Thursday 28th of January 2021

reinvigorating the scientific workforce...


Science  16 Oct 2020 — If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he will face high expectations from the U.S. scientific community. Its members will be counting on him to bring science and leadership to the fight against COVID-19 while reversing a host of moves by President Donald Trump that many researchers regard as disastrous. A President Biden will have vast authority to move quickly to undo many Trump policies. But he could be hampered by forces beyond his control, including which party controls the Senate, the ideological complexion of the courts, and—when it comes to fighting COVID-19—the progress of science itself.

Here's a look at some science-related actions Biden will likely pursue, and how quickly he might be able to accomplish them.

Tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden has made confronting the pandemic the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. The most dramatic immediate shift is likely to be in the tone and consistency of messaging coming from the Oval Office and federal health agencies. On his first day, Biden has promised to “stop the political theater and willful misinformation that has heightened confusion and discrimination,” hold daily briefings that “put scientists and public health leaders front and center,” and ensure that government scientists “do not fear retribution or public disparagement for performing their jobs.” He's also pledged to rejoin the World Health Organization and boost funding for its pandemic efforts.

At home, Biden says he'll work with governors and local officials to encourage greater use of physical distancing and masks—possibly even mandating their use at federal facilities and on federal lands. And he's vowed to reverse the erosion of public trust in two key health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), by appointing new leadership and improving the transparency of decision-making.

Yet getting new agency leaders confirmed by the Senate could take months, observers say, and repairing the damage done to the credibility of those agencies could be slow. Efforts to mandate mask wearing or limit gatherings could face opposition, and how soon a vaccine or effective new treatments arrive is largely out of a president's control. But a Biden administration could make headway against the pandemic by encouraging and coordinating a wide range of tactics including mask wearing, physical distancing, testing, contact tracing, and the development and distribution of treatments and vaccines.


Confront climate change.

Biden advisers say climate change is one of “the four crises” he will put a priority on addressing. (The others are the pandemic, the economy, and racial injustice.) Biden says the United States will rejoin the Paris climate accord on his first day in office—which he can do with the stroke of a pen—and he will issue executive orders to strengthen climate protections. Advocates want him to roll back Trump rules that weakened limits on power plant emissions set by former President Barack Obama, and to set even stiffer limits for cars than Obama did. Overall, Biden wants the United States to cease to be a net emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050, and the federal government to invest at least $1.7 trillion over 10 years in clean energy technologies.

Achieving that ambitious agenda will likely require that Democrats control the U.S. Senate. Even with a Democrat-led Congress, however, Biden might only have a 2-year window, as the party in power often loses control of one chamber of Congress in midterm elections. Biden could also face pushback from conservative judges, especially on the Supreme Court, if he relies heavily on executive authority to push his agenda.


Change course on foreign policy.

A president has great leeway in deciding how the United States interacts with other nations, and research groups hope Biden will move aggressively on several fronts. Many want the country to re-engage with Iran to revive the nuclear deal—from which Trump withdrew in 2018—that limited its ability to produce nuclear weapons. Biden says he will “offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy” if Iran “returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal.”

Another tough challenge will be establishing the rules for U.S. research collaborations with China. Under Trump, law enforcement agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other agencies have stepped up investigations of scientists who failed to disclose funding ties to foreign institutions, leading to criminal, civil, and administrative punishments. Many of the known cases involve researchers who were born in China or had links to Chinese institutions. Critics say the effort has been racially tinged and has also hindered efforts to recruit foreign-born talent. They hope Biden will ease the scrutiny. But Biden has traditionally been a defense hawk, and China's harsh treatment of Uighurs and other religious minorities may limit moves to ease tensions.

On immigration, industry groups and universities hope Biden follows through on promises to ease restrictions on visas for students and high-skill workers. And some have applauded Biden's vow to protect the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and end Trump's de facto ban on immigrants from many majority-Muslim nations.


