Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : June 13, 2005
* Why Environmentalists Attack Monsanto?
* Foundation for Public Research and Regulation
* Biotech Crops Aid Humanity, Nature
* India: Bt Cotton Achieves Record Growth
* That Pot of Green Gold at the End of the Rainbow
* Labeling Genetically Modified Food: Call for Papers
* Agricultural Biotechnology: Ten Years After
* Greenpeace Fined 4,000 Euros Under New Danish Terror Law
* The Role of Scientists in Science Communication
* Medical Thriller Explores Food Terrorism
* 'Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics' in Public Scares
* Dihydrogen Monoxide - The Truth
Why Environmentalists Attack Monsanto?
- Dave Wood , AgBioView, www.agbioworld.org ;
June 13, 2005
AgBioView of June 8th concludes with a broad defence of Monsanto
against NGO activism (sourced from the International Foundation for
the Conservation of Natural Resources
http://biotech.ifcnr.com/article.cfm?NewsID=500 ). This defense ends
by wrapping the flag round Monsanto: "Monsanto and America share the
same goals, the same altruism, the same desire to help and to earn
fair compensation for goods provided, and, unfortunately, they share
too the same harsh resentment by those who envy the success of
Monsanto as a business and America as a world power."
But Monsanto and America certainly do not share the same goals. As a
global company, Monsanto successfully exports US technology in the
form of GM seed. That's why farmers from India to Brazil love
Monsanto. The problem for American farmers and taxpayers is that
Monsanto seed is used overseas to produce soybean and cotton and corn
that undermine US commodity exports. Every dollar profit from seed
sales that goes back to Monsanto head office costs America probably
one hundred dollars in lost crop exports.
It is not by chance that NGOs such as Food First (Institute for Food
and Development Policy) in California and RAFI in the prairies of
Canada were located in regions highly dependent on crop exports. With
financial support from their home base, such NGOs will attack
agricultural development elsewhere, be it Green Revolution or
agbiotech, that leads to loss of North American exports. The real
reason for attacks on Monsanto - export protectionism - will be
hidden by a NGO smoke screen of concerns for the local
Developing countries are fair game. Food First noted as long ago as
1977 that "At least 40 percent of all imported food that directly
competes with United States farm production comes from underdeveloped
countries." and " Because of American multinational corporations'
ability to run away to wherever labor and other resources are
cheaper, the United States imports consumer and agricultural goods
that could well be produced at home." Specific complaint is made of
crop production in Brazil, Mexico and Senegal (Lappé, Collins, and
Cary Fowler, 1977 Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity). This is
trans-national Luddism North American NGO style: the attempt to stop
your own technology spreading to other countries to reduce their
agricultural growth. Agbiotech is a problem for these NGOs. They have
to walk a fine line in preventing local production overseas (bad)
while leaving the door open for imports of GM crops (good). So
environmental concerns must predominate over food safety issues. It's
OK for Mexico to import GM corn but not to grow it: hence the recent
"genetic contamination" scare to overprotect local traditional corn
varieties. But it's not OK, ever, for Brazil to grow and export GM
soybean, hence the "destruction of the Amazon rainforest" scare. It's
not OK for India to grow GM cotton (it will import less and export
more), hence the "cremate Monsanto" campaign of 1998 in India when
trials of GM cotton were burned. This was not Orwellian NGO illogic
as the June 8th article claimed, but economically logical? export
protectionism effected through local naive or rent-a-mob NGOs.
In contrast, anti-import protectionism European NGO style would
emphasize food safety in addition to environmental concerns over GM
crops. A import flood of efficiently-produced American GM crops is
definitely not wanted by a Europe staggering under the absurd
subsidies of the Common Agricultural Policy. This can go badly wrong
when the European NGO ideological package is exported uncritically to
Africa and people starve to death.
Foundation for Public Research and Regulation
The objective is to involve the public research sector in regulations
relevant to the development and application of biotechnology.
Countries and organisations throughout the world have invested
considerably in public sector research, and are continuing to do, so
in order to develop biotechnological applications that meet a variety
of crucial needs such as strengthening the sustainable production of
food, feed and fibre, addressing water shortage, and improving health
care and environmental protection.
