When I saw on Twitter that a ‘major new peer-reviewed study’ was about to reveal serious health impacts from GMO corn and soya, I was intrigued to say the least. Would this be Seralini 2.0, a propaganda effort by anti-biotech campaigners masquerading as proper science, or something truly new and ground-breaking?
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Review of ‘Creation’, by Adam Rutherford, published by Viking/Penguin
This book is divided into two sections, printed upside down and back to back. It is a neat little trick which I don’t think I’ve come across before. There’s a good reason too: one half of the book is about the past history of life – looking specifically at the evolutionary history of DNA – while the other half is about the future, and how humans are now changing the rules via synthetic biology and genetic engineering. So you turn the book over at a time according roughly to the present.
Update: it’s even cleverer than I thought – the book is designed to mimic the structure of DNA itself, as was pointed out in this tweet:
— John Heil (@JohnRHeil) June 7, 2013
So there you go. That one was lost on me.
Anyway, the only problem is reading in public, where you look like an idiot reading a book upside down. And I don’t know how it works on the Kindle version – I was kindly sent a hard copy by the author. Anyway, I’ll divide up this review also into two parts, to respect and follow the order of the book. The author Adam Rutherford by the way has very impressive credentials: he is both an evolutionary biologist and a geneticist, as well as being an editor at the prestigious scientific journal Nature. Visit his website for more.
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[Note: this is a rough translation, so may not be word-perfect. Thanks to Rafael for the editing.]
Me parece que la controversia sobre los organismos genéticamente
modificados (GMO por sus siglas en inglés) representa uno de los
peores fracasos de comunicación científicas del pasado medio siglo.
Millones, posiblemente, miles de millones de personas han llegado a
creer que lo que es esencialmente una teoría de la conspiración, que
genera temor y confusión acerca de toda una serie de tecnologías a
una escala global sin precedentes.
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Yesterday I visited the site of Hinkley C, the proposed EPR reactor in north Somerset which will – whenever it finally happens – be the UK’s largest-ever single low-carbon power generation investment. The two units will have a combined electrical output of 3.2 gigawatts, large enough to power 5 million homes and avoid 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
Driving around the site in a 4×4 with a site manager, I was impressed at the sheer scale of the effort: it will cover a huge area, all of which is now fenced off and ready for construction to begin. Rare species of bat have been moved, badgers protected, 16,000 trees planted, and archaeological digs on the south side of the site completed. At its peak, 5,600 construction staff will be working on site, and a temporary 500-bed ‘campus’ will be put up as well. An electricity sub-station is currently under construction in order to power the site works. Everything is ready to go.
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Mark Lynas speech hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration) , and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University
29 April 2013, 2.15pm ET
I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.
This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change.
I am a historian, and history surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’ lives as a result.
This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.
I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half.
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