Paper showing effectiveness Golden Rice on Vitamin A levels retracted
August 30, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Paper showing positive effect of Golden Rice on Vitamin A levels in children retracted. Though the retraction wasn't for any issues around the science (which was solid), but around the ethics.

Lead author of the study Guangwen Tang (of Tufts University) is accused of not gaining informed consent from parents of the children involved in the study and faking ethics approval documents.

On "informed consent":

[Tufts'] IRB should also have ensured that the informed consent form for parents explicitly stated that the rice is the product of genetic engineering.

U.S. guidelines stipulate that such forms use plain language understandable to lay people, and the IRB agreed to let Tang say that "Golden Rice is a new rice which makes beta-carotene," without using the loaded words "genetically modified." (The consent form for a very similar study by Tang among adults in Boston, published in 2009, didn't use that term either.) Given the sensitivities over transgenic food, which existed in China as well, that was the wrong decision, according to the external panel...


...Tufts has barred [Tang] from doing research on humans for 2 years, during which time she will be "retrained on human subjects research regulations and policies," the university stated; after the training is completed, for a further 2 years she can do human studies only as a supervised co-investigator.

Tang, 64, has decided to close her lab next year as a result of the punishment, says Adrian Dubock, executive secretary of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board in Switzerland, which was not directly involved in the study. "She did not choose the political controversy thrust upon her altruistic research," Dubock, who has kept in contact with Tang, says in a written statement. "Her retirement and the closure of her laboratory will be a loss to humanity."
(cite)

Objections to the study originally raised by Greenpeace.

Tang sued the American Society for Nutrition to block retraction, claiming it was tantamount to defamation. The Massachusetts Superior Court allowed the retraction to go forward. The Boston Globe touches on the growing concern of litigation between researchers and academic journals:

Litigation between scientific journals and academics, such as Tang’s pursuit of an injunction, remains quite rare, but is increasing, said Ivan Oransky, cofounder of Retraction Watch.

“In general, we see researchers lawyering up more often,” said Oransky. “I’m concerned if the growing presence of lawyers in publishing decisions means that journals will be afraid to do the right thing, or do what they believe is right for the scientific record.”


The Genetic Literacy Project on Greenpeace and Golden Rice.

The retracted paper.

Finally, Nathanael Johnson of Grist (who did an excellent, comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the GMO debate last year) weighs in.
posted by triggerfinger (136 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Kind of a shame that not pandering to the unscientific superstitions of GMO opponents scuttled a study that showed actual positive effect — but I'm sure that Greenpeace's interest was strictly the ethical concerns, not an effort to remove a rebuttal to their FUD talking points around GMO and Golden Rice.
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 AM on August 30, 2015 [46 favorites]


So the science is clear that Golden Rice provides an effective supplement of Vitamin A (which provides health benefits), but because it's GMO it's bad? How is Greenpeace any different than the anti-vaccine people?
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


Seriously — "Hi, because of our poor understanding of science and rampant promotion of superstition, children will die from preventable diseases! Put that in the win column!"
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 AM on August 30, 2015 [30 favorites]


This blurb above seems to be misleading. The real problem is that IRB approval and consent from the subjects were never obtained when the testing was done in China. The fact that it was a GMO didn't prevent the researcher from doing these two basic steps.
posted by demiurge at 11:28 AM on August 30, 2015 [35 favorites]


Kind of a shame that not pandering to the unscientific superstitions of GMO opponents scuttled a study that showed actual positive effect — but I'm sure that Greenpeace's interest was strictly the ethical concerns, not an effort to remove a rebuttal to their FUD talking points around GMO and Golden Rice.

It's about ethics in academia, right?

So the science is clear that Golden Rice provides an effective supplement of Vitamin A (which provides health benefits), but because it's GMO it's bad? How is Greenpeace any different than the anti-vaccine people?

They're not. They're the same bunch of fuckwits that sold the world up the river 30 years ago salivating over their great fortune of the Chernobyl disaster. So we kept burning coal instead of putting money into and scaling up nuclear reactor safety and effective nuclear waste disposal and now we have basically unstoppable climate change.

God forbid they were around when Norman Borlaug was busy saving the world. There might not be a third world left. That doesn't mean people like Greenpeace won't try repeatedly with their nirvana fallacy bullshit arguments.
posted by Talez at 11:35 AM on August 30, 2015 [24 favorites]


The long reaching impacts of fostering a scientific culture where it's ok to forgo an IRB if the research is important enough are devastating. The retraction of this paper sends a strong message that it won't be tolerated.

And misleading parents does more harm than good on the GMO front. It may have taken more effort, but I'm positive that she would have been able to recruit enough study participants ethically and honestly. Instead, the woo faction has more evidence that researchers know it's dangerous and are trying to sneak it into the food supply. That is a far reaching impact that will make replicating these results more difficult.

Informed consent is mandatory. It's not something to get around when you feel it's important enough.

Finally, it's not as though retracting the paper causes the knowledge to be lost. A more ethical researcher can duplicate these results. Although, with the well poisoned that's going to be a harder battle than it should have been. Breaking the public's trust with human testing is serious and hard to repair.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:35 AM on August 30, 2015 [118 favorites]


From the Nature article: “. . . Wang didn’t apply for ethical evaluation of the trial, instead fabricating the approval documents, according to CDC. And Tang brought Golden Rice from the United States to China illegally, without due declaration to the relevant Chinese authorities . . .”

If you’re fabricating documents, you’re sciencing wrong.
posted by D.C. at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2015 [62 favorites]


What are the politics around GMO's in China? What's at issue here is the informed consent of Chinese parents for feeding GMO rice to their kids, and I assume the reasons those parents wouldn't consent are distinct from the reasons given against GMO's in the more frequent USA/Western-focused GMO posts on MetaFilter.
posted by 3urypteris at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2015


The articles suggest that while the fuss (and probably the extra scrutiny) was because of the GMO issue, the labs involved actually fudged a lot of stuff, including backdating consent forms and doing a placebo supplement to the study which had not been approved. There isn't enough information in the articles to be able to tell whether this was because of confusion between US/NIH practices and Chinese research practices, or how much control Tang had over the various labs involved. If she didn't have direct control over how her collaborators were running the study, I think it's a shame that she is being disciplined so severely.

The underlying Greenpeace argument - that GMOs are being used as a half-assed solution to inequality and pollution because GMOs can be integrated into capital, and that "children are starving right now" is used to shift the conversation away from inequality and corruption - is one I agree with. I wish that the conversation could be about inequality and precarity, rather than about "despite its apparent safety, this product has mumble-mumble-genetic-thing and it's going to kill your children".
posted by Frowner at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


The post from Nathanael Johnson linked at the bottom of the OP is short but very much on-point and insightful, and I recommend everyone read it. Basically he said better what I was going to comment here.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Here is the best info I can find currently (though I am still looking) on ethical breaches. This is from the Sciencemag link:

The letters show that Tufts' own institutional review board (IRB) investigated the ethical procedures, as did an external panel whose membership has not been made public. In addition, there was a third, internal review to look at whether there was any evidence of scientific fraud or data manipulation.

The reviews found no evidence of health or safety problems in the children fed golden rice; they also concluded that the study’s data were scientifically accurate and valid. Indeed, Souvaine's letter to the USDA stresses that the results "have important public health and nutrition implications, for China and other parts of the world."

But the IRB concluded that there were a number of problems in the way Tang conducted the study. For instance, she provided "insufficient evidence" that the study "was reviewed and approved by an Ethics Review Board in China in accordance with prevailing standards." It also found that some of the consent forms had not been obtained before the trial started, and there was "some evidence that the dates on some consent forms were changed and that other consent forms may have been inappropriately signed."

Tang also made some unauthorized changes to the study protocol after obtaining permission, the IRB concluded; for instance, the participation of research team members from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention was not described in the protocol, and eight subjects were recruited to an unapproved "placebo" arm. Tufts, in its letter to OHRP, characterized Tang's actions as constituting "serious and continuing non-compliance with federal regulations" and with Tufts IRB policy.


However, the same article states (and I linked in the post) that she did get consent from parents, that it was worded to avoid the words "genetically modified", which are obviously incredibly loaded, instead using the phrase: "Golden Rice is a new rice which makes beta-carotene". The IRB said that this phrasing wasn't good enough.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


"The underlying Greenpeace argument - that GMOs are being used as a half-assed solution to inequality and pollution because GMOs can be integrated into capital, and that "children are starving right now" is used to shift the conversation away from inequality and corruption - is one I agree with. I wish that the conversation could be about inequality and precarity, rather than about "despite its apparent safety, this product has mumble-mumble-genetic-thing and it's going to kill your children"."

That's not the underlying Greenpeace argument. The underlying Greenpeace argument is that GMOs represent a novel, untested form of life with documented catastrophic health consequences, which is bullshit. It's almost as annoying as the (as mentioned above) utopic fallacy that because food resource distribution changes could make significant progress toward reducing the need for GMO foods with nutritional supplements, that we should reject GMOs. Further, in reference specifically to Golden Rice, the anti-capitalist argument that you've got Greenpeace making is also a red herring — the researchers have gone out of their way to both make the technology available and to use local rice strains. The commercial argument is only applicable by proxy to the extent that saving children now buttresses greater GMO use across the board — and frankly, I tend to think that not making some children suffer and die from a preventable disease is worthwhile even if it does end up supporting more ethically dubious aims of Monsanto et al., just like I think that having more HIV and AIDS drugs available in Africa is worthwhile even if it may prolong the current imperialistic pharmaceutical patent regimes.
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


2 steps forward, 1 step back. It's a shame the scientists involved sabotaged what could have been a useful bit of science.
posted by dazed_one at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ethical practice is not negotiable, it is not optional and it you don't follow it then you are not doing your job - as Dr Strangelove said, for reasons which, at this moment, must be all too obvious.

The scientist got this wrong, and the scientist is responsible for damaging important research in this instance and making future important research - and the proper appreciation of science - harder. It's giving Greenpeace a powerful weapon, one I don't think it'll use responsibly but one it most certainly will use. Yes, I think Greenpeace acts unethically (I so wish otherwise), but that is, unfortunately and for the moment, a given. That makes the original lacuna worse, rather than making it forgiveable.

The reasons for informed consent are manifold and clear-cut. Not following this rule can be intensely harmful, and can create ethical dilemmas for many years afterwards that directly impact on life and death matters.
posted by Devonian at 11:56 AM on August 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


Bad science in service of a good cause is still bad science. The case for using GM techniques to try to feed more people is strong enough that we don't need to stoop to these energy company-like tactics in order to make that case. We can't un-learn what we've learned from this study, but certainly it should be repeated without these ethical lapses in the conduct of the study.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:56 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do really KNOW the Science is sound? Has it been adequately reviewed (and not by 'peers' with the same financial interests)? If a 'scientist' is going to do ethical short-cuts (including physically smuggling the substances under review from one country to another) how do we KNOW it's not all bullshit and snake oil?
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


. . . So we kept burning coal instead of putting money into and scaling up nuclear reactor safety and effective nuclear waste disposal . . . That doesn't mean people like Greenpeace won't try repeatedly with their nirvana fallacy bullshit arguments.

