Announcing the latest winner of the "PANTS ON FIRE" award
Prof. Philip Stott (& the SEEDY OPPORTUNISTS)
THESE ARE YOUR PANTS!
"Clear your mind of cant."
This famous advice from Dr Johnson is prominently displayed on the "Pro-biotech" website of biogeographer, Prof Philip Stott.
Through the tools of post-modernism, Prof Stott claims to expose the "religious'" zeal underlying environmental concerns. Yet despite this anxiety to "deconstruct" for us the language of "eco-hype'", Stott shows no comparable interest in unpacking the language of "techno-utopianism" or "sound science" myth making.
On the contrary, a seam of pure unalloyed "bio-hype" runs through all Stott's writings on biotechnology.
Here, for example, is Stott on the human genome project:
'Today, we shall truly ''eat of the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil'' (Genesis 1.17), for two teams of scientists...
have come together to announce the decoding of the alphabet of human life.
And ''we shall be as gods".'
By way of comparison, consider Craig Venter's candid admission that "We don't know shit about biology" (quoted in "Decoding the genome", Ralph Brave, Jan. 9, 2001). Venter is the corporate head of one of the teams of genome decoders that Stott refers to.
Yet according to Stott in a recent letter to the Guardian on climate change:
"It is surely time in the UK for a more
adult scientific openness about the limitations of our current knowledge."
But not in the case of biotech, it seems,
where genetic engineering can already be confidently declared to be "an
advance vital for human development" and indeed, "essential for human survival",
being the "finest of all human adaptations" . For, according to Stott,
the biotech evangelist, "We are truly standing on a great peak and a new
country lies at our feet."
These Stott quotations come from an article that he describes as "one of my more balanced pieces".
In it the good professor offers us some biotech PG Tips:
"Our prime task is surely to ensure that we reap the benefits of this finest of all human adaptations whilst minimizing the risks. Boiling a kettle is a dangerous task; yet it produces that refreshing cup of tea. Biotechnology is no different." http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/319.htm
An interesting aspect of Stott's rot is
that while claiming to be politically of the left, Stott's anti-environmental
conclusions correspond precisely with those of the pro-corporate right
-- conveniently so, given that Stott regularly collaborates with
leading members of the far right Institute of Economic Affairs (also winners
of a PANTS ON FIRE award).
In his letter to the Guardian, Prof Stott tells us:
"I am passionate about truth and honesty
Truth and honesty, however, could not be said to be overly apparent in the blurb for a recent pro-GM conference chaired by Prof Stott. The U.S. Embassy and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where Philip Stott works, hosted the Conference, entitled: "Seeds of Opportunity: The role of Biotechnology in Agriculture", from May 31 - June 1, 2001.
We were told:
"Participation will be broad-based, including
... representatives from... environmental groups".
In reality, not a single representative from any environmental group spoke at Stott's conference.
Indeed, the only environmental group known to have even been invited to contribute, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, withdrew because of doubts about the accuracy of the information it had been given. According to Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB: "When we received the details, the balance of the conference content was different to that which had been understood at the time of the invitation to speak."
Of course, it would hardly be surprising if the RSPB were a little wary of discussing the environmental impact of GM crops at a conference chaired by Prof Stott. After all, as well as being an extreme supporter of biotech, Prof Stott has an equally extreme aversion to more or less all forms of environmentalism.
On his campaigning "Pro-Biotech" website, for example, Stott described the RSPB as the " 'Our feathered friends are more important than anything else in the world!' brigade", and even goes so far as to dismiss this million-member organisation as "nerds with binoculars". [The 'Real' Green Dictionary © Philip Stott 2001]
Calling Europe's largest conservation organisation "nerds" might not suggest the kind of balance, inclusiveness and adult openness one might normally look for in the chairman of a "broad-based" conference dealing with an issue of major environmental significance.
Prof Stott's conference also claimed to include "representatives from consumer organizations" . In reality, not a single consumer group was represented on the platform until Deirdre Hutton of the National Consumer Council, joined the "conference commentators" as a late replacement for Clive Beddall, editor of the trade publication, The Grocer.
The main speakers on consumer issues were all notably pro-GM and, needless to say, none of them represented consumers. They were:
The extreme bias of the conference was hardly surprising given that it was not only chaired by Prof Stott but it had as its principal sponsor the US embassy which frankly admitted it contributed to the conference "to promote U.S. government interests".
Pants on Fire Chief, Jean de Bris, commented:
"According to Stott, 'The independent university researcher has to be like Caesar's wife, always above suspicion' but you only have to look at the funding and balance of speakers at this conference to realise Prof Stott is the Voice of America on GM crops."
The environment correspondent of the Guardian, John Vidal, describes Prof Stott as "an alarming academic" who pushes George Bush's agenda - see below.
