upd Dysfunctional science -To wards a "pseudoscientfic world order"? crisisofsci3

                    

Editorial

Dysfunctional science

Towards a "pseudoscientfic world order"?


Science has a high status in society. Its purpose is to develop knowledge which may help us understand life and improve the conditions of life on earth. Scientists in their role as advisors, are assumed to be objective, impartially and critically helping society to judge what is true and valuable.

But soon this may no longer be true, unless governments take firm action to ensure that scientists can be relied on, not the least in safety issues.


Dependence on the industry

In the last few decades changes have occurred that are precipitating a serious crisis in science. A major reason for this crisis is that research has become increasingly expensive and consequently it has become more and more difficult for the state to finance it. As a result research, even in the universities, is increasingly being funded by industry .

Warnings from scientists that this may corrupt science have essentially been ignored.


An example of flawed science : Global acceptance of a useless principle for food safety assessment

A drastic example of how seriously flawed scientists may become is illustrated by the decision to accept the principle of "Substantial Equivalence" for the assessment of the safety of Genetically Engineered foods. In brief, the principle means that if a genetically engineered food appears to be similar to its natural counterpart it can be assumed to be as safe as the natural variety.

The concept of "Substantial equivalence" was invented by lawyers working for the Biotech industry with the openly declared purpose of facilitating rapid approval of GE foods in the US. It has no tenable scientific basis, as explained in the document "Inadequate safety assessment of GE foods". In spite of its obvious lack of scientific backing it was officially supported by scientific expert committees for food safety appointed by the United Nation organ FAO, as well as by the European Union (EU) and the United States. Governments consequently adopted it and integrated it into their laws for regulating GE foods.

"Substantially equivalent" foods were allowed by law to be put onto the market without any thorough testing of their safety, although it has been established in the laboratory that GE may induce the appearance of unexpected and potentially harmful substances (see "The safety of GE foods").

The consequence is that millions of people all over the world are now being exposed to GE foods that have not been tested sufficiently to ensure their safety.


Opposition suppressed

Scientists who openly questioned this practice have been ridiculed or seriously harassed, the most famous example being the case of Arpad Pusztai, a leading world food safety expert who was suspended and later fired in a humiliating and dishonest way (as it was revealed later) when he publicly said he would not eat GE foods because of the insufficient testing (see " World renowned scientist lost his job when he warned about GE foods"). At a recent conference on GE food safety he was attacked during sessions and was denied almost any opportunity to respond, see Report from the OECD/Edinburgh Conference.

Many scientists who are critical to the use of genetic engineering on foods have not dared to express their opinion, fearing that it may threaten their job, their career opportunities, their possibilities of obtaining research grants or their possibilities of getting their research published. They know that the same experts who sit in the governmental expert committees may sit in the committees of research funds and international journals. And these experts may have a decisive influence on their career possibilities.

Here is a concrete example from a recent study:

A survey on attitudes toward biotechnology among Cornell University agricultural and nutrition-science faculty and extension staff (who advise farmers) found that nearly half have reservations about the health, safety, and environmental impacts of GM crops and doubt they are the answer to global hunger. Only 37% were strong biotech supporters, while 8% thought agricultural biotech might have useful applications and help alleviate global hunger, but were concerned about food safety and inadequate testing.

Though in the minority, the biotech promoters said they felt very comfortable voicing their views in public, in contrast to the concerned majority of scientists that avoided doing so.

Source: "Independent Scientists An Endangered Species". ISIS Report, September 4, 2001.

In practice, because of the hierarchal power-concentration which has developed in the internationalised scientific society, a few top people are in a position to effectively influence the behavior of large numbers of scientists in important issues. Ensuring the cooperation of such influential "opinionmakers" and powerholders is, according to bussiness experts, part of normal long term "marketing strategy". Especially important for the corporations is to infiltrate the bodies that decide global policies, like FAO, WHO, etc.

Addition 2011

A flagrant case exemplifying this infiltration is that of professor Anders Ahlbom, who was the world's most influential scientist regarding the safety of electromagnetic radiation. He was the chairman of WHO's scientific committee (the IARC expert group on radiation safety) for setting the global safety guidelines. In May 2011 it was discovered that he owned a mobile phone lobbying company, and consequently he was dismissed from WHO, see "Conflict of interest at the wHO". He was notorious for consistently denying or downplaying any indications of hazards with mobile phone radiation and this set the policy of WHO that has long been denying any hazards from mobile phones. It is highly unlikely that Ahlbom is the only one who is corrupt in this committee, because if there had been a majority of responsible and independent scientists in the committee, he would not have been able to carry through this agenda.

