, and, by the way, who is to do these tasks.

    Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather that “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.

    Thank you.

    Neither JGC nor anyone else supporting GMOs has answered the questions I posed there. So, why don’t you answer them, instead? Hmmm?

  399. #399 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    proximity1,

    “The risk is hypothetical in the sense of, “Three trillion meals eaten and there has never been a single substantiated case of harm.”
    That is not a coherent sentence–and the incoherence indicates either that you don’t understand what you’re talking about, or, you do understand the point and you hope to obscure the fact that the point goes against your claims and assumptions, so, to obscure it, you offer nonsense.

    Good grief, I’m beginning to wonder if English is not your first language. Are you unfamiliar with quotation marks as well? I was repeating a direct quote from Mark Lynas I included in my commment at #230 above. It isn’t a sentence I would use in formal writing, but the meaning of what I wrote is perfectly clear to me, and apparently to you too from the way you have responded. It certainly isn’t nonsense.

    Your Russian roulette analogy only makes sense if we don’t know if there is a bullet in the gun at all, and your use of it suggests you need to study some probability theory as well as some genetics.

    Is the “probabilty” of the gun’s firing the same thing as what is indicated by the term (noun) “risk”?

    Yes.

    If so, does the number of turns taken in the scenario–in and of itself–change either the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance of the series, or, alternatively, the “danger” being courted, (i.e. “death”) ? If you think either or both are answered by “Yes,” then please explain to us why that is true.

    We can estimate the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance by repeating the experiment many times. If we repeated it 60 times and the gun fired 10 times, we would know that the risk was 1 in 6. If we repeated the experiment 3 trillion times and the gun never fired, we could conclude that the probability of the gun firing on any given occasion was zero i.e. that none of the chambers contained a bullet.

    Questions: What, in the second example, (GMOs) is the statistical probability of such an event (i.e. a death)?

    Less than 1 in 3 trillion.

    You are asserting that we can assume that a risk–the probability of an event occurring–is negligible, when, in fact, you don’t have any idea of what the real-world probability of harm (i.e. that event) is.

    We have a very good idea of what the real world probability of harm is, from our understanding of biology, of genetics, of toxicology, from in vitro studies, from animal studies and from the fact that trillions of portions of GM foods have been eaten without any hint of any harm whatsoever.

    Instead, you presume to arbitrarily define it as insignificant–which is logically false, morally dishonest and intellectually stupid on your part.

    I really don’t think you are in a position to accuse anyone of intellectual stupidity.

    To cut through the rest of your rambling and incoherent comment, let’s look at what “hypothetical risk” actually means. “Hypothetical”, as you correctly pointed out, means that it is based on a hypothesis that is not necessarily real or true. “Risk” refers to the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen. So a hypothetical risk may not be a real or true risk at all. The real world experience of 3 trillion meals containing GM foods having been eaten without a single substantiated case of harm argues very strongly that this risk is in fact as near to zero as makes no difference.

  400. #400 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 2, 2013

    @proximity1

    Before you actually asked any questions, you were asked the following:

    do you have links to other data that shows that some or all GMOs being used as crops (or about to be used as crops) are unsafe?

    You have not answered that question, nor any of the other substantive questions posed to you. Instead, you go off on pseudo-philosophical tangents and semantic pedantry that ignores the actual semantics of what was said. Your posts amount to mental masturbation and add little substance to the conversation.

    Perhaps try keeping your responses to one paragraph, two at the most. And, more importantly, answer the questions asked of you and pony up some evidence to support your insinuation that GMOs are inherently riskier than non-GMO.

  401. #401 Narad
    May 2, 2013

    Suppose we examine a case of a “risk”–namely, that of a fatal event. In one example, we could take the game of “Russian roulette” in which a revolver having six chambers

    How do you know it’s not a Nagant?

