Getting to the grist about GM (part 2)

Nathanael Johnson at Grist is presenting a series of articles about genetic modification (GM), also called genetic engineering (GE). GM is one kind of biotechnology (see my ‘biotechnology’ tag). I’m grateful to my fellow blogger applpy at Thought + Food for drawing attention to the Grist articles about GM. Today I continue my review of what Mr Johnson is saying.

Mr Johnson’s second post on this topic is ‘The GM safety dance: What’s rule and what’s real’. I almost stopped reading when I saw that title! The tired old story again, I thought. The old story of assuming that GM is about food safety. That it’s only about food safety.

As I said in my previous post in this series, I think that if you ask only whether it’s safe to eat GM foods, you’re missing the point. I say that also about the pro-GM words of another blogger, Skeptical Raptor. Skeptical Raptor is bright and thoughtful, bringing a particular set of attitudes.

As I’ve learned to do science (a learning that never ends) I’ve come to understand that there’s a series of subjective steps. You choose which questions to ask, which hypotheses to test. Then comes another creative step: you design experiments or surveys. You persuade somebody to fund your research. That’s subjective again. My research is going to benefit you! Please fund me! Most ideas fall at that hurdle.

If you get funded, you collect data as objectively as you can. Then, armed with your data, you try to knock each hypothesis down. In due course you present your work to other scientists in the peer review system. If the reviewers like what you’ve done, a journal might publish your work. Academic journals get judged by their impact factor. That’s a measure of how often articles from that journal get cited in other journals. Once your work is published, other scientists try to knock it down. So do journalists and everybody else.

In science, it really matters which questions you ask. People who don’t look don’t find. Does Mr Johnson look?

Well now that I’ve read his article ‘The GM safety dance: What’s rule and what’s real’, I say yes, Mr Johnson looks. His article explains large facts about the US system for regulating GM. I learned from reading it.

I’m glad I did read Mr Johnson’s article because here in Europe, we await the outcome of trade talks between our leaders and the American leaders. We don’t yet know whether we’ll find ourselves obliged to comply with the US system where GM crops are concerned.

Mr Johnson’s series of articles continues. I’ll continue to review them.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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