A credibility gap

I have mentioned several times in previous posts the importance of asking questions. The fact that the majority of a group may think that something is true, sometimes just because professional authorities in a certain field have so much respect that no one doubt what they say, isn’t good enough. This respect seems to be strongly present in media, and it is difficult to find factual information that tests accepted truths. However, it is naive to believe that scientists are infallible or that they are incapable of having an agenda. They are actually people too.

I mentioned a conspiracy theory in a post I didn’t translate. I was reminded of this when someone searched for transhumanisn and was referred to this post yesterday. One of the conspiracies I mentioned deals with order 81, where USA are supposed to have forced Iraq to destroy their own, natural seed bank. They were also forced to buy sterile seed, so called Terminator seed, from American seed producers. That meant they’d have to buy new seeds every year. This is difficult to unravel, and trust is the key thing here. Nobody disputes the fact that companies like the giant Monsanto have patented a technique that produces sterile seeds, but they have promised not to produce this commercially. When opponents of this conspiracy theory set out to disprove these allegations, they frequently refer to this promise.

It is difficult to go into a discussion with “debunkers” because it is difficult to find acceptable sources to back up your claims with. It is mostly alternative news outlets that report these types of stories. If you are willing to do the job of researching yourself, however, it’s not that obvious that these conspiracy theorists are crazy. The following is a result of me spending about ten minutes picking out a few articles from a Google-search, and then a few minutes reading these short articles.

The University of Berkely referred to The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a rural advocacy organization. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“We’ve uncovered dozens of patents that disclose new and more insidious techniques for genetic sterilization of plants and seeds – and even animals,» says Edward Hammond of RAFI. «Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Monsanto are among the Gene Giants who have sterile seeds in the pipeline, while others like Pioneer Hi-Bred, Rhone Poulenc, and DuPont have technologies that could easily be turned into Terminators.» The primary goal of several of the the newly patented techniques is to sterilize seed so that farmers cannot save and re-plant seed.

A number of the patents use benign-sounding technical terms such as «controlled gene expression» linked to «inducible promoters» to describe their sterilization techniques. Other patents describe «killer genes» that destroy pollen, or «GRIM proteins» that do the same to invertebrates or even mammalian cells. A patent owned by Astra/Zeneca candidly admits that their sterilization processes «are not desirable per se.”

Another article (Nature World) reported that some scientists gave a mixed message when the UN (United Nations Biodiversity Convention) asked for advise. The aim was to offer an alternative to “Terminator Technology”, but the proposal was called T-GURT (restriction technology). This seed can be reused, but the farmers don’t get the benefits of this technology (for example tolerance to drought) unless they purchase a special chemical from the seed producer, and spray the field each year. The seed will still produce grain without this chemical, but the farmers will lose an advantage other farmers have. The result is the same, they are pressured by seed producers.

An article from ABCNews.com makes it clear that the seed producers are very interested in this technology. They want to use it to ensure that they get back the money they spend on research and development. This is not new; we have heard the same justification from pharmaceutical companies before. The same article also says that the World Bank is opposed to these sterile seeds.

I think this creates some uncertainty or reasonable doubt. It seems a little silly to me to stubbornly assert that sterile seeds are not available, or that the seed-producers have promised not to use them. I think there is enough information available to suggest that the “conspiracy buffsmay not have as warped views of the world as many think. These sterile seeds may not be as common as some claim, but this is probably our future, even though you won’t see these stories in mainstream media yet. It’s not unlikely that this type of technology have been tested on selected farms in the United States, and possibly been forced on foreign countries. I’m curious about how Monsanto define commercialize in the following sentence:

Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops.”

Could it be that if for instance the US government applied heavy pressure on a foreign government to accept these seeds, it wouldn’t necessarily be regarded as a commercial food crops? I’m not saying this has happened, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if they used language the way Bill Clinton did in the Lewinsky case. His denial was based on an attempt to redefine what a sexual relation was. So if you redefine commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops, Monsanto might use these seeds on a large scale and still keep their promise. These people know the importance of accurate language, and they probably study linguistics just as much as the law.

advent stake
A stake with 7 candles is important in both the Christian and Jewish tradition. Religion is a mystery, unexplainable, but it seems to work.

Just as a curiosity. There are many who don’t understand how anyone these days can believe that God created us and that He sent a son to a family in Israel. They want proof. Meanwhile they can’t use scientific methods on their alternative. It makes sense to me to theorize about life evolving, but this is still just a theory. One of my favourite lines from Jurassic Park is relevant here:

“Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

In order to prove this you need to observe changes and perform experiments that others can repeat with the same results, anywhere in the world. That is hard when we are talking about very slow changes, possibly over millions of years. That would have been a scientific response to creationism. On the other hand, I don’t support Christians who attack the Darwinists with irony and sarcasm. That’s what you do when the intention is to hurt. Yet the idea that species are evolving as the environment evolves is not unreasonable, but as far as I understand the proof is weak, and that’s probably why many turn to bullying instead of science when the have to defend their view.

Incidentally, more and more scientists are talking about an intelligent designer. Personally I read science and discover God. With that, I wish everyone a good ending to the Advent (I wrote the Norwegian edition of this on 21.12.14 (Sunday).

Sources:

http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/terminator-seeds.aspx

http://www.viewingspace.com/genetics_culture/pages_genetics_culture/gc_w03/terminator_abc/terminator_seed.htm

http://nature.berkeley.edu/srr/Alliance/novartis/sterile.htm

http://www.nature.com/wcs/b50.html

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