Wednesday, May 10, 2017

All Pau

After nearly 10 years of writing Kauai Eclectic, and getting some 3 million views, it's time for a change. I'm in a very different place — literally and figuratively — than I was when I started this blog. My muse was crying out for a new venue, and here it is:
Please visit my new site, where I will be writing about science, agriculture, GMOs, tourism, philosophy, politics and whatever strikes my fancy.

Thanks so much for reading Kauai Eclectic, and to those who have offered words of support and donations, a special mahalo nui loa!

A hui hou!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Musings: Friday Finale

Earlier this week I wrote about Hawaii Community Foundation, and how undisclosed donors can funnel money through such entities to gain tax breaks and discretely influence policy.

As a friend noted:

What's going on at HCF is reflective of a massive national trend. A lot of new wealth philanthropists are dumping money into community foundations. It saves them the bother -- and accountability -- of starting up their own foundations and the more activist types quickly grasp that their donor-advised giving affords them anonymity. Meanwhile, the working press has been very slow to catch on to the "new politics" of using NGOs rather than political parties to advance their causes; hence, the philanthropy game eludes attention and public understanding. All this furthers the hard right and hard left and the various forms of disinformation and silo communities they create and nourish. It's bad juju and our friends in Russia have figured out that it's also a platform for creating havoc.

Yesterday, President Trump waded into the issue by signing an executive order that prevents the IRS from expanding its restrictions on political activity by religious groups. Currently, a tax-exempt group can lose its exemption if it is found to have endorsed or actively opposed a candidate for political office. Though his order does not change that prohibition, it prevents the IRS from expanding the restrictions

Though the actual order is more symbolic than substantive, evangelical Christian leader Russell Moore was already pushing for more:

"The very fact that religious freedom is part of the conversation and religious freedom is being affirmed I think is a step in the right direction. Now obviously if this is the end of the story, I'm really disappointed, but I think we ought to hold out the hope that this is just the beginning and that there are more steps to be made."

Meanwhile, a new report shows that the cultivation of biotech (GMO) crops has reached an all-time global peak, with nearly 90 percent of the crops grown by small-holder farmers. Developing nations planted 54 percent of the total. As I wrote in a blog post for the Alliance for Science:

Biotech crops also have achieved significant environmental benefits, according to the report. These include cutting herbicide and insecticide use by 19 percent; reducing CO2 emissions —largely due to reduced tillage — equal to annually removing approximately 12 million cars from the road; and conserving biodiversity by sparing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015.

I also found it interesting that GE crops also expanded in Europe, which is often touted as anti-GMO. Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic and Slovakia increased their cultivation of biotech maize by 17 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Further GE crop expansion is expected with the recent approval of two potato varieties and the Arctic Apple, which is now being sold as packaged slices. In Africa, field trials are under way to develop pest- and disease-resistant varieties of cowpea and banana, two important subsistence food crops.

And though Earthjustice has been busy taking credit for putting water back into the Waimea River, its recent Star-Advertiser commentary and last night's Kauai community presentation has been scant on actual details. Here's what the mediation settlement allows:

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) will assume responsibility for the operation and management of the Kokee Ditch system up to the Puu Moe Divide if it is able to execute a land agreement with the state Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC). Kekaha Ditch will remain under the management and operation of Kekaha Agriculture Association (KAA).

KIUC is allowed to divert a rolling average of 11 MGD at the diversions, and will be charged with delivering irrigation to farmers on ADC mauka lands, tenants on Hawaiian Homelands Puu Opae mauka lands, and farmers on ADC land on the Mana Plains, as well as providing storage for these irrigation users at both Puu Lua and Puu Opae Reservoirs.

The Waimea Mauka hydro will continue operations, but with reduced water being diverted. Waiawa may be rehabilitated with a smaller capacity and continue operations, but with vastly reduced water volumes. Both facilities will continue to be operated by ADC/KAA.

KIUC has an agreement in principle for its pump storage hydro project, which includes renovating three reservoirs, adding two power houses and associated equipment. But it still must execute final agreements with DHHL, ADC, and DLNR before it can proceed. The project also needs environmental, historic preservation and other permits and approvals, and it must prove to be economically viable for KIUC and its members. KIUC spokeswoman Beth Tokioka noted, “We anticipate roughly two years of study and permits before KIUC can make the decision to proceed with the project.”

