(GM) Pollen dispersal and cross pollination
=> I was prompted to google the GM game by the Beeb’s now trademark treatment of anyone not sporting anti-GM credentials ~ in particular by Humphries’ brutal bludgeoning last week of Derek Burke, manifestly a gentle guy who was most probably only there at Bob May’s behest. Your name caught my eye immediately as a leading light in the evaluation exercises and most especially for remarks I think attributed to you as follows:
“ In 2000 the EEA established a special project for the European Parliament, on the dissemination of research results from technologies characterised by scientific complexity and uncertainty, such as GMOs and chemicals, and on the use of such results by the public and their representatives in their governance, including the use of the precautionary principle.”
This was my first awareness of the project whose specification reference to a triad of topical tags (complexity / uncertainty / precautionary) particularly caught my attention because the first pair smacked of turbulence as paradigm unresolved issue from classical physics (defeated everyone from Osborne Reynolds onwards mopping up the likes of Heisenberg and friends en route) whilst the third was paired in unholy alliance with “principle” whereas all self-respecting scientists know it can be no more than a prejudice, say conjecture to be kinder.
In fact the more I skimmed googled webstuff the more I was amazed at just how little is out there as pro-GM counterweight crucial for a balanced assessment ~ ironically the only conclusive one I spotted was on an FoE inspired “debate” back in 2000 which closed with exasperated concession that the vote was just as pro-GM afterwards as before! How things have changed in under 4 years! ~ not because the facts got significantly any scarier but because the anti-hype went hysterical!
I‘m now wondering just how much money has been spent from poor old percy public’s purse in proving this thing remains about as imponderable as it was at the outset. Of course the EC / EU has about the strongest track record in slush-fund squandering (fp4 cost about 1000keuro per output paper / patent against rather less than 100keuro for weak DTI LINKies and perhaps not much more than 10keuro for traditional Brit PhD projects) but I wouldn’t mind betting the (anti)GM thing has exceeded even their fp4 folly (no doubt exceeded anyway in fp5 and as for fp6 …!
Question is how to render the flop side of the GM coin visible for public perception of just how much it has cost them involuntarily bankrolling a campaign whose success has meant they’ll also have to spend more on food even though the poorest have increasingly shown they can’t afford (or can’t understand that they really must afford) to buy balanced diets for avoidance of obesity / cancer / diabetes / … ! … maybe GM money would have been much better spent on health education to scare the pants off them but that’s a tad hypercritical coming from an unreformed smoker!
Strikes me the GM spend has shown yet again how our politicos just love to see substantial realities succumbing to insubstantial virtualities ~ pretty much the European hallmark of recent times wouldn’t you say? Be much appreciated if you could assist my quest for confirmation that there really will be anything of lasting scientific substance from any of these anti-GM games.
Meanwhile I’ll leave you thinking that with turbulence being at the heart of all these things, embracing not just acutely non-Gaussian dispersion weather (hope you haven’t been using Monte Carlo or even short memory Markov models) but also uncharacterised if not indeterminate stochastic bio-attractors (somaclonality?) then there’s no chance of doing anything significantly more than tolerate unreliable broad-brush guestimates that continue to typify weather forecasting despite big-bucks busted on big machines and even bigger software.
On the weather front might mention I learned a fortnight ago that the climate gloomies will soon be disappointed to learn of a 30% (I think) downgrading of CO2 impact because of underguestimated shielding by upper atmosphere aerosol ~ and there’s still no sensible (“validated”) model of biogeo coupling from dissolution via ocean microlayer.
3-Mile Island provides a parable that I always think is pertinent for promotion of proper perspectives in expert communities, not least humility in recognition of overwhelming ignorance. You may know that the US-NRC first formulated precautionary programming a decade or more before it emerged into other arenas and now (half an century later) has become an endemic accoutrement, even expanding into a universal retrospective overhead if we’re to believe that crazily costly chemical survey will actually materialise! 3-Mile Island provides a paradigm for effective impossibility of predictively pinpointing rare hazardous events, in effect a pointless paperchase when applied to exceedingly intermittent subppm things (like pollen in the wind!) because it shows there’ll always be something no-one thought of a priori … whereas a posteriori understanding at least allows actions to be targeted onto problematic hotspot realities, not squandered on what might be rudely described as intellectual navel-gazing or perhaps political navel-glazing!
