Now let’s get a gee-up for GM from Sir Peter, science writer urges

Science writer Bob Brockie today is calling for the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, to do for GE what he did for P.

Two weeks ago, he observes, Sir Peter debunked the idea that traces of methamphetamine are a health hazard.

He says there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea.

Rather surprisingly, the government has taken the scientist’s assertion on board and is keen to right the wrongs of previous policies. Usually, scientific evidence goes in one government ear and out the other, but this time it looks as though three hundred wrongly-evicted tenants might get some sort of compensation and thousands more relieved that they won’t be thrown out of their homes.

Dr Brockie then notes Sir Peter’s persistent urging of the the government and other public agencies

” … to pay more attention to scientific evidence instead of basing policy on gut feelings, fashionable beliefs, needless fear, gossip, conspiracy theories, noisy ill-informed fanatics, and shock/horror media headlines.”

And so….

“We now look forward to the day when the science adviser similarly debunks government and public attitudes towards genetic engineering.”

Dr Brockie references recent substantial reviews of GE by the British Royal Society, the British Medical Association and the American Academy of Science and Medicine which concluded that GE has never harmed anybody or any thing.

Indeed the societies claim that GE only does good. The world’s 28 million GE farmers have increased their crop yields by 22%, their incomes by 66%, and reduced their use of pesticides by 37%. And, for that matter, over 60 000 grateful New Zealand diabetics daily inject themselves with GE insulin with no complaints. Claims that GE is a health hazard to man and beast, or that it degrades the soil or the environment get no support from the top scientific societies

But this is not what we hear incessantly from ‘GE-Free New Zealand’ and Greenpeace. Based purely on gut instinct and misinformation, these paranoid luddites spread fear and loathing about genetic engineering. They suppose that they occupy the high moral ground on these issues but are really shouting in a benighted abyss of ignorance.

And so – Dr Brockie concludes – it is time to step up and debunk the claims of GE-Free-NZ and Greenpeace because “there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these fear-mongers”.

Keep it out – the flesh-eater that is being spread by possums

Science writer Bob Brockie has sounded a biosecurity warning about a hideous human disease called Buruli ulcer which is being spread by possums in Australia.

In his weekly column in the Dominion-Post (HERE), he writes:

Luckily, Buruli ulcer has not reached New Zealand, but we must keep our eyes open for its appearance. If the disease can jump more than 3000 kilometres from New Guinea to Melbourne it could conceivably jump 4000km to NZ.

Dr Brockie says the disease usually shows up as a tiny swelling on people’s legs and arms.

It grows to produce big edematous, pus-filled abscesses, devouring flesh to the bone and, in the worst cases, leading to excisions, skin grafts and amputated limbs.

Youngsters are more at risk than older people.

The column explains:

Mycobacterium ulcerans​ – a bacterial cousin of human tuberculosis, bovine Tb, and leprosy – causes Buruli ulcer.

The disease is commonest in Africa but infects thousands of people every year in 30 other mainly tropical countries, including Indonesia and New Guinea. There is no effective vaccine against the disease but antibiotics are effective if it is diagnosed early enough.

Buruli ulcer was first identified in the outskirts of Melbourne in the 1930s and remained localised there until 2009, when it unexpectedly turned up in North Queensland. The Australian Medical Journal now reports a worsening epidemic with 17 cases in 2009 but 275 cases last year.

In its African homeland, Dr Brockie says, the disease usually infects poor people living in remote areas, and is often associated with swamps and wetlands, flooding, new irrigation systems, and dam building.

Throughout Africa and elsewhere, the ulcer bacterium has been found in small aquatic insects known as “creeping water bugs”. These may play a part as spreaders of the disease but nobody knows for sure.

In Australia, scientists have struggled to understand how the disease reached their country, how it has spread from Melbourne to Queensland, how it infected possums, koalas, and bandicoots and fill their guts and droppings with millions of ulcer germs, and how it spreads from marsupials to people?

Some Australian mosquitoes are under suspicion as possible vectors.

The role of the Treaty in science and consultation with Maori: columnist sparks heated debate

The latest shots in a debate triggered by science writer Bob Brockie have been fired today by Dame Anne Salmond, Distinguished Professor of Māori Studies and Social Anthropology at the University of Auckland and Vice-President (Humanities and Social Sciences), Royal Society Te Apārangi,

One of Dr Brockie’s targets was the work of the Royal Society of New Zealand and the establishment of Te Whāinga Aronui o Te Apārangi.

This body is chaired by Dame Anne as Vice-President (Social Sciences and Humanities), who serves on the Royal Society Te Apārangi Council.

The forum provides advice to the society on matters of concern to the humanities and social sciences community and responds, on request, with advice on humanities and social sciences issues.

The Presidents (or their nominees) of the several constituent organisations contribute to the forum. These organisations are listed HERE.

They include the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association; Institute of Registered Music Teachers of New Zealand; Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia; Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa/New Zealand; and Sociological Association of Aotearoa NZ. 

Dr Brockie contends some from “the art world” believe there are no such things as facts; rather, there are

… just different opinions about facts, ambiguity is OK, everybody’s opinions are of equal value, whether of a quantum physicist or a Stone Age nobody, and that other people’s beliefs and opinions must never be questioned (thereby committing the sin of “decontextualisation” aka political incorrectness).

Some humanities grandees badmouth the intellectual gains of the Enlightenment and would knock science off its perch.

Te Whāinga has called for the Royal Society “to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a holistic manner“. Dr Brockie argues the Treaty has no place in scientific endeavour.

His second target is the Otago University requirement that Ngāi Tahu must be consulted about “all areas of research” before scholars undertake their work. All proposals must be submitted to the Office of Māori Development.

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