Archive for the rant Category

A strange day for sad news

Posted in media, musings, News-related, rant with tags , , , , , on 09/04/2014 by sangomasmith

With elections looming in sunny SA, it seems very… typical that our media attention is focused elsewhere. And by elsewhere I mean on violent crime.

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Doing what the internet does best

Posted in media, rant with tags , , , on 28/01/2014 by sangomasmith

Links and threats of violence, apparently.

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Inevitability Squared

Posted in Crop science, media, Science, screwed by the man with tags , , on 25/01/2014 by sangomasmith

So this puff piece came out in Wired, talking about Monsanto’s ‘new’ approach regarding plant breeding. It’s pretty weak suace: Marker Assisted Breeding is hardly new. Big M does, however, have a very strong pipeline approach which allows them to use these sorts of technology to the fullest. But enough about the details of what is actually happening.  Time to rant!


Reading the comments, I’m loving the outrage from people over teh ebil corporations now moving into breeding – as if that isn’t what they were doing all along (GM just puts a specific gene into an existing breed, folks). I’m sure that, somewhere in the bowels of Greenpeace HQ, they are already contemplating how to whip up luddite sentiment against MAB, or bioinformatics, or whatever it is that big Ag is going to use to do their thing once you’ve pushed through a ban on the other tools in the box. God knows the first thing they will do is paint the whole thing as a sign that they were right all along and GMOs are evil (look, they’re so bad that even Monsanto is going organic!).


This is inevitability squared. It was inevitable that once a bunch of environmental lobbying organisations made it really hard to use genetic engineering for political reasons (LOL @ 10 year field trials, compared to 0 years for ‘traditional’ crops) you would see large companies turn to other methods to generate a profit.

Just as it is inevitable that the same lobbying organisations will now find another thing to rail against once this happens. And, just as existing GMOs get grandfathered in before banning all future research on them (I’m looking at you, Hawaii), so too will the existing hybrids and MAB projects get quietly put into a safe category when we’re all taught to fear targeted mutants or something.

I can’t wait to see what the future brings…

A more productive post

Posted in media, pedantry, rant, Science with tags , , , , on 12/01/2014 by sangomasmith

I recently went blog-diving and found this charming specimen who, between saying things that make sense, seems to be particularly vexed by feminists (and women in general, if his other mentions are anything to go by). Now, the combination of finding this particular rough diamond and hanging around here too much got me all het up to write a post blasting the smart misogynists for being the clueless dipshits that they are. Ultimately, however, I realised that (as Scalzi pointed out) you just cannot get concepts like ‘privilege‘ across to these bozos without whickering and whining. They are just too bitter, clueless and invested to hear. So instead I’m going to try for something a little more tangental: a brief explanation for why these guys may have a point about some of the people they find wretched or disgusting (thanks for that, Scott). And why it doesn’t much matter.


The problem is simple: it takes a certain amount of resources and connections to get the word out. This means that, barring miracles or outside intervention, a rich, upper-class person who works in the media is going to have an easier time reaching an audience than a poor person working as a janitor. Which means that, more often than not, the people writing about the poor and dispossessed are going to be neither. Which can be a problem if, for instance, you’re trying to dig down to the essence of what it means to be poor. It can also weaken your personal case for whatever it is you are arguing for – folks will inevitably leap onto the fact that your personal experiences are overblown or minor compared to the real suffering that you’re trying to connect to. And there is a core of truth to this – it really is hard for a white, cosseted, upper-class person to really get what it means to be down and out in a racist country. Or for a pampered, academic feminist to really get what it means to be a woman living in a world where your worth to society is measured principally by the number of male children you can raise to adulthood.


However, there is a known human faculty which is supposed to help alleviate this problem. We call it ’empathy’. It is, like all things human, not a perfect faculty – one’s personal experiences and biases will always creep in to colour things. But it is useful for that most human and humane of tasks: the long mile in someone else’s shoes. I should mention the word ‘useful’ again, because empathy is also about more than just getting the feels when you realise what someone else’s plight is. It is also a hard-edged tool: the culmination of our fine-grained, meta-cognitive, social senses. Which is why it tends to be the first thing that tends to go whenever a brain is damaged or malfunctioning.


Most feminists, whatever I may think of their individual lives or arguments, tend to at least display empathy. That the ones with the biggest platforms may also tend to be the ones who encounter the least actual sexism in their daily lives (you know, aside from the inevitable rape threats any time they say anything in the public sphere) does not mean that what they say has suddenly been rendered worthless. What unites my little collection of misogynist  internet assholes, on the other hand, is a stunning lack of empathy. This may not even be their fault – it is one of those biological failings of the male gender (along with stupid risk taking and much higher crime rates) that we tend to be more afflicted by neurological disorders.


So when they accuse those evil(or wretched, or disgusting) feminists of being self-serving, vain, deceitful, clueless, arrogant, out of touch, creepy, grasping, pathetic etc. perhaps they are just looking into the mirror and failing to see any reflection but their own?

Something about biotech for a change

Posted in Crop science, rant, Science with tags , , , on 07/01/2014 by sangomasmith

This is an interesting piece on the problems associated with trying to legislate GMOs – namely that being anti-GMO is turning into the climate change denialism of the left.  And to think I’d allowed a shred of optimism to colour my worldview on the subject.


Way back at the beginning of 2013 Mark Lynas, who played a pretty big part in getting the anti-GMO ball rolling in the first place, issued a public mea culpa for his past actions. This, along with some encouraging news about the use of GMOs to counter citrus greening, led me to briefly become optimistic that the worst of the stupidity was over.


It was not to last

Mark Lynas’ speech led to a backlash from his previously loyal supporters rather than the reappraisal that I think he was hoping for. He’s still sticking to his guns, but then the man is nothing if not committed to his principles (whatever they may be at any given moment). Elsewhere, destruction of trial fields in the European Union has become so pervasive that research there has all but stopped. Elsewhere, Golden rice suffered another setback when a large field trial in the Philippines was destroyed.

Look at any article on the subject and you will see a slew of comments from conspiracy theorists, anti-corporate crusaders and nature-anthropomorphising pseudo-environmentalists all repeating the same tired myths about GMOs*. It reminds one of the climate change denialists – folks who have decided that their worldview is more important than facts and will fight tooth and nail to stay in their little bubble.


We will see if this year is any better than the last. But I’m not getting my hopes up.


*For people who wish to play anti-GMO bingo:

anti GMO Bingo


With thanks to this guy

Nothing ever changes

Posted in medicine, rant, Science with tags , , , , , on 03/01/2011 by sangomasmith

Except the buzz-words

Yet more debate

Posted in Crop science, media, News-related, rant, Science with tags , , , , , on 17/11/2010 by sangomasmith

It looks like Pharyngula really went to town on the whole GMO debate recently.

Anyway, between the hand-wringing about Monsanto and the evils of industrialised agriculture, there seems to be a need to explain exactly what genetic modification is. I’ll be doing my best to do so for the next while, so hopefully the next time we have this debate we can get beyond the whole ‘they’re going to kill us all with super-weeds/terminator seeds/poison death-plants’ phase and move on to debating the more important stuff.

Wish me luck.