Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* A Mission Launched
* India: Bt Cotton to Be Introduced after Ascertaining Impact
* The Biotech Miracle
* Learning to Live with Probabilities and Risks: Gene Transfer and Gene
* Agricultural Science And Technology Indicators
* Slow Magic: Agricultural R&D A Century After Mendel
* Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds
* Greener Than You Think
* Mae-Wan Ho: US Foodborne Illnesses Up Two to Ten Fold (!)
* Propaganda Techniques Related to Enviromental Scares
A Mission Launched
- St Louis Post-Dispatch, Editorial, 02 Nov 2001
Challenged to overcome our grief, tame our fear and fight for the "hearts and minds" of those who distrust us, Americans can take pride in one small group of people from many countries who will begin work today in Creve Coeur to help feed the world. The opening of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a small occasion of great hope. Its multicultural, humanitarian mission deserves our encouragement.
The underlying premise of the center is ambitious and new. Americans, the world's healthiest, wealthiest people, can do something better to feed the world's starving people than give them our food. We can give them our science. We can discover and share methods of genetically altering crops to make them more nutritious and easier to grow in hostile soil and weather. When we give countries the technology to grow their own food, we give them self-determination. A country that cannot feed its own people has a foundation for chaos of every sort. Afghanistan certainly comes to mind.
To succeed, the center must take on tricky challenges that have nothing to do with coaxing cassavas from drought-parched soil. It must place ethics above all else -- even as it solicits money to fund the ongoing operation. At the center, there must be one startling invention that defies history: a free lunch.
Scientists sometimes operate in a vacuum, then struggle when societal hurdles arise. Some feel betrayed by unanticipated public backlash. To short-circuit that possibility, the center must meet, head-on, the public's misgivings about genetically modified foods. It must consider the safety of these foods to be a sacred trust and communicate this to a mass audience that has, unfortunately, the skimpiest of scientific understanding. The center also must work in conjunction with some knowledgeable entities that can explore cultural and political barriers to implementing its discoveries overseas. Such questions have arisen over whether Asian nations that attach religious significance to the whiteness of rice would grow yellow-colored "golden rice," which is genetically modified to increase vitamin A content.
Most of all, the center must be aggressively vigilant in maintaining a measure of independence from those who fund it, especially private corporations such as Monsanto that undoubtedly will turn the center's discoveries into marketable products. Most of the center's $146 million in start-up money comes from Monsanto Co., the Monsanto Fund and the Danforth Foundation. The center is a joint project of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Monsanto, Washington University, the University of Missouri, Purdue University and the University of Illinois.
Roger Beachy, president of the center, told Post-Dispatch editorial page writers that the center will attempt to walk the fine line of maintaining some intellectual property rights while retaining humanitarian licenses to share critical information with developing countries.
None of this will be easy work. It is the plant version of the moon shot, a visionary, courageous undertaking with no guarantee of success. In other words, it's the type of thing America does best.
India: Bt Cotton to Be Introduced after Ascertaining Impact
- Financial Express (India), October 5, 2001. http://www.financialexpress.com/fe20011105/commo4.html
New Delhi, Nov 4: Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh on Sunday said the controversial Bt cotton would be introduced only after ascertaining that the Genetically Modified (GM) crop had no adverse impact on environment and human health for which final round of trials are on.
Strongly favouring introduction of Bt cotton in the next cropping season to multiply productivity, he said that field tests conducted so far on Bt cotton have not shown any kind of adverse impact on environment, bio-diversity, human and animal health. "I hope sowing of the GM seed may be allowed if the final results are also positive. Final trial results of the Genetically Modified crop is likely to be known within two months", he said, describing as "unfortunate" moves to destroy Bt cotton grown by farmers in Gujarat. Asserting that farmers would be able to reap rich dividends by cultivating Bt cotton, Mr Singh said it is expected to bring about a revolution by enhancing productivity by about 30 to 35 per cent.
It is all the more necessary to clear the path for GM crops in view of losses to the tune of Rs 700 crore suffered by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan with cotton crop in these states getting affected by bollworm, he said.
On Bt cotton grown in about 10,000 acres in Gujarat, he said burning the crop would not provide any solution and moreover "it was not the fault of the farmers as they obtained GM seeds which were sold to them". Mr Singh said "the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) should procure the Bt cotton grown by farmers in Gujarat, quarantine it and store it in their godowns .... at least the lint needs to be preserved".
The Biotech Miracle
- Indian Express, Letters to the Editor, Nov 5, 2001 http://www.indian-express.com/ie20011105/letter.html
I congratulate Sonu Jain ('Bt in Bt cotton means Blocking the seed, Trashing the fact,'; IE, October 27) for the excellent expose on the situation with Bt cotton in Gujarat. The incident, while deplorable, shows ironically how the tide has turned in favour of biotechnology in India. The dam has finally been breached.