Finally, Time magazine has a troubling report on our lack of preparedness in dealing with the next global pandemic:

From Ebola in West Africa to Zika in South America to MERS in the Middle East, dangerous outbreaks are on the rise around the world. The number of new diseases per decade has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled.

Research groups are working feverishly to predict the next pandemic before it even happens. They’re cataloging threats and employing next-generation genetic-sequencing tools to speed the discovery of new or mysterious viruses. They’re helping identify and track outbreaks as they happen.
But microbes evolve about 40 million times as fast as humans do, and we are losing ground. “Of all the things that can kill millions of people in very short order,” says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, “the one that is most likely to occur over the next 10 years is a pandemic.”

Speaking of risks, one police department found a humorous way to build traffic on its Facebook page:

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Musings: Epic Fail is Right

It's easy to hate on the Hawaii State Legislature. Shoots, everybody has their gripes about what did and didn't get passed.

But what's with the epic fail shame strategy advanced by the Young Progressives Demanding Action, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Gary Hooser's HAPA as they march on Miller Street this morning?

Haven't they learned yet that silly tactic doesn't work with the Lege, or elicit sympathy from the general public?

I understand they're trying to build participation by allowing folks to indulge their narcissim. But soliciting selfies with the hashtag #HiLegFail really falls flat.

Because truthfully, nobody really cares if Hawaii Center for Food Safety's Kimiko LaHaela Walter is unhappy about the fate of HB 790 and HB 1580. Or anything else:
Well, the effect achieved is just silly. And what's with the banana? (Which looks like something imported from the despised corporate plantations in Central America. She couldn't find a locally-grown variety?)

Center for Food Safety jumped on this bandwagon with its usual simplisitic view of the world:

So many bills that would have benefitted everyday people and the environment died this legislative session because our lawmakers continued to serve the interests of large corporations.

Come on. It's not that black-and white, cut-and-dried. If you're trying to lead a political movement, much less a revolution, you really need to grasp both the nuances and complexities of the legislative process. Especially when your own organization is funded by the heirs of large corporations, as CFS is.

As I noted in the comment section of Hooser's Civil Beat column excoriating the Lege and urging folks to join his shame-blame game:

Actually, Gary, it looks like HAPA "failed" to convince lawmakers of the value of its agenda, which was replete with poorly written bills, fear-mongering testimony and a "my way or the highway" refusal to negotiate or compromise. And you got this poor result despite spending thousands of dollars on advocacy (undisclosed lobbying). Maybe you need to look within, instead of playing your usual blame game.

Hooser was trying to make the case that the Legislature's failure to approve bills he supported “should hasten the movement for new leadership.”

So why aren't the Young Progressives and their supporters — one woman aptly dubbed them faux-gressives — presenting a proposal on how they would have funded and implemented all the stuff they demand/desire?

Instead of “demanding action” from others in their usual self-entitled way, why not be the action? Recruit some viable candidates, run for office, do a good job. But maybe start with articulating a solid platform that includes how they expect to pay for it. Yeah, that's the tough part. So easy to dream and demand. Do much harder to do the work and foot the bill.

In any case, Hooser's Kuleana Academy candidates mostly fell flat, as did he, despite spending more money than any other candidate in the history of Kauai elections. That ought to tell him people's appetites just aren't whetted by either his menu or its execution and presentation.

As one commenter observed:

HAPA seems more like a one-man band than a competent movement.

Of course, if Hooser hadn't indulged his own narcissm and ego, he might still be in the Lege, where he could be working his will on his colleagues and making his faux-gressive dreams come true. But instead he abandoned a powerful post as Senate Majority Leader to make doomed runs for Congress and Lt. Governor. With his tail between his legs, he returned to the Kauai County Council, sold out to the anti-GMO movement, and in the last election, was rejected there, too.

The voters have repeatedly given Hooser a failing grade. So how is it that he thinks he can now sell them on his revolution?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Musings: Reassessing Assumptions

Organic farming is often idealized — and commercially promoted — as producing a better product and treading more lightly on the land. Indeed, folks pay a premium to indulge this perception.

But two recent articles are casting doubt on those beliefs.

