New Scientist: Researchers Should Join with Activists in Examining Food Biotech Regulation
In this week's edition of the New Scientist magazine, I have a commentary article on the UK controversy over genetically modified wheat and the lobbying efforts in the U.S. to label food containing GM ingredients. Below is an excerpt:
CONTROVERSY over genetically modified wheat is building to what seems likely to be confrontation in the UK on 27 May.
On that day, the anti-GM group Take Back the Flour has called for protesters to gather 30 minutes from London at the site of field trials, and to "decontaminate" the area by destroying the crop. Researchers involved with the trials have responded with an open letter and video appeal to the protesters, urging restraint.
But as this case and emerging food-biotech conflicts in the US show, an easy, communication-based fix is elusive. If scientists want to ensure they can do such research, they need to join activists in critically examining the system which governs this technology and its commercial use...
...The controversy over GM wheat and the US lobbying underscore the need for scientists to join activists in discussing weaknesses in our regulatory process and commercialisation regimes. Until these are addressed, no amount of smart communication is going to shift the conversation.
Rather than blaming public opposition for limiting scientific enquiry and assuming that communication can fix the problem, scientists should join activists in considering whether the policy arrangements that have long benefited their research are adequate for managing complex questions that transcend environmental and health risks.
In doing so, scientists and food activists are likely to gain a better understanding of each other, and to recognise common ground and points of compromise.
The pandemic reminds us that our higher education system, with all its flaws, remains a key part of our strategic reserve.
- America's higher education system is under great scrutiny as it adapts to a remote-learning world. These criticisms will only make higher ed more innovative.
- While there are flaws in the system and great challenges ahead, higher education has adapted quickly to allow students to continue learning. John Katzman, CEO of online learning organization Noodle Partners, believes this is cause for optimism not negativity.
- Universities are pillars of scientific research on the COVID-19 frontlines, they bring facts in times of uncertainty and fake news, and, in a bad economy, education is a personal floatation device.
Researchers present what they’ve learned now that they can read the tiny text inside the Antikythera mechanism.
Though it it seemed to be just a corroded lump of some sort when it was found in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece near Antikythera in 1900, in 1902 archaeologist Valerios Stais, looking at the gear embedded in it, guessed that what we now call the “Antikythera mechanism" was some kind of astronomy-based clock. He was in the minority—most agreed that something so sophisticated must have entered the wreck long after its other 2,000-year-old artifacts. Nothing like it was believed to have existed until 1,500 years later.
The institutional barriers that have often held creative teaching back are being knocked down by the coronavirus era.
- Long-held structures in the education system, like classroom confines and schedules, have held back innovation for a long time, says education leader Richard Culatta.
- In the coronavirus era, we have been able to shake some of those rigid structures loose, making way for creativity and, ultimately, a more open mindset.
- When creativity and technology combine, learning can become so much more than delivering content to a student. Culatta gives two stunning examples: one of a biotech class, and another involving a student discovering a star.
We'd like to think that judging people's worth based on the shape of their head is a practice that's behind us.
'Phrenology' has an old-fashioned ring to it. It sounds like it belongs in a history book, filed somewhere between bloodletting and velocipedes.
Maybe you've been wondering if you're seeing one persistent squirrel or a rotating cast of characters.