Monday, July 25, 2016

Plan: 1. Agree with Patrick Moore. 2. Scour self with coarse sand


For some reason I subscribed to Heartland Institute's Environment and Climate News podcast and have listened to some. Mostly unsurprising, although one celebrating the return of eastern brook trout to reforested and some suburban areas seemed reasonable. I don't think the reforestation of the Eastern US is a huge secret that environmentalists don't want the world to know, but I also don't see a problem with refuting Breakthrough Institute thinking that civilization and nature are incompatible.

And then there's climate denialist/general denialist Patrick Moore - what a sad and unethical man. It's hard to imagine that he could actually believe his lies, and hard to understand why he doesn't just stop - he doesn't have a long career ahead to advance at this point, so does he really to finish it with gigantic lies? I'm sure he falls somewhere into John Mashey's typology (which I can't find online right now), but I guess it's continuing acclaim that matters to him, even if it's due to him spouting lies.

So what's really hard then is agreeing with much of Moore's diatribes against groups fighting research on GMO golden rice (around 24 minutes into the link). He goes overboard but I think there's no alternative but agree that opposing research on golden rice is clearly unethical. Here's Greenpeace's response, and it's completely unconvincing.

There's a difference between acting unethical in one particular situation and making the lack of ethics the basis of one's career. Greenpeace has messed up on golden rice, but people really can fool themselves on occasion. Patrick Moore must know what he's doing on a daily, continual basis.

Finally it's worth noting that anyone claiming that golden rice somehow justifies the overall application of GMO technology has got to be smoking something genetically altered. Golden rice has been on magazine covers for two decades and have yet to help a single person, while GMO crops take over the agricultural world. Greenpeace is right that GMO proponents have to look elsewhere to point to successes, but wrong to say that just because golden rice hasn't worked yet, we should shut down attempts to make it work.


15 comments:

Bernard J. said...

I'm going to stir the pot...

As an early adopter of GM technology in my previous work in biomedical research, I am as underwhelmed as is Greenpeace (but for slightly different reasons) by its agricultural applications in terms of benefits to human health. And yes, I understand the putative benefits of rice with added vitamin A, but there are other, established crops with Vit-A built in that would grow in many of the rice-ammenable climates. The sting in the tail of golden-rice are the proprietary dues...

I'm curious to know why people think that a diverse agricultural system using open pollinated, non-patented species base cannot provide the nutrition required by people in the rice-focessed parts of the world. This is not a Luddite question, but one based one ecological perspectives and parsimonious social democracy.

None of my colleagues in GT have ever been able to come up with a satisfactory answer.

And for what it's worth, I'm a passionate advocate of GM in medicine...

Now, where the asbestos...?

Bernard J. said...

Blerk... "...focussed..."

John said...

I really don't understand the vehemence of the anti-GMO activists. i don't have any particular reason to support or oppose GMO's. But I don't see what's so terrible about them either.

In the US, animal feed has included the BT gene for a couple of decades now. Has this resulted in anything terrible happening? I don't see it. The GMOs have been in use for about a generation, and if something very bad was going to happen, it would have happened by now.

FWIW,, I agree with Robert Carroll, retired professor of philosophy and creator of the skeptic's dictionary.

Here's <a href="http://skepdic.com/gmo.htmlCarroll's take on GMOs.</a>

John said...

I really don't understand the vehemence of the anti-GMO activists. i don't have any particular reason to support or oppose GMO's. But I don't see what's so terrible about them either.

In the US, animal feed has included the BT gene for a couple of decades now. Has this resulted in anything terrible happening? I don't see it. The GMOs have been in use for about a generation, and if something very bad was going to happen, it would have happened by now.

FWIW,, I agree with Robert Carroll, retired professor of philosophy and creator of the skeptic's dictionary.

Here's Carroll's take on GMOs.

luminous beauty said...

Who, exactly, is opposing research on golden rice? It isn't Greenpeace as far as I can tell.

A number of Nobel laureates have recently signed a letter calling on Greenpeace to review its position on genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice. In response, Wilhelmina Pelegrina, Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said:
“Accusations that anyone is blocking genetically engineered ‘Golden’ rice are false. ‘Golden’ rice has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address Vitamin A Deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn’t even exist.

The central criticisms of existing GMOs are not so much hypothetical health hazards as proprietary concerns that restrict the choices of farmers, and effects that produce pest immunity, making the supposed benefits only temporary, and diminishing the effectiveness of more sensible methods of pest control. That has actually happened, John.

Bernard J. said...

John, not sure if you're referring to me, but my views on GM have nothing to do with imagined significant health impacts (whether positive or negative...) but with the issues that Luminous touches on - restriction of traditional farming choice, exaggeration of evolutionary arms races that (like the antibiotic fiasco) are going to lead to profoundly serious disease/pest walls in the future, and an eschewing of species diversity in agricultural management. Oh, and the creation of new pests/weeds.

