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Greenpeace, an enemy of science

July 15th, 2011

Tim Lambert comments on Greenpeace sabotage of a CSIRO experiment on GM crops. Sadly, Greenpeace has become an openly anti-science organisation.

I agree with everything Tim says, but I’d add something more on the politics of this action. This kind of criminal vandalism, in the “right” cause, appeals to the juvenile instincts that nearly all of us retain to some extent, but it has repeatedly proved disastrous for the left, and the environmental movement. It’s worth comparing this kind of action to civil disobedience protests, where people put themselves on the line and openly invite arrest. If these guys had any desire to promote genuine debate they would turn themselves in and defend their actions in open court.

Given the embrace of anti-science and anti-rational views by the political right, it is important that the left and the environmental movement should dissociate themselves entirely from this kind of action. It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do.

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  1. Paul Norton
    July 15th, 2011 at 09:43 | #1

    A problem with Greenpeace is that it is not a democratic, membership-based organisation, but a kind of green SAS controlled by an unaccountable management. This, I think, lends itself to a certain high-handedness and what Marx termed “Blanquism” rather than an approach based on mass movement building and persuasion. One example is that Greenpeace refused to allow its UK employees to join the relevant trade union unless and until that union adopted Greenpeace policies on the environment lock, stock and barrel – despite the fact that the union in question was one of the best in the UK on environmental issues, and was doing as well as it could given the diversity of its members’ views and interests on environmental issues.

  2. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 09:45 | #2

    That was a weak knee-jerk reaction. Greenpeace explained their action based on:

    1) substantial international bans on GM
    2) denial of information they had requested
    3) links to Monsanto and the subverting of Australian research to corporate interests.

    There is no general “anti-science” element in Greenpeace’s motivation. This is a deliberate diversion.

  3. iain
    July 15th, 2011 at 10:18 | #3

    The contamination issue is extremely valid, and is based on a lot of scientific data.

    Tim Lambert doesn’t address this point.

  4. O7
    July 15th, 2011 at 11:04 | #4

    Chris Warren
    1. What countries ban GM R&D? It is legal in Australia and is nationally regulated very thoroughly. Many countries don’t allow GM crops; Australia does.
    2. Can we believe Greenpeace? Do we know the details? Did it ask for access to IP-type information? By its acts, Greenpeace is a criminal organisation; only if one believes that the end justifies the means can one accept its actions as other than criminal.
    3. Are these grounds for criminal activity? CSIRO works with many companies; is this grounds for destruction of its property, which is the property of all Australians, given that CSIRO is in the public sector?
    iain, ‘Contamination’ is an issue for all crops. It is addressed by all grain handlers. Problems will occur, but to my knowledge no GM-crop-producing country has lost markets because of GM admixture.
    Finally, destroying crops designed to be used for human testing contradicts the goal of getting GM products tested to prove them safe or not. 300M US inhabitants have been eating GM food ingredients on a grand scale for over 15 years, and no GM-caused disease has arisen. Perhaps GM food causes obesity? (Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.)

  5. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 11:22 | #5


    1) Check Greenpeace press releases
    2) Can we believe Monsanto-linked secretive commercialised CSIRO boffins?
    3) Painting “No War” on the Opera House was also ‘criminal activity’ – so what?

    Any science that is driven by secretive, commercialised entities and with links to bad corporate citizens – such as Monsanto – should be challenged on this basis, and not cloaked with some vain cry of science.

    All that CSIRO had to do was provide the information when requested. They did not. They played silly capitalist games.

    Tough luck CSIRO. If you want to do real science – do it out in the open.

  6. Tim Macknay
    July 15th, 2011 at 11:36 | #6

    I don’t agree with Greenpeace’s actions here, but it’s not “anti-science”. Support for genetically modified products isn’t “pro-science” either. Growing GM crops isn’t “science”, it’s commerce. Being for or against genetic modification are both values-based positions, determined by one’s attitudes to risk, the natural world, and technology. “Science” isn’t for or against genetic modification. It’s neutral.

  7. BigBob
    July 15th, 2011 at 11:43 | #7

    As someone who doesn’t agree with Greenpeace’s methods – which are patently illegal, if Greenpeace doesn’t agree to release every bit of information to me that I request, does that mean I have the moral right to burn down one of their offices Chris?

  8. Robert Merkel
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:05 | #8

    Science isn’t “for” or “against” genetic modification, Tim.

    However, their campaign against GM foods is in large part based on the claim that GM foods – as a whole – pose an unacceptable risk to human health. This is unjustified based on the current state of the science.

  9. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:07 | #9


    Yes, provided, like Greenpeace and ‘No War” activists, you face up to the consequences of your action.

    But judging by the inanity of your comment – you do not have this fortitude.

  10. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:14 | #10

    @Robert Merkel

    You missed the point. Everyone has the right to campaign against anything they like.

    The destruction of the CSIRO crop was not driven by a simple campaign against GM foods, but two additional factors super-added onto the base.

    Now – if you do not know what these two additional factors are, then you are barking at shadows.

  11. Tim Macknay
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:33 | #11

    @Robert Merkel

    Science isn’t “for” or “against” genetic modification, Tim.

    Yes, that’s what I said. In precisely those words. Glad you agree.

  12. Robert Merkel
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:34 | #12

    Chris, they have the right to campaign against anything they like. But damned if I’m going to give much credence to them.

    And with respect, that’s bollocks. They’re blanket anti-GMO, and they choose particular targets purely on a tactical basis.

  13. Robert Merkel
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:35 | #13

    But the claim was that Greenpeace are anti-science, Tim. And I think that case has been pretty well made.

  14. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:37 | #14

    What’s worse is that the Greens are intimately linked to the Greenpeace thugs:

    “ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury used to work for Greenpeace and says he is not surprised the group has taken such action.

    “It’s always very controversial these sorts of actions, but you have to stand up for what you believe in sometimes,” he said.


    Mr Rattenbury says Greenpeace has a track record of breaking the law to highlight problems.

    “I’ve certainly been involved in action in the past where Greenpeace has broken the law and that has been necessary to highlight what we’ve considered at the time to be a greater issue than perhaps a simple trespass,” he said.”

    This is a massive own goal for Greens and the likes of Andrew Bolt will use it each and every time the Greens say they are on the side of science. Way to go, dummies.

  15. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:41 | #15

    Greenpeace destroyed a scientific trial. That is anti-science. No ifs, no buts. If a bunch of AGW delusionists started destroying weather stations no-one on the left would dispute such behaviour was anti-science.

  16. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 12:50 | #16

    Mel :
    Greenpeace destroyed a scientific trial. That is anti-science. No ifs, no buts. If a bunch of AGW delusionists started destroying weather stations no-one on the left would dispute such behaviour was anti-science.

    You are playing games – if some partisans destroyed Nazi “scientific” experiments on POW’s would this be anti-science????

    If Rainbow Warrior disrupts Japanese whaling – is this anti-science????

    The destruction of CSIRO-Monsanto crops is not anti-science. It is anti a particular secretive and commercialised construction of science.

    By all means research whatever you like, but do it honestly and openly.