Reverse Trump environmental policies.

Environmental scientists have a long wish list. They want Biden to undo changes in how agencies review the environmental impacts of major projects and evaluate the risks posed by toxic chemicals, which critics say downplay the risks and inflate economic benefits. The Environmental Protection Network, made up of former Environmental Protection Agency officials, wants Biden to kill a proposed rule that could bar the agency from using health and other data that can't be made public because of concerns about patient privacy or trade secrets.

Conservation scientists, meanwhile, hope he will block federal permits for several high-profile energy and mining projects, including proposed pits in Alaska and Minnesota that threaten aquatic habitats. Paleontologists are looking to Biden to restore fossil-rich lands that Trump removed from several national monuments in western states, while ocean scientists want him to reimpose fishing limits that Trump lifted at a marine monument off the coast of New England.

But many of Trump's environmental policies could take years to unwind because of lawsuits and federal rules that require extensive comment periods. Democratic control of the Senate, however, could speed the process: Under a rarely used law, just a simple majority of both houses is needed to cancel rules finalized near the end of the Trump administration. (Republican lawmakers used the law to void many Obama-era rules at the start of Trump's term, when they controlled both chambers of Congress.)


Insulate health agencies from politics.

Biomedical researchers have been appalled by the Trump administration's baldly political moves to influence the work of NIH, CDC, and FDA. Those moves have included ordering NIH to cancel a grant that supported research into bat viruses in China, because Trump alleged—without evidence—that the pandemic virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan involved in the project. Trump also blocked or rewrote CDC and FDA policies and guidance that contradicted his views on the pandemic. And he instituted a de facto ban on using fetal tissue from elective abortions in research.

Biden promises to “let science lead,” raising hopes that he will reverse these moves and end political interference in the health agencies. Researchers are also optimistic that Biden will select a stellar replacement for NIH Director Francis Collins, whom many expect to depart after 11 years in the job.


Go big on spending.

Keeping the economy afloat through the pandemic will require massive federal spending, Biden says, and he will likely ask lawmakers to approve a host of spending initiatives early in his term. Universities and research groups want some of the money, saying federal science agencies need tens of billions of dollars to help them recover from the pandemic. And clean energy advocates are hoping the stimulus package would make combating climate change a clear priority at the Department of Energy (DOE). “We'll see much more pressure on [DOE to do work] that might lead to reductions in emissions,” predicts Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund and a former DOE chief of staff.

To pay for new spending, Biden is likely to propose restoring higher taxes on the wealthy and killing programs he sees as wasteful. One potential target is the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's troubled heavy-lift rocket for the human space program. The SLS has cost $20 billion so far and, after years of delays, isn't scheduled to launch until late 2021. Many NASA observers argue that commercial space firms, such as SpaceX, can do the job for less.

Still, with budget experts warning that the federal government's debt is soaring to record levels—it will soon exceed the size of the entire U.S. gross domestic product—the pressure to contain spending will grow. And tax revenues may fall if the economy continues to struggle, crippling Biden's ability to advance his agenda.


Reinvigorate the scientific workforce.

Under Trump, many researchers who work for the federal government have said they don't feel valued or respected. Employee surveys show job satisfaction at several science agencies has taken a nosedive, and there have been many anecdotal reports of researchers leaving their jobs. Biden says he wants to reverse that trend, starting by replacing Trump appointees who have suspect scientific credentials or hold views far out of the mainstream. “The house cleaning could be remarkable; in some cases you are going to see hacks who are flat-out science deniers replaced by appointees who not only understand the science, but have done it themselves,” says one lobbyist who requested anonymity because he still interacts with the Trump administration. Others speculate that Biden might raise the profile of science—and improve morale—by quickly filling the White House science adviser position. (Obama named John Holdren to do the job the month before he was sworn in.)

