Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nuggets from the ASHS Presidential Address

Dr. Mary Meyer delivered the presidential address at the American Society of Horticultural Sciences meeting in Orlando FL yesterday.  She discussed the lack of interest in plant sciences, and suggested some society trends behind the problem.

-- 9-16 year old kids spend an average of 7 hours, 38 minutes a day with entertainment media.  That's 53 hours a week.

-- Kids spend less than 1/2 the time outside than they did 20 years ago.

-- 6% of 9-13 year-olds play outside on their own.

-- The average person is able to recognize over 1000 brand names and logos, but can't identify ten local plants.

I didn't have time to jot down the references, but thought these statistics tell about why we have so little knowledge in plant biology.  We fail to connect with plants early in life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Health Ranger'"-like Science Cleansing in Stalin's Russia

Sometimes history repeats itself.  Sometimes history repeats itself in remarkable irony.

Last week Mike Adams (the Natural News ‘Health Ranger’), a highly public figure in natural foods and magical thinking,  made a less than veiled call to arms.  Citing references to Nazi propaganda, he almost directly instructed the assassination of scientists and journalists that exhibited favorable viewpoints on transgenic (GMO) technology.   Much has been written about his rants onsocial media, along with his tenuous claims that scientists and journalists are dangerous corporate pawns with a mission to poison the planet.

Adams’ deplorable viewpoints caused quite a hiccup, followed by a backpedal.  Even anti-GMO's darling Vandana Shiva lovingly posted Adams' science-Nazi rants, until even she realized that he is insane and probably bad for $40,000 speaker engagements.  They have since been pulled from her website and live on only in screenshots for use another day.

Inciting harm to scientists that fail to comply with a popular social myth is nothing new.  We can point to The Inquisition, to Pope Urban IV and Galileo, and many others. 

Adams’ call for the murder of scientists and reference to Nazi imagery brings to mind the story of Nikolai Vavilov.  Vavilov was a brilliant scientist and gifted geneticist, years before genetics was even a discipline.  His tireless collections of plant species, incredible observations and excellent science were decades before his time.  His collections of seeds are among the world’s greatest and his botanical tenets remain underpinnings of modern crop biology.

Nikolai Vavilov, brilliant botanist and plant collector.  He was murdered for his science that was not accepted by those that held "alternative" views in science. 


Here’s the punch line.  Vavilov would be arrested and tried by the Stalin regime for his views on science.  He would die in prison for his science.  He remains to this day a hero among academics in plant breeding, and a martyr of science.

Nikolai Vavilov was born in 1874.  He attended fine academies and quickly found himself among Russian luminaries of science.  In 1917 he became a professor at Saratov University, and quickly gained attention as one of the world’s foremost experts in plant biology. 

He attained this distinction because of his expeditions and collections.  He traveled the globe, identifying new species and trends of diversification within plant populations.  He traveled into uncharted areas of the world to better understand plant biology and plant diversity. During his travels he documented skirmishes with bandits, and bouts with malaria and typhus.  Throughout his career he traveled to 64 countries understanding plants, taking massive collections (160,000 cataloged under his direction), careful documentation and generating huge amounts of data.  He wrote many books and scholarly papers, spoke fifteen languages, and introduced ideas that were revolutionary in a time where the concepts of the gene were just bubbling to the fore. 

He would rise to the position of Deputy Director of the Soviet Bureau of Applied Botany.  At the peak, the institute was home to over 20,000 scientists and 400 research laboratories.  Some concepts, such as the Law of Homologous Series of Variation (1920) are still taught in contemporary breeding and evolution classes, and as far as traits go, typically hold up to modern molecular scrutiny.

Vavilov lived during the transition to Stalinist Russia.  Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin took charge of the country.  With this change came a frank denial of Darwin and his fundamental principles.  Vavilov, being a scientist and witnessing living examples consistent with Darwin’s ideals, held views consistent with the emerging concepts of genetics.