  17. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:06 | #17

    Chris Warren- enough with the dishonesty. I don’t think even Greenpeace are arguing that Jews, dolphins or whales were killed or in any way harmed by the GM crop trial. The particulars of much of science is “commercialised and secret”. This hardly justifies thuggish vanadallism of legal crop trials that may eventually contribute to world food security. Blather about the evil Monsanto is dull and irrelevant.

    Greenpeace should be prosecuted.

  18. Tim Macknay
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:07 | #18

    But the claim was that Greenpeace are anti-science, Tim. And I think that case has been pretty well made.

    I’m not convinced, Robert. I still think that view equates a pro-genetic modification view with being “pro-science”, which I do not think is the case. I do remember thinking the Greenpeace “frankenfood” campaign a few years ago was pretty extreme, but on the other hand I wasn’t particularly across the details of that controversy and I was more uncritically pro-GM in those days than I am now. I couldn’t honestly say that my view on that campaign then was a well-informed one. There are other issues on which Greenpeace has been demonised and accused of being “anti-science” but has turned out to be right.

    I think accusing one side of being “anti-science” in a debate like the one over GM, which is fraught with complex issues relating to values and in which the actual scientific issues are of comparatively lesser importance and prone to distortion by both sides, is nothing more than propaganda. I don’t think the uncritical proponent of GM have science on their side any more than the vehement opponents do.

  19. Greg G
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:08 | #19

    Chris Warren :
    You are playing games – if some partisans destroyed Nazi “scientific” experiments on POW’s would this be anti-science????

    Oh lord.

  20. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:16 | #20

    Here is the OGTR Risk Assessment and Management Plan for the CSIRO crop trial. Hardly a “secret“.

  21. iain
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:31 | #21

    Greenpeace are quite right to protest the buffer zone on scientific grounds. I’m not sure why Tim Lambert selectively refused to address this point?

    The European Union recommends buffer zones in the order of 5km. The 500m buffer zone, (as highlighted in the article), along with no security, is a joke.

    It is a problem that needs to be highlighted and addressed, and thankfully organisations such as Greenpeace do this.

    What is worse is that many GM crops are planted with little to no effective buffer zone at all throughout the world, meaning that non GM plants will (quite likely) all but disappear.

    The idea that GM is natural and has been going on for thousands of years (as highlighted in the article) is really tedious. You will never “naturally” have fish genes inserted into strawberries, or terminator genes inserted into vitally important staple crops for humanity.

    But anyway, good luck with eating your biotoxins, and good game precautionary principle.

  22. Fran Barlow
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:37 | #22

    Let me preface by saying

    1. I have an open mind on the contribution GM can make to humne wellbeing. I support good independent science addressing all matters of concern — biodiversity, corss contamination and of course health impact on all living beings.

    2. I’m very troubled by the marketing implications of patents on plant varieties. I’m predisposed against allowing any GM crops to be used this side of

    a) adequate protection fromn cross contamination, including from trials
    b) a burden of proof imposed on companies using GM to show that the appearance of their patents in other plants was not the result of, at best criminal negligence on their part.
    c) serious punitive (as well as tortious) damage provision to be built into the laws covering GM in cases where patent holders cannot show that the cross-contamination was not the result of some act of omission of commission by them or their agents.
    d) serious criminal penalties for vexatious litigation by patent holders

    That all said, I agree that he Greenpeace action ought to be condemned. It was not merely a crime but a blunder. It may or may not be “anti-science” — I’m not too sure about that, but IMO it certainly lacked adequate warrant. There was no imminent and compelling threat to human interest, and no harm that could not have been parried by lesser means. I’m not against ignoring the law when a higher warrant applies, but this is not such a case, IMO.

    I don’t agree with Professor Quiggin that this makes Greenpeace unsupportable however. Greenpeace does a great many things that ought to prompt those of us with an interest in equity and the environment to support it. I say this despite my serioius disappointment at their opposition to another issue of concern to me that others won’t have to wonder all that long to guess.

    Any organisation is liable to stuff up once in a while, particularly when it is composed of strongminded people with a sense of mission, who act not to make a dollar but to pursue an ethical principle. That doesn’t get them a free pass to pull boners like this, but we ought not to condemn the whole organisation out of hand.

  23. Jim Birch
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:42 | #23

    Blanket anti-GMO is not science, it’s religion. The idea that someone can add a gene or two and somehow create super-organisms that will escape and wreak havoc is completely out of whack with the findings of modern molecular biology.

    In biology it’s tough to make something that even works, let alone works a wee bit better. If trivial genome changes could produce superorganisms it would have already happened. We humans would have been killed by triffids or else have evolved into incredibly intelligent rational superbeings. Apparently not.

    The best real reason for avoiding GM that I’ve to date is to allow poor farmers in developing countries to grow premium GM-free crops that they can sell to people in rich countries who are willing to pay for the imagined benefit. 🙂

  24. iain
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:52 | #24

    @Jim Birch

    That is a key issue Jim – how do GM and non-GM exist together?

    It’s like a restaurant with a smoking section, the whole restaurant becomes one big smoking section.

    In general terms, your opening comments don’t seem to suggest you are too aware of terminator gene technology.

  25. paul of albury
    July 15th, 2011 at 13:54 | #25

    As a greenpeace supporter I find this troubling. It seems poorly thought out (biohazard gear and whipper snippers!) and damaging to their credibility. Unfortunately it makes it less likely the questions asked in their report will be treated seriously.

    On the GM itself I worry most about the consequences of privatising the IP of the actual plants and animals, especially if contamination leads to IP spreading to the ‘free’ stock. I also find it very disturbing having people who should know better defend GM as being the same as selective breeding – as Iain says you can’t successfully cross breed species which takes it to a new level. My understanding is that natural mutations that are comparatively commonplace in GM are very much less likely without, otherwise all these beneficial GM products would be found naturally

  26. may
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:04 | #26


    thugs…. criminal… anti-science.. vanadallism…..(what?) a record of breaking the law to highlight problems…. blatherers…. massive own goal….. patently illegal…. can we believe them…. a kind of green SAS….(wow) controlled by an unaccountable management… not democratic…. blanquists….(ay? what?)


    in West Aust the patented canola has contaminated neighboring properties and at least one farmer has lost certification that ensured the highest market valuation for his produce.

    canola belongs to the family cruciferae,that includes wild turnip and wild mustard and will readily cross. the weeds produced not only will be able to survive saturation spraying but will belong to monsanto.will they eliminate them?how?

    Tasmania has spent the last eight or so years trying to contain the contamination produced from trials that were allowed and found unacceptable.

    the canola grown last year has not been sold. apparently no-one wants it.

    the state govt has sold to monsanto a 20% share in the state owned grain research body.
    the trials performed were called “shonky” by one of the scientist involved.he was suspended without pay and is no longer with the (partially)state owned body.

    the source of the scientific papers used to promote patented food plants and quoted to induce a favourable response to the concept of a world where the elimination of organic food grown without poisons and on a small scale is inevitable is lost in a fog of public relations.

    the entwining of commercial interests into and within democratically elected state institutions is a problem that is being examined (and about time) most clearly at the moment in regard to the murdoch conglomerate,this phenomenon is not confined to the news media but as the subject under discussion here shows,the integrity of the very food we eat.

    as for greenpeace…….theyv’e been at it for over 40 years.

    incidentally,in 1976 the whale population was being reduced at the rate of one every 12 minutes.

    happy whale watching.

