1. Livingstone on "NGIN and industry"
2. NGIN repsonse to Livingstone
3. Our original post on Livingstone and CSIRO
1. Livingstone on "NGIN and industry"
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Below is my response to NGIN's attack on myself. I hope SCOPE can post this response in whole as plenty of space was given to NGIN's hysterical article.
First of all I do not speak for CSIRO. All my views are personal and in no way represent those of CSIRO. When I talk about the biotech industry I mean companies like Monsanto and Aventis not Universities. I don't consider universities to be industries (not yet anyway). I don't favour the recent trend to garner increased levels of funding for universities from private industry but this is a world-wide trend. If you don't like it I suggest you vote against it at the next election. I do. I don't know anybody in Monsanto, Aventis etc. If that makes me myopic then so be it.
In order to set the record straight I will disclose the source of my funding over the last 14 years. For the past 3 years I have been 100% funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). My laboratory and office are provided by CSIRO. The GRDC is an organisation funded by levies on farmers to develop their industry. Most of the money goes on conventional breeding programs and to study ways to make farming more attractive economically and environmentally. Some goes to biotechnology projects like my own. Between 1992 and 1998 I was funded by the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and by an Australian Postgraduate Award. Both of these are entirely government funded. Between 1987 and 1990 I was funded by the Queensland Cancer Fund (private charity) and the Australian Equine Bloodtyping Laboratory (funded by the horse racing industry) to study cancer and DNA fingerprinting respectively.
So my original claim stands. I am not paid by the industry and do not represent them in any way. I am soon to leave research for a position as a high school teacher. My views on the safety of GM crops will be ths same as they are now. Will I still be regarded by yourselves as an industry stooge?
You state also that I am an angry person. Quite so. I am angry at having to respond to people who don't seem to have any regard for scientific evidence in the same way I am angry at creation scientists. I am angry that I have to share the globe with people who don't understand the value of reason and compromise.
I have sent letters to you previously but only selected quotes are ever published. Can you please do me the courtesy of posting my letter in its entirety? Additonally can I please have the name of the person who is responding to my comments as well as their research experience and qualifications? Also is it possible for the NGIN to respond to my letters and enquiries personally before selectively misquoting me in public?
CSIRO Plant Industry Ph: (07) 3214 2902 Fax: (07) 3214 2288
120 Meiers Rd.
Qld 4068 AUSTRALIA
2. NGIN repsonse to Livingstone
One day an unsolicited e-mail dropped into the NGIN inbox. It's tone was disturbing. It talked about "Nazis like you" and suggested we needed psychiatric help. It was from a Dr Malcolm Livingstone.
What had prompted this attack? It stemmed from a short piece by Prof Joe Cummins that we had put out on the NGIN list. Cummins had complained about attacks posted on Prakash's AgBioView list on the "character, spiritual beliefs and moral values of the founder of the Genetic ID company". Cummins noted that a particular article:
"...failed to mention (actually concealed) the fact that Prof. John Fagan was an outstanding chemistry student at the University of Washington (I taught biology and genetics at that University at that time and was awe struck by his ability). He later was an outstanding graduate student at Cornell and a leading cancer researcher at The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. His religion and personal philosophy should not be an issue, indeed, the AgBioView report was simply hate literature. " [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/JM088.htm]
Cummins said the attack exemplified the "raw bigotry" he had come across among some pro-GM academics. The extremity of Livingstone's attack on us rather appeared to confirm everything Cummins complained of. According to Livingstone, however, it was he who was the injured party.
In a comment we had prefaced to the Cummins piece we had said: "it is hard to understand the hate attacks so frequently aimed at GE critical academics like Drs Mae-Wan Ho and Vandana Shiva without taking into account some elements of racism and misogyny." According to Dr Livingstone, as he was Black British, what we had put out on the NGIN list was a personal afront -- this despite the fact that neither our remarks nor Prof Cummins' had made any reference whatsoever to Dr Livingstone! Interestingly, in the response to NGIN for public consumption that Livingstone posted to AgBioView, he edited out the Nazi and psychiatric references.
One might have concluded that this sad episode were best forgotten if it weren't for Livingstone's subsequent treatment of Devinder Sharma. It will be remembered that Livingstone attacked Sharma over his divergence of view from CS Prakash. In the exchanges that followed, Livingstone took exception to, for example, Sharma pointing out the faulty logic behind the argument that the growing of GM crops on a large scale in the US provided a model for the rest of the world. Would this mean, Sharma teased, that other countries should also emulate America's huge prison population or its massive pornography industry? Livingstone angrily responded by saying he "couldn't give a rat's arse" about Sharma's views on pornography. In a private e-mail to NGIN he told us Sharma was shortly going to be "crucified" for his criticisms of the US. This is the same Dr Livingstone, it will be remembered, who complains of having "to share the globe with people who don't understand the value of reason and compromise"!