  402. #402 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 397:

    See 398.

    by the way, RE: “In the case of GM crops, you have yet to provide any evidence there’s the equivalent of that ‘live round in the chamber’

    Does “the equivalent of a ‘live round in the chamber’ ” mean, in other words, a risk of fatalities? If so, do you contend that fatalities are not among the risks being run in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    Please explain why, to be valid, my objections to GMOs’ risk, if any there be, must be “the equivalent of a live round in the chamber’ since, as you may not have noticed, unlike a game of Russian roulette, which, barring an illegal act of coercion or other conditions in which one is not responsible for one’s actions–such as being drunk or under the influence of other mind-altering drugs– is only undertaken by people who have apparently chosen to participate–i.e. run the risk.

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs? Note, one needn’t personally consume GMOs to suffer the environmental degredation that may come about as a consequence of their use “by others”. In other words, like it or not, we are all “playing” (assuming the risks) when it comes to GMOs.

    Please explain how and why, via the roles of scientists, often employed by and working directly in the interests of private for-profit firms, those involved in the production and distribution of GMOs have the right to impose risk on the public, whether willing and unwilling.

    Thank you.

  403. #403 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Please explain to us what “sufficient risk” means, how to find and measure it, and, by the way, who is to do these tasks.
    Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather that “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.

    If I understand you correctly, which is difficult because the second sentence is somewhat incoherent, you are suggesting that the onus should be on producers of GM foods to demonstrate that they are safe. GM foods do undergo tests to make sure they are safe, and there is a large body of evidence supporting their safety. You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous. That’s how science works.

  404. #404 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    I believe your friend Brad is planning a manned mission to Mars – perhaps you could hitch a ride.

  405. #405 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous. That’s how science works.

    Before prox’s poor reading comprehension kicks in, I’m going to rephrase that the way I read it:

    “You need to come up with some evidence that GM foods are dangerous which is more compelling than the evidence of safety.”

  406. #406 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    399:

    “We have a very good idea of what the real world probability of harm is, from our understanding of biology, of genetics, of toxicology, from in vitro studies, from animal studies and from the fact that trillions of portions of GM foods have been eaten without any hint of any harm whatsoever.”

    the above is repeatedly offered here but still, AFAIK, an unsupported claim. You don’t show any logical and data-supported relationship between

    a) ” our understanding of biology, of genetics, of toxicology, from in vitro studies, from animal studies”

    and

    b) “the (presumed) fact that trillions of portions of GM foods have been eaten without any hint of any harm whatsoever” just the assertion, as an unsupported inference.

    “We can estimate the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance by repeating the experiment many times.”

    And how do we “repeat” the “experiment” of releasing an environment-changing element into the environment “many times” under the same conditions each time–as is possible in the RR example?

    “Your Russian roulette analogy only makes sense if we don’t know if there is a bullet in the gun at all,”…

    You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:

    ” If we repeated it 60 times and the gun fired 10 times, we would know that the risk was 1 in 6.”

    And if the gun, in an actual trial series, fired six times in the course of 60 trials–as is a possibility, unless you deny that what appears improbable cannot ever occur (if so, please do assert that, I’d like to see it here, from you) — what would you then conclude? A risk of 1 in 10?

    How are these supposed ‘ trillions of portions of GMO foods’ (where do you get this figure?) the experimental equivalent of repeating the release of a GMO into the environment “many times”? How many discrete instances of GMO production and release (i.e. distribution) do the 3trillion food portions directly relate to?

    “So a hypothetical risk may not be a real or true risk at all.”

    So, then, as used above, we have, substituting your explanatory phrase ” risk may not be a real or true risk at all”, for the following, from post 385,

    “I’m curious how we reconcile the still mostly maybe-not real-or-true-risk-at-all of GMOs with the actual risks of natural organisms, particularly …”

    Then, how is “mostly” coherent there? “Mostly may not be a real or true risk at all” ?

    The problem, you see, is you’ve combined, from your phrase, “may not be a real or true risk at all” with a phrase that contained, “mostly hypothetical”.

    So, which is it, “mostly hypothetical” or “may not be a real or true risk at all” ?

    I don’t think a hypothetical risk can be “partly” hypothetical, or “mostly hypothetical”. And, if it is, what then, please, is the evidenciary basis for this claim of “mostly” (i.e. “> 50% hypothetical,” that is.) ?