The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on organic dairies, which may be much larger and less bucolic than some consumers imagine. It focuses on the Aurora Organic Dairy in Colorado, which has some 15,000 cows producing enough milk to supply Walmart, Costco and other big box retailers.

It was interesting to read that “the USDA allows farmers to hire and pay their own inspectors to certify them as “USDA Organic.” It was also ironic, considering how many of the Hawaii anti-ag folks dissed the seed companies' voluntary disclosure of restricted pesticide use as insufficient.

Basically, the article is saying that the coveted “organic seal,” which boosted annual sales from $6 billion in 2000 to $40 billion in 2015, is based on “an unusual system of inspections” that are pre-announced and funded by farmers.

You mean, it's really all kind of a sham/scam? As the article concludes:

The growth of mega-dairies that may fall short of organic standards and produce cheaper milk appears to be crushing many small dairies, some analysts said.

The mom and pop — the smaller traditional family dairies — who are following the pasture rules are seeing their prices erode,” said [Pete] Hardin, the Milkweed editor. “It is creating a heck of a mess.”

You mean, consumers who have bought the organic marketing speil, but balk at paying a premium, are undercutting the very system they claim to cherish?

My sister, who lives in Portland, likes to buy Tillamook because she sees their cows grazing on her way out to the coast. But it claims neither to be organic nor GMO free. In response to a consumer question, a dairy spokesperson noted: 

Even organic feed for organic farms is extremely difficult to verify as GMO-free because of cross-pollination.

Maybe it's time to revisit the organic standards, and re-assess consumer attitudes. Are consumers truly looking for organic, or do they actually want pasture-raised? Of course, even pasture-raised doesn't pass muster for some, as we saw with the opposition to the proposed rotational-pasture dairy farm at Mahaulepu. (Btw, I ran into this piece about how very little manure leaves well-managed pastures.) 

Do people even know what they want? Or like the barn-raised dairy cows that had forgotten their natural grazing instinct, are we so manipulated by marketing that we've forgotten how to think, how to assess our true needs and desires?
Meanwhile, a columnist with the Daily Camera is writing a multi-part series on the GMO crop ban recently adopted in Boulder, a Colorado county where the sensibilities are akin to North Shore Kauai. The ban was passed, despite unanimous opposition from county open space farmers, including the organic growers.

Columnist Mara Abbott, who spent five months researching the debate, starts by citing a 2015 briefing paper that Colorado State University developed for county commissioners considering the ban on planting GMO crops in the county's open spaces:

[O]rganic crops on six Nothern Colorado farms used 10 times more water, five times more pesticides and released six times more sequestered carbon from the soil than genetically engineered crops.

I was paralyzed. I had always self-identified as a good Boulder environmentalist, and figured that meant that non-organic was a non-starter (and the organic definition excludes GMOs). Now where was I supposed to buy my kale?

After all, the ban's loudest supporters claimed to be fighting for reduced pesticide use and more sustainable cropping methods. Commissioner Deb Gardner specifically cited researching carbon sequestration as a top priority of the transition.

It also turns out that "organic" doesn't mean "pesticide-free." The pesticides just come from natural rather than synthetic sources — and apparently some of those are harmful to honeybees, too. Given that the purpose of an herbicide is to kill weeds, and an insecticide to kill insects, any crop protection practice won't be completely benign. Some natural pesticides are less effective, requiring more frequent applications, and higher overall life-cycle toxicity.

This isn't to brush off the value of organic, but it is to say that agriculture is rarely black and white — and that's actually why diverse approaches are important. Really, the only way to know what is being put on your food is to know the farmer who grew it.

"It's just such a complicated web in agriculture," third-generation county farmer Scott Miller told me. "You can't just say you're going to block one thing and that is going to fix it."

Once again, we're reminded that the world is so complex. Try as we might, we can't contain it into neat little boxes of good-bad. There are no silver bullets, no one-size-fits-all solutions, especially when human nature comes into play. We want to blame the corporations, but the corporations are also us. We want to return to the good old days, but there's no turning back the clock. All we can do is move forward, and try to be honest about the issues and our own choices.

