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Date:

November 4, 2009

Subject:

Dealing with Climate Change; Feeding The World Without Harming It; GM Food: How Safe Is It?; A Giant Step for EU; How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress

 

* UK Scientist Seeks Food Security In Climate Deal
* Feeding The World Without Harming It
* Will Eggplant be the World’s Next GM Crop?
* GM Food: How Safe Is It?
* European Union Approves Corn Stack with Herculex® RW and Roundup Ready® 2 Traits
* Re: Beyond Romanticism
* Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
* Defying Science: Irrational Obstructiveness
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UK Scientist Seeks Food Security In Climate Deal

- Nina Chestney, Reuters, Nov 2, 2009

LONDON - Agriculture has a critical role to play in a global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the British farm ministry's chief scientist said on Monday. "The text has to recognize the critical role of agriculture in both mitigation and adaptation," Robert Watson told Reuters at a food security conference at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Negotiators from 175 nations are in Barcelona for two days of informal talks to iron out a new climate change deal ahead of a United Nations summit in Copenhagen this December. They are haggling over greenhouse gas reduction targets to 2020 and beyond and there are fears agriculture could be downplayed in the negotiations.

To feed a world with 9 billion people, world food production needs to rise by 70 percent by 2050, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Curbing emissions coming from that level of food production is vital. It is estimated that 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and agriculture. "Even if you go to zero carbon in energy production and use you will still have a growing sector which is currently 30 percent of global emissions," Watson said.

Governments should also be looking at a number of ways to improve food security and cut emissions in the short-term by using current technology. Watson said increasing the use of biofuels, improving the understanding of second and third-generation biofuels, trade reform, reducing waste and helping small-scale farmers in developing nations, as well as exploring the potential for genetically modified crops were all important.

Separately, Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said right now, food security was under threat from protectionism, rather than climate change. "The situation is very volatile," he said on the fringes of the conference, adding price spikes over the next three to four years were likely, particularly in the rice and wheat markets.

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Feeding The World Without Harming It

- IRIN, Nov 3, 2009 http://www.IRINnews.org

Cape Town - Countries with growing populations can boost food production without punishing the environment if they are willing to experiment with less harmful farming practices, experts at a recent conference on biodiversity suggested.

Agriculture uses more than one-third of land in most countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and is one of the chief drivers of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss "We need better research on agricultural production systems and biodiversity, both as an input and output," said Leslie Lipper, an FAO environmental economist.

The experts at the conference organized by Diversitas, an international programme on biodiversity science, said that with the right balance between science and good policy, a sustainable path could be found. Lipper said this would help understand the linkages between biodiversity and agricultural production. Loss of biodiversity reduced the options for ensuring more diverse nutrition, enhancing food production, raising incomes, being able to cope with environmental constraints, and managing ecosystems.

Farmers, the largest group of ecosystem managers, could turn this situation around by changing the way they farmed and tilled the land. Most farming practices are "extractive", which forced "the farmer to mine the very resource that underpins our ability to feed ourselves", said Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who expressed concern over the heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides.

FAO estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity in agricultural crops have been lost over the last century. Experts at the conference called for minimizing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and changing the mix of crops, varieties and animal breeds.

Greater collaboration between the environmental and agricultural sectors, the sharing of know-how between countries, better access to markets for smallholder farmers, and increasing the incentives for greater genetic variety in crops were also cited as crucial steps in balancing food production with environmental sustainability.

Power of science
Lawrence Kent, interim deputy director of the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program, was optimistic about the power of science to ameliorate poverty and hunger, and noted a number of areas where improvements can be made in the value chain of food production, including the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering (GE).

GE crops have been presented by some as an answer to the problem of future food production, especially in the development of drought- and flood-tolerant crops that can also grow with smaller inputs of fertilizers and pesticides.

However, questions about the environmental and human health risks of GE crops have resulted in bans in the European Union and Australia, and a moratorium by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).b "Biotechnology is simply a tool, certainly not an end in itself," said Kent. "What's most important is to look at things on a case-by-case basis, and not to generalize about biotechnology or conventional breeding, or any of the other methods people use to improve crops."

