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Links With Your Coffee - Tuesday

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One of the favorite fallacious arguments favored by pseudoscientists and denialists of science is the ever infamous "science was wrong before" gambit, wherein it is argued that, because science is not perfect or because scientists are not perfect, then science is not to be trusted. We've seen it many times before. Indeed, we saw it just yesterday, when promoters of quackery and anti-vaccine cranks leapt all over the revelation that American scientists had intentionally infected Guatemalan prisoners with syphilis without their consent as part of an experiment in the 1940s. They didn't attack the story because it was an inexcusable and horrific violation of human rights; rather, they attacked it because they thought that they could use the story to discredit science-based medicine (SBM) and, if they could discredit SBM, then it would somehow constitute an argument that their pseudoscience and quackery are valid. We've seen this behavior many times before. Another example includes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s salivating over the Pol Thorsen scandal, even though Thorsen was a relatively minor figure in the Danish studies that demonstrated that thimerosal in vaccines is not associated with autism.


 

Comments

If Genetically Modified Trees Could Help Stop Climate Change Would You Support Them?

YES.

You can add my YES to the list. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but I'll be there are those in the anti-GMO crowd who will scream no.

If ending clearcutting, growing industrial hemp, eating less meat, driving less and using more renewable resources like wind, solar & wave power could help stop climate change, would you support them?

Once again, a GMO advocate is ignoring existing solutions that don't require GMOs. Why use a Rube Goldberg contraption to make your coffee when you could just get a Mr. Coffee?

It's been a while but I can see it's time to repeat the mantra. It's not either or, it's not either or, it's not either or. All solutions need to be evaluated scientifically and none should be excluded including those that are automatically because of the anti-GMO dogma.

It's remarkable, well not really, that your default position is not what the science is, but rather anything is better than something that includes genetic engineering.

Rube Goldberg contraption

I've got to hand it to you, you've really become expert at "poisoning the well."

The best part of waking up is a rube goldberg filling your cup.

No doubt. I think people are so wanting some super tech to solve this probem discussing them really kicks the responsibility for behavior change down the road.

A tree that can consume multiples more CO2 will no doubt curtail the problem for a bit, but after planting these forests do we then have to burn things contstantly to feed them. ITs a real she swallowed the fly senario

That said we likely need both behavior change and supertech to solve the problem.

Who names their kid rube anyway?

If Genetically Modified Trees Could Help Stop Climate Change Would You Support Them?

Yes

Although I would force the scientists to watch Lord of the Rings II before they got started just so the knew what not to do.

Norm, have you ever read "Future Shock," by Alvin Toffler? Why should we embrace a technology that 99% of the population doesn't understand and cannot master just to accomplish something that can be accomplished with things that 99% of the populations can understand?

Have you looked under the hood of a car lately? I can't make heads or tails out of that spaghetti. All I want to do is get some groceries. Why should I rely on processors and computerized fuel injectors when good old fashioned carburetors used to do the trick? I mean, it would be one thing if the new fangled thing ran on urine and produced pure gold as exhaust or something, but all it does is get me to the grocery store and back and quintuple my maintenance and repair costs.

If we were in a position where the only way to combat global warming were to employ GMOs, then I would embrace them. But as with famine and ringspot virus, etc., we can employ existing methods without sacrificing even more autonomy to Monsanto or whoever.

You remind me of my neighbor who has a small snow blower, a large snow blower, a leaf blower, a chipper and two lawn mowers because he thinks technological gadgets are neato. But you know what? His yard isn't any nicer than my yard, which is maintained with one 15-year-old lawnmower and a broom and a rake and a shovel.

Have you looked under the hood of a car lately? I can't make heads or tails out of that spaghetti. All I want to do is get some groceries. Why should I rely on processors and computerized fuel injectors when good old fashioned carburetors used to do the trick?

Efficiency. It's efficacy, but with the least amount of energy wasted. Look it up.

You know, it's not your arguments per se that aren't convincing, it's the quality of them.

