Scientists Quit UK Amid GM Attacks - Claims (21/10/2003)

Having failed with the public debate and been undermined by the findings of the Farm Scale Evaluations, the pro-GM lobby is desperately trying to win support via vague and dubious claims of intimidation for which no actual evidence has been produced.

It is, of course, particularly ironic that it is members of a pro-science network which has refused to condemn acts of terrorism (even opposing the peace process in Northern Ireland), and has acted as a public apologist for war crimes and even genocide, who are highlighting the dangers of GM crop protests (see item 1).

The two scientists, Leaver and Wilson, quoted in the third item below, both connect to Sense about Science. Leaver is a Trustee and Wilson is on its Advisory Council. Until a year ago Leaver also acted as a paid consultant to Syngenta - a fact he hasn't seemed keen to advertise.

1.Who are Sense about Science?
2.Report on Crop Vandalism in UK - Ellen Raphael & Tracey Brown
3.Scientists Quit UK Amid GM Attacks
1.Who are Sense about Science?

(This is adapted from the Ecologist article 'Strange Bedfellows'

Sense about Science was set up in the middle of 2002. Not all messages left on the Sense about Science answerphone seem to get returned. "I'm not very good at technology," Tracey Brown, Sense about Science's Director, told us when we finally spoke to her.

The phone number for Sense about Science is the same as that of a charity called Global Futures.

According to the Charity Commission, the official contact person for Global Futures is one Ellen Raphael, who until recently worked for a crisis and risk management PR company called Regester Larkin. Ex-Monsanto PR man, Harry Swan, was a colleague of Raphael's there. And Tracey Brown also used to work there, till shortly before becoming Director of Sense About Science.

Regester Larkin has a very focussed brief - it "helps" some of the world's largest companies deal with, in its own words, "an environment of unprecedented scepticism, risk aversion and lack of trust. compounded by a 24/7 media, the internet and sophisticated anti-business and anti-technology activism." Its client list includes the Bio-Industry Association, Aventis CropScience, Lilly, Pfizer and Bayer, ie some of the very corporations most likely to benefit if GM crop commercialisation gets the go-ahead.
Given Global Futures, shared telephone number with Sense about Science, we wanted to find out more about them.

According to the Charity Commission, Global Futures' has two trustees, Phil Mullan and Dr Michael Fitzpatrick. Both were once regular contributors to a magazine called Living Marxism (later LM). Mullan is also the registrant of the Spiked web-site, set up three years ago by Mick Hume, who headed the Revolutionary Communist Party. Hume is the ex-editor of Living Marxism and a regular columnist for The Times.

When we asked Brown about Global Futures, she described it as 'a publishing house'. Yet their website lists only one publication - by sociologist Frank Furedi. Furedi, under the alias Frank Richards, was the chief theoretician of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Sense about Science's Director, Tracey Brown, has worked with Furedi for a number of years and with Global Futures since its inception. They have also both worked with the Institute of Ideas (I of I), another organisation connected with Living Marxism and the RCP, and which was established by Claire Fox, LM's co-publisher.

The LM connections do not stop there. Another member of the Sense about Science Working Party on peer review is Tony Gilland, also an LM and Spiked contributor as well as the science and society director of the Institute of Ideas. Gilland organised I of I's weekend-long "Genes and Society Festival" in London this April. Held in association with Pfizer, it discussed issues such as cloning, eugenics and GM crops.

His standpoint on GM is clear. In an online debate Spiked ran for the Natural Environment Research Council, Gilland argued that the UK's GM "farm-scale trials are an unnecessary obstacle" to the introduction of a "beneficial and benign" technology. The debate itself was heavily loaded. Of the seven opinions Spiked commissioned, only one was from a GM-critical perspective.

Another member of the Working Party is Fiona Fox, head of the Science Media Centre and sister of Claire, LM,s former co-publisher and now head of the Institute of Ideas. Fiona Fox also contributed several articles to LM and has admitted to being "associated" with one in which the world's disgust at the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis was dismissed as an "emotional overreaction".

The Science Media Centre (SMC), although claiming to be "an independent venture" helping journalists get the facts right on science issues, admits on its web-site that funding comes from BP-Amoco, Dupont, Pfizer and Astra Zeneca, amongst others.

The SMC's roots lie in a Forum that drew up a stringent code as to how scientists and the media should report controversial issues in science. Sense about Science's Chairman Lord Taverne was among the Forum's members, as was David Boak of the Royal Society and Living Marxism-stalwart Dr Michael Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is also on the Board of Trustees of Sense about Science.