Maybe in an ideal world, we'd have set up safe protocols for using nuclear fuel and storing nuclear waste and then also stopped using coal; but coal is cheap and nuclear waste is scary and difficult to manage, and people are people.
posted by 3urypteris at 12:01 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Generally 'peers' don't have the same financial interests, they are competing for the same money, which is very much not the same. Who would you like to see carry out scientific reviews?
posted by biffa at 12:04 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


How do really KNOW the Science is sound? Has it been adequately reviewed (and not by 'peers' with the same financial interests)? If a 'scientist' is going to do ethical short-cuts (including physically smuggling the substances under review from one country to another) how do we KNOW it's not all bullshit and snake oil?

You know what's really scary? For thousands of years this secret society of people who call themselves "farmers" have been making untested, unlicensed and unregulated genetic manipulations to our ENTIRE food supply. They make experimental and possibly dangerous hybrids just to see what will happen! They find a desired trait that pops up randomly? They just try and manipulate it into the genome without regard for any other consequences! How can we have this dangerous practice continue unabated in good conscience?

WAKE UP SHEEPLE!
posted by Talez at 12:08 PM on August 30, 2015 [48 favorites]


Elsewhere, the scientists who did the modifying are getting awards.

(Are we talking something related to South Carolina's Gold Rice?)
posted by BWA at 12:14 PM on August 30, 2015


Where is the line drawn on informed consent? If instead of saying "Golden Rice is a new rice which makes beta-carotene" the scientist has to say"Golden Rice is a new genetically modified rice which makes beta-carotene" and then is required to list the potential risks from genetic modification (which she probably doesn't give any credence to), where does that end? There are lots of people out there who believe all kinds of pseudoscience. Could some big organization like Greenpeace (or whatever) then get behind the participants in, for example, a new vaccine study and sue to have the study retracted because the risk of vaccines causing autism wasn't explicitly spelled out on the consent form? This is a genuine question.

I don't dispute the actual ethics issue. The "informed consent" issue is what interests me.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:16 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think a good rule of thumb is "If I add this phrase to the informed consent form, will it cause me a lot of grief?", then yes, you should add it, because clearly it's exactly the sort of value issue that Nathaneal Johnson identifies.
posted by fatbird at 12:18 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


You know what's really scary? For thousands of years this secret society of people who call themselves "farmers" have been making untested, unlicensed and unregulated genetic manipulations to our ENTIRE food supply. They make experimental and possibly dangerous hybrids just to see what will happen! They find a desired trait that pops up randomly? They just try and manipulate it into the genome without regard for any other consequences! How can we have this dangerous practice continue unabated in good conscience?

WAKE UP SHEEPLE!


Selective breeding is not at all the same as gene splicing.

Selective breeding has a track record as long as human existence. GMO, not so much. Sorry, great as it might be, you gotta prove that shit, and you gotta do it without fudging.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Selective breeding has a track record as long as human existence. GMO, not so much. Sorry, great as it might be, you gotta prove that shit, and you gotta do it without fudging.

Because throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks is surely a safer way of doing things than targeting single, specific genes, right?
posted by Talez at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


For thousands of years this secret society of people who call themselves "farmers" have been making untested, unlicensed and unregulated genetic manipulations to our ENTIRE food supply.
And there has never been a SINGLE incident where selective breeding ever went wrong? (I mean besides the sad mutant dog breeds)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Where is the line drawn on informed consent? If instead of saying "Golden Rice is a new rice which makes beta-carotene" the scientist has to say"Golden Rice is a new genetically modified rice which makes beta-carotene" and then is required to list the potential risks from genetic modification (which she probably doesn't give any credence to), where does that end? There are lots of people out there who believe all kinds of pseudoscience. Could some big organization like Greenpeace (or whatever) then get behind the participants in, for example, a new vaccine study and sue to have the study retracted because the risk of vaccines causing autism wasn't explicitly spelled out on the consent form? This is a genuine question.

The whole point of the study was to find out whether or not Golden Rice is safe. Don't the test subjects have a right to know that hasn't been figured out yet?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ethically, you really can't say to someone, "because you are wrong about X, therefore we are not going to tell you about X." It's not a legitimate justification for blocking labeling, and it's not a legitimate justification for not informing experimental subjects. People who incorrectly fear X may be wrong, but the solution can't be to lie to them or to deny them information. There are better solutions.
posted by chortly at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I don't know anything about this case, but I am curious what percent of nutritional research would have a similar level of anomalies if an outside organization really wanted to dig.

Like, the forms with possibly fudged dates. How often do participants forget to fill in the date and then some beleaguered research assistant says "yah, Aug 30 is about right."
posted by zippy at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sys Rq: no, they were testing it's effect on vitamin a levels.
posted by idiopath at 12:28 PM on August 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes. Yes they were.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Have they tested the nutritional effects of native african crops underused since colonization for their health benefits as well as other crops already in existence that often grow very easily already without the need to modify them?

The idea that this is the one and only crop with vitamin A that would grow there is ridiculous. It's simply not true. There are other options that could be tried, they just aren't as easy to monetize and profit from.

But they would lead to long term changes that countries could sustain themselves instead of being made dependent on white people in lab coats who are NOT operating altruistically, they want money. Without getting money, they would not be doing this. Which is fine, it just doesn't mean they are actually acting in the true interests of these people. These are not saints who are magically correct because there were numbers involved in their theories.

I think there is a lot of magical thinking on both sides of this. I LIKE magical thinking... I think about magic all the time, I just like to be honest when that's what we're doing.

To me the entire mass production of food without care for the very life force that sustains us represents all that we are doing wrong to the earth. People force the most vulnerable to accept their deeds first, then they slowly shove it down everyone else's throats, in their air, in their water.

This isn't about genuinely caring for the plight of Africans, this is about colonialists wanting to shove their way of life and world view on others even when they resist, and winning because they find vulnerable prey.
posted by xarnop at 12:32 PM on August 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


Sys Rq, you're confusing the fact that the phrase "genetically modified" was omitted with the idea that the entire purpose of the study was obscured. As far as I know, the aim of the study (which is always featured prominently on any IRB approved consent form) was still presented, it was just not made clear that the golden rice under study was genetically modified.

Furthermore, I think you're conflating the idea that it was not known at the time whether golden rice was safe with the (erroneous) assumption that if golden rice were unsafe it would be because it is genetically modified. As you've identified with your own Wikipedia link, the much more likely cause would be vitamin A toxicity, which has nothing to do with genetic modification of the rice. Gene splicing makes more vitamin A but it doesn't make vitamin A that is intrinsically dangerous. We've fortified lots and lots of foods in the US for many years with various vitamins and minerals, without the use of gene splicing, and the safety question then as now is primarily concerned with dosage, not the actual method that achieved the fortification.
posted by telegraph at 12:35 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


The linked study states the objective:

Objective: The objective was to compare the vitamin A value of β-carotene in GR and in spinach with that of pure β-carotene in oil when consumed by children.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:42 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where is the line drawn on informed consent? If instead of saying "Golden Rice is a new rice which makes beta-carotene" the scientist has to say"Golden Rice is a new genetically modified rice which makes beta-carotene" and then is required to list the potential risks from genetic modification (which she probably doesn't give any credence to), where does that end?

The issue at question is not if those running the study properly spelled out the risks of using GMOs, but that they did not disclose at all that the rice was genetically modified.

There are lots of people out there who believe all kinds of pseudoscience.

People who believe all kinds of pseudoscience are still people who deserve to be treated with respect. That means full disclosure if you want them to participate in your study. You don't get to apply your beliefs and value system to determine whether or not the participants should be informed. If some of the participants might be upset or not want to participate because of something you disclose, then it sure was a good idea to disclose that fact, wasn't it? Clearly, the fact that you disclosed mattered to them, even though it might not matter to you.

This is covered very well in the last link.
posted by ssg at 12:45 PM on August 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


Ethically, you really can't say to someone, "because you are wrong about X, therefore we are not going to tell you about X." It's not a legitimate justification for blocking labeling, and it's not a legitimate justification for not informing experimental subjects. People who incorrectly fear X may be wrong, but the solution can't be to lie to them or to deny them information. There are better solutions.
See now, I have big, big problems with redefining "informed consent" to "also being aware of some wacko's loaded terms and politically-motivated fearmongering around the subject."

It is exactly the same reason why I object to laws (like those in South Dakota) where to get an abortion, one must first go to a crisis pregnancy center and have them argue with you not to get one, then wait 72 hours for the misinformation to sink in. The exact same principle is at work – you can't truly consent until you've heard all sides of the debate, right?
posted by Clueless in Crocodilopolis at 12:45 PM on August 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


This isn't about genuinely caring for the plight of Africans, this is about colonialists wanting to shove their way of life and world view on others even when they resist, and winning because they find vulnerable prey.

But Golden Rice is losing? It remains in testing despite solid evidence of safety. There is a worldwide coalition of activists that are making sure that remains the case. In the Philippines, the actual local farmers looked on in disgust when outside activists burnt down test fields. Farmers aren't usually the biggest fans of destroying crops for no reason.

Trying to stop GMO entirely, deciding for local farmers that they can't grow GMO plants, is more colonialist than simply offering them a product like Golden Rice if they want to use it. There is a difference between being anti-colonialist and just wanting your own colonists in charge instead.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:48 PM on August 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Just because the entity requiring something is called an ethics board doesn't make their requirements ethical. What's wrong with not informing people that the rice they eat is genetically modified? Grocery stores do that all the time. Informed consent ought to be for situations where consent matters, like taking an untested medication.

The same kind of over-reaction to supposed ethical problems happened last year when a psychological study modified which posts were shown in some Facebook users' news feeds. It's the same manipulation that Facebook's algorithms do all the time, for whatever purposes they have, but once your motive is to study the users rather than profit off them, suddenly ethics somehow prohibits it.
posted by Rangi at 12:57 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes xarnop! Thanks for bringing up that there is more than just the biological safety of GMOs that squick people out, but some of the other the issues you point to.

Metafilter is awesome. I love y'all. But we really really do engage in as much group-think as others we deem (correctly or not) as anti-science, superstitious, etc. I mean, take for example that in most posts on nutrition many mefites are on board with the fact that food can't be broken down into simple nutritional units to truly understand its effects on the body and must be understood as whole foods . Perhaps a similar line of thinking is what leads some folks to take an anti-GMO stance (when it comes to increasing a single vitamin in rice) to say nothing of the points xarnop brings up.

Yet, in what in my view is a mad rush of one upsmanship to show how rational and sciencey we all are, we are quick to paint an entire movement of anti-GMO folks as crazy, superstitious and, well, let's be real metafilter, less intelligent than we are.

