James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

December 29, 2009

Not 2 + 2 = 5, but close

Filed under: Fun With Numbers,Politics,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — James @ 12:59 pm

Among the many things Michael Specter talks about in his new book Denialism, is that fact that numeracy (the mathmatical equivalent of literacy) is no longer prized in todays society.

Case in point:

BP, for example, puts $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion a year into alternative energy projects. That’s about 1 percent of the company’s total $20 billion investment this year in future business prospects.*

I was going to beat up on the greenpeace blog where I read this sentence, but on a closer rereading I realized it was actually a direct quote from this article on the New York Times website. Come on people, 1% is easy, all you do is move the decimal place, you don’t even have to divide or multiply. Now there could be some obscure accounting reason that regular math doesn’t apply here, but if so it should have been mentioned and it wasn’t. (more…)

December 27, 2009

How A Piece of Misinformation is Born

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — James @ 4:34 am

For an example of how fast information can be distorted as it is transmitted through the web, check out my previous documentation about how a paper on a GM trait not being in danger of escaping into wild populations was twisted into“Another failure of genetic engineering” in only a week.

Refuting every post across the web that makes false claims about agriculture, genetics, or plant biology would be, firstly impossible, and secondly, incredibly tedious. Once a piece of misinformation escapes into the wild it is far harder to call back than the horrible trans-genes of anti-GMO activists nightmares. A false idea will spread far faster among those who want to believe than it can be refuted (at length and in detail) by those who know better.

But this morning (or afternoon, or evening, or dead of night), I came across a wonderful example of what I believe has the potential to be an entirely new false fact that could float around the web, and obscure corners of the public consciousness for years to come (or be forgotten in a week, it’s hard to pick which facts will escape and thrive in the wild until they actually have.)


December 6, 2009

Sunday Links 12/6

Filed under: Link Posts — Tags: , , — James @ 12:59 pm

MAT Kinase tells the story of some of a cool, weird, (and potentially deadly) fruit created using nothing but conventional breeding techniques in Plumalmodterine.

Steve Savage has the conversation with a Greenpeace campaigner I’ve always wanted to have with the people who can constantly be found soliciting money for similar organizations on my walk to work.

Steve’s post reminded me of this awesome (and freely available article) from Plant Physiology: Forbidden Fruit: Transgenic Papaya in Thailand* which is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in genetic engineering, the developing world, and the role of NGOs like Greenpeace.

I’m considering making this a regular feature. I often read cool articles, but it feels weird to put up a post that just says “go read this” when I don’t have anything of my own to add. Anyway, the test of whether this will be a feature or a fluke will be if I remember to post another one in a week.

*I know I’d previously mentioned this in my post on virus-resistant papayas, but I think there are at least several new readers since then and I’ve been dismayed to find out how little publicity this article seems to have received when it first came out.

November 13, 2009

Greenpeace offers marker assisted breeding

Greenpeace on Friday called on the International Rice Research Institute to abandon its genetic engineering program as the environmental activist group offers marker assisted breeding as a safe alternative to bioengineering.


Dear Greenpeace,

I would like to call upon you to abandon your campaign against genetic engineering and offer up an alternative priority your organization could focus on to the greater benefit of the world we all share: Fighting man-made global warming.


Now you could argue greenpeace already is opposed to global warming. And you’d be right. They are. I guess my offering it to them looks pretty stupid doesn’t it?

The same could be said of greenpeace offering marker assisted selection to the plant breeding community that pioneered the technique and is taking full advantage of it, and has been for years in both the private and public sectors. Case in point: (more…)

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