According to Sense about Science's Chairman, even organisations as mainstream as the National Consumer Council base their opposition to GM "on ideology". Lord Taverne considers Greenpeace our equivalent to America's religious right. Yet, ironically, he has aligned himself with members of a network whose ideological extremism is legendary. It takes in not just the denial of genocide in Rwanda, but support for the IRA, opposition to legal restraints on child pornography, the downplaying of Serbian war crimes, and support for human reproductive cloning.

Where Sense about Science is to be found so too, it seems, is the Royal Society. The Sense about Science Working Party is chaired by the Royal Society's former Vice President, Sir Brian Heap. The Society's Biological Secretary has been assigned to liaise with its Working Party on peer review and so too has its Senior Manager for Press and Public Relations.  And where does this Working Party meet? The Royal Society.
Report on Crop Vandalism in UK
- Contact Ellen Raphael  <[email protected]> for a copy of this report

A report on the preliminary findings of a survey on the vandalism of crop research across the UK between January 1999 and April 2003, carried out by 'Sense About Science' has been released. It is based on incidents of vandalism reported by institutes and contractors across the UK.

The findings suggest that:
1. Incidents of vandalism are lower than some people think, but dealing with the risk of vandalism is putting a very big strain on research institutes and contractors. These include problems with finding research partners and farmer volunteers, raised insurance premiums as protest is defined as a form of terrorism by insurance companies, and security measures that often cost more than the research work itself.

2. While there have been many attempts at vandalism of Field Scale Evaluations, these have had negligible impact due to the large scale of the FSEs and because the emphasis of the attacks has been on intimidation (damage to equipment and compromising farm worker safety) or gaining press coverage (superficial, field perimeter damage).

3. By contrast, the research institutes have borne the brunt of vandalism. The sabotage tactics adopted to challenge the FSEs seem to have made all kinds of field research a direct target of attack, and such attacks are profoundly more damaging to small plots for other kinds of research, accounting for over 90% of trial write offs since 1999.

Comment on the findings by Tracey Brown: "We conducted this survey to try to get the measure of how much vandalism is taking place. The actual numbers are smaller than some imagined, but the burden of trying to organise the research community to preempt and protect from vandalism is potentially disastrous. Isolated attacks breed a much wider fear of vandalism.

Because of these fears, institutes are faced with rising insurance premiums, expenditure on security, and losing research partners like farmers and funders, as well as the arbitrary loss of years of research when work is attacked.

Research sites cannot, and should not have to be, policed night and day and this is not just a question of law and order policy. As a society we need to support research more firmly and to be aware of how profoundly our (often publicly funded) research activity is affected by saboteurs conducting media and political stunts."
3.Scientists Quit UK Amid GM Attacks
Steve Farrar and Anna Fazackerley
The Times Higher Education Supplement, Oct.17, 2003
The cost of attacks against genetically modified-crop trials emerged this week as more British plant scientists left the country to pursue their work abroad unmolested. Institutes say attacks damage staff morale. Many researchers feel there is no future for them in the UK. The plant science department at the University of Cambridge is losing three scientists, two of them to Australia.

Mark Tester, head of plant science at the university, is moving to the Waite Institute, Adelaide, in search of a safer environment and better funding. He said: "Industry has left in droves and that reduces the options for researchers and students."

Twenty-eight incidents of vandalism targeted at basic plant research trials were reported between January 1999 and April 2003, according to preliminary findings conducted by the independent trust Sense About Science. These are in addition to 52 incidents reported against the government's field- scale evaluations programme, which tests the safety of GM crops.

Protesters trampled, cut and pulled up crops, according to reports gathered from the six basic research institutes and four contracting institutes that account for the bulk of UK field research. Basic research trials have proved particularly vulnerable. Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, said: "You can destroy a small-scale trial with a pair of garden shears." In 90 per cent of such cases, research was written off, including an investigation into crop drought resistance suited to sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the report found the number of attacks was declining - two instances so far this year - almost half said they had received threats. Chris Leaver, head of plant sciences at the University of Oxford, has been the victim of personal threats as a result of taking part in the GM debate. He has recently gone ex-directory to stop abusive telephone calls and faxes.

Michael Wilson, chief executive of Horticulture Research International, said the vilification of research in this area was grinding scientists down. He has received considerable abuse over the past five years, and had to call the bomb squad to his home on one occasion. "It is uncomfortable and probably a little cavalier to be as outspoken as I am. And what's the point? You do wonder if you are raising your blood pressure for no good at all," he said.

The survey found institute directors were becoming ambivalent about debating the issues in the media as they felt past attempts had made them targets.

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