Myths about our farmers not willing to pay more for biotech seeds have been exposed along with the vested interests of the pesticide lobby in opposing biotech and the inept bureaucracy of the government. It is said that Gujarat farmers bought the illegal Bt cotton seed for much more than they would have had to pay for the traditional variety!
Biotechnology offers much for Indian farmers and consumers. If strategically employed, it can help our farmers, protect the environment, boost our food security and economic progress.
- C.S. Prakash
>'Bt in Bt Cotton means Blocking the seed, Trashing the fact'
>- Sonu Jain, Indian Express, October 27, 2001
>'How a few bureaucrats pushed the scientists and their findings aside to block
> the approval of a safe and superior seed*and sowed a bumper mess'
Learning to Live with Probabilities and Risks
Horizontal Gene Transfer and Gene Escape
- R.Muhunthan, ,
Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
Transgenic crops are in turmoil since their birth. Transgenic crops are eukaryotes- the transgene is under the control of eukaryote specific promoter, terminator and leader sequences that are been very specifically recognized by the eukaryote specific RNA polymerase in transcription. Even dicot and monocot RNA polymerases identify their distinct promoter, terminator and leader sequences. It is highly unlikley that eukaryotic promoter, terminator and leader sequences work well in a prokaryotic bacteria. Even in an unlikely case, where a transgene or a marker gene or antibiotic resistance gene escape and enter in to gut micro flora, what are the probabilities of it being incorporated under a functional bacterial specific promoter, terminator and leader sequences, to give a functional protein?
Apart from this the eukaryotes and prokaryotes have their own initiation codon, i.e. the eukaryotic initiation codon will not be identified and transcribed in a prokaryote and vice versa. The probability of vertical gene transfer become functional in gut microflora will be hundreds of thousands times lesser than of your chances of getting Anthrax containing mail among world population. Think when you buy a brand new car at a showroom, the chances of it being without a wheel? The chances of our gut bacteria getting a transgene and that become functional in them will be thousands of time lesser of it.
As far as horizontal gene transfer phenomena is concerned, it is already occurring naturally among plant kingdom. Even in the case of contaversial Terminator technology, what are the chances of all the three genes patented by USDA to be transferred into another wild crop and become functional? Unless they are under specific promoter that has been assigned for them, they will not be expressed. Think of the probabilities for that to happen.
On August 02,2001 Prof. Caspar Wenk, a monogastric and human nutritionist, from the Federal University of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland delivered a lecture at my Institute on "GMO as feedstuffs"-"What's happening with nucleic acids in animals". The excerpt of his speech as follows:
'In animals, including man, the foreign DNA can originate from both foods and endogenous microorganisms. These DNA make entry into cells by endocytosis, endocytosis-ii and macropinocytosis mechanisms. Research studies are showing that the corn DNA fragments have been found in chicken muscle cells and the chloroplast DNA fragments have been found in mucosa, spleen, and muscle cells of mammalian such as cattle and sheep. When we are infected with viruses or bacteria their DNA fragments get entry into our cells and remain in forever. The Bt corn recombinant DNA contributes only ~0.004 % of the total DNA. So the probability of Bt gene transfer into gut E.Coli is only 10---13 times. Also already our gut bacteria are having ampicillin resistance gene. So we all have to learn to live with probabilities and risks.'
When asked about the opponents to GMO, he quoted the famous physicist Max Plank-"An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning".
All the above facts presented by the Prof. Caspar Wenk were based on solid research and not just his own 'theories'. The facts presented by the professor are food for thoughts when we consider GM foods.
Agricultural Science And Technology Indicators (ASTI)
- Country-level data on agricultural R&D investments and numerous reports in searchable and downloadable form - Links to homepages for over 1,400 agricultural R&D agencies worldwide - 180+ country profiles of national agricultural research systems. The ASTI online facility is made available via the CGIAR homepage and is maintained by IFPRI and ISNAR in collaboration with other CGIAR, regional, and national partners.
Slow Magic: Agricultural R&D A Century After Mendel
- Philip G. Pardey and Nienke M. Beintema; Food Policy Report (36 pages); Relevant Sections below. Download full doc at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/pubs.htm#fpr.
Thomas Malthus, the math was compelling: exponential population growth outrunning linear growth in food supplies-the latter dependent on land area, a resource that must inevitably reach a physical limit-with catastrophic consequences.Writing in 1798, Malthus had no way of anticipating how different the future path of food supply would be from the past.Yet his vision of the future is surprisingly resilient, persisting in the minds of many despite two centuries of evidence to the contrary. Predictions of the inevitability of world famine have been proven wrong by the dramatic increases in agricultural productivity, especially in the later half of the 20th century (Box 1). The growth in productivity has enabled world food supplies to outpace the unprecedented increase in food demand caused by jumps in the growth rate of world income, and the doubling and redoubling of the human population.