  27. smiths
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:09 | #27

    credibility? where the hell has that got the left in the last thirty years,
    should Greenpeace put suits on and talk technospeak and ask nicely for monsanto to give them some information until 2050 … geez, wake up
    dont people understand that the time has come to start wrecking crops and smashing things up

  28. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:09 | #28


    “Any organisation is liable to stuff up once in a while, particularly when it is composed of strongminded people with a sense of mission, who act not to make a dollar but to pursue an ethical principle. ”

    Greenpeace is a secretive and undemocratic organisation that pulls stunts like this all of the time. Its members are lackeys with no say in the running or policy direction of the organisation. As it turns out, I sometimes agree with their POV but their methods are woeful and they certainly provide the right with a great deal of ammunition. The deep links between the Greens and Greenpeace is also rather frightening and it hands the right a marvellous club with which to beat lefties.

    Here’s the Bolta making the most of it: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/respect_the_science_if_only_the_greens_would/

  29. paul of albury
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:18 | #29

    Would it be less outrageous if this happened on a Monsanto research centre, rather than at a CSIRO centre? If so, would CSIRO involvement make a difference?

  30. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:26 | #30


    Enough with your dishonesty and troubled confusion.

    No-one is arguing that Jews or whales are harmed by GM crops.

    By switching like this – you only expose yourself.

    Jews and whales were being harmed by so-called “science”.

  31. July 15th, 2011 at 14:34 | #31

    This is very sad. I love science and a hero of mine is the recently late Norman Borlaug

    GM science is amazing – we’ve been doing it since the domestication of the dog the last 10,000 years.

    However, in the hands of corporate giants, this science can be bad – I urge anyone who hasn’t seen Food Inc. to do so. And I support Greenpeace in this fight against the misuses highlighted in that program.

    The recent combating against the new strains of the recent re-emergence of wheat rust has been bloody amazing, using research and genetic gear that Borlaug did not have at his disposal back in his day. Research not conducted for the benefit of profit but for people. Brilliant stuff and Great Works.

    The Canberra mob of Greenpeace were way off target here.

  32. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:40 | #32


    The same, arch-reactionary arguments were used against suffragettes, chartists and populists and are always rolled out when citizens object to corruption of values, morals, economics or even science.

  33. bill
    July 15th, 2011 at 14:41 | #33

    It was not merely a crime but a blunder

    Seems about the best summation to me thus far.

    But Greenpeace are now ‘anti-science’ and the enemy? Never to be listened to again? Give me a break!

    Monbiot got the CRU hack completely wrong, and to my mind has both lost the plot with his post-Fukushima Qixotic defence of nuclear power and joined the offensively extremist fringe on Chernobyl – therefore I shouldn’t listen to this?

    C’mon people, Greenpeace is huge and diverse. The world is a complex place. Did you never work in or with big campaign organizations? Crazy shit happens all the time. This means they’re wrong about whaling or the Amazon? Get a grip!

    You’ll all be citing some report or other of theirs again within a year.

    If your allies make stupid mistakes point it out by all means but move on. Trying to buy respectability at your friends’ expense is just doing the real enemies of science’s work for them!

    And all this ‘quelle horreur! – it’s a crime!’ stuff! Am I the only one here who’s ever been arrested for standing up for what they believe in? (Several times.) As Chomsky points out, there’s no historical evidence of a positive link between behaving ‘respectably’ and political success. The opposite, if anything.

    If we want to live on a habitable planet we’ve got some serious fights in front of us over the next few decades, and while (non-violent) law-breaking must always be a weapon of last resort, to renounce (or denounce) it is to risk ‘locking in failure’.

  34. BigBob
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:09 | #34

    Chris @ 9,

    I have a perfectly acute sense of morals that allows me to take responsibility for my actions. Frankly, it’s a guiding principle of my life. I asked you a question that did not resort to desperate name calling, as you couldn’t do likewise, I can only assume you don’t believe in civil discourse.

    To the point at hand, as far as I can tell, Greenpeace and the activists involved have not surrendered to the police. Therefore, I can only conclude that they are not taking any responsibility whatsoever for an illegal act.

    If they truly believed in the spirit of civil disobedience, they would have stayed on site and allowed themselves to be arrested.

  35. July 15th, 2011 at 15:11 | #35

    Umm… can I say that while I condemn the Greenpeace action, I have no faith in or support for the CSIRO study either, given that the CSIRO has been forced to bow to commercial interests since the Howard years? A plague on both Greenpeace and Monsanto. And there’s the question of power differential too; Monsanto has much more power to impose its will on us than Greenpeace does, however annoying or jejeune GP may occasionally seem. Therefore my plague on them would be greater, with extra boils.

  36. BigBob
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:19 | #36

    Let’s dispel the Monsanto bit straight up – this trial was not a Monsanto joint venture with the CSIRO. It was a CSIRO trial plot. Anyone mentioning Monsanto in relation to this crop is totally incorrect.

  37. Michael Marriott
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:29 | #37

    @ Chris Warren.

    You claim the moral high ground for “science”?

    An attack like this intimidates scientists. It shuts down research. It belittles the efforts of scientists conducting series research. Who should decide what scientists research? You? Greenpeace? Creationists? Climate sceptics?

    For years I ran a blog called Watching the Deniers (Google it), directly challenging the work of “climate sceptics”. I’ve fought in the (cyber) trenches for a long time against one anti-science movement. I’ll happily fight any other.

    All I can say I am deeply alarmed by the mirroring of language and semantics used by Greenpeace and supporters of this attack and just how closely it models climate sceptics own language.

    You said: “The destruction of CSIRO-Monsanto crops is not anti-science. It is anti a particular secretive and commercialised construction of science.”

    So attacks like this are justified?

    In late 2009 hackers broke into the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia with the intention of discrediting the work of climate scientists. It was an illegal act, that damaged science and the reputation of scientists (see what happened to poor Phil Jones, an honest and good man).

    I’m sure there are many you feel the hack was “justified”.

    You claim: “The same, arch-reactionary arguments were used against suffragettes, chartists and populists and are always rolled out when citizens object to corruption of values, morals, economics or even science.”

    The corruption of science?

    I point you to the recent Heartland (right wing think tank) conference in the US called “Restoring the scientific method”.


    Yes that’s right: the biggest argument of sceptics is that science has been “corrupted” by “big money”. They argue greedy scientists after research grants and banks looking for easy dollars of ETS have corrupted science. Sound familiar?

    So are CSIRO scientist the dupes of evil corporations (you say) or the agents of sinister world wide plot to tax us back into the stone age and turn out the lights (climate sceptics).

    You claim: “You are playing games – if some partisans destroyed Nazi “scientific” experiments on POW’s would this be anti-science????”

    You claim: “Jews and whales were being harmed by so-called “science”.”

