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« Caption competition | Main | Myles Allen writes »
Saturday
May262012

A new dark age?

Thanks to Alex Cull for this transcript of a segment on yesterday's Today programme on BBC Radio 4. This concerned the alleged threat of an end to enlightenment values.

Earlier this year, the President of the AAAS, America's leading academy of science, claimed that the politicisation of science, on issues such as climate change, genetic modification, evolution even, was driving the U.S. into a new Dark Age. And over here, scientists complain that politicians routinely cherry-pick data, casually disregard the facts when they don't fit their preconceptions. So are we descending into a new Age of Unreason in public policy? Our science correspondent, Tom Feilden, has been weighing the evidence, and has found some encouraging signs that the geeks are fighting back.

 

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Reader Comments (74)

sHx said:I am told that big agricultural corporations like Monsanto insert a 'suicide gene' into their GM-seeds so that farmers won't be able to benefit from the seeds for more than a few harvests and will have to go back to buying new seeds from the capitalist pigs.


I seem to recall that at the very beginning of GM work, the genetic purity obsessives were incensed that these "unnatural" genes would spread far and wide producing super weeds. And now they're incensed that it can't happen!

And I've never seen what the actual, practical difference is between a GM crop with suicide genes, and those expensive F1 hybrid vegetable varrieties. In both cases, saving and using the seed for next years crop is useless.

Mooloo: very much to the point. Looking up the origins of current wheat varieties is instructive. Wheat is the product of several thousand years of selection, an artificial hybrid construct of several grass species, and now (the last fifty years or so) with chromosomes doubled up, mutated by chemicals and radiation. And now a bit of transgenics. What is "natural?"

May 27, 2012 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered Commentermalcolm

My mistake, Quid.

I got two out of three.

Loose Change is the Troofer nutters bible, but you chose to ignore that one.

John Pilger is a troofer. Two minutes of googling show repeated nutter statements on 9/11 from him. Here's one:

At the 2010 Anarchist Bookfair in London there was a discussion with independent journalist and filmmaker John Pilger (which was recorded - listen below) and one of the questions from the audience was about the attacks on 9/11. The following is a transcript of the question and his reply:

Audience Question: "I would like to ask your views or theory that the US government was complicit in or even perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 to gain support for criminal [inaudible] Afghanistan and Iraq?"

John Pilger: "I think there is a lot of evidence that certain elements in the Bush administration, whether by intent or by or by their own arrogant incompetence, I don't know, let things happen. I think there is enough evidence to...

We know the senior FBI people who gave warnings right throughout 2001. We know about the extraordinary inactivity by the NORAD aircraft on the day of September 11th. We know that Cheney was in charge of the White House on that day.

I think the most plausible is the "let it happen", now at what stage it was let happen, I don't know, I don't know. But certainly that seems to me, the most plausible.

There is no doubt that 9/11 became the opportunity for a new "Cold War" basically, only called the "War on Terror". But beyond that I wouldn't want to..."

My mistake about Chomsky though.. I assumed that since he was a genocide denier and hater of the US and the West he would fall into that camp. My mistake, he's just a genocide denier.

I also didn't mention Troofers being of the left. That's you projecting. Alex Jones is right wing black-helicopter lead troofer and he's as sick as Pilger.

So, how are you doing for non-analytical thought then?

May 27, 2012 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

"Earlier this year, the President of the AAAS, America's leading academy of science, claimed that the politicisation of science, on issues such as climate change, genetic modification, evolution even, was driving the U.S. into a new Dark Age."

AAAS got $10,476,856 from the EPA, from 2005-2010, "To establish and nurture critical links between decision-makers and scientific professionals to support public policy that benefits society."

They are currently in receipt of a 3 year award, (2012-2015) of $4,437,241 for a "cooperative agreement" with the EPA:

"The proposed cooperative agreement will place professional scientists and engineers in EPA for one to two year Fellowships. During these placements, fellows will perform activities and gain hands-on knowledge and experiences of environmental policy development under the mentorship of EPA experts."

I don't suppose that counts as "politicising science" though.

May 27, 2012 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDennisA

"Could somebody explain the difference between genetic change caused by breeding and genetic change caused by splicing."

I'm no expert on this but I think the difference is that there are limits on the variability you can get with breeding, while gene splicing has the potential for unlimited change. If you think of the gene sequence for a cow as being a shelf of books, then breeding would allow you to swap the pages in any book but not from book to book. Gene splicing allows you to swap any page in any book or even include pages from a different shelf (i.e. animal).

May 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

"the President of the AAAS, America's leading academy of science, claimed that the politicisation of science, on issues such as climate change, genetic modification, evolution even, was driving the U.S. into a new Dark Age"

"Chris Mooney, the author of [..] The Republican Brain, who identifies this slide into unreason with the rise of the American Right…"

Please tell me exactly who politicises the science?

May 27, 2012 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeary

sHX my Samsung dryer self destructed after 5 years and my Danby fridge freezer after 13 months! both outside warranty and both irrepairable. Both made from cheap parts with cheap labour. I only buy made in Canada GE and made in Germany Bosch now, is the extra money worth it, absolutely, so far no problems with anything. Screw me twice and Im the fool - right? Making products with a woefully short life is a fact of modern industry so, no, I would not be surprised if Monsanto does it too and like me, eventually, the consumers with be too pissed to play ball.