The director of the Environmental Research Foundation, Peter Montague, is equally blunt:
"It is evident that Professor Stott
has abandoned his role as a serious scholar and has become a cheerleader
for the biotech
(1) A picture of the handsomely mounted
'burning' underpants awarded to Prof Stott is available at:
(2) The journalist Paul Brown, envionmental
correspondent for the Guardian, and Andrew Watkinson of the University
of East Anglia, a late replacement for the RSPB, whose research has pointed
to the limitations of herbicide tolerant crops for bird populations.
Background and some speaker details
On 1 June 2000 the far right think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (PANTS ON FIRE award winners) -- whose Environment Unit's directors, Roger Bate and Julian Morris, have been key players in the European Science and Environment Forum, founded with money from Big Tobacco as part of the Philip Morris campaign to undermine industry critical research -- provided a London platform at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for CS Prakash during his US embassy sponsored tour.
Exactly a year later on 31 May and 1 June 2001, IEA intimate, Philip Stott of the SOAS, chaired the conference, "Seeds of Opportunity: The role of Biotechnology in Agriculture" at the SOAS, with Prakash once more on its US embassy sponsored platform!
Broad based? Above suspicion?
Professor Philip Stott (PANTS ON FIRE award winner) is the chairman of this supposedly "broad-based" conference. While parading his support for Tony Blair and New Labour, Stott has long worked hand in glove with the far right Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the related Big Tobacco founded ESEF appearing as a key "witness" for example in the Counterblast TV attack on organic farming presented by Roger Bate as Director of ESEF. According to Stott, "The idea that [organic] can replace other forms of agriculture is a dangerous lie..." Stott runs a pro-biotech website which also attacks concern over tropical deforestation and climate change. His antipathy to the latter concern is particularly revealing. In relation to climate change, Stott calls for people not to be taken in by apparent scientific consensus and to resist scientific fashion. In relation to GM crops, however, he calls for exactly the opposite.
Lord Haskins is Chairman of Northern Foods. He is said to be one of Tony Blair's closest advisors. Haskins is passionately pro-GM and has made several vehement attacks on GM critics like the Prince of Wales and on organic farming. According to Haskins, "A wholly organic world agricultural system would quickly lead to mass starvation". "Let the heir to the throne enjoy his excellent if somewhat risky organic food," but ""Let my cattle enjoy their genetically modified soya" and "let the poor, starving people of the world have access to safe, affordable food - which GM food will probably offer them." This champion of the poor runs a company with a turnover of £1.2 billion. [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/269.htm]
Dr Margaret Karembu is a lecturer in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at Kenyatta University and also projects' support researcher at the, principally biotech industry funded, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter based in Nairobi where she works with the Monsanto-trained biotechnician Florence Wambugu who co-authored Karembu's conference paper. Florence Wambugu also serves on DuPontís Biotechnology Advisory Panel. ISAAA currently has Novartis, and previously had Monsanto, on its board.
Professor Brian Heap is Vice-President and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. Heap helped produce the Royal Society's report 'Genetically Modified Plants for Food Use' which was used to reassure the Blair government that there were no significant problems with GM crops. Heap was also on the RS group that organised a partial 'peer review' of Dr Pusztai's unpublished work - something the medical journal, the Lancet, has described as "a gestureof breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute scientists who should be judged only on the full and final publication of their work." He also contributed to the Nuffield report on GM crops which, funnily enough, contains an appendix which is highly critical of Pusztai. Pusztai has quite rightly characterised this appendix as "misleading and full of inaccuracies... unscientific and most unfair."
Dr Channapatna S. Prakash is Professor
of Plant Molecular Genetics at Tuskegee University, Alabama, USA. Prakash
started the pro-GM AgBioWorld Foundation and runs the Agbioview list which has run items accusing environmental
groups like Greenpeace of murder, genocide, and terrorism. Prakash has also, as he says himself, "served as a speaker on
behalf of the U.S. State Department and has traveled to European, South-East Asian and Caribbean nations to deliver public
lectures and meet with the media, scientists and trade experts, culminating in two debates in London with biotechnology
critics at the University of London and the Royal Agricultural College." According to the US embassy in London, such
speakers "are paid with U.S. taxpayer money" as part of programmes "to promote U.S. government interests". This rationale
also obviously applies to all the other US embassy sponsored speakers at this conference, if not the conference itself for
which the embassy heads the list of sponsors.
Professor Michael Wilson (PANTS ON FIRE award winner)is currently head of Horticulture Research International. Prior to that Wilson was at the Scottish Crops Research Institute and earlier still at the Lord Sainsbury founded Sainsbury Laboratory of the John Innes Centre, where the projects he worked on included GM research for Lord Sainsbury's company Diatech. Wilson co-authored a piece for the IEA's book 'Fearing Food: Risk, Health and Environment'. Contributors included Bate and Morris of the IEA and the Hudson Institute's Dennis Avery [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rightwing.htm]. Since taking over at Horticultural Research International, Wilson has moved to close Stockbridge House, a highly regarded non-GM research centre that has pioneered biological pest control, hydroponics and other alternatives to GM (see 'Growers fight plant centre closure, The Guardian, 18 September 2000).
