Over 100 Nobel laureates signed a letter urging Greenpeace to stop opposing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter specifically address golden rice, a genetically engineered crop designed to reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies, which cause blindness in children of the developing world.
My first thought is to endorse any effort against the self-obsessed, romantic dogmatism of Greenpeace. But that may be a bit hasty.
The effort behind the letter was organized by Sir Richard Roberts, Chief Scientific Officer of New England Biolabs and Phillip Sharp, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that genes in eukaryotes are not contiguous strings and contain introns. UC Berkeley’s Randy Schekman, professor of cell and developmental biology and 2013 Nobel laureate also signed the letter.
I expect Roberts, Sharp, Schekman and other signers are highly qualified to offer an opinion on the safety of golden rice. And I suspect they’re right about Greenpeace. But I think the letter is a terrible move for science.
Of the 110 Nobel laureate signers as of today, 26 are physicists and 34 are chemists. Laureates in Peace, Literature and Economics are also on the list. It’s possible that a physicists or an economist might be highly skilled in judging the safety of golden rice; but I doubt that most Nobel winners who signed that letter are more qualified than the average molecular biologist without a Nobel Prize.
Scientists, more than most folk, should be aware that consensus should not be recruited to support a theory. Instead, consensus should occur only when the last skeptic is dragged, kicking and screaming, over the evidence, then succumbing to the same explanatory theory held by peers. That clearly didn’t happen with Roberts’ campaign and argument from authority.
Also, if these Nobel-winning scientist had received slightly less specialized educations, they might see a terrible irony here. They naively attempt to side step Hume’s Guillotine. That is, by thinking that scientific knowledge allows deriving an “ought” statement from an “is” statement (or collection of scientific facts), they indulge in ethical naturalism and are exposed to the naturalistic fallacy. And in a very literal sense, ethical naturalism is exactly the delusion under which Greenpeace operates.
Each day I wonder how many things I am dead wrong about. – Jim Harrison
#1 by cathyc on July 3, 2016 - 3:47 am
“Scientists, more than most folk, should be aware that consensus should not be recruited to support a theory. Instead, consensus should occur only when the last skeptic is dragged, kicking and screaming, over the evidence, then succumbing to the same explanatory theory held by peers. That clearly didn’t happen with Roberts’ campaign and argument from authority.”
I am curious as to how this can or should or shouldn’t be applied to Creationism. Do scientists have to be diverted by the need to try to convert Creationists? Can they simply ignore that group? No doubt there are other examples, but this particular thorn is the obvious one to consider. It seems to me both ignoring it and not ignoring it are unsatisfactory.
#2 by Dr. Steve on July 3, 2016 - 6:29 am
Scientists are dipping their oar into politics… politicians are dipping their oar into science… and both are increasing the spin of the system instead of making forward progress.
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#3 by Allan Howard on September 8, 2017 - 11:27 pm
Surely it’s beside the point whether someone is an expert (or not), as the letter these laureates signed up to is about Greenpeace being opposed to GM crops and, more specifically, Golden Rice. The other 175 living Nobel Laureates who DIDN’T sign up to it presumably saw it for what it was – ie a black propaganda op concocted and designed to create hostility in joe public towards Greenpeace and, simultaneously win over hearts and minds to a more pro position and acceptance of GM crops and foods etc. I don’t actually know of course, but it’s simple enough to see that it’s all one big falsehood and deception, and it’s hard to imagine that you WOULDN’T sign up to such a letter if you believed that doing so would help resolve the plight of millions of young children.
But of course the vast majority of people out there have no idea how many living Laureates there are, and are highly unlikely to even wonder about it. All ‘good’ black propaganda projects are concocted and designed to evoke a strong emotional response, as doing so prevents people from thinking rationally. For example, the rational mind would tell you that Assad would have absolutely zero to gain by ordering a chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, and everything to lose potentially and, conversely, that the forces working against him would have everything to gain by carrying out such an attack and blaming it on him (and nothing to lose). But if, from more-or-less the outset, the (corporate) media are saying it must have been Assad – and castigating him for doing it – then joe public will be feeling anger and hostility (towards Assad) and, being immersed in such emotions, be incapable of rational and objective thought, or even be open to it.
Big Lies (the bigger the better) and Repitition, two of Hitler’s and Goebbels favourite propaganda techniques. And to the PTB it’s just childsplay, and all an endless source of amusement to them.