Today we received an email which engenders feelings only of disgust and despair. In the 18 July 2011 issue of the Cooperative Research Centre Association (CRCA) newsletter, CEO Tony Peacock writes:
Climate change scientists at the ANU [Australian National University] have had to be given a higher level of security following email threats that are apparently extraordinarily vicious. Colleagues of mine have been receiving wishes from animal welfarists that they die a long and painful death - presumably because we are involved in restoring some native animals to a sanctuary which involves culling other animals.
And now Greenpeace Australia have decided it is OK to attack CSIRO experimental sites because they don't agree with what CSIRO is doing. Last week in Canberra, Greenpeace "activists" decided to break into a CSIRO site and whipper-snipper a crop of genetically-modified wheat.
Scientific researchers are, for the most part, ordinary people like the rest of us. They go to work each day, do the best job they can, and then go home in the evening to personal lives of family, friends, and everything else that we all hold dear. In fact, in Australia at least, many of those who have chosen careers in science are especially talented and skilled individuals who have forgone higher salaries and more privileged lifestyles to pursue careers advancing human knowledge. And for this, it seems some are subjected to acts of destruction and intimidation which in another context (i.e. one in which the antagonists belong to a different race or religion) we would probably label ‘terrorism’.
You can read more about the threats to ANU scientists on ABC News, and about the ‘whipper-snipper’ attack on the CSIRO’s GM wheat crops on ‘The Conversation’. If you are minded to read other views on these topics, just Google keywords such as ‘ANU climate scientists threats’ and ‘CSIRO wheat activists’. You will find opinions on the web to reinforce the entire spectrum of views and prejudices.
In the same vein, we noted the following comments in a recent late submission to the Senate Committee inquiring into the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010:
There is an organised campaign underway from a few fringe organisations which oppose the development and growing of GM crops with the hope of convincing the Committee that a groundswell of support for the amendment exists. It does not. The fringe groups referred to (Genethics, Madge et al) like the followers of Lord Monckton, deny the validity of established and much-tested science . They also preach a gospel of return to a small farming. ‘earth- friendly’ approach to agriculture and oppose and denigrate the achievements of agricultural science in conventional plant breeding, use of modern fertilisers etc. They deny the vital role played by post-war agricultural technologies in averting famine despite the huge growth in the earth's population.
Support for the amendment by certain politicians reflects both a lack of understanding and a desire to pander to uninformed populism. (Ms Wilma Western, submission no. 119.)
While this might seem a little out of left-field, it actually goes some way towards explaining certain other late comments submitted by individual private citizens, of which the following quotations are a sample:
If you understand what GM in the farming industry has done in the USA and is trying to do in Australia, then don’t let the same mistakes occur in the medical area. Stop it now by amending the Patent laws. (Mr John Wood, submission no. 115.)
Please be aware that I believe this bill is essential to the health and welfare of the Australian Community in total.
This may help to keep our agricultural and health industries honest (or encourage a little more honesty at least?!) (Ms Joanne Mulcahy, submission no. 116.)
There is something ethically, morally and constitutionally wrong about anyone attempting to control these items via patents.
I would go one step further to [sic] – any one who messing with what is that belongs to all of humanity should be held financially and environmentally accountable for undoing any damage they do to the original genetic strains.
Genetic modification, is tantamount to genetic warfare and terrorism. (‘Name withheld’, submission no. 120.)
While genetic modification and gene patents have caused a minor stir – important to this blog, but of only peripheral interest in the community at-large – the real hot-button issue at the moment is climate change and, more specifically, the Australian government’s carbon ‘tax’. Unfortunately, too many Australians are obtaining their ‘information’ from populist rags and talkback radio. Anyone who doubts that this is ‘unfortunate’ need look no further than this week’s episode (2001, ep. 23) of the ABC’s weekly media watchdog program Media Watch. When those whose genuinely informed views are at odds with the beliefs of some of Australia’s most popular talkback radio hosts and their loyal listeners, they are labelled ‘menopausal monster’, ‘lying bitch’, ‘fool’, ‘idiot’, ‘brain-dead’, ‘dope’, ‘off her tree’ or just consigned to a ‘chaff bag’ and dropped in the ocean.
The bottom line is this – if we may, for once, be brutally blunt: most scientists are hard-working, intelligent, and knowledgeable about their subjects; media ‘personalities’ and radio shock-jocks are big-mouthed idiots concerned only with their ratings and the corresponding size of their pay cheques. Other media outlets (and, right now, News Limited publications in particular) are, quite rightly, viewed as being of questionable credibility, good for keeping up with the latest Hollywood gossip, but not to be trusted as a source of reliable news and information.
In short, we do not trust our politicians, and we do not trust the media, whose job it has traditionally been to hold the politicians to account, and keep them honest.
Until, and unless, the standards of reporting and political discussion in this country improve, our democracy is under threat, because uninformed – and misinformed – people cannot make informed choices. If any proof of this thesis is required, one need only look to the ANU and CSIRO scientists whose security has been threatened, and whose work has been vandalised. In what kind of a country do these things happen? Surely not in a vibrant, functional, advanced western democracy?
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is hardly the most popular person in the country right now, but she deserves credit for her answer at the National Press Club on, 14 July 2011, to a question from Channel Seven’s Mark Riley:
Riley: ... how do you see our responsibility and the way that we should be reporting this matter?
PM Gillard: I think we will have a long debate about media ethics in this country, but if I could put it as clearly as I can, I'd say to you: don't write crap. Can't be that hard.
If only it were that simple.