Science in Society Archive

Mae-Wan Ho Memorial, June 2017

Mae Wan by Tracy Hudson

Thursday 15th June:

Peter Saunders Emeritus professor of mathematics, King’s College London.
Epigenetics
Mae-Wan Ho was a pioneer of what she called the epigenetic approach to evolution, using epigenetic with its original meaning of the study of everything that happens between genotype and phenotype. Most of the current interest in epigenetics uses a narrower definition that involves only the genome. Such work has much to contribute to the study of biology in general and evolution in particular, but it is essentially limited because it still leaves the focus firmly on the gene rather than the organism.

Dick Vane-Wright Honorary Professor of Taxonomy, University of Kent, and Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum, London.
What animals do – and the third way of evolution
Over four decades Mae-Wan Ho was a persistent, courageous and outspoken critic of much of contemporary biological science, including the standard neo-darwinian “Modern Synthesis” theory of evolution. The Modern Synthesis is still dominant, but less so – not least due to the rising tide of criticisms and reformulations arising from physics, cell biology, physiology, developmental biology, niche construction theory and other approaches to understanding life and its processes, now conveniently brought together under the so-called Third Way of Evolution banner – which embraces many of her own contributions to the debate. Mae-Wan’s primary insights were derived from physics, cell biology, developmental biology and epigenetics – set within a holistic and anti-deterministic framework. This presentation will explore how many of the same insights can be identified from a holistic perspective that starts with the whole organism and its goal-directed behaviour.

Oliver Penrose Emeritus professor of mathematics, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
The Rainbow and the Worm.

Djuro Koruga Professor and head of department of Biomedical Engineering, European Centre for Peace and Development, the University of Peace, Belgrade.
Are the universe and the mind 5-dimensional phenomena?

Giuseppe Vitiello Professor at the Dipartimento di Fisica “E.R. Caiaiello”, University of Salerno and INFN, Salerno, Italy.
Towards a unified vision of natural phenomena Coherence plays a crucial role in the understanding of many physical systems: in elementary particle physics, condensed matter physics, cosmology and biological systems. It manifests itself in fractal structures, which are ubiquitous in nature. This leads us to a unified physical picture of natural phenomena. The vision of Nature split into separate domains is replaced by the vision of Nature unified by laws of form that are implied by coherence.

Roberto Germano CEO of PROMETE Srl_CNR Spin-off company, Naples, Italy.
Permanent Dissipative Structures in Water: The Matrix of Life? There is now clear evidence that various kinds of low energy physical perturbations can induce the spontaneous formation of dissipative structures in liquid water. It has recently been discovered that these structures are remarkably persistent even in the solid phase. Using easily reproducible experimental methods, we have observed large quantities of supramolecular aggregates of water. Are such structures the matrix of life itself?

Friday 16th June:

Malcolm Hooper Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Sunderland.
Travels with Mae-Wan
Mae-Wan’s commitment to the integrity of science and the need to engage with all the evidence made her aware of and concerned about, the corruption of science by vested interests particularly those of the major corporations, and the military-industrial complex. And also the effects of Government Policy and Agencies, the oversight by its scientific advisory committees which often involved biased/compromised ‘experts’ and/or incomplete ideological understandings of science and medicine. My presentation begins with Glyphosate- the major herbicide used in most current GM crops, moving to Gulf War Syndrome (vaccines) and organophosphate pesticides- including effects on Gulf War Veterans, and also sick farmers, shepherds (sheep dip) and cabin crews (pilots, stewards and some passengers) in commercial airlines and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I finish with a novel idea that challenges the current standard model of modern physics.

Susie Greaves Member of IndependentWHO, Sortir du Nucleaire and CRIIRAD (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité). Translator of The Crime of Chernobyl. The Nuclear Gulag by Wladimir Tchertkoff. From Chernobyl to Fukushima – A scientific artifice
Chernobyl and Fukushima were the worst industrial accidents in human history. By what scientific artifice, by what magician’s sleight of hand has the nuclear lobby persuaded the world that perhaps 50 deaths can be attributed to Chernobyl and one or two from Fukushima? Understanding the extent of the contamination, defining the groups who are exposed to radiation, and unpicking the “Hiroshima dogma” will help us to understand the cover-up that has been perpetrated by the West that has resulted in millions of people continuing to live in “the nuclear gulag”, consuming radionuclides morning, noon and night. We will pay homage to the brave scientists of the former USSR who rejected the nuclear lobby’s pseudo-science and undertook independent research to understand the new phenomenon presented by Chernobyl. Finally, we will consider Fukushima. In what ways is this a worse accident than Chernobyl? Will the Japanese benefit from the hard won lessons of the scientists and doctors from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia?

Chee Yoke Ling Director of Programmes, Third World Network, Malaysia, and Lim Li Ching Biosafety/Ecological Agriculture Coordinator, Third World Network, UK
Science in Policy Making: promoting ecological and social justice.
From genetic manipulation to climate change, policy making at the global and national levels require sound science that is free of conflict of interests. The continuing, even growing concentration, of corporate control over key sectors of our planet and society is a major threat as strong corporate influence on governments creates more and more "rights" for corporations. In that corporate drive science is compromised and even subverted. However, citizens and public interest scientists have also been forging alliances to protect the integrity of science, so that science nurtures the planet and humanity.

Gu Xiulin Professor of Agricultural Economics (retired), Beijing University of technology.
GMOs in China
Dream or Nightmare and Mae-Wan in China; GMO rice and maize in 2009; the Syngenta merger, 8 June 2017; the legitimate and the illegitimate.

Eva Srinathsinghji
The GMO pipeline – evolving biotechnologies but same old GM crops
The chief claim made for GMOs is that they increase yields by reducing the weed and pest burdens on crops. Yet the most widely grown GM crops, those resistant to glyphosate-resistant herbicides, now face an epidemic spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds, while the use of insect-resistant crops has brought about an increase in pesticide-resistant harmful insects. The promise that GMOs would feed a hungry world, increase farmers’ profits and yields, and reduce the chemical burden has not been kept. Many of the predicted biosafety concerns of GMOs have however materialised. In an attempt to maintain their profits, the GM industry is now stacking GM crops to produce varieties each resistant to several different herbicides, which will result in ever increasing chemical applications to such crops. New technologies based on the latest in genome editing are also being sold as revolutionary tools to generate crops that can tackle the very issues that the first generation of GMOs were originally claimed to have solved. Despite the advances in biotechnology tools such as CRISPR to manipulate the genome, the GM industry is still focused on generating traits such as herbicide tolerance. This demonstrates the limitations of genetic reductionism, how it is unable to improve complex traits that can improve agricultural outputs. These techniques are being sold as more precise and are being pushed past regulatory legislation for GMOs, avoiding risk assessment, tests for detectability, and labelling laws. Yet they have many of the same biosafety risks as first generation crops, and in some cases additional risks as well. The lack of scientific rationale for these technologies needs to be exposed, along with biosafety risks to avert the spread of crop products that will lead to further corporatisation of the food system, further erode food sovereignty movements, and expose people and the environment to entirely unnecessary and untested risky food products.

Martin Khor

Article first published 23/07/17


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