People may be wrong about the science (I don't know, I am not a scientist nor do I have much of a dog in this fight), but aren't their concerns legitimate? And if their concerns aren't legitimate because the science points otherwise, shouldn't we respect the fact that people have concerns in the first place? Some of the attitudes I see on metafilter seem totally ignorant of the the negative history of scientific progress and why some people are resistant to a worldview which, when combined with power, seeks to wholly replace their own.
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 1:01 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


People may be wrong about the science (I don't know, I am not a scientist nor do I have much of a dog in this fight), but aren't their concerns legitimate? And if their concerns aren't legitimate because the science points otherwise shouldn't we respect the fact that people have concerns in the first place?

What's your opinion on teaching creationism alongside evolution in science class? For me, there comes a point when unscientific concerns aren't wholly relevant in a scientific context.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:06 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


They should be in the context of the more powerful and well off making decisions for more vulnerable people. Such as the people in this study who weren't allowed to be informed because it was decided for them they can't care. Maybe they would have objected to the GMO's on grounds other than safety.

Can that be permitted or should my body get used to being forced to accept this because I don't have a say in what goes in my own body if a scientist has decided for me it's for my own good?
posted by xarnop at 1:10 PM on August 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


What's your opinion on teaching creationism alongside evolution in science class? For me, there comes a point when unscientific concerns aren't wholly relevant in a scientific context.

That rather than engaging in endless snark about the stupidity of those people, we try and understand why. It's frustrating, and they will likely never agree with us, and it's scary when they grab control of power, but is there any hope at all that we will reach them through ridicule? Isn't that how they festered in the first half of the 20th century until they amassed the strength to backlash hard on all of us? We laughed, we ridiculed, we dismissed and thought that science, reason and progress would wipe them out of history. Yet, clearly irrational thought is part of the human condition. We will never irradicate it. So why not try another approach?
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 1:11 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Drinky Die, people have the right to informed consent. Period.

If informing potential human subjects about the nature of a scientific experiment causes them to decline participating then that's that, no matter what your presumptions of their ignorance and your own knowledgeability tell you.
posted by mistersquid at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


[Folks, maybe let's reel in the sarcastic "I can't believe you're so stupid/callous as to suggest THIS" analogies, so this conversation has a chance to go better.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Grocery store labeling is not human subjects research, as research is defined by the U.S. Government. Company product testing done for internal profit purposes without intent to publish is not human subjects research. These things are not subject to institutional review boards. The type of research defined here absolutely is subject to IRB review.

IRBs can and do make terrible decisions all the time, but it makes no sense to compare what they do to a store or a company or a non research medical procedure. The regulations and concerns involved are different in research, which has a specific definition under the law and mandates informed consent except in specific exempt situations also defined by law.
posted by Stacey at 1:17 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Folks who care about this stuff, either to support IRBs or to rein in what you may see as overstepping - IRBs are mandated to have community members from outside the institution. They're also mandated to have members without a scientific background to help ensure things like consent forms that make sense to laypeople. Your local university IRB is probably short handed on both fronts and would love you to volunteer a few hours a month to be part of these discussions and make these decisions.)
posted by Stacey at 1:20 PM on August 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


If informing potential human subjects about the nature of a scientific experiment causes them to decline participating then that's that, no matter what your presumptions of their ignorance and your own knowledgeability tell you.

To be clear, I agree in the case of a study like this.

Isn't that how they festered in the first half of the 20th century until they amassed the strength to backlash hard on all of us?

Nah, I think we kind of go out of our way to bend over backwards to respect unscientific ideas.

Here is a reminder of the problem Golden Rice is trying to address:

Worldwide, over 124 million children are estimated to be vitamin A deficient. Improved vitamin A nutriture would be expected to prevent approximately 1-2 million deaths annually among children aged 1-4 years. An additional 0.25-0.5 million deaths may be averted if improved vitamin A nutriture can be achieved during the latter half of infancy. Improved vitamin A nutriture alone could prevent 1.3-2.5 million of the nearly 8 million late infancy and preschool-age child deaths that occur each year in the highest-risk developing countries.
-
Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and is critical to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4:2 to reduce child mortality.[1] Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children in the developing world go blind each year from a deficiency of vitamin A, approximately half of whom die within a year of becoming blind.

So look, if it will help, let me try and say this as respectfully as I can:

People who oppose GMO, please stop sabotaging this effort to save the lives of children. Let's finish up a reasonable amount of testing and start planting or looking for another solution.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:22 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


Nature's report claims that the researchers' original consent forms mentioned that the study involved transgenic golden rice, but that the wording was specifically removed by a Chinese official because the topic was "too sensitive" for for the study to be conducted expeditiously. Consequently, the rice had to be illegally imported into China, because disclosing its provenance would have caused more delays.

This isn't some, "Oh I'm not Vegan so I forgot Gelatin would make you mad" thing, it was a conscious decision to circumvent multiple levels of oversight and has lead to serious consequences. This is exactly the sort of behavior that an IRB is intended to remedy. Studying people burdens a scientist with more than just being right, it carries an obligation to honors participants' interests in one's research. This paper is getting retracted because the researchers did incredibly shady things that were contrary to the participants' interests, trying to diminish that by claiming the initial complaint was unscientific is wasting everyone's time.

Further, pearl clutching about "the children" is spurious. The study showed that GR is as good as an existing, cheap, easy to administer method of supplementing Vitamin A that requires no changes in food regulatory regimes, no changes in cultivation, and is currently in use. One could as easily impugn the character of GR supporters because their activism could have funded life saving supplements and be equally guilty of demagoguery.
posted by ethansr at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2015 [35 favorites]


This blurb above seems to be misleading. The real problem is that IRB approval and consent from the subjects were never obtained when the testing was done in China. The fact that it was a GMO didn't prevent the researcher from doing these two basic steps.

Yep. One hospital I work at requires written consent (verbal is not sufficient) for me to conduct a telephone interview, let alone feed people stuff.

IRB is serious, you don't mess with that stuff.
posted by jb at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


The study showed that GR is as good as an existing, cheap, easy to administer method of supplementing Vitamin A that requires no changes in food regulatory regimes, no changes in cultivation, and is currently in use.

From the Golden Rice project:

Golden Rice has the potential to complement existing efforts that seek to reduce blindness and other VAD induced diseases. Those efforts include industrial fortification of basic foodstuffs with vitamin A, distribution of vitamin supplements, and increasing consumption of other foods rich in vitamin A. Those programs are successful mainly in urban areas but still around 45% of children around the world are not reached by supplementation programs. Moreover, these programs are not economically sustainable. Small countries, like Nepal or Ghana, require about 2 million dollars every year to run the campaigns, in spite of the negligible cost of the vitamin A capsules. A large country like India cannot afford to run country-wide programs, because the costs become prohibitive. There is no guarantee that donors and governments will be able to carry on funding those programs year after year (UNICEF, Micronutrient Initiative). Biofortified crops, like Golden Rice offer a long-term sustainable solution, because they do not require recurrent and complicated logistic arrangements once they have been deployed.

Further, pearl clutching about "the children" is spurious.

Wow, okay. As someone who has had to watch a child in my family struggle with cancer and eventually die I'd just like to tell you dead children isn't a matter of pearl clutching for me. It's a thing that happens, in real life, all over the world. Sometimes it's preventable. I'm not a fan of ideological opposition to good, cheap, solutions.

One could as easily impugn the character of GR supporters because their activism could have funded life saving supplements and be equally guilty of demagoguery.

One could, if one could find Golden Rice supporters...like...burning down the supplementation factories or demanding the methods used to create supplements be banned. These sides are not the same. The Golden Rice project sees itself as a sustainable part of the solution, not the entire solution.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The idea that this is the one and only crop with vitamin A that would grow there is ridiculous. It's simply not true. There are other options that could be tried, they just aren't as easy to monetize and profit from."

When regarding a comment like this, I think a simple question for assessing its relevance is: "Is golden rice distribution structured to make the promulgators money?" Since the answer is that the license is free for farmers making less than $10,000 U.S. annually, basically the entire population of people who need golden rice would get it for free. That means that claiming that other options aren't pursued because they're not as easy to profit from is ignorant bullshit.

But they would lead to long term changes that countries could sustain themselves instead of being made dependent on white people in lab coats who are NOT operating altruistically, they want money. Without getting money, they would not be doing this. Which is fine, it just doesn't mean they are actually acting in the true interests of these people. These are not saints who are magically correct because there were numbers involved in their theories.

As this claim follows from the claim that the scientists are profiting off of this specifically, it can also be reasonably dismissed as ignorant bullshit.

I think there is a lot of magical thinking on both sides of this. I LIKE magical thinking... I think about magic all the time, I just like to be honest when that's what we're doing."

"Magical thinking" is thinking that materially unobservable connections exist between causes and events, e.g. that thinking good thoughts about the universe allows good energy to return, a la The Secret, or that something being genetically modified will lead to inexorably negative ends (as the "superstition" subset of "magical thinking).

The "magical thinking" is all entirely on one end of this issue, and it's a false equivalency to act like these are equal regimes for evaluating facts.

"Metafilter is awesome. I love y'all. But we really really do engage in as much group-think as others we deem (correctly or not) as anti-science, superstitious, etc. I mean, take for example that in most posts on nutrition many mefites are on board with the fact that food can't be broken down into simple nutritional units to truly understand its effects on the body and must be understood as whole foods . Perhaps a similar line of thinking is what leads some folks to take an anti-GMO stance (when it comes to increasing a single vitamin in rice) to say nothing of the points xarnop brings up. "

Then those people either don't understand the term "genetic modification," or the ways that it works, or nutrition. And since xarnop's concerns were based on a materially false explanation of "profit motives," the "group think" of pointing out that factually wrong is factually wrong is something I'm entirely comfortable with. I'm also fine with MetaFilter "group think" on evolution, climate change and vaccines.

"Yet, in what in my view is a mad rush of one upsmanship to show how rational and sciencey we all are, we are quick to paint an entire movement of anti-GMO folks as crazy, superstitious and, well, let's be real metafilter, less intelligent than we are."

Yeah, so, this is something where the adoption of broader distribution of golden rice will prevent the agonizing deaths of poor children, versus the ignorant woolgathering of first worlders with the privilege to be removed from the direct consequence of the problem. It's the equivalent of arguing that people shouldn't get vaccines because maybe they cause autism — something where blithe ignorance is both a public health risk and something that is profoundly unjust toward people with less power.

"People may be wrong about the science (I don't know, I am not a scientist nor do I have much of a dog in this fight), but aren't their concerns legitimate? "

No, most of their concerns are not legitimate, even to the extent that many of the illegitimate concerns obscure concerns that are legitimate (herbicidal overuse, monoculture, runoff, etc.). That their concerns are not legitimate is something that can be verified pretty quickly by looking up things like the licensing scheme and distribution of golden rice. Yet despite repeatedly having the opportunity to reassess the legitimacy of their claims, they instead double down on illegitimate claims and push a fallacious view that does include the unnecessary deaths of children.