Then why hasn't fuel efficiency increased much since the carburetor days? I used to have a Datsun that got 35 mpg. That's still considered a pretty good mileage rating even with fuel injectors and everything.

It's a question I've wondered about as well, but I suspect you are comparing apples and oranges. One possibility is that the average displacement of engines has increased over time and you are comparing a cars with smaller engines with engines that are now larger.

I suspect given the same car the modern fuel injection systems would perform better. I think it's also true that carburetors get out of adjustment more easily and so require more maintenance for good performance. I'm no expert in this field perhaps someone with some expertise will be able to explain the reasons.

C'mon! You're not really complaining about fuel injection are you? You couldn't do a better job of reinforcing Norm's "Luddite" implication and demonstrating his charge that you continue to offer either-or false dichotomies.

Compare a modern Honda Civic (even the nonhybrid variety) which also gets ~35 mpg with your old Datsun. Sure, the mileage isn't much better, but it is getting the better mileage with a vastly better AC, better heater, much better acceleration - in short, with a lot more performance. Honda could have included the much more efficient fuel-injection without increasing the power of the engine and without upgrading the power-eating accessories and have given you significantly better gas mileage than your old Datsun - but I'm guessing that they would have made very few sales if they had. Unless, of course, gas were very heavily taxed.

I might add that because fuel injection does a better job of controlling the fuel-air mixture in adapting the mix the heat of the engine, it also reduces pollutant formation - giving your catalytic converter a longer life.

But my point is that we don't need increased performance, better AC, better heat, etc. It isn't a race. You're just dropping the kids off at soccer practice and picking up some bread. All that performance crapola is just unnecessary. Who cares about torque? As you noted, "Honda could have included the much more efficient fuel-injection without increasing the power of the engine and without upgrading the power-eating accessories and have given you significantly better gas mileage than your old Datsun - but I'm guessing that they would have made very few sales if they had." See? It's all about Honda, not the people.

It's the same with this GMO argument. We could have stopped clearcutting and reduced our fossil fuel emissions and our meat intake, etc., but I'm guessing that Monsanto et al. would have made very few sales if we had.

It's all about Honda, not the people.

Let's not get carried away. How many people in Detroit drive their cars in the snow without turning on the heat? Likewise, no one drives in Texas for half the year without the AC - unless they're asking to faint from heatstroke. Even 98% of long time residents who are as acclimated to the heat and humidity as anyone would choose the Honda over the Datsun. (Hell, these assholes choose to drive their Duallies to take their kids to soccer practice!)

Let's not get carried away indeed. I didn't say we don't need heat in our cars at all, I'm saying the heat in my 1980 Datsun was more than adequate, and I live in Chicago.

As far as AC goes, that car didn't even have AC and I got along just fine, although there were times I wished I'd had AC.

But we're going off on a tangent. The point, once again, is that our infatuation with taking a pill or pushing a button or whatever to solve our problems is what has gotten us in this mess. We figured out how to get from point A to point B and get the snow off our sidewalks and scrape the hair of our faces, etc. a long time ago. These "improvements" are just marketing gimmicks, and the sooner we reject them, the better off we'll be.

It's also not just about your needs. Heating and AC, and safety features might not be needed by you, but most other people do. The safety features that put that extra weight on have saved who knows how many lives.

And there are cars with about the same engine power performance as your Datsun, but getting much more mileage. Americans just don't like them, but they're popular in parts of Europe. Progress is good.

Oh, and you'd appreciate something like torque if you lived in San Francisco, for instance, and you had more than one person in your car. Even my '96 Civic with a smallish 1.6L engine can't deal very well with some long upward stretches of highway when I go to Vegas. I have to downshift to fourth and that wastes considerably more gas.

To add to what Tim said (in short, that mpg is not everything), you also have improved horsepower/torque and considerably heavier (mostly cause of safety features), safer, etc.

But Norm is also right, you're comparing totally different things.