    Let’s ignore you resorting to Godwin’s law, always the sign of a weak argument (“But Hitler and or the Nazi’s was/did XYZ!”. Hitler was a vegetarian you know, OMG vegetarians must be Nazis! No?)

    The Holocaust was perpetrated by the racist vision of an evil totalitarian regime. It has nothing to do with science. The medical experiments where barbaric. Claiming the moral high ground by using the Holocaust is poor form indeed.

    Look at how Australia’s scientific community is responding to the actions of Greenpeace: with condemnation.

    We’re in the midst of the CO2 tax debate, with News Corp running a blatantly anti-government campaign and Abbot scaring the population witless… oh and the runaway greenhouse effect really starting to kick in… and Greenpeace go and score this “own goal”.

    Thanks Greenpeace.

    You’ve made being progressive, liberal and pro-science that much harder.

  38. paul of albury
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:41 | #38

    BigBob, I can find nothing in the OGTR docs to suggest it’s a joint venture. Except perhaps the commercial in confidence paras, But I can’t imagine how positive outcomes of such research could possibly be used without the license of the patent holder. CSIRO using the research to develop an equivalent would seem almost certainly to infringe patent. What would be the next step if outcomes were positive? I can’t see how this can be anything except research on the patent holder’s behalf. Therefore I find it curious that it is apparently not a joint venture.

    Now assuming there is no non disclosure agreement on the results I can see a public interest in having CSIRO conduct the research so we have some confidence in methodology and so negative outcomes can be fairly reported.

    But otherwise it seems to be at best CSIRO doing fee for service work, at worst CSIRO greenwashing Biotech companies’ research.

    This strays off topic, but it relates to my earlier question about whether we would respond differently if a monsanto operated crop was similarly destroyed.

    Personally I’m still unsure how to react to this, I think it was foolish, but I’m starting to have doubts.

  39. Jim Birch
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:46 | #39

    I agree that the protection of of people who want to sell into a GM-free markets is an issue. It’s really only a problem where GM and GM-free versions of the same crop are grown in the same regions and mechanisms can be found for dealing with it, like choosing one or the other.

    Other issues that are important are producing enough food for the worlds poor, adding micronutrients to crops, and producing crops that can produce in otherwise infertile environments. GM technologies have the potential for massive improvements in survival and food security of the worlds poor and I really wouldn’t like to see these activities curtailed to suit the irrational beliefs about GM of some rich westerners – who aren’t threatened by starvation . The Wikipedia article on Golden rice show an interesting case study.

    I’m not sure what you are getting at wrt terminator technologies. I don’t like IP in general and think it should be limited but I don’t think it forms a decisive reason for avoiding GM. Thomas Pogge has an interesting proposition for rewarding the development of life saving/enhancing products that avoids the ‘my IP, you die” problem: Transcript/podcast that I love to see take off.

  40. Michael Marriott
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:52 | #40

    I’d like to point everyone to the marvelous BBC documentary, “Science under attack” hosted by Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize winner and current



    “Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse examines why science appears to be under attack, and why public trust in key scientific theories has been eroded – from the theory that man-made climate change is warming our planet, to the safety of GM food, or that HIV causes AIDS.

    He interviews scientists and campaigners from both sides of the climate change debate, debunks the ClimateGate fiasco and travels to New York to meet Tony, who has HIV but doesn’t believe that that the virus is responsible for AIDS.

    This is a passionate defence of the importance of scientific evidence and the power of experiment, and a look at what scientists themselves need to do to earn trust in controversial areas of science in the 21st century.”

    It’s an hour long, but for the GM debate start watching at 49:50.

    Yes, science is controversial. The results will challenge not only the likes of Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, but even the most well meaning, left-leaning progressives.

  41. Michael Marriott
    July 15th, 2011 at 15:59 | #41

    And on The Conversation by Chris Pearson: http://theconversation.edu.au/greenpeaces-gm-vandalism-bad-for-farmers-bad-for-science-bad-for-australia-2349

    “…All the research staff working in my program are on short-term contracts, which is the nature of scientific careers these days. They need to continually produce research to further these careers.

    For them, the loss of a field trial could mean the difference between a new grant and leaving science.

    For postgraduate students, the situation is even more difficult. Typically, current postgraduate students only get two field seasons to complete their research. The loss of a field trial can have an enormous impact on their ability to complete their degrees on time.

    Third, in addition to the hoped-for results, research trials can produce new leads in areas not originally considered. These leads can open up new possibilities for doing things better and more efficiently.

    The trial that was destroyed had been assessed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) as not posing a significant risk to humans or the environment. The GM material was not going in to commercial food or feed production, and was restricted to a small area from which it was unlikely to escape.

    Researchers conducting these trials are required by the OGTR to implement multiple strategies to manage potential risks of movement of genetically modified material from the trial site.

    Ironically, the actions of the Greenpeace activists have greatly increased the risk that genetically modified material from the trial will escape into the environment.”

  42. Fran Barlow
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:02 | #42


    With the greatest respect Helen (and that’s not the least bit disingenuous because for as long as I’ve read your posts at LP I’ve been impressed) I think that unless you have some direct insight into this particular study suggesting that it was in some sense poorly or unethically conceived or implemented, then you ought not to condemn CSIRO.

    CSIRO, as far as I can tell, is an organisation that deserves respect. It deserves more support and independence than governments give it, but within the constraints applying, it does a high quality job and has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever acted unethically in its research.

  43. fred
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:02 | #43

    Context is important.

    Because this is not an issue about science.

    Or at least just science.
    It is far more a political issue than anything else.

    Criminality is irrelevant [except for the purpose of consequence].
    It was, once upon a time, criminal to attempt to free slaves, to attempt to give women the vote, to attempt to free Jews, to attempt to reclaim common land that had been expropriated from the peasantry ……and so on, you get the idea.
    Being a crime doesn’t necessarily make a particular action unethical. Just illegal.
    Conversely being legal doesn’t necessarily equate to ethical.

    Here is a link to an article that claims that Monsanto paid poor people to protest against anti-GM actions.
    Is that ethical?
    Is that criminal?


    Similarly [?] we have an article that cllaims that governments and industry and the law are failing the public when it comes to GM laws and science.


    “A study showing the presence of GM pesticides in the blood points to the remarkable complacency of global safety regulators”

    I’m not a fan of Greenpeace.
    Neither am I a fan of Monsanto.
    Nor do I give CSIRO much time on occasions, sometimes yes, but not always.

    There can be more than one villain in a morality play.

  44. Tim Macknay
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:14 | #44

    @Michael Marriott

    And on The Conversation by Chris Pearson

    A minor correction: that should be Chris Preston, who is an agricultural science professor, not Chris Pearson, a reactionary culture warrior and columnist who knows about as much about science as I do about Mongolian equestrian practices.

  45. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:26 | #45

    @Michael Marriott

    I am not sure if I followed all of your rant and I am not interested in bizarre fabricated excursions into such concepts as “vegetarians must be Nazi’s”.

    If I thought scientists were conducting unethical experiments then I would support computer hackers getting the evidence to expose them (or covert taping or video-taping etc).

