1.Lessons in biopolitics
2.Corn on the cobblers

NOTE: The following extract comes from a letter to the journal Nature Biotechnology from Shane Morris, the Canadian government bureaucrat at the centre of the "wormy corn" scandal. You may have thought that Morris was the aggressor in that affair given his legal threats, but that's not the way Morris tells it to the journal's readers. In his effort to paint himself as victim, Morris even claims "comments" were posted on an anti-GM website "regarding my wife".

What were these hurtful or scurrilous remarks? The only "comment" we could find anywhere was in a profile of Morris on the GM-FreeIreland website:

"He is married to bioethicist Vardit Ravitsky (a faculty member at the Department of Medical Ethics and a fellow at the Center for Bioethics, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia) who claims "any new technology is 'value neutral'"."

These "comments" seem pretty straightforward and factual but why did GM-FreeIreland bother to mention Morris's wife at all? It turns out that Morris sent a letter for publication to the magazine Private Eye - see item 2, implying he had been the victim of a long-standing conspiracy to sabotage his research. The Eye told us this letter was sent not just in Morris's name but in the name of "Vardit Ravitsky", who was identified as a "bioethicist" but not as Morris's wife!!

After investigation, Private Eye dismissed the Morris/Ravitsky letter because of Morris's failure to answer their questions about the inconsistencies in his claims, not to mention the fact that a co-author of the "wormy corn" paper who they contacted, failed to support Morris's allegations.

Vardit Ravitsky, incidentally, does not appear to have had any connection to Morris at the time of the "wormy corn" study, so exactly how she could have validated his story remains unclear - not least, because this was apparently among the long list of questions from Private Eye that Morris failed to answer.

For a profile of Shane Morris, see:
1.Lessons in biopolitics
Posted: July 10th, 2009 - 8:11am
Source: Nature Biotechnology 27, 602-604 (2009)

Policy does not change on its own; it is engineered. Similar to genetic transformation, there are 'promoters' (e.g., nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and industry) and 'vectors' (e.g., media) that are used to obtain the desired and stable policy 'expression'. As a result, scientists should speak 'truth' (that is, best available evidence) to power, even if that power is professional, political, the media or an aggressive NGO. This, of course, comes at a price. As Rauschens outlines, a scientist's reputation quickly becomes a target when he confronts GM mis- or disinformation.

In my own case, speaking up as a public servant scientist who only has ever accepted public funds led to letters to my employer, intimidating e-mails, defamation (and retractions), comments regarding my wife on an anti-GM website and even a British 9/11 conspiracy theorist politician using the protection of Parliamentary privilege to make false statements to which one has no recourse.

These are the daily trials and tribulations that the average politician faces and, though distasteful to most scientists, are ultimately short lived with no real impact. In fact, one only needs a thick skin, knowledge that this is the political norm and an understanding that your actions are legitimate because sense and sensibility will not prevail on their own.
2.Corn on the cobblers
Private Eye No. 1201, 11-24 January 2008

Politicians in Westminster and Dublin have publicly condemned the libel threats used by a former biotech researcher to silence criticism of a dodgy paper on genetically modified crops published in the British Food Journal.

Eye readers may remember that when a Canadian research team reported that 50 percent more people preferred GM sweetcorn to the natural variety, they kept quiet about the less-than-subtle notices posted above the two kinds of corn on offer to customers. "Would you eat wormy sweetcorn?" read a sign above the box of natural sweetcorn, while the sign over the GM corn included the words "quality sweetcorn".

A row erupted over the research, which had won the journal's 2004 award for excellence, and in May 2006 the New Scientist Magazine published calls for the paper to be withdrawn from a researcher into scientific ethics at Cambridge University.

But when the campaign groups, GM Watch and GM-Free Ireland published photos of the wormy sweetcorn signs, and joined the "Award for Fraud" debate, one of the researchers, Shane Morris, now a Canadian government analyst, managed to get the plug pulled on GM Watch for a week, after he made defamation claims to the pressure group's internet service provider.

After the Eye reported Morris's threats in issue 1194, he wrote to demand a right to reply and made the extraordinary claim that Michael Khoo, then a Greenpeace campaigner, had tampered with the signs to sabotage the research. Morris said a photograph taken of Khoo next to the signs at the time of study proved his allegation.

It proved no such thing. No one, including Morris, had previously argued the photo showed Khoo had tampered with the signs in the seven years since the study began. Nor did a lengthy letter submitted to the British Food Journal by Morris's co-author Douglas Powell, of Kansas State University, which rejected allegations of "bias and academic fraud" leveled at the paper. Neither was Morris's claim about the photo supported by another co-author, Katija Blaine, who told the Eye she knew nothing of the allegation. Indeed, the photograph of Khoo was initially used by Morris himself on his own website to show the "wormy signs" had been removed - although subsequent analysis of the photo showed they were still on display.

Khoo said: "Shane Morris must be fairly desperate to create such melodramatic lies seven years after the fact. If any of these things had actually happened, wouldn't he have been the first to call the police or tell the press?"

The Eye asked Morris to explain these rather glaring inconsistencies but he declined, simply repeating the claim that the photograph shows Khoo uncovering words that had been hidden. As to the Early Day motions signed by cross party MPs in Westminster and the criticism from Irish politicians, Morris said that "no website was attempted to be shut down as any changes made to anti-GM websites were their decision based on complaints regarding specific wording claims that were requested to be changed."

The row looks set to continue.