I received what at first glance looked like an innocent-looking email from somebody I think is doing a pretty good job in deconstructing the appalling media treatment of science and technology :-
“Jo, Could you edit your comment down this morning so it’s significantly shorter? […] If you’re not up for shrinking it, I’ll shorten it myself this afternoon, and I probably won’t do as good a job in relation to what you are trying to get across. Thanks, […]”
Unfortunately, I do not like being warned that my comments will be edited, and possibly become less clear than the way I originally wrote them. I particularly don’t like the implication that my argument could become corrupted by somebody else editing my ideas.
My summary : open debate is being stifled.
To protest, I removed my entire comment.
Here are my original comments in full :-
I have to ask the question – what kind of a geek is Mark Henderson ? A former science editor of The Times, maybe, but what is his personal geek rating in science, technology and engineering ? He admits he doesn’t have a science degree, so how can he speak on behalf of science geeks ?
I listened to his interview with The Guardian’s Martin Robbins and all I picked up was static – I didn’t hear him talk about real science or real technology. However, he was careful to put in the “good box” what I call the “Mark Lynas dud duo” – the two technologies that it seems most people object to – nuclear power and GM crops. He therefore gets a first propaganda strike from me.
If I’m not mistaken, he does not have a science or research background himself, so he is unable to determine that his claim that the UEA scientists had a “culture of non-disclosure” was a myth, generated by the climate change denial echo chamber.
There were, and continue to be, reasons why researchers are not permitted to publish certain information, including the fact that data may come from other research units who cannot give authority to publish data for a variety of reasons – for example, data obtained by a country’s military services.
What this myth glosses over is the truth – there have been several decades of work by the scientific community themselves to make data collection and databases more transparent and available. Climate change scientists have in particular been working across the international borders to attempt to link data sources in a coherent way to substantiate global reporting. They’re not hiding data, they are actively working together to liberate it. Henderson needs to research this apparently glib assertion, made apparently without checking the facts. He therefore gets a second propaganda strike from me for this.
I am not surprised that Henderson aims for the jugular of the “green movement” as you report. This is a common easy target – this straw man. There is no such thing as a coherent “green movement” who have uniform beliefs and common exposure to science and research. Strike three.
It is true that there are some people who consider themselves green environmentalists who have a deep-seated distaste for nuclear power and GM crops, but who have only the barest acquaintance with the scientific knowledge of atomic energy engineering or biotechnology.
However there are a good number of very well-educated scientists who are against the exploitation of nuclear fission for energy and genetically modified plants for food and energy. The reasons that scientists oppose nuclear energy and biotechnology may not always be the same reasons that so-called environmentalists oppose atomic power and GM crops, but that doesn’t mean that the environmentalists have unfounded concerns. It is simply a category error to say that all those who oppose nuclear power and GM crops are being unscientific, or are not scientists. Strike four.
It is also a category error to equate non-governmental organisations “NGOs” with “environmentalists”, or attempt to claim the high intellectual ground as a “geek” in support of nuclear power and GM crops. Strike five and six.
The most deceptive category error of all is to claim that nuclear power and biotechnology are “science”. They are not. They are “technologies” – and technologies can go wrong – as nuclear power has spectacularly done. Strike seven.
Dick Taverne seems to have been confusing “technology” with “science” for some time now, with his group “vaingloriously” (?) named “Sense about Science”. Does he really believe that only people that think like he does are showing any sense about science ?
What happens when countries are persuaded to permit GM crop technologies, and they are universally grown – and the science actually begins, and 20 or 25 years later scientific research shows that there are significant problems ? Will we be able to say, it’s all OK, GM crops are scientific, so they must be fine, even though they cause major problems ?
Mark Henderson therefore gets seven counts of propaganda against him in my view. I therefore would humbly suggest – in the terms of Simon Singh – that his position is “bogus”.
You quote Alice Bell saying about the “tension at the heart of green NGOs” – “Too quick to reject science (GMOs) whilst, at the same time, too keen to claim scientists know the incontrovertible truth when it suits their campaigns (climate change).”
There are multiple problems with her statement from my point of view. First of all, people in “green NGOs” are not necessarily untrained in science and technology, as is hinted at by her construction.
Second, “green NGOs” are not “too quick to reject” nuclear power and GM crops – they have been rejecting the social, economic, investment and environmental risks of nuclear power and GM crops for many years.
Her implication is that there is a kneejerk, ideological response against these technologies, whereas, in fact, the “green NGOs” are often raising scientific research as the basis of their aversion to these technologies.
Third, she is surprised that “green NGOs” accept climate change science. She doesn’t seem to realise that “green NGOs” are basing their position on climate change on science in exactly the same way that they are basing their position on nuclear power and GM crops on science.
What would perhaps make her head spin is to find out that a number of “green NGOs” are against some of the proposed technological “solutions” for climate change – including Carbon Capture and Storage (too uncertain, too expensive, too fuel-hungry, not answering coal pollution in general).
