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    September 10, 2012

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    Keep fighting Laura! I sent an email. I am also going to add this link to my FB and tell them them can get view my letter on the blog page of my website.

    I approve heartily of your goal, but doubt whether writing to the museum director will be as effective as a letter to the editors of the Raleigh News & Observer and of the Independent Weekly. Both papers have a history of pointing out conflicts of interest, and one of them might even assign a reporter to the issue. Inasmuch as the director received an Ed.D. from the Curry School of Education of the University of Virginia in 1989, it would be better to refer to her only as "Dr." and never as "Ms.".

    From the museum's program listing, it seems pretty clear that Biotechnology Day was a well conceived and executed effort at science education. The public would be poorer if it had not been held, and it is not reasonable to ask that it be canceled simply because you have objections to some of the presenters. Rather than demand that anyone you disagree with not be heard, why not use the occasion to speak out yourself? Pass out leaflets on Monsanto, or collect signatures on petitions for food labeling legislation; don't try to shut down all discussion of topics you think should be forbidden. An educated democracy works when we spread light, not when we insist on darkness.

    Thank you all for reading and for your comments. For what it is worth, which probably isn't much, I think the Museum is the wrong location for Biotechnology Day. With NC having an official Biotechnology Center, a venue such as this is appropriate as opposed to a Museum of Natural Science. If the event were held there I never would have said a peep about anything.

    In general, I agree that it is dangerous for our public institutions to provide too much support/free advertising to organizations like Monsanto. The brute force yield-centric approach that they generally promote is choking our streams and makes our entire food system vulnerable (eg. summers of 2011 & 2012 across the plains). I think Jim has a really good point that learning is always a good thing, though I think it would be best if a third party (non-biased if such a thing exists) could be the one offering the educational programming.

    However, calling Dr. Kroll out into public on this issue seems counter-productive. You could probably gain a lot of allies in the fight for labeling GMOs and without bringing this drawn-out exchange into public. To me, making this exchange public makes you appear petty and perhaps even vindictive, which sucks because I think we have a lot in common.
    Best,
    -Eric

    "...It has always been my goal to see each interaction to an amicable conclusion when possible...."

    It would seem that your idea of an "amicable conclusion" is one where you get your way and everyone agrees with you. In that light, I am not at all surprised that the folks from the Museum would see this as a dead-end communication and let it go.

    Your sticking point seems to be with the "biotech" aspect, and your ideas that Natural Sciences are limited to things that are essentially un-messed-around-with. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge, and biotech is essential, beneficial, and integral to the lives of many, many people. You certainly are entitled to your own objections, but it is not up to you to dictate the programming of content of the institution when the event is so clearly under the umbrella of science, public outreach, and education.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. I was hoping that I would be able to post that we had a constructive discussion and end the story, but when it was abruptly terminated that wasn't possible. With the players in this episode, my one voice alone isn't enough, so I went public. Right or wrong is hard to say, but it is difficult to allow Monsanto and others in unchallenged and to be legitimized as natural science. There are plenty of private places for them to celebrate their work, like the NC Center for Biotechnology, which is about 10 miles away.

    Regardless of their business practices and the application of their technology, Monsanto uses natural science to develop their products. Genes get scrambled all the time and humans have been manipulating that process for millennia. Biology and genetics are by definition a natural science (as opposed to a social sciences). But just because something has the word "natural" doesn't somehow legitimize it.

    I really think Jim had the right idea, Biotech day seems like it would have been a great opportunity to educate the public on the pitfalls of thinking biotech seeds and drugs are "the solution." Ecological/systems thinking approaches to the same problems that biotech tries to solve provide more permanent solutions. This inside the box, brute-force man vs. nature approach is the biggest reason I started my (currently languishing) blog, RethinkAg.

    On a side note (this is the part where I shamelessly promote my pet issue), have you heard of integrated crop-livestock systems? Basically it's a system of pasture-based crop production that sustained European civilizations for 1000 years or so. Without animals, ecosystems are vulnerable and tend toward desertification (gradually happening across the nation's monoculture corn belt). Reintegrating animals can dramatically improve soil and even sustain crop production without any outside fertilizer (except lime and some micronutrients here in Southern Ultisols).
    Cheers,
    -Eric

    Hi Eric. I hear what you and Jim are saying about using Biotech Day to communicate both the advantages and threats of biotechnology. It certainly has its advantages in some sectors, and I am not anti-biotechnology as a whole. It is some of the corporate players that cause me concern. There has to be a line somewhere regarding when these corporations are allowed to participate and when they aren't. What I don't get, though, involves the definition of natural science v. applied science and where does biotechnology fit. Take this example. Why is biotechnology not under Duke University's Natural Sciences Department? Instead it is placed in Duke's School of Engineering. NC State's biotechnology programs are placed in its engineering department as well. My understanding is that biotechnology is an applied science, which is different from a natural science, which would explain why it is not treated as a natural science by the universities. Appreciate any thoughts on that. Thank you.

    Regarding integrated crop-livestock systems, I am no farmer, but Joel Salatin immediately comes to mind and I know several farmers who use that type of system. I see that you are using it too - just went to your languishing blog. Very nice.

    Wait, are people suggesting that Biotech Days was about both the advantages and the threats of biotechnology? Because it wasn't my impression that the word, "threats," was on the program.

    Or are folks just suggesting that Laura keep her mouth shut about one of the most destructive forces on this planet (Monsanto) being featured in a publicly funded venue? I think what you see is Laura leveraging something more than leaflets to speak her mind. (And a blithe assumption that is, to suggest that she would be allowed to pass out anti-Monsanto leaflets for very long outside Biotech Days.)

    I agree with Laura that biotechnology is clearly not a natural science. It is a technology, a tool *derived* from various sciences, applied in an unnatural way and used widely to develop profits for some very large companies, among other things. The hubris with which it is applied on the industrial front can be quite breathtaking.

    Biotechnology is also clearly not necessary for the survival of human life, as one poster suggests. If it were so, human life would never have been around long enough to develop the technology to fiddle around with genetics.

    And, yes, nice product placement, Eric! Was just reading about integrated crop-livestock systems yesterday.

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