The extent to which modern biotechnology will be able to achieve
these goals will depend to a large extent on the regulatory regimes
that apply to biotechnology and on the way in which they are
implemented. These national regulations in turn are strongly
influenced by international agreements, particularly the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety.
A central aim of the negotiations was to involve all stakeholders.
Records of the negotiations show that NGOs and the private sector
were indeed well represented. However, the public research sector
involved in developing biotechnological applications, which includes
over a hundred thousand researchers of thousands governmental,
academic and international research institutions in developing and
developed countries, was not represented in any significant or
organised way during the negotiations or during MOP1.
As a result, the public research sector has been not able to provide
scientific input for the benefit of the negotiations nor to express
its views about the effectiveness and workability of the provisions
of the Protocol. Another consequence of the absence of the public
research sector during the negotiations is the persistence of the
misconception that modern biotechnology, and in particular its
agricultural application, is the exclusive domain of a handful of
big, western multinationals.
The initiative described below proposes to offer a forum for the
public research sector to be involved in the forthcoming Meetings of
the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in May 2005 and
* Why has the public sector not been more involved in previous negotiations?
- The public research sector has not been involved actively in a
number of relevant international agreements for a variety of reasons.
These reasons can be summarised by 1) lack of awareness of the
ongoing negotiations and of the implications for public research; and
2) lack of resources and infrastructure to be actively informed about
and effectively involved in such negotiations.
* Was the initiative set up so that the public sector has a unified
- and perhaps stronger - voice?
- The Public Research and Regulation Initiative is set up for two
1) informing the public research sector about ongoing discussions on
regulations and international agreements that are relevant for modern
2) involving the public research sector by offering a platform
through which they can be more actively involved in negotiations.
For this purpose the Foundation Public Research and Regulation has
been established. Reaching a unified voice is as such not the
objective, because the interests of different public research groups
may be different. However, one overarching aim is to bring public
research and its science to the negotiations.
* What particular contributions could public sector representatives
make to such discussions that the private sector or NGOs are not
equipped to do?
- The contribution of the public research sector to the negotiations
will be to threefold.
First, to inform the negotiating parties of the reasons for and
objectives of public research, such as contributing to sustainable
food production by developing disease or drought tolerant crops. This
is key to a meaningful progression of negotiations, because it helps
the negotiators understanding the context of their negotiations.
Second, by informing the negotiating parties of the implications of
proposed provisions in international agreements for public research,
and by constructively seeking solutions for certain challenges.
Third, by assisting the negotiating parties in offering to available
for scientific advice before and during the negotiations.
Biotech Crops Aid Humanity, Nature
- Al Skoge, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 31, 2005 http://www.startribune..com
Is biotechnology a new and unproven technology? Hardly.
Biotech crops have been grown successfully by farmers for 10 years on
nearly 1 billion acres around the world. What's more, a recent report
by the National Academies of Science verifies there hasn't been a
single, legitimate issue regarding human health or environmental harm
attributed to biotech crops. The truth is that producers, consumers
and the environment have greatly benefited.
With 1 billion acres, 10 years' experience and a proven track record
of these crops being safely consumed around the world, this
technology can no longer be classified as "new" or "untested" or
"unpredictable," but rather should be described by those who speak of
genetically improved crops as "proven" or "accepted" or "well-tested."
One billion acres is a vast amount of experience. If the Japanese
would have adopted this technology exclusively and tried to chalk up
1 billion acres of experience, it would have required planting every
arable crop acre in Japan to biotech crops for 87 consecutive seasons.
In Europe, it would be similar to planting biotech crops on every
acre of France for 22 consecutive seasons. Just when, exactly, does
precaution give way to experience?
Over the past 10 years, more than 50 seed traits have gone through
extensive regulatory review and been approved by government
regulators for distribution to farmers. These regulatory standards
require proof the crops are at least as safe as conventional crops
for human and animal consumption, and that they pose no new problems
for farmers or the environment. No other crop technology has ever
been subjected to as much conclusive testing for safety to humans or
the environment as biotechnology.
Biotech crops allow farmers to reduce pesticide use by millions of
pounds annually, and studies show that beneficial insects and bird
populations increase when biotech crops replace chemical
insecticides. Biotech crops also contribute to soil-saving tillage
practices, which reduce fuel consumption and protect water quality.