"They should be in the context of the more powerful and well off making decisions for more vulnerable people. Such as the people in this study who weren't allowed to be informed because it was decided for them they can't care. Maybe they would have objected to the GMO's on grounds other than safety."

Great. So you're against more powerful people — Western anti-GMO activists — deciding that manipulating the information that less powerful people get in order to scare them away from GMOs is unethical.

Can that be permitted or should my body get used to being forced to accept this because I don't have a say in what goes in my own body if a scientist has decided for me it's for my own good?"

Sometimes, yes. I have no problem with things like adding chlorine and fluoride to the water, and it's for your own good. I have no problem with people having to have vaccinations. I think there are tons of compounds that can reasonably be banned despite a general right to control what goes in our bodies.
posted by klangklangston at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


I don't understand how the Think of the children argument gets so much support in this instance.

Drinky Die, can you tell us why 124 millon children are vitamin a deficient? The problem isn't food supply, the problem is food delivery. Trying to solve the problems of malnutrition through adding vitamin A to rice so when we drop bags of rice to refugees the children won't go blind seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem and a salve on our conciences-- yes our food policies and energy policies are displacing and putting at risk and out of work hundred of millions, but at least we are giving them vitamin A rice so their kids won't go blind!
posted by GregorWill at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


The point is to give the people already growing rice and selling it locally a product that will provide vitamin A. It's a "teach a man to fish" solution to the problem of supplementation delivery.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am pro-GM as a technique and completely disagree with Greenpeace's fearmongering on this issue, but as a working scientist in academia this retraction seems appropriate to me. Being sloppy with IRB approval and things like backdated or falsified consent forms aren't just failures to understand people's values, as the Grist link suggests, and it would set a very bad precedent for these failures to be ignored.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2015 [37 favorites]


Trying to solve the problems of malnutrition through adding vitamin A to rice so when we drop bags of rice to refugees the children won't go blind seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem and a salve on our conciences-- yes our food policies and energy policies are displacing and putting at risk and out of work hundred of millions, but at least we are giving them vitamin A rice so their kids won't go blind!

The licenses are offered for free to local farmers and rice native to various locales is modified as so to match local climate, growing conditions and diets. This initiative is the opposite of what you're arguing against, especially since other solutions (e.g. distribution of supplements) run into exactly the issues you speak of.
posted by Conspire at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


please stop sabotaging this effort to save the lives of children

Oh for heaven's sake. Yes of course Vitamin A deficiency is a real problem, and it's being used as a pretext for taking more of the developing world's food systems captive. The White Man's Burden rescue of those helpless foreigners is cover. Even at the beginning, licenses will only be free for certain selected users, purely for show, but don't worry, multinational agribusiness will get paid, one way or another; by the governments, or directly and indirectly through land and concessions, and it will always be the ordinary person who pays. How long will the licenses remain even superficially "free" once the sustainable practices have been driven out and the new regimen of combining farms has been adopted or imposed? How long will many of the farmers even continue to own their land? Will they even have the option of growing other crops once they've completely lost control?

Imagine if a fraction of the amount of global money and PR were put into spreading the cultivation of adapted crops that -- hey, guess what, also contain vitamin A -- that will work within the local economy instead of altering it with at best unknown but pretty predictable and historically highly unpromising consequences?
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:57 PM on August 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Presumably the IRB didn't tell the researchers to hand parents copies of the laboratory procedures and protocols used to produce the rice. They summarized that information with the phrase "genetically modified," assuming that this phrase would give parents sufficient information to ethically obtain informed consent, where the phrase "new rice" was deemed insufficient.

I don't agree that the phrase "genetically modified" is a sufficient description of the rice, or that it gives parents an ethically significant amount of more information than just calling it "new rice."
posted by straight at 1:58 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you’re fabricating documents, you’re sciencing wrong.

THIS! No amount of public confusion about issues or existing propaganda that has clouded the minds of your test pool justifies falsifying ethical review board documents. That's a bright line that you DO NOT CROSS. I don't care if you're curing cancer and ending malaria, you DON'T FABRICATE ETHICAL DOCUMENTS.

I can't believe this would ever be subject to argument. This is on a par with the CIA vaccination ruse to get DNA from Bin Laden's family in how badly it may have harmed people's trust in the scientific community -- or confirm people's largely false misgivings, which is even worse.
posted by KathrynT at 2:03 PM on August 30, 2015 [25 favorites]


It's entirely possible to argue against GMO without being unscientific. For example, you can argue that science is a process that, in aggregate, results in a clearer understanding of what is true and what is not. What conditions need to be true for that process to function corrrectly? One uncontroverial condition would be that studies are subject to peer review. Another factor may be the selection of studies and researchers that takes place. If sources of funding and choice of researchers is influenced by commercial interests, then, even though studies may be carried out to a very high quality, our ability to interpret them is reduced because of the research that has not taken place and the choices that researchers who want to get funding and be successful have reasonably made in that context. i.e. Capitalism distorts science within areas which have relevance to profit, so even though all the research may be valid, it presents a distorted picture. The conclusions may well be correct, but it does not merit the same regard as an undistorted science culture.

This is the same kind of mistake that people who believe in pseudoscience make, just at a different level. Pseudoscience believers believe that arguments that look like science are scientific. People who believe in trusting science that comes from distorted scientific cultures believe that processes that look like science are scientific.
posted by xchmp at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Imagine if a fraction of the amount of global money and PR were put into spreading the cultivation of adapted crops that -- hey, guess what, also contain vitamin A -- that will work within the local economy instead of altering it with at best unknown but pretty predictable and historically highly unpromising consequences?

You aren't going to get a better adapted plant for the local soil and economy than the same damn strain they have always grown, but with added vitamin A now.

Your whole posts boils down to, "Yes this is a real problem killing millions of children but I have vague unsupportable conspiracy theories fears about the whole thing." Like, okay? But I don't think your fears are enough for me to tell the farmers who want the free Golden Rice that they can't have it. Why don't we do the testing and let them choose instead of choosing for them based on our fears about how they need us to protect them from exploitation?
posted by Drinky Die at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


By the way, ever notice that every big, international trade agreement seems to include strengthening intellectual property laws and lengthening their term? Do, um farmers ever get invited to these talks, or just multinationals and governments backed by billionaires?

The connection isn't even subtle. IP is being forged into an instrument of corporate colonialism and control.

The safety of GMO isn't even the point -- it's a meaningless question, like the safety of chemicals or machines. The difference between GMO crops and homebrew cultivars is that the former is IP and the latter anyone can do. The former is conducive to corporate colonialism and the latter is not.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:13 PM on August 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


The difference between GMO crops and homebrew cultivars is that the former is IP and the latter anyone can do.

You have been able to patent a homegrown cultivar in the United States since 1930.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:17 PM on August 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


Not really relevant. Farmers are free to use any cultivar which is not patented. Cultivars not under patent can be reproduced without license fees, bred further and typically are bred to breed true so you don't have to keep buying seed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:23 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not really relevant. Farmers are free to use any cultivar which is not patented. Cultivars not under patent can be reproduced without license fees, bred further and typically are bred to breed true so you don't have to keep buying seed.

But the patents expire and the product goes free. Round-Up Ready Soy for example is now off patent. So why the focus on GMO when the patents for GMO crops expire just like conventional crops? Why a focus on fees when Golden Rice is free to farmers who can't afford it?

Regardless, I think we should allow the farmers to decide which cultivars they prefer, if they want to re-use seed, etc.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Regardless, I think we should allow the farmers to decide which cultivars they prefer, if they want to re-use seed, etc.

I'm vaguely reminded of "teach the controversy", but okay.

Let's assume farmers really are given that much agency in the first place as opposed to being made to go that way by their community or government the moment approval happens.

And lets assume that that agency is impartially informed.

And let's assume the usual expansionist tactics of suborning community leaders and governments to make those decisions go the "right way" for some reason isn't followed this time, for like the first time in history.

And let's assume that holdouts will tolerated by a community that is majority persuaded. Particularly when the plans are structured in support of combining lands and such holdouts would adversely affect others' perceived opportunities. (Let's not even talk about demonization and whisper campaigns against such.)

And lets assume that they are at liberty to opt out again a few years down the road, assuming they are not now so massively in debt that they cannot afford to retool or replant, and assuming that they even own their land unentangled by regional agreements and debt-free anymore.

I don't really understand why people expect Monsanto, Sygenta, Bayer etc. to behave differently from every corporate colonial power with massive government entanglement has behaved since the Dutch East India Company onward. What business do you imagine they're in?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:43 PM on August 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


But the patents expire and the product goes free.

In how many years? (That number is subject to change, by the way, in conferences you and I and the press are not invited to and which in some cases literally have moats around them). It only takes a few seasons to concentrate a large number of farmer's lands under a single compliant owner. Steer them into the right agreements and normal fortunes will do your work for you.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:50 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay assuming everything you said is true for the purpose of conversation...Everything is going to remain exactly the same as it was before except now when the farmers are forced to grow the crop the government wants them to it will be rice with vitamin A in it instead of another strain of IP protected rice without vitamin A in it. So, stop Golden Rice!
posted by Drinky Die at 2:55 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


My point was that's a ludicrous chain of assumptions, given the historical errancy of any of them. If you don't make all those assumptions then the endgame is that the Democratic Republic of Pity Our Children loses titular control of much of its land, functional control of its food supply among a lot of other important things and in return gains a lot of homeless former farmers and a few fat rich ones who were willing to play ball.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:02 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Even at the beginning, licenses will only be free for certain selected users, purely for show, but don't worry, multinational agribusiness will get paid, one way or another; by the governments, or directly and indirectly through land and concessions, and it will always be the ordinary person who pays. How long will the licenses remain even superficially "free" once the sustainable practices have been driven out and the new regimen of combining farms has been adopted or imposed? How long will many of the farmers even continue to own their land? Will they even have the option of growing other crops once they've completely lost control? "

"Selected users" = practically all of them. The multinational agribusinesses are getting paid to the same extent that they're already getting paid for distributing seed; the golden rice has nothing to do with sustainable practices; "own their land"?

Dude, you're a smart guy, but you're lapsing into conspiracy brain worms here. Read up on the actual licensing of golden rice.

"Not really relevant. Farmers are free to use any cultivar which is not patented. Cultivars not under patent can be reproduced without license fees, bred further and typically are bred to breed true so you don't have to keep buying seed."

God love ya, but you're out on a rotted limb here. Homebrew cultivars do not actually tend to breed further and breed true — most cultivar hybrids end up being sterile pretty quickly and end up being reproduced by cloning. That GMO allows breeding true and fertile as well as the phenotypical shift is one of its advantages over most traditional hybridization. For significant number of plants, the exact opposite of what you're saying is in fact the major selling point of GMO crops.
posted by klangklangston at 3:03 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


God love ya, but you're out on a rotted limb here. Homebrew cultivars do not actually tend to breed further and breed true — most cultivar hybrids end up being sterile pretty quickly and end up being reproduced by cloning.