Means that have been used for achieving "constructive cooperation" are for example generous research grants, consultancy fees of large size and support of patent development (several molecular biologists have become millionaires from patents).

Addition 2011

We have received indications that Corporations use a kind of "money laundering" for bribing scientists. There are wealthy research funds that are entirely financed and controlled by them although formally independent. The extremely well-paid scientists in their boards are covertly corrupt, obeying the orders of the corporations. Scientists favored by the corporations are encouraged to seek grants from these funds in apparent "competition" with other scientists. But in reality the money is earmarked for these favored scientists on the condition that they promote the interests of the corporation.


Transformation into a totalitarian "pseudo scientific" world order?

What we are witnessing in the present rush to legitimise food biotechnology is very similar to the decision processes in a totalitarian state where those in power decide what is the "official truth" and suppress the opposition.

This situation has arisen as a result of the enormous financial strength and political influence of TNC: s. There are reasons to believe that these companies misuse their power to force governments to act in accord with their desires, a/o by using the compelling argument that they may otherwise move the job opportunities they provide to other countries. In many, if not all, countries it is easy to buy key politicians or even whole governments. During recent years corruption by multinationals has been increasing greatly according to a recent report (see footnote 1) . The rules of WTO also favor the interests of TNC:s, see for example Corporate Rights vs. Human Need . For an explanation of the mechanics of the behavior of multinationals, see Corporate behavior.

This threatens to lead to a situation where the application of new technologies is not dictated by responsible considerations about their safety and usefulness for mankind. Instead the needs and interests of the TNC:s can dictate what products should be launched. This is especially serious as the world ecological situation is so unstable and disturbed that most environmental experts agree that greatest precaution has to be applied at the release of any new product that may further contribute to deterioration, see The Precautionary approach to the safety of new products and Scientists Say Future is in the Balance

The successful launch of genetically engineered foods with the aid of a useless safety assessment principle endorsed by leading scientists in national and international expert committees is a very serious warning signal. It indicates that we may already be well on the way towards a "new pseudo-scientific world order" where the short term interests of powerful industrial corporations override global long term ecological and health safety considerations.

- Scientists in this scenario are degraded to voluntary or involuntary hostages exploited to provide pseudo-scientific legitimacy to products of the corporations without due consideration of safety.


"The problem is that research at public institutions increasingly reflects the interests of private funders at the expense of public good research, such as biological control, organic production systems and general agroecological techniques. Civil society must demand a response of who the university and other public organizations are to serve..."

Miguel A. Altieri, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Division of Insect Biology, University of California


Listen to facts instead of experts

The tradition of governements to let scientific experts decide what is proper and true has contributed importantly to the situation in the GE food case. Here, the opinons of experts about substantial equivalence were uncritically accepted by governments and international organizations like FAO without any requirements for scientific rigor.

Obviously this practice has to be abandoned. Completely new routines need to be developed that ensure impartial and full interdisciplinary evaluation of the safety of new products and technologies.

Basically, it is necessary to establish routines that ensure thorough and impartial evaluation of facts. To achieve this, completely transparent, public and open investigations should be held, see "A suggested procedure for ensuring impartial and reliable safety assessment of commercial applications of science". No room should be left to the personal and not always reliable opinion of experts to influence the evaluation or subsequent governmental decisions. To ensure impartiality and freedom from industrial and governmental influences, the evaluations should be made by independent non-governmental scientist organziations.

It was because of this insight that our organization PSRAST was created (see About us ). Its purpose is to be an independent interdisciplinary body of scientists for critical and impartial assessment of new technologies.

"Evaluation of global concerns, particularly in public health and environmental integrity, should not be entrusted to a non-transparent and unaccountable cabal of self-appointed experts, such as the proposed NAS1-modeled IAC2, whose views may reflect special interests rather than the public. Instead, highly qualified independent scientists acceptable to or working with non-governmental organizations (NGO's) should play a major role in an international science advisory body, such as the recently proposed World Academy of Science in Society or the Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PRAST)".