It's clear to most farmers that the environmental movement has
completely neglected the solid improvements biotech crops create for
Unfortunately, most environmental activist groups sold their
allegiance to the environment a long time ago in exchange for a fully
funded fear campaign supported by trust-funders, organic promoters
and professional agitators.
While activists have done their level best to sack genetically
improved crops, they haven't been very successful -- 85 percent of
soybean acres, 40 percent of corn acres and 76 percent of cotton
acres in the United States are planted in biotech varieties. However,
in the case of wheat, a greatly exaggerated fear campaign about
market risk has completely overshadowed the health, economic and
environmental opportunity of adopting biotech wheat.
Our real charge is to educate customers in the truth that biotech
crops are absolutely safe and offer the best opportunity to increase
the health and food supply for a global population destined to grow
nearly 50 percent by 2050 while reducing the costs to produce this
food and enhance the environment.
My only regret, as a grower who has benefited from these biotech
crops over the past several years, is that we are not closer to
realizing these benefits in the wheat industry.
Despite 20-plus years of research and 10 years of commercial success
in several crops, the wheat industry has succumbed to fear tactics of
activist groups and retreated from efforts to introduce beneficial
biotech traits. For wheat farmers in the Northern Plains, this is a
tragedy that will continue to erode our competitiveness.
I am confident the next 10 years of biotech crops will be even more
beneficial than the decade we have just experienced. Drought and cold
tolerance, disease resistance and more healthful grains are on the
For the sake of wheat farmers, consumers and the environment, let's
hope that wheat will adopt this technology before it is too late.
Al Skogen, who produces biotech corn, soybeans and non-biotech wheat
in Valley City, N.D., is president of Growers for Wheat Biotechnology.
India: Bt Cotton Achieves Record Growth
- SIFY.com, June 10, 2005
Notwithstanding the controversy and widespread opposition it faced,
Bt Cotton grew by 154 per cent in 2004-05 and was looking for a much
faster growth in the coming years with more seed companies joining
A biotech industry survey, carried out by the Association of
Biotechnology-led Enterprises (ABLE) and BioSpectrum magazine,
revealed that bio agriculture achieved the fastest growth of over 154
per cent last year, though its total contribution was nearly seven
per cent of the total revenue earned by the sector. The total agri
sector contributed Rs 330 crore last year as against Rs 130 crore in
The total Bt Cotton seed revenue during 2004-05 was Rs 253.3 crore,
recording a 369 per cent growth, compared to a mere Rs 54 crore in
This year Bt cotton would witness a watershed year as six new
varieties of transgenic cotton had been approved by the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee for release, for the first time, in
the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Currently, Bt
Cotton seeds were grown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh,
Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. As against
three Bt cotton hybrids permitted for cultivation in 2003, the number
had gone up to 17 now. The total area covered by
Bt cotton currently
stood at over five lakh (500,000) acres. (crore = 10 million; Rs. 45
That Pot of Green Gold at the End of the Rainbow
- Paul Driessen
'Many proposals to regulate bio-resources will impede progress and
Anti-free enterprise activists are at it again. This time they're
using the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which gave
signatory nations and indigenous people sovereignty over their
During the coming months, World Trade Organization (WTO) and CBD
delegates will meet again in Geneva and elsewhere, to devise an
international legal framework to control access to the resources and
ensure 'fair and equitable sharing' of any financial or other
benefits that might come from utilizing genetic materials and
'traditional knowledge' to create new drugs.
Unfortunately, many aspects of the CBD are counterproductive. One of
the most damaging proposals would curtail existing patent rights for
pharmaceutical products derived from plants, under the guise of
'benefit sharing.' This proposal is based on several fallacies and
would have serious negative consequences for biotechnology and the
Conventionís stated goals.
Fallacy 1: Existence equals value. The Stone Age didn't end because
our ancestors ran out of stones and the Iron Age didn't begin because
iron ore deposits suddenly appeared on our planet. The resources were
always here. But until human creativity our 'ultimate resource'
figured out how to extract, refine and forge ore into things people
needed, those deposits had no value.