Golly, I guess that explains how farmers have never been able to successfully grow food before. If you're going to find openings in the fact that my comment is insufficiently encyclopedic to cover all possible ground in traditional horticulture, then you're just playing games.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:05 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


"My point was that's a ludicrous chain of assumptions, given the historical errancy of any of them. If you don't make all those assumptions then the endgame is that the Democratic Republic of Pity Our Children loses titular control of much of its land, functional control of its food supply and gains a lot of homeless former farmers in favor a few fat rich ones who were willing to play ball."

Well, then, let's see if there's any evidence that those assumptions aren't true in the case of golden rice:

"Let's assume farmers really are given that much agency in the first place as opposed to being made to go that way by their community or government the moment approval happens. "

As far as I can tell, there's no evidence supporting the argument that farmers are being coerced into choosing golden rice. Do you have any?

And lets assume that that agency is impartially informed.

OK, which agency? And do you have any evidence that any certifying body has been improperly influenced specifically toward approving golden rice despite safety concerns?

And let's assume the usual expansionist tactics of suborning community leaders and governments to make those decisions go the "right way" for some reason isn't followed this time, for like the first time in history.

Do you have any evidence that community leaders are being suborned in order to promulgate golden rice? Note that's different than community leaders disagreeing with golden rice's sale and not prevailing in attempts to outlaw it.

And let's assume that holdouts will tolerated by a community that is majority persuaded. Particularly when the plans are structured in support of combining lands and such holdouts would adversely affect others' perceived opportunities. (Let's not even talk about demonization and whisper campaigns against such.)

Why wouldn't they be tolerated? What plans to combine land have come with golden rice?

And lets assume that they are at liberty to opt out again a few years down the road, assuming they are not now so massively in debt that they cannot afford to retool or replant, and assuming that they even own their land unentangled by regional agreements and debt-free anymore.

What evidence do you have that they are not being allowed to opt out of growing golden rice?

I don't really understand why people expect Monsanto, Sygenta, Bayer etc. to behave differently from every corporate colonial power with massive government entanglement has behaved since the Dutch East India Company onward. What business do you imagine they're in?"

Given that it's extremely dubious that they'd make any money off of golden rice, what evidence do you have that it's Monsanto et al.'s behavior that would influence the approval one way or another?

You seem to think that evil is inherent in corporations rather than emergent from local decisions, i.e. that somehow they'd rather be evil than make money. I'm just not seeing any support for any of your contentions — if anyone's "teaching the controversy," it's you.
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Dude, you're a smart guy, but you're lapsing into conspiracy brain worms here. Read up on the actual licensing of golden rice.

Thanks for the backhanded compliment. Read some history. For at least 350 years this shit has been going on, GMO is simply a new technocratic tool in the arsenal of economic conquest. We don't keep treaties with the powerless. We've never had to and we never have. I ask again: what business do you think these companies are in? Why do you think IP looms so large in trade agreements whose negotiations are too secret for citizens but not for the corporations who not only attend but actually write them?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:11 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


[this is one of those topics where I feel like everybody knows that everybody's got some strong opinions; if you're finding yourself going back and forth more than a couple times and not in a This Is A Lovely And Collegial Discussion sort of way, maybe just let it be.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


As far as the chain of assumptions, I did not say I have proof that they are going to happen, I said you have to assume that they will not. And given that they are all in the standard economic and colonial playbook going back centuries, I am not comfortable with those assumptions.

As to whether or not Monsanto et al. makes money off of Golden Rice or not, I feel pretty confident they will, but regardless: a trap needs bait.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:19 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


BTW, I'm hugely pro-GMO in principle; not only does it have the potential to solve narrow problems but massive ones. Given where we are with respect to major ecological and climatological tipping points --- a bit past it in the latter case it seems --- it is one of the few things that holds out any hope for allowing some kind of life worth living to continue, and not just for humans.

Like I said, a thing is good or bad depending on what you use it for. I am extremely nervous about the underlying purposes to which massive players are putting it. I think we need to be skeptical, not just about science, but about motives, and I think the history of the players and those who occupy roles with distinctive historic parallels offers some instructive guidance.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


If they were your kids, who needed the Vitamin A, would you refuse to give it to them because doing so would benefit multinational corporations?
If you would refuse, then I think you would be in a small minority.
If you think you should make that decision for others, then it seems very paternalistic
This is not a decision anyone here likely has to make.
posted by librosegretti at 3:32 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's a really childish gambit. If I had a kid who needed vitamin A now and I had no other choice but to feed them Golden Rice that was already available because all this was a fait accompli, of course I would give it to them.

If in a context in which GR is not yet cultivated, my kid and a million of my neighbors' kids faced the prospect of ongoing vitamin A deficiency now and in future unless we changed our local and national food production and distribution practices, I hope that there would be consideration given to the fact that there are many ways to skin that cat, and GR did not invent vitamin A.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:39 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm aghast that people are arguing that we should test things on people without making sure they understand and consent to those tests. You are aligning yourself with Nazis. Like, that has to give you some pause, right?

You're acting like literally no one on earth would consent and agree to these trials and we have to trick them into it for their own good. That's pretty gross and condescending.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Golly, I guess that explains how farmers have never been able to successfully grow food before. If you're going to find openings in the fact that my comment is insufficiently encyclopedic to cover all possible ground in traditional horticulture, then you're just playing games."

No, seriously, I don't think you know what you're talking about. This isn't playing games, it's pointing out that you don't seem to understand how plants reproduce. In-breed cultivars are phenotypically stable but are less robust, more disease prone, and less likely to have selected features. Hybrid cultivars are how you get things like sweetcorn rather than feed corn, but it's very rare for them to breed true (auto-fertilize) — either they get an odd mutation or they're just not fertile. It's why sweetcorn hybrids have to be redeveloped every year. Cultivars aren't the same as local varieties that take open pollination — those varieties tend to be more robust (greater genetic variation) but less specialized and less able to provide desired traits, e.g. high sugar content in corn kernels. The other major form of cultivation comes from cloning plants, which is an umbrella term that usually means propagating through cuttings, but can also mean things like burying a tree branch to have a new tree sprout from it (layering).

That local hybrids and cultivars have trouble breeding true is a well known fact of agriculture since forever, and we've had a pretty good picture of why that happens ever since Mendel. One of the advantages of GMO is that we're able to have persistent hybridization in fertile seeds. Confusing that with saying that "farmers have never been able to successfully grow food" is just silly, and betrays a fundamental misconception about a core aspect of the topic.
posted by klangklangston at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


"I'm aghast that people are arguing that we should test things on people without making sure they understand and consent to those tests. You are aligning yourself with Nazis. Like, that has to give you some pause, right? "

Ice burn on Jetta drivers, but not much of an argument here.
posted by klangklangston at 3:45 PM on August 30, 2015


I'm sorry, I don't think it's childish to think of the daily decisions actually facing the people we are talking about, rather than large systemic problems which I'm sure they would also like to fix.
posted by librosegretti at 3:48 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, seriously, I don't think you know what you're talking about. This isn't playing games

It is because it's seizing on a technical lacuna in a one-sentence comment to sidestep the point of that comment, which related to IP vs non-IP strains and their accessibility to farmers, it did not pretend to be a rigorous and complete disquisition on agriculture.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:50 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


My point was that's a ludicrous chain of assumptions, given the historical errancy of any of them. If you don't make all those assumptions then the endgame is that the Democratic Republic of Pity Our Children loses titular control of much of its land, functional control of its food supply among a lot of other important things and in return gains a lot of homeless former farmers and a few fat rich ones who were willing to play ball.

What I'm trying to figure out is why your are singling out golden rice when you seem to be talking about systemic problems having nothing to do with it. Any conventional rice strain could face the same issues.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:50 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


IP.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:52 PM on August 30, 2015


IP.

The government and local pressure forced me to grow this plant against my will, but it's okay because it's not patented? Colonial agriculture has been around a lot longer than plant patents.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:54 PM on August 30, 2015


What cortex said. See you later, all. It's been good exercise but on my end I think it's futile. I think the corporatists are going to win simply because there is very little in the way of cohesive moneyed interests to effectively oppose them. When the only people in the room when the decisions are made are of a single mind and essentially control all the resources in the very broadest sense of that term, what happens next makes for some good drama but it's a foregone conclusion.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:01 PM on August 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Do, um farmers ever get invited to these talks, or just multinationals and governments backed by billionaires?

I'm sure they do, given how sacrosanct rice farming is treated in Japan. This has absolutely been a sticking point before, leading to a scenario where Japan warehouses mandatory imported rice. Obviously Japan isn't as impoverished as the farmers you have in mind, but at the same time, the WTO's goal is to reduce protectionist policies that make it infeasible for cash crop farmers in neighboring countries to sell rice into Japan.

Interestingly, this political policy persists despite laws against joint-stock ownership of farmland, average rice farm sizes 1.65 acres, and a 'gentan' policy that pays farmers to reduce rice crops. No multinationals or Big Rice behind the curtain there. Just good old fashioned LDP voter politics.

So answer the derailing question: yes, farmers are represented in free trade talks. If Japan gives up its protectionist policy, it'll likely be in exchange for other concessions. Possibly reduced farm subsidies in the US. Maybe a reduction in IP durations (but probably not, given that agriculture is a minor part of the economy compared to high tech).
posted by pwnguin at 4:44 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a contentious discussion because there's some bad faith rhetoric being kicked around by the pro-GMO side. I'm not anti-science, I think there could be a place in the world for this kind of technology to be applied. But once I mention that I don't love the manner in which this technology is being introduced into the world, then I get painted as some kinda anti-science knuckle-breathing torch-bearing quasi-troglodyte. So, hurt feelings based upon a misunderstanding. Gets all emotional for people.

That said, the big problem with the GMO issue in general is lack of transparency. Monto-corps fought hard against open labeling back when these issues first emerged, and that created some distrust.

Personally I think that the Golden Rice project is potentially a good thing because it's introduction has been a relatively more transparent process so far, compared to most other GMO product developments. The issues raised in the original article here further tangle this debate, regrettably.
posted by ovvl at 5:01 PM on August 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's my understanding that Golden Rice is a solution in search of a problem. Educating the population to eat ordinary brown rice would probably be cheaper and work just about as well.

To grow Golden Rice you have to buy the seed. With traditional farming, the farmers saves a portion of one year's crop to seed the next, and he doesn't have to buy seed from a first world company.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:08 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


With traditional farming, the farmers saves a portion of one year's crop to seed the next, and he doesn't have to buy seed from a first world company.

People don't do that anymore. At least on modern farms. You can get better yields from certified seed. You also don't need the infrastructure to store the seed without it being ruined, you don't need the expertise to identify and deal with disease, the risk that comes from losing seed to disease, you get warranties on germination with bought seed, and you get to specify what coatings and treatments you want to have applied to the seed.
posted by Talez at 5:20 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


To grow Golden Rice you have to buy the seed. With traditional farming, the farmers saves a portion of one year's crop to seed the next, and he doesn't have to buy seed from a first world company.