    Your wild linkage to Phil Jones makes no useful point. The data that was hacked was then misrepresented by denialists. The data was then released which should have occurred earlier.

    The destruction of CSIRO-Monsanto crops is not anti-science. It is anti a particular secretive and commercialised construction of science. But more than this, the Greenpeace action was not even against GM crops because, if this was the case, this would have occurred earlier. The Greenpeace action was the result of a failure by the powers-that-be to provide the information when asked.

  46. July 15th, 2011 at 16:40 | #46

    I thank Chris Warren #5 and more, for your explanations and defence. I too, had only seen 1 angle, tyvm.

  47. Jim Birch
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:40 | #47

    @Tim Macknay
    Thanks Tim, reality is restored 🙂

    Also, I spent a little time in Mongolia but can’t assist you on their equestrian practices.

  48. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:49 | #48

    Right, so the moonbeam brigade (Chris Warren and Helen) think Monsanto is an omniscient and secretive organisation that kills suffragettes, Jews, dolphins and whales. For this reason, we can’t trust them and their employees deserve to be covered with boils.

    Have I missed anything?

  49. sam
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:54 | #49

    @Fran Barlow
    I’d like to add my support for everything Fran said at #22. Except of course for her “serioius (sic) disappointment at their (Greenpeace’s) opposition to another issue of concern to me that others won’t have to wonder all that long to guess.” (my brackets) 🙂

  50. Jim Birch
    July 15th, 2011 at 16:56 | #50

    @Chris Warren

    The Greenpeace action was the result of a failure by the powers-that-be to provide the information when asked.

    Wow! Can anyone destroy other people’s stuff if requested information is not supplied, or does this only apply to Greenpeace?

  51. fred
    July 15th, 2011 at 17:07 | #51

    They whippersnippered some plants!!!!!


    Thats worse than putting tonnes of toxic sh-t in our rivers isn’t it??
    [Now I wonder if anyone can catch the allusion there?]

    Really, the action calls for a bit of tut-tutting and rather gentle shaking of the head as one sips one’s port.
    Not hyperbole.

  52. rog
    July 15th, 2011 at 17:13 | #52

    Years ago I was involved with the National Organic Conference which had quite a few interesting speakers. The CSIRO were there and when they tried to speak there was uproar from some of the attendees due to the CSIRO work on GM (CSIRO were quite excited by the potential) It seemed some of the attendees were totally intolerant of the CSIRO and refused to consider the science. Not that they were unscientific as they followed the science of Steiner which include sprinkling 7herbs and spices that had been buried in a cows horn then mixed in a copper vessel stirred anticlockwise and spread on a full moon.

    CSIRO had done studies on calcium and phosphate levels in one of these farms and told them that the levels were decreasing due to lack of inputs. Nobody really cared as the science of Steiner did not deal with such matters.

    Similarly I think Greenpeace have also lost the plot.

  53. paul of albury
    July 15th, 2011 at 17:45 | #53

    BigBob @32, do you have information that the activists didn’t allow themselves to be arrested. The article in The Conversation says ‘the protesters were not charged by police’. It’s unclear just who this refers to though.

  54. jakerman
  55. jakerman
  56. jakerman
  57. Fran Barlow
    July 15th, 2011 at 18:03 | #57


    Right, so the moonbeam brigade (Chris Warren and Helen) think Monsanto is an omniscient and secretive organisation that kills suffragettes, Jews, dolphins and whales.

    We don’t need abusive strawmen here Mel. Let’s keep the discussion focused on issues of substance.

  58. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 18:04 | #58

    Also note that the CSIRO has a track record for abandoning GM trials based on the science.

    “Research by CSIRO to genetically modify peas to resist insect attack and reduce the use of chemical sprays has been discontinued because the GM peas did not satisfy all categories of a stringent risk assessment process.


    CSIRO is finalising arrangements with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator for the disposal of GM field peas produced during the project.”

    Contrary to what one might expect given Helen’s slur, this occurred after Howard’s “commercialisation” of the CSIRO. ( BTW, I’m no fan of Howard but it sickens me when alleged lefties carry on like Lord Monckton mini-me’s, which is all too often the case when the subject of GM is raised).

  59. Ken Miles
    July 15th, 2011 at 18:18 | #59

    I’m glad that it has been a very long time since I gave money to Greenpeace.

  60. jakerman
    July 15th, 2011 at 19:59 | #60


    Cross post from Deltoid:

    More recently CSIRO Plant Industry Deputy TJ Higgins has defended the safety of GMO crops by making an improper associations between regulatory tests required for current commercial GMO (such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola) , and with effectiveness of case-by-case evaluation of GM plants” (such as was done with Higgins GM Field Pea, abandoned because toxicologists found it caused immune problems and lung damage in mice.)

    But Higgins’ claims are “simply wrong” says nutritional biochemist and epidemiologist Dr Judy Carman, whom the West Australian government commissioned to undertake independent studies into the safety of GM foods.
    Carman told Crikey: “TJ Higgins’ GM pea provides a clear example of the failings of our current GM food regulatory regime. The pea failed miserably on all the [independent health] tests conducted.” And despite Higgins’ claims, “these tests are not required by our food regulator”.


  61. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 20:35 | #61

    @Jim Birch

    Depends on the situation and information. If it is public safety vs commercial secrecy, then the answer is different than if other circumstances apply.

    I know this complexity has burst your brain by now, but take it slowly.

  62. Chris Warren
    July 15th, 2011 at 20:53 | #62


    Where do you get the notion that anyone thinks

    Monsanto is an omniscient and secretive organisation that kills suffragettes, Jews, dolphins and whales. For this reason, we can’t trust them and their employees deserve to be covered with boils.

    Given that you asked:

    Have I missed anything?

    The answer is – Yes, your grip on reality?

  63. bill
    July 15th, 2011 at 22:02 | #63

    Bolt, the Murdochracy, Alan Jones and the rest of the squawkocrats, the IPA, Lavoisier, the *cough* Galileo Movement, Carter, Plimer, Monckton, Delingpole, Watts, CEI, Heartland, Christopher Pearson, the Marshall Institute, et al= well, enemy.

    Greenpeace = not enemy.

    Not always friend, or not always a clever friend, perhaps, but, Christ-on-a-bike, not ‘history’s greatest monsters’ (to paraphrase the Simpsons’ take on Springfield’s reaction to Jimmy Carter, admirably satirising the same sort of collective over-wrought over-reaction!)

    Let’s not get distracted into taking out our frustrations bickering with our allies – generally an indicator of an increasing sense of impotence – and lose focus on the real problems; this is a very real trap.

  64. NeilK
    July 15th, 2011 at 22:32 | #64

    Greenpeace cashed in it’s scientific credibility in the late 90s when they started their blanket opposition to GM food. In fact, the GM food issue is a great and simple litmus test for the scientific credibility of an environmental organization; if they are in favor of a blanket ban then they are anti-science. 

    The anti-GM policy originally had nothing to do with the science/risk – it was all about mistrust of corporations. Understandable. This was shown by the fact that all the protests (that I know of) up to now have been against corporations like Monsanto, scientific organizations like CSIRO have been left alone.