In the case of 3-Mile Island the precautonists failed to forecast that natural convection could (and did) save their operatives’ bacon after the forced stuff faltered (as it did) ~ at the time everyone was flummoxed when emergency pump restarts made things (much) worse and it was only with the benefit of heavyweight hindsight that the analysts realised the free and forced components had been configured in opposition!
There were some other thingies that also rescued them from catastrophic meltdown but so impossibly complicated they could never have been anticipated! However the punch line to this story is that had the free and forced convection been co-directionally configured the problem probably would have been much worse ~ again an unanticipatable complicating factor that was recognised and mastered (intellectually and practically) only with benefit of hindsight awareness following a different plant failure that was unpublicised at the time and ever since I think.
And therein lies the folly of precautionary prejudices ~ you simply can’t second guess nature’s convoluted complexity so all that PP (or pointless paper-chasing?) can ever do is drag down progress, not ever ensure avoidance of unanticipatable outcomes whether it’s weather (endless examples of course) or whatever! And the anti-GM issue entails not just weather but a welter of whatevers! Enough said!
<= thanks for your note. The media have no interest in science, especially sound science and thus it is a mistake to go to them expecting them to give you a fair hearing. I informed Derek Burke that I would not sign his letter for various reasons and also warned him that it would appear to the media as scientific sour grapes following the report of the FSE trials. As a scientist the only thing I have is my scientific integrity and reputation.
If I start behaving like the NGOs and politicians and come down to their level, then bang goes my scientific reputation. Scientist should stick to producing scientific reports and scientific bodies should make and publish recommendations to government etc on policy and strategy. Dog fights in the media should be left to the pit bull terriers ie people who are all mouth and no brain.
=> But that’s a copout as much as any by WW2 quislings. PP is an excuse to ensure that whatever the results, an answer can be extracted in line with what the politicos wanted all along ~ it ain’t science, it ain’t even religion ~ it’s inquisition as much as any Spanish one! Please do shoot me down by pointing to papers that seriously address (never mind supply) actual error bars to accompany “use for governance” in “dissemination of results” … “characterised by complexity and uncertainty” …“use of precautionary principle”.
Leaving aside last one which renders the rest meaningless (arbitrary), who in these games has halfway decent understanding of sub-Kolmogorovian turbulent dispersive releases or persistence of transgenic viability under somaclonal variation … and who of those (if any) would be compelled by professional honour to sacrifice future funding by disclosing the truth that no-one is capable of “characterising” these things nor even to guestimate them reliably in the absence of confident knowledge even about the dominant attractors never mind distributions and migrations of strengths, endurances, switches (bifurcations), etc ~ moreover not known even stochastically because the relevant distribution moments (and that’s to an improbably high order for sub-K dispersion, probably also for somoclonal stuff) aren’t known even in isolation never mind in presence of cross-component couplings and nonlinear mutations.
It’s just not on and all self-respecting scientists should make clear to their masters that it’s certainly not on for the concealed purpose of providing an excuse to extract the resource from the big buckets of bucks that Brussels pulls from percy public’s pocket. I heard it said recently that with the folly that is fp6 the EC has finally admitted (discreetly to friends only for sure) that the programme itself is the end not the means so any scientific successes will be simply spins-off!
That says it all, including for their big bang on anti-GM because anti is in line with what the politicos believe the public want from their pulling these purse strings! The public of course only wants nothing to do with being scared so the noNGOs / neoGOs milk these ignorant fears for every drop of political leverage that can be extracted whilst a universally manipulative media misrepresent anything and everything that will serve to stoke up rancour ratings.
Got quite a belly laugh from J Dimbleby’s impulsive rejoinder “For God’s sake don’t let factual correctness ruin a great debate!” (or words to that effect) after an expert academic had the temerity to correct an FoE / Meacher faux pas on his Sunday spot a fortnight ago … no media merchant wants to hear that sugar beet pollination isn’t an issue because they’re harvested before pollination, least of all JD being an openly signed up mate of the organic mob!
Says it all ~ says everything about where we’re at and where we’re going to remain stuck unless silliness like PP is slung out for starters! Enjoy life!