Further, the production of consumables from high-tech species, (whether GM or not, but especially so with GM) requires high-intensity input of resources and energy. It's more piling of sand into one corner of the sand-box, and thermodynamics doesn't watch that for too long without clearing its throat.

I've used the analogy before - humanity as a species is the old woman who swallowed a fly, and is currently chowing down on the cow and eyeing off the horse. At some point in the proceedings the whole system that we reply on - energy, environment, geopolitical stability, and the number of passengers riding it - is going to pop. It's thermodynamics. And the current Western approach that we use to produce our food is reducing resilience, not increasing it: that bang is coming all the more sooner for it...

As I've said many times previously, I'm all for GM - in the right contexts. Right now though we use it as a hammer to bang on screws, bolts, rivets, staples, and anything else that we can wave it at, which wrecks both the things being impacted, and the utility of the hammer to be used for the nails for which it was suited in the first place.

Westerners think like hammer salesmen, and not like farmers or ecologists - and ultimately it's agriculture and ecology, as the agents of thermodynamics, that have the final say.

We're not going to like what is said, and golden rice as it's currently conceived isn't going to make it sound any better.

Brian said...


Bernard - I'm not saying other approaches to Vitamin A deficiency won't work, but rather that I think it's unethical for Greenpeace to try and shut down an additional approach that may work. Why is their favored approach the only one that's allowed? What if their favored approach doesn't work as fast or in all geographic areas.

I've spent a fair amount of time in Asia, and the amount of rice that people in the countryside eat is astounding, often to exclusion of other food. Getting more nutrients into that rice could be really helpful.

Luminous - Greenpeace has opposed further research on golden rice. It's implicit at the link I provided (the same one you excerpted) and more explicit elsewhere. And one crazy Filipino group sabotaged a research field.

Russell Seitz said...

I wish the manifesto signing classes would call for a global ban on focus group altered advertising and the recycling of has-been green PR hacks.

luminous beauty said...

John,

Asking for independent monitoring of research outside of corporate control is not the same as opposing all research. That is Greenpeace's explicit policy and the explicit motivation for the direct action in the Phillipines. Your speculation based on subjective inference is not empirical evidence. It's just political sniping.

Windchasers said...

Bernard J.,

"At some point in the proceedings the whole system that we reply on - energy, environment, geopolitical stability, and the number of passengers riding it - is going to pop. It's thermodynamics. "

I'm not following this. What are the thermodynamics behind this?

In my experience, thermodynamics is generally about pretty simple systems; our understanding of thermodynamics doesn't generally permit us to make claims about things like geopolitical stability. Just entropy and enthalpy, in the sense of their strict scientific definitions.

So, so long as humans can keep producing the energy we need to run our economy, I don't see a problem from thermodynamics.

guthrie said...

Firstly, you have to be more specific in time and space about critiques of GM crops. The earliest ones tended to be very woolly and unspecific about potential massive dangers to human and ecosystem health, as well as farmers livelihoods as patented genes would put control into corporations hands. Different people had different hot button topics.
Over time, many peoples positions, including mine, have shifted more towards the control aspect, as luminous beauty has pointed out.

One example I recall reading about a decade ago was a developing country that had an agriculture research organisation and did lots of useful plant breeding. It was then shut down, and money funnelled into GM crops instead, which didn't benefit local researchers using local plants, but instead big companies and local big scale landowners. At the end of hte day the GM method ended up costing more to produce fewer crops with useful disease resistance, and took expertise and knowledge out of the hands of the locals.

EliRabett said...

IEHO the problem with GMOs is that it is a technology, not a product. Thus it has the capability of being used for stupid things like improving malaria protozoans and given some of the crap that has happened like the idiots who created an artificial polio virus, well yes, there are lots of idiot.

Now CRISPR, there is something to really worry about

Aaron said...

Why? Absorption of beta-carotene requires more oil/fat than is in golden rice. Thus, golden rice is not the golden bullet. People still need other foods. One cannot just distribute golden rice and consider the job done.

If one is also distributing other foods/ teaching better ag systems, then include foods that contain the full range of other nutrients required for better health. Some of these foods are a much easier source of carotenes than rice.

I would rather see a million healthy, well nourished people, than 10 million sickly malnourished people.

Brian said...

Aaron - I think one can say golden rice research is useless if there's no way under real-world conditions that it can help. I don't think that's been demonstrated. Using your example, maybe people with a no-fat diet under all conditions won't be helped, but even the poorest people will every once in a while get an egg or some cooking oil. People one step above them but still grindingly poor will have more access to oil and fat.

I had read a while back that iron deficiency was a similar problem for absorbing Vitamin A, but again that doesn't make golden rice useless.

guthrie said...

The point about golden rice is that it has repeatedly been trumpeted as a standard bearer proving how important GM crops are/ will be to improving the lot of humanity, especially the poorer sort who really need our help, but have never delivered on such early promise. Instead it would have been better to spend some money on proper agricultural research programs and education, but that doesn't provide profits for corporations and many kickbacks for corrupt politicians, or indeed flashy headlines for western newspapers.