Like NGIN Devinder Sharma quickly discovered that Livingstone's intolerant tirades are not confined purely to public e-mail lists. Devinder began receiving e-mails from Livingstone suggesting, amongst much else, that he too had psychological problems.
Now Livingstone has taken exception to our questioning his comment implying that the CSIRO, where he works, is unconnected with industry (see his original quote in the item below). NGIN had pointed out that 30-40% of the CSIRO's money actually came from industry, that the CSIRO had cut deals with Aventis and Monsanto that made their biotech products more accessible to the Australian market, and that the CSIRO's former head was on record as saying it was the organisation's policy to get into bed (his words) with transnational corporations. This kind of industrial alignment of public science is, of course, a huge problem as Richard Strohman, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley, has noted, "Academic biologists and corporate researchers have become indistinguishable, and special awards are now given for collaborations between these two sectors for behavior that used to be cited as a conflict of interest."
Livingstone has interpreted our drawing attention to the heavily industrially-aligned character of his work place as a "hysterical" attack and as painting him as an "industry stooge". Above we have reproduced his comments (in full) and below is our original posting on CSIRO, so that people can judge for themselves.
One thing is certain though - like Devinder Sharma we have absolutely no desire to engage in a personal dialogue with Dr Livingstone, for reasons that must be entirely obvious!
Finally, we do not find it remotely reassuring that Dr Livingstone is, he says, deserting the CSIRO for high school teaching. In such a context the extreme intolerance he displays to viewpoints that differ from his own is still more disturbing. What will happen, one wonders, when one of his students has the timerity to question genetic engineering? And what are the chances of Dr Livingstone providing his pupils with an unbiased introduction to the possible benefits and risks of this technology?
A few years back I took a friend to a Food and Drink Federation presentation on GM food, with a platform packed with leading GM proponents. Afterwards she confided that she had approached the topic, which was new to her, with some unease but had expected to find reassurance in what she heard from the assembled experts. In fact, she said, she had left thoroughly alarmed. What had most alarmed her apparently was the sheer arrogance of the disregard of all the concerns raised by what she felt to be a generally well-informed audience. It was as if a brick wall had been erected against any criticism or contrary evidence.
For me it is this unyielding support for a powerful technology still in its infancy and hemmed about with massive vested interests, that should ring alarm bells for us all. And Dr Livingstone and his AgBioView colleagues in their overbearing commitment to agbiotech are important exemplars of the problem: the loss of even a pretence of impartiality among many of those whom the public should be able to look to for objective information and advice.
I do not have any scientific qualifications and if Dr Livingstone thinks that means I shouldn't have a view on the industrial alignment of public science or the current determination not to to engage society more broadly in the decisions being made in the rush to commercialise this technology, then so be it. I note, however, from his responses to Devinder Sharma (see url below) that Dr Livingstone is not exactly shy about promulgating a politcal and economic agenda quite unconnected with his area of expertise (unless being avidly pro-globalisation, for example, is now part of the doctoral requirements of molecular biologists!)
Winston Churchill once said, "Scientists should be on tap, not on top." That isn't excessive caution, just plain common sense. And NGIN will continue to cock a snook at all members of the scientific community who appear to think they have a God-given right to ram their views down the public throat -- no matter how furious the response.
When even a journal like Nature talks in an editorial of a "university-industrial complex out of control", the time has surely come to challenge the self-certainties and propagandising of members of the scientific elite, particularly when their activities could have such far reaching consequences for the entire planet.
3. NGIN's original post on Livingstone and CSIRO
Following on from the recent exchanges between Devinder Sharma and AgBioWorld supporter, Dr D. Malcolm Livingstone, a Plant Molecular Biologist with CSIRO in Australia. [for the latest of these see the AgBioView archive:
Response to Sharma
It may be remembered that Livingstone angrily denied ANY connection with INDUSTRY. To quote:
DML: "OK first of all I am not part of the INDUSTRY. I work for CSIRO (a publicly funded organisation with a rich history of good science) and before that with the University of Queensland. I don't know ANYBODY who works for agricultural companies and never have."
Livingstone's not knowing ANYBODY at all from industry might seem a little surprising for a Prakash ally who it might be thought would be in contact with quite a few like-minded AgBioWorld supporters.