Nope. Farmers can save and replant seed rice. Golden Rice Org FAQ

Educating the population to eat ordinary brown rice would probably be cheaper and work just about as well.

The oils in unmilled rice can go rancid with long term storage. Milling improves storage. Also, most people just prefer white rice. Now who's being condescending about local people's preferences?
posted by JackFlash at 5:23 PM on August 30, 2015 [11 favorites]




I'm aghast that people are arguing that we should test things on people without making sure they understand and consent to those tests.

I am in full agreement that people should understand and consent to tests. Absolutely 100%. I also agree that the issue of "values" as outlined in the Grist piece spells out why it's important. I think the example used in the Grist piece (gelcaps) illustrated the point well. However, I don't think it covers the areas that are (to me, at this point) not as black and white.

I agree that this study was botched, which is shame, because it will be used to discredit the GMO movement as a whole in a number of ways and the researchers should have been much more careful. In terms of this study, I agree that they maybe could have used the words "genetically modified" in the consent that they did use and people who had issues with it could have self-selected out and they still would have been able to find enough people for the study. So I think this study was done poorly .

From the point of view of the scientists, I think I can see why they specifically would not want to use the words "genetically modified". I think the phrase has become so politicized that it's hard to have any meaningful discussion on it. It brings to mind Obamacare, and when people were asked whether they were in favor of the individual provisions (e.g. companies covering health care, children staying on parents insurance, no denial for preexisting conditions) without using politicized terms, people were overwhelmingly in favor of them. But when asked if they support "Obamacare" the majority were opposed.

I think "GMO" and "genetically modified" are similar terms. But, it is such a highly complex issue with so many different things in play and they all get lumped in under "GMO". So, putting aside all of the other issues (which, I think broadly are: Regulation, Health, Environment, Money, Policy, Poverty, Labeling), putting all those aside and just focusing on the one relevant for informed consent for the purposes of this study - individual health. Essentially, could eating this rice directly cause health consequences for the person ingesting it either now or down the road? And I think from a scientists perspective, the evidence is as clear as it is for most things, and the answer is no. I know that the public might not think that and various organizations might also disagree, but again, from the POV of the scientists, the consensus says they are safe.

So, given that the "understanding" of the participant might be wholly incorrect based on a ton of controversy - some of which may be valid, some not, but most of it unrelated to potential direct individual health consequences - all being wrapped up in the catch-all term "genetically modified" (to which pretty much everyone has a knee-jerk reaction to)...I don't see why it's unreasonable for scientists to want to use less charged terms.

It doesn't seem like this is as clearcut an issue as letting people know they're using gelcaps or something. People could refuse to participate based on only a vague idea that GMO's are "bad" based on headlines they see that could mean nothing, could be inaccurate, or could be based on reasons completely unrelated (e.g. monocultures) to any effect it would have on the individual for the purposes of the study. It just all gets grouped under the umbrella of "GMO". And I think in this study, it may not have mattered, but what if it happens enough that studies can't be carried out because researchers are obliged to disclose risks that are either incorrect or broader risks that aren't relevant to the study? So with the example of vaccines, for a new vaccine that's being tested, the researchers would have to add the risks of getting autism from vaccines to their informed consent form, even though they know that it is not true. Though there are obviously plenty of people and organizations out there that say it is true.

I gather that this is where the IRB's come into play, to make these calls. And I think this is probably a difficult issue in medical ethics as well. I've been trying to research this, and came across this paper (pdf) called "HIV vaccine trials: critical issues in informed consent", which discusses a lot of these issues.

I absolutely think people should have full information of all the issues they face. I also think there's a more murky area, where giving people all the information (literally everything - including the things the consensus doesn't support) purely in the interest of full disclosure can be a problem. Especially when we're dealing with highly complex areas that are already difficult for the layperson to grasp, and when doing so could actually stymie scientific progress.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:31 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


From the point of view of the scientists, I think I can see why they specifically would not want to use the words "genetically modified". I think the phrase has become so politicized that it's hard to have any meaningful discussion on it.

I absolutely agree. I am in complete sympathy with the scientists on those grounds. The solution, IMHO, is to find a way to accurately and clearly describe the situation -- "this is a type of rice that has been altered by scientists in order to produce vitamin A, a nutrient lacking in un-modified rice. This nutrient gives the rice a yellow color" -- and not just straight up making up ethical review forms that don't exist.

That's what slays me. I can understand why they didn't want to use the hot button phrase. If that's all they'd done, I'd be much less horrified, although still disapproving. But that's not all they did; they specifically and deliberately circumvented one of the major safeguards on the system that we trust to prevent the worst kinds of ethical abuses. That's not something you can handwave away just because in this case it was about something safe and no damage was done. That is a grave ethical breach and the scientific community needs to respond to it with the gravity it requires.
posted by KathrynT at 5:44 PM on August 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


Oh come on. Nobody required an ethics board to approve the first tastings of a tangelo or a pluot or a blood lime or any of the other hybrids.

If someone theoretically managed to cross breed a carrot to rice we'd have a marketing campaign and a miracle new super food that will save children in the developing world being shouted about on CNN. Nobody would literally give a shit that rice was producing b-carotene.
posted by Talez at 6:07 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh come on. Nobody required an ethics board to approve the first tastings of a tangelo or a pluot or a blood lime or any of the other hybrids.

This wasn't a tasting. This was a study in which the rice was given to children to check if the vitamin A levels were comparable. If they didn't need IRB approval*, then why did they bother to fake it?

*Spoiler alert: they needed IRB approval. You need IRB approval for everything.
posted by KathrynT at 6:15 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I mean, if they'd sat the very same kids down and asked them if they liked the color of golden rice better or worse than regular rice with an eye towards publishing the results, they would have needed IRB approval. The idea that you wouldn't need IRB approval for research that involves giving the kids something to eat and then taking blood samples from them is ludicrous.
posted by KathrynT at 6:22 PM on August 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


According to Nature the problem is much deeper than an issue of consent:
Critics note that discrepancies remain over the full details of the trial. For instance, the CDC's investigation revealed that the children ate Golden Rice just once during the study — and not lunch every day during the three-week study as the paper states.

“How much Golden Rice did the children have exactly?” asks Wang Zheng, a policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Policy and Management in Beijing. “Either the researchers are lying about this now or they lied about it in their paper. It’s a serious offence either way.”
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


People can argue about the goodness or badness of GMO crops, but the issue of falsifying ethics documents and consent forms is pretty fucking terrible, and anything that sounds like "yeahbut" about it likewise.
posted by rtha at 7:10 PM on August 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


An adult will get half RDA of Vit A eating one cup of golden rice. They don't clarify if that is cooked or uncooked rice grains. I'm sorry I just feel they are the Suez Water of food, attempting to patent the most comonly consumed carbohydrate in the world, and looking to bully up government support with humanitarian sweet talk, and doubtlessly money.

Not doing the paper work and doing human experimentation, fail of basic operating rules.
posted by Oyéah at 7:23 PM on August 30, 2015


If they didn't need IRB approval*, then why did they bother to fake it?

Sure, they needed IRB approval. They also needed to file paperwork for a grant, and go through the proper channels for a press release, and all the other typical bureaucratic form-filling. But if they had faked any other paperwork, people wouldn't be this upset. So why are they upset about faked ethics approval documents? Because the word "ethics" is in the name, so it must be unethical to fake them? Just because a board named "ethics" gets to approve/veto a study, doesn't mean that they are better judges of ethics than anyone else. Personally, I would rather promote the use of golden rice to help children get sufficient food and sufficient vitamins, instead of making sure that the test subjects were better informed than people buying non-GMO-labeled groceries.
posted by Rangi at 7:40 PM on August 30, 2015


> all the other typical bureaucratic form-filling

Oh my god.

Tuskegee. Among many other even worse examples of not obtaining informed consent because bureaucracy and hey, some people just know better.
posted by rtha at 7:56 PM on August 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


> But if they had faked any other paperwork, people wouldn't be this upset. So why are they upset about faked ethics approval documents?

Maybe because historically, people have some sore spots about approval from test subjects, and that's the one bit of bureaucractic form-filling they choose to skip.
posted by vanar sena at 8:03 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, as pro-GMO as I am...you have to see the importance of consent. Do you know how ingrained into science teaching that is? I couldn't show a science fair project once in junior high because I messed up the consent forms. There isn't any excuse for this no matter how you feel about the quality of the product being studied. You have to do this right.




/but really, I stand by my findings.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:06 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


So why are they upset about faked ethics approval documents? Because the word "ethics" is in the name, so it must be unethical to fake them?

YES!!!
posted by KathrynT at 8:17 PM on August 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


HOW IS THIS EVEN IN QUESTION
posted by KathrynT at 8:17 PM on August 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


So why are they upset about faked ethics approval documents? Because the word "ethics" is in the name, so it must be unethical to fake them? Just because a board named "ethics" gets to approve/veto a study, doesn't mean that they are better judges of ethics than anyone else.

If this were Twitter I'd assume yours is a parody account.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


Tuskegee. Among many other even worse examples of not obtaining informed consent because bureaucracy and hey, some people just know better.

Like the OB/GYN who injected his perfectly healthy clinical patients (many of whom were pregnant) with HeLa cells because, as far as I can tell, he wanted to see what would happen. HeLa cells are an immortal cell line taken from a particularly virulent cervical cancer lesion that appeared in a woman named Henrietta Lacks. He told his patients it was a test to see if they had cancer. He rationalized his actions by saying that if the cells DID cause tumors, they could probably be surgically removed before they caused too much harm.

This is why you need IRB approval, because if you let people decide for themselves what is ethical and what isn't, some of them will occasionally make VERY QUESTIONABLE DECISIONS. That's why the mandate for requiring IRB oversight is so broad.
posted by KathrynT at 8:24 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Y'all, I am VERY pro-GMO. I am very pro-Golden Rice in specific. This has nothing to do with the science behind Golden Rice or GMOs in general or Monsanto or anything else. This is literally about ethics in scientific research.
posted by KathrynT at 8:25 PM on August 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


If you want widespread use for golden rice, how can you not see the failure to follow ethical rules as a huge problem?

First, it reinforces the fear that golden rice is unsafe. They couldn't even mention that the rice was genetically modified to the study participants! If you are doing a study on children and you are trying to hide that you are using a GMO from their parents that surely doesn't build a lot of confidence in the safety of the product. If you are seen to be hiding something, people are going to think that you are hiding it for a reason.

Secondly, it surely makes your results less trustworthy in many people's eyes. Maybe the study was a perfect specimen of design and execution, but it if you are willing to play fast and loose with the ethics component, you can surely see how people might trust your results less.

Both of these play right into the hands of the opponents of GMOs and golden rice in particular. If you really believe in golden rice as a solution, shouldn't you be loudly denouncing this study? But instead, people are insisting that the ethics issues are no big deal, and so on.