Introduction: The miracle of the past four decades is that today's farmers are feeding almost twice as many people far better from virtually the same cropland base.The world used about 1.4 billion hectares of land for crops in 1961 and only 1.5 billion hectares in 1998 to get twice the amount of grain and oilseeds. Producing today's food supply with 1960 crop yields would probably require at least an additional 300 million hectares of land, an area equal to the entire land mass of Western Europe. At the same time, food prices have declined to the lowest levels in history, to the benefit of consumers who are able to eat better while spending less and less of their budget on food.Although, unconscionably, hundreds of millions of people are still food-insecure, this is not related to lack of overall production but more to the location of production and the access to food by countries, households, and individuals living on the edge of subsistence.
The current favorable dynamic balance between overall food supply and demand was not inevitable; neither was it a triumph of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Nor should it be taken for granted that it will persist. It has been the result of successful interactions among farmers, input suppliers, and an overwhelmingly publicly supported research and extension system that furnished innovations and relevant knowledge for free. Little land remains for the expansion of agricultural production (and some of the land, water, and other natural resources needed for agriculture are being degraded and diverted to other uses in other sectors), so crop and livestock yields must continue to increase for the decades ahead.They must then be maintained-at these much higher levels-for the foreseeable future against environmental, biological, and other factors that under-mine past gains in production. Continued strong performance in research and innovation is needed to maintain a favorable food balance if, in addition to the 6 bil
To the public, science seems to progress through a series of breakthroughs. The occasional genius does make a great leap forward, but the magic of science stems from the patient and persistent accretion of new knowledge. Today's scientists stand firmly on the shoulders of those who went before them. While investments in research give rise to new ideas, know-how, and innovations in the near term, these innovations draw directly on the efforts of past research. It is the accumulation of research results over the long haul that accounts for the differences in agricultural productivity observed around the world.We developed money measures to quantify the stocks of knowledge that resulted from agricultural R&D spending in the United States and Africa to illustrate this growth and to encourage policy-makers to think in the long term
MENDEL'S LEGACY: For thousands of years, farmers eked out yield gains by collecting and selecting the best and most productive seeds and by improving cultivation and organic fertiliza-tion techniques.The expansion of cultivated areas accounted for most of the increases in total production.A century ago, Gregor Mendel's research describing the pattern of genetic inheritance, first published by the Austrian botanist and monk in 1865, was rediscovered and recon-firmed.
Thus the modern era of scientific breeding began. Starting in the late 19th century, yields of major crops in North America, Europe, and Japan began to increase at rates well beyond historical precedent. For example, beginning with an average wheat yield of 15 bushels per acre in 1866 (the earliest year for which data are available), it took 103 years, until 1969, for US yields to double.Yield growth accelerated in the second half of the 20th century; it took only 43 years for US wheat yields to double and reach the much higher 43 bushels per acre reaped in 1999. Similar yield accelerations occurred in many other crops in the United States.
Many crops in developed countries saw a sharp up-turn in their yield performance in the middle of the century as an increasing number of genetically improved varieties, targeted to particular agroecologies, became available. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing at an accelerated pace in the 1960s and 1970s, improved varieties also became available from international and national agricultural research centers to many more developing-country farmers, and yields took off in many, but not all, of those countries as well (for example, see Figure B1 for wheat). A key to these widespread yield gains was the rapid spread of modern (often short-statured, so-called semi-dwarf) rice and wheat varieties throughout the developing world, initially through the adoption of cultivars developed in international research centers over wide areas with favorable environments, and then via adaptation of this germplasm to local ecologies and consumer preferences. Asia was quickest to embrace these new varieties, while varietal ch
How are the LDCs faring regarding the new biotechnologies? Reliable investment data do not yet exist, not least because of difficulties in pinning down exactly what is meant by "agricultural biotechnology." Some of the measurement problems are related to the prominent role of the private sector. Firms are reluctant to reveal much information for fear of revealing too much to their competitors.Table 4 provides some indications of the extent of experimentation, the rate of release, and the speed of uptake of these new technologies, contrasting the situation in rich and poor countries.
Agricultural Biotechnologies: By the end of 2000, over 11,500 field trials for trans-genic crop technologies had occurred in 39 countries. While the number of countries permitting field trials was evenly divided between developed and developing countries, the location of the trials was not. Much more of the technology testing takes place in rich counties, where over 80 percent of the trials occurred, with the United States accounting for more than half the world total. Less than 20 percent of the trials were conducted in the LDCs. Likewise, the location of approved "events" is some-what lopsided. An "event" involves the insertion of a specific gene in a particular crop, resulting in the expression of a desired trait in that crop. For example, insertion of the Bt cry1(c) protein producing gene into a particular cotton variety is considered an event. By the end of 2000, more than 180 crop events involving 15 basic phenotypic (physical) characteristics had been deregulated or approved for planting, feed, or fo
These geographical imbalances carry through to the technology-use stage as well. Although transgenic crops were grown in eight LDCs by the end of 2000 (compared with only seven developed countries), almost three-quarters of the world's transgenic acreage was located in rich counties.The United States alone accounted for two-thirds of the world's transgenic crop acreage. Close to 60 percent of US transgenic crop acreage was sown to herbicide-resistant soybeans (mainly Roundup Ready ®), followed by corn at 28 percent (mostly insect resistant), and cotton at 18 percent.Argentina came second with nearly 24 percent of the global transgenic crop total (virtually all Roundup Ready® soybeans), Canada was third with 7 percent (predominantly herbicide-tolerant canola), and China, fourth with 1.2 percent (all transgenic cotton).