  407. #407 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 403: ” a large body of evidence supporting their safety” links to? —- a site sponsored by the “International Life
    Sciences Institute”, about which institute Wikipedia has this, among other things, to report,

    According to a SourceWatch entry,[7] in the 1980s ILSI “provide[d] special services to the cigarette companies behind the scene”. A 2001 editorial article in British Medical Journal[8] further claimed ILSI received money from tobacco industry throughout the period 1983 to 1998. In the article, ILSI denied accusations it sought to undermine tobacco control efforts. It further noted the infrequent symposia and publications sponsored on inhalation toxicology in the 1980s only tangentially addressed cigarette smoke. In these instances, ILSI addressed the effects of second-hand smoke.

    For example, in the 1989 ILSI Monograph Assessment of Inhalation Hazards,[9] three of 33 chapters address tobacco. Two of those papers show unequivocally that second hand smoke has adverse effects on respiratory infection and lung function, especially in children[10] and that epidemiological data show a “statistically significant increase in lung cancer risk of about 40%” for nonsmokers married to smokers.[11] The third article did not address risk per se, but rather compares the strengths and weakness of study designs for assessing risk.[12]

    ILSI is aware its funding raises questions about the neutrality of its science. The North American branch of ILSI (ILSI North America) initiated a Conflict of Interest project which resulted in simultaneous publication of the article “Funding Food Science and Nutrition Research: Financial Conflicts and Scientific Integrity” in full or excerpted in six peer-reviewed journals.[13] The article outlines eight ground rules to ensure the integrity of industry-supported science.

    So, let me borrow and paraphrase you,

    “You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are safe.

    And, thank you for that link. It helps me make the point on conflict of interest since the “large body of evidence supporting their safety” comes from an industry consortium’s lobbying and public relations group based in Washington, D.C.

    Thank you, thank you so much.

    Would you care to list for us the members of International Life Sciences Institute’s directorship and these directors’ corporate homes? You wouldn’t ?

  408. #408 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    In 406, above, I started to ask but didn’t complete the sentence,

    ” You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:”

    here, to complete that,

    ” You didn’t directly answer these questions from my post:

    does the number of turns taken in the scenario–in and of itself–change either the probability of the gun’s firing on any given instance of the series, or, alternatively, the “danger” being courted, (i.e. “death”) ?

    We have no answer from you to this key question.

  409. #409 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    Regarding the corporate entities behind “International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) … a Washington-D.C. based lobby group funded by food, chemical and drug companies.”

    — (from sourcewatch.org)

    other readers may want to refer to the link at SourceWatch.org ‘s pages:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=International_Life_Sciences_Institute

  410. #410 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    Interesting!

    According to the site “Labome.org”, a certain Sylvia Rowe (are you here in this thread, Sylvia?), who, it just may be, is the “SR” in “S R Strategy Llc in Washington, District Of Columbia” has one and only one scientific paper to her credit.

    That paper, it happens, is the very same paper which is titled, “Funding food science and nutrition research: financial conflicts and scientific integrity

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2009/04/08/ajcn.2009.27604

    and the authors of which include Sylvia Rowe.

    Note the related “Corporation Wiki” page link:

    http://www.corporationwiki.com/District-of-Columbia/Washington/s-r-strategy-llc/89955836.aspx

  411. #411 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE 403: “If I understand you correctly, which is difficult because the second sentence is somewhat incoherent,”

    My sentence wasn’t well typed, it’s true.

    It ought to have read, ” Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry (i.e. to show “proof of harm” ) rather than showing “sufficient safety” is yours, and the scientific community’s to demonstrate.”

    Later on, just after this, “You need to come up with some more compelling evidence that suggests that GM foods are dangerous,” you write, “That’s how science works.”

    Apparently, that’s how corporate public-relations and lobbying, not science, “works”. What an unfortunate choice of words, yours were.

  412. #412 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    And I replied to your request for a definition, etc., @288 in my post @312. I”l repeat it : You’re the one been arguing the risk that GMO’s will “really terribly, terribly harmful” is sufficient that their development and consumption poses an imminent threat, such that the development and consumption of GM crops must be abandoned or at the least severely curtailed.

