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Member since: Sun Sep 5, 2010, 06:01 PM
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Journal Archives

Richard Lewontin - Biology as Ideology Lecture 1

Great talk on science's role as a social institution/influencer by evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin:


What knowledge societies can learn from foraging societies

Professor and Evolutionary Geneticist Richard Lewontin on the Politics of Science

...within the sciences themselves, through science reporting, and as leveraged by policy makers. Phenomenal interview, well worth finding the time for (need not be watched, works as a background listen ala a public radio program):

Junk Food Is Bad For Plants, Too (Nautilus)

Junk Food Is Bad For Plants, Too

How a steady diet of fertilizers has turned crops into couch potatoes.

Most of us are familiar with the much-maligned Western diet and its mainstay of processed food products found in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Some of us beeline for the salty chips and others for the sugar-packed cereals. But we are not the only ones eating junk food. An awful lot of crops grown in the developed world eat a botanical version of this diet—main courses of conventional fertilizers with pesticide sides.

It’s undeniable that crops raised on fertilizers have produced historical yields. After all, the key ingredients of most fertilizers—nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K)—make plants grow faster and bigger. And popular insecticides and herbicides knock back plant enemies. From 1960 to 2000, a time when the world’s population doubled, global grain production rose even more quickly. It tripled.1

But there is a trade-off. High-yielding crops raised on a steady diet of fertilizers appear to have lower levels of certain minerals and nutrients. The diet our crops eat influences what gets into our food, and what we get—or don’t get—out of these foods when we eat them.


Modern agriculture also influences phytochemical levels in food. These powerful bioactive compounds made by plants confer innumerable health benefits to themselves and the people who eat them. In general, the closer a crop type is to its wild ancestor, the higher its phytochemical levels.4 Yet NPK fertilizers translate into lower phytochemical levels. When plants grow explosively they tend to cut back on making phytochemicals.


But the things that fuel plant growth on today’s farms, chiefly NPK fertilizers, are not the same things that plants need to stave off disease, heal from injuries, and fend off pests and pathogens. In other words, our big human brains have long, and erroneously, conflated plant growth with plant health. And herein lies a pickle for modern agriculture.

much more at the link

Conservation in the Age of Climate Change: Saving the Cows—and Grasslands—of Rural Zimbabwe (PS Mag)

Conservation in the Age of Climate Change: Saving the Cows—and Grasslands—of Rural Zimbabwe

Inside a seven-year effort to restore a landscape beset by desertification and drought.
By Judith D. Schwartz

Sianyanga is a small community far from any paved road in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe’s poorest province. The village, part of the Hwange Communal Lands, comprises about 150 households — one household being six or seven family members living in a group of small, thatched huts. From the 1990s until about 2010, along with problems endemic to the region, including hunger and lack of clean water, the people of Sianyanga bore an added affliction: biting ants, or izinyebe, that thrive on bare soil.

These weren’t just annoying bugs that nipped a little. Balbina Nyoni, a single mother who has spent her whole life in the area, told me that being rushed on by izinyebe is like having boiling water poured on the skin; the onslaught has sent men to the hospital. The ants were known to gouge out the eyes of baby goats, killing them in minutes. People who lacked shoes, as Nyoni did, wrapped their feet in plastic to avoid getting stung. Being bitten could mean losing toenails, so open shoes were of no use. Plus, the ants ravaged low-growing staple crops such as groundnuts and cowpeas.

In September 2014, I toured Sianyanga with a group of community leaders. I was there to see the results of a seven-year effort to restore a landscape beset by desertification and drought. An older man paused in a grassy meadow and said, “This used to be so bare you could pick up a needle from the land.”