May 27, 2012 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick in Vancouver

Those complaining that evil giant corporations like Monsanto have "designed" their seeds so that their customers cannot use seeds from the resulting generation and so must go back to Monsanto every generation are about 75 years behind the times.

Hybrid crops, introduced to the market before WW2 (by Henry Wallace, who was probably the most socialist prominent politician the US has ever had), do not breed true, so you must go back to the vendor for new seed every generation. This has been the lot of farmers for several generations now. Of course, as with GM crops, they are free to make the decision to buy lower yielding seed that they can use generation after generation.

May 27, 2012 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

Lots of posters have tried to say that those of us that recognise that the science supports AGW are anti Nuclear Power, or GM food, or vaccination, etc.

I fully support GM food as the only way we are going to feed the increased global population
I fully support vaccination and ensured that my sons had the MMR vaccine and all of the others available to them
I fully support nuclear power as the only way we are ever going to reduce our use of fossil fuels such that we do not reach catastrophic level of AGW.

I am not unusual - if you guys would drop your stereotypes for a moment and visit blogs outside your own narrow comfort zone you would recognise this.

May 27, 2012 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterLouise

Curt
"Hybrid crops, introduced to the market before WW2 (by Henry Wallace, who was probably the most socialist prominent politician the US has ever had), do not breed true, so you must go back to the vendor for new seed every generation."

I highlighted that bit because that appears to be a good, perfectly natural reason why farmers have to go back to the vendor. Hybrid crops naturally do not breed true. Or so I presume, since I am 75 years behind on this.

How about GM-seeds by the likes of Monsanto? Would they breed true if the corporation refrained from splicing it with a suicide gene?

May 27, 2012 at 9:11 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

How about GM-seeds by the likes of Monsanto? Would they breed true if the corporation refrained from splicing it with a suicide gene?

Monsanto have never, to my knowledge, brought a gene to market with a suicide gene.

A different company was working on a terminator gene. I can't remember their name offhand. Monsanto bought the company and shut that project down.

May 27, 2012 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

I'm of the opinion you cannot be a scientist and a socialist (and claim consistency of thought). The economic "experiment" has been tried many many times. It has always failed. Several economists have explained why it fails. The effect is always the same, and it's not good for the environment. Marxism is basically a form of economic pollution, so it's not surprising that it's effects cause real pollution.

May 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

Typo above. In my above post, it should read "never bought a product to market with a suicide gene". It reads a bit odd as it is!

Mooloo,

Breeding does not extend the species beyond its natural variability (no merging tomato genes into cauliflowers).

What are the limits of "natural variability"? Although such gene transfers across different types of organisms are rare, there is no block on them in nature.

For example, something like 8-9% (can't remember the exact figure) of your genome is made up of virus DNA. This is where a virus has infected a cell during reproduction and transferred a section of its genome into the offspring. These events are very rare indeed, but over hundreds of millions of years of your ancestors reproducing, a huge amount of your DNA is actually virus DNA that has nothing to do with either humans or direct human ancestors, other than being a virus that was capable of infecting us.

Nature has no qualms about what it does to DNA; there are no "natural limits" of the type you seek to describe. Such events might be highly unlikely, but over millions of years there are simply no barriers.

As for getting tomato DNA into cauliflowers, clearly that wouldn't happen through selection via phenotype. But genome sequencing will continue to get cheaper and theoretically you could do selection via genotype and achieve the same end result; although, as you point out, it would take considerably longer.

GMO is simply another technology that poses no real risk outside of what nature does already - just like selective breeding (and hybrid crops are really a form of selective breeding anyway), but green groups find it easy to promote fear about it because the real issues are so poorly understood by many.

May 27, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

Spence_UK
"GMO is simply another technology that poses no real risk outside of what nature does already - just like selective breeding (and hybrid crops are really a form of selective breeding anyway)..."

Selective breeding is meant to ensure the seed will yield more, be hardier and need less water, herbicides and pesticides, etc.

GM seeds have been spliced to offer the same, except that it also comes with a completely unnatural characteristic: it is sterile.

It takes a psychopathic mind, perhaps a corporation like Monsanto, to manufacture plants that go 'higher, faster, stronger' while ensuring at the same time the plant dies after a single performance.

May 28, 2012 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

GM seeds have been spliced to offer the same, except that it also comes with a completely unnatural characteristic: it is sterile.

sHx, which GM seeds do you think are sterile, and why do you think it relates to GM technology? As I noted, no terminator gene has ever been brought to market that I am aware of, although one was once considered, Monsanto killed the project when they bought the company running it. I'm happy to be corrected if such a thing exists that is specific to GM, but I'm not aware of a single case.

Hybridisation can lead to sterility (even in nature, for example mules, donkey/horse hybrids, are sterile) but this is nothing to do with GM - even organic farming uses hybridisation from which seeds cannot be kept. Although typically in plants, kept seeds are not necessarily sterile, they just produce a very poor yield.