Lipper agreed: "I think too often people get hung up on the GMO debate and it distracts from the potential benefits of biotechnology in general." Whatever combination of methods is employed, it is likely that the area of land used for agricultural production will increase, affecting natural biodiversity as more forest and grassland are cleared for planting.

"We need to think about where that will happen and have land-use planning systems in place so that when agriculture does expand, it will do so in the places that we want it to. And the quicker we can move toward improvement in technologies, which may include GMOs [genetically modified organisms], the more chance we have of reducing area expansion," Joshua Bishop, Chief Economist at the IUCN, told IRIN. "There are so many factors at work here - it's not just a technological issue, it is also about trade policy and agricultural extension, and even internal market reforms," he said.

"So there are lots of factors that would allow farmers to invest in and improve productivity, and if that's combined with good land-use planning, you can get the best of both worlds, increasing returns to farmers without necessary expansion of the land base."

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Will Eggplant be the World’s Next GM Crop?

- Ariel Bleicher, Science Online, November 4, 2009 http://www.scienceline.org/

[Image:eggplant-flickr-brewhaha.jpg]

'India’s biotech regulator says genetically engineered eggplant is safe for commercial use, but critics argue otherwise.'

The debate over genetically modified crops has flared up in India, where critics have stalled the commercial release of insect-resistant eggplant, despite recent approval from the country’s biotechnology regulatory committee.

India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee announced in October, that the new crop is safe for human consumption and ready to be made available to farmers. But its release still awaits final clearance from India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, whose office has since been bombarded with faxes and emails from concerned scientists and activist organizations such as Greenpeace.

The crop is known as Bt eggplant, or Bt “brinjal” in India. It is named for a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or “Bt” for short, that naturally produces an insect-killing toxin. To engineer a Bt crop such as eggplant, developers extract the gene that codes for the toxin from the bacteria’s DNA. They then insert the gene into the crop’s DNA so that the plants, and their offspring, will manufacture their own insecticide.

The new crop’s developers, which include both private seed companies and public research institutes, claim that Bt eggplant can double yields and decrease pesticide use by 45 percent. Critics, however, say the potential risks to the environment and human health have not been studied thoroughly enough.

If Ramesh gives the crop’s developers the go-ahead to sell their seeds, Bt eggplant will be the first genetically modified food crop released in South Asia and the thirteenth worldwide.

“I pray every day and night that there’s no political ramble and we can get this technology to the people who need it,” said K.V. Raman, the associate director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, a U.S.-funded organization that helps developing countries investigate the use of bio-engineered crops.

Over the past seven years, Raman’s team has helped Indian researchers secure the money and technology to develop and test 14 local Bt eggplant varieties engineered to ward off their most virulent pest — the fruit and shoot borer. It’s a pink, sesame seed-sized moth larva that eats the stems and fruits of an eggplant from the inside out. Developers estimate that borers can wipe out up to 70 percent of a farmer’s crop.

Critics acknowledge that, so far, no studies have directly linked the Bt toxin to health problems in humans, but some scientists argue that not enough research has been done to draw accurate conclusions about the safety of Bt crops. They worry that low levels of toxicity found in lab animals injected with Bt might indicate that the compound will have long-term effects on human health, such as a weakening of the immune system.

“I don’t believe Bt brinjal is anywhere near ready to be released,” said Pushpa Bhargava, a leading molecular geneticist in India and one of only three members of about 20 on the government review committee who argued against the crop’s approval. He said he would like to see another 10 to 15 years worth of safety tests done before the seeds go on the market.

The controversy in India is just the latest flashpoint in the worldwide battle over genetically modified food crops. Since 1994, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first — the Flavr-Savr tomato, which is no longer sold — developers around the globe have introduced 526 more candidates. So far, however, governments have approved only 12 for unrestricted use, including Bt cotton in India.

Indian plant geneticists are now working on 11 new genetically engineered food crops, including virus-fighting bananas and drought-resistant potatoes. Only Bt eggplant has been put through enough field trials to warrant consideration for commercial cultivation.

Some critics argue that India can afford to be cautious with eggplant because the crop isn’t crucial to the country’s agricultural security. “At the end of the day, a toxin is a toxin is a toxin. And really, who’s dying without brinjal?” said Suman Sahai, who has studied plant genetics for over 25 years and now runs a farmers’ rights advocacy organization in India called the Gene Campaign.