Likewise with the notion of ìgreen gold, 'the activists' (and
Convention's) assumption that vast untapped wealth lies within these
biological resources ñ and must be protected from ìbio-piratesî who
want to ìpatent them for private profit.î
Unlike gold, these bio-resources do not have intrinsic value. Genetic
resources are valuable only if researchers are allowed to discover
their pharmacological secrets and create affordable new drugs that
address health problems better than alternatives. Until then, all
this potential bio-wealth is just a pot of green gold at the end of
the rhetorical rainbow.
Invention is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and lots of cash.
Unlocking the pharma vault in some Amazon plant might be relatively
easy if locals already use it to relieve pain (aspirin), suppress
appetites (hoodia) or cure malaria (artemisinin), for instance. Most
often, though, it takes years of expensive trial-and-error research,
followed by years in the drug-approval-process briar patch.
On average, companies invest 10 years and $800 million, to screen
over 5,000 compounds, get 5 into human clinical trials, and launch a
single new drug. Only 3 of every 10 successful new drugs generate
revenues greater than their R&D costs; those three must finance all
the unsuccessful efforts. Research with natural bio-resources faces
even longer odds: only one sample in 250,000 will eventually yield a
commercial drug, though many may provide leads to other drugs.
Moreover, the mere discovery of a resource does not garner a patent
or create value. A patent will be granted - to safeguard the
investment, intellectual property rights, process and product - only
if a creative new process ensures probable commercial success and
Fallacy 2: A big UN program is better than small bilateral
agreements. Politics, ideology and infighting often impede progress.
Nearly 7 years after the WHOís Roll Back Malaria campaign was
launched, malaria rates are up 10% and 10 million more people have
died while a straightforward South African program cut rates and
deaths by 93% in three years.
In the decade before the CBD was signed, Costa Rica entered into
agreements with drug companies to provide biological samples, in
exchange for up-front fees, royalties, laboratories, equipment and
training for local scientists. Itís now advising other developing
nations. Today, the CBD is still moribund, as parties continue to
squabble over definitions of fundamental terms like 'bio-piracy' and
Worse, NGOs like Friends of the Earth insist that there is no such
thing as legitimate bio-prospecting. To them, all bio-prospecting and
patenting of genetic resource inventions is piracy, virtually any
corporate engagement with indigenous people should be prohibited, and
limiting biotech patentability is just one step toward eliminating
all patents for biotech products.
Fallacy 3: Battling corporate biotechnology will spur development.
Emotional polemics donít generate progress. Companies and investors
don't have to go where they aren't wanted ñ or to countries that
attack intellectual property rights, pirate patented products, or
threaten to impose fines and overturn drug patents years after the
At the 2001 WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha, activists attacked
corporate patents for HIV/AIDS medicines ñ and succeeded only in
reducing investment in developing new generations of AIDS drugs.
Limiting patentability for biotech will simply hurt those with the
most to gain from transferring technology and research opportunities
to developing countries, through legitimate bio-prospecting.
The legal wrangling and threats have also played a major role in
causing industry to lose interest in exploring rainforests for
prospective drugs ñ and switch to synthetic drug development in labs.
At this point, CBD countries would be better off if they worked with
industry to re-ignite interest in biological resources.
Fallacy 4: A complex international regime will bring benefits to
developing countries. In fact, 50% of zero is nada. Countries that
create cumbersome, unfriendly, counterproductive legal regimes
generate little investment, and fewer benefits. Those that
participate in a system thatís already produced thousands of
life-enhancing drugs will build a future founded in science, property
rights and wealth-generation, ensuring better lives for their people.
When obstacles are strewn in the path of investment, innovation,
discovery and patent protection, investors and researchers seek less
risky opportunities, such as ìcombinatorial chemistryî with synthetic
molecules. In the Philippines, Colombia and virtually every other
country that has created such obstacles, bio-prospecting has
The result is that the next generation of biological drugs is never
born ñ and countries and indigenous people who might actually have
the next taxol, cortisone, artemisinin or hoodia never realize their
dream of turning it into a blockbuster.
Governments, companies, NGOs, indigenous people and patients alike
agree that benefits from commercial development of new products from
genetic resources should flow back to their providers. But developing
countries don't need another symbolic victory. They need real,
That means recognizing these basic principles, abandoning polemics
and the search for pots of green gold, and agreeing on workable,
mutually acceptable definitions for basic terminology. Most of all,
it means crafting a bilateral or global system that eliminates legal
minefields ? encourages and rewards investors, companies and
researchers for their risk-taking and dogged persistence ? and
ensures the creation ñ and sharing ñ of real benefits that can come
only from real discoveries.
