Amidst the escalating row over the prospect of GM potato trials in Ireland, a "gmoireland" blog has been launched to provide "a blow by blow commentary on the GM food debate in Ireland."
The new blog aims to provide a "commentary based on facts and not the spin of either the Pro-GMOers or Anti-GMOers..." This careful even-handedness receives repeated emphasis: "As the players come out swinging in the next coming weeks and months on the issue of GM crops/food in Ireland I will be providing commentary on the statements and spin issued on both sides of the debate!!!" And again, "Be warned the Anti-GMOesr [sic] and the PRO-GMOers.......... you are being watched!!!!"
Also emphasised is the blogger's expertise: "I will try to add some analysis and commentary in a little more depth than the media can..... I have a science degree, graduate research carried out on the public perceptions of GM food, published scientific papers on the topic of GM food, previosuly [sic] worked as regulator of biotechnology derived products in Canada , etc. etc. (yawn)".
The exact location of the blogger - Shane Morris, who also styles himself on his blog, "CelticLad" - is a little unclear. In a letter to the Irish paper, The Meath Chronicle, Morris gives his address as:
(GM crops have already lost their Irish virginity) http://www.gmfreeireland.org/news/index.php
But on his blog he talks about, "Sitting here in -15C cold in Ottawa" and waxes lyrical about Canada, "I love it here!!!...Canada is the best country in the world".
Unfortunately, Shane Morris's even-handedness has so far been limited to attacking critics of GM, particularly Canadian ones like Joe Cummins. And the character of those attacks seems somewhat less than even-handed. In the case of Prof Cummins, for instance, Shane Morris starts off by referring to "Prof. Joe Cummins (retired)" and his "so called 'risk assessment'", and then downgrading the professor emeritus thereafter in his blog to plain "Mr. Cummins".
And while Morris blithely claims that on an earlier occasion, "Chris Leaver from the University of Oxford" rejected "Cummins so called 'scientific' suggestions" as "pure fiction, and lies", he fails to make any mention of the fact that Leaver is a highly controversial figure within the GM debate with a long history of paid consultancy for the biotech industry.
Something Chris Leaver has in common with Shane Morris is a pretence to neutrality. Leaver told one journalist, for instance, that he was "not particularly pro or anti-GM". Leaver has also claimed to be paid out of public monies and "not by the GM companies" despite his nine years of paid consultancy by the industry.
The CelticLad's background could also do with a mite more detail. The graduate research carried out on the public perceptions of GM food that Shane Morris refers to in his blog, was overseen by Douglas Powell at the University of Guelph with whom Morris has also published papers on GM.
Powell has been called the "darling of the pro-biotech lobby and its chief attack dog" and has been accused of using his "regular appearances on the op-ed pages of the nation to denigrate anyone who criticizes the science or the regulatory framework around biotechnology".
In an article entitled Rude Science in the Manitoba Cooperator (58(46):4 21 June 2001), editor John Morriss reviewed Powell's performance as a science communicator, describing him as a "tenured Assistant Professor at a Canadian university" who at some point "morphed into a full-blown apologist for biotechnology, while still operating under his 'food safety' umbrella".
For Morriss, even more serious than Powell's role as a biotech apologist, is his "aggressive if not vicious attacks on other scientists who dare to challenge his views". Morriss gives the example of an "offensive attack on no less than the Royal Society of Canada and the members of the panel it appointed to review food biotechnology". That attack was co-authored by none other than our blogger, Shane Morris.
Powell has also been criticised for the character of the graduate education programme that Shane Morris was part of. A colleague of Powell's at the University of Guelph, Ann Clark, in a presentation sponsored by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, strongly criticised those like Powell who abused their role as educators for propaganda purposes. Clark showed through an analysis of a misleading article about Percy Schmeiser by one of Powell's students "that students are already mastering the art of doublespeak". Clark also said, "Those entrusted with graduate education frame the research questions and methods which solidify the values of the students they supervise. And what some are doing today under the umbrella of academic freedom is actually not far removed from the proclamations of Orwell's Ministry of Truth."
While studying under Powell at Guelph, Shane Morris was also very active within Powell's controversial "F
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