If the Indian government approves Bt eggplant, it will take developers about a year to harvest and distribute the seeds.

How the new eggplant fares could have major consequences for Indian agriculture, says C.S. Prakash, an India-born plant geneticist at Alabama’s Tuskegee University. “Once India goes through with Bt brinjal, and it reaches farmers’ feet, and they see the fruits of modern biotechnology,” he predicts, “this will open the floodgates for a new wave of crops already in the pipeline.”

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GM Food: How Safe Is It?

- Amarnath K. Menon, India Today, Nov 2, 2009

In India the elongated, deep purple ovoid is considered one of the humblest of vegetables. The Bengalis call it begun which means a vegetable that has no virtue. But now the lowly brinjal has become the eye of the storm that is forcing you to sit up and take notice as you sit down to eat.

For if the Union Government accepts an expert committee report that last week cleared a genetically modified (GM) brinjal for commercial cultivation, it may open the floodgates for a host of such technologically engineered vegetables and fruits that will hit market shelves and eventually your dining table.

At the core of the acrimonious debate is just how safe these foods are for you and for the environment. The final nod may well remain elusive as the Government is in a bind with consumer and environmental activists joined by politicians of different hues taking sides fired by emotion and, in some cases, informed opinion on issues of safety.

"There are strong arguments for and against the introduction of GM brinjal and it will take a lot of time to study them and the final decision would not be taken under the influence of any company or any NGO," says Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh. He plans to hold a series of consultations with scientists, agricultural experts, farmer's organisations, consumer groups and NGOs before finalising his views.

The Union Government has called for a national debate and opened the research to scrutiny.

It is not as if genetically engineered crops are new to India. In 2002, after an equally divisive debate, the government permitted the commercial cultivation of genetically engineered cotton called Bt cotton. Despite the widespread criticism that greeted the first cultivation of Bt cotton, it has been an unqualified success.

Transgenic cotton is grown in 90 per cent of the cotton growing areas in the country, increasing yields by as much as 50 per cent in certain regions.

Globally, since its introduction 12 years ago, Bt cotton now occupies over 40 per cent of the total cotton sown area and has been adopted by countries such as the US, China, South Africa and Australia. Disputes, however, continue about its efficacy, safety and environmental damage.

The criticism, about the safety and utility of genetically modified food products, is focused on the assumption that altering the genetic make-up of a food item is bound to have consequences, which could prove to be deadly. No adverse effects on health have been reported for any transgenic product introduced anywhere in the world so far.

Besides, it is a myth that traditional food has no toxic effects. But there are worries like allergic reactions as well as fears posed by gene transfer and out-crossing that may lead to unforeseen consequences like resistance to antibiotics.

This springs from the worry that GM foods would cause genetic modification in those who eat them. While that is the consumers worry, farmers concern is that when GM crops get mixed with traditional crops, these may get destroyed.

The reason why the clearance of a GM brinjal has raised a fresh squall is that apart from it being the first time India would be clearing a GM food crop for commercial cultivation, it is the first time in the world that a genetically engineered brinjal is being introduced. GM crops are those in which the genetic material (DNA) is altered for some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer.

In the case of the brinjal, the problem farmers faced is a particularly pesky and resilient insect called the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that eats into tender shoots and fruits retarding growth, making the brinjals unsuitable for the market and unfit for human consumption. Heavy doses of pesticide just didn't seem to help.

That's when Maharashtra Hybrids Seed Company (Mahyco) combined forces with the US seed giant Monsanto to come up with a GM brinjal variety that would become resistant to the borer. Both these companies had in the past jointly developed the genetically modified Bt Cotton to successfully tackle the bollworm problem that had devastated cotton crops in the past.

They did this by introducing into the cotton seed a gene of the common soil microbe called Bacillus thuringiensis that encoded an insecticidal protein lethal to the bollworm hence the name Bt Cotton. When the companies found that the Bt gene was as effective in tackling the brinjal borer they decided to develop the transgenic Bt brinjal.