T.D. Lysenko claimed that species changed because the environment "trained" next generations. His data were limited, he was criticized by scientists worldwide, but those in charge in his country accepted and lauded Lysenko and his "science" because it fit communist ideology better than Darwinian ideas. 

Coincident with as Vavilov’s ascendance, a young scientist named T.D. Lysenko began working under his direction.  Lysenko examined vernalization, the process of inducing flowering by subjecting plants to cooler temperatures.  This is an important agricultural trait to understand, as it governs when food will be produced.  Lysenko became a prominent voice in plant science, and was appreciated by the Soviet government because his ideas of Lamarckian evolution fit the government’s preferences over Vavilov’s Darwinian slant.

Lysenko had narrow training and rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. He was opposed to the use of hybrid maize, a concept that was gaining acceptance at the time.

The contrast was becoming more clear.  Lysenko pushed a concept that conditioned changes could be inherited.  His hypotheses were based on a single plant, and he was seriously criticized by the wider scientific community.   On the other hand, Vavilov adhered to Darwinian concepts, indicating that traits were inherited and predictable in populations.  (Sound familiar in the modern context?)

Meanwhile, Vavilov invited American-resident Russian scientist Georgi Karpechenko to return to his home country.  Karpechenko was well known for his studies of speciation in plants, particularly in examination of polyploids (plants that possess too many sets of chromosomes). In 1940 Karpechenko eventually returned to Russia.  

Science of inheritance and chromosomes discussed by Vavilov and Karpechenko did not resonate well with Stalin-regime leaders. They were described as "Mendelist-Morganist enemies of the people".  Lysenko’s ideas of nurture being more powerful than nature matched well with the communist doctrine, as they found the idea that change could be installed to be consistent with their philosophy.  Stalin’s government then would dictate the rules of biology, and how they were applied.

During the late 1930's, on a Mike Adams-like roundup, geneticists were arrested and tried.  Many of them were murdered for their acceptance of Darwinian evolution.

Among them would be Vavilov and Karpechenko.


Vavilov was the director of a prestigious scientific institution, so his arrest would bring great public attention.  He was invited to an excursion in what is today western Ukraine, and in 1940 he was arrested.   The collecting excursion was designed to get him into a place where there would be little news, little controversy when arrested.  Vavilov was returned to Seratov where he was tried and convicted.  He was supposed to have been executed by firing squad, but he was spared to twenty years in prison.

Arguably the greatest scientist of the time and one of the best plant scientists ever was then incarcerated in the Seratov Prison, a hideous gulag where he suffered in horrendous conditions, sustaining himself on moldy flour and cabbage.  

He died 2.5 years later in 1943 of cardiac failure at the age of 55, malnourished and wasting in solitary confinement.

Fellow scientist Kapechenko, along with some of his colleagues, were arrested and executed by firing squad in 1941 for practicing forbidden sciences of genetics

*****

During his confinement, Vavilov stood by his science, stood by his understanding,  eventually to his demise. He wrote, with reference to The Inquisition, "We shall go to the pyre, we shall burn; but we shall not retreat for our convictions."

To stand in the cross hairs of Adams' violent motivations is not to compare to Nikolai Vavilov.  He sits aside Borlaug and few others in his scientific stature and in his impacts on modern plant science.  

The point is to compare where ideology violently over-rules science.  It is relevant again as we witness a new war of anti-scientific ideas, along with an orchestrated call for harm to scientists and the journalists that support science.  Adams creates an insidious parallel between scientists and Nazi criminals, and parallels between the death of over six million innocent people and modern agricultural practice.

In times of such faulty rhetoric, it is reasonable to review the instances in history where ideology made irreversible errors that harmed innocent stewards of science, and without question slowed progress in the future of food. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Do You Trust?

Whenever I take the time to comment on an article, or discuss GM in a public forum, I get barraged by opposition-- but "__________" says...

