Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fear Thy Science God

Such a busy week. It is nice to have someone else be insolent for me. :)

Thank you Neil deGrasse Tyson for this insolence:

As far as I know, seedless watermelons are NOT "genetically modified."  GMO is a specific term that does not mean cultivation or selection. It means gene splicing. Hybrid seedless watermelons have been grown in the United States for more than 50 years. There is some distinction between genetic modification and simply breeding for characteristics. Scientists probably have a handle on this one and I doubt the concept of "growing in the wild" has anything to do with it.
To wit:

Science demands specific definitions and not rhetorical allegory. Allegory is more suited to the field of religion. Tyson uses induction to come to a conclusion which he then tries to use as a cudgel to beat naysayers into submission. Generalizations cannot be logically seen as correct if they refer to more than what is scientifically proven. The intellectual link between hybridization and gene splicing is the result of inductive reasoning, not deductive reasoning.

I know from my own experience, that apples grown from seeds will not turn into the apples we think to be tasty. Sweet apples, as far as I know, are still done from grafts. This is not genetic modification at all. Someone simply figured out that a sweet apple tree branch could be grafted onto a seedling to make a sweet apple tree. That is the science part (actually technological part.) Johnny Appleseed is one famous grafter who made money because of a political law that stated one had to have food growing on the land to be in such and such governmental status. Apple trees would tend to themselves and that requirement would be met. Picking the sweet apple over the sour one was just common sense.

The interesting thing here is that Neil deGrasse Tyson is bashing people who do not understand and just reject things because of their ignorance. To me it looks here as if Mr. Tyson does not know hybrids from GMOs. Additionally, he confuses technology with science... and that is always a major mistake. I say yes to pure science. I say no to technology if it hurts humanity, or for that matter other living things. I sometimes say no to pure science if it hurts people, like the syphilis experiments done in my section of the country. Fear would have been very healthy to those people who trusted scientists and were injected with syphilis.

Global warming is strictly the result of technology out of control, or rather, in control of those who would make money at the expense of everyone else.

Genetic modification.. well.. my jury of fear is out on that issue but as long as the modification is done to enrich a pesticide company, I am fairly certain they are not modifying food for my health. I remember the characteristics Mr. Tyson mentions of juicier, sweeter, etc. from the foods I ate in my childhood grown by local farmers. I do not recognize those characteristics on the supermarket shelf today. Why aren't they juicier and tastier after 50 years?

There is something to be said for growing vast amounts of food to feed people. Yet, I'm not so sure that we have done a good thing at all by giving the farming to large companies who could wield technology and science better than local farmer Jones. Surely there would have been a better society had people continued to grow things on small farms, who cared about the people eating the food in more ways than the one profit motive currently in use as a moral compass.

Farmers, "in the wild," are gone.

Mr. Tyson appears to have ignorance in this GMO area, but he comments openly that things "smack" of other things without knowledge, apparently with gut feelings and a few facts just like the people who are ignorant in the real world. To not include politics in a discussion of GMO foods is a grave error of judgement. It is a fairly ignorant thing to do. Mr. Tyson appears to be a hero to those who wish to take "ignorance" down. But, we are all limited, and sometimes ignorant.

Modifying the genetics of something to change only one trait while not considering the other changes in the food  (we are talking about splicing genes not picking the best tomato and planting it's seeds)  is just not a wise thing in my opinion. The reason some crops are resistant to Roundup is because Monsanto apparently, now I may be ignorant here, took a bacteria that still grew in the sludge around the Roundup factory, and spliced the genes that created the resistance into the genes of the plants. That does not sound particularly aimed at "juicy" and "sweet." It does not sound particularly aimed at nutritional value either. Because, Mr. Tyson, you cannot take the politics out of the equation. You cannot take the reason the crops were modified out of the equation.

Genetic modification has been done with two clear goals that seem to be contrary to the well-being of myself and people in general:

1. Make crops resistant to "Roundup" and other pesticides that can be sold for profit. Both the seeds and the pesticide can then be sold for profit.
2. Make sure the farmers cannot use seeds from their crop to grow another crop, done again for profit.

In other words building wealth is far more important than feeding people healthy food.

These goals, without the goal of making my life better in some way, make me generally opposed to GMO foods. I fear lots of things in the world, Mr. Tyson, and one of them is scientists who work for companies without my welfare in mind and another is drunk drivers. I fear, for instance, highly paid psychologists who use science to fine tune advertising to get people to buy things they do not need or want before the behavior modification occurs. I have a right to my fear and so do millions of others who oppose, on a much stronger basis than I, GMO foods. I have a right to drive carefully. Because in actuality, Mr. Tyson, we are being cautious, not fearful. We eat the damned food, don't we?

We just can't get past the political system to get foods labeled as GMO. Information must be feared. Perhaps people will not eat GMO foods. Yeah, perhaps they will have more freedom to choose. Monsanto, the great scientist (actually, technologist but that distinction is not of concern) does not want us to have that freedom.

Further, science does not ask people to "chill" because everyone else is doing something like eating seedless watermelons. We don't have to "chill" because someone points out that GMO foods are somewhat akin to hybridized foods. That does not make it safe, just because someone says so. That is simply not a scientific argument.  Everyone appears to be playing with guns as well but that is no reason for me to not fear the effects of gun violence, to stay away from guns, to fear (or respect) guns.

Why is Mr. Tyson so unchilled about telling people to chill? Leave histrionics for the ignorant. Ahh, or all we all a bit ignorant?

Until scientists work for the good of humanity and not the good of the makers of Roundup, I do not trust them. If you want to put it down as fear, go ahead. Plenty of people were fearful about the Cuban Missile Crises without much information, and history shows, they were right to be afraid. It only takes one explosion to snuff out one's life. "He died in a nuclear holocaust, but he was never afraid."

Faith conquers fear. What all this illustrates to me is that the faith in science is sometimes worse than a faith in some more humanitarian thing that one cannot prove but just thinks is correct. Fear at "every new emergent science" is spliced into our genes now that we have global warming and nuclear weapons. Just because it is a product of science does not make it safe. Wisdom tells you to have a healthy respect for your childhood chemistry set.

Science has no values, nor does capitalism. Those come from somewhere else. To believe that a scientist does good because he is a scientist is like saying a priest does good because he is a priest. Fear thy science god.