The model that was applied in Sianyanga is called Holistic Planned Grazing, and it was developed by Allan Savory, co-founder of the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe. As a wildlife biologist working in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in the 1950s, he observed that, when parkland was safeguarded from roving animal herds, the land deteriorated. He concluded that grasslands and grazing animals evolved together, so that the land needs the animals just as the animals need the land.

more at the link

Fantastic article, and more evidence of how effective proper rotation/management of cattle (and/or other ungulates) can restore lands and help reverse the effects of desertification/climate change (and beyond). These animals aren't simply in the environment, they - as an essential part of keeping it healthy and thriving - are the environment. This sort of grazing is a form of biomimicry, where the movement of the grazing animals is modeled after the way natural predators (who kickstart a process called "trophic cascade" would keep them from staying in one place for too long - allowing for the grasses/lands to be fertilized and rebound until their next pass through.

Wrote further in-depth about this method of grazing in a couple old OPs:

Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013 (*STUNNING RESULTS*)

To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef

And about trophic cascades here:


The "Bandwagon Effect": or, The Southern-fried primary is unfair

In a recent USA Today article, David V. Johnson writes:

The Southern-fried primary is unfair: Column
David V. Johnson


The effect of the Southern-leaning calendar is far more profound than the straight delegate numbers, because of what psychologists and political scientists call the bandwagon effect the proven tendency individuals have to follow the beliefs and behaviors of what is seen as popular. The more the voting public appears to favor Clinton, the more voters will tend to do so in the future.

This effect is likely even more pronounced due to the influence of superdelegates, the 712 party leaders who will join the 4,051 pledged delegates in selecting a nominee. Clinton leads Sanders in superdelegates 467 to 26, according to AP, unsurprising given her and her husband’s standing in the party. Although superdelegates have only promised to vote along these lines at the convention, are unconstrained by primary results and can change their minds, media organizations often report these delegates as “won” by Clinton, giving her an overwhelming overall lead of 1,630 to 870.


This year’s Southern-fried scheduling is profoundly undemocratic. No one region of the country should have more of a say than any other in selecting our presidential candidates. Yet if Southern states — a quarter of the country — allot all their delegates in the first half of the primary season, they will inevitably have more say. They will end the hopes of most candidates, and if they coalesce behind a single candidate, they will inevitably influence the rest of the country to do the same.


As for the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, let them hold off on voicing their preferences until after the primary season is over, so that they do not unduly influence the vote. As political leaders, they should be responsive to the voters — the opposite of the role they have now.

Before anyone accuses the author of suggesting that southern states don't count, or should be dismissed, or are less informed - he isn't. He's merely suggesting that primaries and caucuses be interregion and more evenly spaced/stacked/spread throughout the primary season (and states as much in the article, but I reached the paragraph excerpt limit), rather than having the southern bloc front-loaded. I recommend reading the article in its entirety.

Another essay worth reading, one that also has aspects of the bandwagon effect (and "herd mentality," where people do what they see others doing) - along with other forms of subtle yet powerful perception management and manufacturing consent - is over at Aeon:

The new mind control
The internet has spawned subtle forms of influence that can flip elections and manipulate everything we say, think and do


Looking ahead to the November 2016 US presidential election, I see clear signs that Google is backing Hillary Clinton. In April 2015, Clinton hired Stephanie Hannon away from Google to be her chief technology officer and, a few months ago, Eric Schmidt, chairman of the holding company that controls Google, set up a semi-secret company – The Groundwork – for the specific purpose of putting Clinton in office. The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

We now estimate that Hannon’s old friends have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail. They can also help her win the nomination, of course, by influencing undecided voters during the primaries. Swing voters have always been the key to winning elections, and there has never been a more powerful, efficient or inexpensive way to sway them than SEME ('Search Engine Manipulation Effect').


more at the link

(another essay whose excerpt doesn't do it complete justice)

I'd also suggest that the way Google displays its delegate count can have influencial psychological impacts. If you check the primary results on Google (type in "primaries" or "presidential election"...and it's not just Google, but most any media outlet), you're met with a chart showing Hilary with a commanding and seemingly insurmountable lead over Bernie. Truly, her tower of delegates is staggering and casts a looming and ominous shadow over Bernie's. But, that's only because they have defaulted the chart to include superdelegates (and there is no way to switch/change it...that I know of, at least). The raw pledged delegate count - 1222 to 918 (as of this writing) - is listed underneath Hill's tower of power, but it's almost as an afterthought (and doesn't really draw the eyes). And it doesn't have nearly the same visceral and immediate impact as if seeing the raw counts in graphic form.

