FrankenCabbage-Scorpion Chimera: Science Terrifies Anti-Science Hippies By Being Awesome Again
    By Hank Campbell | May 30th 2014 11:57 AM | 24 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    How dare biologists create something not found in nature!

    Well, mankind has a lot of experience in trying to keep nature from killing us - the war between man and nature is a grudge match whose history and resentments run deep.  When scientists stop trying to keep nature from killing us is when we should worry.

    But in the First World idyll that anti-science environmentalists have manufactured about the ancient past (15 years ago, before genetic modification became common), all things that are unnatural are bad. Only natural is good. Ricin = good, for example, even though scientists know it is very bad. But something that can't express a protein that could harm a human being and is instead a precise genetic modification created by experts to control pests with fewer pesticides = bad to environmentalists. Scientists are out to run us off a cliff, they contend. (1)

    Quick, when you learned that rogue genetically modified wheat was found in Oregon did you think that Monsanto was being sneaky in a hotbed of anti-science hippies or did you think eco-terrorists probably did it, since they had also just destroyed beet farms there?  If you don't think eco-terrorists did it and that instead Monsanto jeopardized its multi-billion-dollar business to slyly introduce a product they have never even tried to get to market, I know how much organic food you buy. (2)

    Today's dose of unfounded paranoia was provided by Gaia Health last year. I secretly love this piece despite its hysterical use of scare quotes and repeating obvious factual statements as 'oh really' questions, which likely provides a lovely shot of dopamine for readers who think that sort of silliness is clever but really gives no insight at all.

    So why do I love it?

    This graphic, which shows a man - presumably an executive at Syngenta or DuPont or whoever we are supposed to demonize this week - boning a genetically modified scorpion.  Sure, it's silly but the paranoid premise of the article is silly so it's appropriate:

    Why are environmental activists so sexist? They never show female executives having sex with GMOs. Credit and link: 

    And the market for paranoid is clearly there. At the time of this writing, this thing has 1,100 likes on Facebook, even though the study they were ranting about was from way back in 2002. No one in their community noticed because they use study links the way drunks use lampposts - for support rather than illumination. It works. While independent science media feels nice, it doesn't pay the bills all that well. It would be much more lucrative to spout conspiratorial nonsense and watch the pageviews roll in.

    Let's examine where this bit of Scaremongering goes off the rails.

    The basics of the story are entirely correct. Scientists work on lots of things all of the time and one of them was to be a cabbage that would use less pesticides by expressing a protein insects hate, using genes from the scorpion Androctonus australus hector.

    No surprise there. But then something weird happens. The author notes that when a scorpion-based pesticide was tested a decade ago, the scientists wore body suits. To rational people, if you spray any pesticide up close and are not wearing some protection, you're an idiot. The only thing dumber than not wearing a body suit, since the manufacturers of every pesticide tell you not to bathe in it or drink it, would be sticking a tube and some surfactant directly into your stomach and ingesting pesticides. Activists also do that to animals to try and show harm.

    Scorpion poison sounds awesome but it is dangerous - it's especially dangerous to insects, which is the exact reason that honing in on a precise modification that could ward off pests and yet not express anything that could harm a person, like the amino acid sequence of the scorpion insectotoxin AaIT, is a terrific idea. But no, if anyone wears a mask while spraying an pesticide it must be evil - which means that Gaia Health regards 100% of the pesticides used by organic farmers as evil also.

    What does that have to do with this genetic optimization? Nothing, but an anti-science audience is going to get hopped up when it is invoked, with the 1-2 punch that a business might like to make this cabbage for human consumption. It doesn't matter that fewer pesticides is a terrific idea for Gaia and humans combined, we all know what the author is really saying: Evil scientists want to turn you into a pesticide sink and if environmentalists don't stop them anything outside the walls of a Whole Foods is going to be the storyline of Fallout 5:Environment.

    Do you want to avoid a world of frankencabbages and human pesticide sinks where you will have to fight genetic mutations in order to get organic pineapples? Then donate money to Union of Concerned Scientists and vote Democrat. Fallout logo: Bethesda Software

    I'd say that anti-science hippies are stuck in an organic food of "Pleasantville" but they are a lot more destructive; they have far more in common with the John Birch Society of the 1950s than they do nostalgic comedies.