In closing, I'll leave you with this amusing little call to action from the Maui Babes Against Biotech, which typifies the simplistic, reactionary approach that underlies so much conflict:
Yup, nothing says home rule like an email blitz from thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Musings: Giving and Getting

Newly released tax returns offer a look at the spending priorities, staff salaries and steadily growing coffers of the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Islands' largest philanthropic initiative.

The foundation closed 2015 with net assets of nearly $460 million — successfully soliciting some $45.6 million in grants and donations that year, according to its 2015 federal form 990.

This represents a dramatically upward trend of undisclosed mainland philanthropists parking money at HCF, where they are allowed to discretely engage in donor-advised giving. In 2011, HCF reported gifts, grants and contributions of nearly $16.7 million. That figure increased to $23.9 million in 2012, $27.7 million in 2013 , $30.5 million in 2014 to $45.6 million in 2015.

However, HCF cut the total amount of grants it awarded by $573,897 between 2014 and 2015.

Overall, HCF spent $13.8 million to award grants of $29.4 million in 2015.

In 2015, HCF spent some $6.7 million on salaries, up $266,447 from the previous year. Kelvin Taketa, HCF president and CEO, was paid $359,792 plus $149,129 in additional compensation from HCF and related organizations, for a total of $508,921. HCF's top 11 employees, including Taketa, received compensation totaling $2.3 million in 2015.

HCF spent $3.2 million on fundraising, $725,225 on conferences, conventions and meetings, $120,256 on advertising and promotions and $106,563 on travel.

The foundation's giving pattern also indicates a receptivity to funding organizations that talk about alternative approaches to farming, as opposed to actually advancing viable agriculture. 

For example, it gave a whopping $476,670 to the Kohala Center — a Big Island group that reported income of $5.2 million in 2014, with little to show for it. The Center's School Garden Network is directed by anti-GMO activist Nancy Redfeather.

Malama Kauai, another do-nothing faux ag group, was awarded $100,000 by HCF — more than a third of the $274,846 the organization reported as income in 2015. The group spent $121,598 to deliver fruit and veggies to after-school programs and Kauai food banks, and $35,077 on its community garden and “food forest.” But what, pray tell, was the value of the food it actually produced?

Similarly, HCF gave $80,000 to the Center for Food Safety — ostensibly for “environmental” programs — while Gary Hooser's Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action was given a $52,500 grant for “public policy and advocacy.” Yet just today, Hooser published a Civil Beat column bemoaning HAPA's complete failure to advance any of its objectives in the state Legislature — while blaming lawmakers, of course.

HCF also gave $12,500 to the Kauai Community Cat Project (KCCP), which engaged in a vicious cyber-bullying campaign against former Kauai Humane Society Director Penny Cistaro and is now suing Kauai County to stymie its efforts to develop an ordinance aimed at controlling the island's feral cats. Furthermore, the KCCP spent $80,000 to manage just 510 cats.

And inexplicably, HCF gave $10,000 to SHAKA, which mounted an anti-GMO moratorium in Maui County that was later thrown out by the courts. Though SHAKA's 2015 tax return has not yet surfaced on Guidestar, its 2014 return showed income of $329,056. It ended that year with just $46,053, having spent $87,931 on “management,” another $84,243 on advertising and promotion and and $30,321 on legal fees. 

Uh, so what, exactly, was the public charitable purpose that SHAKA provided with its money? And none of its funding sources were disclosed, either.

Why is HCF funding groups that are decidely opaque, and actively working to undermine agriculture and sow discord in Hawaii? Especially when its mission is “investing in community well-being” and “strengthening Hawaii's communities.”

Now compare the grants given to those self-serving groups with their very narrow agendas to the amounts awarded to organizations that serve a broad sector of the public: $116,295 to Aloha United Way; $62,000 to Big Brothers/Big Sisters; $78,600 to American Cancer Society; $85,403 to American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter; $50,000 to Polynesian Voyaging Society; $55,888 National Tropical Botanical Garden; $10,000 Hawaii Meth Project.

Something seems out of kilter here.

I do give HCF kudos for listing all of the grants it made. However, in the name of public interest and transparency, it would be even more revealing to see where it's getting the money that is being used to effect change in Hawaii, and what sort of strings the donors have attached.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Musings: Pushing Organics

It's troubling to see Kauai Dr. Lee Evslin use his column in the local newspaper to promote organic food as inherently more pure than its conventional counterpart, and some sort of silver bullet for attaining good health.