Excerpt from a letter to the Editor of Science (in manuscript) by Samuel Epstein, M.D. and Mae-Wan, Ho Ph.D.
__________________________________________________________
1) NAS = US National Academy of Sciences.
2) IAC = International Academy Council


It is ironic that extremely rich companies threatening the ecology of the world and endangering the health of mankind, are supported by governments and have unlimited access to media and effective lobbyists, while the independent defenders of the safety of the world often are poor, without any governmental support and with little media access, therefore having difficulties to make their message heard properly. There is a great need for a thorough reorientation of governmental policies in this respect.


Conclusion

It is time for the governments in the world to realize that scientific experts cannot be expected o be independent and reliable advisors in safety issues considering the increasing dependence of science on financial support from the industry. In the case of food biotechnology we have already witnessed the first signs of a "pseudo-scientific world order" where the interests of the industry seem to have dictated what products mankind and the environment may be exposed to.

Considering the global ecological crisis and the present ability of science to develop technologies with potentially profound and powerful global impacts (like biotechnology), a continuing release of new products without thorough and impartial scrutiny may seriously threaten the global ecology and the health of mankind.

Therefore the present governmental tradition of asking the opinon of selected scientific experts, without any demands for scientific rigor and transparency must be replaced by routines that ensure completely independent, impartial, scientifically rigorous and transparent examination of all facts pertinent to safety.

Carefully established facts and not personal opinions of selected scientists have to be the basis for decisions in safety matters.

Jaan Suurküla MD

Published March 14, 2000.
Last updated on Sept 19, 2013


Footnotes

1.

a) "Corruption has been going up geometrically over the past 10 years" according to Raghavan Srinivasan, World Bank chief procurement adviser. Major actors are multinational companies according to comprehensive report from Corner House. See "Exporting Corruption. Privatisation, Multinationals and Bribery".

b) "The scale of bribe-paying by international corporations in the developing countries of the world is massive. Actions by the majority of governments of the leading industrial countries to curb international corruption are modest. The results include growing poverty in poor countries, persistent undermining of the institutions of democracy, and mounting distortions in fair international commerce."
Peter Eigen, Chairman, Transparency International
Source: The Transparency International Bribe Payers Survey (pdf-file).

For more, see also "A short course in international bussiness ethics" (Google book).

Back to footnote link


Related articles:

  • New! Suppression of the truth about GMO hazards. By best-selling authro Geoffrey Smith. Revealing details about persecution of scientists who dared to tell the truth about the hazards with GMO food.

  • New! "Corporate Monopoly of Science" (2009). "Corporations are aiming for an absolute stranglehold on scientific research and the flow of scientific information;". "Scientists blocked from independent research on GM crops."

  • Bush accused of power abuse over science.

    This article, published in "Nature" adds another dimension, governmental interference, to the problem. When also the government intervenes, the totalitarian suppression of scientific truth becomes complete. FDA and EPA, both key administrations in the field of GE are mentioned as being interferred with.

    "Henry Waxman (Democrat, California) says that the administration has blocked the dissemination of scientific information, interfered with research results or sought undue influence in the composition of advisory panels, in its handling of a range of issues including AIDS and climate change." ... "The report alleges that most of this has catered to a conservative or pro-business agenda."
  • Bush 'bending science to his political needs'. In february 2004 the Union of Concerned scientists confirmed the above accusations. In an open letter signed by 60 senior scientists including 20 Nobel Prize laureates they wrote (excerpt):

    "When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions. "This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice."

    Source: "Bush 'bending science to his political needs'". The Guardian, UK. 19 February 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/news/story/0,12976,1151188,00.html
  • The New Thought Police - Suppressing Dissent in Science. Febr 2001. By Mae-Wan Ho and Jonathan Mathews at Institute of Science in Society (ISIS). This article further confirms the tenets presented here. Excerpt:

    "...as corporations are growing bigger and more powerful, so the suppression of scientific dissent is becoming more sophisticated, insidious and extensive. As the scientific and the political mainstream have both come to identify with corporate aims, so their established power structures are brought to bear on squashing scientific dissent and engineering consensus."

