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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  November 2002

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE November 2002

Subject:

Re: Scientists Condemn New Gene Technique

From:

"José F. Morales" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 27 Nov 2002 10:37:44 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (121 lines)

>The article on the insertion of cancer-causing genes into other
>organisms may have appeared on the Common Dreams website, but it came
>from The Observer, one of Britain's mainstream Sunday newspapers.

Point taken. Never-the-less, technophobia, sorry to say, is not
limited to progressives.

>Jose Morales says it is just scare-mongering "technophobia" because
>it doesn't give specifics on the dangers of this technique. Yet the
>unnamed British researcher who passed the details on to the newspaper
>because of his concerns is described as "a keen supporter of GM
>technology". Is The Observer simply lying?

While I don't know for a fact that the newspaper is delivering
misinformation, I think we can agree that the media has been known to
spin, interpret, misrepresent etc. for a variety of reasons.  There
could also be just getting stuff wrong.  They don't understand
everything.

>
>I am neither a keen supporter of GM technology nor a "technophobe"
>(what a tendentious term that is),

I don't know of another term that describes the deeply encrusted
position of opposition to technological developments that frequently
inhabits the left.

>but I am a supporter of the precautionary principle which says that
>the burden of proof should be
>on the researchers to show that the technique is safe.

While generally, I think the PP can be useful, I also think that a
researcher can imagine a limited number of scenarios of risk
(toxicity etc.).  I think you'd agree that any researcher can't
imagine everything and hence can't guarantee absolute safety.  Some
people (likely technophobes) would say they won't settle for anything
else but absolute safety.  Can one be something called reasonable and
not be pro-industry?

>As Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber have pointed out "Today's
>regulatory system
>essentially allows anything to be released into nature unless it is
>proven unsafe by scientific data, which is defined to mean
>measurable harm. In practice, this means that preventive action is
>not taken until damage has already been done."

Lets say that we go with the PP.  In this case, how would a
researcher prove that something is safe if they don't have something
to measure that indicates harm?

>In addition to the anonymous British researcher, The Observer
>article cites three other named sources (two environmentalists and a
>geneticist) who are concerned about this line of research.


Personally, I would consider most potentially reasonable the
molecular biologist Michael Antoniou, of King's College London. He
would know what the gene is and does given his work (below).
[Millevoi S, Geraghty F, Idowu B, Tam JL, Antoniou M, Vagner S. A
novel function for the U2AF 65 splicing factor in promoting pre-mRNA
3'-end processing. EMBO Rep. 2002 Sep;3(9):869-74.]

I would say however that he's not exactly an uninvolved, ivory tower
academic given his participation in several letters, moratoriums,
calls seen below...

Comments on the AgroSeed/Pioneer Hi-Bred Applications for Bt Corn
Field-Testing...
Calling for a Moratorium on GM Crops and Ban on Patents
GM & Biological Weapons, Scientists Call for International Watchdog
Embryonic stem cell research. The case against..., Nat Med. 2001
Apr;7(4):396-7.

As for the GM expert, Les Firbank of the Institute of Terrestrial
Ecology looks like he's an ecologist that knows about GM foods.  That
does not necessarily mean that he knows about the molecular biology
of DNA repair and recombination.

As for the Friends of the Earth food campaigner Pete Riley, its hard
to know what kind of scientific background that he has. If it is
anything like the food campaigners that I know in the USA, they
definitely won't necessarily know about the molecular biology of DNA
repair and recombination either.

>Perhaps Jose is right and the technique is perfectly benign.

While my knowledge of this gene and the processes that it is involved
in creates skepticism in me of the danger claims made, my point is
not that this technology is benign, my point is "please, state the
facts of your case".  What they actually do is infer that it is
hazardous using the -- the old  "may is does" are technique.  "Such
and so (technology, chemical) MAY cause harm" is stated knowing that
people internalize it as  "Such and so (technology, chemical) DOES
cause harm".  One may deploy the PP then saying that we have
reasonable cause to think there is harm, but what is the reasonable
cause?  They don't say.  They just say that it will cause harm. Not
enough in my book.

>And perhaps the executives at Morphotek are wonderful humanitarians
>who would never do anything controversial or risky in order to make
>a profit.

Does one really have to assume that the Morphotek people are
"wonderful humanitarians" to call into question the rigor of the
criticisms?  This certainly is Bush-like in that if you're not with
us, you're against us!  While skepticism is called for in most
technology, can I not expect more from my comrades for a better
society than sloppy arguments that are designed to inspire fear?
Even tactically, does it make sense in a conflict to have slip shod
armaments?  I don't think so.

>But for the time being I think a little skepticism may be in order.

Agreed.  But I'd add rigor!

>--PG

--
|||///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\|||O|||///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\|||
Jose Morales Ph.D.

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