I'm afraid you've bought into environmental propaganda here which has no basis in fact.

May 28, 2012 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

ChrisM, RexAlan

Not entirely true, I’m afraid. Some of us are as sceptical about vaccinations as we are about CAGW. I don’t want to derail this thread, but if you’re interested in the same sorts of risk/benefit analyses, it’s worth reading a little about, say, pertussis vaccine and the risks of long-term side-effects compared to the disease.

Have you ever read the notes that accompany vaccines? Contra-indications for pertussis (part of the DPT ‘triple’) include asthma and food sensitivities, such as cow’s milk, but how often are those apparent at 3 months, and how many doctors even ask?

Alan Phillips’s introduction to his booklet ‘Dispelling Vaccination Myths’ ends on a familiar note: “Be careful trying to discuss this subject with a paediatrician. Most have staked their identities and reputations on the presumed safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and thus have difficulty acknowledging evidence to the contrary.”

May 28, 2012 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Louise

"catastrophic level of AGW"

As you are encouraging us to read other blogs, have you read this one or, better still, our host's book?

May 28, 2012 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

James P

What long-term side-effects? The impetus behind the development of vaccines, from Edward Jenner onwards, was that people were appalled that their loved ones, including their precious babies, were dying randomly, horribly, from infectious disease, or if not dying being left disfigured or crippled, by small pox or polio, for example. But you, in your 21st century ignorance, don't want to know about that, do you?. Slagging off at paediatricians is despicable. You should be ashamed, but never will be.

May 28, 2012 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

Curt

"must go back to Monsanto"

I thought the requirement was more to do with the tie between the crop and the resistance, e.g. if you want 'Round-up ready' cereal, you have to get the seed and the herbicide from the same people.

It's hard to dispel the thought that such a lock-in might result in the occasional price-hike, but maybe that's just me being cynical about a fine upstanding company like Monsanto...

May 28, 2012 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Chris M

Steady on - I wasn’t ‘slagging off paediatricians’, I was quoting someone who wrote a book on the subject, having discovered that the chances of dying from a pertussis vaccination were greater than from the disease. Or do you think that sort of thing should not be explored? I accept that vaccinations are of benefit where there is severe risk, e.g. a lot of children die from measles in Afghanistan, but in the West, mortality rates from measles went down by 97% in the first 50 years of last century, simply through improving standards of hygiene and sanitation, and well before a vaccine appeared on the scene.

As I said, I don’t want to disrupt this thread, but please do a bit of reading before leaping to your keyboard.

May 28, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

James P

As I said, you are arguing from a position of ignorance and it is you who needs to do more reading. Pertussis is making a resurgence in Western countries, with the inevitable deaths of babies and young children, because of grossly ill-informed people like yourself refusing to vaccinate their children. There is no comparison between the climate debate and vaccination. There is no argument from authority - it is perfectly obvious from very recent history, in terms of humanity's progress, what havoc these microorganisms can wreak. The callousness of your mindset is breathtaking, and it is pointless to debate with someone who prefers a naturopath's bunkum to evidence-based medicine. Sadly all too common nowadays. A new Dark Age indeed.

May 28, 2012 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

having discovered that the chances of dying from a pertussis vaccination were greater than from the disease.

Rubbish. The mortality rate from the acellular pertussis vaccination is so low as to be unmeasurable, making the above claim an utter absurdity.

Furthermore, the only reason the death rate of pertussis is so low is BECAUSE of the vaccine. Those who (selfishly) choose not to vaccinate are afforded protection by herd immunity, i.e. relying on others who have vaccinated as a shield against the disease. When sufficient people fail to vaccinate that herd immunity becomes compromised, that is when you would see the dangers posed by the disease and children dying. That's not an experiment I'm interested in seeing conducted - although as Chris M notes, it is an experiment we appear to be embarking on today in the west :-(

May 28, 2012 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

"acellular pertussis vaccination"

That would be this one then..

When my youngest child was of age, the vaccination was not acellular, but the much riskier whole-cell version, which I was anxious to avoid. In the event, he was later diagnosed with a casein allergy, which would have made it even riskier, but my point is that that wasn't known, or queried, at the time.

As Chris M regards the subject as "pointless to debate", I can only say that he sounds like a climatologist.

May 28, 2012 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

James, yes that would be the one, and I would for one would have no problem with the increased schedule proposed in the paper you linked to if it demonstrably reduces the risks of outbreaks since the vaccine is so safe.

It is worth reading that paper in combination with the associated editorial:

The authors were able to demonstrate less than expected effectiveness of DTaP in 8- to 12-year-olds, while also demonstrating substantial overall effectiveness of pertussis vaccines.

Of course, any drop in efficacy of the vaccine in clinical application is compounded by people who fail to vaccinate.

May 28, 2012 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

Thank you, Spence, for communicating. I am not 'anti-vaccine' but I wish clinicians were a bit more open to the possibility that side-effects exist and that some people can react badly. I have a colleague whose severely autistic child was fine and bonny until a few days after her MMR, yet no official connection has been admitted and nowhere is it logged as a possibility. No wonder it gets a clean bill of health.

May 28, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

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