In this case, he's advancing the idea that various chemicals known as endocrine disrupters are responsible for everything from America's obesity epidemic and slow sperm to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in children. And, as he intones, “the same suspects are on the list: pesticides, flame-retardants, plasticizers and cosmetics.”

Though Evslin admits that he's talking about “a new scientific theory,” which means it's not yet proven, he has no problem offering a dangerously simplistic “bottom line” solution to what ails us: “Store your food in glass containers, stop buying water in plastic bottles and eat organic whenever possible.”

Evslin totally glosses over all the non-food sources of pesticides, including treatments for home and garden pests, pet flea and tick products and even water, which is treated with chlorine, a restricted use pesticide.

What's more, he fails to understand that organic food also is packaged in plastic, grown using pesticides and carries pesticide residues. But in any case, according to the US Department ofAgriculture, these residues are considered holistically and present no cause for concern:

The PDP data show, overall, that pesticide residues on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pose no safety concern.

EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] makes a safety evaluation for pesticides considering all possible routes of exposure through food, water, and home environments when setting the maximum residue (tolerance) level of pesticide that can remain in or on foods.

EPA is required to periodically re-evaluate pesticide registrations and tolerances to ensure that the scientific data remain up to date.

Evslin also seems to be unaware that pest-resistant GMO crops, which cannot be labeled organic under USDA standards, are actually working to minimize pesticide use. One compelling example is Bt eggplant, which has enabled farmers in Bangladesh to reduce their pesticide applications by 80 percent.

I want to believe that Evslin is well-intentioned. Sadly, he is not well-informed. Every time a well-fed, well-heeled Westerner starts beating the organic drum, he is helping to close the door to GM technology that is working to address environmental issues and help hungry people in developing nations to achieve food security. Though Evslin no doubt can afford the high price of organics, he seems to have forgotten that many of his own neighbors are struggling to feed their families. The last thing they need is some short-sighted doctor guilt tripping them for not buying organic.

Meanwhile, a number of organic certificates used on both domestic and imported products — primarily from China and Africa — are fraudulent, according to the USDA.

Evslin also likes to throw stuff out there without any citations, so the curious and/or critical are unable to check his apparently dubious sources. A case is point is his claim that “Glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic and as an herbicide and has been shown to affect our intestinal bacteria.”

GMO Answers has an interesting segment on why Monsanto pursued that patent, while noting “to date, nobody has demonstrated that glyphosate is an effective antimicrobial agent for treating human or animal infections.” It's really quite specious for Evslin to make that particular assertion.

If Evslin plans to keep inserting himself into the conversation about food and pesticides, he really needs to be more thorough in his research and careful with his facts. That is, if he wants to be taken seriously, which I'm sure he does.

On a related topic, I noticed anti-GMO acivist Jeri DiPietro, who presides over the group Hawaii SEED, advocating in a newspaper article for “the precautionary principle,” which The Garden Island defines as “an approach to risk management that requires proponents of an activity to prove its safety in the absence of a scientific consensus.”

Jeri's complete rejection of the scientific consensus in support of GMO food safety aside, there are several problems with the precautionary principle, as I learned with attending the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meeting earlier this year. As Gary Marchant, an Arizona State University professor and expert on the legal issues around genetic engineering, noted:

There has always been a degree of precaution in regulations. To make the precautionary principle the regulatory standard, it has to be quantified legally, which requires a very detailed definition. But it's never been properly defined and all efforts to do that have failed, even in Europe. So we have these very vague definitions of precaution being used in absurd and inconsistent ways.

Speaking of absurd, it's never been more cool to make like you're a farmer or blue collar worker — just wear the $425 jeans and forego the actual dirty work!
And finally, I'll leave you with this video montage showing some of the March for Science events around the world, starting with little Kauai. Gosh, who knew supporting science could be such fun?!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Musings: On the Gamut

I feel a little sorry for Maui, having a chemtrail believer and anti-GMO campaigner leading its fight against the rat lungworm virus.

I'm talking about its state health officer, Dr. Lorrin Pang. He's been a bit distracted in recent years, which may help explain why he failed to recognize or head off a real and serious health threat on his island.