    (1) Except climate scientists. While biologists, immunologists and nuclear physicists are not to be trusted on food, medicine or energy, climate scientists are lovingly caressed - unless they stop predicting short-term environmental doom. 

    (2) And how you vote.  Anti-science hippies don't vote Republican.  It's extra non-sensical that scientists - overwhelmingly liberal and voting the same way as activists - are not to be trusted and that activists insist President Obama is on the take from 'chemical' companies.


    (1a) -Genetic biologists and immunologists often work for the private sector inventing products and vaccines, while climate scientists are largely working for colleges and government agencies. Big business is uniformly bad to your "hippies" while academe and government (as long as it's not the military or police) are good things.

    It's weirdly charming that you think the exact same government - the exact same - is bad when it comes to the army and good when it comes to funding science. You think the government does not prioritize the science it funds and that academia is wholesome and free from politics? Those rose-colored glasses you wear must be the size of the moon.
    I'm actually agreeing with you, sir. Your footnote one seemed to come with a bit of sarcasm attached to it, so I tried to continue in that tone. The general theme in a lot of science debates for the left is that science done by the public sector is good, while science done by big business is bad, with the exception of DoD research.

    How do you know these people are "hippies"? They sound more like a bunch of ignorant libertarians, happily dosing themselves with colloidal silver and refusing "government mandated" vaccines.

    There is actually very little overlap (in America, anyway, where there is only a two-party system). People against global warming and evolutionary biology are on the right while people against vaccines, food science and energy science are on the left.

    In the 1950s, sure, libertarians thought everything was a vast conspiracy, but now they are positively sane in comparison to left wing people who see the industrial-military complex is everything their elites tell them to be afraid of; so they think climate science is wholesome and pure and unimpacted by money while every other scientist is a shill chasing funding.

    The only place where libertarians and hippies seem to have common ground is raw milk; a cross-section of people feel like they should have the right to poison their children with foodborne diseases.
    40 years ago it was fundamentalist religious people against vaccines, we know that is not true now. While agenda-based groups always try to claim their support is universal, we know that is not true. Which state do you think has higher vaccination rates, far left California or far right Alabama?

    Surveys tell no one anything, but actual CDC vaccination rates do, and so we know the answer: left-wing states lead the country in anti-vaccine sentiment and behavior while right-wing states have rates over 99%. That is data. Surveys are not.

    This anti-vaccine and anti-biology effort doesn't want to consider itself anti-science, so it falls back on the 'we are anti-corporation' rationalization and self-deception. The right does this exact same thing with global warming  - 'we are not anti-science ,we are anti-government'. There is literally no difference between them. If one is worse than the other, it simply tells us how you vote.
    It depends on the species of Libertarian. Engineering, CS and Science-nerd Libertarians are very pro-science and are quickly becoming the heart of the movement. The old-style Goldwater-style Libertarians might still have the attitudes you describe but I rarely see those people in Libertarian forums any more.

    There is a long history of industry using science and pseudoscience to justify dangerous products, hide information or their own ignorance to avoid scrutiny, and cutting safety corners to save money. Cigarette companies. Tokyo Electric Power Company in Fukushima. GM ignoring life-threatening problems with Cobalt ignitions for years. Pharmaceutical companies not releasing studies of their drugs that have negative results. Construction companies using off-spec concrete on massive structures as part of the big dig in Boston. I could name dozens more.

    Also, progress in technologies for genetic manipulation has exploded. We are on the brink of a world where the underlying genetic structure of humans and other organisms is as available for manipulation as steel or electronic circuits. It is widely acknowledged that there are serious dangers arising from these technologies, e.g. genetically engineered diseases.

    I am an engineer and fairly sophisticated technologically and I'm not afraid of GMOs but I do know these two things. First, If a product of genetic manipulation is ever developed which really is as dangerous as some people think GMOs are, industry will ignore, hide, and lie about the risk if there is a profit to be made. And second, when that happens a large chunk of the scientific community will be standing in line to sneer at opponents and shill for industry.

    I am glad you are part of the rich 1% that can afford not to work for a company, but that isn't really practical for the rest of the world. Instead, companies are made up of people, no less ethical or more ethical than the people who make decisions in any group, large or small.