But it could take years to rebuild the expertise that some agencies have lost, a union that represents public employees warned earlier this year. And former government officials say a Biden administration will also need to strengthen current policies to protect researchers from political interference. Rick Spinrad of Oregon State University, Corvallis, a former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says, “What we have seen [under Trump] is abuse and violation of scientific integrity policies—with no consequences.”


Science  16 Oct 2020:

Vol. 370, Issue 6514, pp. 284-285


passionfruit flower...



Pictures by Gus Leonisky

are you kidding me?...

by Erin Brockovich

The president-elect has tapped a former DuPont consultant to join his Environmental Protection Agency transition board

For years, I’ve been trying to impart a simple concept that Superman is not coming.

Dare I say, I had hopes that this new administration would usher in the dawning of a new day. As picks for President-elect Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team were announced, I felt concerned and disheartened about a chemical industry insider being on the list. Are you kidding me?

Michael McCabe, a former employee of Biden and a former deputy Environmental Protection Agency administrator, later jumped ship to work as a consultant on communication strategy for DuPont during a time when the chemical company was looking to fight regulations of their star chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) also known as C8. The toxic manmade chemical is used in everything from waterproof clothes, stain-resistant textiles and food packaging to non-stick pans. The compound has been linked to lowered fertility, cancer and liver damage. The Guardian reported this week that Harvard school of public health professor Philippe Grandjean, who studies environmental health, warns that PFAS chemicals, of which PFOA is one, might reduce the efficacy of a Covid-19 vaccine.

This smells of the dawn of the same old. To quote the Who: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

It should go without saying that someone who advised DuPont on how to avoid regulations is not someone we want advising this new administration.

PFOA pollutes the blood of nearly every American and can pass from mother to unborn child in the womb. This toxic product of industry is a stable compound not easily broken down in the environment or in the human body, giving it the nickname “forever chemical”. Scientists have found it in living beings across the globe – from animals living in the depths of the sea to birds on remote islands.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set no enforceable national drinking water limits for perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA. Tens of thousands of community drinking water systems across the country have never even tested for these contaminants.

McCabe started managing DuPont’s communications with the EPA about the toxic chemical in 2003, according to an article in the Intercept. This was the time in which DuPont faced a barrage of litigation after the company dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA-filled waste in West Virginia, which made its way into the drinking water of 100,000 people. Countless members of the community faced debilitating illnesses as a result. The legal battle with the company was turned into the film Dark Waters in 2019.

Mind you, DuPont suspected that their product was harmful since the 1960s – experiments they conducted in 1961 showed that PFOS affected the livers of dogs and rabbits. McCabe’s work inevitably contributed to staving off costly clean-up and additional regulation headaches for the company.

Are we the people supposed to trust a former DuPont man in a transition team tasked with reviewing the Chemical Safety Board? Is this how the newly elected leadership wants to start what is supposed to be a healing and unifying administration? Are we already falling back on the old and antiquated, hide-and-seek, conceal, dodge and deny leadership or are you going to come out and be the change and the hope needed when it comes to the environment?

I don’t see how picking someone from industry is moving us toward that goal.

The science is in. Research has linked exposure to this chemical to the following illnesses: kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.

This newly elected president says we need to listen to the science. Are you really listening to the science or are you listening to an industry insider, who is controlling the message?

With a lack of federal guidance on these dangerous chemicals, states have been left to create their own rules to enforce guidance and regulations. This chemical, and others like it, have been poisoning us for decades. Now is the time to act.

This is not about being rightwing or leftwing. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on. We cannot keep making picks from this inside, leaving we the people, once again on the outside.

What will it take to get our leadership to work with the people?

Stop working against and separately from your communities. Put your transition team on the ground and make them talk with those affected by these chemicals. Go out and see for yourself, learn and hear from those who you represent about what the heck is happening to them on the ground – those living and breathing in the toxic mess we have created.

It is time to keep your promise and give the people a voice and a seat the table in order to find a meaningful solution for the environment and for the people. Don’t close the door on us again.