    If you’re now admitting you not only don’t have the faintest idea what degree of risk exists, but also no idea how it could be measured and what individual or agency could reliably do so, we’re right back tat the same question you’ve been studiously ignoring for days now: what does your belief that GM crops are dangerous derive from? Where is the real evidence GM crops are likely to be harmful?

  413. #413 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Let me get this straight, you told us that the producers of GM foods must provide evidence that they are safe. When I showed you this evidence, you triumphantly retorted that it has been provided by producers of GM foods, just as you stipulated, thus making it untrustworthy.

    I give up on this discussion. It’s both pointless and tedious arguing with someone so clueless.

  414. #414 Narad
    May 2, 2013

    other readers may want to refer to the link at SourceWatch.org ‘s pages

    And, while you’re honing your Jake Crosby routine, you may wish to note that the CMD, which overlies SW, was founded by John Stauber, who came out of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which isn’t exactly a neutral source.

  415. #415 proximity1
    May 2, 2013

    RE:

    “Let me get this straight, …”

    ?

    …you told us that the producers of GM foods must provide evidence that they are safe. (my emphasis added)

    Huh? That’s what you call “getting it straight”?

    Here’s what I actually asked, wrote, “told you”, etc.:

    “Then, when we know what sufficient risk means, please explain why that’s our burden to carry rather tha(n) “sufficient safety” yours, and the scientific community’s.” (my emphasis added)

    RE:

    …”When I showed you this evidence, you triumphantly retorted that it has been provided by producers of GM foods, just as you stipulated, thus making it untrustworthy.”

    For that, you don’t even rate a “nice try”.

    “I give up on this discussion. It’s both pointless and tedious arguing with someone so clueless.”

    Gee! Lost interest! Right after the links and comments in my posts, 406 – 411.

    Excuse me if I’m “mostly” not terribly surprised— “at all”—in your sudden loss of interest. And here I thought things were just starting to get really interesting–as you directly cited as valid “evidence” what amounts to the best and most flagrant example of industry/research conflicts of interest so far in this entire thread.

    —————————

    RE JGC @ 412:

    You’re the one (who’s) been arguing the risk that GMO’s will “really terribly, terribly harmful” is sufficient that their development and consumption poses an imminent threat, such that the development and consumption of GM crops must be abandoned or at the least severely curtailed. ”

    What I actually argued is that it is insane to proceed as society has been doing, insane to, (citing my post, @ 80,

    (with sarcasm, as befits the general tone of this blog’s approach to, it seems, almost everything it hoists up for the self-approving community here)

    Yeah–let’s wait to see if it’s really terribly, terribly harmful. Better to wait and be f’ing SURE that it’s really really bad., that the consequences are indeed dire and, as some worry, once done, fairly irreversible in their effects with knock-on effects down the line which are, quite simply beyond anyone’s capacity to predict.

    Then, when we KNOW that, yep, it’s at least as bad as predicted, if not, indeed, much, much worse, THEN and ONLY THEN can we legitimately and “respectably’” raise concerns. And then, of course, others who BS’d the earlier concerns can say, “Oh, well, now we agree, there’s a cause for concern. But who knew? Before we knew for sure that it was dangerous, there was “nothing” we could have done!”

    (some emphasis added)

    Applying, from Hans Jonas, a principle of precaution, “in dubio pro malo” (http://www.inespe.org/phd2006/montonen.pdf) my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    Your re-statement of my position is typical of the distortions which are routine among the thread’s home-team of Techno-evangelists and ringers and shills for industry interests.

    So, this, from you,

    “If you’re now admitting you not only don’t have the faintest idea what degree of risk exists, but also no idea how it could be measured and what individual or agency could reliably do so, we’re right back tat the same question you’ve been studiously ignoring for days now: what does your belief that GM crops are dangerous derive from? Where is the real evidence GM crops are likely to be harmful?”

    is just so much disingenuous BS.

  416. #416 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    I can’t resist pointing out proximity1′s apparent attempt to discredit the International Life Sciences Institute which sponsored The Center for Environmental Risk Assessment which collates research on agricultural biotechnologies. The Wikipedia article he linked to, and specifically the section he quotes, points out that even though ILSI received money from the tobacco industry, it published several articles that found a link between second hand tobacco smoke and disease. This directly contradicts proximity1′s claims that such funding is inescapably corrupting.