The transgenic share of a particular crop in a particular country is quite variable. About 84 percent of the combined soybean, cotton, and maize acreage in Argentina is sown to transgenic varieties, although most of this acreage consists of herbicide-tolerant soybeans. In 2000 about 12 percent of the Chinese cotton crop is planted with insect-resistant strains. In the United States, 41 percent of the combined cotton, corn, and soybean acreage was transgenic.This increased to 49 percent in 2001, with a quarter of the corn acreage, and two-thirds of both the cotton and soybean acreage planted to trans-genic varieties that year.34 The absence of regulatory approvals for the commercial use of transgenic varieties (as distinct from trials) is a major reason why LDCs are lagging behind.
Another is the lag in getting genetic traits into varieties appropriate for different regions, which also accounts for substantial regional differences in the rate of uptake within a country such as the United States. Finally, the lack of desirable traits in crops of significance to poor people is a serious constraint.Virus resistance in several noncommercial potato varieties is being tested in trials in Mexico, as is virus resistance in yams in Africa (with vitamin-A-enhanced rice and other quality-enhanced crops targeted to poor consumers still some way off), but as yet, none are ready for release to farmers. Moreover, the pipeline of biotechnologies suitable for LDCs has barely been primed, which is not at all surprising given the comparatively small sums of money invested to date. For example, in 1998, the CG centers collectively spent just $25 million on biotechnology research.35 That same year, Monsanto invested $1.26 billion in R&D.
At the beginning of a new century, public investment and institutional initiatives for agricultural R&D in the South are waning and the South-North gap is no longer shrinking.Agricultural science spending, be it public or private, has slowed in many regions of the world, and for many countries within these regions. During the 1990s, public spending actually shrank in Africa and stalled in the rich countries, while many aid agencies reduced their support for agricultural R&D for Southern agriculture. Consequently, growth in the stock of publicly generated knowledge in the North is slowing, thereby limiting the pool of science and technologies that can spill over to the South. It also has less relevance for the South now that much public research in rich countries is focused not on traditional agricultural production technologies but on local environmental and food-safety concerns and on the quality of foods preferred by richer people. Moreover, the slowdown of science in the South limits the potential of poo
Conclusion: The debate surrounding intellectual property rights and agricultural R&D must be placed in a longer-term framework.The role of the private sector in agricultural research is increasing, but private investment covers only a small subset of the needs and is mostly a complement, not a substitute, for continued public and other nonprofit research. For many developing countries, the performance of the latter is now hampered more by lack of funding than by issues related to intellectual property rights. The social payoffs to investing in agricultural R&D have been high for rich and poor countries alike. Although some think the easy gains have been made, with diminished returns to more recent research, there is no evidence in the extensive impact assessment literature to bear this out.The estimated returns to agricultural R&D are as high now as they ever were, high enough to justify an even greater investment of public funds.
Reinvigorating support for Southern science is unquestionably the top priority. But funding alone is not sufficient to close the South-North gap. Developing effective public-private partnerships - certainly much easier said than done, but by no means impossible - is another requirement; making efficient and effective use of the dollars invested in Southern science is yet another. Getting the political commitment to deal seriously with these problems is tough, and tougher still because of the long-term nature of the commitment required. Science, especially for agriculture, is not a stop-start affair: a sizable and sustained effort is needed, beginning now and continuing for decades to come if the prospects for growth and development that science has to offer the South are to materialize. Unquestionably, another century is too long to wait.
Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds
- Ben Shouse, Science, Vol 294, No 5544, 2 Nov 2001
'Did civilization follow the plow? An alluring model of the dispersal of language and agriculture meets resistance '
CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--In 1987 Colin Renfrew's story sounded compelling, like a logical extension of Napoleon's observation that an army marches on its stomach. As the Cambridge University archaeologist first framed it then, throngs of farmers, grown strong on newly domesticated crops--wheat and barley in the west, rice in the east--swept across the land beginning 100 centuries ago. Armed with seeds, genes, and language, they pushed aside indigenous hunter-gatherers like a plow through virgin soil. Renfrew's "farming-language dispersal hypothesis" became a leading explanation for the present distributions of language and culture in Europe, Africa, and Polynesia.
But not everyone was eager to jump on the oxcart. Many scholars were suspicious of the grand aspirations of the farming-language hypothesis and of its archaeologist proponents, who they say tend to ignore unfavorable linguistic data. "The phenomenon of major expansion is very real," says linguist Roger Blench of the Overseas Development Institute in London, but "it's inconceivable that there is just one explanation."
