Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thoughts on Golden Rice

Golden Rice is an interesting case. Critics originally pointed out that it didn't contain enough beta-carotene, and it was later retooled to contain much more beta-carotene (I've often seen GMO-boosters act as if the initial variant was ready to go from its inception). This is one of the reasons why dismissing all criticism as anti-science is silly - for people who actually care about results instead of merely winning a tribalist argument, criticism is useful in order to find problems and fix them.

It's also interesting to see what issues golden rice has run into. Despite some comments I've seen, golden rice hasn't been stopped by anti-GMO activists - it continues to be developed, and it seems that a lot of the work involved breeding golden rice with the preferred local varieties of rice. The largest obstacle I've seen from my readings has been that certain types of funding are off limits to the project. Then again, the Gates Foundation has been helping out the project for years, so I imagine they're doing much better than many other projects.

I have to say too, that the fact that (which seems to be the site of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board) seems to be so bothered by the fact that they need to go through biosafety assessments:

Notwithstanding the fact that during the last 20 years a vast knowledge base has been accumulated in regards of the production and commercialisation of transgenic plants, the next years will have to be spent conducting the required biosafety assessments to exclude any putative harm for the environment and the consumer stemming from Golden Rice, and that despite the fact that experts cannot come up with such a harm scenario and that accumulated experience from hundreds of milions of hectares of transgenic plants are proof of what the experts are saying.
In a number of countries, the present regulatory practice is based on an overzealous interpretation of the precautionary principle, with little room left for risk management. The position at present is that even the slightest hypothetical risk must be tested and might lead to rejection of a registration application. At the same time, potential benefits are being blatantly disregarded. Recognised ecologists, including opposers of the technology, have not been able to come up with a realistic hypothetical risk to any agricultural or natural environment stemming from the production and accumulation of β-carotene in the endosperm of plants which otherwise produce high amounts of the same compound in other parts of the plant, and thus will not provide any additional selective advantage to the crop. This shows a substantial level of irrationality in the present system of environmental risk assessment. Despite this fact, the first Golden Rice field trial took place in the USA, and not in Southeast Asia, where it should have taken place, the reason being red tape imposed by a misguided precautionary principle.

The site also acts as if the delay in widespread use of golden rice has only been caused by excessive regulation (and not, for example, the time it took to get a decent level of beta-carotene or bread the rice with local varieties):
Considering that Golden Rice could substantially reduce blindness (500,000 children per year) and deaths (2-3 million per year) 20 years is a very long period of time. If it were possible to shorten the time it takes to get to the deregulated product, we could prevent blindness for hundreds of thousands of children!
This attitude doesn't fill me with great confidence, and reminds me of the bank deregulation arguments from the 90's that helped create the global financial crisis. The implication that certain regulations should be skipped if the product is beneficial reminds me of Bjorn Lomberg (who thinks that if fighting climate change costs more than doing nothing, then fighting climate change hurts poor people) school of thought.

Incidentally, Lomberg also seems to be a big proponent of golden rice, and also likes to pretend that it was ready in 2001 and GMO opponents have stopped it from reaching the people who need it. Again, Golden Rice 2 wasn't developed until 2005, and after that it needed to be bred with local varieties - and tested, if you're still one of those anti-Science freaks* who think that food products should be tested before being made commercially available and new organisms should be tested before being introduced to the environment on a large scale.

*Sarcasm, for those who can't tell.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How many Pinocchios should we give "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler?

 Glenn Kessler over at the Washington Post gives Obama four Pinnocchios (signifying the highest degree of falsehood) for saying that he called the Benghazi attacks "an act of terrorism" when he really called the attack an "act of terror." This would probably seem like odd hairsplitting to some, but not to Kessler:

The president tried to rewrite history by claiming “the day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.” But he had actually said “act of terror”– in vague terms, usually wrapped in a patriotic fervor..."

 However, this supposedly obvious distinction was one that even Mitt Romney seemed to miss during the 2012 debates:
"You said in the rose garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror?" Romney asked. "I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror."
Kessler touches on this incident, saying that "Romney, meanwhile, was correct that it took at least two weeks for Obama to forthrightly call it a terrorist attack."

