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Below find four contributions to the discussion ….
Date: Apr 10 2000 17:33:16 EDT
Subject: Re: Why GMO is bad terminology.
Regarding the "GMO" terminology, I believe that beyond the scientific difficulties associated with using such a broad term, there is a more serious public perception issue: the term is freighted down with negative
associations. As I have written before in a brief posting, my company's work (transgenic fish) is now referred to by us as "advanced hybridization"
("AH"?). Although it may lack scientific rigor, this term more clearly places what we do into the continuum of what has been historically acceptable. Names
mean a lot: as I understand it, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) for example, never had a chance until it was renamed Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). I
suggest we start using this term or other acceptable language to describe what we do in a public short-hand manner.
>not blame. I was discussing why there is public mistrust of
>scientists/regulators/media/government. I don't believe any of these issues
>are resolved by reducing them to a determination of "blame" nor that any
>single party is "to blame." Mistrust and blame are different things.
I am confused. You say you are identifying causes of public distrust. You are saying that the public distrust us because of cancer, oil spills and food poisoning etc. On the other hand you are saying you do not blame
scientists for this. But by saying the public distrust us because of the mentioned ills you are implying that the public does blame us for these ills. I fail to see how the public can mistrust us because of these ills
without blaming us for them.
I think the truth is that scientists are victims on their own success. You posting brought this home to me In the past, if a scientist found a cure for a disease he would be regarded with awe and great honor - not distrust. Now everyone expects scientists to conquer all disease yesterday because we have been so successful in the past. People forget their history and don't remember polio, TB, the plague etc. Because we have not solved all the worlds problems we are now somehow responsible for these problems.
This IS illogical.
Opinons expressed in this posting are personal and do not reflect the
position of my employer
Stop the Frankenstein Food Menace
DNA Free Food Home Page
Date: Apr 10 2000 19:13:06 EDT
Subject: Re: social consciousness is pop psychology?!
In a message dated 4/10/00 3:41:57 PM Central Daylight Time,
<< , even though a certain term, such as holism, is USED by a
significant number of people does not mean that it has any concrete
referent, or even that it is a valid concept.
Great letter back! , thank you. Please tell me who the validity police are
and when a concept gets its approval. How many doctoral theses using the word
holism are need to be written before it is a valid concept, or has a
referent? How many holistic medicine centers and books? Perhaps because I
take the word, the concept and the philosophy of holism seriously, I have
been fortunate to discover those "valid" places where it is used. Indeed, I
got my PhD in England, of all rigorous places and used holism throughout the
thesis. It was validated there, though I'm not sure I think much of academic
validation for original thought. They were heavy into validation in London.
Do you really believe holism is not a valid concept? That is fascinating to
me. As you write, reductionist science and holism don't gel - but more
holistic approachs to communication, policy making, education and application
would go a long way to harmonized feelings and true social progress. ( Oh no!
Maybe you don't think social progress is a valid concept. If not, I'm in
double jeopardy here...) I know some of the opponents of biotech speak of the
merits of a more holistic science around it, but are short on offering those
methods, although holistic and 'non-invasive" scientific methods have been
developed in fields other thab biotech.
I agree with you that Prakash is uniquely gifted in addressing the public (
and policy makers, and the corporations, and the farmers..) , but that
shouldn't keep other scientists from bringing up their own unique
contributions that put a human face on science. I can appreciate what you say
about creating materials that speak to "reasonably educated people" - I'm
guessing the same crowd that reads their nutritional labels on food? I'm
guessing it's the people who read TIME, not who read PEOPLE or ARTFORUM? Who
are those people?
ps: can you tell me some of the efforts you are undertaking?
Date: Apr 10 2000 17:33:48 EDT
From: "Henry I. Miller"
Subject: The Terminology of Biotechnology
Wall Street Journal, January 13, 1987
Biotechnology: A 'Scientific' Term in Name Only
Henry I. Miller, MD
Frank E. Young, MD, PhD
Defining the terms "biotechnology" and "genetic engineering" isn't an easy task,
since the terms don't represent natural groupings of processes
or products. They connote something different to individual
commentators, journalists, organizations, congressional staffers and
members of the public. The terms are ambiguous, the source of much
confusion and little advantage, and we would do well to return to more
specific and descriptive terms. Laymen would understand them better and
the complaints of poorly informed critics would be put into
The term "biotechnology," which seems to have originated in the 1970s,
is defined in numerous ways. One of the broader definitions--the
application of biological systems and organisms to technical and
industrial processes--was coined by a White House working group on
biotechnology several years ago and clearly encompasses both old and new
processes and products. These include processes as different as fish
farming, the production of enzymes for laundry detergents and the genetic
manipulation of bacteria to clean up oil spills or to produce insulin.
