Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ready, Set, Fling ALL THE (BAD ARGUMENTS) !!!!

Recently, there was an infographic going around on Facebook with the purpose of warning us of the evils of genetically modified organisms. I confess to have been rather amused by the subtle grim reaper in the background. Scientific publications should take a queue from this meme producer.

Here's my take on how these arguments hold up:
  1. Seems to be an okay argument. If the soil is heavily contaminated with pesticides, only GMO seeds will survive the soil conditions, and farmers will be forced to switch to a new plot of land (or find a way to remove the soil contaminant). Glyphosate, an enzyme inhibitor, breaks down in the environment and has a half-life of 3 to 130 days; 75%-99.99% will be removed in just over a years time, 97%-99.99999999% (or so) in about two years.
  2. Okay argument, but see #1 re: half-life of glyphosate. (if this were entirely true, I don't think I would need to spray for weeds every year).
  3. True... _BUT_: Mono-cropping has been used in traditional agricultural for hundreds of years. That doesn't make it a good practice, it just doesn't make it exclusively true for GMO agriculture.
  4. Weak. As I understand it, Monsanto is not using this technology (currently? or are they?). However, if they did, terminator seed makes a genetic sequence inherently unfit. Nature will select against it. So the effects wouldn't last and it certainly won't wipe a species of crop off the planet (although, admittedly, this position is not specifically taken by Rawforbeaty's grim-reaper-backed info-graphic).
  5. Weak / misguided. Again this is an entirely different problem and is not unique to GMO crops.

Will I be eating GMO crops? Probably not, I'd prefer the tried and true food source with which our bodies have evolved through the years. Would I eat it if the choice were between cheap GMO food and starvation? You bet. Does cheap food lead to over-population and other problems? It seems to be the case.

Could bad things come from this? It's possible. But the same could be said for the Internet, the Television, the Radio, the Automobile, the Antibiotic, the Vaccine....

Does that mean it's an intelligent thing to do, to sling any haphazard argument that can be produced against it?

Ignorance is Strength?

Growing impatient with ignorant absolute disdain for scientific medicine, so the following rant is my coping mechanism:

Human's screw up everything through science?

In a time, long long ago (long before Monsanto came around and destroyed all the planet), some human cell screwed up while copying DNA and changed a genetic sequence. The so-affected sequence contained the blueprint for producing a rather-necessary digestive enzyme; for short, we'll call it "very long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase". Lucky for the offspring, he happened to receive two copies of this blue-print (redundancy is king!), so his body was still able to make the functioning enzyme. He lived a happy, normal life, and passed the faulty recessive trait on to his offspring. After a while, the recessive trait made its rounds until it started happening that both parents contained the recessive trait. For some reason, said parent's children would die shortly after birth with a 1/4 chance. Clueless as to what caused the death, 3/4 children would turn out fine and continue to propagate the gene.

Fast-forward to the near present. Meet my nephew: born into this world to WONDERFUL parents that both happen to carry the recessive genetic trait. My nephew is awesome! I love this little guy. He got two copies of the recessive trait and has a genetic disease known as VLCAD.

Thanks to advances in scientific medicine, medical screening promptly detected the disease and medical intervention saved his life. Thanks to understanding of the condition, he will live a healthy life! This is so awesome, because, like I said, my little nephew is a REALLY COOL KID. Thanks to advances in scientific medicine, we can all be screened for this recessive trait and know the chances of our children being born with a genetic disease. This is REALLY COOL!

If you think nature is so good at everything, and that we should stop medling with nature, let me introduce you to an idea: NATURE KILLS BABIES [1]. Nature applies natural selection MERCILESSLY AND WITHOUT FEELING. Nature is the means through which future generations are blessed by the fact that the "unfit for survival" did not survive.

Application of science is not perfect? Sometimes it goes awry and people die? Application of science does harm, from time to time? Profit motives cause people to make compromises that are less than optimal? Sure, it happens occasionally. Can it be better? Yes. Nature still kills babies, and medical science is getting in its way more than ever before.

My plea is that we set down our weapons of sweeping generalizations, putting forth any argument not because they are sound but because they support a position we've adopted by studying the facts presented by one heavily biased view.

Since somebody's believer is another's cynic, it seems like a good idea to tread with skepticism any time you see a perfectly constructed, dichotic exaltation/demonization of the sides of a given issue; at least until you have tried to argue the pros and cons of both sides.

[1] Certain situations only. (that's called honesty!)