Doing The Most Good – The Moral Imperative of GM Crops

We here in the wealthy, well-fed west are overlooking one of the greatest moral crises in the world: the millions of deaths and hundred of millions more illnesses caused by starvation and lack of basic nutritional needs of people in the world. People who live in more desperate situations that we can even imagine.  We have a moral obligation and duty to use every method at our disposal, including GM crops, to alleviate the suffering of almost a billion people on our planet. (1)(2)  Every year, over two million children needlessly die of starvation (2).  

An example of a low risk GM crop is discussed by Steven Novella at his Neurologica blog, and covers the introduction of Golden Rice, which is supplemented with vitamin A.  This crop could save close to 500, 000 children a year who die of vitamin A deficiency.   There are some very salient points brought up in his article, but I’d like to quote one in particular:

Bruce Chassy is speaking this week at the AAAS meeting (American Academy for the Advancement of Science) arguing that the current regulation of GM crops is counterproductive (an opinion he also gives here). He argues that the last 20 years have demonstrated the overall safety of GM crops through multiple plantings and scientific studies. We still need to monitor GM crop safety, but the current level of regulation is harming the hungry and the poor, mostly in the third world.

Of course we have a duty to make sure that all GM crops are tested as throughly as possible to keep side effects to a minimum, be it to human and animal health, or the spreading of deleterious traits into wild plants.  But, like most anything in life, the risks of harm from GM crops needs to be weighed against the harm caused by nutritional deficiencies and starvation world wide.  From what I can see in the history of GM crops so far, the benefits for humanity far outweigh the risks.

We live a sheltered, comfortable life here in the west.  We are able to look past the basics of life, food and shelter, to other issues, such as the environment.  To label all GM crops as bad is unscientific, and given what we know, immoral.  When we have GM crops that can save millions of lives, that can provide more food per acre for starving people, that can fulfill the nutritional needs of the poor, we have a moral obligation to take the necessary risks and do the most good for the whole of humanity.





State Support For The “Persecuted” Majority

I’ve written here before about Christians who feel that they have a right to refuse to do their jobs if something about it conflicts with their conscience. Now we get to hear more about this from Idaho. A pharmacist in a Walgreens refused to fill a prescription, Methergine, which is a medicine used to prevent or control bleeding of the uterus following childbirth or an abortion. This was prescribed by a nurse practitioner from a Planned Parenthood clinic. The pharmacist would not fill it because the nurse practitioner refused to tell the pharmacist if it was being prescribed for an abortion, citing patient confidentiality.

If a person’s conscience is going to be an issue in being able to full carry out the duties of their chosen profession, then they are in the wrong profession and should find a new one.

Sadly, Idaho recently passed a law that gives pharmacists and other health care providers the right to refuse to provide any health care service or dispense any drugs that violates their conscience. Once again, the state is given preference to religious believers, believers who somehow feel they should be protected and excused from simply doing their jobs like the rest of us.

Andrew Wakefield Goes Down Hard

I’ve written before about my strong support for vaccinating children and how, in the past decade or so there has been an anti-vaccination movement that has literally cost the lives of dozens of children in the US and UK of pertussis and measles. Now, the man who started it all, the darling of all the anti-vaxers out there has been shown to be, not just unethical and a sloppy researcher, but a fraud. I’m still digesting everything in the article and I’ll have more to say on that later, bur for the meantime, read it.

It’s good to know that sometimes the truth can win out.

We Are A Christian Nation! F#&k My Neighbor And Pass The Potatoes!

PZ Myers has a great post about the absurd and disgusting ways some Christians have on insisting that everyone believe like they do while callously marginalizing a human life at the same time. I highly urge you to read the whole post, but I want to say a few words about just one part of it.

This is a quote from one Donald Douglas at AmericanPowerBlog speaking about Elizabeth Edwards’ final statement before her death of cancer:

Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it’s just bitterness, that’s she’s been forsaken by more than just her estranged husband — that’s she’s been forsaken by Him. And imagine if she’d have become First Lady. Americans generally expect outward expressions of faith in our presidents, Christian faith especially, and thus in our First Ladies as well. The Democratic base obviously doesn’t care, as we can see in the “wow factor” expressed by the author at the American Prospect. Being anti-religion is cool, so Edwards’ non-theological theology gets props from the neo-communists. Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn’t find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I’ve been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought.