Renfrew and Peter Bellwood of Australian National University in Canberra--the pioneer of the hypothesis in the Pacific islands - recently held a conference* here to confront the challenges and foster more genuine collaborations. But new studies presented from India and Southeast Asia further threaten the hypothesis, weakening the case for cereal crops as engines of linguistic dispersal. Along with ongoing controversy over Europe, this adds a heavy burden of complexity to the Renfrew-Bellwood model. "The initial hope of easy answers is being replaced by the realization that there's more to do," Renfrew says.
His original hypothesis - framed in the 1987 book Archaeology and Language-- pictured culture, biology, and language marching in triumphal lockstep. Testing and elaborating the theory required interdisciplinary input. Archaeologists map the movement of cultures by following a trail of pots, tools, and seeds. Geneticists map the movement of populations by comparing genetic markers of people in one region with those of people in their hypothesized homelands. And linguists map the movement of languages by reconstructing ancient tongues from the shared vocabularies of modern ones. When a family of languages has similar agricultural terms--"wheat," say, or "harvest"--the linguists infer that before the languages branched apart, the ancestral speakers were farmers.
If Renfrew's hypothesis is right, then when these disparate scientists put their maps together, the arrows should point in the same direction, indicating a concerted agricultural dispersal of genes, crops, and words. A wealth of interdisciplinary evidence gathered since 1987 has led Renfrew to refine his hypothesis, allowing individual arrows to sometimes wander off on their own. New reports from the Cambridge conference suggest that wandering arrows may be the rule and lockstep spread the exception.
In India, for example, Renfrew and Bellwood have proposed migration pathways from the fertile crescent--where the Near Eastern agricultural "package" of wheat, barley, sheep, and cattle originated 10,000 years ago--along the Arabian coast, reaching India as early as 8000 years ago. The hypothetical Elamo-Dravidian language family--which includes the Dravidian languages Tamil in India and Brahui in Pakistan, and the extinct Elamite language in Iran--shows a nice, sweeping distribution in the same direction.
Dorian Fuller, an archaeobotanist at University College in London, offers a different story. His excavations show that indigenous southern Indian crops such as mung bean and foxtail millet appeared in southern India 4800 years ago, with wheat and barley arriving 600 years later. The Near Eastern crops apparently stalled for 3000 years in northwest India before farmers developed monsoon-tolerant wheat. Also undermining Renfrew's hypothesis is new work on Dravidian linguistics. Preliminary analyses suggest that the Dravidian words for native southern Indian crops are older than the words for the Near Eastern agricultural package. So Dravidian may be native to India and unrelated to Elamite. Finally, genetics does reveal a migration from the Near East to India, but the large margin of error means it could have happened 20,000 years before the birth of agriculture, says Toomas Kivisild, a geneticist from the Estonian Biocenter in Tartu.
The latest picture from India "snaps quite a sizable arrow," says Cambridge archaeologist Martin Jones. And one of Jones's former students is bending an even bigger arrow: the "Austronesian" expansion into the Pacific, a centerpiece of the farming-language hypothesis. Victor Paz, an archaeologist at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, questions the significance of rice agriculture as a force behind the early Austronesian dispersal. Speakers of this language family--which includes more than 1000 languages spanning Madagascar to Easter Island--left Taiwan about 4500 years ago in outrigger canoes carrying distinctive red pottery and reached Polynesia about 1500 years later. Reconstruction of the Austronesian mother tongue reveals ancient words related to rice, confirming that these mariners were initially rice farmers.
But when Paz inspected the relevant archaeological sites, he found almost no rice alongside Austronesian-style pottery between Taiwan and Borneo. Instead, residents were eating tubers such as yams and taro, according to recent images of unearthed plant remains using scanning electron microscopy. "Every time you see the pottery in an archaeological context, it's almost second nature to assume that you have rice agriculture. But now we know for a fact that that's not true," Paz says.
Genetics further complicates the picture. Studying mitochondrial DNA sequences, Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford University and his colleagues have shown that contemporary Polynesians--a small Austronesian offshoot--hail from eastern Indonesia, not Taiwan, and predate the Austronesian expansion (Science, 2 March, p. 1735). So crops, languages, and genes were often moving in quite different directions, ruling out the sweeping, unified expansion of the early farming-language model.
Bellwood disputes many of the dates offered by geneticists but has given some ground on the archaeology. "I am willing to agree that rice might not have been as important as we once thought," he says. "But rice was still there at the beginning." And, he agrees, the Austronesians abandoned it at some point. What's unclear is whether they retained their farming way of life or simply foraged, fished, and farmed in whatever combination suited their latest island home. Bellwood and Paz both plan new excavations to clarify what crops, if any, drove the expansion.