=> Sadly as usual nowadays I thought you got the standard short shrift meted out to all save antiscience apocalypsists. It really is a desperate pity that traditional Brit respect for distinguished experience has been so discourteously decimated by the scourge of soundbite political pokery. Mind you whilst GM is a worthy issue (and I’ve been battling away since Jack Cunningham first appeared on the scene in 97 ~ my latest to Trewavas below) I thought the sympathetic spot awarded to the antiMMR campaigner was immensely more sickening exploitation, all the more so for the patronising piety (changed your mind have you? etc) of the dismissal of his antagonist and former ally.
When will sensible people wake up to the inevitability of an unholy alliance between the media and the meddlers because they are in the same business of sustaining silliness!? Just like the everyone else sporting a scientific badge of honour you were always on a hiding to nothing without resorting to sarcastic cheap cracks ~ no surprise seeing as an excellent expounder like Bob May also failed to carry commonsense conviction despite many admirable attempts in earlier days. No surprise also with disingenuousness exemplified by J Dimbleby’s slip in last Sunday’s “telly-bate” in his rejoinder to a correction courteously contributed by a distinguished academic … in effect that factual correctness shouldn’t be allowed to distract a great debate (on GM ~ and him hardly an impartial arbiter!).
I ceased being gobsmacked after first encounter with DEFRA’s decimation delivered under the Meacher-Beckett regime of Whitehall’s longstanding commitment to impartial advisory assistance in agriculture, albeit paltry but nonetheless not net negative as it is nowadays. If you can take 5 minutes over tea why not skim my stuff via my name link below to the agrisprayer picture for my vested interest and via cabbage picture to “windpiss” (password TEMP) for a DEFRA diatribe. Not anticipating even acknowledgement but if you encouraging membership of your proscience club then by all means sign me up ~ mine to Trewavas mentioned a loose alliance but I had no idea of your own initiative until today.
Good luck in your campaign but say again you’ve no chance of winning the war playing by the old rules … dirty games need dirty tricks and getting retaliation in first might well be the only chance of crucifying the cultural correctness claptrappers. Best.
<= Thank you for your sympathetic comments about the onslaught from Humphies. There is a serious problem here which I fear the BBC will never do anything about. Never again for me though.
=> For God’s sake don’t give up the good fight just because a toady took you to the cleaners for the sake of his “flagship ratings”. There’s ample crap to be had from the apocalypsists’ archives that would see them despatched into the credibility graveyard occupied by any number of Blairite blunders from the Dome through Y2K to Iraq. Can’t Bob May be persuaded set aside some slush money for the sake of saving science from pseudo-punditry pandering to the public largely in pursuit of personal political preening.
Another sign of the times today when a Today toady talking about some transmitter tagged swans said in effect “Don’t ask me … I’m not a techhie” without so much as a flinch that he was there presumably in precisely that role! Don’t suppose you know Clive Thompson (awarded an SCI Hall of Fame Medal a fortnight ago) but his presentation talk was pretty much one long diatribe against anti-science slob mentality that has seen IT “experts” get 50% more income 5 years from graduation and finance ones a stupid 100% more than chemistry averages.
Winning our war will also be all about making percy public aware of the crippling injuries inflicted on GB’s competitiveness by this monstrously stolen resource as much as by that siphoned off in furtherance of Meacherite madnesses. Please do hang on … it can't get much worse before the false prophets are revealed to have had only scientific superstition masking otherwise only greedy ambition, not generous altruism! Best regards.
=> After sending my commiserations for your rough handling I spent a little time googling web bits on GM
things and a couple of hours later ended up brow-bashing a leading name (judging from his plenary invites) ~ copy below. Of course I’m an amateur in their arena but my points are generic and their relevance most likely hasn’t been recognised / understood by most anti-GMers.
I’m also copying it to Bob May because his badge of honour (one of them at least) was won waging war on an earlier establishment for comparably flawed science. I’m also including Ben Gill in the loop because the NFU really has desperately underpunched its weight on GM matters ~ indeed, almost invisible to extent it’s unclear they even really entered the ring! A campaign along the lines suggested by my diatribe would at least have hit home a deal more than the gentlemanly caution displayed by most players on your side of the fence.