Estimates are that Bt brinjal could add to the current annual production of 80 lakh tonnes by more than 50 per cent-that is as much destroyed by pests-with Bt brinjal. This offers a win-win situation both for farmers and consumers. Brinjal is grown in around 5.5 lakh hectares and is a critical cash crop for more than 1.4 million small and marginal farmers. The area under cultivation has gone up by 15 per cent in the last 10 years but production has barely increased because of repeated borer attacks.

Sadly, despite a range of brinjal varieties, India, which is also the second largest producer in the world after China, has not been able to check the virulence of the FSB that is responsible for the pockmarks on the vegetable's peel. "It will help millions of brinjal farmers who have been suffering from the havoc caused by FSB and it will help farmers tackle this pest in an environment friendly manner and increase yields and farm income," says Raju Barwale, managing director, Mahyco.

About safety concerns, Mahyco points out that the company fulfilled the series of trials both for its efficacy and safety including the toxicity tests on animals that the Genetically Engineering Approval Committee, (GEAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had ordered. Two expert committees formed by the GEAC had extensively reviewed the bio-safety data and had cleared Bt brinjal after large-scale field trials were done in public sector research laboratories.

While the Indian Council of Agricultural Research did multi-location agronomic trials in 2004 and 2005, the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research did large-scale trials in 2007 and 2008. "Rigorous scientific tests, including toxicity and allergenicity evaluation as well as nutritional studies have confirmed that Bt brinjal is as safe as its non-Bt counterpart," claims Mahendra Kumar Sharma, Mahyco's general manager.

Such assertions do not wash well with civil society groups and NGOswho have vehemently oppose the introduction of GM foods. They charge the GEAC with relying much too heavily on the trials and findings of Mahyco, without adequate independent testing and verification. "It is unacceptable and a shame that the regulator in the country has put the interests of corporations over the interests of ordinary citizens," says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission.

Greenpeace, the global environmental activist group, says that it is shocking that the GEAC has mindlessly gone ahead and approved Bt brinjal even when informed scientists and citizens of the country raised serious concerns on the nature of the safety studies. "The GEAC is hand-inglove with the industry lobby and is not on the side of the public. It has failed the country," says Rajesh Krishnan, campaigner (sustainable agriculture) at Greenpeace.

The concerns and controversy spring from the initial failure of the GEAC over addressing issues of transparency, making public the nature and details of the trials carried out, the bio-safety of the products-there are four varieties of brinjals on the table for approval-and the conflicting interests of the experts in the committee reviewing the studies.

Denying that they have held back information, Ranjini Warrier, member secretary, GEAC, says: "We have put out everything that the public and experts want to know about the entire process of granting approval for Bt brinjal on our website. We have nothing to hide." Sajiv Anand, director, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, concurs and says, "The GEAC has looked at every possible bio-safety issue before clearing the crop. It is unlikely that Bt brinjal will not get approval from the Government."

Other opponents raise larger issues. "There is also the threat to future seeds and Indian agriculture coming under the control of multinational companies and charging of exorbitant prices for the seeds from Indian farmers," says the All India Kisan Sabha.

"The monopoly of MNCs like Monsanto over the seeds is another major concern, as seeds are no longer in the public domain as these are now the intellectual property of these multinationals." The irony is that this argument may not hold good in the case of Bt brinjal as several Indian research institutions are closely associated with the research and testing.

There is valid scepticism about the integrity of the approval process. This is why renowned molecular biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava, the member appointed to the committee by the Supreme Court, in the light of public interest litigation on the functioning of the GEAC, to oversee matters of the GEAC, emphasises that its proceedings fall far short of the rigour required before passing something as contentious and complex as a genetically modified food crop.

"It is a disaster. It is unethical. No time was given to us as members to review the findings. Why was it rushed? I had suggested to them to invite all stakeholders and have a scientific discussion on the matter. But they avoided it," says an enraged Bhargava.

What the moderates among the critics argue is that not enough is known at this point in time about the all round impact of GM crops to clear their release into the environment. Much more rigorous testing is needed before this can be done. They also point out that studies on Bt crops show that there are potential health hazards in bio-engineered foods.

Animals ingesting GM food have shown problems in growth, organ development and immune responsiveness. Studies in other countries have found allergies, disturbance in immune system responses, damage to organs like kidneys and liver, alterations in blood chemistry, slower growth and development.