I think we should hold anyone who is pushing changes to the way the world feeds itself on a pretty large scale to a very high ethical standard. Lives are at stake, so this needs to be done right.
posted by ssg at 8:33 PM on August 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


It is interesting that no one has addressed another objection that was raised regarding the study, specifically "that the children were fed on a diet rich in fat and protein - both of which would artificially raise the absorption of the beta-carotene, which is fat soluble. The meals comprised 20% fat by energy content and included 100g or 110g of pork meat, also eaten with egg, spinach and tomato soup."

I have no idea if that allegation is true or not, but I certainly would not put it past AstraZeneca and others who stand to rake countless billions of dollars to stack the deck. Anyone know anything about this? Not sure how to determine what the complete diet of the participants was.
posted by jcworth at 8:34 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


The base diet is only a concern if it was radically different between the subject group and the control group. Then, yeah, it would be a problem if they didn't discuss it as a confounding variable.
posted by KathrynT at 8:36 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


> The same kind of over-reaction to supposed ethical problems happened last year when a psychological study modified which posts were shown in some Facebook users' news feeds. It's the same manipulation that Facebook's algorithms do all the time, for whatever purposes they have, but once your motive is to study the users rather than profit off them, suddenly ethics somehow prohibits it.

I missed this earlier.

Look, fb can do whatever the fuck it wants with its algorithms and make whatever marketing claims it wants about the effects. But if they, or associated researchers, want to publish in peer-reviewed science journals about their results? Then they need to follow the rules, and the rules include (and are not limited to) getting informed consent. I do not understand what some people find confusing about this.
posted by rtha at 8:41 PM on August 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Turns out that a new play by Deborah Zoe Laufer recently opened in NYC called "Informed Consent."

It's based on a true story from the 1990s when researchers from Arizona State University did genetic testing on the 700 remaining members of the Havasupai Indian tribe in the Grand Canyon. The study ostensibly was concerning high rates of diabetes, but the researchers additionally extended the study without consent concerning other issues such as mental illness and the racial origins of the tribe. Particularly disturbing was the scientists determination that the members of the tribe originated in east Asia while their religious origin story tied them to the creation of the Grand Canyon. ASU ended up paying a settlement to the tribe and returned the blood samples they were retaining in storage for other research.
posted by JackFlash at 8:49 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then they need to follow the rules, and the rules include (and are not limited to) getting informed consent. I do not understand what some people find confusing about this.

I understand that; I'm not saying the paper shouldn't have been retracted. And of course I know consent is important: you should never, say, infect people with syphillis without their consent. But informing people that the rice they're eating is genetically modified is a minor matter, one which ordinary consumers aren't required to know, so I don't think that what these researchers did was morally wrong.

Consider the opposite: if they were testing an experimental medication with potential side-effects, and somehow persuaded an ethics board to give them permission, would that make it morally okay? No. The board is a technical hoop to jump through, because hopefully it will prevent further crimes like Tuskegee. Which means that an ethics board will probably err on the side of caution, and require consent in cases like this where it's not really a moral issue.
posted by Rangi at 8:53 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Secondly, it surely makes your results less trustworthy in many people's eyes. Maybe the study was a perfect specimen of design and execution, but it if you are willing to play fast and loose with the ethics component, you can surely see how people might trust your results less.

You're absolutely right. I was only thinking of the immediate consequences to the experimental subjects of not getting their consent (fortunately none, in this case), and didn't consider the longer-term reactions by people outside the experiment.
posted by Rangi at 8:57 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


But informing people that the rice they're eating is genetically modified is a minor matter, one which ordinary consumers aren't required to know, so I don't think that what these researchers did was morally wrong.

FDA regs allow a certain amount of rat excrement in foods produced for human consumption. Therefore if I knowingly introduce rat excrement into your food it would not be morally wrong as long as the total didn't exceed the legally permissible amount.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:00 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just think, Rangi. From now on, every time anti-GMO nutbars say that you can't trust the scientists because scientists have lied, withheld information, and committed fraud in order to get data that says that GMOs are safe, they'll be right. Or any way not wrong enough to be able to argue against without looking like an apologist.

"But if we told them what they were eating, they wouldn't want to eat it" is not an acceptable reason to withhold information from research subjects. No matter how ridiculous their reasons are for not wanting to eat it.
posted by KathrynT at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


But informing people that the rice they're eating is genetically modified is a minor matter, one which ordinary consumers aren't required to know, so I don't think that what these researchers did was morally wrong.

The ethical standards you need to satisfy for running a human trial are higher than those governing normal interactions in everyday life. You don't need written consent to ask someone a few questions out of personal curiosity, for instance, yet collecting survey results usually needs IRB approval. And that's "just" for talking to people, not giving them something that literally goes inside their bodies. The power differential and the potential for abuse is much higher here. We can't allow people to deviate from best practices here just because we agree that the product is very likely to be safe: this sets the dangerous precedent that a researcher's individual sense of what should be permissible can trump the procedures that we have put in place to curb ethical abuses -- which defeats the entire point of having those procedures.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:17 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


> And of course I know consent is important: you should never, say, infect people with syphillis without their consent.

Consent isn't only important when you're doing something that has a high likelihood of injuring people. Consent for its own sake is important, and it is non-negotiable in scientific experiments. The researchers in this case knew this, and we know they knew because they falsified the paperwork. If they were willing to falsify that, what else would they cut corners on and lie about?

This kind of dismissiveness about obtaining informed consent is possibly more disturbing to me than ordinary ignorance about what GMOs are.
posted by rtha at 9:30 PM on August 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


That's what slays me. I can understand why they didn't want to use the hot button phrase. If that's all they'd done, I'd be much less horrified, although still disapproving. But that's not all they did; they specifically and deliberately circumvented one of the major safeguards on the system that we trust to prevent the worst kinds of ethical abuses. That's not something you can handwave away just because in this case it was about something safe and no damage was done. That is a grave ethical breach and the scientific community needs to respond to it with the gravity it requires.

Totally agree. It discredits the researchers and by extension also kind of hurts the work that others have done on GMO safety as well. They should have been much more careful and it surprises me that they weren't.

(On a separate note, the Retraction Watch site has a ton of interesting stuff. I've been doing a lot of reading on bioethics - something which I knew almost nothing about - today.)
posted by triggerfinger at 10:04 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uhh, I don't think brown rice has vitamin A in it.

Oh, but that's not important. the important thing is that some people sitting at computers thousands of miles away know better than the local farmers.

Oddly enough, I don't see ANY of the affected population participating in any of this metafilter debate. Isn't this the purest example of colonization on both sides?
posted by happyroach at 10:39 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The base diet is only a concern if it was radically different between the subject group and the control group. Then, yeah, it would be a problem if they didn't discuss it as a confounding variable.

Vitamin A is fat soluble. If I understand correctly, the rate of conversion of beta-carotine to retinol (the form that is actually used in the human body) depends on the presence of fat.

The criticism is that a meal containing 100g of pork contains a fair bit of fat and this diet is probably not typical of the groups of people whom golden rice is intended to help. The question being asked is if people who are eating golden rice plus a small amount of vegetable or legumes will see the same positive effects. I'm not really comfortable evaluating that argument, but I don't think the objection is as easily dismissed as that.
posted by ssg at 10:58 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unless I'm misreading things, the study was aiming to show that the vitamin A in golden rice was as bioavailable as that in vegetables in which it occurs naturally. Unless the vitamin A in golden rice responds differently to dietary fat than the vitamin A in spinach, then as long as the diet is the same in the two groups it doesn't matter.
posted by KathrynT at 1:20 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Consent for its own sake is important, and it is non-negotiable in scientific experiments.
Since there seem to be quite a few scientists in this thread, can anyone explain to me why psychology seems exempt from this? I took a few psychology classes and was surprised that a lot of research was built on misleading research subjects. You say you need people to read a story aloud to a fellow student to test the differences between two different approaches of story reading on memorisation, but in fact you measure if people react differently to a black or white fellow student. I never understand how studies like that get IRB approval. My textbook said that deception was justified and necessary for "important topics that could not be studied otherwise" (because people would behave differently if you told them it was a study to measure racism). But, doesn't that mean that in case of important topics informed consent isn't deemed super necessary to scientists?
posted by blub at 3:30 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


This isn't about genuinely caring for the plight of Africans,

Before getting on a moral high horse, it may be wise to survey the land and see whether you actually are in the real Africa, or just the one that can be seen from atop the starving-children stereotype horse.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:41 AM on August 31, 2015


The entire scientific endeavor is based on trust. There is a small amount of verification, but on the whole, we enter into a social contract that says, "We will truthfully report what we did, what we saw, and what we measured, and we share it with each other so our work can be repeated and challenged." A researcher who cannot be trusted to provide basic evidence that participants were treated ethically cannot be trusted to do the science ethically. It doesn't matter whether she thought the requirements were stupid or burdensome. It doesn't matter that there were challenges in wording the consent forms to accurately reflect potential risks and benefits (that is par for the course). It is a fundamental requirement of human trials work that the participant must be free to refuse or withdraw, and must be made to understand what the research is, including the potential risks and benefits. Tang's cavalier attitude towards asking permission before experimenting on kids does not bode well for her ethics in other aspects of conducting and reporting her work.
posted by gingerest at 5:07 AM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


African resistance does exist which is why there are tons of articles about how to "overcome" farmers and the public's resistance to GM crops.

Refusal is not respected, slowly breaking unwilling people down is the preferred tactic.

It DOES sound like most of the players here are talking over actual Africans concerns. If the movement is driving by Africans actively seeking GMO's as a first course of action, that would be different to me.

I am not trying to bar anyone from it, I am trying to say people should have the right to refuse to use or consume them which means knowing what they are consuming.
posted by xarnop at 5:16 AM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


.African resistance does exist

I thought Golden Rice was more applicable to Asia where rice is already a traditional crop, like the study in question being done in China. Is rice a common crop in Africa now?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:45 AM on August 31, 2015


Is rice a common crop in Africa now?

Mostly in the Sahara, where it ripples enticingly in the sandy breeze.
posted by Wolof at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2015


People don't starve or have low vitamin A receiving 4 oz of fatty pork, served with spinach daily. Any grain in addition to this diet would give the needed carbs and likely fiber. This is about setting up monopoly.

I worked in a genetic research facility for a while. The technical reading I had to do regarding privacy, consent, and transparency was basically a small book. This rush to forward the whole project has to do with establishing a worldwide precedent for GMOs as bedrock to the food supply, with more vitamin A rich product in the chute. We don't need that, like we don't need Bechtel, or Suez brokering water to nations, where the water is.

People who oppose GMOS like Europe, Russia, are not nut jobs, nor have they arrived at their conclusions without research or logical thought processes.
posted by Oyéah at 8:22 AM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


People don't starve or have low vitamin A receiving 4 oz of fatty pork, served with spinach daily.

Holy shit, you're right! Why didn't the people who are vitamin A deficient think about planting a fatty pork and spinach tree instead of eating rice?
posted by tonycpsu at 8:29 AM on August 31, 2015


I never understand how studies like that get IRB approval.