Maybe my shot across their bows could be polished into something publishable, at least via a sympathetic outlet and possibly even an even-handed highbrow if there are any such outlets left! More profound obscure points could be made on inaccessibility of turbulent dispersion statistics for sub-Kolmogorof releases (eg pollen) but I think spotty intermittency would be well beyond the ken of all but cutting edge experts.
Finally can’t resist remarking that comparably fundamental criticisms should have been levelled at the Imp Coll F&M opportunists ~ in particular, that long range vehicular translocation was obviously always going to overwhelm wind & wellies dispersion for confident estimation of impact so it was disingenuous at best to make a mathsturbation meal out of the latter when the former was inevitably an unmodellable item needing real data inputs. You can believe I wrote to them at the time but sadly (of course) got no reply, not even acknowledgement.
Not so many decades ago people took time to engage in private correspondence and no coincidence that there was a deal less inconsequential squandering of scarce resource, also a deal more public confidence in expert opinion. Nowadays though, thanks to manipulative media misdirection, few people believe in the existence of impartial sound science and fewer still in public understanding! Sad but be even sadder to abandon betterment battles. Not expecting anything from anyone … at least it made me feel better anyway slagging off pseudo science! Regards.
PS Just caught the badger TB spot on today’s Toady (wed) and was gobsmacked hearing a committed committee donter slag off a (courteous) scientific doer on the grounds that his correctly reasoned interpretation endorsing farmer’s longstanding experience (inevitably dismissed as anecdotal) was worthless guesswork until major study statistics proved him right! No wonder the public dismiss understanding as impossible nowadays with intuitive insight invariably rejected in the absence of definitive objective proof ~ and precautionary prejudices of course renders the latter an almost unattainable ideal for anything other than trivial causally connected effects … even linear determinism can always be contested for robustness in assumptions and approximations and if anything can be contested for sure it will be!
The future is indeed bleakly bland until PP is kicked out of the scientific stadium where it never deserved a first team appearance anyway! I recall complaining to the DoECS who first encouraged its adoption (as Fisk’s Law?) ~ and if any Agency is more scientifically flawed than the rest it’s surely the EA and their NGO fellow travellers!
=> We spoke briefly on the substitution of scientific sensibility by silliness. And you kindly donated floppy of your awesome talk (thanks). On our shared grouch what I don't understand is how such a splendid communicator as Bob May let this thing overwhelm him … after all he played leading light in promotion of GM benefits and rationalisation of risks. If he failed what hope is left for the rest of us?
I keep on thinking that a loose alliance between credible scientists might provide a platform to ensure the paltry cases asserted by the apocalypsists doesn't go unanswered by default … the Beeb always knows where to find eco-idiots for its Toady slots but seldom puts up anyone worthy to shoot them down. Unless the battle is fought hand-to-hand using intellectual karate to kill off the craptrap it ain't going to get any better.
And now we've got all that audit trail crap to contend with … might have been alright for a moon shot but there's no moon here only loonies making a living out of it! Showed just how parochial the sector is with audience delighting in seeing me shot down for asserting precedent for all this systemic silliness was NRC (nuclear reg ~ it's true as they started up a decade before the lunar landings) ~ fact is that Three Mile Island exemplified generic inability of regulators to cover all bases in paper planning exercises and there'll be another E Coli 157 whether or not there's an audit trail, only difference being the vast sums of money wasted on junketing by inconsequential committees. Cost per life saved ~ probably infinite because none will be! Anyway I'm preaching to the converted and that's silly.
Good luck in your ongoing battles with the bureaucratic blunderheads and if you can think of an angle for revival of pant biotech then please do get back with questions. Meanwhile just noticed last exchange was on crop spraying so might mention that after a decade in the wilderness my patented improvement (halving of drift and volume looks likely) finally got adopted by a sector OEM and is finally going to be systematically trialled by a consortium of major players.
Some hope for sound science when no-one heeded me against the siren calls on both sides of the GM "debate" ~ halving is almost twice as much as Monsanto ever claimed for Roundup Ready! With GM then maybe we could even think of quartering it! Best.
<= At some stage we’ll have to reassert the supremacy of knowledge kind regard