We are in this mess because we continue to do the same old thing.

Let us not forget where these chemicals came from and who is responsible for putting them in our environment. Let us not bring the fox back into the hen house. DuPont executives should have no place in the Environmental Protection Agency.

I call on Joe Biden to do the right thing.


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when sciences get misused...

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

By Sharon Kelly and Frances Rankin • Tuesday, November 17, 2020 - 16:01

This article was published as part of the launch of DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ current messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.

“Like a pandemic, climate change is an inevitable threat that we must address before it is too late,” reads a June 2020 statement. “As the economy and agriculture begin to build back with the gradual easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, we need to support a recovery for farmers that puts the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss at its core.”

The speaker? Not Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Al Gore. Not, in fact, any environmentalist you might care to imagine. Instead, it was Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer of Syngenta Group — one of the world’s five largest pesticides manufacturers, a major consumer of fossil fuels, and now a company marketing its products as a solution to climate change.

Syngenta’s messaging — alongside similar campaigns from the other “big five” global pesticides producers BayerBASFCorteva and FMC — reflects a sudden transformation within the agricultural world.

After decades of denial and delay by big agribusiness, the pesticides industry now appears to have become a climate champion.

‘Waking up on climate change’

The pesticides market is dominated by a small handful of companies — Bayer (which acquired Monsanto in 2018), Corteva(formerly Dow and DuPont), SyngentaBASF and FMC — whose hazardous products a United Nations report said have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health, and society as a whole” amid a global insect die-off and legal battlesover carcinogenic effects of products once marketed as harmless. 

Together, these firms control the vast majority of the enormous global pesticides market. “As a whole, the market for agrochemical pesticides has grown steadily since 2006,” reported a 2019 study. The most recently available federal data, from 2011 and 2012, shows that nearly 6 billion pounds (2.7 billion kilos) of pesticides were used each year worldwide, including 1.1 billion pounds (0.49 billion kilos) in the US alone.

These chemicals play a key role in the fossil fuel-dependent farming systems that spread worldwide during the 20th century and have created complex ecological problems while boosting yields — including driving climate change. 

“Pesticides are the lynchpin of an unsustainable industrial agriculture system,” says the Pesticide Action Network campaign group. “The current food system is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions; it’s also fully dependent on oil both for transport and because pesticides and fertilizers are petrochemically-derived.”

Pesticides manufacturing also has its own significant direct carbon footprint — but a lack of data and independent research has made it difficult to find reliable numbers, researchers say. 

“With the rapidly growing interest in greenhouse gas emissions (often embodied in Life Cycle Assessment or ‘carbon footprinting’), there are many studies using estimates of the emissions from agricultural pesticide manufacturing,” a 2009 study by Cranfield University reported. “Unfortunately, it seems that almost no two studies use the same number for the same ingredient. This is mainly due to the paucity of original data on pesticides, often because of commercial confidentiality.”

That study was prepared for the Crop Protection Association, a British organisation that's dubbed itself “the voice of the UKplant science industry” and counts all of the big five pesticides manufacturers among its members.

It’s no secret that pesticides manufacturing is closely wedded to fossil fuels, which are the primary driver of climate change. Some pesticides use oil and gas industry products as key ingredients, while others are synthesized from naturally occurring compounds — and both types often rely on fossil fuels for the heat and energy necessary for chemical reactions. 

The industry represents a significant chunk of the world’s fossil fuel demand. “Currently, about 20 percent of oil is used for petrochemicals and 24 percent is used for agriculture, which includes manufacturing, production, processing, transportation, marketing, and consumption,” notes a 2020 paper published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal. “Oil is used to make chlorobenzene, which in turn is used to synthesise [the pesticide] DDT. Similarly, many pesticides such as neonicotinoids, pyrethryoids, and glyphosate formulants are produced from gas and oil.