My point is that oftentimes, progress is really just digress in disguise. See my reply to Tim above.

Why should we embrace a technology that 99% of the population doesn't understand and cannot master just to accomplish something that can be accomplished with things that 99% of the populations can understand?

You make a number of assumptions that I don't believe you have the evidence to support. It is clear that there will be impacts from global warming no matter what we do. It's not just solving the problem, but the amount of time we take to do it. So it makes sense that we don't overlook anything or exclude anything because it violates someone's "religion" that can reduce the time to solve the problem.

You also take an impractical view of what can be done using current methods. How is it exactly you're going to persuade your neighbor that he should be responsible like you?

Finally what in the world does the fact that there are so many ignorant people that don't understand the technology have to do with it. I understand that we need public support, so education must take place, but like a trip to your doctor you don't require that you understand the fine points before you accept his word that treatment is necessary and will benefit you.

I've noticed that for the last several months as we've discussed this topic, you have frequently relied on the ad hominem attack as a major component of your argument. Words and phrases like "poisoning the well," "anti-GMO dogma," "religion" and many others that I cannot remember right now indicate to me some personal attachment to this topic that has nothing to do with its validity or efficacy. I don't think I've peppered my arguments with similar terms like "corporate lackey" or "technocratic dogma" or whatever.

My hypothetical trip to the doctor has no bearing on this whatsoever, unless it's to point out that every time I've been to the doctor, s/he has suggested things that I can do to reduce the necessity of such trips, such as improving my diet and getting more exercise. That's what I'm saying about GMOs.

Using renewable energy and eating less meat and the other things I suggested are analogous to improving one's diet and getting more exercise, whereas relying on GMOs is analogous to needing a heart valve stent because you've ignored your doctor's advice.

And maybe that's what you're getting at when you say that there will be global warming no matter what we do. I've been saying that for years. Even if we were to somehow stop producing CFCs, etc. today, the damage would continue for many years. (Talk about poisoning the well.) But whereas planting hemp and erecting wind turbines are things we can do right now, GMO trees and Golden rice are still a long way off, not to mention the fact that there's no way to embrace this technology without tossing more chips in the agri-business kitty, and do you think those guys give a fuck about global warming?

Poisoning the well is a logical fallacy I used it in the sense that you dismiss GMO as inherently bad, as the last option to consider, usually with no effort to provide evidence. You attack any source that supports GMO, it is that way you poison the well. It's not the same as name-calling. You seem to think uttering the phrase GMO is the end of the argument not the beginning. You missed the point entirely. Dogma in this sense refers to principles that are faith-based eg GMO is bad and should be the last thing we consider, while not providing evidence for the position, the why we shouldn't use it until all other options are considered. If there is technocratic dogma that too should be condemned.

I must just be getting old, your comments while interesting don't address the topic of discussion, in a logical way.

What I keep seeing is that all parties on this subject tend to give emotional arguements.

THe heart of the science hasn't been the subject of discussion for quite some time.

Doesn't the very proposition that GE Trees could solve Global warming have an underlying assumption that GMO=good? I am no expert but the challenges to such and undertaking would be enormous.

How much of the worlds surface would you have to cover? How many natural plants would be replaced by altered versions? How much money would it take to alter enough variety of plants to operate accross continents and climates? Does such a plan require food products as well as trees be used?

How does the increased carbon green matter effect soil and water...

Blah blah blah..

If pigs could fly could they pull santa's sleigh.

If that were the discussion we could make some progress, but BD puts GMO at the bottom of the heap to consider based primarily on emotion not those facts. You see how he frames the discussion, GMOs should be the LAST thing we consider, other methods may raise concerns but the default in his mind is that EVERYTHING comes before consideration of this specific issue. There may be practical reasons why using trees that are genetically engineered is not practical, but you don't dismiss if offhand like he does. That's the point I'm making every method you use to solve the problem will have its pluses and minuses they should be considered on their merit not their name.