So who is  "_______________"?   Why does their perspective count more than mine?

The irony is that those of us that work in public service are labeled as pawns and stooges, dupes of higher corporate interests, and not 'real' experts-- but we are public-sector scientists that don't have anything to do with the GMO discussion as a primary part of our positions. It is not our day job.

Yet we are frequently classified as "shills" or scientists with conflicts of interest.  However, the main voices critical of the technology seem to be closer to such conflicting financial and career incentives. It may be good to point out to those making "shill" accusations.

So who are the voices of science in the GMO discussion? Who do they work for, how are they compensated, and what are their "day jobs"?



Who do you trust for information on transgenic crops?  The information on this table comes from Google Scholar, and information gained from internet searches.  If any information is incorrect, or if you think there is something or someone that needs to be added, I'm happy to fix it. The (*) means that while Dr. Chassy is retired, he was a public-sector scientist.


This is only a start.  I expect that as we learn more we'll make additions and adjustments. It is an important table and critical contrast. 

Any suggestions for helpful columns or additions? 

Maybe someone can make one about journalists and their credentials? 




Friday, July 25, 2014

Do You Stand with Adams and Shiva?

Dear Biotech Critics,

Mike Adams has issued a rather unveiled threat against journalists and scientists that favorably view crop biotechnology.  His position has since been implicitly backed by Vandana Shiva on her website.

it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.


This is a call to publicly denounce the terrorist tactics by Adams and Shiva.  It is important to your own movement that you distance yourself from them, and condemn their statements.

Or, if you think their positions are good, don't I have a right to know?

Thanks!

Kevin

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do Not Stop Adams and Intimidation - Exploit It.

This week, Health Ranger Mike Adams made a thinly-veiled call to recruit anti-GMO activists and the general public to arms.  His goal, mobilize interest to threaten or harm scientists, journalists and others that dare to interpret the scientific literature on transgenic crops and/or communicate it to the public.  The article appeared on Natural News, a page with a readership of over 200,000 a day.  The page was steeped in Nazi imagery, calling supporters of transgenic technology part of the Agricultural Holocaust.

The title of the article is : Biotech genocide, Monsanto collaborators and the Nazi legacy of ‘science’ as justification for murder

I hear that the Nazis have contacted Adams and the owners of the "Monsanto Collaborators" website.  The Nazis feel that Adams and anti-GMO are negative weight on their reputation.


Stay hot, Dork Ranger.  Of course, he now has shown that he's seriously off his rocker and willing to command his army of the brain dead to harm those that don't capitulate to their level of stupid. 

TODAY!!!!  Imagine my joy when I find this!  A new page constructed that follows Adam's direction to establish a page of "Monsanto Collaborators", people with no formal collaboration to Monsanto, but people that communicate and/or do research on transgenic technology.  
Right now the "scientist" section is not populated, but I'm hoping to be on that list!


Now they have moved to intimidation phase.  When you don't have facts, evidence or data, use a swastika. This will backfire.  Let him leave it up there as long as possible. 

Keith Kloor addresses this whole thing quite well today, so no sense in being redundant.   The question now is, what should we do now? 

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.   In fact, we should use this as a badge of honor, put this in every website, public talk, twitter article, whatever it takes.  DO NOT CALL TO TAKE IT DOWN.  

It means we are making a difference. 

This journalist/scientist= Nazi angle will absolutely backfire.  Remember, the people that need communication and convincing are not the crazies on  the edge, they are the people in the fat of the bell curve.  They don't know one way or the other, so they choose based on fear rather than logic.

What's more illogical than calling for harm to the scientists and journalists that simply discuss technology that has been overwhelmingly beneficial?  What's more illogical than indicting people that have a clue, but connecting them to Nazi Germany?  Goodwin's Law usually is spot on. 