Dr. Norman Borlaug was a key player
in the green revolution for which he was awarded a Nobel prize. Now 86,
he is a
keen supporter of the "gene revolution" and a strong supporter of Prakash and his AgBioWorld Foundation. Like a number
of key Prakash supporters Borlaug serves on the Board of Directors of the American Council on Science and Health which
crusades against "health scares" and derives its funding from extensive corporate backing (eg Monsanto, Dow, Cyanamid).
Dr Phil Dale is Leader of the Genetic
Modification and Biosafety Research Group based at the Lord Sainsbury founded
Sainsbury Centre at the John Innes Centre (PANTS ON FIRE award winners) in Norwich. He and Mike Wilson (see above) were among Pusztai's most aggressive critics at the OECD Edinburgh conference. [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/watchingdrpusztai.htm]
For more on Dale and the JIC see 'BIOSPINOLOGY! Report on leading plant science centre's GM propaganda'
Sir Crispin Tickell is Chancellor
of the University of Kent at Canterbury; Director of the Green College
Environmental Policy and Understanding; and Convenor of the Government Panel on Sustainable Development. As
Chairman of the Climate Institute of Washington, DC and a strong supporter of the Kyoto agreement, he might be thought a
particularly strange bed fellow for Stott.
Lord Dick Taverne QC is a journalist
and politician, and a rabid supporter of biotech who is keenly concerned
"media distortion". According to Taverne, "The "Today" programme is one of the worst offenders. Some of the interviews by
Mr John Humphries, who has a personal interest in organic farming, are a disgrace to fair and objective journalism." Taverne
served on the SIRC Forum which laid down a Code of Practice and Guidelines on the Communication of Science and Health
issues in the Media. Taverne, however, apparently sees no need for worry about the accuracy in his own science
communication. Speaking of the need for the SIRC's media guidelines, he told the House of Lords, "The Pusztai saga and the
GM food scares are a shameful indictment of British journalism. It all started when Dr Pusztai fed harmful lectins [wrong:
the GNA lectin is not considered harmful to mammals which is why it was being developed, and cointinues to be so, in a food
crop] inserted in potatoes to rats, which he claimed poisoned them. When his experiments, which were not complete and were
not confirmed by peer review [they had been peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet at the point Taverne made this
comment], were thoroughly discredited [this refers to the Royal Society's partial and partisan review - see above], there was
no attempt to correct the stories about "Frankenstein foods"."
Professor Paul Davies, Vice Chairman
of the Conference is Vice Principal and Professor of Agricultural Systems
Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester where Prakash spoke last year as part of his US embassy funded tour.
Professor Conrad Paul Lichtenstein,
Vice Chairman of the Conference is Professor of Molecular Biology at Queen
Mary, University of London. Lichtenstein is a keen supporter of GM crops and contributes regularly to the Prakash list.
Charles J. Arntzen is President
and CEO of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. He also serves
Monsanto's advisory committee for plant biotechnology. Arntzen work on genetically modified edible vaccines grown in fruit
and vegetables, eg potatoes, has been much hyped at conferences (eg at the OECD conference in Edinburgh) and in the
Ambassador George McGovern is U.S.
Ambassador to the UN Food and Agricultural Agencies. His support for GM
crops is so extreme as to put Jimmy Carter in the shade.
Sir Robert May recently became President
of the Royal Society and was formerly Blair's controversial Chief Scientist.
has been a strong supporter of GM crops and a fierce critic of Pusztai. See 'The Empire Strikes Back'
And 'Duplicity, double-speak and disappearing first drafts'
Jonathan Taylor is currently
the Chairman of Governors at SOAS (London University) and a Governor of
Agricultural College, Cirencester where Prakash spoke last year.
Phillip S. Kerr undertook work funded
by Dupont Protein Technologies International on "gas production in humans
after ingesting conventional soybeans versus soybeans naturally low in
indigestible oligosaccharides" (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1999:135-9). He
is a keen supporter of GM crops.
Philip Stott, professor of bio-geography at the University of London, has had a fine week, chairing a major biotech fest which was (surprise, surprise) sponsored by the US embassy and attracted many of the world's most vociferous proponents of the technology.
Stotty, despite saying that he "comes from the left", maintains a rabidly pro-industry, anti-environmentalist website (www.probiotech.fsnet.co.uk) which seeks to wittily deconstruct critics with new definitions.
"Global Warming - a political idea to hammer the use of the car and prevent all further industrial development".
"Greenpeace - a fun opportunity for mainly upper class climbers who are out for a laugh, but who still want to feel good".
Lost Tribe - "a group of folk in a tropical forest who can be romanticised and patronised but who must not want electricity or TVs."
Philip Stott - "An alarming academic who knows how to argue George Bush's
case and should be taken with a strong pinch of salt" (sorry, that
one is entirely fictional, but in the spirit of Stotty's site).
PANTS ON FIRE!