In real life instances in India, there is the phenomenon of animals falling sick after grazing in Bt cotton fields and, in some cases, dying, and workers reporting allergies. But these cases have not been investigated fully by the health authorities.

Some NGOs have raised concerns about the absence of labelling laws in India. Groups like the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have warned that without a regulatory regime in place, it would be impossible to monitor the impact of such new food products.

"In India, there is no labelling regime for genetically modified foods which will give consumers a choice to make a decision whether they want to consume genetically modified food or not. Till the time this is done, regulators should not clear edible GM crops," says CSE Director Sunita Narain.

Whatever needs to be done, whether it is clearing doubts NGOs and activists have about the independence of the GEAC or addressing health and safety concerns, the Government now needs to do it swiftly.

The country cannot afford to ignore biotechnology options to increase agricultural productivity as it does hold the promise of a second green revolution.

But, for the moment, it has to evolve stringent and transparent testing before GM foods are released into the market to ensure these are safe for human consumption. For want of a proper regulation in place, an opportunity to meet food security needs must not be lost.

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European Union Approves Corn Stack with Herculex® RW and Roundup Ready® 2 Traits for Food, Feed, Import and Processing

The European Commission announced that it has approved a biotech corn product for food, feed, import and processing jointly developed by DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company. Corn products containing the Herculex® RW protection trait stacked with Roundup Ready® Corn 2 (also known as 59122/NK603) are now permitted for import into the European Union (EU).

Brussels, Belgium (Vocus/PRWEB ) November 3, 2009 -- The European Commission announced that it has approved a biotech corn product for food, feed, import and processing jointly developed by DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company. Corn products containing the Herculex® RW protection trait stacked with Roundup Ready® Corn 2 (also known as 59122/NK603) are now permitted for import into the European Union (EU).

“We are encouraged by this approval and look forward to continued progress of biotech approvals in the EU,” said Pioneer Hi-Bred President Paul E. Schickler. “We urge the Commission and EU Member States to similarly approve biotech crops for cultivation so Europe’s farmers have access to the same technologies as other farmers around the world.”

Products containing the stacked trait (59122/NK603) were assessed to be safe for use in food and feed by the EU’s own independent scientific authority, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in December 2008, and already have been approved in eight countries around the world. Pending publication in the Official Journal in the coming days, this product now is authorized for import into the EU in accordance with EU regulations, including the appropriate labeling and traceability of the products and their derivatives.

Herculex® RW contains the Bt trait to provide an environmentally improved means of protecting corn plants against attacks by the corn rootworm by reducing the need to use insecticides. The Roundup Ready® Corn 2 gene allows growers to effectively and efficiently control weeds in their fields, allowing the corn plants to achieve their full yield potential.

“These approvals tell us that the EU recognizes both the benefits of our biotech products, the extensive health and safety research that supports their use – and the importance of a functioning regulatory approval process for food and feed authorizations to ensure that European livestock products have continued access to these products,” said Dow AgroSciences President and CEO Antonio Galindez.

The Herculex® RW, Roundup Ready® Corn 2 stack was developed from traditional breeding methods of two genetically modified corn lines (59122 maize and NK603 maize) and contains no new genetic modifications. Herculex® RW and Roundup Ready® Corn 2 were approved by the EU for food, feed, import and processing in October 2007 and March 2005, respectively.

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Re: Beyond Romanticism

- From: Dave Wood


- Paul Collier, Harvard International Review, Vol. 31(2) Summer 2009; http://hir.harvard.edu/index.php?page=article&id=1914&p=2

'Peasant Agriculture is Incompatible with Economic Development; Africa Needs GM Crops'


Collier is an excellent writer. BUT I think parts of the article are quite wrong, especially the bits following "The Promise of GMOs".

He says: "To cope with climate change new crop varieties need to be developed. This will not happen within peasant agriculture: the sector is chronically ill-suited to innovation." Has he heard of the Green Revolution, adopted by tens of millions of peasant farmers?

And then he makes the generalization that new varieties need GMOs. But just what "new" conditions are these new varieties to be designed for? If it gets hotter, simply bring in crops and varieties from already hotter places (as with groundnuts in W. Africa). If it gets wetter/drier/colder ditto. Collier is forgetting that most of the crops grown in Africa are from other continents and are now grown in peasant agriculture. This is massive innovation: to stop growing African sorghum, millet and tef and start growing maize from the Americas; to stop growing yams and start growing sweet potato and potato.