The press, on the other hand, often uses "biotechnology" to mean only its
newest, state-of-the-art manifestations. "Genetic engineering" is at
least as much abused.
These usages often are disingenuous. Neither biotechnology nor genetic
engineering is a new concept. A primitive form of biotechnology dates
back at least to 6000 B.C. when the Babylonians used microorganisms in
fermentation to brew alcoholic beverages. And genetic engineering should
be dated from man's recognition that animals and crop plants can be
selected to enhance desired characteristics.
During the past half-century, better understanding of genetics at the
molecular level has added to the sophistication of the genetic
manipulation of microorganisms. An excellent example is the genetic
improvement of the mold that produces penicillin: During the past
several decades, penicillin yields have been increased more than a
hundredfold. Similarly, agricultural crops have been genetically
improved with astonishing success. The genetic engineering of corn
plants for human consumption was recognized in 1970 with the Nobel Prize.
These are "genetic engineering" successes of monumental proportions.
The newest biotechnological techniques, called recombinant DNA, or
"gene-splicing," provide still more precise, better understood, and more
predictable methods for manipulating genetic material in useful ways.
It shouldn't be surprising that confusion about scientific terminology
is endemic among the public and the press, when governments and even
scientists suffer from the same malady. Several recent examples are
In 1985, a bill was introduced in Congress that defined a "genetically
engineered" microorganism for purposes of regulation in an extraordinary
way--as "a bacterium, virus, fungus, blue-green alga, or protist, the
genetic material of which has deliberately been altered by human
intervention." This definition, seemingly plucked from the ether,
encompasses innumerable current production organisms of economic
importance that are innocuous by any criteria (including those used to
manufacture new biotechnology products such as human insulin, growth
hormone, interferons, and hepatitis B vaccine, as well as traditional
biotechnology products such as penicillin, tetracycline, live viral
vaccines, etc.). At the same time, the definition would omit organisms
well known to be harmful to man, animals or plants. This demonstrates
the folly of using an ambiguous term--especially when it is then defined
arbitrarily and carelessly.
Another example of the confusion and lack of precision surrounding
"biotechnology" occurred during the deliberations of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Working Group on
Biotechnology. These efforts yielded a widely praised document of
recombinant DNA safety considerations. However, a second major part of
the project--a description of governmental regulation of "biotechnology"
in OECD member countries--had to be abandoned.
The information for this project was to have been obtained by a
questionnaire sent to appropriate agencies within the various countries.
It defined genetic engineering broadly, and, it was hoped, clearly and
prominently: "Genetic engineering is considered broadly and can include
the manipulation of genetic material by (1) recombinant DNA techniques;
(2) other techniques such as mutation, hybridoma, conjugation,
transduction, etc.; and (3) more traditional techniques, such as
selective breeding." However, the returns showed that different
countries had used widely disparate definitions to frame their responses.
Some considered only recombinant DNA processes and products; others used
the broad definition as requested; still others employed an intermediate
The anecdotes described here are not isolated incidents, and there is
accumulating disenchantment with the rubric "biotechnology." A recent
General Accounting Office report on biotechnology concluded: "Because of
the inconsistent interpretation of the term 'biotechnology,'..[i]t may
be useful, for the purpose of discussing possible regulatory approaches,
to avoid the term 'biotechnology' and instead use more specific terms..."
David Kingsbury, assistant director of the National Science Foundation,
made the same point during a recent conference sponsored by the Office of
Technology Assessment that addressed research funding for
The GAO and Mr. Kingsbury are correct. There is a need for more precise
communication in science and technology generally, and specifically for
cleaning up the "biotechnology" and "genetic engineering" argot.
Reference to the appropriate constituents or subsets of these catchalls
would be more informative, lucid and useful. Biochemistry, microbiology,
ecology, recombinant DNA, live vaccines, therapeutic monoclonal
antibodies, enzymes. ...By using terms such as these, we would convey our
meaning more clearly, whether the intent is to laud progress, or to call
for oversight, or to seek additional funding. Is that degree of verbal
and literary discipline too much to ask?
Dr. Miller is special assistant to Dr. Young, the Commissioner of the
Food and Drug Administration.