I'm glad to see most on here only strengthen their resolve to fight for Bernie (and, more importantly, the movement he represents) - but, for plenty of others, it could be incredibly deflating and further the impression/narrative that Hilary is "inevitable"...and cause some people on the fence, or even Bernie supporters, to "accept" that narrative.

But, I know Hillary supporters, I'm just .

Why Bernie's system overhaul is the best option available, captured in a single quote

""We are not bringing about a vital change, uprooting the old ways of thought, freeing the mind from traditions and habits.
We go on day after day exactly as before; we do not want to strip away all our false values and begin anew. We want to do patchwork reform, which only leads to problems of still further reform. But the building is crumbling, the walls are giving way, and fire is destroying it. We must leave the building and start on new ground, with different foundations, different values."
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

We tried their drug policy, its overpopulated the prisons and led to broken homes and lives.

We tried their banking, its siphoned money out of the system, funneled it to the top 1%, and almost torpedoed the entire economy.

We tried their healthcare, its led to ballooning $4+ trillion annual costs (and ineffective care) at the pursuit of profits over people.

We tried their higher education, its led to a staggering $1 trillion student loan debt bubble that's about to burst.

Someone recently posted a brilliant Robert Reich quote that succinctly encapsulates the quote from above:

It's time to start on new ground.

Bernie 2016

"In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"We want a little reform here and there, but most of us are afraid to...build a completely new structure, for this would require a radical transformation of ourselves." - Krishnamurti

"If we do not change direction, we are likely to end up exactly where we are headed." - Old Chinese proverb

(okay, technically, multiple quotes )


Making this its own OP on the advice from someone on a related thread.

from Ensia

October 7, 2015 — The GMO debate is one from which I’ve kept a purposeful distance.

For one thing, it’s an issue that has already garnered more than its fair share of attention. For another, when you consider that many domesticated crops resulted from seed irradiation, chromosome doubling and plant tissue culture — none of which are genetically engineered — the boundaries of “natural” are more porous than they initially appear.

But I study seed science and policy, in which genetically engineered organisms — more often referred to as genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs — are pervasive, so it’s an issue I cannot ignore. Most recently, the director of a science communications program asked if I could engage her students on a few topics: Is there a scientific consensus on GMOs? How is the media doing when it comes to covering biotech in the food system? Where are the biases and blind spots in reporting?

Swapping emails, we discussed the retraction of a study on “golden rice,” a Slate feature calling the war against GMOs “full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud,” and the infamous tangle among Vandana Shiva, David Remnick and Michael Specter in the aftermath of “Seeds of Doubt,” a critical New Yorker profile of Shiva’s crusade against genetically modified crops. (Read Shiva’s response to the profile, and Remnick’s counter response.) Anyone who examines these stories will appreciate the thicket of fact, interpretation and framing that makes the GMO terrain explosive.

Let me begin with a frank admission: I am a proponent of agroecology, food sovereignty, and the rights of farmers to save and reproduce their seed. But I am not anti-GMO. In agreement with my colleagues at various universities and non-governmental organizations, I believe that some GM crops could have some benefits. What I object to is a lack of complex evaluations of the technology, the overzealous selling of its benefits and the framing of cautionary skeptics as anti-science scaremongers. The tendency to treat GMOs in isolation from their historical, social and political contexts is also of no help: The technology was developed as a tool to enhance the scope and scale of industrial agriculture. I don’t argue that GMOs cannot be — and never will be — extricated from that context, but that discussion is very different from the more common debate about health benefits or risks.

Why do the merits or demerits of GMOs grab more headline space than systemic food and agriculture concerns? Can we get past what Jonathan Foley calls the “silver bullet” and reductionist thinking on this issue? As a molecular biologist turned science journalist turned social scientist, I’ve been puzzling over these questions for some 15 years. What I’ve come to realize is that GMO stories point to deeper struggles over how science is conducted, interpreted and deployed in the arena of “sustainable food.”