Europe, the continent for which Renfrew conceived the hypothesis, is under siege as well. Complicating the picture, European languages and crops come from different homelands, at least according to most linguists. And conference participants raised other reasons for skepticism over how tightly culture, genes, and language are bound together in Europe. For example, "language shift," in which a group adopts an outside language but not outside genes, is more common than most archaeologists accept, linguists say. This is how Hungarian and Turkic languages spread in Europe, millennia after farming arrived. Furthermore, hunter-gatherers may often have held their ground against the advance of farmers, as evidenced by the strong contribution of preagricultural genetic markers to modern European genotypes.
Some experts see all this complexity as a crippling blow to the hypothesis. But Renfrew views complexity as the inevitable product of better data. "It's always the case with a simple explanation that you have to look at a more detailed level," he says. "And things are more detailed at the detailed level." Many of the objections are isolated examples that don't threaten the larger model, he argues. According to Renfrew, on the continental and global scales, language and agriculture move together in consistent if imperfect synchrony.
Researchers from both sides of the debate have now rejected what Jones calls "the amoebic view of culture," in which civilizations spread without ever interacting with the people around them. But for the farming- language dispersal hypothesis to survive, it will have to accommodate such complications as local domestication and the discontinuity of crops, languages, and genes.
Renfrew thinks his hypothesis will survive these growing pains. "One can say that models are made to be used," he says, "and we've gotten some good mileage out of this one."
Greener Than You Think
- Book Reviewed by Denis Dutton; Washington Post, Oct 21, 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12789-2001Oct18.html 'The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State Of the World' By Bjorn Lomborg; Cambridge Univ. 515 pp. $69.95; paperback, $27.95
That the human race faces environmental problems is unquestionable. That environmental experts have regularly tried to scare us out of our wits with doomsday chants is also beyond dispute. In the 1960s overpopulation was going to cause massive worldwide famine around 1980. A decade later we were being told the world would be out of oil by the 1990s. This was an especially chilly prospect, since, as Newsweek reported in 1975, we were in a climatic cooling trend that was going to reduce agricultural outputs for the rest of the century, leading possibly to a new Ice Age.
Bjorn Lomborg, a young statistics professor and political scientist at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, knows all about the enduring appeal -- for journalists, politicians and the public -- of environmental doomsday tales, having swallowed more than a few himself. In 1997, Lomborg -- a self-described left-winger and former Greenpeace member -- came across an article in Wired magazine about Julian Simon, a University of Maryland economist. Simon claimed that the "litany" of the Green movement -its fears about overpopulation, animal species dying by the hour, deforestation -was hysterical nonsense, and that the quality of life on the planet was radically improving. Lomborg was shocked by this, and he returned to Denmark to set about doing the research that would refute Simon.
He and his team of academicians discovered something sobering and cheering: In every one of his claims, Simon was correct. Moreover, Lomborg found on close analysis that the factual foundation on which the environmental doomsayers stood was deeply flawed: exaggeration, prevarications, white lies and even convenient typographical errors had been absorbed unchallenged into the folklore of environmental disaster scenarios.
Lomborg still feels at one with the basic sentiments that underlie the Green movement: that we should strive toward a cleaner, healthier world for everyone, including animals (he's a vegetarian with ethical objections to eating flesh). But his aim in this new catalogue of environmental issues is to counter the gloom with a clear, scientifically based picture of the true state of the Earth and to take a rational view of what we can expect in the next century.
In a massive, meticulously presented argument that extends over 500 pages, supported by nearly 3,000 footnotes and 182 tables and diagrams, Lomborg revisits a number of heartening breakthroughs in the recent life of the planet. Chief among these is the decline of poverty and starvation across the world. Starvation still exists, but there is less of it than ever, as our capacity to produce abundant quantities of food continues to improve. Likewise with other dire scenarios of resource depletion: We are emphatically not running out of energy and mineral resources, the population bomb is fizzling, and, far from killing us, pesticides and chemicals are improving longevity and the quality of life. Neither need we fear anything from the genetic modification of organisms.
For a factual encyclopedia, the book has immense entertainment value, particularly in the way Lomborg traces the urban legends of the Green movement back to their sources. Consider the oft-repeated claim that 40,000 species go extinct every year. Such an annual loss of species, Lomborg points out, would be disaster for the future of life on earth, amounting perhaps to a loss of 25 to 50 percent of all species in the next half century. He manages, however, to locate the source of the story -- an off-hand and completely unfounded guess made by a scientist in 1979. It's been repeated endlessly ever since -- and in 1981 was increased by arch-doomsayer Paul Ehrlich to 250,000 species per year. (Ehrlich also predicted that half the planet's species would be extinct by 2000.)
Lomborg brings these unhinged forecasts back down to Earth by reminding us that the only actual scientific documentation for species loss is in United Nations figures, which show an actual loss of between a tenth of a percent and 1 percent of all species for all of the next 50 years. This includes beetles, ants, flies, worms, bacteria and fungi, which make up 99 percent of all species, plus a small but unknown number of mammals and birds. Extinction, Lomborg argues, is a problem to be realistically faced and solved, not a catastrophe to be bewailed.