She would perhaps look at the opening of the recent CCS research station in Mongstad in Norway, and believe that CCS is a valuable technology because people are doing engineering experiments for CCS. She will then perhaps be ready to accept that CCS is a science, and therefore a good thing. She will have been spun.
How many times do we need to unpack the public relations surrounding a technology to demonstrate that not all technologies are useful, not all technologies are good, and that not all technologies have been subjected to sufficient scientific research before being launched ?
I tweeted a little :-
@alicebell I have been somewhat chiding towards you here in comments https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Please do disagree if you wish
@markgfh I have been somewhat uncomplimentary towards you here in comments : https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to dispute my position
@SLSingh I have appropriated a term of yours here in comments https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to utter witheringness
@carbonbrief I am somewhat churlish in comments under Robin Webster’s piece here : https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to castigate/moderate
@senseaboutsci I am somewhat less that congratulatory about Dick Taverne here in comments : https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Please do contradict me
I wonder if @mark_lynas will ever notice my coinage here in comments ? https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Or feel stung enough to blat one back ?
@mjrobbins I complained about your Mark Henderson interview here in comments : https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Wondering if you sense my drift
Replies from Martin Robbins :-
@joabbess I’m a pragmatist: my view is that opposing nuclear power or GM aren’t coherent positions, so I’m much more in the Lynas camp.
@joabbess I’d say more broadly that Mark has an extremely expert understanding of policy issues, which many greens are naive about, hence
@joabbess support for e.g. nukes isn’t an implication that they’re necessarily perfect, but an understanding that the alternative was coal.
My replies to Martin Robbins :-
@mjrobbins Hmm. I do not see opposition to nuclear power as incoherent. As an industry, it’s opposing itself quite coherently, without help.
@mjrobbins Throughout development of GM crops and GMOs there have been spectacular failings – again – an industry that’s bad for itself.
@mjrobbins To my mind pretty logical, coherent & pragmatic 2 B opposed to the waste of public funds on new nuclear power – subsidy essential
@mjrobbins Who told U (& Y did U believe) “alternative [to nuclear power] was coal” ? Bypass for both is solar, wind power & Renewable Gas
@mjrobbins I would say many “greens” quite clued up about policy – particularly its failings. Despite Climate Change Act, no big picture
@mjrobbins Unlike Mark Lynas, I am not an environmentalist. Am physicist, engineer, computer programmer & now climate change degree. Geek ?
@mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too, which is why I say we should not fritter away our time on unproven technologies with 20 year timeframes
@mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too, which is why I say we should avoid locking ourselves into nuclear power with decommissioning “long tails”
@mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too which is why I say we should avoid locking energy systems into coal, oil & fossil gas supply/cost volatility
A reply from Simon Singh :-
@joabbess Use bogus, but no need to use my name. IMHO yr 1st para is wrong. As Times science correspondent for a decade, Mark is qualified.
My replies to Simon Singh :-
@SLSingh I question Mark Henderson’s conceptual framework : his approach to science, scientists & technologies, despite his media experience
@SLSingh Apologies if using your name as reference offended you. I felt justified in using word as you had fought successfully to use it.
I complained to Carbon Brief :-
Just received email “Would you mind awfully editing your comments? If not, we’ll do it for you, and it may not read the same as you want it”
& who is it demanding I edit my comments or that they will be edited for me, perhaps losing their meaning? @carbonbrief https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief Your email reads like “…if you don’t edit your comment, we’ll do it for you”, so I had to delete it https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief You are clearly seriously interested in open debate – demanding me to edit my comment https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief Although you hold the ultimate right to moderate comments, you do not have the right to edit my ideas https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief I consider your project a failure because you are not open to free debate https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief This is how to stifle dissent, send an email asking if I wouldn’t mind cutting down my comment length, or allowing you to do it
@carbonbrief It is not reasonable to demand that somebody edits their comments, when the only other option is that you will do it for them
@carbonbrief When you open up the floor to debate on science and technology, be aware that engineers have mature opinions about reality
@carbonbrief I will not contribute to your project if you demand that unless I edit my ideas, you will do it for me https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief If you want an open debate about science and technology, you need to be prepared for some people to have well-developed ideas
@carbonbrief If you’re editing me how many other people are you editing? Are they as unhappy as I am with this demand? https://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto
@carbonbrief In meantime you can always call me & apologise for offering to adjust my views in comment I left on your website. Censorial!
@chr1stianh So, how do you explain sending me an email offering to edit my remarks to a state of confusion unless I edit them myself ?
Now it appears that there is a “launch” for Mark Henderson’s book “Geek Manifesto”. Simon Singh tweeted :-
Send Geek Manifesto by @markgfh to every MP https://bit.ly/Jr9pf5 pledge page
https://geekmanifesto.wordpress.com/ RT @kriswager: At #6wsc12 you wore a geek badge & you referred to a book – what was the title?