...more at http://ensia.com/voices/the-complex-nature-of-gmos-calls-for-a-new-conversation/

One of the most comprehensive I've come across, but added to it a bit of a lengthy response/addition:

Yes! It's stuff like this that the myopic/hyper-focus on GM overshadows and blocks out from the debate. Its become less about the problem (drought, yield, pest and disease-resistance, nutritional content, etc...), and almost exclusively about the wonders of GMOs. They can't tease apart the "wonders" (which are simply the idealized solution...which often times does still ignore the greater environmental context) from the GMO. Proponents forget, the purpose shouldn't be to cheer lead GMOs, it's about better addressing and resolving these issues - and they fail to question (or investigate) whether GMOs are the best way to achieve those results.

For example, they think they can simply splice in a gene to make a crop drought resistant, rather than, say, building porous soil rich in organic matter that increases rates of water absorption and leads to vastly larger stores of water retained (particular in times of low rainfall) - which itself often includes mixed stocking of crops and animals (among a host of other techniques). Or that pest resistance again comes down to adding another gene, rather than building the plants own existing defenses (again, through a robust soil teeming with biodiversity) and attracting and encouraging beneficial predators with a healthy and biodiverse landscape. It actually speaks largely to an all-too-common reductionist (not to mention "gene-centric" approach across the sciences - we've lost sight of (or simply failed to identify in the first place) the mutualistic relationships of nature.

Here, mycologist Paul Stamets describes one such relationship between a grass, mychorriza fungi, and a virus that allows the grass to grow and thrive in an environment with extreme temperatures (should be cued up around 23:42...if it isn't, skip ahead to that time):

Paul Stamets and John B. Wells - Mushrooms & Environment

You can't just genetically modify that into existence, you have to foster the relationship. It, in my opinion, is a much more advanced science/technique than the myopic "gene for every mean" approach. Which is why it's not only disingenuous, but exceedingly patronizing and insulting, for people like the NYT's Amy Harmon to throw around "anti-science" accusations and seedy equivocations. It not only falsely frames the terms of the debate (thus cementing positions and automatically granting one side an imagined intellectual high-ground), it ignores good science itself:

Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology

Like farmer Joel Salatin says:

"Of course I think I’m using science, but so does Monsanto. And so the question is whose science will be used as a regulatory foundation and enforcement action? It won't be pasture-based livestock, compost and symbiosis through multispeciation. It will be further animal abuse, chemicals and pathogen-friendly protocols."

Further, problems like malnutrition (like Vitamin-A deficiency) involve a myriad of issues, including the physical (involving a broader lack of a complex of dietary fats and nutrients...which are actually required for proper absorption of Vitamin A) and the socio-politico-economical. GM-opia ignores the scope of the issues and smacks of simplistic solutionism.

Final thought, I'd even challenge the thought that "most" of the GMOs are safe to eat. Particularly those that exist in actual fact today. Reason being, almost no thought (and certainly hardly any study, particularly from the industry) has gone into considering the effects of these foods on our microbiome - those trillions of bacteria and other micro-organisms that live on and within our bodies (a large portion of which are in the gut), that are crucial in not only keeping us healthy but alive in the first place. One reason for this is we are only beginning to discover, realize, and appreciate just how crucial these critters are to health and well-being, with functions ranging from digesting and deriving nutrients in our food, to fighting off pathogens and regulating/boosting our immune-system. In fact, it is those very bugs in our guts we have to worry about when it comes to GMOs - not only when it comes to the chemical pesticides that the plants are engineered to withstand, but especially those "modified" with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) within the plant itself. Plenty of our "modern" disease epidemics seem to be rooted in inflammation stemming from gut/GI issues...and it could very well be that these "foods"/ingredients derived from them are contributing to that problem in large degree (and I seem to recall some preliminary findings hinting at such).

