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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  September 2004

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE September 2004

Subject:

MannGram®: The fine-sounding slogan "look at the evidence"

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Mon, 6 Sep 2004 15:55:07 +1200

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                 MannGram®:
         The fine-sounding slogan "look at the evidence"
                        Sep 2004


The item below from within a recent email by Friends of the Earth NZ Ltd
stimulates me to try to crystallize a worrying thought about GM.

------

 "Some debating techniques
That are seriously flawed enough to justify the title 'propaganda'".
http://my.voyager.net/~jayjo/propagan.htm

*Recourse to authority*

I heard a sermon on the radio a few months ago in which the minister
made a number of claims that were highly questionable.  He preceded every
one with a statement such as, "Dr Jones, the world's leading expert on
...". He must have cited a dozen people in a row as the "world's leading
expert" on one subject or another. I found myself asking, What makes
these people the world's leading experts on these subjects?  Was there a
contest that they won, or is that just your opinion?  Or do you just call
them that because they happen to agree with you?

One should always be suspicious of an argument whose weight relies on
the fact that some authoritative person said so.  Even if it is someone
who deserves great respect, he could be wrong.  Let's look at the
evidence, not the speaker.

-----------

        This is a sound, workable approach for many issues.  But for GM it
is scarcely workable.  The trouble is that the main concepts in the
technology are too far from ordinary education & experience.  The
fine-sounding slogan "look at the evidence" cannot be acted upon by those
who have not learned the meanings of the main terms in which the evidence
must be stated.  In GM, many of the main concepts are built on pyramids of
arcane scientific terms which are not understood by anyone who has not
studied the relevant science.
        Take a simple example.  One of the main political users of the GM
issue for political attention-getting received (along with many others
including media) a note of mine concerning plant GM using synthetic DNA.
The gene-tamperer in question had reported using (like most such
experimenters) different but synonymous codons selected to be more suitable
for the host plant, instead of the codons actually used in the bacterial
gene for the desired toxin.  The politician replied "what is a codon?".
She is among the more intelligent politicians, and has a degree  -  but in
French & Music.  Such a person would require at least some hours to grasp
minimally the concept 'codon'.  Even if she could then pass a simple exam
to check her understanding of the term, she would still be far from able to
appraise the significance of synthesising a gene with not the original
codons but generally different ones (for the purpose of getting higher
yields of the desired protein in the target cell  -  'better expression',
as the gene-tamperers say).   What differences might conceivably be implied
by imposing in a foreign gene codon 'weightings' it did not originally
have?  Unfortunately, only very limited thinking about such subtle
questions can be done by those who have no understanding of the biochemical
context in which 'codons function  -  let alone those who have only just
got a superficial definition of 'codon'.
        Therefore the public wishing to form opinions on GM will be forced
to have recourse to authority  -  rely on the advice of scientists who have
the education & experience to understand details of GM.  The question then
becomes, which scientists.  Among Monsanto's dozens of PR agents are some
with Ph.Ds in gene-jiggering technology, who have the education to
understand their employers' gene-tampering projects.  Some of these are
used by the BBC as if they were independent experts.  This is obviously
unethical journalism, especially when no other authority is used in the
particular broadcast.
        But what about the mirror-image unethical journalism  -  presenting
to the public, as pretender experts critical of GM,  politicians who don't
know a protein from a nucleic acid?

         An example of the politics of ignorance was a Sunday media stunt
by the then NZ Minister of Consumer Affairs, the dreadful Fiddler Bunkum
list-MP.  She announced that thousands of aged electricity meters had
become inaccurate and had never been checked.  This revelation was worded
to imply that she was exposing a wrongful handicap for consumers, against
which she was bravely speaking out.  The media failed to query whether, as
a mains meter ages, it can run fast.  The truth is it can only run slow,
which favours the consumer who may be getting, say, 10 kWh of energy while
the meter records only 9 kWh.  This is a very simple example of a technical
issue exploited for political deceit thru media that are too biased, or
just too lazy, to examine the propaganda sceptically.
        If that simple error could go unchallenged, what chance is there
that politicians such as Bunkum will give the public reliable facts, let
alone interpretations, on GM which they cannot comprehend?  Why then are
she (and her successors) persistently presented to the public as experts
commenting on GM?
        The answer is that the media are primarily committed to PC
propaganda  -  putting favourable spin on the ruling PC Axis {wimminsLib,
neoRacism & hxism}.  The media use the GM issue as a vehicle for
publicizing politicians whose primary motivation in politics is what they
call "feminism", or promoting woolly-minded white shame, or implementing
the 1987 Kirk/Pill hx political programme (or two, or all three, of those
ideologies).  The only actual expert they ever consult  -  and that not
often  -  is Dr Peter R Wills, a practitioner in molecular biology, OK by
media because he's a staunch declared supporter of PC.  He served for a
period some y ago as ghost-writer for the babbling airhead Susan Kitschley
list-MP; as a result, her TV appearances would begin with a rote-learned
insightful (& grammatically complex) statement about GM, but she was not
capable of discussing the subject.  It is, I think, quite common for the PC
politicians to have such 'back room boys'; but that scarcely equips the
politicians to answer questions let alone to debate judgements about this
or that GM technique.

         I have little or no expertise, and must therefore have recourse to
authorities, in many areas of technology and science, and other types of
knowledge -  just a quick list that first comes to mind  -  electronics,
metallurgy, Russian, Greek, calculus, relativity, civil engineering   ...
When I need some facts or interpretation in any of these fields, I resort
to qualified experts.  Because of my lifelong involvement in academe, I can
find out relatively readily who are proven experts.  I would not take
notice of a politician posing in the media as expert in civil engineering
but actually unqualified in this discipline.  I would rely on known
authorities.
        But the public cannot readily get reliable info on GM if actual
experts happen to be PinC and are therefore blacked out by the media.
        The biased promotional role of the RS, RSNZ and USNAS must be
particularly deplored.  These bodies have drastically failed to tell the
public the truth about GM.  They have uncritically laundered claims of
benefit, denied hazards of GM, and vilified independent scientists such as
Pusztai who report harm from GM.   They thus radically degrade the status
of science, as many citizens detect how misleading are their utterances.
And then they (thru e.g the appalling R Winston) moan that the status of
science has declined!

        The information sources arrayed in the media are thus almost
entirely spurious:
1  PR agents for commercial GM, some of them scientists (e.g some Monsanto
PR staff; entrepreneur scientists like James D Watson jr)
2  Ostensibly independent ancillary PR operatives e.g V Moses of CropGen®,
Roger Morton of CSIRO, R Roush, J Rafe Blanchfield, I Prigogine, James D
Watson sr, Geo Petersen, M Berridge, Dan Cohen, Tony Conner, etc.
3  Anti-GM enthusiasts primarily concerned to promote PC ideologies and
therefore able to get media attention by posing as experts on GM which they
are incapable of explaining to the public.

        Meanwhile, genuine independent experts who are critical of GM are
blacked out by the media  - e.g   Prof Pat Brown of UC Davis, Prof David
Schubert, Prof David S Williams, Drs Margaret Mellon & Jane Rissler of UCS,
Prof Joe Cummins, Dr Elvira Domisse (formerly a NZ CRI gene-jockey), and
myself.

        In this wildly distorted infoscene, the public have little help to
"look at the evidence" on GM.  It then becomes crucial that inquiring
citizens be pointed in the direction of key sources, notably
http://www.psrast.org , http://www.ucsusa.org .

R

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