Still, as one friend observed upon seeing a news photo of him picking through leaves in search of the semi slugs that spread the disease, “Finally they have Lorrin Pang doing something productive.”
It's also been interesting to see some of the anti-pesticide folks avidly embrace poison — sales of rat traps and slug bait are booming — once they feel threatened by a pest.

In following up on last week's water forum on Kauai, the truly telling part came when panelists were asked whether they condemned or condoned last October's vandalism at the Blue Hole diversion last October. Adam Asquith, Kui Palama and Hope Kallai didn't consider it vandalism at all; indeed, they felt it was justified.

While I respect Kui for the well-researched work he's done to uphold traditional Hawaiian rights, which included a prolonged (and ultimately successful) court case following his 2011 arrest for hunting pig on Gay & Robinson land, Adam more typically incites others to do the dirty work rather than risk a run in with the law himself. As for Hope, why was she even on that panel? How is she qualified to be talking about Kauai water issues?

In any case, those who condone the vandalism of a fully permitted water diversion that serves a public utility's hydro plants are standing on shaky moral and legal ground. One, KIUC customers will foot the bill for the damage. Two, the vandalism was poorly executed and ineffective in achieving its goal, though it did dump debris into the stream. Three, it was stupid, especially since the state and KIUC are already working to establish flow standards for that stream and revise the diversion so it doesn't take 100 percent of the stream during low-flow periods.
Rubble dumped in stream from vandalism.
In other words, a solution based in law and science was already in the works before vandals got into the act. Moral of the story? Educate yourself before jumping to conclusions and taking matters into your own hands. And it's always wrong for people who should know better — Adam and Don Heacock — to use misinformation to provoke others to do something foolish.

Speaking of doing something foolish, the state Legislature is still considering HB 2, which would allow the construction of tiny homes on agricultural lands. As written, the bill currently applies only to Hawaii Island, but it sets a terrible precedent for allowing the proliferation of housing — and sub-standard housing, at that — on ag land. The bill is set for a conference committee hearing today, where hopefully it will be put to death.

Rep. Cindy Evans, who introduced the measure, deserves an F grade for promoting a really stupid approach to her island's housing shortage. As a leader, she should be finding solutions to the housing problem, not allowing non-farmers to profit by building shoddy shacks on their ag parcels. Talk about a cop out.

Continuing on the “something foolish” track, the Lege is also considering two bills that would allow online brokers, like Airbnb and VRBO, to collect taxes for the state. Problem is, only one would require operators to prove they are in compliance with county laws, while the other allows owners to self-certify.

Now, why would the Lege want to undermine the hard work of county planning departments, which are already struggling to enforce the existing vacation rental ordinances?

Speaking of which, Kauai County recently scored an enforcement victory when Judge Kathleen Watanabe found the county acted properly in shutting down Rene Campos' illegal TVR in Kilauea. Though attorney Jonathan Chun argued the conversion of a guest house to a TVR was “grandfathered,” the judge didn't buy it. Planning Director Mike Dahilig praised the action, using strong language in a a county press release:

“I would like to acknowledge our legal team in defending our enforcement actions to stop those wishing to cheat our land use laws because they are tempted by the large sums of money these vacation rentals can yield. Illegal vacation rentals like these take valuable housing out of the long-term housing market for our local residents, and is precisely why our vacation rental laws need to be respected.”


And finally, Joni Kamiya managed to win over one of the activists protesting her participation in the Honolulu March for Science on Saturday. Turns out he didn't actually know what he was talking about, and like so many other misinformed activists, wrongly equates Monsanto with all things GMO.

Education is a wonderful thing, so long as a mind is open enough to accept it. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Musings: Cowed by Anti-Science Bullies

I suppose it was inevitable that controversy should intrude into Saturday's March for Science-Hawaii.

Though the international event is intended to be a non-partisan celebration of the scientific method and scientific innovation, it seems that some folks just can't handle the presentation of viewpoints that oppose their own, especially when the facts aren't on their side. 

Yes, the anti-TMT (Tirty-Meter Telescope) and anti-GMO activists are all huhu that the Hawaii March organizers dared to invite speakers who represent the science side of these two issues. And in their typical “my way or the highway” approach to things, some of them are calling for a boycott –oh, boo hoo; your absence won't even be noticed — and/or actively trying to discredit and smear the participants they don't like.

