Friday, March 30, 2018

When science gets politicized ...

I hate the tobacco industry, which does all it can do to tempt people to consume a product that is a slow killer.  I simply cannot understand how people volunteer to go work there.  Mercenaries!

But, there are plenty who do all kinds of jobs--and defend their businesses--for money.  It is not the market--it is the people.  After all, it is we the people who make up the market.

So, yes, any do I will do what I can do, to rant against big tobacco. Against the military-industrial complex. Against the prison-industrial-complex. Against unethical profiteers like the manufacturer of EpiPen.  It is a long list, typical of a person who is almost always on the left side of the political center.

But, there is one that plenty of people on the left side of the political spectrum rant against very loudly that has never made sense to me.  The virulent opposition to GMO.

I have blogged in plenty about this.  Even as recently when there was a nationwide march in support of science, I noted the lack of honest conversations about science.  While we are quick to laugh at the idiots who deny climate change ... there are plenty in the "save the earth" group who are adamantly anti-GMO.  I wrote in that post that I wished I could carry a sign like this:

Imagine the plight of the dedicated GMO research scientist.  Every scientific authority has ruled that GMO is safe, and yet the researchers cannot make headway!

One of those researchers has written a personal essay.  The guy, Devang Mehta, is from India and recently completed his PhD in Switzerland, "creating genetically modified organisms."  But, he is already exhausted:
Nevertheless, my time in GMO research creating virus-resistant plants has meant dealing with the overwhelming negative responses the topic evokes in so many people. These range from daily conversations halting into awkward silence when the subject of my work crops up, to hateful Twitter trolls, and even the occasional fear that public protesters might destroy our research. Little wonder then, that having finished my Ph.D., I’m part excited and part relieved to move to a new lab and work on more fundamental questions in plant biology: how plants are able to control the levels at which their genes are active.  
Like I said, it is virulent opposition :(

Mehta continues:
Beyond the issue of public acceptance and, frankly, a caving-in of many in the scientific community to pseudoscientific beliefs, I’m also glad to be moving away from transgenic research because anti-GMO activism over the last couple of decades has made a career in GMO research a risky proposition.
Research that never gets applied to helping people because of the opposition.  Like "golden rice" that is "still not available to the children who need it most" even two decades since it was successfully created.
My research has given me the opportunity to visit smallholder farms in two African countries, to teach a student from the “global south” the kind of modern biological techniques that remain a dream for many in her country, and to make discoveries that might help with an important problem in food security in the tropics. As a result, yes, I do feel a measure of guilt at leaving this field of research and quitting my lab’s quest to engineer better varieties of cassava for African and South Asian farmers halfway through the project.
What a loss!