To be clear I'm not saying GMOs should be the first choice, but a determination that is decided based on science not dogma.

But you see how asking the question posed here is designed to elicit that response.

I realize this example will be flawed... but imagine I asked.

"If watching Glenn Beck solved our political problems would you support evryone watching?"

If our first response was, well even if that did work It still wouldn't be the best solution and frankly the potenial side effects could be potentially very negative.

Would my counter nessecarily have to be an emotion based one?

I also don't think that rube goldberg machine metaphor is exactly the most insulting and non discriptive one possible.

Well, you must be getting old, ;~) because I've stated many times that I'm not opposed to GMOs on a scientific level, but rather on the level at which it is most likely to be used, which is to further enrich corporations. Sheesh. I've flogged that horse to death. Don't you remember? You know, Pam Ronald licensing the flood-resistant rice to Monsanto or whoever it was? And so on and so forth.

But for the sake of repetition, which you seem to enjoy, here it is again:

Step one: Mend our regulatory apparatus so that GMOs (and other products/technologies) benefit us and not the corporations. This isn't to say that a corporation cannot benefit, too, just that the primary beneficiary should be us.

Step two: Don't get all giddy about some GMO technology just because science is neato. Oftentimes, the shovel is better than the snowblower.

Step three: Then, if the GMO in question has been properly vetted and the metaphoric snowblower (or snowblower and shovel combined) turns out to actually be better than just a shovel, then by all means, use the snowblower.

Just a reminder that the licensing to Monsanto and one other wasn't exclusive, a point you ignored than and still ignore today.

It was eventually rendered non-exclusive after a lengthy delay and lots of bad publicity. Even Pam Ronald was pissed about it (or so she claimed).

And just a reminder that famine is still rampant in the Philippines despite the miracle of GMOs, a point you still ignore today.

And just a reminder that famine is still rampant in the Philippines despite the miracle of GMOs, a point you still ignore today.

That's a bullshit argument and one you ought be ashamed to make, and if you don't understand why it's a bad argument there is no point in even discussing the topic with you

I should be ashamed for pointing out that the main thing GMO advocates promise never gets delivered? Aren't Syngenta & Monsanto & the Gates Foundation constantly touting the valuable role of GMOs in combating hunger? Well, let's get on with it. As you mentioned, the license for flood-resistant rice is non-exclusive. Ain't nothing stopping us, right?

Well, as this guy and many others have observed, "This particular point of view assumes that the key cause of hunger and starvation is lack of food, rather than problems with distribution, access to land, wars, corruption and poverty. It also assumes that in future poor farmers will have no problems with buying expensive seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, all of which are required by GM crops. I know many people assume GM crops must somehow be needed to feed the world. But the IAASTD (the food and farming equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report by 400 international scientists – led by Professor Robert Watson, now chief scientist at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – said GM crops were not essential to feed the world."

As I've said before, there may be select instances where GMO crops might succeed where other approaches have failed, but as with Prozac, they're only profitable if widely used. And as with Prozac, they are being widely prescribed for political and financial reasons, not because the work.

You're still missing the point, but hey that's nothing new.

Let me put it this way. Your default position is that GMOs should be the last option only used when nothing else will do the job. That position isn't for the most part based on science, but on a faith that GMOs are inherently dangerous and should never be used expect as a last resort.

That position isn't for the most part based on science, but on a faith that GMOs are inherently dangerous and should never be used expect as a last resort.

A-wrong-aroo, Norm. It's based on the the certainty (not faith) that multinational agribusiness corporations are inherently dangerous. If we could somehow put PZ Meyers and Orac and...well, me in charge of regulating these bastards, then I'd probably change my position. (Just kidding about the me part, btw.)

Perhaps you're confusing me with other people you've discussed this topic with. But for the gazillionth time, the very few, mostly hypothetical instances in which GMOs might be helpful to stave off starvation or extinction or advance research hold great appeal to me, but those instances are cited by GMO advocates in a manner that is waaaaaay out of proportion with the actual goals of the corporations that control the technology.