What did Elizabeth Edwards say that was so terrible to cause such a vitriolic response? Did she curse god with her dying breath? Umm, not quite. Here is what she said:

“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.”

Did you catch that blasphemy? Didn’t the anger against God just leap right out of the page and slap you in the face? No? It didn’t for me either.

Apparently, she neglected to mention God or Jesus in her dying message to the world. That’s it. No death-bed denial of the existence of God; no words of favor for hedonism and atheism; she just didn’t happen to mention God. That’s all.

For all the douchebag Donald knows, she prayed to God and asked his blessings in private before she died. After all, didn’t this man’s beloved Jesus teach that it is better to honor God in private where only He can see, rather then in public just for the benefit of being seen to be pious? Wether she did, or didn’t, is between her and her (supposed) God. Its none Donald’s, mine or your business. Period.

And what is really galling is that there were plenty of people agreeing with this warped sense of outrage:

“Donald, I don’t know who Elizabeth Edwards is, but I’m glad you defend the faith in God. 🙂

I hope everything is well with you and your family.

Have a time! :-)”

Don’t know who she is? Try goggling “Elizabeth Edwards”. Defending the faith in God? Defending it from what? And for whom? I thought their god was all powerful. What does he need defending from? Is their god so pathetic that he needs mere humans to defend their own faith in him for him? Oh, and the “Have a time! :-)” is a nice, gaudy, touch.

Or this gem:

        She is dying jackass.

Fortunately, there were a few with some sense of decency who spoke up:

What would Jesus do?

Attack a dying woman, that’s what!

God has a nice warm spot in Hell reserved just for you.

Too bad hell doesn’t exist.


You, Donald, are scum.

You have redefined the meaning of low blow.

Low Blow? Absolutely. Not to mention heartless and unforgiving. Isn’t it funny how so many followers of a religion that is completely centered around forgiveness can’t seem to find any of it in their hearts for their fellow human biegns? Their sanctimony keeps getting in the way.

Add this to my incredibly long and constantly growing list of things I hate about Christianity. Maybe thats why our society seems so mired in discord and hatred. They say we are a Christian nation, and with Christians like Donald in the majority, I think I now see our problem.

Cognitive Dissonance Revisited

I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.

Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.

We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.

In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.

I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.

How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.

I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.

The Antipathy Towards Science Is Killing Us

I’ve spoken here before of the harms of religious thinking. Today I want to talk about something that is a threat to our modern society and that is the religious antipathy toward science.

Science has done more to advance the health and welfare of the human race than anything else humans have yet devised. In the past 100 years alone, the average human lifespan at birth has almost doubled. Humans are healthier, taller and live longer than at any point in our history as a species. This trend is due almost entirely to the progress that science has provided.

Science has allowed us to understand how the world we live in really works which in turn has allowed us to improve sanitation, housing, agriculture, food safely and production, health care and more. Without an understanding of how the world really works, we would still be in the medieval ages in terms of our well being and technology, beset by famines, plagues and pandemics that, until the middle of the 20th century, killed millions annually.

To illustrate just why and how science is important, I’m going to discuss evolution as it applies to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Evolution is a fact. Yes, it is a theory, but it is also a fact just as much as gravity, which is also a theory, is a fact. Gravity exists. We know this to be true because we can successfully launch space probes and satellites, and we can predict where an asteroid or comet will travel.

In the same respect, evolution is a fact. We know it is a fact, for example, because we can see how bacteria evolves resistance to antibiotics. Because of our understanding of evolution we are able to predict how certain bacteria will likely evolve and use this knowledge to provided new drugs in time to treat bacteria that became resistant to older antibiotics. **

The problem we are now running into is that the funding for research and development into antibiotic resistance is in jeopardy because of resistance to science funding by the U.S. Congress, driven mainly by the GOP due to religiously motivated ideology.

Another problem that is possibly even more serious is the general lack of education in evolution in public schools. This lack of evolution education is caused mainly by religiously motivated anti-evolution groups all across the country.

