NOTE: Here are some of the many comments on the Times Higher Education site. Read in full, or join the debate at

Comments* from and/or on:
1.Sense About Science
2.CropGen, Harrington and Moses
4.Hidden interests + GM cotton in India + GM soy in South America

*edited for length and arranged for topic, rather than chronology
1.Comments from and on Sense About Science

*Tracey Brown, Managing director, Sense About Science, 26 February, 2009

The description of Sense About Science, that it "claims to" promote scientific reasoning in public discussions, was rude, with no reason given for such sneering.
*Pierre 26 February, 2009

Your statement that SAS "claims to" promote scientific reasoning was kind rather than "rude". James Wilsden, former head of Science at Demos and now with the Royal Society, has said of SAS's boss Lord Taverne, "Dick frequently spouts nonsense. He's about as useful to science as Robert Kilroy-Silk is to race relations."
Pierre 6 March, 2009

Who are SAS's funders? ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry), AstraZeneca, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) and Pfizer.

Is that why SAS are so worked up about things like celebrities endorsing aromatherapy and homeopathy? The evidence of serious harm resulting from such things seems pretty limited, but there's indisputable evidence of pharmaceutical companies suppressing evidence of harm about Evidence Based Medicine.

AstraZeneca stands accused of burying the damaging results of at least three clinical trials of Seroquel,

Where are SAS's complaints about that?

Vioxx caused tens of thousands of heart attacks yet the Food and Drug Administration appears to have connived with industry over a long period to keep the risks from public scrutiny.

Far from challenging the damage caused by these massive commercial interests and the secrecy and regulatory capture that goes with them, groups like SAS try to employ "science" as a source of unquestionable authority that they can use to rubber stamp a big business agenda and invalidate those that challenge it.
Peter Brown 23 February, 2009

As for Prof Trewavas's comments [see below] about people being "ideologically corrupt" - has he looked into the backgrounds of the director and managing director of Sense About Science?

As mentioned by others, they're part of the LM group which promotes climate change scepticism, euologises GMOs, human cloning, nuclear power and the like, while vilifying their critics as Nazis. George Monbiot's article 'Invasion of the Entryists' is a good starting point for anyone wanting to understand what they're about.

It is no coincidence that the one time that SAS, which claims to be all about defending science, did anything on climate change, it lead to headlines about the danger of exaggerating the problems!
2.Comments from and/or on Harrington, Moses and Cropgen

Jonathon Harrington 19 February, 2009

I am also a member of The CropGen Panel but this group does NOT (as far as I aware) receive any funding from the biotech industry and we give our time and expertise free of charge in the interests of providing information on this contentious issue to the wider public.
Sam Mason 21 February, 2009

Jonathon Harrington says he is part of CropGen and that it does not, as far as he's aware, receive any industry funding. This is from CropGen's home page: "CropGen receives limited support from the biotechnology industry..."

It continues "but acts entirely independently." However, the 2001 version of its website stated that "while ultimately funded by industry, CropGen's panel members are free to express such views as they consider appropriate. The funding companies cannot veto the panel's position on any issue." That's good to know.

There is no indication that it is now funded by anyone other than the biotech industry, and other members of the CropGen panel have in the past admitted being paid an "honorarium" for their services by the industry.

The domain name for the group's website was registered by the PR company Countrywide Porter Novelli. The behind the scenes running of CropGen is now undertaken by Lexington Communications who perform the same task for the biotech industry's official lobby group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council. Curious that Mr Harrington knows so little about who he's working for.
Joop bakker 23 February, 2009
Jonathon Harrington - again you expose yourself as a fake and a fibber (to put it politely). You are well aware that CropGen is funded by the biotech industries. In fact, according to the companies involved it is owned by them (specifically, by ABC - a consortium of biotech players).
Sam Mason 7 March, 2009

More info about Moses and CropGen.

Jonathon Harrington, who's part of CropGen, told us it does NOT, as far as he's aware, receive any funding from the biotech industry. But CropGen's Chair, Vivian Moses co-wrote a report that describes CropGen as "undertaken by a group of agricultural biotechnology companies active in the UK".