On a somewhat related (and equally fascinating) note, George Monbiot points out how - through a process dubbed "trophic cascade" - wolves can in fact change the course of rivers:

How Wolves Change Rivers

And, on a similar note, we see how "whales effect climate":

How Whales Change Climate


EDIT TO ADD: The importance of keystone species like beavers.

The Plan to Make California Wet By Bringing Back Beavers

Scientists Acquire More Proof That Only Beavers Can Save the World

And starfish:

The Ecologist Who Threw Starfish

Additional material:

An Essential Citizen’s Guide to the Truth About GM Crops and Food

“Using peer-reviewed studies and other documented evidence, GMO Myths and Truths deconstructs the false and misleading claims that are frequently made about the safety and efficacy of GM crops and foods. The book shows that far from being necessary to feed the world, GM crops are a risky distraction from the real causes of hunger. What is more, there is no reason to take this risk, since GM crops do not consistently raise yields, reduce pesticide use, or provide more nutritious food. GM crops and foods have not been shown to be safe to eat – and both animal feeding studies and non-animal laboratory experiments indicate that some GM foods, as well as most of the chemicals required to produce them, are toxic. Fortunately, the book shows that there are effective and sustainable alternatives to GM that can ensure a safe and plentiful food supply for current and future populations. GMO Myths and Truths is an invaluable and easy-to-read resource for everyone, including students, scientists, and members of the general public.”--David Schubert, PhD, Professor and Director, Cellular Neurobiology, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, USA


Genes, Organism, and Environment with Richard Lewontin

"The Mind" - Alan Watts

Created by the YouTube channel Tragedy & Hope and featuring 20th-century philosopher Alan Watts' words, it digs deep on the phenomena of worry and distraction.

Watts begins:

"So then let's consider first of all what is a mind in the grip of vicious circles. Well, one of the most obvious instances that we all know is the phenomenon of worry. The doctor tells you that you have to have an operation. And that has been set up so that automatically everybody worries about it. But since worrying takes away your appetite and your sleep, it's not good for you. But you can't stop worrying and therefore you get additionally worried that you are worrying. And then furthermore because that is quite absurd and you're mad at yourself because you do it, you are worried because you are worried you are worried. That is a vicious circle."

Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013 (*STUNNING RESULTS*)

Savory gave this talk at the TED2013 conference and they just put the video up (one of the most important talks at the entire conference, in my opinion):

(the entire video deserves to be watched, but the changes come in around 15:00)

Here's the article:

Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013

Allan Savory has dedicated his life to studying management of grasslands. And if that doesn’t sound exciting, just wait, because it touches on the deepest roots of climate change and the future of the planet.

“The most massive, tsunami, perfect storm is bearing down on us,” is the grim beginning to Savory’s talk. This storm is the result of rising population, of land that is turning to desert, and, of course, climate change. Savory is also unsure of the belief that new technology will solve all of the problems. He agrees that only tech will create alternatives to fossil fuels, but that’s not the only thing causing climate change."
So what can they do? “There is only one option left to climatologists and scientists. That is to do the unthinkable: to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for the herds.” Those herds mulch it down, leaving both the trampled grass and their dung. The grass is then free to grow without having damaged with fire.
The results are stunning. For location after location he shows two comparison photos, one using his technique, one not. The difference is, “a profound change,” and he’s not kidding — in some cases the locations are unrecognizable (in one case the audience gasped). Not only is the land greener, crop yields are increasing. For example, in Patagonia, an expanding desert, they put 25,000 sheep into one flock. They found an extraordinary 50% improvement in production of land in the first year.

(more at link)

Here's a short video describing the essentials of Holistic Pasture Management:

And here's an old thread of mine that goes into more detail (featuring farmer Joel Salatin):

To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef

Just Beautiful... "It all goes together" - Alan Watts (video)

Whoever cut this did a masterful job with Alan's words. For those who are unfamiliar, Watts is best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Many of his lectures were recorded and can be found in full on YouTube (with countless short clips edited from them, as well). This clip was uploaded a few weeks ago, and I think it's my favorite. Without further ado:

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