    Excuse me if I’m “mostly” not terribly surprised— “at all”—in your sudden loss of interest. And here I thought things were just starting to get really interesting–as you directly cited as valid “evidence” what amounts to the best and most flagrant example of industry/research conflicts of interest so far in this entire thread.

    You didn’t read what you posted about the ILSI did you? It directly contradicts your claims about industry/research conflicts of interest.

    Did someone mention disingenuous BS?

  417. #417 TBruce
    May 2, 2013

    Applying, from Hans Jonas, a principle of precaution, “in dubio pro malo” (http://www.inespe.org/phd2006/montonen.pdf) my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    This morning, as I do every morning, I set out on my 20 minute walk to work. During that time, I run the risk of being hit by a car, hit by a baseball from the schoolyard I pass, hit by a dead linb from a tree, trip on a curb or a rock and fall on my face, be attacked by a mugger or a rabid dog, fall into a pit at a construction zone, be bit by a rattlesnake or coyote when I cut across the ravine – just to give a few examples. Yet 5 days a week I keep doing this twice a day. The risk is unknown and unknowable and the consequences are extreme. By your logic, I should stay home, go on welfare and have everything delivered. But then, I put myself at risk that the delivery person could attack and rob me. What to do???

  418. #418 Krebiozen
    May 2, 2013

    Choking on food, whether GM or not, is a serious risk; on average, a child will die every 5 days in the United States from choking on food. Grapes, popcorn and hot dogs are the most dangerous foods. The only safe course is to ban grapes, popcorn and hot dogs immediately.

  419. #419 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    Does “the equivalent of a ‘live round in the chamber’ ” mean, in other words, a risk of fatalities?

    No, it does not mean the existence of a risk of fatalities, but instead the certain knowledge that development and consumption of GM crops were capable of causing harm.

  420. #420 Renate
    May 2, 2013

    @ TBruce
    And most accidents seem to happen at home, so staying at home doesn’t improve your savety.

  421. #421 JGC
    May 2, 2013

    just so much disingenuous BS

    Then you do have real evidence demonstrating GM crops are likely to be harmful?” Why have you been unwilling to share it when asked, then?

  422. #422 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    May 2, 2013

    @proximity1

    Have you ever killed an insect? Do you brush your teeth? Do you shower? Do you clean your home? Have you ever required antibiotics and taken them?

  423. #423 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    The whole precautionary act woos pull recalls a metaphor I use from time to time: “Sharks at the beach.”

    There is a chance that if you go swimming at the beach, you might get attacked by a shark. It would be a dramatic, memorable event, and that makes it stick out to some people. It’s a very small chance, though.

    The risks these people don’t think about are things like getting into a fatal accident while driving to the beach. The chances of it happening are higher as well as more commonly encountered because driving is a frequent activity for a lot of people. We’re used to taking that risk, and the majority of the time we drive, nothing happens, so some people erroneously think of driving as “safe” in a black-and-white thinking sort of way.

    That last part is where I think anti-GMO people come from. They don’t sort risks according to likelihood and frequency, but by familiarity, drama, and antiquity. They treat familiar, old, and boring risks as perfectly “safe.” Because of that biased thinking, any new kind of risk is inherently more dangerous simply for being non-zero. They lash out when people try to make them aware of just how much risk they already accept because it exposes their bias and forces them to think in grays and colors instead of absolute black and white.

  424. #424 Mewens
    May 2, 2013

    That’s probably part of it, Bronze Dog. I also suspect that many alties have quite a bit of their personal identity wrapped up in their belief system; I read proximity1′s complaints about cultural decline as, “I perceive that fewer and fewer people hold my views on art, philosophy and science.” The sources that inform his view are probably less important than his ownership of that view.

    In that sense, it makes sense to expect a defensive, dogmatic response; many of us are talking facts and studies, while he’s talking belief that defines his place in the world.

  425. #425 Edith Prickly
    May 2, 2013

    Is proximity1 still lighting up his mind-farts over here? Send him to a Vogon poetry slam instead, he’ll be a shoo-in.