Not surprisingly, their ranks include the Sierra Club's Nate Yuen and failed politician Gary Hooser, who huffed:
Uh, for starters, Joni Kamiya is hardly an “industry hack” — she's a health professional and the daughter of an Oahu papaya farmer — and it's kind of hard to see how the Alliance for Science can be a “Monsanto front group” when we don't get any money or other support from Monsanto. But then, when you have nothing real to criticize, you just make stuff up.

And truly, what could be less progressive than Hooser and his faux progressive group HAPA trying to stifle freedom of speech, open discussion, science and the presentation of various points of view? But as I've noted ad nauseum, the antis are afflicted with psychological projection, which is defined as:

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals attribute characteristics they find unacceptable in themselves to another person. For example, a husband who has a hostile nature might attribute this hostility to his wife and say she has an anger management problem.

Of course, Hawaii Center for Food Safety had to chime in:
Sure, Ashley Lukens, come on down. Science deniers are always welcome at a science march. Sort of like the KKK crashing a civil rights rally.

Of course, this is nothing new. But what's really sad is how the University of Hawaii, which is hosting the March event, is cowering in the face of this controversy, rather than standing up to these bullies. Per usual, the antis started attacking Joni on the Hawaii March for Science Facebook page, which had posted an announcement about her planned speech, just as it acknowledged the other speakers in tomorrow's line up at UH.

Joni responded to correct the lies and other science-defenders joined in, pointing out the misinformation and lack of science that drives the anti-GMO stance.

The organizers —neophtyes to the ugliness that characterizes the anti-GMO movmement — were appalled and began deleting some of the nastier comments. This was followed by them asking Joni not to talk about GMOs or pesticides during her 5-minute talk.

Or as a friend quipped:

Dear Galileo -
We are looking forward to your speech at the Vatican. We all agree on the value of science. Just please don’t mention your idea about the earth going around the sun.
Love, the Catholic Church

Now, Joni hadn't actually planned on talking about GMOs or pesticides, but nobody likes to be gagged, especially at an event that is supposed to be about defending science.

But here's the really troubling part: the UH organizers said they didn't want any hot topics. Huh? Uh, guys, that's what the March for Science is all about. Defending scientific integrity and the increasingly critical need for evidence-based decision-making at a time when ignorant, anti-science demagogues and their sheep are making like beliefs and opinions are more important that facts.

Sadly, UH has been intimidated by the anti-GMO activists for quite a while, ever since Walter Ritte ranted and raged about GM taro in yet another one of his ill-informed self-promoting tirades. Never mind that the research involved Chinese taro, and was being conducted by a Chinese woman. It wasn't Haloa (the taro plant from which Hawaiians believe they are descended) at all. But UH was so cowed that it not only stopped the research, but destroyed all the lab work so that it couldn't be continued or replicated elsewhere.

That's a pretty sad stance for a publicly-funded university to take. And it's even sadder when you consider how far UH has fallen since the College of Tropical Ag (CTAHR) dean asked Dennis Gonsalves to come up with a solution to the ringspot virus that was destroying Hawaii's papaya industry. 

In response, Dennis developed the ringspot-resistant papaya — the world's first public sector GMO food crop. Now UH has very little biotech research going on, and it keeps it down low to avoid the wrath of the antis.

I'm certain UH would not tolerate bullying in its classrooms, or among its faculty. So why does it allow the activists to bully its professors, its deans, its March for Science organizers, the people it has invited to speak at events it is hosting?

Unless the people in Hawaii stand up to this bullying, it's only going to get worse. And if the highly educated professionals at UH are too afraid to stand up to the bullies, then it really doesn't bode well for the future of science-based research and policy-making in the Aloha State.

Still, at the end of the day, Joni will be speaking at the March for Science and the antis will not. So let them stew at home in their own toxic juices as those who support science, not fear-mongering, stand up for what's right.

Events are planned on every island. Join the March nearest you, and stand up for science, agriculture and the values of the Enlightenment.

For a little extra inspiration, I'll leave with you this video from Neil deGrasse Tyson: "When you have people who don't know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy. "