It's probably worth pointing out that IRBs were created in part as a response to the mess psychology departments made. The Stanford Prison Experiment, for example, had no control group, and instead of a double blind, had the experimenter as active participant.

The IRB is appointed as a disinterested party to evaluate whether the deception is necessary, and whether the deception is harmful. A grad student eating chocolate shaped like dog poo is substantially different than pretending a test subject killed a person with electric shocks, and that difference is why we have humans pre-approve experiments rather than set yet another University policy or have professors sign ethics vows. FWIW, during my time as mandatory undergraduate test subject, I vaguely recall reading and signing a paper stating that deception would be part of the experiment, and the experimenters revealed the depth of their treachery immediately after the experiment concluded. This seems in step with APA's guidelines on deception.

The hard part here is asking partisans to ignore what could be otherwise sound science.
posted by pwnguin at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unless I'm misreading things, the study was aiming to show that the vitamin A in golden rice was as bioavailable as that in vegetables in which it occurs naturally.

Definitely. But that's not quite how the study is being presented to the public. This is the big study on golden rice, that shows how effective it is.

There were 23 students in the golden rice group, who ate 60g of golden rice once, along with some pork and the big conclusion is that 60g golden rice + 100g pork is as effective as 30g spinach + 100g pork. It does look like some further study, perhaps in a different population, might be a good idea.
posted by ssg at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


In reading the Nature article, it does sound like there were serious protocol breaches that justify retracting the paper, which is a shame. I still think that Greenpeace's objections were ideologically based on an opposition to the golden rice rather than a concern for the children used in the study, but falsifying the documents is a real scandal. Thanks for the folks who highlighted that; I'd missed it on first pass.

"I have no idea if that allegation is true or not, but I certainly would not put it past AstraZeneca and others who stand to rake countless billions of dollars to stack the deck. Anyone know anything about this? Not sure how to determine what the complete diet of the participants was."

AstraZeneca does not stand to rake countless billions of dollars if golden rice is approved. And the study was specifically designed to answer a criticism from anti-GMO ideologues that golden rice vitamin A absorption is lower than that of other dietary sources, with the implication that golden rice is unnecessary.

"FDA regs allow a certain amount of rat excrement in foods produced for human consumption. Therefore if I knowingly introduce rat excrement into your food it would not be morally wrong as long as the total didn't exceed the legally permissible amount."

Knowingly introducing grains means knowingly introducing rat feces. So yes, if there's a greater goal than just "Hey, more rat feces!" it's likely at least morally neutral. That's a classic ad hominem — it appeals to the disgust of the audience without actually demonstrating a harm. It's the same tactic as the one used by anti-abortion protestors over selling fetal tissue.

"Oh, but that's not important. the important thing is that some people sitting at computers thousands of miles away know better than the local farmers.

Oddly enough, I don't see ANY of the affected population participating in any of this metafilter debate. Isn't this the purest example of colonization on both sides?
"

If I recall correctly, we only had one member from Zimbabwe, but I think they may have been run off. (Probably imperialism more than colonialism, but that's hairsplitting, innit?)

"The criticism is that a meal containing 100g of pork contains a fair bit of fat and this diet is probably not typical of the groups of people whom golden rice is intended to help. The question being asked is if people who are eating golden rice plus a small amount of vegetable or legumes will see the same positive effects. I'm not really comfortable evaluating that argument, but I don't think the objection is as easily dismissed as that."

That's goalpost moving from the anti-GMO crowd. First, the objection was that golden rice didn't have enough vitamin A to have a positive effect. Then it was that it didn't have as much vitamin A as other non-GMO options. Then it was that the vitamin A of golden rice wasn't bioavailable at the same level. This study addresses that claim and its findings seem to refute it.

"African resistance does exist which is why there are tons of articles about how to "overcome" farmers and the public's resistance to GM crops.

Refusal is not respected, slowly breaking unwilling people down is the preferred tactic.

It DOES sound like most of the players here are talking over actual Africans concerns. If the movement is driving by Africans actively seeking GMO's as a first course of action, that would be different to me.

I am not trying to bar anyone from it, I am trying to say people should have the right to refuse to use or consume them which means knowing what they are consuming.
"

This is misinformation and concern trolling.

First, describing that article as being about overcoming African objections and implying that the efforts to overcome these objections are coming from colonialist powers outside of Africa is refuted by actually reading the article you linked to. In it, Kofi Annan, head of an African NGO dedicated to advances in African agriculture outcomes and himself from Ghana, talks about how objections to many GMO crops come from ignorance and fear of the unknown. This is disputed by a British spokesperson for a British NGO that focuses on food sovereignty, arguing that it's patronizing to say that the objections are based on ignorance.

Second, characterizing the discussion as "refusal is not respected, slowly breaking down people is the preferred tactic," is empty rhetoric. You can tell it's empty rhetoric when you realize that it could be a verbatim quote describing the progress of marriage for same-sex couples in America. Sometimes people who are against a thing and whose resistance is overcome, sometimes those people are wrong. Describing it as you have imputes a moral value without actually talking about what the trade-off is.

Third, despite ignoring that it's Africans who are issuing the report on African agriculture that blasts resistance to GMOs, framing it as "first course of action" is a mistake. GMOs aren't the first course of action in pretty much anything. With vitamin A deficiency, golden rice is a course of action being pursued after supplements, educational campaigns, shifting local diets, non-GMO crop subsidies and direct food aid has failed. With the broader issue of agriculture, they're a course of action specifically aimed at things like low crop yields, food insecurity, diet and commercial preferences — they're the most recent course of action in addressing problems that have been a part of agriculture for all of human history.

Fourth, the problem is that comments like yours — as emblematic of the larger rhetoric around GMOs — trade on ignorance and superstition to imply that people should be rejecting GMOs despite the fact that they can be a really effective tool in fighting development problems that wreak tremendous structural violence against less-developed nations. In an ideal world, sure, people could and should know what they're consuming down to the atomic level and be able to make a rational, informed choice about the exact health consequences. In the real world, food preferences are one of the least rational decision making processes any human engages in. Hunger is a pre-rational drive, and people pay premiums for food that is neither healthier nor tastes better (e.g. many organics), eschew food that could give real benefit if understood (e.g. golden rice), and make all sorts of irrational value judgments only tenuously tied to the underlying substance (e.g. wine). Even educated people routinely make unhealthy, unrewarding, or outright silly choices about the foods they eat. Because of this, the notion that the best policy is just to provide all the information possible and let people sort it out is a bad one — similar to why it's a bad idea to do pension planning by just giving everyone a list of funds they could invest in.

What makes this extra frustrating is that there are legitimate concerns about industrial agriculture, about food supply policy, even about the general tendency of companies to put profit over public safety. Those are all legitimate. But the combination of religious ideologues on the anti-GMO/Greenpeace side and the powerful, irrational rhetoric compared to the inherently tentative and complex nature of nutritional and genetic science means that the legitimate concerns get suborned into a zealot's grab-bag of social signaling, anti-GMO commercial interest, and bourgie imperialism, where purity trumps complexity and emotion beats reason. GMO foods have correctly been described as the left's equivalent of climate change denial. In both, a simple, emotional narrative trumps messy science.

"I thought Golden Rice was more applicable to Asia where rice is already a traditional crop, like the study in question being done in China. Is rice a common crop in Africa now?"

Rice is a huge staple crop in Africa, and has been for roughly 3,500 years. It's a really complex issue for development, as rice is the cereal with the most potential to increase yields relative to other grains, and right now there's a big tension between imported rice for consumption, imported rice varietals for crop growth, and indigenous rice varietals, which suffered from colonialist rejection of indigenous crops (as well as competition against other non-indigenous cereals, e.g. maize). One of the advantages of the golden rice technique is that it's best applied to otherwise stable indigenous varietals (in order to maintain robustness), which makes it easier to preserve local farming techniques and cropland, and may make it more competitive with imported rice varietals that give better yields but require more industrial agricultural techniques and are less robust (more prone to variation in supply, which increases risk of famines and food instability). That's part of why GMO is a red herring: GMO rice can either mean imported rice that requires more industrial agricultural techniques, e.g. cutting down forests to make room for patties, increased fertilizer and pesticide usage and monocultural farming, or it can mean adding a gene to indigenous rice varietals that allows them to compete less on quantity and more on quality. But non-GMO rice from imported varietals also generally means more of those same industrial agriculture costs. Techniques like golden rice can help shift value back to local farmers, especially since many areas stereotype their indigenous rice varietals as less nutritious than imported varieties — despite that being false.

One of the most frustrating things about arguments like this is that it assumes that local farmers don't understand the economics of their agriculture and that development is all exogenously driven, rather than being largely a function of local farmers wanting to get more money from higher, more consistent yields. Of course Western companies will promote their goods as solving those problems, often dubiously. But without actually engaging the needs of local farmers and offering them an alternative to yield-chasing industrial agriculture, blocking GMOs just makes activists feel good while offering no real impediment to the unsustainable development that will have greater costs in the longterm.

"People don't starve or have low vitamin A receiving 4 oz of fatty pork, served with spinach daily. Any grain in addition to this diet would give the needed carbs and likely fiber. This is about setting up monopoly. "

Your third sentence does not follow from your first two, and your first two are only tenuously connected to the research.

"I worked in a genetic research facility for a while. The technical reading I had to do regarding privacy, consent, and transparency was basically a small book."

OK. And?

This rush to forward the whole project has to do with establishing a worldwide precedent for GMOs as bedrock to the food supply, with more vitamin A rich product in the chute. We don't need that, like we don't need Bechtel, or Suez brokering water to nations, where the water is. "

This does not follow. You're positioning yourself as an expert on this because you worked in a genetic testing facility (which can mean all sorts of things) and read up on their policies. Then you assert that this is about establishing GMOs as a bedrock — which is unconnected with reading about the ethics and transparency policies or your work, at least as you've described it. This is based on? It doesn't jibe with any of the public documentation on golden rice, which you seem unfamiliar with. Then you assert that we don't need "that," implying both golden rice and GMOs in our food supply, linking it to other commercial imperialist entities. But since vitamin A deficiency is a well-known problem in developing countries, and since it unnecessarily kills and handicaps millions, and since no other solution has been found that would be as effective… it sure sounds like you're blithely dismissing something that could save children's lives because of an ad hominem comparison to other capitalist endeavors, and that you don't know what you're talking about.

"People who oppose GMOS like Europe, Russia, are not nut jobs, nor have they arrived at their conclusions without research or logical thought processes."

Not all, no, but they're frequently ignorant, self-centered and irrational, and "research" and "logical thought processes" led Linus Pauling to conclude that vitamin C cures everything, which also led to unnecessary deaths.
posted by klangklangston at 11:59 AM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Europe is definitely making their choices based on science and logic alone, yup.

Jean-Claude Juncker 'sacks' EU scientific adviser over her pro-GM views
posted by Drinky Die at 12:40 PM on September 1, 2015


Lying for science: Is it OK for psychologists to deceive? (Antonio Melechi – Aeon)
posted by Rangi at 7:36 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


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