The false science of science

SUBHEAD: Some scientists say there is no problem with eating GMOs or being bathed in low level radiation.

By Juan Wilson on 2 September 2014 for Island Breath -

Image above: How can you tell if a shoes fits your foot? Use radiation to X-ray it! Note this model had three viewers. One for you, one for the salesman and one for your mom? Now that's scientific! From (

Just because its not scientifically "proven" to be dangerous does not mean it is not. In my lifetime children were sprayed with DDT while playing outdoors to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and shoe stores were equipped with x-ray foot machines for getting the proper fit. It was all so "scientific!".

Have you noticed the big push in the media to "balance the coverage" on the negative effects of GMO food production? Here are two current examples from the "liberal" media.

The New Yorker
The current issue of the New Yorker magazine features a story on Vandana Shiva titled "Seeds of Doubt", by Michael Spector. The article makes the case that "science" has determined that there are no reasons not to produce food using GMO technology because it has not "proven" to be harmful.

Spector is not a neutral observer. He supports GMO technology and its predecessor the Green Revolution. He and others argue for GMOs to feed the ten-billion humans expected on the planet in the next generation (under the duress of climate change).  They say that we have to employ nitrogen fertilizers, GMO's, monoculture and any other trick we can come up with. He writes:
“Without the nitrogen fertilizer to grow crops used to feed our recent ancestors so they could reproduce, many of us probably wouldn’t be here today,” Raoul Adamchack told me. “It would have been a different planet, smaller, poorer, and far more agrarian.”
What is wrong with a planet that is "smaller, poorer and far more agrarian" if the alternative is taking the wild out of our the wilderness and covering it with fossil based nitrogen fertilizer and mono-culture GMO crops?

Spector respectfully but subtly trashes Vandana Shiva. He begins by disqualifying her as an expert because she is a physicist and not a biologist, even though she has been intimately involved with the subject for three decades. He says of her:
In contrast to most agricultural ecologists, Shiva remains committed to the idea that organic farming can feed the world. Owing almost wholly to the efforts of Shiva and other activists, India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption... 

Shiva maintains a savvy presence in social media, and her tweets, intense and dramatic, circulate rapidly among tens of thousands of followers across the globe. They also allow her to police the movement and ostracize defectors. 
One of those "defectors" was environmentalist Mark Lynas who stood strongly against the use of biotechnology in agriculture for more than a decade. Then he saw the light. Last year at the Oxford Farming Conference he announced a reversal of his position.
“For the record, here and up front, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up G.M. crops,” he said. “I am also sorry that I . . . assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.” 
 And speaking of Mark Lynas, NPR is using him as a an expert on the subject of feeding the world.

National Public Radio
This morning on  National Public Radio the show The Takeaway, hosted by John Hockenberry, featured a story "Should GMOs Help Feed a Hot & Hungry World?". The story featured Mark Lynas. As one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement in the United Kingdom, activist Mark Lynas once uprooted genetically modified crops with his bare hands. Along with Vandana Shiva, he helped lead the crusade against the use of GMOs out of a sincere concern they might be dangerous.

Lynas, now a visiting fellow at Cornell University, has recently changed his mind on GMOs, deciding that his anti-GMO convictions rejected sound science. He recently published a book, “The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans”. On Amazon the book's cover is illustrated with a nuclear power plant cooling tower in a field of GMO corn that stretches in every direction to the horizon. Below the book's message is described below:
Nature no longer controls our planet – it is humanity, ‘the god species’, that must save the environment we have inflicted unprecedented damage upon. And the tools we must use are the very technologies that environmentalist have told us for years will spell disaster: nuclear power, GM food and geo-engineering.

The "takeaway" for me is that there is a full court press by the big-ag chemical corporations to pitch the idea that without GMOs we will all starve. I would counter that if we plan to feed ten-billion people in the future, that future won't be worth living in. We will have to destroy nature to get there.

Those that embrace GMO food are often the ones who embrace nuclear power generation. Nuclear power has for the most part been operational for only one overly extended generation of power plants. As of March 11, 2014 in 31 countries 435 nuclear power plant units with an installed electric net capacity of about 372 GW are in operation and 72 plants with an installed capacity of 68 GW are in 15 countries under construction.

Some of the most respected people in the world are pro-nuke. As I wrote back in February in a piece called "Things won't get back to normal"
Even some of the most influential councils I have heard of in the past few decades are flailing to find a way back to the good old days. I can understand why techno-optimist Bill Gates - Founder of Microsoft - would be trying to keep all the juice flowing but why would these guys be turning to cranking up the dial on nuclear power?
Stuart Brand - Creator of the Whole Earth Catalog
James Lovelock - The discoverer of the Gaia Principle
James Hansen - NASA scientist who warned of Global Warming 
These guys realize that what we call a world civilization today is predicated on unlimited power and growth. They understand that our way of life ends with a limitation on growth and power... and they cannot face that eventuality. I say get used to it. Not only get used to it but embrace it. The alternative is extinction.

How does this relate to nuclear power?

High-Level Nuclear Radiation
The obvious way is the disposition of the highly radioactive 'spent" fuel consisting mostly of uranium and plutonium. As long as the nations producing this poison had a market in nuclear weapons grade material there was a place to put this crap (at least temporarily). Tens of thousands of nuclear bombs and missiles were produced during the cold war. Not so many now.

And in the several decades after the Cold War there has been no successful widely accepted solution to the problem of storing such material for the tens or hundreds of thousands of years that are needed to make them safe.

