Nuts, negligence and character assassination (29/11/2007)

Nuts, negligence and character assassination
- GM Watch

There's no better index of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of many GM promoters than the regularity with which they resort to the tactic of shooting the messenger. These kind of smears and personal attacks were once a staple of CS Prakash's AgBioView list, but more recently the strategy seems to be to post this kind of stuff onto blogs and websites and then recycle it across a series of pro-GM sites and listservs.

Here's a recent example from CS Prakash's 'GMO Food for Thought':

Members Discuss Credibility of Nature Biotechnology Article Author

Abstract: Members criticize the author of an article titled 'A different perspective on GM food,' David Shubert. The article appeared in Nature Biotechnology and was reposted by a blogger. One member commented that he appeared to be 'a nut' but since he has professional affiliation he is taken seriously.

The 'nut' referred to in this casual smear, for which no evidence of any kind is produced, is the head of the Cellular Neurobiology lab at the prestigious Salk Institute. He is also widely published in peer reviewed journals. And his professional work is on Alzheimer's disease - which involves altered protein metabolism, so he is an expert on aspects of metabolism relevant to possible risks from GM crops - something that could not be said of many (if any) of the 'agbiotech experts who take a keen interest in the latest news and events' that comprise the members of Prakash's AgBioWorld.

We asked a scientist who knows Dr Schubert what he made of the Prakash comment. He was less than impressed.

'I have had a lot of communication and collaboration with Dave for several years, and he is clearly not a nut! It is a pathetic commentary on Prakash's web site that he even posts such drivel. When people cannot produce convincing arguments, they often resort to character assassination.'

Schubert is far from alone in facing such attacks. Another Prakash posting reports that in the view of a 'member', the public needs to be warned that 'anti-biotech scientists starve their rats.' Prakash goes on:

'Another member said that he didn't think that the researcher intentionally starved the rats in question, but merely made the mistake of substituting too much test material into the rat's diet. The member did agree that the researcher was still negligent and cruel to the lab animals.'

The scientist under attack has published literally hundreds of similar nutritional studies in well regarded, and often world renowned, scientific journals, and has only ever faced accusations of negligence and cruelty in relation to the study he conducted that showed negative effects on rats from GM food. Needless to say, none of the 'agbiotech experts' who bandy about such accusations seem - at least, where they can be identified - to have any expertise in nutritional science.

Another focus of attack is the author Jeffrey Smith, whose most recent book dealt with scientific research suggesting safety concerns over GM foods. No sooner was it known that Smith had been invited to Australia in the run up to Brumby and Co's decisions on the GM moratoriums, than the personal attacks began. On Prakash's blog the following appeared:

Jeffrey Smith Coming to Australia

Abstract: One AgBioWorld member asked for other members to contributed (sic) information on Jeffrey Smith that can be distributed at a biotechnology debate in Australia that he is taking part in. Several members posted commentary on a blog post that appeared on Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News' Biotech Blog which refers to Jeffrey Smith's allegations that GM food is not safe.

This 'blog post' referred to Smith's spiritual beliefs, and this information was recycled on a whole series of pro-GM sites. Interestingly, an earlier attack along similar lines was launched by Shane Morris when Smith came to Ireland. Such attacks, in turn, are largely a recycling of an almost identical series of attacks deployed on AgBioView against the scientist John Fagan, which began when his GM detection company Genetic ID started turning up embarrassing evidence of GM contamination.

The attacks prompted Prof Joe Cummins to comment, 'Prof. John Fagan was an outstanding chemistry student at the University of Washington (I taught biology and genetics at that University at that time and was awestruck by his ability). He later was an outstanding graduate student at Cornell and a leading cancer researcher at The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. His religion and personal philosophy should not be an issue, indeed, the AgBioView report was simply hate literature.'

Another commentator took equal exception to this smoke screen of 'bigotry' that had nothing to do with science, drawing a contrasting parallel: 'the current head of the public effort to sequence the human genome, Dr. Francis Collins, is a 'born-again' fundamentalist Protestant given to both 'speaking in tongues' and the holding of a firm belief in miracles (the suspension of natural physical laws by a supernatural being)... Dr. Collins, however, is not publicly ridiculed... No attempt is made to conjure in the mind an image of Collins sweating profusely in a seersucker suit, waving a black-leather-covered Bible around (and periodically banging it sharply with his hand) while 'speaking in (truly unintelligible) tongues' (laba-luba--laba-laba-luba) in order to miraculously cure people of a myriad of diseases 'in the name of JEEESUS'.'

The attempts to undermine Smith's credibility continue. The most recent - and certainly the sneakiest - came from Shane Morris's former boss, Doug Powell, who joined in the 'Get Smith' chorus when reproducing on his Agnet listserv a letter from Smith in an Australian newspaper. See if you can spot which phrase did not originate with the Sydney Morning Herald:

AUSTRALIA: There's abundant evidence to warn people against GE crops


Sydney Morning Herald

Jeffrey M. Smith, Executive director Institute for Responsible Technology Iowa, and renowned yogic flyer, writes that...

Adopting a similar approach, one might perhaps describe Dr Powell as 'Douglas Powell, Director Food Safety Network Kansas, and renowned jail bird' - in view of the time he served in a US prison for causing death by criminal negligence - or perhaps that should be 'renowned abuser of women', given his guilty plea in Canada to a charge of assault on his then girlfriend, or how about 'renowned recipient of corporate largesse', given the $40,000 Monsanto spent helping him through college, not to mention the extensive industry funding that has flowed into the Food Safety Network since. http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=257

Such outrageous smears would, of course, lead only to charges that we were trying to distract from Dr Powell's 'renowned' scientific record. Funnily enough, Jeffrey Smith recently commented critically on Doug Powell's scientific research, but that's probably just a coincidence. (Company Research on Genetically Modified Foods is Rigged)

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