Friday Report: Science friction — end of days version
September 4, 2014
Around 1900, scientists heralded asbestos as the future of insulation and the industry embraced it as a fundamental building material. It took 80 years for scientists to shuffle their feet and sheepishly mention that asbestos was actually more deadly than Interstate 5 through Los Angeles.
Around 1850, cocaine was the new wonder drug, prescribed freely for Victorian ladies to help them through their "vapors." Scientists were amazed when cocaine cleaned up morphine addicts. It cured depression and even alcoholics eagerly gave up their booze in exchange for this miracle powder.
In 1885, Coca-Cola was on a long list of cocaine-based medicines. Coke's founder, John Pemberton, distinguished his product with the addition of another addictive substance: a massive jolt of sugar to help the medicine go down.
It was about this same time folks realized cocaine-based meds were the basis of lots of cocaine-ruined lives. In 1891 the amount of cocaine in Coke was reduced to a mere flavoring and in 1926 it was eliminated completely.
So thanks to science, if your house has asbestos, you can't give it away, but if your house has cocaine, they'll take it away.
It's naïvely comforting to think that science can save us from ourselves. Someday they'll find a cure for everything. OK, not Congress, but maybe the rest of mankind's woes. Then we could all go on forever like some weird Anne Rice novel about vampires on fixed incomes.
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Folks are hot to label GM (genetically modified) foods, but to me that seems like Shell Oil labeling their gas as gluten-free. You simply aren't going to get around the fact that GM foods have been in America's food chain for more than 20 years and aren't going away.
And they shouldn't go away. There's much good to be had from this science. What's needed is a closer look to see if agribusiness is throwing caution to the winds of profit, twisting and suppressing true scientific research into the ecological impact of their products.
Monsanto breeds seed crops that are genetically altered to withstand extreme levels of glyphosate, the main ingredient in their herbicide Roundup. This allows them to sell farmers expensive altered seed in a locked-in package with Roundup to prevent weeds from competing for water and fertilizer, reducing labor and increasing yield. Monsanto claims glyphosate is safe as aspirin but others call Monsanto the Darth Vader of agribusiness. Monsanto knows herbicides; it invented Agent Orange.
The jury's out about glyphosate's direct impact on humans but it was recently determined that the chemical does target and damage beneficial bacteria that have evolved right along with us. Bored scientists have counted 10 bacteria crawling around on every single body cell. Scientists (them again) are beginning to understand how important these bacteria are to our physical well-being. Damaged bacteria leave us wide-open to some pretty devastating health concerns like autism, Parkinson's, and infertility, all strongly linked to Roundup and glyphosate. These herbicides have been banned in several countries with fears they will eclipse DDT in their impact. But wait, it gets worse.
One-third of the world's food production depends upon pollination by bees. Monsanto's competitor Syngenta also produces GM seeds that resist Syngenta's own tobacco-based pesticide products called neonics. These chemicals are well-known to be extremely toxic to bees. Scientists themselves are fighting to the death whether neonics are causing Colony Collapse Disorder and the demise of the Monarch butterfly.
Syngenta says its critics are a pack of lying, America-hating, tree-huggers. Critics say Syngenta is a cabal of lying, America-hating money-grubbers. The current thinking is that neonics don't kill bees and butterflies; it just leaves them susceptible to parasites that do. Oh, and Syngenta knows herbicides as well. They manufactured paraquat, a powerful weed killer that the DEA sprayed on hippy grow farms, poisoning a generation of potheads. Paraquat has been closely linked to Parkinson's disease.
So for those who worry about future generations, take heart. Given enough twisted science, there may not be any.
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