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Bad science joins paid science
By Devinder Sharma

Entire India, more so its young scientists and students, is left embarrassed and ashamed after expose of ‘copy and paste’ job done by the heads of India’s top science academies to push GM food into India. While these academy heads continue to cling to their posts despite being exposed of disgraceful deeds, the incident only confirms the widespread corruption and incompetence in India’s academic and research institutions.


Citizens of India are vehemently opposed to GM food

I still can't overcome my disbelief. Such 'distinguished' scientific bodies, and such a shoddy report. I have always said there is good science, and there is bad science but this report transgresses all earlier known brackets, and I have no hesitation in saying that the Inter-Academy Report on GM crops (see the pdf copy of the report here: http://bit.ly/cQbyCI  ) does not even qualify to be put in the category of bad science.

It is Gutter Science.

The Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops -- prepared by the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences -- and submitted in September 2010 to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, is no better than the introductory write-ups any graduate student of biotechnology would come out with. In fact, I have a collection of a large number of papers/analyses written by graduate and post-graduate students who seek my comments/views that I would rate much higher than this Inter-Academy report.

The Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops is in fact a disgrace to Indian science. That Indian science was on a downhill path was never in question, but that it had already slipped into a cesspool is a revelation. I wish the presidents of the six Indian Academies had at least read the 19-page report prepared by the Minister for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh (and which is available on the website of the ministry) at the time of announcing the moratorium on Bt brinjal early this year, and they would have known what academic excellence means.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal’s release until there is widespread scientific consensus on its environmental and biosafety aspects. The Inter-Academy report fails to answer any of the concerns/questions that Jairam Ramesh had raised in his paper.

The Inter-Academy report therefore is not a scientific inquiry, but a cheap public relation exercise on behalf of the GM industry. This is a scientific form of corruption, and has to be condemned in as strong words as possible.

You have probably read in newspapers how the key parts of the report -- which supports genetically modified (GM) Bt brinjal’s commercial release -- have been plagiarized from a biotechnology department newsletter. According to a news report titled 'Experts Admit GM brinjal Report Faulty' in The Telegraph (Sept 27, 2010): "Six Indian science academies had earlier this week approved the limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation in a joint report that contained 60 lines of plagiarised text, a near verbatim reproduction of an article in a biotechnology advocacy newsletter which itself had lines extracted from an industry-supported publication.

"This is unfortunate — we are devastated. This should not have happened,” said M. Vijayan, the president of the Indian National Science Academy, and a senior faculty member at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

Another press report ‘Academies copied to push for Bt brinjal’ on India Today website says: “India's top science academies have done the unthinkable. They have copied and quoted extensively from an industry lobby report to give a clean chit to the controversial genetically modified (GM) brinjal. Key portions and data in the much touted Inter-Academy Report on Genetically Modified Crops have been lifted straight from a report of a lobbying group funded by seed companies, including Monsanto and Mahyco.”

“.. it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by US based GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA). They have recommended the commercial release of Bt brinjal and the lifting of the moratorium imposed on it by Ramesh. Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal.

“…The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.”

[See the news reports at http://bit.ly/9K6D2l  and http://bit.ly/adBJo6  ]

The Inter-Academy report therefore is not a scientific inquiry, but a cheap public relation exercise on behalf of the GM industry. This is a scientific form of corruption, and has to be condemned in as strong words as possible.

The cheat slur reminds me of an almost similar incident that disgraced Indian judiciary a few months back. According to a news report: "In a major embarrassment for the Andhra Pradesh judiciary, five judges were caught cheating while writing the LLM (Master of Law) examination for which they were promptly suspended by the High Court. One of the judges was found copying from a law book hidden under his answer sheet. Written slips and pages torn from textbooks were seized from other judges."

The Andhra Pradesh High Court was at least quick in suspending the judges who were caught cheating. Shouldn't the Ministry of Science & Technology therefore sack the six presidents of these academies who did ‘copy-paste’ job to prepare this shoddy report.

The report ends with two quotations, and this sums up the inherent but brazen bias the Science Acadmies had. The first quote is from a joint statement of six major Academies of the world: “GM technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers.” –the Royal Society of London, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and the Third World Academy of Sciences, In Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture (2000), Document made available by the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi.

If the Indian science academies have to merely endorse what the foreign academies have done than what is the need to have this exercise in the first place. In any case, if you read what the six major academies across the world have said, it becomes crystal clear that science has simply gone into the lap of the industry.

I don't know why the Inter-Academy report fails to even take into consideration another international report, which has been officially endorsed by India. I am talking of the report of the three-year international collaborative effort (2005-07) that culminated in the form of a report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which clearly states that 'business as usual' is not the way forward. The answer is simple. The people and environment-friendly IAASTD report does not promote the commercial interest of the agribusiness companies.

The second quotation is from Norman Borlaug. "The affluent nations can afford to adopt elitist positions and pay more for food produced by the so-called natural methods; the 1 billion chronically poor and hungry people of this world cannot. New technology will be their salvation, freeing them from obsolete, low-yielding, and more costly production technology.” Dr. Norman E. Borlaug (Nobel Prize Laureate for Peace 1970), Plant Physiology (2000). 124, 487-490.

It will be interesting to know the names of the scientists who contributed to the report, and the research projects they have undertaken in the past along with the funding support from the industry.

Nationwide protests forced government to put a moratorium on ntroduction
of Bt Brinjal (photo courtesy: AP)

The report therefore is on the expected lines. I knew all along that Indian scientists are only capable of copy and paste.

In any case, when these academies were entrusted to come out with a report on GM crops, especially in the context of the public groundswell against genetic contamination of food crops, it should have been known that all these academies are merely letter-head organisations.

These are in reality 'retiring-room' for the retired scientists, most of whom happen to be the former head of organisations which are primarily responsible for doing the damage in the first instance. Take the case of the National Acedemy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS). It is headed by a former Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the umbrella organisation that is primarily responsible for the terrible agrarian distress and which cannot wash its hands off the spate of farmer suicides that dot the countryside.

The other national academies are no different. In fact, all these scientific bodies are promoting public-private partnership (PPP) and therefore cannot be expected to stand up against the commercial interests of the biotech companies. It will be interesting to know the names of the scientists who contributed to the report, and the research projects they have undertaken in the past along with the funding support from the industry.

Meanwhile, Dr M Vijayan, INSA president has been quoted in The Telegraph as saying: "The academies will now examine the report again, introduce references for all text extracted from earlier publications, and release the names of all the scientists who contributed to the report. 'But, he said, the main recommendations are unlikely to change.'

This should not be allowed since the report is simply a compilation of what suits the vested interests of these bodies.

I suggest the following:

-- Like the judges caught cheating, the presidents of the six academies should be immediately sacked.

-- There is an urgent need to revamp the science academies. All retired scientists should be removed, and these science academies should also include eminent citizens from different walks of life.

-- There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Jairam Ramesh's paper that resulted in the moratorium on Bt brinjal needs to be examined, and all public fears and concerns need to be addressed point-by-point.

Till then, the gutter science as produced by these heads of national academies, will continue to bypass social and environmental concerns.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Human Development  > Food > GM Food and Concerns

Thou shalt not question GM food!
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill threatens the very essence of democratic values and freedom.

Why we should oppose Bt brinjal?
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Though the government of India has cancelled the GEAC approval for commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal, majority of people remain unaware of the facts related to the controversy. Here are FAQs to help the readers:

Turning People into lab rats
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Government is in a tearing hurry to allow production and sale of GM food in the country but who will take the responsibility in case its consumption turns out to be harmful for health.
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The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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