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September 13, 2000


The media and science


I realize this issue has been addressed on several occassions; however, I
was reading an non-biotech related article by columnist Molly Ivins (Wen
Ho Lee reveals problems in the media, national security and education)
where Ms. Ivins defends the mishandling of nuclear secrets by Wen Ho Lee,
she notes that claims the materials released were not of value noting:
"Science just doesn't work like that. I supose this is another indication
of how short the American media are in trained science writers..."

As Ms. Ivins has attacked biotechnology using discredited and pseudo
science, perhaps she's now ready to change here tune. Maybe if enough
independent scientists write her at mollyivins@star-telegram.com she might
correct some of the irresponsible comments she's made in the past, such as:

Molly Ivins, May 1999:

"In other unhappy environmental news, we find genetically altered plants
creating an alarming side effect. Scientists at Cornell University have
discovered that when the pollen from Bt corn, a genetically altered
strain, is eaten by the larvae of Monarch butterflies, it kills nearly
half and stunts the rest... What we have here is not an unanticipated,
unforeseeable, freak consequence of the genetic alteration of plants. The
reason people in Europe and elsewhere are so upset about genetically
altered food is that you could see this one coming... If we start messing
with the genetic structure of plants, we are simply bound to lose
something or hurt something critical. Suppose, for example, we noticed
after a few years of planting Bt plants all over the world that they
killed off bees and nothing could be done to bring back the bee
population... how many environmental disasters will take it in the future
before we finally regulate genetically altered plants? With transgenic
plants, we don't know specifically how they will alter the balance of
nature, but we know that it will happen. Murphy's Law (anything that can
go wrong, will go wrong) is not the applicable rule here: It is Ryan's
Law, which is that Murphy was an optimist."

Molly Ivins, January 1999:

In India, unhappy farmers torched test plots of genetically engineered
cotton in an outburst of fury called Operation Cremation Monsanto. In
Ireland, ungrateful protesters sabotaged fields of genetically engineered
potatoes. French farmers staged a raid on a cache of modified seeds,
sprayed it with fire extinguishers and then urinated on it. Gee. Quel
Luddites. How can it be, you ask,
that all over the world people are raising Cain about GMOs (genetically
modified organisms) while in this country we hear not one discouraging
word? One nightmarish product Monsanto plans to acquire is "the
Terminator," a genetic technology designed to render the seeds of crops
sterile. It was invented to block farmers from saving seeds, ensuring that
they buy genetically improved varieties... and farmers, who have been
saving seeds and resowing for millennia, are terrified of it. Just imagine
if that little genetic
fix should somehow get loose... seeding farmland with transgenic crops
could spread genetic pollution, upset the balance of nature and release
uncontrollable food allergens.

A shortage of trained science writers indeed. Got a mirror Molly?