The effect of this is that most students who enter college have littler or no knowledge of evolution or even science in general. This has lead to students who have little or on interest in science, or if they do, they tend to get discouraged because of the extra classes and work they have to complete just to get up to the level to be able to do college work in science.

This sad state of affairs means that the United States, once the undisputed leader in science and technology in the world, is quickly becoming a scientific has-been in the world. It is now countries like China, Russia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the European Union that lead the world in science and technology. It is no accident that these countries have very weak or nonexistent religiously based political groups.

In fact, if you look at countries that have the greatest infusion of religion in society and government, you will see that these countries are all scientific and technological backwaters. The Middle East is a prime example. Yes, they might embrace technology, but that technology is bought, not developed. Soon, unless we do something to change the current trend, the U.S. will also be a buyer of other’s technologies. We will become a nation of consumption instead of creativity and innovation. We will be entirely dependent on other countries for almost everything we need to function as a society. That is not a future that I think any of us wish to live in.

What is the solution? Get religious ideology out of government and public institutions. Base science funding and policy on what is proven to work or has the potential to work, not on religious dogma and ideology. Make science education as important as reading and arithmetic, just like we did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

It is time to put religion back where it belongs, in our homes and churches, and keep it out of where it doesn’t belong, in government and our public institutions. If we fail to do this, we will soon find ourselves the greatest has-beens of world.

**Wikipedia, Antibiotic resistance,

The New Freethinking For Dummies Media Site

I’ve set up a site, the Freethinking For Dummies Mediasite, where I’ll be posting audio and video related to the topics I cover on this blog.

If you have any videos or MP3s that you think might be of interest, please let me know so I can post them there.

The Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines. Now Stop Being An Ignoramus And Get Vaccinated!

There was a comment on my post, Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent, that caused a flare up of my Tourette’s syndrome.

““I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.”

But then you are the misinformed one, because if you look at vaccine court cases won, there are plenty that were for brain damage and even autism.”

Ok, let’s get some facts straight here. This is directly from testimony by Dr. David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Surgeon General of the United States before the House Committee on Government Reform, August 3, 1999:

“Today there are far fewer visible reminders of the suffering, injuries, and premature deaths caused by diseases that can now be prevented with vaccines. So that we do not forget the past, allow me to share some examples:

Polio vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1955. During 1951 to 1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1,879 deaths from polio were reported each year. As of 1991, polio caused by wild-type viruses had been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. We have a goal that by the end of the year 2000, polio, like smallpox, will be a disease of the past.

A physician entering practice today may never see a case of meningitis due to Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Before the introduction of effective vaccines, in 1988, approximately one in 200 children, under the age of five, developed invasive Hib disease. Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age five– accounting for about 60 percent of all cases. From 15 to 30 percent of affected children became hearing impaired and about 420 children died every year despite antibiotic therapy. In addition, Hib vaccine has prevented the leading cause of acquired mental retardation in the U.S. By 1998, vaccination of pre-school children reduced the number of Hib cases by more than 99 percent.

In the 1960s, many people witnessed first-hand, the terrible effects of rubella, commonly known as German measles. During an epidemic between 1964 and 1965, about 20,000 infants were born with deafness, blindness, heart disease, mental retardation, and other birth defects because the rubella virus infected their pregnant mothers. Today, thanks to nearly universal use of an effective vaccine, the rubella virus poses virtually no threat to the children of expectant mothers.

The costs of caring for a child with congenital rubella syndrome are staggering, which brings me to my next point. Vaccines not only save lives, reduce pain, suffering and disability, they save money. The individual and community protection provided by vaccines help make immunization one of our most cost-effective medical and public health interventions. Most vaccines recommended are cost-saving even if only direct medical costs–and not lost lives and suffering–are considered. Our country, for example, saves $8.50 in direct medical costs for every dollar invested in diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. When the savings associated with work loss, death, and disability are factored in, the total savings increase to about $27 per dollar invested in DTaP vaccination. Every dollar our Nation spends on measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination generates about $13 in total savings—adding up to about $4 billion each year.” **

Vaccines mitigate suffering, they save money and most importantly they save lives! Got it! Good!

Now go and get yourself and your children vaccinated so that you, they or someone you know doesn’t become another statistic.