Friday, February 27, 2009

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

So yes, it turns out that, as rational people expected all along, biotech companies aren't keen on safety an other assessments of their products:
"Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions,” the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.

The statement will probably give support to critics of biotech crops, like environmental groups, who have long complained that the crops have not been studied thoroughly enough and could have unintended health and environmental consequences."

In related news, research on transgenic maise contamination of wild corn, attacked and discredited eight years ago as methodologically deficient, is vindicated.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Could Living in a Mentally Enriching Environment Change Your Genes?

Could Living in a Mentally Enriching Environment Change Your Genes?: Scientific American:
"Lamarckian theories about the influence of the environment were largely abandoned after scientists discovered that heritable traits are carried on the genes encoded by our DNA. A recent study, however, published by neuroscientists Junko A. Arai, Shaomin Li and colleagues at Tufts University, shows that not only does the environment an animal is reared in have marked effects on its ability to learn and remember, but also that these effects are inherited. The study suggests that we are not the mere sum of our genes: what we do can make a difference."

See also: Epigenetics

Monday, February 23, 2009

The disease of privatization

Shawn Hattingh on Cholera in South Africa:
Cholera outbreaks in South Africa are due to the ANC-led state's failure to address the inequalities of apartheid. In fact, both national and local governments in South Africa have promoted the idea that water should be sold as a commodity. Consequently, millions of people, even where the infrastructure exists, don't have access to clean water because they can't afford the high prices charged for it. Over 40% of South Africans are unemployed and simply don't have the money to pay for clean water. Unfortunately, there is little hope that free water for all will be rolled out across the country. All of the parties involved in the upcoming election, including the ANC,26 COPE,27 and the DA,28 remain committed to neo-liberalism and the commercialization of services -- in other words, committed to selling water as a commodity and cutting off people's water if they don't pay for it. This, in turn, is going to force people to reuse the water they do manage to get or access water from other sources such as streams. Therefore, cholera is set to break out again and again in South Africa. Only by organizing themselves and winning free water for all through their own actions can people put an end to this disease of privatization. Water is essential for life -- it mustn't be turned into a commodity to be sold and bought.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The marriage of reason and nightmare...

From JG Ballard's introduction to the French edition of Crash (1974?):

The marriage of reason and nightmare that has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the spectres of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy. Thermo-nuclear weapons systems and soft-drink commercials coexist in an overlit realm ruled by advertising and pseudo-events, science and pornography. Over our lives preside the great twin leitmotifs of the 20th century–sex and paranoia. [...] Options multiply around us, and we live in an almost infantile world where any demand, any possibility, whether for life-styles, travel, sexual roles and identities, can be satisfied instantly.

[...] Given these transformations, what is the main task facing the writer? Can he, any longer, make use of the techniques and perspectives of the traditional 19th-century novel, with its linear narrative, its measured chronology, its consular characters grandly inhabiting their domains within an ample time and space? Is his subject matter the sources of character and personality sunk deep in the past, the unhurried inspection of roots, the examination of the most subtle nuances of social behaviour and personal relationships? Has the writer still the moral authority to invent a self-sufficient and self-enclosed world, to preside over his characters like an examiner, knowing all the questions in advance? Can he leave out anything he prefers not to understand, including his own motives, prejudices and psychopathology?

[...] I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind—mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Get to their homes

Mortgage Madness: Protest targets 'predator':
Stamford and Greenwich became the stomping grounds of a grassroots campaign against corporate greed Sunday as part of a three day homeowners' workshop sponsored by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. Between 350 and 400 people, most of them members, staff or volunteers for the Boston-based nonprofit organization, converged outside the Greenwich home of William Frey, manager of Greenwich Financial Services, at around 1 p.m.

Wearing bright yellow hats and t-shirts with pictures of sharks and the words "Stop Loan Sharks," protesters had already targeted the home of John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley, at 6 Club Road, Rye, N.Y. earlier in the day.