It's like me saying the Hummer is a stupid vehicle to buy and Chrysler or whoever manufactures the Hummer responding by saying, "Don't you want the troops to have a rugged vehicle?"

Again, Monsanto and Syngenta and Bayer and whoever don't care about the hungry or global warming, but they sure will use those issues to wear down resistance to their plan to further monopolize the food supply.

And again, why is it that you subordinate your normally healthy cynicism whenever it comes to GMOs?

It's based on the the certainty (not faith) that multinational agribusiness corporations are inherently dangerous.

Genetic Engineering is a method if used by corporations they may very well abuse it, that is where government regulation plays a role.

The problem of corporations is one of business in general and is not specific to genetic engineering, so again what you are doing is condemning the method because a corporation might benefit.

You don't raise it with pharmaceuticals, you don't raise it in any other field the way you use it when it comes to genetic engineering. You're willing to throw the baby out with the bath water.

All unregulated corporations are dangerous.

I've raised it with pharmaceuticals before. Many times, I've asked why they gave us Viagra during an AIDS epidemic or why Vioxx was fast-tracked, and I've complained about the way they market drugs like Prozac and Ritalin. I've also discussed how the auto industry fought so hard against installing seatbelts even though the taxpayers bought and maintain the highway system. I've made these arguments on this very page. Believe me, my contempt for corporate America and our lapdog regulators isn't limited to GMOs.

But I've got a proposal:

How about if we cure famine and global warming with GMOs then allow Monsanto & Syngenta to patent crops. In other words, let's put the horse before the cart for a change.

The article states "And the researchers specifically note that this is just one of many policy and technological tools available to increase carbon sequestration in natural vegetation and crops " So where is the "ignoring existing solutions"? Strawman argument again.

Well, as with the Michael Specter video that inspired this whole debate several months ago, the article sums up the biggest aspect of the problem in a few words. Specter, in his TED talk, said something like, "Yeah, Monsanto is bad and all, but that's another issue," which is what Norm keeps saying too.

What I would prefer is an article that says we should've greatly reduced our fossil fuel consumption and embraced renewable energy and so forth a long time ago. And then it could have a few words saying, "And researchers specifically note that GMO trees might help, too."

Instead, it says, "GMO! GMO! GMO! GMO! And by the way, use less coal. Buh bye, kids!"

What I would prefer is an article that says we should've greatly reduced our fossil fuel consumption and embraced renewable energy and so forth a long time ago. And then it could have a few words saying, "And researchers specifically note that GMO trees might help, too."

Instead, it says, "GMO! GMO! GMO! GMO! And by the way, use less coal. Buh bye, kids!"

That's not what it says, and it's dishonest to characterize it that way. It's the straw-man argument you make repeatedly. The authors do, as Pedantsareus has already pointed out and you've already ignored, that the authors say what it is you think they should say, the quotation from the article makes the point clear. Since the point of the article was to introduce another method it's not surprising that the main focus is on that method.

"And the researchers specifically note that this is just one of many policy and technological tools available to increase carbon sequestration in natural vegetation and crops"

Well, upon re-reading it, the article is actually fairly balanced, especially since it ends with "Obviously some of the same issues that dog other GM crops would still be in play: Health issues, cross contamination with non-GM plants, and (the bigger issue to me) continued consolidation of corporate control over essential elements of life."

So I concede this aspect of my argument. What I was initially responding to was the question posed in the title, which you posted at the top of this entry.

Incidentally, the comments on the article tend to echo my sentiments aside from the unfortunate reference to Percy Schmeiser. I particularly like this one from Matt Spaeth:

"Take the hundreds of millions of dollars that would go into development of these GE trees and use it to plant some real trees. But there is no profit in that so it won't happen.

"This is just a feeble attempt to paint a new face on biotech."