I replied :-
@SLSingh No I won’t pledge to send a copy of @markgfh Geek Manifesto to every MP. I think his intellectual framework is based on falsehoods
Carbon Brief tweeted :-
The revolt of the Geeks – a book review https://bit.ly/JCqnoH #geekmanifesto
And why is this discussion so relevant ? Well, the organisation “Sense” about Science, that Simon Singh is a part of, has been pushing the protection of an open field trial of GM wheat.
They’re currently taking the pouty-pouty flouncy approach over an alleged break-in by a “protester” who may have damaged the plants.
It’s science, right, so we must protect it ? Or is is just technology, and the science says that we should be highly cautious in deploying biotechnology ?
It’s too easy to get people to cluster around a bad idea.
Simon Singh tweeted :-
Depressing RT @BBCBreaking: GM wheat trial has been vandalised causing “significant” damage to crops https://bbc.in/JfHASc #Rothamsted
I replied :-
@SLSingh Unless there is proper discourse in public arena about biotechnology & who pays for research & why, it will continue to be opposed
Other Tweets :-
Breaking – #Rothamsted GM wheat trial to go ahead despite break-in yesterday as experiment was not significantly disrupted
Attack on Rothamstead: Man arrested after break-in at GM wheat trial site https://tgr.ph/JJWTY2
Breaking – a 50-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage after being arrested at #Rothamsted site yesterday, police confirm
Panic over-the wheat is fine and the intruder has been arrested. Take note protesters:it’s illegal https://bit.ly/Krsbwk #dontdestroyresearch
GM crop trial latest: Police confirm 50-year-old man in custody after being arrested on suspicion of criminal damage https://tgr.ph/Jv4FyG
@senseaboutsci Assuming the GM wheat trial is a success how will it be commercialised? Will the UK tax payer benefit? #dontdestroyresearch
We’ll answer this question in Q&A w @Rothamsted & @TheSainsburyLab today 4:30 https://bit.ly/KuGcJS #dontdestroyresearch Send us your Qs now!
Check that moronic TtFB comment in last paragraph “Man arrested after break-in at GM wheat trial site” via @Telegraph https://soc.li/S1cxKzL
“A spokesman for Take The Flour Back said: “We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced.””
‘Vandalism’ of UK GM wheat trial – man charged https://bbc.in/Ma8zAq
‘Vandalism’ of UK GM wheat trial – man charged @BBSRC statement on damage @Rothamsted – https://bit.ly/JJsgA9 from @dbkell
My new take on Rothamsted break-in: trial to continue despite alleged vandalism https://tinyurl.com/7jbt4xg
The Rothamsted research station has been playing public relations too :-
An intruder attempted to break into our trial on Sunday. They caused damage but failed to disrupt the experiment https://bit.ly/Krsbwk
I commented :-
@Rothamsted Seriously, what do you expect when people are aggrieved by your apparently careless approach to gene management ?
@Rothamsted Technologies are not always useful & science not always good. The world learned much through Nazi medical experimentation but…
@Rothamsted Sorry, but I don’t believe you. Even if I read of a drone flying over test site spraying Ready Roundup, I shall not believe it
The main BBSRC body also got in on the act :-
BBSRC statement on damage to @Rothamsted Research #GM field trial https://ht.ly/b2rHm
My response :-
And so the shiny public relations begin “@BBSRC statement on damage to @Rothamsted Research #GM field trial https://ht.ly/b2rHm” @BBSRC
Leo Hickman was dubious of the inflation of the Rothamsted break-in story :-
“GM protestor charged” is now second lead story on BBC News website https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18140957 >>Interesting, but slightly OTT?
I replied :-
@leohickman Of course it’s over the top – the fluffing up of this event, whatever it really was, is designed to support cause of GM science
@leohickman We’re scientists and we’re peeved because somebody smashed our test tubes. You’ve got to love us. We want to sell you GM wheat
Let’s just remind ourselves of the general context of GM crop commercialisation :-
And let’s just remind ourselves of the general context of nuclear power too :-
More on nuclear costs from Reuters. https://reut.rs/KBW12N
StarTelegram: #Omaha #nuclear plant is “appalling indictment of a culture of open disregard for safety recommendations” https://bit.ly/KiMG3Q
Anybody who adopts the “environmentalists are stupid” and “nuclear fuel and waste radioactivity isn’t that bad” line of reasoning, such as George Monbiot, and seemingly Mark Lynas and Mark Henderson, are in effect supporting sub-standard industry regulations, and are leaving the door wide open to further, possibly much more serous, nuclear power accidents.
And anyone who uses the position “environmentalists are stupid” to support the development of genetically modified crops, trees and other bioenergy plants, has really not thought through the problems that could be caused by genetic contamination of the world’s major crops, and the possiblity that food speculation and carbon credit trading could trigger mass land grabs in Africa and Asia by those who own the GM energy and food crops, making conditions so much worse for the world’s poor.
GM crops may be sold to us as solving pest problems by using less fertilised, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, or being climate change and drought tolerant, to help feed the world, but in all likelihood, GM crops will be used to dominate agricultural profits by continued use of high levels of agrochemicals, and dominate the food markets by those who own the genomes.