At Frey's house, 10 Glenville Road, Greenwich, they chanted slogans such as "Fix our loans, save our homes." They placed furniture on the lawn to symbolize the dislocation felt by people who have had their homes foreclosed upon and been evicted, their belongings tossed outside by state marshals.

"We did it to make them feel what it must be like for someone to have their home foreclosed upon," NACA mortgage counselor Carmen Orta said.

Called the "Predators Tour" these actions were the start of NACA's "accountability campaign," an aggressive, confrontational protest aimed at several top executives of companies that refuse to allow NACA to renegotiate the terms of loans on behalf of members, according to NACA CEO Bruce Marks.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mass privatisation and the post-communist mortality crisis: a cross-national analysis : The Lancet

The privatisation plague in Eastern Europe, during the last decade of the 20th century:

During the early-1990s, adult mortality rates rose in most post-communist European countries. Substantial differences across countries and over time remain unexplained. Although previous studies have suggested that the pace of economic transition was a key driver of increased mortality rates, to our knowledge no study has empirically assessed the role of specific components of transition policies. We investigated whether mass privatisation can account for differences in adult mortality rates in such countries.
Mass privatisation programmes were associated with an increase in short-term adult male mortality rates of 12·8% (95% CI 7·9—17·7; p<0·0001), with similar results for the alternative privatisation indices from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (7·8% [95% CI 2·8—13·0]). One mediating factor could be male unemployment rates, which were increased substantially by mass privatisation (56·3% [28·3—84·3]; p<0·0001). Each 1% increase in the percentage of population who were members of at least one social organisation decreased the association of privatisation with mortality by 0·27%; when more than 45% of a population was a member of at least one social organisation, privatisation was no longer significantly associated with increased mortality rates (3·4% [95% CI −5·4 to 12·3]; p=0·44).

Monday, February 2, 2009

considered as a race

The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy considered as a downhill motor race - By JG Ballard, 1969

vs. its father, who arts in heaven:

The Crucifixion Considered as an uphill bicycle race
- by Alfred Jarry, 1911

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bad Science » The Medicalisation of Everyday Life

Bad Science » The Medicalisation of Everyday Life:
"People die at different rates because of a complex nexus of interlocking social and political issues including work life, employment status, social stability, family support, housing, smoking, drugs, and possibly diet, although the evidence on that, frankly, is pretty thin, and you certainly wouldn’t start there.

But we do, because it’s such a delicious fantasy, because it’s commodifiable and pushed by expert PR agencies, and in some respects this is one of the most destructive features of the whole nutritionist project... Food has become a distraction from the real causes of ill health, and also, in some respects, a manifesto of rightwing individualism. You are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. You hear it from people as they walk past the local council estate and point at a mother feeding her child crisps: “Well, when you look at what they feed them,” they say, “it’s got to be diet, hasn’t it?” They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see 80. You deserve it. Not like them.

Genuine public-health interventions to address the social and lifestyle causes of disease are far less lucrative, and far less of a spectacle, than anything a lifestyle magazine editor or television commissioner would dare to touch. What prime-time TV show looks at food deserts created by giant supermarket chains, the very companies with which the stellar media nutritionists so often have their lucrative commercial contracts? What glossy magazine focuses on how social inequality drives health inequality? Where’s the human interest in prohibiting the promotion of bad foods, facilitating access to healthier foods by means of taxation, or maintaining a clear labelling system?

...We love this stuff. It isn’t done to us, we invite it, and we buy it, because we want to live in a simple universe of rules with justice, easy answers and predictable consequences. We want pills to solve complex social problems like school performance. We want berries to stop us from dying and to delineate the difference between us and the lumpen peasants around us. We want nice simple stories that make sense of the world.nd if you make us think about anything else more complicated, we will open our mouths, let out a bubble or two, and float off - bored and entirely unphased - to huddle at the other end of our shiny little fishbowl eating goji berries.

Excerpt from Ben Goldacre's book: Bad Science (which is based on his Guardian column).