    Right now the science  does not support blanket opposition to GM technology. Neither does a cursory examination of the history of crop strain production – why is it fine to use random mutagensis to produce high yielding varieties but not a more targeted GM approach? 

    Now it appears that Greenpeace has started believing it’s own fantasical press releases and they have started going after well respected scientific organizations. That’s, well, stupid of them. In a PR battle between Greenpeace and the CSIRO I think most people will support the latter.

  65. paul of albury
    July 15th, 2011 at 22:53 | #65

    Can anyone please give me a reason why CSIRO would, independently of a joint venture, conduct research on a patented product which has not yet been released? It seems to me that there is an undisclosed joint venture with a commercial interest and that CSIRO refuses to disclose this. Greenpeace seem to think the same. This seems more product testing than public science.

    I believe this is very different to climate research which as far as I know is not covered by patents or commercial in confidence clauses.

  66. Michael Marriott
    July 16th, 2011 at 00:39 | #66

    @ chris warren

    Just to clarify, all anti science movements share the same tactics.

    Claiming the moral high ground when attacking the work of scientists is the last refuge of extremists.

    Where is your evidence if harm, except conspiracy theories? Give me peer reviewed science that backs your concerns.

    So the correctness of actions such as this come down to values? Whose. Yours? Tony Abbots?

    Tell me Chris, what other work of scientists would you have shut down?

    Should we all play by the rules of science, or opt out when it goes against our politics.

  67. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 05:09 | #67

    Bill, among the other longstanding disastrous strategies I’ve observed over the years “no enemies on the left” is probably almost as prominent as “we need to protest, let’s blow something up”.

    More generally, in 65 comments quite a few critical of the original post, i haven’t seen anyone challenge the point that tactics of this kind have proved disastrous every time they have been tried. The most directly comparable example, since they largely targeted science experiments, was Earth First.

  68. Scott
    July 16th, 2011 at 06:11 | #68

    Um, yeah this is a tactical disaster by Greenpeace, damaging to the Green Party, devastating to Australian scientists, and to boot, basically giving away a 50 metre penalty to the Murdochracy.

    You’d have to be a politicial naif of the first order to think otherwise.

  69. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 06:14 | #69

    A further point in response to Bill. You can’t now be a friend of both Greenpeace and CSIRO, and for practical purposes, any enemy of CSIRO is a friend of Bolt.

  70. July 16th, 2011 at 08:02 | #70

    I understand what Prof Quiggin is trying to say and do.
    Within the limitations of that, it is still safe to suggest a conversation concerning some thing like, “that GM is itself a questionable practice”.
    To many people when corporations like Monsanto have such influence on the US government that trade deals are said to ensure the protection of a big corporation’s interests in a locale foreign to its own home (Bhopal is the extreme case), this is the precondition that pushes the switch from “off” to “on” as to a tilting of the terms of the issue , a bit like in the way people in Britain reassessed Murdoch’s fitness to control BskyB in the wake of the News of the World revelations.
    Can science be science (out of the paws of neanderthals) within an irrational poleco system, I guess?
    To tell the truth, haven’t read most comments yet, will be fascinated to see how posters contend with JQ’s proposition.
    I did catch a glimpse of one exchange to do with the CSIRO, an organising that, like AQIS, some claim to have suffered badly from politico-economic interference by zombies over the last fifteen years or so.

  71. Michael Marriott
    July 16th, 2011 at 08:09 | #71

    In case people think this action does not have “official” Greenpeace support, I’d direct them to the Greenpeace Australia web site:


    I quote: “All of the evidence shows that GM can’t be contained in the field. Greenpeace has taken action to protect our food supply being contaminated by experimental GM wheat. Now the Australian Government must step in and protect the health of Australian people.

    “We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment,” said Greenpeace Food campaigner Laura Kelly. “GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread.”

    This is an “official” Greenpeace action.

    Let’s put aside the question of GM, and focus on the methods used.

    An attack on science is an attack on science. Greenpeace are distancing themselves from this, but proudly proclaiming responsibility. They rejected the protocols established, the science and attacked the work of scientists.

    The excuse of Greenpeace and these activists is essentially “the end justifies the means”.

    If climate sceptics broke into CSIRO labs and destroyed computers or started destroying temp stations we’d be outraged.

    As someone once broadly sympathetic with Greenpeace they’ve lost my support.

  72. Chris Warren
    July 16th, 2011 at 08:51 | #72

    John Quiggin :
    A further point in response to Bill. You can’t now be a friend of both Greenpeace and CSIRO, and for practical purposes, any enemy of CSIRO is a friend of Bolt.

    This is just nutty.

    Of course anyone with an ounce of rationality can support both Greenpeace, CSIRO, and also the critics of Greenpeace and CSIRO, depending on circumstances.

  73. July 16th, 2011 at 09:19 | #73

    Well, now I’ve read the comments I’ll say I subscribe to what ChrisW, FB, et al make of it, much of the rest seems disappointingly unreasoned and one dimensional in quality of thinking; emotive claptrap at worst, so I’ll presume it’s just to start up or keep going (a)conversation.
    I see as I write this, Jim Birch up with a comment that pretty much defines what I dont like about the second approach…

  74. Salient Green
    July 16th, 2011 at 09:57 | #74

    I don’t see this act or Greenpeace’s stance against GM as being anti-science. I see it as being anti an unacceptably dangerous type of science in the way of Fracking or Nuclear power.

    In other words, in the hands of big business and a lack of very tight regulation taking account of environmental and social concerns and the precautionary principle, best not to use it at all.

    I also think it is too early to say if this is a clumsy mistake by Greenpeace or a clever way to shine a light on a dark practice but even if it’s the former, it should be seen as a small bad among so many good things they have done for the environment.

  75. paul of albury
    July 16th, 2011 at 10:19 | #75

    what other work of scientists would you have shut down?

    Hmm, we’ve already been Godwinned and that was embarrassing enough, so chemical and biological weapons research, cosmetics testing that involves cruelty. I’m sure there’s plenty more examples

    There is no unrestricted right to conduct scientific research except in the fantasies of science nerds. Those of you that actually do research would deal with ethics and safety committees. Research is permitted by society subject to these checks. Someone earlier said they’d back CSIRO against Greenpeace for credibility. I’m not so sure its CSIRO that’s more in step with community thinking around the ethics of this research.

    It doesn’t help that CSIRO will not admit any details of its relationship with the licensor.

    Personally I came to this thread seriously considering stopping my support for Greenpeace. I’m now comfortable to continue. And I now think the whipper snippers were an inspired choice. But how long would it take and how noisy would it be to whipper snipper the whole crop in a supposedly secure area – surely they must have expected to be caught before they finished.

    I’d note that it’s probably also a good thing that the ethics around direct action are also difficult

  76. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 10:22 | #76

    “surely they must have expected to be caught before they finished.”

    As I said in the original post, they can always turn themselves in if they think their actions are genuinely defensible.

  77. paul of albury
    July 16th, 2011 at 10:25 | #77

    If the police are interested I think a look at this may be helpful. I wonder if they want to prosecute?

