Monday, May 19, 2003

Notes on Pseudoscience

Dean Jorge Bocobo, a frequent Philippine Daily Inquirer contributor who calls himself a physicist, wrote in the May 19 issue of the said newspaper a commentary attempting to rebut the arguments of Roberto "Obet" Verzola and Luisita "Sita" Esmao, leaders of an almost-month-old hunger strike at the Department of Agriculture against the commercialization of the American corporation Monsanto's Bt corn in the Philippines--as well as those of the media practitioners who have supported them in one way or another.

Anyone with average intelligence who puts to good use her or his brain powers would surely sense the utter nonsense in the commentary written by the US-based physicist. In fact this article would not have had to exist were it not for the intolerable insults the very learned physicist hurled against the opponents of Bt corn and other genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The very learned US-based physicist Dean Jorge Bocobo begins by issuing the following message to opponents of GMOs: "Repent, all ye super-spreaders of pseudoscience." This message is the very title of his commentary.

After citing the great scientific achievements and the great scientific achievers, he then accuses Mang Obet and Aling Sita of "masquerading as environmentalists" and adding "pity-mongering tactics of melodramatic victimhood to fear-mongering by innuendo and falsehood" for demanding a moratorium on Bt corn commercialization. Making an indirect reference to Environment Secretary Elisea Gozun's activist past, he calls on her not to be neutral in the face of the involvement in this issue of "her old comrades who refuse to grow up." He then denounces what he calls "tag-team hunger striking" as one of those "immoral pressure tactics."

Then he recommends for religious folks both running or not--an obvious reference to the favorite protest form of Fr. Robert Reyes, who has joined the hunger strike--"penance for mental sloth by reading 2,000 times the Jubilee Year 2000 declaration of the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences where the Vatican and Pope John Paul II blessed GMOs like Bt corn with a 'prudent YES!'--after years of scientific and ethical study." After that, he describes the issue raised by GMO opponents as "moot and silly" since a large percentage of food products in the US contain genetically engineered crop and GMOs are safe, environment-friendly, and since GMO crops are high-yielding, they are panaceas to the problem of world hunger.

First of all, Mr. Bocobo, it is unspeakably callous to say such things to a group of people who have chosen to endure the pangs of hunger rather than stuff their stomachs with what they and a good number of others look upon as poisonous food. The unspeakable callousness shows its unbearable ugliness all the more when one considers that among the targets of your insults is a middle-aged man who was never that strong of body to begin with, and because of the form of protest he chose could now hardly speak and hardly even lift his hand to pick up a glass.

In the second place, opposition to Bt corn and other GMOs has never been based on the notion that they have not been introduced and their introduction should be prevented by all means; it is based on the complete awareness that they are already present and have been causing harm.

If GMOs are indeed safe and environment-friendly, the very learned US-based physicist has to explain why incidences of cancer, heart disease, and allergies--not to mention mental retardation--have increased since they were introduced more than two decades ago. If GMOs are indeed safe and environment-friendly, the very learned US-based physicist has to explain why crop diseases have become more and more difficult to control ever since they were introduced more than two decades ago.

Which brings us to why religious folk, particularly those from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, have also lent their voices to the opposition to GMOs in spite of the Vatican's approval of them. The religious traditionally do not argue with their superiors--unless they clearly see pressing reasons for doing so.

Moreover, scientific studies cited by the late Renato Constantino in his book Distorted Priorities: The Politics of Food show that considering all its resources, the world is capable of feeding a population of 40 billion. Considering that the present population is only 6 billion, there should be more than enough food for everyone on the planet. Clearly, therefore, the problem lies not in any perceived shortage of food, but in the distribution of resources--and is not to be remedied by selling the world poisonous food.

It is very unbecoming of a very learned man of science to attempt to dispute arguments on a scientific issue in the most unscientific manner. Very learned men of science do not resort to such a tactic.

Only horribly ignorant men of pseudoscience do.

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