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Dispossession and Imperialism Repackaged as ‘Feeding the World’

Colin Todhunter

The world is fast losing farms and farmers through the concentration of land into the hands of rich and powerful land speculators and agribusiness corporations. Smallholder farmers are being criminalised and even made to disappear when it comes to the struggle for land. They are constantly exposed to systematic expulsion.

In 2014, the Oakland Institute found that institutional investors, including hedge funds, private equity and pension funds, are eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class. Financial returns are what matter to these entities, not food security.

Consider Ukraine. The organisation Grain found that in 2014 small farmers operated 16% of agricultural land in that country, but provided 55% of agricultural output, including: 97% of potatoes, 97% of honey, 88% of vegetables, 83% of fruits and berries and 80% of milk. It is clear that Ukraine’s small farms were delivering impressive outputs.

Following the toppling of Ukraine’s government in early 2014, the way was paved for foreign investors and Western agribusiness to take a firm hold over the agri-food sector. Reforms mandated by the EU-backed loan to Ukraine in 2014 included agricultural deregulation intended to benefit foreign agribusiness. Natural resource and land policy shifts were being designed to facilitate the foreign corporate takeover of enormous tracts of land.

Frederic Mousseau, policy director at the Oakland Institute, stated at the time that the World Bank and IMF were intent on opening up foreign markets to Western corporations and that the high stakes around the control of Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute an overlooked critical factor. He added that in recent years, foreign corporations had acquired more than 1.6 million hectares of Ukrainian land.

Western agribusiness has been coveting Ukraine’s agriculture sector for quite some time, long before the coup. That country contains one third of all arable land in Europe. An article by Oriental Review in 2015 noted that since the mid-90s the Ukrainian-Americans at the helm of the US-Ukraine Business Council had been instrumental in encouraging the foreign control of Ukrainian agriculture.

In November 2013, the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation drafted a legal amendment that would benefit global agribusiness producers by allowing the widespread use of genetically modified seeds. When GMO crops were legally introduced into the Ukrainian market in 2013, they were planted in up to 70% of all soybean fields, 10-20% of cornfields and over 10% of all sunflower fields, according to various estimates (or 3% of the country’s total farmland).

Interestingly, the investment fund Siguler Guff & Co acquired a 50% stake in the Ukrainian Port of Illichivsk in 2015, which specialises in agricultural exports.

In June 2020, the IMF approved an 18-month $5 billion loan programme with Ukraine. According to the Brettons Wood Projectwebsite, the government committed to lifting the 19-year moratorium on the sale of state-owned agricultural lands after sustained pressure from international finance. 

The World Bank incorporated further measures relating to the sale of public agricultural land as conditions in a $350 million Development Policy Loan (COVID ‘relief package’) to Ukraine approved in late June. This included a required ‘prior action’ to “enable the sale of agricultural land and the use of land as collateral.”

In response, Frederic Mousseau recently stated:

The goal is clearly to favor the interests of private investors and Western agribusinesses… It is wrong and immoral for Western financial institutions to force a country in a dire economic situation amidst an unprecedented pandemic to sell its land.”


But morality has little to do with it. The September 2020 report on the website ‘Barbarians at the barn: private equity sinks its teeth into agriculture’ shows that there is no morality where capitalism’s profit compulsion is concerned.

Private equity funds – pools of money that use pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowment funds and investments from governments, banks, insurance companies and high net worth individuals – are being injected into the agriculture sector throughout the world. This money is used to lease or buy up farms on the cheap and aggregate them into large-scale, US-style grain and soybean concerns. The article outlines how offshore tax havens and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has targeted Ukraine.

In addition to various Western governments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, which manages the foundation’s endowment, is also investing in private equity, taking positions in farm and food businesses around the world.

Grain notes that this forms part of the trend whereby the world of finance – banks, funds, insurance companies and the like – is gaining control over the real economy, including forests, watersheds and rural people’s territories.