Rice (in Madagascar) and banana and plantains in e.g. Uganda were introduced more that a thousand years ago and grown by peasant farmers. Phaseolus beans were post colonial introductions but the highest per capita consumption globally is in Rwanda, all peasant farming with a mass of new varieties not found in the Americas.

And what about the 1996 ban on GMOs in Europe by a protectionist lobby? We are importing GMO crops so the protectionist lobby has failed. We are wrecking our GM research base - so the protectionist lobby is damaging the future of EU agriculture. And how is not growing GM crops `anti-American'? If the EU wants to be anti-American it grows its own GM crops and does not import from North America. The monetary damage to America of not buying seed versus not buying grain is always far greater: buy the seed and grow your own.

The next paragraph claims that Africa "is still intellectually in thrall to Europe". Really? Africa is now in thrall to South Africa - and South Africa is growing GM maize. The big problem for Africa - as for Europe - are the maggots of NGOs crawling around lobbying EU donors against GM crops in Africa: each NGO with its stooges in African countries. And the two biggies - Greenpeace and FoE - are N.American exports - why not try the anti-American argument against these two?

Later he talks about GM research on crops that are `Africa specific'. I spend seven years as a botanist/crop botanist in Africa (for two years collecting landraces only from peasant farms) and can think of only minor crops, mainly Ethiopian such as tef and ensete, that are specific to Africa. And I would be interested in the state of GM research for post-harvest storage (a major concern of farmers but not of multinationals).

But Collier is dead right about northern NGOs wishing to `preserve' Africa. EU and N. American funding goes for just this. He is a better economist than agriculturalist and has fallen into the trap of thinking all peasant farmers are dolts.

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Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

- New book by Michael Specter, 304 pages, Penguin Press, October 29, 2009, ISBN-10: 1594202303, Amazon.com price: $18.45

In this provocative and headline- making book, Michael Specter confronts the widespread fear of science and its terrible toll on individuals and the planet.

In Denialism, New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter reveals that Americans have come to mistrust institutions and especially the institution of science more today than ever before. For centuries, the general view had been that science is neither good nor bad-that it merely supplies information and that new information is always beneficial. Now, science is viewed as a political constituency that isn't always in our best interest. We live in a world where the leaders of African nations prefer to let their citizens starve to death rather than import genetically modified grains. Childhood vaccines have proven to be the most effective public health measure in history, yet people march on Washington to protest their use.

In the United States a growing series of studies show that dietary supplements and "natural" cures have almost no value, and often cause harm. We still spend billions of dollars on them. In hundreds of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards-such is the opposition to any research that includes experiments with animals. And pharmaceutical companies that just forty years ago were perhaps the most visible symbol of our remarkable advance against disease have increasingly been seen as callous corporations propelled solely by avarice and greed.

As Michael Specter sees it, this amounts to a war against progress. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: Are we going to continue to embrace new technologies, along with acknowledging their limitations and threats, or are we ready to slink back into an era of magical thinking? In Denialism, Specter makes an argument for a new Enlightenment, the revival of an approach to the physical world that was stunningly effective for hundreds of years: What can be understood and reliably repeated by experiment is what nature regarded as true. Now, at the time of mankind's greatest scientific advances-and our greatest need for them-that deal must be renewed.
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Michael Specter writes about science, technology, and global public health for The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1998. Specter previously worked for the The New York Times as a roving correspondent based in Rome and before that as the Times's Moscow bureau chief. He also served as the national science reporter for The Washington Post as well as the New York bureau chief. He has twice received the Global Health Council's Excellence in Media Award, as well as the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Defying Science: Irrational Obstructiveness

- Book Review, Washington Post, November 3, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Actress and anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy is probably not going to be a big fan of this book by New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter: He points to McCarthy and other people who link vaccines and autism despite epidemiological studies to the contrary as examples of "how irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives." He calls this phenomenon "denialism." The six chapters of the book read like New Yorker articles; Specter cites vaccination, genetically modified food, prescription medications and genomics among the areas where the public fears science at least as much as it embraces it.

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