    I hope you started a wonderfully ethical company that make billions by simply building a good product and never firing anyone and being nice to puppies. The world needs more people who are beacons of ethical hope for the rest of us stupid types who just engage in whatever behavior some politician or CEO demands, burning down villages and such.
    It would be more considerate, more reasonable, more rational, more convincing, if you responded to the points in my post rather than using sarcasm to try to gain rhetorical advantage. Let me try again.

    First point - Industry has a long history of hiding, denying, misrepresenting, and avoiding the consequences of information about their potentially harmful products with the goal of protecting profits. They have often used or tried to use science and scientists for those purposes, often with considerable success. Do you agree or disagree with that statement.

    Second point - Science and technology have advanced to the point where direct genetic manipulation of humans and other organisms at the most basic level will be possible. There are potential risks of very serious consequences associated with this ability. Again - agree or disagree.

    My conclusion - It is not unreasonable for people to be skeptical of what businesses claim about the safety of products related to these new technologies. The same applies to the scientific support for those claims. Agree or disagree.

    My argument is sincere. I think it's also clearly expressed and well founded. I'm not an opponent of GMOs and I'm not trying to be tricky. I would appreciate a direct response without sarcasm.

    I will address your points.How do we know that the industries hide this stuff?  Clearly companies are not doing a good job.  People run industries and people are flawed.  Scientists are also flawed.  The government also hides dangerous chemicals.  That statement is perfectly meaningless. I also disagree with your statement because you pretend like this practice is rampant, but I cannot think of many examples.  Tobacco companies are about it.  However, it turns out tobacco companies published all of their cancer research or, at least, presented it at conferences.  The first person to suggest nicotine was addictive worked for Philip Morris.  He was fired shortly after publishing.  Regarding your second point, we already know how to genetically modify human cells, and we have been genetically modifying mice for 20 years.  The gene therapies are starting in clinical trials and some are being used to treat dogs.  Again, like anything, it could be dangerous.  However, it will destroy a company if enough litigation comes forth so companies tend to err on the side of caution.  Regarding your last conclusion, again, it relies upon a belief not born by any evidence.  I safely inject viruses into rodents without adverse effects.  This method has been very slow to reach humans because a lot of concerns have been addressed over the past 20 years.  Look, if you want to tell a kid that his/her mother should not get access to a treatment because you have unfounded reservations, I will gladly set that up for you.
    Thanks for the response. As for Point 1 - I strongly disagree with you. I listed a number of examples in my original post and I was just getting started. I'll save a full-fledged exposition for another time.

    Point 2 - I guess this comes down to a question of what constitutes acceptable risk. You have the advantage of me in experience with genetic science. Even so, I suspect your enthusiasm might make you a bit too cavalier about potential hazards. I'll need to do some learning before I can make a credible case.

    As for my conclusion, I stand behind it. I didn't say we should stop GMOs or genetic research. I said it is not necessarily unreasonable for people to worry about these types of technologies. Ridiculing people who disagree with you only makes people already in you camp happy. It doesn't convince anyone.

    @T Clark. What is your opinion of Golden Rice? See the following article and then read the comments--what do you think about Greenpeace being brought before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity:
    "This page intentionally left blank." --Gödel
    @T Clark - you are observing nothing more and nothing less than that people are imperfect. But you add to it a nice dose of paranoia attached to your trigger words "industry", "business" and "profit". What is your solution? Have the government manage all technology development "for the people"? You might want to ask the people choking on pollution in China or those uprooted after Chernobyl how well that works out. Eliminate the "risk" of technology by declaring all further scientific progress off-limits? Riiight, that will be *much* better for human well-being.

    The fact is that your little post here is, essentially, content-free. It is simply a little white flag you've hoisted declaring yourself to be morally superior to all of those lesser beings that would like to actually push the state of human welfare forward in a practical manner.

    See my response to Hank Campbell above. It seems to me that you, like he, are not being responsive to the points I made and are using sarcasm to try to make a point without actually addressing what I wrote. I asked him to provide a direct response to my post. I would be interested in seeing a response from you also.