Itís a lesson that should probably be applied to a lot of public
policy debates these days.
Labeling Genetically Modified Food: Call for Papers
- November 4-5, 2005, University of Missouri-Columbia
Submit a paper on the conference topic together with an abstract and
contact information to:
Paul Weirich, Philosophy Department, University of Missouri,
Columbia, MO 65211; phone: 573-882-6760; fax: 573-884-8949; e-mail: email@example.com
Agricultural Biotechnology: Ten Years After
- Ravello, Italy; July 6 - 10, 2005
Ten years have passed since the first biotech varieties were made
available to farmers for cultivation. In this decade those varieties
have spread in numerous developed and developing countries, although
at different speed and scope. Farmers and consumers acceptance have
been different from place to place and in several occasions have
interacted. In some cases in fact farmers although attracted by the
advantages of those new varieties have been concerned upon the
acceptance of their produce on the export markets.
During this decade an increasing number of biotech varieties and
processes have been invented and commercialised. The presence of
those varieties have attracted public attention and stirred public
debates. In important markets - as those of the European Union -
production and commercialization of those products have been - for
several years - practically banned. Now the situation is gradually
evolving and a new regulatory framework has been set to govern
production and trade.
The techniques of genetic engineering were first developed in
scientific research programs and first pursued by scientists. The
sciences underpinning the technology are continuing to open up new
technological invention opportunities as genome maps are completed
and as the fields of genomics and proteomics analysis take form.
Important policy questions regarding public research system design
and conduct are emerging. These are of particular importance in
developing countries. These questions require a long view and an
understanding of the scientific revolution that is underway.
As those biotechnology products have become increasingly available,
policy issues relating their trade, domestic production and
consumption seems to have gained paramount relevance in the national
and international agricultural policy arena and have also acquired
some more general relevance as well. Increasingly important has
become the capacity of governments to envision and enforce an
appropriate set of rules to ensure a sustainable development if this
sector. Among others in this regard the experience in Brazil and
India is very instructive.
Vittorio Santaniello, University of Rome "Tor Vergata", Rome, Italy
fax +39 06 72595721; Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Greenpeace Fined 4,000 Euros Under New Danish Terror Law
- AFP, June 10, 2005
COPENHAGEN (AFP) - The Environmentalist group Greenpeace was fined
30,000 kroner (4,900 dollars, 4,000 euros) by a Copenhagen court,
becoming the first organization sentenced under a new Danish
Greenpeace was charged under new legislation introduced after the
attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, following a
protest in October 2003 against genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
in the Scandinavian country's booming pork industry.
The 15 individual protestors, who entered the Copenhagen headquarters
of the Danish Agriculture association and reportedly hung a banner
reading "No to GMO swine" from a window, were each fined 1,500 kroner
several months ago for violating domestic peace.
The terror legislation allows the courts to hold organizations
responsible for the actions of their individual members, which
prosecutors said cleared the way for the charges to be brought
The group has meanwhile claimed that the charges constitute a
violation of the new laws, which it insists are meant to lay
responsibility for terrorist acts on the organizations that support
them, and not punish "peaceful" groups for activist protests.
"When the terrorism laws were introduced, the rule was that
organizations could be punished for doing something illegal. But it
was clear that the aim was to target organizations that supported
terrorism... Now, they are trying to use the laws against a peaceful
group like Greenpeace," Greenpeace lawyer Steen Beck said when the
charges were pressed last month.
Greenpeace Denmark spokesman Mads Christensen told AFP on Friday that
the group was "shocked by today's judgement". "This shows that the
courts have now found a law paragraph that can be used to clip the
wings of the civil society," he insisted. The group also told Danish
newswire Ritzau that it feared the court ruling would have a negative
impact on the work of Danish grassroot organizations going forward.