Moses has also explained that in his view, "it is essential that the biotechnology industry takes the lead in helping educate people on this issue (GM)." He's also written a number of books that make it abundantly clear that what GM's really about is "selling", because fundamentally "it's about making money".
Pierre 25 February, 2009

Also worth noting that Moses, as well as heading up the biotech industry lobby group CropGen, is also part of the Scientific Alliance, as are Trewavas and one or two of the other contributors to this GM booklet.

The Scientific Alliance openly campaigns against the acceptance of man-made climate change. It was set up and funded by an industrialist with an agenda so far to the right that even the Tories labelled his political faction "fascist".

The Director of the Scientific Alliance is Martin Livermore. He used to be the PR man for GM for Dupont. He's also been listed as a funder by Sense About Science. There also seems to be quite a bit of overlap between those on the boards of Sense About Science and the Scientific Alliance.
3.Comments from and on Trewavas

Anthony Trewavas FRS 21 February, 2009
Corbyn's article was a disreputable use of space by a journal that claims to be about education... When Antinou [Antoniou] and Genewatch [GMWatch] and other similar unqualifed and uninformed groups are reduced to slur and innuendo it merely indicates to the public at large a total paucity of thought, argument and sense.
Peter 24 February, 2009
Prof Trewavas says critics of SAS's failure to disclose conflicts of interest have been reduced to "slur and innuendo".

Is this the same Prof Trewavas who has described Greenpeace as "controlled by extremists/nihilists and other subversives... whose only interest is in destroying business/damaging trade and who have no solution to world population problems except to let people die"?

He's also described critics of GM as "bloody minded, anarchist and frankly merely destructive" and advised pro-GM scientists to alert the likes of racist US congressman Jesse Helms, "that a subversive organisation directed from europe is attempting to destroy US agriculture and US farming."

Now who was it who said resorting to slurs indicates "a total paucity of thought, argument and sense"?
4.Comments on hidden interests and GM cotton in India

Dr Victor M Shorrocks 19 February, 2009

1) Why are you concerned with the question of commercial connections? 2) Would you consider questioning the commercial motives of the Organic Movement and therby imply that they can not be trusted to speak the truth? Remember they are the people who are wheeled out to speak against GM.
Pierre 23 February, 2009

All that is being asked for is that factual information about commercial interests be made plain. What's so wrong with that? It's no more than is required of authors by any decent journal.

The scientific evidence clearly shows that those with a vested interest in the adoption of a particular product or technology tend to assess its safety more favourably than those without such interests.

That may be unpalateable but as Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal has pointed out, "These competing interests are very important. It has quite a profound influence on the conclusions and we deceive ourselves if we think science is wholly impartial."

And some of the authors of this publication connect to institutions which have done deals worth millions with the big GM firms. That deserves a mention.
Lion4 21 February, 2009

The truth of the matter is that the Sense about Science report was written by a group of scientists and technologists who have made their careers in the GM industry and in academic institutions at least partly dependent on GM industry funds. Many of the authors of the report are desperate to keep their jobs -- so there is more than a little self-interest here too.
Dave Wood 24 February, 2009
Pierre ask that factual information about commercial interests be made plain. I agree... NGOs in India attacking Monsanto never reveal that they receive funds from various sources in the US. And remember that both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth started life as North American NGOs.

If they can stop us growing GM crops by intense and expensive lobbying, then we in Europe will have to import more from the US.

The current Greenpeace attacks on GM soy in South America are transnational Luddism: an attempt to wreck farming in another country to the benefit of the US farmers.

This commercial interest in attacking GM crops production - of far greater value than seed sales - should be declared but never is.
Pierre 24 February, 2009

There is widespread opposition to GM cotton in India that goes well beyond Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth (the latter don't even seem to operate in India). Read, for instance, the reports of the award winning development journalist P Sainath about the impact of Monsanto hyping GM cotton to poor debt-ridden dryland farmers in cotton growing states like Maharashtra.

And the idea that this is all part of some economic masterplan hatched in the West is fanciful, to say the least, as is the claim that concerns about the very real environmental and social problems being wreaked by GM soy in South America are really an attempt to boost US farming interests!

The funding of Prof Moses' lobby group by the biotech industry, by contrast, is not part of some mythical conspiracy theory but a simple matter of fact.