Apart from uprooting communities and grabbing resources to entrench an industrial, export-oriented model of agriculture, this process of ‘financialisation’ is shifting power to remote board rooms occupied by people with no connection to farming and who are merely in it to make money. These funds tend to invest for a 10-15 year period, resulting in handsome returns for investors but can leave a trail of long-term environmental and social devastation and serve to undermine local and regional food insecurity.

This financialisation of agriculture perpetuates a model of farming that serves the interests of the agrochemical and seed giants, including one of the world’s biggest companies, Cargill, which is involved in almost every aspect of global agribusiness.

Still run as a privately held company, the 155-year-old enterprise trades in purchasing and distributing various agricultural commodities, raises livestock and produces animal feed as well as food ingredients for application in processed foods and industrial use. Cargill also has a large financial services arm, which manages financial risks in the commodity markets for the company. This includes Black River Asset Management, a hedge fund with about $10 billion of assets and liabilities.

A recent article on the Unearthed website accused Cargill and its 14 billionaire owners of profiting from the use of child labour, rain forest destruction, the devastation of ancestral lands, the spread of pesticide use and pollution, contaminated food, antibiotic resistance and general health and environmental degradation.

As if this is not concerning enough, the UN Food and Agriculture is now teaming up with CropLife, a global trade association representing the interests of companies that produce and promote pesticides, including highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs).

In a 19 November press release issued by PAN (Pesticide Action Network) Asia Pacific, some 350 organisations in 63 countries representing hundreds of thousands of farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers and other communities, as well as human rights, faith-based, environmental and economic justice institutions, delivered a letter to FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu urging him to stop recently announced plans to deepen collaboration with CropLife International by entering into a formal partnership.

HHPs are responsible for a wide range of devastating health harms to farmers, agricultural workers and rural families around the world and these chemicals have decimated pollinator populations and are wreaking havoc on biodiversity and fragile ecosystems.

Marcia Ishii, senior scientist at PAN North America, explained the serious implications of the proposed collaboration:


Unfortunately, since Mr. Qu’s arrival at FAO, the institution appears to be opening up to deeper collaboration with pesticide companies, which are likely to exploit such a relationship for bluewashing, influencing policy development and enhancing access to global markets.”


She went on to state:


It is no surprise that FAO’s recently appointed Deputy Director General, Beth Bechdol, comes to FAO with a history of close financial ties to Corteva (formerly Dow/DuPont).”


The FAO has in recent years shown a commitment to agroecology but, in calling for an independent FAO, Susan Haffmans from PAN Germany, argues:

The FAO should not jeopardize its successes in agroecology nor its integrity by cooperating with precisely that branch of industry which is responsible for the production of highly hazardous pesticides and whose products contribute to poisoning people and their environment worldwide.”


The July 2019 UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Agroecological principles represent a shift away from the reductionist yield-output chemical-intensive industrial paradigm, which results in among other things enormous pressures on human health, soil and water resources. Agroecology is based on a more integrated low-input systems approach to food and agriculture that prioritises local food security, local calorific production, cropping patterns and diverse nutrition production per acre, water table stability, climate resilience, good soil structure and the ability to cope with evolving pests and disease pressures.

Such a system is underpinned by a concept of food sovereignty, based on optimal self-sufficiency, the right to culturally appropriate food and local ownership and stewardship of common resources, such as land, water, soil and seeds.

However, this model is a direct challenge to the interests of CropLife members. With the emphasis on localisation and on-farm inputs, agroecology does not require dependency on proprietary chemicals, pirated seeds and knowledge nor long-line global supply chains.

By seeking to develop a formal partnership with the FAO, CropLife aims to further entrench its interests while derailing the FAO’s commitment to agroecology. This much has been apparent in recent times with US Ambassador to the FAO Kip Tom having attacked agroecology – and like CropLife members – he perpetuates the myth (recently debunked by Dr Jonathan Latham in the new book ‘Rethinking Food and Agriculture’) of impending disaster if we do not accept the chemical-industrial paradigm.