To date, 3172 'Scientists In Support Of Agricultural Biotechnology' have signed the Prakash declaration. A significant percentage of these seem to be directly employed by the biotech industry, eg by Novartis, Dow, Pioneer Hi-bred, BASF, Aventis etc. If you take a sample page - that for the letter 'L', where Livingstone's name is to be found , you'll find that over 10% of the declaration signaturies are employees of Monsanto alone! [http://agbioworld.org/PHP/index_search.phtml?alpha=L ]
But let's assume that none of these industrially-linked allies are among Livingstone's correspondents, and that his professional/social network has been limited exclusively to his places of work: CSIRO and, before that, the University of Queensland.
CSIRO stands for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Reseach Organisation - note the "Industrial" bit. Although ostensibly "publicly funded" CSIRO is, in reality, encouraged to get 30% of its funding from buisness with the CSIRO top management encouraging its staff to go to 40% (as a point of comparison, about 10% of the John Innes Centre's funding, for example, is thought to come directly from industry). A CSIRO division like "Plant Industry" is organised to reflect this, ie its research focus is conducive to industrial interests.
The following are excerpts from a fascinating article by Richard Hindmarsh in the Journal of Australian Political Economy (No 44. 'Consolidating Control: Plant Variety Rights, Genes and Seeds'): http://www.biotech-info.net/consolidating_control.pdf
"These factors, in addition to IPR developments, coupled to the R&D programmes of key Australian public sector research institutions like the CSIRO and the Waite Institute which have long been aligned to intensive agricultural R&D and agribusiness, are tending to generate convergence between private sector and public sector plant breeding operators. The CSIRO, in keeping with its position of being at the forefront of scientific research, prioritised genetic engineering research in 1979. CSIRO scientists have since been very active in the promotion of GE to the Australian community, and especially to other scientists (Hindmarsh, 1996). In addition, multinational companies are seen as the key avenue to the international commercialisation of biotechnology products and research of both Australian public sector institutions and biotechnology firms. A key programme to bring the public and private sectors together has been the Cooperative Research Centres programme introduced in 1990, as noted earlier. The CSIRO has played a key role in these centres, and multinational companies like Groupe Limagrain and Zeneca subsidiary Pacific Seeds have participated."
"...the indications are that a Byzantine web of formal contractual obligations and informal connections has emerged between the CSIRO and other public-sector agencies..., universities, small or new biotechnology firms (NBFs), and multinational corporations."
Those listed by Hindmarsh as having direct connections with CSIRO include: Agrigenetics, Monsanto, RhÃ´ne Poulenc and AgrEvo.
"...in 1998, CSIRO, with the Australian National University, announced a five-year strategic research alliance to collaborate with AgrEvo to develop "innovative enabling platform technologies"... The alliance gives CSIRO ownership of intellectual property associated with the research projects, while AgrEvo will obtain licenses for a range of crops including cereals, vegetables, oilseeds and cotton. At the same time, AgrEvo will improve its distribution of its agribusiness technologies to Australian farmers through the CSIRO (CSIRO 1998a: 1)."
"With regard to insect-resistant varieties, cotton... Significantly,a collaboration between the CSIRO and Monsanto has generated Australia's first major GE commercial crop. The CSIRO licensed Monsanto's patented Bt Cry IA(c) gene, the Ingard”š gene, and inserted it into local varieties of cotton, which are now sold by Cotton Seed Distributors as Monsanto's PI Ingard”š cotton.."
"...a long history of CSIRO collaboration with multinationals, its advocacy of globalisation as a key avenue for Australian biotechnology, and its increasing dependency upon industry funding."
Hindmarsh's article makes clear the huge extent of private-public sector interlocking of R&D at CSIRO, which as indicated above has formed cooperative ventures with agTNCs, like Monsanto, and also does much collaborative work with TNCs, eg Groupe Limagrain, Zeneca and Monsanto.
According to John Stocker, CSIRO's former chief executive, "Working with the transnationals makes a lot of sense, in the context of market access. There are very few Australian companies that have developed market access in the United States, in Europe and in Japan, the world's major marketplaces. Yes, we do find that it is often the best strategy to get into bed with these companies." (Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1992).
CSIRO, then, is absolutely embedded within the bioindustrial-complex while Livingstone's former workplace, the University of Queensland, we are reliably informed, is inundated with scientists working in agbiotech, who have taken out patents etc.
So if Dr Livingstone really has never known ANYBODY who has gotten into bed with INDUSTRY, we can only assume that throughout his entire professional life he has been chained to his lab bench with a bad case of myopia and a hearing aid that's permanently switched off. It's no wonder he's so cross.