Or consider deforestation. It's been claimed that the world has lost two-thirds of its forests since the dawn of agriculture. The real figure, Lomborg shows, is around 20 percent, and this figure has hardly changed since the World War II. Tropical forests are declining at a small annual rate of 0.46 percent, but this is offset by growth in commercial plantations, which should be encouraged, as their products take the pressure off the tropical forests. In fact, the world's wood and paper needs could be permanently satisfied by tree plantations amounting to just 5 percent of the world's forest cover. ....
Many well-intentioned environmental policies can have surprising outcomes: Suppose minute pesticide residues have the potential to cause cancer in a tiny number of cases -- one estimate would have it around 20 cases per annum in the United States (not very many in a country where 300 people drown in bathtubs every year). So we ban the pesticides. This in turn, Lomborg points out, would sharply drive up the price of cancer-preventing fruits and vegetables. By reducing consumption, especially among the poor, the pesticide ban in the end would cause more cancer (perhaps 26,000 cases annually) than the pesticides would have caused in the first place. Sometimes, as with toothbrushes, the best thing to do about a "problem" is exactly nothing....
Lomborg's original inspiration, the radical Julian Simon, was just a bit too far ahead of his time. This bald, vaguely right-wing economist was on the money, but in the late 20th century, with Green mythology ascendant, no one wanted to know. Paul Ehrlich, as reward for being wrong in all his scary predictions about population and the environment, was showered with prizes, including a MacArthur "genius" fellowship. As Simon cheerfully remarked, "I can't even get a McDonald's." This irrepressible scholar did, however, provoke a young Dane into trying to disprove his claims -- a process that led to questioning the factual foundations of the environmental movement itself. Unlike Simon, Lomborg has the correct cultural aura: a young, left-wing European with the looks of a movie star. Simon, who died suddenly in 1998, would have loved to see how things are turning out.
Bjorn Lomborg's good news about the environment is bad news for Green ideologues. His richly informative, lucid book is now the place from which environmental policy decisions must be argued. In fact, The Skeptical Environmentalist is the most significant work on the environment since the appearance of its polar opposite, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in 1962. It's a magnificent achievement. *
Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy who lectures on the dangers of pseudoscience at the science faculties of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He is also editor of the website Arts & Letters Daily.
US Foodborne Illnesses Up Two to Ten Fold
- Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS Report, 3 November 2001
Genetic engineered food has increased enormously in the United States since 1994. Figures released at the end of 1999 showed a two to ten-fold rise in food-related illnesses compared with 1994. A Swedish study throws new light and raise important questions on the safety of genetic engineered food. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports.
Food related illnesses are on the increase. At the end of 2000, more than 250 foodborne diseases were described, but in the vast majority of cases, the causal agent is unknown. Diarrhoea and vomiting are the most common symptoms, with serious after-effects that include blood poisoning, abortion, infections, blood in the urine, and death. Chronic disorders of the heart and nervous system can also result, as well as arthritis, renal disease, and disease of the digestive system [1,2]. .....
Notably, genetically engineered food has increased enormously in the US since 1994, with proponents insisting there is no evidence that it has caused any harm. Health authorities should be on the lookout for new viruses and bacteria that could evolve by the horizontal transfer and recombination of viral and bacterial genes in genetically engineered crops.
Full article at http://www.i-sis.org/FoodborneIllnesses.php
Propaganda Techniques Related to Enviromental Scares
- Paul R. Lees-Haley, Ph.D., http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/propa.html
Psychologists have studied several perceptual factors that help explain how reasonable people can conclude that they have suffered toxic exposures and injuries when they have not. These include social proof, repeated affirmations, appeals to authority, vividness, confusion of inverse probabilities, confusion techniques, and distraction techniques.
Social proof is the tendency to believe what most people believe. If an advocate creates the impression that "everyone knows" that someone is lying and covering up facts, there is a subtle implication that those who disagree are somehow flawed and lacking in credibility. Identifying a few people who believe a proposition, and encouraging them to go public (especially repeatedly) creates the impression that lots of people are experiencing something real. Repeated affirmations create the impression that the assertion is true.
Appeals to authority add weight to these persuasions. If one or more of the people affirming a belief is perceived as authoritative, e.g., a physician or a political leader, more people will be persuaded. It may matter little that the expert is the only one in the universe with that opinion, if he or she is the only one whose opinions we hear. Sometimes politicians are persuaded to join in unfounded but politically advantageous rhetoric. If we like the source of an opinion, we are more likely to believe. So if a popular actor, media figure, politician, or local hero joins the process, more people will endorse the perceived reality.