Whether it involves farmers in India recently taking to the streets to protest against legislation that will throw the sector wide open to foreign agricapital, land acquisitions in Ukraine or struggles for land rights and seed sovereignty (etc) elsewhere, it is clear that a small cabal of unscrupulous global agribusiness giants are driving and benefitting from deregulated capital flows, peasant displacement, land acquisitions and decisions made at international and national levels via the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

The web that global capitalism weaves in a quest to seek out new profits, capture new markets and control common resources (commonwealth) is destroying farmer livelihoods, the environment and health under the bogus claim of ‘feeding the world’.

Those farmers who survive the profiteering strategies of dispossession and imperialism are to become incorporated into a system of contract farming dictated by global agri-food giants tied to an exploitative food regime based on market dependency and corporate control. A regime that places profit ahead of biodiverse food security, healthy diets and the environment.

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of science and inequality...

... recent advances in science and technology helped people gather to express their doubts about scientific advice.

But it is not just individuals who have downplayed scientific advice and warnings about the virus. 

Scientists around the world frequently feel governments do not pay enough attention to scientific advice. That was the view of some half of the 25,307 researchers surveyed by Frontiers, a Swiss publisher of scientific journals, in May and June. 

New Zealand takes advice, the US not so much

The survey asked the international scientists whether lawmakers in their country had used scientific advice to inform their COVID strategy.

Overall, the scientists split 50:50 on how much, or how little, their government had considered the scientific advice.

Opinions varied widely between countries. In New Zealand, almost 80% were happy with the attention their government paid to scientific advice. In the United States, fewer than 20% of the scientists thought the same about their government.

One obvious factor in scientists’ attitudes is the penchant some politicians from various parts of the world have for denigrating experts. 

Outgoing US President Donald Trump frequently dismisses anything he disagrees with as “fake news”. 

In Britain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, a raft of economists argued that Brexit would damage the UK economy. Leading Conservative politician and Brexit supporter Michael Gove ignored them, saying: “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

Read more: 5 ways we can prepare the public to accept a COVID-19 vaccine (saying it will be 'mandatory' isn't one)

And recently in Australia, the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank, issued a report Flame Out, which argued there is limited future need for natural gas. 

A spokesman for the energy minister Angus Taylor dismissed the report, saying its findings about the manufacturing sector did not reflect the industry’s own views.

Who needs experts when they can rely on industry?

Less-equal societies trust less

But there are other, less obvious, factors underlying how much attention countries and governments have paid to expert advice. 

A significant one is the level of inequality in the country. This graph maps the results from the Frontiers survey against levels of income inequality.

Inequality is measured by the standard Gini coefficient, which runs from 0.0 (everyone has the same income) to 1.0 (one person has all of a country’s income).


On average, an increase of one percentage point in inequality is associated with a decrease of 1.5 percentage points in listening to scientists.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett provide an clue as to why this might be the case in their 2009 book The Spirit Level, observing that 

inequality affects how you see those around you … people in less equal societies are less likely to trust each other".

In such countries the beliefs that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world, or that “everyone’s out for themselves”, seem to be more prevalent.

New York Times columnist David Brooks believes collapsing levels of trust are devastating America. In his view

an anti-institutional bias has manifested itself as hatred of government; an unwillingness to defer to expertise, authority, and basic science; and a reluctance to fund the civic infrastructure of society, such as a decent public health system.

World-wide, efforts to tackle the coronavirus have been hampered by communities disputing the severity – or even the existence – of the virus.

Australia still has a fair measure of trust. Announcing restrictions earlier this year, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said “everybody will pay a price” if Victorians don’t play their part and act on the advice of experts.

So far we have, impressively; and in Sydney too. But trust is fragile.


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With the USA at the bottom of the scientific-trust pile, one wonders how they manage to be so powerful... Oh I know: Its BRAWN not brains that keeps you on top.