    Thanks Hank. Great article! Being on the anti-science side is just SO easy. It requires so little scientific method, so little critical thinking. Returning to the world of the "noble Savage" is so romantic. Watching the majority of your children die before reaching puberty is so green and so natural. And, for those fortunate enough to reach adulthood, expecting to live to the ripe old age of thirty-five is just so earth friendly. Yes, "mother nature" is a sweetheart indeed!

    Is it possible that an anti-gmo group such as Greeenpeace deliberately released this GM wheat in Oregon to precipitate lawsuits against Monsanto and legislative action against GMO's?

    1) Greenpeace already has a long history of advocating vandalism and participating in vandalism, destroying and disrupting GE experiments and legally grown crops.

    2) Greenpeace has already stolen experimental GM seeds in the past, infiltrating carriers to intercept shipments of GM seeds from one lab to another.

    3) Greenpeace has motive. Noting the 750 million dollar settlement against Bayer with their inadvertent release of their GM rice, this would be a tempting target for Greenpeace to pin a similiar scenario onto Monsanto.

    4) Greenpeace had opportunity. The wheat was tested in fields for several years. Greenpeace has already shown itself to be deft in penetrating restricted areas to cause vandalism and theft. Relatively open fields would have been a piece of cake for Greenpeace’s expertise in such matters.

    The above is only my conjecture, based only on various articles and Greenpeace statements. But, that said, the above would be an avenue of investigation well worth pursuing. But, it should be said that points 1) and 2) aren’t conjecture, but a matter of record.

    So, unlike the claims against Monsanto in this issue, there is already an established pattern of behavior by Greenpeace that this event would be consistent with. Does this mean Greenpeace (or some other copycat anti-gmo group) actually did it? Not by itself, of course, but, i think, it needs to be investigated.

    Link to Greenpeace interception of GM rice in 1995:

    Another recent case of Greenpeace activists caught red-handed in China. But they claim they were only 'inspecting' fields to ensure proper separation of GM and conventional crops.[backPid]=272&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1434&cHash=c663974106b202c77f70f73dde741487

    You really undermine your validity by polarizing this topic with your obvious Republican partisanship. Not all Democrats are hippies who fear science. In fact, the most rabidly anti science people of all occupy the farthest darkest recesses of the political right. These include the hyper religious creationists, the anti vaccination anti fluoride right wing conspiracy kooks. Case in point is the chem trail freaks; they are all by and large ultra conservative crackpots.

    You very astutely bitch about the anti science hippies going bananas over GMO but then turn around and take a stab at those who accept the FACT of global climate change which is overwhelmingly accepted in the scientific community using the scientific method of peer review and collection of data.

    Bottom line is that by politicizing this article in the manner that you did, you come off like some political hack and that undermines all credibility you have as having a grasp on real science.

    GMOs are safe, that is fact. So are vaccines and nuclear energy. That I ridicule the right for denying climate change and evolution goes unnoticed but when I note that the anti-GMO contingent is overwhelmingly left - it was Democrats in Congress who tried to get warning labels put on them - you say it is "Republican partisanship." When all you notice are facts that make the left look bad, it simply tells us how you vote.
    As a child of the 60s I find this article to be quite biased and the portrayal of hippies in it to be stereotypical and shallow. Not all former hippies embrace New Age philosophies. I, personally, believe in climate change, vaccinations and support GMOs. Most former hippies I know are the same. I find most anti GMO people to be liberals, most climate change deniers to be Republicans, and the anti vaxxers include all political groups.

    As a child of the '60s you should know if I say mods or ops or yippies I am not talking about hippies. Anti-science hippies are what I said and what I meant, if you interpret it to mean something broader, I can't help that, any more than if I said neo-con libertarians and you said I should not talk stereotypically about all Republicans. 

    One of the original co-founders of Greenpeace told me on Twitter he liked this article, because he obviously watched Greenpeace be hijacked by the people I am talking about, and we know Norm Borlaug felt the same way about modern anti-science hippies as I do; they are clueless reactionaries who have embraced a naturalistic fallacy.

    I agree on your final points except the anti-vaccine part - that is overwhelmingly liberal also, which is why liberal states like Washington and California has seen ridiculous preventable diseases come roaring back while Alabama has not. As the science media joke goes, if you want to find an anti-vaccine hotbed, take a protractor and draw a circle around a Whole Foods. It is a really accurate method, because that is the mentality that Whole Foods wants in customers.