Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reply to "Liberals and Science"

The gauntlet was thrown on Facebook, with the posting of a link to an article in Scientific American.

Titled "The Liberals' War on Science", subtitle "How politics distorts science on both ends of the spectrum", the brief article looks at some holy cows on the so-called left. Such as Nature always Good, Man-made always Bad. 
Read the whole thing here:  

The article makes some good points, such as the liberal tendency to oppose building anything anywhere anytime. I have already reflected on some of the energy dilemmas 
in earlier posts. here and here

It would be nice if we could look to Science to provide us with ego-free, totally objective truths. Now let me state up front that I have the highest regard for the scientific method per se. 

But scientific institutions consist of people. And people can be manipulated, especially if their work depends on funding. 
Unfortunately the term "Science" is often bandied about  carelessly in discussions. It can refer either to the pure principles, or to the findings of a particular study which might be countered by another study if only the funding were there. I have more brewing on this, but it needs homework. 

Back to the article. I had to agree with some of it, but 
the following paragraph stuck in my craw.
"Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs-genetically modified organisms-in which the words "Monsanto" and "profit" are not dropped like syllogistic bombs. Comedian Bill Maher, for example, on his HBO Real Time show on October 19, 2012, asked Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg if he would rate Monsanto as a 10 ("evil") or an 11 ("f-ing evil")? The fact is that we've been genetically modifying organisms for 10,000 years through breeding and selection."

Hold it right there please. Most of us Nature-loving, Monsanto-hating liberals can distinguish between age-old tactics of cross breeding and selection, and the modern version of taking a gene from one organism and inserting it into an entirely unrelated one. The first method simply speeds up a natural process. We have nothing against it.*

Insinuating otherwise is a low propaganda tactic. The second thing is something entirely different.

We'd like to apply the precautionary principle, OK? Like, wait till some more science gets in? What happens when a respected soil scientist starts making observations and asking awkward questions about the effect of glyphosate on soil ecology? The tragedy of the corporate stranglehold on scientific establishments is that a perfectly straight, pesticide-loving scientist like Dr. Huber cannot find a hearing in the academic world he has served for a life time. He then has to resort to more fringe platforms, which to some people detracts from his credibility.

For more on this story, here is a short article.

Here is a long blog I did on him a while back, with links to more.
But what really made me feel I had to write this rebuttal was the next sentence: "Its the only way to feed billions of people".

Kindly first define IT. If the author means selection and crossbreeding, sure. But if  he means the agribusiness way, that is Monsanto cum suis propaganda, increasingly being disproven in the field. The reverse may be closer to the truth.

I am reading the final chapter of Bill McKibben's "Eaarth", which is loaded with examples of high yields using intensive methods that create positive feedback and create soil instead of destroy it. As an example of the power of small, look at this:

The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just 2 hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

Yes, his methods are being duplicated. Read the whole article here, and more on the topic here  and here.

We could go on and on but that's enough for now. Do some Googling and be pleasantly surprised. Unless you work for Monsanto.

It is true that some beginning organic gardeners fail to distinguish between an honest F1 hybrid seed and say, a Round-up ready one, but that is easily addressed by education. Us Liberals can provide it to each other, thank you. For an example see this excellent post on NWedibles. 


Melanie Boxall said...

Hear hear.

troutbirder said...

Yes I agree. There are too many straw men (and women) to shoot at in today so-called conversations.