My appeal is to scientists, journalists and the public, especially those named on this list, to let it ride!   Take screen shots, use it far in wide, put it in every seminar, website and blog entry.  Adams says what most of them just think.   His stupid filter doesn't stop at just writing nonsense, he's actually spewing it like a fire hydrant.

This kind of imagery will end the labeling discussion dead in its tracks.  Adams calls for harm to scientists and journalists, but has done irreparable harm to his own cause.

I'm calling this one a victory.  






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Poignant Conclusion

A few months ago I was tasked to prepare an article on GMO and "feeding the world".  My thesis is that such statements were falsely based and unrealistic. But I did write a good piece on lost opportunities because of resistance to technology.

This was the conclusion.  It is one of the my favorite set of little paragraphs I've written in a long time.


The whole article appears in : "GMOs, Failing to Feed the World"  Boardroom Journal, June 2014


Monday, July 21, 2014

If They Say "Agent Orange", Stop Listening

Some people are truly slimy.  Few things frame the use of fear to attempt to motivate opinion on transgenic crops like the increasing use the phrase "Agent Orange".  It seems that you can't read an anti-GMO opinion lately where the author does not allude to the tragic use of this military agent, now in the contemporary setting of a farm near you!   And of course, they'll tell you it will be in your food.  And in your baby food.  And in your breastmilk.  It is about fear.  Period.

Agent Orange was a collection of herbicides, namely 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, that were produced by at least sixteen companies during the Vietnam War era.  They were used as defoliants, key weapons to expose an entrenched resistance in a dense jungle.  These compounds are synthetic auxins, a class of plant hormone that inspires rapid cell division and elongation growth.  Essentially, a plant grows itself to death.  

The 2,4,5-T preparation was contaminated with a potent dioxin, a chemical directly responsible for the tragic health impacts on soldiers and civilians. 

2,4-D has been the most widely used agricultural chemical in the last century. Nobody ever cared or thought twice about it until plants were genetically engineered to resist it-- now it must be villianized.

2,4-D is NOT AGENT ORANGE.  IF SOMEONE SAYS THIS, OR EVEN EVOKES THE TRAGIC USE OF CHEMICAL WARFARE TO INFLUENCE YOU... YOU ARE BEING MANIPULATED.  IF SOMEONE NEEDS TO EXPLOIT A TRAGEDY OF VIETNAM TO PUSH THEIR ACTIVIST AGENDA, TELL THEM IT IS SHAMEFUL, AND STOP LISTENING. 


Of course the opinion piece in an Oregon paper doesn't mind going there.  What better term to flip out a state rich with those that believe anything first, and ask science questions never*?  A local physician and a retired EPA scientist sure don't mind using it-- it's scary! 

It comes up again and again in the mindless comment stream. 


You'd think a physician and a retired EPA scientist could build an argument based on facts rather than fear.  When you've got nothin', play the Agent Orange card.  

This is how you know there is no legitimate evidence backing the labeling initiatives.  There is no science, no reason.  There are no data or conclusions.  You can't motivate Joe and Jane Six Pack away from the Kardashians to engage them with scientific information, but you can give them a major-league chemophobic freak out by conjuring up images of an weapon of war, now applied to food. 

Disgusting.  

The minute you read or hear the phrase Agent Orange, know you are being manipulated by false pathos.  Tell them to save the hyperbole.  If they have to scare you to vote for labeling with false associations, then it probably isn't such a hot idea. 

*After my original post a received a few comments and emails from proud Oregonians that didn't feel this characterization was appropriate.   After a short exchange with one friend (K.L.- YES YOU) she stated, "The place does have quite a few flakes",  which I think is consistent with what I said.  Not everyone there is goofy, duh.  Some of my favorite thinkers are there at OSU and OU, and a bunch live in Portland just 'cause they love it.  So kudos to Oregon, you've never done me wrong, but in my estimation you're up there with Texas, Florida and Vermont with those that might put belief over science... not quite California, but keep trying!