The Role of Scientists in Science Communication
- Sumati K. Sampemane, May 11, 2005, http://www.scidev.net/
Thomas Egwang's comment about Africa's lack of good science
journalists (see African scientists call for trained science
journalists) may find echoes in many places outside Africa. However,
can scientists do anything about media ignorance and ensure accurate
Yes, they can. Until there are well trained science writers,
scientists will have to go an extra mile to put tricky concepts
across to the public in an understandable language. Explaining
concepts without jargon and with everyday analogies wherever possible
is the beginning. When journalists are reporting on a conference, a
scientist's offer to review and explain difficult concepts to them
helps. A willingness to take calls is reassuring to the journalist as
Where journalists have immediate deadlines, a jargon-free background
document will serve well. Leaving press relation agencies to handle
this task is hazardous. Their measure of success is soundbites,
column centimetres, and the number of publications they get for the
Finally, a rapid course for scientists on how to write for the lay
press may be a good idea.
Sumati K. Sampemane is a journalist in Mumbai, India. After 25 years
as a science journalist, she now works for Business India.
Medical Thriller Explores Food Terrorism
- Pat Sherman, San Diego Union-Tribune, June 11, 2005
"Eat your fruits and vegetables." That's the advice given by doctors,
mothers and diet gurus. However, summer partygoers reaching for the
crudités might think twice after reading Dr. Chris Holmes' latest
novel, "The Garden of Evil."
The Escondido author, who first wrote about the threat of an anthrax
attack in 2002's "The Medusa Strain," is back with a sequel, and its
villain cultivates poisonous produce. Holmes' protagonists from his
previous novel, physician Gil Martin and wife, Tara, a public health
officer, return to track down a biology professor bent on poisoning
his department through raw vegetables. Holmes' villain uses the
vegetables in a dish he brings to a potluck dinner.
"His research projects are never funded, he gets turned down for
tenure and so he decides to get back at his department and community
and, at the same time, demonstrate his own brilliance," said Holmes,
63. "He is the spitting image of Ted Kaczynski - the Unabomber -
brilliant but sociopathic."
Holmes is an epidemiologist whose medical career includes preventive
medicine, pediatrics and occupational medicine. His story was
inspired by an article he read about phytoremediation, a technique in
which plants are used to clean up polluted environments. After the
1989 Exxon Valdez spill, an oil-eating E.coli bacteria was used to
soak up the mess. Today, scientists can genetically alter plants so
that they can take in toxins such as arsenic from the soil.
"This allows the plant to actually take up whatever you want it to
take up and store it in its leaves," Holmes explained. "I thought,
'That's fascinating!' "
Holmes' fascination soon evolved into a story line. "I said, 'Let's
see if we could create a story where the terrorist doesn't just
sprinkle the poison on the bowl of salad, but actually incorporates
it into the raw vegetable before it's turned into salad, coleslaw or
potato salad.' "
Although the book is a work of fiction, Holmes says the technology is
accessible to those with both malice and genetic mastery. "The kinds
of things you can do with genetic manipulation, which used to only be
done at premier universities, can now be done almost anywhere," he
An avid gardener, whose spacious Escondido yard contains an orchard,
as well as rose, succulent and vegetable gardens, Holmes drew on his
experience with gardening and recombinant DNA technology to write the
book. He spends about two hours a day working in his gardens, where
he has planted butternut squash, green peppers and other vegetables.
Holmes points to real-life examples of food terrorism, such as the
case of a religious cult in Oregon that contaminated 10 salad bars
with salmonella in 1984, and of a disgruntled supermarket employee
who tainted 200 pounds of red meat with insecticide in 2003.
"The science part of this book is very solid," Holmes said. "Our food
supply is at risk of terrorist attack, whether it's one demented guy
who attacks his own community or a larger attack on 300,000 head of
cattle with foot-and-mouth disease."
A retired Navy doctor, Holmes teaches at San Diego State University
and gives lectures on subjects related to his books. He writes in his
home office. His last book, "Spores, Plagues and History: The Story
of Anthrax," a work of nonfiction, built on his anthrax research for
"The Medusa Strain."
"This is not a recipe for how to be a terrorist," Holmes said of his
latest novel, "but the fact is that if I can dream this up in my
little office here in Escondido, there are a whole lot of people a
whole lot smarter than I am that have thought this stuff up."
The book is published by Durban House Publishing in Texas.
'Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics' is Particularly Apposite When It
Comes to Public Scares
- Mark Henderson, The Times (UK)< June 11, 2005
'Epidemiology is part of the bedrock on which sound medical
knowledge is built.'
This science makes comparisons between population groups to identify
factors that might trigger or prevent disease. It draws out
correlations between circumstances and events, suggesting connections
between the two. Perhaps its most spectacular triumph was in the
hands of Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill, whose work in the
1950s proved that smoking can cause lung cancer.
But while epidemiology is a valuable tool, it is also a blunt one.
Without cautious interpretation it can obfuscate as readily as it
illuminates. Association is not the same as causation, and to assume
that it is can lead up blind alleys. It is circumstantial evidence:
its absence may show innocence, but it does not prove guilt.
This point is made tellingly by Stanley Feldman, the editor of Panic
Nation (to be published on June 20, John Blake, £9.99), an excellent
collection of essays that exposes popular health myths. Before
experts address the lack of evidence behind scares -such as the MMR
vaccine and GM crops -Feldman, an anaesthetist, takes a moment to
explain the limitations of the epidemiological studies on which so
many are based.
Any link that such research reveals is just an intriguing lead unless
other boxes can be ticked. Doll's discovery that smokers had higher
rates of lung cancer was interesting but not proof. The assocation
might have been a coincidence smokers might typically be poorer, or
drink more alcohol, and these factors might explain the link.
The connection grew stronger when Doll showed that the more people
smoked, the more they developed lung cancer. A clear dose-response
relationship is usually a signal that something is up. But the
evidence became compelling only when he demonstrated that smokers who
gave up reduced their risk. Laboratory research showing how chemicals
in cigarette smoke damage DNA was the clincher.
Few of the epidemiological studies underlying tendentious health
claims get their ducks in a row like this. More often, their flaws
demolish the supposed causative link.
Feldman quotes one study that purported to show that pesticide in
food triggered brain tumours. While there was an association, another
fact tore it apart. There was no raised risk in farmers who spray
these chemicals, who are exposed to much higher doses. So the
prospect that tiny concentrations can have a dangerous effect is
Another topical example is a study published in the British Medical
Journal last week, which found a slightly increased incidence of
leukaemia among children living close to power lines. But while
campaigners claimed it as evidence for the risks posed by
high-voltage cables, the data ruled out the possibility of a
This has always been unlikely: no scientist has yet shown that
magnetic fields from power lines can damage DNA and trigger cancer,
and not for want of trying. It has now been refuted. The higher risk
remained at distances from cables at which any effect would be
dwarfed by background magnetism, much of it natural. There was no
dose-response relationship. Either the results were coincidence, or
another influence is at work.
This might be the socio-economic make-up of communities living near
power lines; they could be richer or poorer than the average, which
in turn could affect disease rates. Or there is the theory that
leukaemia can be triggered by a virus, to which fresh exposure is
particularly risky. This could explain matters if people living near
cables tend to be more mobile, or recent arrivals in a community.
Whatever the answer -if there even is one -it shows the care with
which statistical associations must be handled. It is always wise to
be mindful of Feldman's conclusion: "No epidemiological study should
be accepted as proof, or its results propagated, until supportive
evidence is available. This is particularly true when the results run
counter to intuitive reason."
Mark Henderson is the Times science correspondent
Dihydrogen Monoxide - The Truth
Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is perhaps the single most prevalent of
all chemicals that can be dangerous to human life. Despite this
truth, most people are not unduly concerned about the dangers of
Dihydrogen Monoxide. Governments, civic leaders, corporations,
military organizations, and citizens in every walk of life seem to
either be ignorant of or shrug off the truth about Dihydrogen
Monoxide as not being applicable to them. This concerns us.
Spreading the Truth about Dihydrogen Monoxide: In 1997, the
Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division was formed and went online
spreading the truth about DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE. As word has spread, so
too has the public awareness of Dihydrogen Monoxide and its
implications involving the Internet and accessibility of such
information. To that end, the DMRD's web site at DHMO.org continues
to provide the most comprehensive collection of Dihydrogen Monoxide
information available anywhere.
"Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide" written by the Coalition to Ban DHMO © 1988
Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills
uncounted thousands of people every year.
What are the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide? Most of these deaths are
caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of
dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid
form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can
include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated
feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those
who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.