Monday, 28 May 2012

Tend your own gardens

I like to refer to myself as a pragmatic Green. The reason that I use the modifier is because I like to base my world view on reliable sources, and do not feel the need to exhibit the hysterical and knee-jerk behaviour recently exhibited by "activists" who took part in Take the Flour Back’s recent "decontamination picnic" demonstration against Rothamsted Research - the oldest agricultural research facility in the world. The anger and frustration that I feel when reading their justification of intended vandalism is made all the more bitter by being mixed with sadness from the dawning realisation that potentially, with allies like these, the struggle to reduce the magnitude of anthropogenic climate change is an even more insurmountable task than I had previously realised – which is saying something.

How, I ask, in all earnestness, can you cite the (crushingly overwhelming weight) of scientific support for the biggest problem ever to confront the human race, whilst simultaneously denying the weight of research in other areas, such as nuclear fission and GM crops? Personally, I didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about GM crops - there are many questions which are as yet unanswered, which is the strongest argument for ENCOURAGING research rather than destroying it. However, in my frustration I have ended up reading quite a bit and as I have gathered knowledge this area, it's become less of a mysterious, occluded and vaguely threatening enigma (with overtones of comic-book-style mutations) and I've moved steadily in the pro-GM direction.

There are scientific and emotive arguments on both sides, and it is important to consider these - but not endlessly. Once concerns have been addressed, a spectator without bias should theoretically change their view. However, when the most scientific summation of protesters' concerns (here) is speedily and roundly rubbished (in the comments section, especially Matthew Cooper) will this change a made-up mind? Doubtful. My previously unmade-up mind has been made by sound (i.e. I haven't seen them convincingly refuted) arguments for the research (or, at least against destroying it which is really the case in point here) that litter the web, from a rebuttal by the head of the project in The Telegraph, views in The Spectator, and those of similarly frustrated Greens, and elsewhere; for those who have not seen them, here is a short summary:

Contamination: The statistics are quoted and explained elsewhere, but as far as I can make out, whilst this is possible, it is so unlikely as to be almost negligible, as wheat is around 99% self-pollinated. Nevertheless, relevant precautions are taken, and thus around each field there is a minimum of a 33 m barrier, including a wheat “pollen barrier” between this and any other cereal crops or couch grass (the only known wild plant able to cross-pollinate with wheat).

Immoral bioscience corporations: this is the only anti-GM argument which I put any weight in, and it is an important question: Will the results of the trial be used protectively by large corporations interested only in their own profit margins; the answer is a simple “No”:

Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company – if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost.”

This is the beauty of governmental funding for research, which has been such a strength of the UK.

Health effects:

“There's uncertainty about the health effect of this - there's been no adequate long-term health safety testing”

So there’s a lack of research in this area, is what you’re saying? And the answer to this is to destroy research in progress?! Health effects of GM crops are routinely trotted out to make an argument. If you think you are at risk from DNA within the plants, let me ask you this: Have you ever found DNA from your food affect you in any way? Symptoms such as sprouting feathers after eating a lot of poultry, or becoming rounder and redder in August when the tomato plants are fruiting and you eat several kilos a day? Maybe there are more complex questions here that are not being clearly asked – but spouting off about health effects without being specific is just propagating misinformation which serves nobody’s best interests.

I was brought up by a scientist and a green, who was one of the most unselfish and caring people I've met, believing in the better world which will come through advancement of knowledge. Despite this idea that science is inherently "male" (fundamentally so, rather than in the abysmal ratio of female to male scientists), I would argue that this is absolute rubbish - "science" is a much wider concept than is regularly appreciated, and is the only way to reliably pass on knowledge from one person/group of people/generation to another. A scientific mind is one that will build an opinion on the world around a firm foundation of demonstrable facts. If some of your facts later turn out to be false, part of your foundation begins to weaken, and you are required to rebuild it. There are too many things in the world for one person to reliably develop scientific opinions about; this is what research is for; checking the strength of these foundations, and proposing ways to rebuild if necessary. If I saw any kind of anti-GM arguments supported by a weight of research without the need for cherry-picking or blurring with misinformation and ill-defined fears, I would allow it to have an effect on my opinion - because of that "pragmatic" modifier that I use above. Far from fulfilling this gap, the group has refused to engage in honest and open debate with the scientists: I can only assume that this is borne out of an active unwillingness to confront the facts, and the normal people explaining those facts, that might force a re-address of one’s worldview. To this I would say: if you are afraid, and so you either fail to listen to the arguments of the other side, or do listen but do not allow them any traction on your opinion, you are apt to end up with a half-crumbled sandcastle of a view, which is not conducive to solving the much larger, Earth-shattering problems with which we are confronted.

Please sign the petition if you support unbiased knowledge: Sense about Science petition,

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It's what time already?!

Argh! What a few weeks - a combination of work trips, long days and illness I've finally found the time to think about writing and starting my training - and just in time. I found, to my slightly aghast surprise, that my proposed training scheme begins this week. I'm actually a little disappointed as I was hoping to have a couple of weeks of doing other things, like a couple of classes (more below), some swimming and cycling, without having to take into account fitting in a certain amount of required running. However, now it looks like I'm just going to have to fit it all in. My BF will be pleased when he finds out he's going to have to a) cook my dinner, b) do with less of my company and c) watch me begin to force-feed myself high-protein foods. What a lucky, lucky man.

The first week's schedule is thus:
Monday: 3.2 km easy
Tuesday: 30 mins tempo
Thursday: 30 mins easy
Saturday: 4km

However, since I have managed to start the week incorrectly, it'll be more like this:
Monday: 5km/34 min + circuits class
Wednesday: Fitness yoga
Thursday: 30 mins tempo
Saturday: 5km

A poor substitute possibly, but what can you do? Next week I will toe the line - that is my promise to 10-kilometre-Angharad. She have some choice words for May-Angharad if not....

Today I am happily aching from attending circuits last night. This is a great class for anyone who enjoys pummelling themselves into the ground, sweating beyond any level of decency, and staring at their class partner with a look that incorporates many emotions: tiredness, pain, resentment, fear of collapse and/or death. I go to this class because for some reason, I take the sign that I have very poor upper-body strength to mean that I should attend a class in which the instructor's predilection for push ups in a variety of guises (and who knew there were so many?*) verges on obsession. Also because, when my mate asks me if I want to join her, I can't say no because then I would be a wimp. A giant, lazy, wimp. I have been said wimp for a while, and haven't been for several months. MAN and I'm paying for it now. However, the last time I frequented this class for sustained amount of time, I really did notice the difference to my arms within a few sessions, so given the complete lack of upper-body training in the rest of my life, I guess I'm just going to have to write it in the Filofax (yes, a real Filofax) every Monday from here onwards. I'd cheer, but I'm afraid I haven't the energy.

Bye then. I'm off to lie down for a bit, in order that I might rest my arms sufficiently to make dinner...

*push ups, planks, side planks, burpees (THESE ARE THE WORST THINGS EVER INVENTED!), push-up-and-row, 5 push ups and sprint, sprint starts, tricep dips, squat thrusts....