Plan after plan for storing nuclear waste has been rejected. One recent serious attempt in the last two decades is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Originally WIPP was characterized as an experimental low-level nuclear waste repository.

But since its inception the WIPP facility has been accepting nuclear waste from places like Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Kentucky. These three sites are places where has been a great deal of production of high-level radioisotopes for weapons.

The WIPP stores drums of radioactive material a half mile underground in a former salt mine. It was designed to safely store nuclear material for thousands of years. The only problem is the facility failed on February 14th 2014 and has been occasionally emitting bursts of radioactive hot particles ever since.

Uncontrolled fires and the threat of more have rendered the only "safe" place designated nuclear waste "Out of Order!". If you are downwind of the plant in Tulsa or Saint Louis when the plant is spewing, take care.

This area of high-level nuclear waste is a known danger. Scientists have carefully studied the results of human exposure since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Where the silent killer may reside is in the low-level radiation.

Low-Level Nuclear Radiation
There has been little conclusive and widespread agreement on the effects of continuous exposure  to low-level radiation. Many scientists will tell you that there is no lower limit of exposure to radiation that is not harmful. Other scientists argue that there is no proven correlation to harm caused by low-level exposure.

Both are right. For the most part harm from radiation is a matter of statistics. The cause of slightly higher rates of birth defects or childhood thyroid cancer in eastern Japan three years after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant failure is impossible to pinpoint. It may take more time for that to become icily clear.

But what happens in Japan is only a small part of the Fukushima catastrophe. The amount of low-level radiation throughout the Pacific Ocean is rising everyday as hundreds of tons of water laced with a great deal of radioactive tritium, cesium and strontium enter the ocean.

These elements have been dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean and have reached the west coast of North America in fairly high concentrations.

Could they affect the biosphere of the ocean?

The diamond mining company De Beers coined the advertising motto "A diamond is forever". A variant I suggest is "A meltdown is forever".

Is it a mutation?
Some observers are making the case the anecdotal reports from Alaska to Mexico of unexpected massive die-offs of species from starfish, to anchoves, to salmon,  to pelicans, to sea lions are unrelated. These unprecedented occurrences are due to ocean acidification, algae blooms, global warming, etc.

These all might be contributing factors stressing life in the sea. Another is now increasing amounts of low-level radiation throughout the ocean. Here are two of many reports in ENE News related to increases in domoic acid produced by sea algae. 
Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 2, 2014: State health warnings over shellfish, anchovies and sardines are highlighting a marine mystery [...] what’s behind a toxic outbreak threatening marine life? [...] Researchers in the relatively new area of study say the problem is the worst they have ever seen. [Though the] toxin likely has always been part of the ecosystem, the threat appears to be growing. [...] results of late are the highest ever [...] sea lions affected by domoic acid show a severely shrunken hippocampus [and] lesions on the hearts and brains [...] the mystery behind why and when it happens remains largely unsolved [...]

KSBW, Apr. 30, 2014: Toxic algae blooms killing sea birds, threaten humans — A new health warning has been issued urging people to not eat certain parts of anchovy, sardines, or crab caught in the Monterey Bay. [It's causing seabirds'] nervous systems to fail. [...] the state public health department issued a warning not to eat recreationally harvested shellfish [...] from the Monterey Bay. On Monday, officials issued an update advising consumers not to eat the internal organs of commercially or recreationally caught anchovy, sardines or crab [...] Typically the toxic algae blooms only last a week or two but the latest one has lasted all month [...]
 Some people are beginning to wonder if constant pervasive low-level radiation in the environment might be creating mutations in algae and plankton. Along with the combination of all the other environmental stressors, like ocean acidification and temperature rise, this could conceivably create mutated species that produce more domoic acid, currently challenging the food chain along the west coast of North America. 

It will take science some time to get a  handle on this issue - perhaps years. That does not mean that because there is no scientific consensus on the safety of exposure to low-level nuclear radiation that it is not the catalyst for a major die-off in the Pacific Ocean.  We are not safe as a continuous intravenous drip of strontium 90 and cesium 137 enter the veins of the Pacific Ocean.

A monumental world-wide effort should be made to divert the water flowing through the watershed of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant safely away from the site. It may have to be a gigantic engineering effort. Even if it were on a scale comparable to the building of the US Interstate System, something must be done to isolate the four melted nuclear cores from the ocean.



Anonymous said...

So, your "take away", YOU do NOT want to plan how to feed the projected 10 billion people AND you do not want pro-GMO advocates to either. You believe we'd destroy the planet and life would not be worth living. I don't see that sitting on our hands is much of a solution. Nor food fights. Nor am I willing to decide for hundreds of millions of people that their lives aren't worth living.

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Anonymous,

My take away is not to sit on my hands but to grow as much organic food as I can on the land I can have an influence on. The bulk of that food is in the form of taro, cassava, breadfruit squash and greens.

It is more food than my wife and I need, but it could help the neighborhood when the Big Save loses electricity and deliveries.

Every acre of experimental pesticide soaked GMO corn in my valley is an acre lost to local food production.

Are you growing enough food to feed yourself?

You are right. I do not want to be involved in a plan to feed 10 billion people. I don't think there should ever be 10 billion people on this Earth - and doubt we will ever have that population given the eco-collapse we face now with Fukushima and Global Warning.

This collapse is the result of the energy needed to keep much fewer that 10 billion on this planet.

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