Vivid examples -- especially dramatic case histories -- often influence judgments more than dull but more accurate quantitative examples. For example, inviting the single child with a birth defect to the town hall meeting may overwhelm the fact that there are fewer birth defects in the neighborhood than in most similar residential areas.
Confusion techniques can create perceptions of toxicity, injury, or disease. For example, illogical but eloquent rhetoric delivered with an air of certainty can create such perceptions if a few clear alarming phrases are woven into the message. If the release of something harmless to humans is announced along with discussions of studies indicating cancer, birth defects, or brain damage in animals, concern or alarm may ensue. A classic technique is to pose an alarming question as the headline of a speech, article, or broadcast, e.g., "Are your children in danger?" We commonly hear announcements that "bad chemicals" or "known carcinogens" are out there, without objective data to clarify whether the type, amount, and location of the substance could actually hurt anyone. When someone questions the plausibility of the alleged toxic exposures, advocates may self- righteously respond that reasonable people have a right to worry, -- as though people who try to alleviate unnecessary worry are violating the rights of
Manipulators dramatically announce that people in the community have cancer, birth defects, immune disorders, and other disturbing health problems, as if this were a discovery, or something unusual. Facts about the normal prevalence of these problems are seldom disseminated or compared with the numbers contained in these sensational announcements. Have you ever seen a headline, "Cancer rate and birth defects rates exactly normal in Ourtown, USA"?
Ignoring coincidence and drawing attention to a few sick people can be highly misleading. In any large population, for example, it is simple to find a few people who have various severe diseases, including some relatively rare ones. When confronted with the facts about an alleged environmental toxin, for example, manipulative advocates may respond with confusion techniques such as: "One sick child is too many, and we resent your implying that it's OK to poison our children" or "How many body bags will it take to convince you people?" In other cases they skip over probability and go directly to the impossible -- in the words of a concerned parent at a town hall meeting, "How are you going to guarantee that my children won't have cancer in twenty years?"
Confusion, distraction, and other propaganda techniques may be used to make spurious accusations that inspire outrage against opposing parties. In response to recent criticisms of junk science, antiscience arguments are on the rise. Advocates tell us, "We can't wait on science. We have to act now!" and "The scientists want us to do nothing! How many people have to die before XYZ does what is right?" One such critic ironically declared, "We can't wait on science, we have to act on the evidence!" Certainly we make most of our decisions in life without conducting a scientific study first. However, the allegation that some environmental toxin caused brain damage in a specific group of people is a factual question that can be answered only by looking at the data, not by emotional reactions to speculation, sensationalism, and innuendo.
Manipulators strive to divorce us from the facts. Rather than encouraging us to examine the evidence and reasoning of people who appear to disagree with us, they block communications and openly or indirectly try to persuade us that people who disagree with their views are dishonest, not trustworthy, incompetent, biased, racist, only concerned with money, insulting our intelligence, corrupt, betrayers of the American dream, and so on. The subtext is: "Do not consider alternative points of view. Do what we tell you, without realizing that we are controlling you." Like cult leaders, manipulators encourage us to close ranks and form an in-group suspicious of those who question the party line.
Manipulators often try to control beliefs and actions by exploiting people's feelings. Inflammatory emotional rhetoric hardens attitudes against the opponent, and subtly justifies bending the rules to fight against the evil doer. Rhetoric that characterizes the opponent as a powerful bully (for example, that the AMA is persecuting "alternative" pracitioners) elicits a desire to root for the underdog, and provides emotional justification for bending ethical rules.
Confusion of inverse probabilities is another classic form of invalid interpretation of facts that arouses unnecessary alarm. For example, suppose an announcement of a release of a toxic chemical is accompanied by news that the chemical can cause upper respiratory symptoms, aches and pains, or other common symptoms. Some people with these symptoms will conclude that the chemical was responsible. And this could be true. However, it may also be true that only 10% of persons exposed develop such symptoms, and only 1% of the population was exposed, so that the probability that a particular person has been poisoned is one in a thousand. These important details can be overlooked in the hue and cry following a dramatic toxic spill.
People tend to assume that sensational terms represent reality. Multiple chemical sensitivity and Gulf War syndrome are prime examples. The existence of a name does not necessarily mean that there is a corresponding real event. However, spurious allegations may appear plausible if associated with common symptoms. of human existence, especially if depicted by an expert.
Another misleading technique is the use of categorical terms that lead away from a more reassuring (and more reasonable) quantitative reality. For example, an expert witness in a court case may discourse at length on the effects of severe toxic brain injury when testifying about a mild injury. Or instead of stating that a plaintiff has a subtle cognitive impairment that probably will not affect his life very much, the expert decribes the plaintiff as "brain damaged." And instead of saying that a plaintiff has less than 1/10 of 1 percent greater likelihood of contracting cancer than the base rate, the expert opines that the plaintiff has "increased risk of developing cancer" due to some exposure. Both statements are technically correct but not presented equally. Interruptions, objections, topic changes and ad hominem arguments may also be used to divert attention from science-based facts.