So let's get this straight - Kessler says that when Romney said  "it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," he was correct because the president had initially called the attack an "act of terror", which obviously wasn't referring to a terrorist attack, while Romney's statement about calling the attack an "act of terror" was obviously referring to a terrorist attack. That's the indecipherable word salad we're left with when Kessler tells us that "act of terror" only means "terrorist attack" when Romney says it, but not when Obama says it.

It'd be nice if our fact checkers didn't lie so much. But given the facts, how many Pinocchios should we give Glenn Kessler?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The truth behind the IRS "scandal"

From the report:

According to the Director, Rulings and Agreements, thefact that the team of specialists worked applications that did not involve the Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 groups demonstrated that the IRS was not politically biased in its identification of applications for processing by the team of specialists.

Note: it's not just that they worked on applications not involving those groups, it's that the majority of their applications didn't involve those groups. But this is even more interesting:

Based on our review of other BOLO listing criteria, the use of organization names on the BOLO listing is not unique to potential political cases.16

So there were other groups included as well. But they don't list them...hey, what's footnote 16?

16 We did not review the use of other named organizations on the BOLO listing to determine if their use was appropriate.

Why not? Why did they only look to see whether or not Tea Party groups were targeted?

Now if we look back to see why they started this investigation: "TIGTA initiated this audit based on concerns expressed by members of Congress." Ah, so that's why they only looked at whether or not the Tea Party groups were treated inappropriately! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to lower the unemployment rate? Stop firing people.

Via Corey Robin, an Atlantic article on how few government jobs we have now:
First, credit where it's due. The Hamilton Project has produced a beautiful graph illustrating the government employment to population ratio. As it shows, there are now fewer public sector employees per American than at any time dating back to the Carter administration (To be clear, we're talking state, federal, and local here). 
Here's the graph:
You think having much fewer government jobs available than we otherwise would have might contribute to the lack of jobs? Or, as Corey Robin put it: "I think we know the answer: First, stop firing people. Second, start hiring people."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Koch-funded skeptics admit climate catastrophe is real as nation of Kiribati is being swallowed by the sea and street lamps melt in Oklahoma

Global warming denialism is one of the reactionary causes that the billionaire Koch brothers are known for throwing money towards. This might get a bit more difficult, as even the deniers they are funding are starting to realize that we're facing a climate catastrophe:
CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
That's nice. That's good. I'm glad he's figured this out. But as nations are being swallowed by rising sea levels:
But for residents of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, global warming is a terrifying real problem: Their entire country is about to be submerged under water.
And the heat in Oklahoma is getting so hot that it's melting street lamps:
Case in point: KFOR TV in Stillwater, Oklahoma is reporting that temperatures are so high that the street lamps have begun melting.
Do we have time to wait for every denier to realize that what the experts have been saying for years is, indeed, true?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New York police spying on Americans around the country

From this AP article about a superintendent in New Jersey who reported their suspicious apartment to the local police:
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the NYPD, with training and guidance from the CIA, has monitored the activities of Muslims in New York and far beyond. Detectives infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and kept tabs on Muslim student groups, including at Rutgers.
The NYPD has infiltrated and photographed Muslim businesses and mosques in New Jersey, monitored the Internet postings of Muslim college students across the Northeast and traveled as far away as New Orleans to infiltrate and build files on liberal advocacy groups.
Maybe policing New York isn't exciting enough for these people? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lest we forget: the government created the internet

People shouldn't have to be reminded of this:
In truth, no private company would have been capable of developing a project like the Internet, which required years of R&D efforts spread out over scores of far-flung agencies, and which began to take off only after decades of investment. Visionary infrastructure projects such as this are part of what has allowed our economy to grow so much in the past century. Today’s op-ed is just one sad indicator of how we seem to be losing our appetite for this kind of ambition.
The government developed the internet, which put the US at the forefront of the tech boom. Makes you wonder what could be done today if the government was focused on developing new technology and not on dismantling the government to give money to billionaires.