The facts behind the science


Madam, - Methinks Dr David McConnell doth protest too much ("The facts behind the science" - Health Supplement Dec 20th). It is little wonder that there is scepticism amongst "the public" when such an eminent academic attempts to paint science and technology as a whiter than white issue.

Of course they have brought undreamed of benefits to humanity, particularly in the developed world, but there is a downside too, whether Dr McConnell wishes to acknowledge it or not. Has he heard of the Union of Concerned Scientists? Has he read the Millennium Assessment Report, the result of the joint deliberations of 1,500 international scientists over the past three years recently released under the auspices of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, which in summary indicates that we are over-utilising the earth's resources by a factor of 63 per cent?

I would contend that this damage is possible only through the abuse of science and technology. Perhaps this is "bad" science? The hole in the ozone layer resulted from the use of what science thought was a harmless gas. Climate change, currently generally rated as the greatest threat to humanity, has essentially resulted from similar abuse. Science has given each of us the gift of traces of between 300 and 500 synthetic chemicals in our bodies, many of which are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or reprotoxic.

Dr McConnell's views on genetic modification are well known and predictable, but he evidently grossly underestimates the intelligence of "the public" when he equates genetic manipulation to plant (or animal) development by selective breeding. Every second-level student knows that there is absolutely no relationship between the two. Further, to equate laboratory-based development of genetic manipulation for medical or other purposes with the growth of GM crops in the wild with their proven potential for cross-pollination amounts at best to gross oversimplification and is disingenuous in the extreme. The statement that "GM foods have been rigorously tested for over 30 years and have been proven to be safe" to my knowledge is incorrect. I would be most grateful if Dr McConnell would provide references indicating what independent properly controlled tests have been done in humans.

I believe the public's health will be preserved only if we maintain a critical scepticism of science and technology founded on the profit motive. - Yours, etc,

Dr PHILIP MICHAEL, Chairman, Irish Doctors' Environmental Association, Bandon, Co Cork.