And this one from Cmcmahon:

"I would support growing industrial hemp right now. I don't think changing the world into a giant lab is a good idea. I don't think companies or people should own a patent to any type of life form."

re: "If Genetically Modified Trees Could Help Stop Climate Change Would You Support Them?"

IF someone told you that it's possible to genetically engineer trees that sequester more carbon, and therefore, IF we replaced all the forests of our world with these, and then waited the 50 years or so for them to grow to size, then maybe that would help slow the climate change we are experiencing today,

THEN, would you still object to feeding your children pesticide laced Roundup-Ready beet sugar?

hmmm. tough question.

I know I'm getting older and a little bit slower on the uptake, but would you kindly explain the relationship of you if then statement.

Also explain where it is you got the information that someone suggested replacing ALL of the trees and why you think it takes 50 years before a tree would begin to use carbon dioxide?

On a slightly unrelated note, you questioned the use of mutagenesis and the part it currently plays in plant biology, you might find this google search educational

http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&q=clearfield+mutagenesis&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=5a996d56de453056&cad=b

Norm: Re: "I know I'm getting older and a little bit slower on the uptake, but would you kindly explain the relationship of you if then statement."

It could be your age. I know yer older than I am (nah nah). Though I'm also willing to entertain the possibility that, ever the trendsetter, and so clearly more advanced than you in my views of Organic farming and GMO foods, I might also be ahead of you in recycling childhood. I don't fear acknowledging that possibility. It'll do no harm to my persuasive ability, as it's already clear that you but tolerate these views from compassion (or perhaps their entertainment value). Ah yes, the crunchy granola unscientific objections of a slightly mad retro farmer/naturalist. It's all good. Why not?

So, thank you for asking.

I think the question "If genetically modified trees could help stop climate change would you support them?" is one of the sillier questions Ive heard on a subject full of rather odd ones. It does, however, serve to illuminate one the problems I have with a common Genetic Engineering supporter's spiel. It goes something like this.

"well, maybe, with one or two exceptions, genetically modified food technology today, in the real world, increases herbicides and pesticides on our farms and in our diets. ok, so several monopolistic companies are patenting the genes of the foods of the earth, and shrouding their use in company confidentiality. But that's not the issue! If, if you could just look to the future, and imagine some benefit to mankind from the TECHNOLOGY POTENTIAL, then you surely you would stop objecting about having no choice but to eat what they offer us today."

We can imagine just all kinds of new products. The possibilities inherent to an imaginative mind are near endless.

But someone like me, is not entertained so much any more about a virtual world sometime in the undetermined future. I'm a whole lot more interested in what GE food represents right now, in this world, in this timespan, today. And I don't approve. And I want it changed. Now would be good.

With all due respect, I think some GE supporters are so busy imagining a world where their products might be good, that they are not willing to change the ways that their products today are bad.

Does that explanation help you to understand the relationship in my earlier note?

re: "Also explain where it is you got the information that someone suggested replacing ALL of the trees and why you think it takes 50 years before a tree would begin to use carbon dioxide?"

I made it up. Duh! I forgot these were Genetically engineered trees, so maybe those arctic eel promoter genes will allow them to grow amazingly fast and never stop until they die. What do you think? Maybe full new forests in just 20 years maybe? ('Course, generally fast growing things have very short lifespans, so we might need to replant those forests pretty often). I've also got no idea how many forests would have to be replaced to, say, equal the output of one American coal burning electrical plant lacking discharge cleaning technology. Maybe it will be like that golden rice's 5 nano moles of Vitamin A from a cup of rice, 'Course, as I recall they had to tent 2nd generation rice plants and gas them with elevated deuterium concentration in the gas atmosphere surrounding the plants to even get that much. Imagine! It might be like that ATT commercial with the sheets and sheets of bright orange tenting, covering the new Rain Rorest of GE engineered manufactured trees while they develop their increased carbon dioxide absorption up to levels measurable by a mass spectrometer. Heck. That might look pretty cool. Maybe they should use green tenting instead.

re: chemical and radiation induced mutagenics.

thanks for the references.

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