    "... Our academic institutions have given up all pretence of being citadels of higher learning and disinterested enquiry into the nature of things; least of all, of being guardians of the public good. The corporate take over of science is the greatest threat to our survival and the survival of our planet. It must be resisted and fought at every level."

  • Independent Scientists An Endangered Species. By Mae-Wan Ho, former professor of Biology at Open University, UK.

    (At Cornell University USA:) "...Though in the minority, the biotech promoters said they felt very comfortable voicing their views in public, in contrast to the concerned majority that did not."

    Too few academics are willing to openly criticise biotechnology for fear of retribution from the biotech boosters, says John Ikerd, a retired agricultural economist and biotech sceptic from the University of Missouri.

  • New! Leading Scientist sacked after presidential intervention because of critisizing GE foods. A sensational turn of the Arpad Pusztai affair.

    "The aggressive and united attacks against Dr. Pusztai by leading scientists appear in a new light through this revealing story.

    It appears that a major part of the community of scientists in the GE field has turned into a deliverer of "desired truths" as dictated by the government and by the powerful multinational industry. Many scientists may be doing so most unwillingly, but the Pusztai case is a warning example of what they can expect if they dare to fulfill their duty as scientists to be objective and impartial."

  • The enemies of democracy.
    "Modern corporate propaganda involves purchasing scientific opinions and planting them in scientific journals (without, of course, mentioning the money connection to the corporate benefactor)."
  • "How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future. Review of a recent book "Trust us we are the experts".
    The investigative journalists conclude that "government regulators are not presently functioning to safeguard the public's best interest." As an obvious example of abuse, they cite the story of one regulator, a former Monsanto attorney, who helped draft an FDA policy and later left the FDA to return to work for Monsanto.
  • The need for independent bodies for evaluating global concerns.  Letter to the Editor of Science (In manuscript) Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine University of Illinois at Chicago, USA and Mae Wan Ho, Ph.D. Reader of Biology, The Open University, U.K. Excerpt:
    "Evaluation of global concerns, particularly in public health and environmental integrity, should not be entrusted to a non-transparent and unaccountable cabal of self-appointed experts, such as the proposed (US) National Academy of Science-modeled IAC, whose views may reflect special interests rather than the public."
  • Big Business = Bad Science?. Commercial pressures are distorting academic science and society is not getting the full benefit from the science it is paying for. Prof. Peter Saunders and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho report on a recent conference in London (May 2001).
  • Suppression of dissent in science Martin, B. Cases are presented from various fields, illustrating how industrial and political power has suppressed "undesirable" scientific findings.
  • Report from the OECD/Edinburgh Conference at 28 February - 1 March 2000 - "Scientific and Health Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods". Critical views on food biotechnology were suppressed.
  • Biospinology in our science communication? This article exposes the dependence on the industry of Europe's leading biotech research institute - John Innes Centre (JIC) - and the consequent loss of impartiality.
  • How It Happened That We Don't Regulate Biotech by professor Donella Meadows. A revealing article about scientists systematicaly hiding the truth and lying about important discoveries of hazards due to genetic engineering. This paved the way for approval of genetic engineering without any demands for stringent safety evaluation.
  • "The Beginning of Real Progress for the BSE/CJD Crisis?" Narang, H., pioneering researcher in new variant CJD, who lost his job because he dared to disagree with the orthodox opinion, tells his story of the crisis and how he is being vindicated by recent discoveries. "The tragedy of the BSE crisis is that from the start, the government has approached BSE as a matter of policy instead of as a matter of science. But science is not a convenience store where one can browse around and pick up the hypotheses that best suits one's policy". - This is an illustrative case of governmental suppression of a very important scientific finding. It makes it justified to ask if very important findings in the GE field have been suppressed because of biotech-favorable governmental policies in leading biotech countries.
  • New index highlights worldwide corruption crisis. There is a worldwide corruption crisis. That is the clear message from the year 2001 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which reflects the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians.
  • The Fallibility of Scientific Authorities Lessons to learn from the parallells between the GE and the Nuclear Energy issue.
  • PR strategies used to manipulate opinions about GE foods.
  • Monsantos campaign reaches global proportions. A leaked documents reveals how the biotech firm Monsanto now lobbies hard for biotech in the third world countries.


"Genetically Engineered Food - Safety Problems"

Published by PSRAST

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