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June 27, 2000


Mae-Wan Ho


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

I have just read Tony Jacksons piece on Mae-Wan Ho and read the transcript
of her lecture to the French senate. Why does she insist that germline
cells are immune from environmental effects? It is not too difficult to
figure out that cosmic rays, chemicals, gamma and X-rays can damage DNA
ANYWHERE in a body. This fact in no way diminishes the theory of evolution
by natural selection. Indeed it is hard to imagine how evolution could
occur if germline cells were immune from mutation. Regulations for the safe
handling of radioactive materials and teratogenic chemicals (especially for
women but including males) are based on the fact that germline cells
(whether progenitor or not) are subject to mutation.

Generally most of what she says is complete nonsense and she does not have
much of a grasp of basic biology. Her article also sounds like an
advertisement for New Age claptrap. I'm all for giving people a fair go but
she is obviously not interested in reciprocating. It is time for scientists
to stand up to these attacks on reductionist science. I am a reductionist
and proud of it. Without this approach we would still be living in the Dark
Ages. Without reductionism "science" becomes religion and religion is all
about protecting the priviliged position of "priests" or in this case
"priestesses". How many times do we have reprove the tried and tested
theories of science? This is a technique used freely by creationists and
now also by Greenpeace. It's too easy to say "how do you know gravity is
real?" etc. etc. I agree that she will exert some influence on laypeople
because she is a lecturer at a British university. (By the way there are
many good biologists out here in the world dying for a lectureship. What is
going on at the Open University?). Nevertheless a few committed extremists
can take up a great deal of time by spouting untruths or meaningless
statements such as "all reductionists are evil for not taking a holistic
view of Mother Nature".

Quite frankly a lot of scientists have only got themselves to blame for
these developments. We have sat back and copped all the New Age bullshit
for so long that it now enjoys a place alongside science as a source of
true knowledge. This is ridiculous. Crystals don't have secret powers, the
Earth is not one organism, astrology is nonsense, homeopathy cures illness
by wishful thinking. Even the so-called proven alternatives such as
chiropracty and acupuncture have no logical basis (see recent New Scientist
for scientific report on acupunture). This New Age stuff is just an
alternative religion for middle aged people who didn't go to church enough
when they were young and now, as death approaches, they reach out in
desperation for comfort and hope that their lives have not been meaningless
and are not about to end in oblivion. It is good to have an open mind but
not so open your brain falls out (Richard Dawkins wrote this but I'm not
sure of the original author). I will cop a lot of abuse for these words but
care not a jot. I'm sure that much of the support for the anti-GM stance
comes from disaffected members of society. However they come for diverse
reasons. Some are angry at society for excluding them from normal enjoyable
work, some from deaths of loved ones (and blame modern medicine), some are
concerned for the environment (as all scientists are), many are simply
confused and upset by the pace of change in todays world. The strong moral
and ethical position of the church gave struggling peasants a powerful
foundation from which to deal with the difficulties of life. Today the
church does not provide many people with the comfort they need. Cults are a
growth industry. I am an atheist so for me there is nothing in either
traditional religion or New Age religion but that doesn't mean I can't see
them for what they are. Many scientists will also be offended by what I
have written but I have only set to paper what I believe to be true. There
have been scientists who have seen this anti-science doctrine coming for a
long time and who have rarely been supported by other scientists. One
example I can think of is Ian Plimer who fought creation science in
Australia and lost (he was bankrupted by this action). The silence from
other scientists was deafening. Scientists are generally mild mannered and
caring human beings who don't wish to offend anyone but I think it is high
time to call a spade a spade. We are still apologising for Galileo. At this
time we need great scientists like Dawkins to come to the party. Richard
where are you? Please check out the Mae-Wan Ho manuscript and defend
reductionist science from quackery.

Malcolm Livingstone
CSIRO Tropical Agriculture