[SIGCIS-Members] GMO biology transformed by "Inventor of Email"
thaigh at computer.org
Wed Jul 29 15:26:01 PDT 2015
There's been an interesting new development in the long-running story of the
self-proclaimed "Inventor of Email" V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai (
<http://www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai> www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai). Since last
year's big push (
s.shtml) just before his wedding to The Nanny we hadn't heard too much from
Luckily for us, his new publicity campaign takes place on an entirely
different front. Read all about it at
Short version: he's published a paper, in a reportedly predatory open access
journal, which is being aggressively promoted as proof that GMOs cause
cancer. The highlight of this was a launch event where he was flanked by
Neil Young and the Governor of Vermont. What the paper actually claims,
according to the above links, is that he has produced a computer model that
predicts elevated levels of formaldehyde in GMO soybeans. However it does
not report any attempt to test whether such levels are found in actual
soybeans. Ayyadurai's center is promoting some kind of "raw food
certification" and testing service which would require non-GMO content.
The journal in question, Agricultural Sciences, is one of hundreds published
by Scientific Research Publishing, which specializes in author pays open
access publication. One of its other journals became famous after accepting
a computer-generated nonsense paper:
Debunking this claim is the job of biologists, not historians, but it will
be interesting to see how it goes for them. On the one hand academic
scientists still hold a clearer and stronger public mandate to speak for
natural processes than academic historians do to speak for the past. On the
other hand, there is a huge preexisting constituency primed for putatively
scientific validation that GMOs are dangerous and will kill them. Whereas
few people initially felt strongly about who invented email, and Ayyadurai's
attempt spread a conspiracy theory (by invoking the evils of
corporate-backed big business in collusion with corrupt historians and
racist Americans) has enjoyed only limited success.
I do think that the way he is making his claim might prove interesting to
science studies scholars. To me it is an exaggerated parody of the arrival
of physicists in other fields, most notably biology, after WWII. The focus
on "systems" also has a retro, 1950s RAND Corporation kind of feel to it.
Here's the relevant part of Senapthay's report:
Ayyadurai has side stepped the invitation [to test actual soybeans]. On
Tuesday, he said he would only agree to testing if there were new
across-the-board standards - that he personally set up. He modestly proposed
that he is willing to meet with "big agribusiness" himself to draw up these
new standards. Why would Ayyadurai need to be involved in setting up "new"
standards? Because, he said, only he has the expertise to establish the
evaluation protocol, not the geneticists and scientists who have been
working in the field for decades.
"The biologists that are approaching this have no knowledge of modern
biology, and that biology is used in a lot of the [pro-GE] articles we're
seeing," he stated. Explaining that systems biology, which he characterized
as taking into account all of the complex metabolic interactions in a living
cell, integrates and aggregates big data from a vast number of experiments,
he continued, "These people don't really know what biology is. Systems
biology basically says you aggregate experiments."
To paint all geneticists and biotechnology scientists with a "they don't
know what biology is" brush is simultaneously arrogant and brilliant. It
casts Ayyadurai as the lone independent expert in this area of scientific
So to those of us pondering the evolution of computer simulation as an
experimental technique within the natural sciences (which I've been thinking
about in the context of the use of ENIAC for the first computerized Monte
http://www.tomandmaria.com/Tom/Writing/LosAlamosBetsOnENIAC.pdf) this has
some interesting resonances. As Paul Edwards argued in A Vast Machine
(winner of the SIGCIS Computer History Museum Prize), in areas of science
such as climate modelling there is no such a thing as raw data that can
usefully be examined without an enormously complex computer model. Measuring
the concentration of a particular organic chemical in a crop is not usually
considered to be one of those areas, but perhaps Ayyadurai can convince
environmentalists that his model trumps the outmoded pre-systems world of
Talking of climate modelling, this reminds me of a recent article by William
makes a persuasive case that the anti-GMO lobby is basically the climate
change denial campaign of the left and is just as dangerous.
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