Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #18 - Spring 2003

The only radical science magazine on Earth

Science in Society 18 cover


From the Editor
Rebelling scientists
ISP Special
Michael Meacher At Launch of Independent Science Panel / Scientists Rebelling with A Cause
SARS, Bio-terrorism & GM
Bio-Terrorism & SARS*
Death by DNA Shuffling*
SARS and Genetic Engineering?*
Globalising Chinese Medicine
Globalising Chinese Medicine*
'Miracle' Chinese Cancer Cure*
TCM in Contemporary China*
TCM & Contemporary Western Science*
Rethinking Health
Herbalert to the Rescue*
Organic Agriculture Helps Fight Cancer*
GM Debate Special
GM Science Review Fixed?
Royal Society Under Fire
Science Advisors Abusing Public Trust*
Science Advisors Abusing Science*
Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold*
Rethinking Ethics
Towards a Biospheric Ethic*
ISIS Review
Overriding Passion
Biosafety Alerts
Pharming Cytokines in Transgenic Crops*
Allergenic GM Papaya Scandal*
Transgenic Meat Scandal*
GM Microbes Invade North America*
Special Article
The Precautionary Principle is Science-based*
SiS Review
Biology of Least Action
Health Genomics?
Parliament Faults Medical Research Council & DNA BioBank
I-SIS Lecture
The Myth that Launched a Thousand Companies*

From the Editor

Rebelling scientists

Dozens of prominent scientists have staged a spectacular rebellion against the pro-GM establishment, and set up an Independent Science Panel (ISP) to conduct their own review on GM, having completely lost confidence in the official national review and public debate. They are fed up at being sidelined and suppressed, and anxious that the world should make the right choice between GM and sustainable agriculture.

The result of their deliberation, a handsomely produced draft report, The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World, was published electronically on the ISIS website to coincide with the official launch of the ISP, just ahead of the official UK GM public debate. The draft report was sent to the Philippines and submitted to the president in support of the hunger strike against the commercial approval of Bt maize, which has been in progress since April 22. The ISP launch was a great success. You can see some of the pictorial highlights on the back cover of this issue.

Promises and threats in globalising traditional medicines

The global market for herbal medicine is enormous and rapidly growing, and this has already led to unsustainable over-harvesting of wild resources in the Third World and North America, and adversely affecting people who depend on gathering wild herbs to supplement their income, not to mention those who depend on cheap and affordable traditional medicines for healthcare.

As China is joining the WTO, she is keen to capture a slice of the lucrative global market in herbal medicines, but this is creating a host of problems, and perhaps also opportunities. Will the need to standardise traditional medicines increase the cost so much that they will no longer be affordable for the ordinary Chinese people? Will over-exploitation of natural plants and animals increase the threat of extinctions, especially as Western-trained scientists are mining traditional herbs for 'miracle cures' for cancer and other diseases of rich nations and patenting them? Will the over-zealous attempt to modernise Chinese medicine destroy the very essence of traditional Chinese medicine? Or will something unique come out of the confrontation between eastern and western knowledge systems?

The Chinese tradition belongs with all holistic health traditions of many, if not all, indigenous communities, and China will be closely watched by the developing world. Read on to find out how China may find a solution.

SARS, bio-terrorism & GM

Panic over the SARS epidemic spread just as the world was in the frenzy of war over 'weapons of mass destruction'. Since September 11, 2001, governments have wanted to ban the publication of sensitive scientific research results, and a group of major life sciences editors and authors has recently agreed. There is even a suggestion that an international body should be set up to police research and publication. But the arrival of the SARS epidemic added even further confusion. The journal Nature called Mother Earth the "ultimate terrorist", while the New Scientist decries the fact that although the international community has weapons inspectors that can force entry into a country on the slightest hint that it is harbouring bioweapons, there is no equivalent body to take control, even though "the disease may be vastly more dangerous".

And in the weeks following the identification of SARS as a coronavirus, but unrelated to any previously known, and its sequence obtained, those who have been genetically engineering coronaviruses in the laboratory suddenly found themselves in the limelight, feted and wooed by biotech companies in search of new vaccines.

But still no one is asking if genetic engineering may have something to do with creating the virus. Read on, for some of the clues.

GM science war escalates

Britain's GM science war really escalated when environment minister Michael Meacher gave an exclusive interview to The Ecologist published in March 2003, saying that GM technology is not necessary to solve world hunger and could prove dangerous over the longer term, thereby putting his job on the line. I think it was that as much as anything else, which galvanised the scientists; it certainly did for me, sufficiently to initiate the Independent Science Panel.

We are not alone. Sir Tom Blundell, scientist appointed by the Prime Minister to chair the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1998, attacked the GM Science Review in a letter to Professor David King, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser heading the scientific review. Blundell sees "a real danger that their conclusion [to approve commercial growing of GM crops] will already have been cast - or at least the public would be justified in perceiving that to be the case."

But Blundell's views are obviously not shared by the Royal Society, which appears to be lending more than a helping hand to promote GM and suppress critics; nor the government's scientific advisory committees on GM, which have effectively given the green light to commercial growing of all GM crops, presumably including the terminator oilseed rape in the farm scale evaluations that spreads both male sterile suicide genes and herbicide tolerance.

Our government's science advisors have betrayed public trust, and have been caught playing fast and loose with scientific evidence.

Biosafety matters

Joe Cummins exposes the gaping holes in current biosafety regulations that led to GM microbes being released over the past six years in North America without public awareness; potentially allergenic papaya being approved; transgenic meat on people's dinner tables; and pharm crops containing cytokines that are known to suppress the immune system, induce sickness and central nervous system toxicity, as well as interferon alpha, which is reported to cause dementia, neurotoxicity and mood and cognitive side effects. Worse yet, there is a move to feed cytokines to chickens in place of antibiotics, and we may well end up with demented as well as poisonous chickens.

Rethinking health, biology, ethics, and more

As usual, SiS offers you a rich selection of stimulating mental foods to ward off the gloom and doom. David Bellamy on how herbs keep you healthy and Cummins on how organic food helps fight cancer for a start. Then, Edward Goldsmith, founding editor of The Ecologist and the world's foremost environmentalist, presents a thorough critique of generations of evolutionists from Thomas Huxley to Richard Dawkins, and persuades us to adopt a 'biospheric ethic'; Peter Saunders elaborates further on why the precautionary principle is science-based and Mae-Wan Ho punctures the scientific myth that launched a thousand companies and enthuses over the 'biology of least action'.

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