  78. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 11:06 | #78

    I looked at the link, and I’d say the post and video have been carefully constructed to claim credit for the destruction of the experiment while avoiding anything that could be used in evidence.

    On a casual reading, it seems obvious that the Heather McCabe referred to in para 5 and (I assume) shown in the video was the person referred to in the introductory para as having taken part in the action, but look a bit closer and it all dissolves into ambiguity. There’s enough plausible deniability there to put any politician to shame.

    Not, in my view, a particularly forthright way of proceeding.

  79. July 16th, 2011 at 11:11 | #79

    I suppose there is some sort of process involved in the selection of projects at an institution like CSIRO, but how open is the process?
    I see why people think Greenpeace is a bit tabloid on this one after a read of the link.
    In the meantime I return to my Robin Cook gothic science thriller and hot brew.

  80. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 11:28 | #80

    And for those who doubt the resemblance between Greenpeace and the delusionists, look at this “open letter from eight international scientists and doctors” attacking the proposal. This is startlingly similar to the various lists of bogus scientific sceptics put out by Heartland, Inhofe and so on.

    Admittedly, Greenpeace is a little more honest in describing its signatories than, say, Heartland, but if you can’t find a single Australian scientist to back your case (both the Australian signatories are GPs) and you have to resort to the Maharishi University of Management (not joking!) to get to eight worldwide, you might as well admit that there is not a lot of scientific support for your position.

  81. Tim Macknay
    July 16th, 2011 at 11:44 | #81

    Right now the science does not support blanket opposition to GM technology.

    This sort of disguised ideological statement is precisely the reason I think accusations of “anti-science” are propaganda when these sorts of issues are concerned. The “science” (i.e. available scientific evidence) does not “support” or “oppose” any particular position vis a vis GM technology. The support or opposition is all supplied by value judgments, which are mostly derived from cultural or ideological beliefs.

    I mostly agree with the underlying point made by Prof Q’s post, and stated explicitly at #67, which is that tactics of this kind are generally counterproductive (although not always – for example, unlawful interference with whaling operations by Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd has been effective, both in practical and public relations terms. There is a relatively broad consensus that whaling is bad, however, unlike GM).

  82. July 16th, 2011 at 11:49 | #82

    ” … the Maharishi School of Management…to get eight world wide…”.
    One more and they’ll be actually change a light bulb, having the eight to experience it, like?

  83. July 16th, 2011 at 11:51 | #83

    ps link to open letter link didn’t work, just me?

    Fixed now, I hope

  84. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 12:07 | #84

    @Tim Macknay
    I think the problem arises when you have a position based on cultural beliefs, essentially irrefutable by evidence, but are unwilling to say so, and therefore keep dancing between factual claims, value judgements and conspiracy-theoretic explanations of contrary evidence. It seems to me that this is a pretty good characterization of Greenpeace as regards GM (also of some unqualified supporters of GM when challenged on the point that the benefits haven’t lived up to the claims made in advance).

    At this stage, I would say there is enough scientific evidence to regard the claim that GM technology, per se, poses significant human health risks, as having been refuted. That’s not to say that some GM products might not be dangerous or that other concerns about GM aren’t valid.

    Turning to legality, as I said in the original post, the problem isn’t illegality as such, Although the distinction between civil disobedience and criminal action isn’t exactly sharp, this action clearly crosses the line. And as the history of the left in the 60s shows, there really is a slippery slope here. By contrast, in the case of whaling the actions have mostly been defensible on the basis that the Japanese operations being disrupted are themselves unlawful. It’s only when they create (or are alleged to have created) a serious risk of a collision that they have been subject to criticism.

  85. July 16th, 2011 at 12:18 | #85

    Thanks for link. How credible are these eight intrepid folk and what sort of support could the CSIRO director expect to muster in response?

  86. Chris Warren
    July 16th, 2011 at 12:19 | #86

    This is all gutter stock-in-trade propaganda….

    I think the problem arises when you have a position based on cultural beliefs, essentially irrefutable by evidence, but are unwilling to say so, and therefore keep dancing between factual claims, value judgements and conspiracy-theoretic explanations of contrary evidence. It seems to me that this is a pretty good characterization of Greenpeace as regards GM (also of some unqualified supporters of GM when challenged on the point that the benefits haven’t lived up to the claims made in advance).

    The problem that sort of manufactured accusation can be rolled-out on any occasion.

    The same can be said for economists who propagate their ideo-cultural beliefs in capitalism, markets, and models even as the contary evidence sinks their ships.

    The disruption of Japanese ‘science’ is based on the mode or quality of that science and has nothing to do with being “unlawful”. Even if some power decreed the Japanese ‘science’ to be lawful, other deeper considerations still underpin activist counter-actions.

  87. Tim Macknay
    July 16th, 2011 at 12:36 | #87

    @John Quiggin

    I think the problem arises when you have a position based on cultural beliefs, essentially irrefutable by evidence, but are unwilling to say so, and therefore keep dancing between factual claims, value judgements and conspiracy-theoretic explanations of contrary evidence. It seems to me that this is a pretty good characterization of Greenpeace as regards GM (also of some unqualified supporters of GM when challenged on the point that the benefits haven’t lived up to the claims made in advance).

    You may be right.

  88. jakerman
    July 16th, 2011 at 12:43 | #88

    John Quiggin :I would say there is enough scientific evidence to regard the claim that GM technology, per se, poses significant human health risks, as having been refuted. T

    Based on what trials John? Surely you can’t find GM technology per se poses no significant health risks. Even if long term feeding trials were conducted on one GMO that is different to every other. We cannot find all GE strains are safe until we test each one.

  89. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 13:01 | #89

    Reread the comment, jakerman. I’m not claiming that all GMOs are safe or that any should be approved without testing.

    Just that, if there were a general and significant health risk with GM as such, the 40-odd years of research since Asilomar ought to have found some evidence of it.

  90. jakerman
    July 16th, 2011 at 13:08 | #90

    The limited feeding trials (even thought most have been inadequate) have found evidence of potential health risk.


    But when found responses such as this have resulted:

    In the mid-1990s, the UK government decided to institute what US leaders refused to—rigorous, long-term safety testing. They commissioned scientists to develop an assessment protocol for GM crop approvals that would be used in the UK and eventually by the EU. In 1998, three years into the project, the scientists discovered that potatoes engineered to produce a harmless insecticide caused extensive health damage to rats. The pro-GM government immediately canceled the project, the lead scientist was fired and the research team dismantled. The assessment requirements that were eventually adopted by the EU were a far cry from those that were being developed in the UK. The superficial testing schemes still have yet to meet the demands of the FDA’s stifled scientists


  91. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 13:45 | #91

    Jakerman, I can find loads of material like this on anti-science sites of all kinds (AIDS reappraisers, pro-smokers, climate deniers etc etc). Why should I think this one is any more credible?

    I’m guessing that the case in question is this, which makes the research sound rather less impressive. I don’t think Pusztai was well treated, but it certainly looks as if he went to press early on research that didn’t stand up


  92. Sam
    July 16th, 2011 at 13:49 | #92

    Two points of objection JQ.