  426. #426 Bronze Dog
    May 2, 2013

    Definitely identity politics involved in it. Far too many people who define themselves by a position, rather than the method for arriving at that position.

  427. #427 herr doktor bimler
    May 2, 2013

    Send him to a Vogon poetry slam instead
    I have been occasionally reminded of a quote from blogger ‘Thersites’ — “It’s as if Bulwer-Lytton just ate six cans of beans”.

  428. #428 ChrisP
    May 3, 2013

    From proximity1

    my point is, indeed, that the risk is unknown, and in my opinion, unknowable at this point, and given that, the only safe course given such an extreme consquence if the feared dangers were to materialize—supposing, that is, that the harm has not already been done with what has already occurred in the GMO insanity—the only safe course is to end further laboratory pursuits of GMO design and implementation.

    This is just wrong. The risks are known. We know what all the potential risks are.

    As you are starting from a completely wrong premise, it is perhaps no surprise that your arguments are wrong.

  429. #429 Militant Agnostic
    Where it is always better with gentically modified aurochs around
    May 3, 2013

    Krebiozen

    The risk of a nuclear power-plant’s reactor melting down is not hypothetical, it has happened in the past, and we understand exactly under what circumstances it can occur and what the consequences can be.

    The consequences turn out to be much less dire than the the anti-nuclear put more C02 into the atmosphere by burning coal instead activists have been claiming. The anti-GMO scaremongers ignore the consequences of going doing things the way we always have. That is the major flaw of the “Precautionary Principle”.

    herr doktor bimler –

    “It’s as if Bulwer-Lytton just ate six cans of beans”.

    I will have to remember that for the next dark and stormy night.

  430. #430 herr doktor bimler
    May 3, 2013

    My second favourite comparison: It is like someone went into the Hunterian Museum and interviewed Bishop Thurlow’s anus.

  431. #431 Shay
    the wrong office
    May 3, 2013

    cookie, bitte.

  432. #432 JGC
    May 3, 2013

    How do I “opt out” of the general society-wide risks, in case there are serious such risks–entailed in the production and consumption of GMOs?

    The path that has the greatest chance of success would be for you to convince the rest of us that the risks of developing and consuming GM crops are so great compared to the benefits they provide (in terms of improved yield, reduced ecological impact, etc.) that GM crop development is abandoned.

    Of course to do that you’ll have to do far, far better than you have been here–you’ll need to support your position with actual evidence that risks exceed benefits. As far as I can tell your entire several day’s of posting reduces to the unsupported personal assertion: “GM crops are bad because they’re man-made.”

  433. [...] recently resurrected, though, at an unusual spot. Orac at Respectful Insolence actually took it on: Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change your gene expression! He does a good job of framing the issue and explaining the technology. He astutely writes about [...]

  434. #434 janerella
    At my GMO- free desk...
    May 15, 2013

    Make doubleplus sure you don’t eatz teh GMOz – guaranteed GMO-free salt!!!!! http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/facepalm-of-the-week-non-gmo-salt

  435. #435 Grant
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/
    May 22, 2013

    If you’re looking for an update to this story, there’s Regulator rejects scientists’ GM concerns along with statements on the New Zealand Science Media Centre website.

  436. [...] recently resurrected, though, at an unusual spot. Orac at Respectful Insolence actually took it on: Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change your gene expression! He does a good job of framing the issue and explaining the technology. He astutely writes about [...]

  437. [...] As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to claim that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in mice. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was some of the worst science I had ever seen, every bit as bad as the quack “science” used by the antivaccine movement, as anti-GMO activists worry about GMOs sapping and impurifying their precious bodily fluids. Then, not too long ago, I discovered a truly quacktastic bit of fear mongering by Jack Heinemann about GMOs in which, or so it is claimed, GMOs produce silencing RNAs that not only survive transit through the gut, get into the bloodstream and thence into cells to inhibit the expression of specific genes, and even get passed down to the next generation to kill your children. [...]

  438. [...] Oh, no! GMOs are going to kill your babies and permanently change <b>…</b> [...]

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