    1 Your comment at #69 seems unduly absolutist. One needn’t be an all-in friend or enemy of CSIRO, Greenpeace or Bolt. It’s perfectly allowed to pick and choose particular issues from all entities. One could be against global warming and whaling, against GM foods and nuclear power, and against Islamic absolutism. By your standards, I have no such “friends.”

    2 I have no sympathy at all for your belief implied in #84 that an act which is illegal is made even slightly less moral. Laws are deeply troublesome things, usually far inferior to a good person’s conscience. The law the Japanese whalers are breaking (the one you say justifies obstructive action) was arrived at by an incredibly flawed international process brokered by politicians busily engaged in the horse-trading of realpolitik. It could just as easily not have passed, but the Sea Shepard’s actions would be moral just the same.

  93. jakerman
    July 16th, 2011 at 14:17 | #93

    John, you haven’t demonstrated that the site is an anti-science site. You’ve simply tried to associate it with other sites . Barry Brook could just as similarly dismiss sites such as yours that point out the risk of nuclear power. Anti science is throwing out testing protocol when you find health risks. Its anti-science to block access to GMO seed to conduct safety trials.

    When there aren’t appropriate feeding studies how can you expect to find harm from products.

  94. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 14:33 | #94

    Coming back to the political consequences of this kind of action, I’m aware of the limits of online polls but the reaction of Canberra Times readers was pretty overwhelming. Only 11 per cent supported Greenpeace, with 80 per cent taking the “anti-science vandalism” option


    Regrettably, that doesn’t mean the action will be bad for Greenpeace, who will attract the support of the more infantile members of the left/environmentalist movement, while doing great damage to the movement as a whole.

  95. Chris Warren
    July 16th, 2011 at 15:40 | #95


    Those who throw such mud generally end up covered themselves.

  96. Mel
    July 16th, 2011 at 16:13 | #96

    It’s more concerning that silly elements in the Greens power structures have supported Greenpeace’s thuggery, both on this occasion and in the past.

    I was a member of the Greens for several years but became disillusioned for a number of reasons, not least the anti-democratic tactics that the leading light and perennial candidate in my local branch thought was OK.

  97. Fran Barlow
    July 16th, 2011 at 16:52 | #97

    It is, in my opinion, the same mistake to assert that GM is inherently unacceptably risky and/or harmful to human interests as to assert it’s inherently worthwhile. GM innovations ought to be decided on a case-by-case basis for their poitnetial to contribute usefully to contemporary life.

    As things stand, the business of evaluating them for their utility is seriously complicated by two types of “noise”within the system. The largest part of the noise comes from large corporations, like Monsanto, who, as we know from past experience, care not a jot about their “externalities” (apart from wanting them to continue to assist them) and are willing to go to the mattresses for their equity and other stakeholders. That is after all, their brief. These people are very well connected and have huge resources they can throw into this, and so it’s not surprising that they are able to frame the ways in which their activities are reported upon.

    The mere fact that they are hugely powerful and able to lie shamelessly and get away with it doesn’t mean they are wrong of course.

    The other noise in the system comes from those who have an idealised view of “the natural” as inherently superior to anything that can be presented as non-natural. The natural has, ipso facto, authenticity on its side. The natural is much closer to what most of us take to be our own experience of the world and so it’s not surprising that GM is being assailed as an unnatural think. As sympathetic as I am to “whole foods” it’s easy to see why those pushing for this describe their competition as “frankenfoods”. It trades on the FUD factor, and the sense that that which comes from nature untainted by human hand is the very best thing of all for us humans.

    That’s a very sweeping claim of course, because by a great many criteria, contemporary society, which has the grubby fingerprints of human innovation with nature all over it, has done pretty well. The small bands of humans living 13,000 years BP could not have dreamed how well we mostly live now. They lived a very “natural” but brutish and short existence. They were scarcely to be distinguished from other primates.

    The virtue of contemporary society is that we can choose how “natural” the things we want to consume should be on an approximately rational basis. We can also decide how to define “the natural”. It’s one of those things many think they can understand, but which is utlimately, I would say, arbitrary and at best, a matter of subjective aesthetics.

    It’s here one can see the parallel between the anti-GM crowd and the anti-mitigation crowd. Both regard science as invading and trampling both upon their personal space, their domain. Both regard themselves as on the worng end of powerful and privileged forces, and wish cultural life to remain (at least in the case of GM/mitigation) as it once was. Both are an appeal against human agency and trade on the virtue of the authentic over the human-contrived. I imagine that it would not be hard, if one held a meeting in a town in Iowa, to have meetings on successive nights in which ,much the same crowd roared their approval for those declaiming against “Gore/carbon traders” and “Monsanto/GM”.

    Yet rational public policy, if it can be had, demands something more impressive than hatred or suspicion of elites or big business or big government, of the non-natural and non-local and inauthentic. It requires a thoughtful examination of the ways in which this or that technology or set of social arrangements advances or diminishes the power of communities to live well and suatainably over meaningful timelines. For that we need adequate and salient data, good modelling and a robust dialog over what communities can have and might one day wish for.

    Sweeping claims that this or that technology is simply beyond the pale, unconnected with rigorous examination qualifies as agnotology, in my opinion.

    As I suggested above, there are a great many social and ethical issues attached to the roll-out of biotechnology (including GM). The noise in the system makes it harder for those of us who want evidence-based policy to distinguish what adds to from what subtracts from collective human utility. Our governance challenge is to work out how to filter out that noise and empower working humanity to make the best choices.

  98. jakerman
    July 16th, 2011 at 17:13 | #98

    Fran don’t fall for the false notion that opposition to approval of GMO without proper feeding trials is anti-science or is regarding “science as invading and trampling both upon their personal space”.

    This is what many of us with informed opinions are taking issue with, the lack of appropriate trials.


  99. paul of albury
    July 16th, 2011 at 17:30 | #99

    John re #78 (been out all day so first I’ve seen it), one of the criticisms of Greenpeace is that this was tactically stupid. A post which was a signed confession could limit their options in court, I’d imagine Greenpeace may like to hear evidence eg from the people responsible for security. If there are no facts in issue this may be difficult. In any case they’ve pretty much said to police, ‘start investigating here’.

    I agree with you about the weakness of the letter from the concerned scientists.

    Generally speaking I’d be less concerned about this action if it was against a corporate biotech property. It seems with all the statements about being a ‘friend’ of CSIRO many people see CSIRO as having special status. But the commercialisation and commercial secrecy of CSIRO makes this difficult. If CSIRO are conducting this research on behalf of biotech companies then I believe this is no worse (or better) than an action against a commercial research operation. Unfortunately there has been no disclosure of the commercial relationships.

  100. July 16th, 2011 at 20:20 | #100

    Greenpeace have done some wonderful campaigns – I’ve plugged their one about VW recently, but this is diabolically bad, for all the reasons outlined here. I’ve tried to set it in context of my wider perceptions as a science communicator and environmental activist here

    At any time I would consider this a bad action, but with the climate debate white-hot at the moment promoting the notion that the Green movement is anti-science is diabolically bad.

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