Genetically Engineered Food is Safe: No Evidence that GE Crops are Unsafe to Eat, or Do Damage to the Environment

“The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.” — Wayne Parrott a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Georgia.

A two-year analysis of almost 900 journal articles on the past 30 years of genetically modified, or engineered (GE), crop use concludes that there is no evidence that GE crops are unsafe to eat, or do damage to the environment. The 400-page reportGenetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects’ published by the National Academies Press on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. — was conducted by 20 scientists, and commissioned by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report looks at the impacts GE crops have had since the 1980s. Its findings include:

  • Generally positive economic outcomes for farmers, but no indication GE crops changed the rate of increase in yields;
  • Decreased crop losses, insecticide use and greater insect biodiversity for insect-resistant Bt crops, but also instances of insects evolving resistance;
  • No decrease in plant biodiversity for herbicide tolerant crops, but a major problem with herbicide-resistant weeds due to heavy glyphosate use;
  • No evidence that foods from GE crops are less safe to eat than conventional food.

Looking to the future of GE crops, the report notes that new genetic technologies are blurring the line between conventional and GE crops, and that the U.S. regulatory system needs to assess crop varieties based on their individual characteristics, not the way they are produced.

Pluto: 3.67 Billion Miles From The Sun

Set foot on an alien world, on average three to four billion miles from the warmth of the sun.

On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zipped past Pluto, scanning the dwarf planet in unprecedented detail. Using data from that flyby, The New York Times created a seven-minute virtual reality film. Fly over Pluto’s rugged surface, stand among the icy al-Idrisi Mountains and touch down in frost-rimmed Elliot Crater. The film was produced in collaboration with the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the Universities Space Research Association.

The Math Behind Music

How is it that Beethoven, who is celebrated as one of the most significant composers of all time, wrote many of his most beloved songs while going deaf? The answer lies in the math behind his music. Natalya St. Clair employs the “Moonlight Sonata” to illustrate the way Beethoven was able to convey emotion and creativity using the certainty of mathematics.

Also see her TED blog post The math behind Beethoven’s music.

Heckle Therapist

Jerry Seinfeld on dealing with hecklers:

Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist. So that when people would say something nasty, I would immediately become very sympathetic to them and try to help them with their problem and try to work out what was upsetting them, and try to be very understanding with their anger. It opened up this whole fun avenue for me as a comedian, and no one had ever seen that before. Some of my comedian friends used to call me – what did they say? – that I would counsel the heckler instead of fighting them. Instead of fighting them, I would say “You seem so upset, and I know that’s not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let’s talk about your problem” and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn’t go against them, I would take their side. [link]

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s full ABC interview on Apple’s fight with the FBI

“If a court can ask us to write this piece of software, think about what else they could ask us to write. Maybe it’s an operating system for surveillance. Maybe it’s the ability for law enforcement to turn on the camera. I mean, I don’t know where this stops. But I do know this is not what should be happening in this country. This is not what should be happening in America. If there should be a law that compels us to do it, it should be passed out in the open, and the people of America should get a voice in that. The right place for that debate to occur is in Congress.” — Tim Cook

COOK ON A MASTER KEY:

No one would want a master key built that would turn hundreds of millions of locks. Even if that key were in the possession of the person that you trust the most, that key could be stolen. That is what this is about.

COOK ON THE SLIPPERY SLOPE:

It’s clear that it would be a precedent. New York law enforcement is already talking about having 175 phones there. Other counties across the United States are talking about phones they have. And so it is a slippery slope. I don’t fear it; it is one.

COOK ON NATIONAL SECURITY VS PRIVACY:

Cook: I know people like to frame this argument as privacy versus national security. That is overly simplistic and is not true. This is also about public safety. The smartphone that you carry has more information about you on it than probably any other singular device or any other singular place.

Muir: So this is about protecting the safety of the people who carry those iPhones?

Cook: That’s exactly right. And by the way, it’s probably just not iPhone. Because if the government could order Apple to create such a piece of software, it could be ordered for anyone else as well. It doesn’t stop here.

Think about this. It is, in our view, the software equivalent of cancer. Is this something that should be created? Technology can do so many things. But there are many things technology should never be allowed to do. And the way you not allow it, is to not create it.

COOK ON ENCRYPTION:

Cook: Hacking has become increasingly commonplace. It is very difficult to secure data, and the everyday person can’t do it. They look for Apple to help them do it. You need to look no further than the government, which has had some of the worst breaches of all in this case. And so yes, security gets better with every software release we have. Encryption gets more advanced. It has to to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

Muir: So it’s not a mistake that we can’t get into Syed Farook’s iPhone?

Cook: We didn’t do it for that reason, David. We did it to protect our customers. But yes, a side effect means that Apple can’t get to it either. Think of it like this: if you put a door in a house, it’s a lot easier to get in that house. It doesn’t matter whether it’s locked or not. Somebody can get in that. And so our simple view is that you encrypt end to end, and you don’t keep a key. And so the people that can see communications are the people on either end of that communication.

COOK ON THE FBI DEMANDS:

Cook: What they want is, they want us to develop a new operating system that takes out the security precautions. Including the precaution that, after 10 tries, if somebody has set “erase all data after 10,” they want that to not be in there. And then they want an ability to go through a number of passwords at the speed of a modern computer.

Muir: A computer would do that to figure out the code.

Cook: A computer would do that. We believe that is a very dangerous operating system

Muir: Because once people know that exists, you say, the cat is out of the bag.

Cook: If one of the bad guys knew that that existed, think about the target that is. Everybody would want that system. Because you could get in… It has the potential to get into any iPhone. This is not something that should be created.

AT THE END OF THE DAY WHAT APPLE WILL DO

Cook: We would be prepared to take this issue all the way. Yes. Because I think it’s that important for America. This should not be decided court by court by court. If you decide that it’s okay to force a company to do something that they think is bad for hundreds of millions of people, then… Think about this for a minute. And this case is an awful case; there is no worse case than this case. But there may a judge in a different district that feels that this case should apply to a divorce case. There may be one in the next state over that thinks it should apply in a tax case. Another state over it might apply in a robbery. And so you begin to say, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t how this should happen.’ If there is going to be a law, then it should be done out in the open for people so their voices are heard through their representatives in Congress.

Muir: And if Congress decided that there’s this small category — this was a terrorist’s iPhone. If Congress decided that, if the American people signed off on that, you’d entertain it?

Cook: Let me be clear. At the end of the day, we have to follow the law. Just like everybody else, we have to follow the law. What is going on right now is we’re having our voices be heard. And I would encourage everyone who wants to have a voice and wants to have an opinion to make sure their voice is heard.

Joy: The Pleasure in Learning

Susan Engel is a senior lecturer in Psychology and the director of the Program in Teaching at Williams College. And she has written an insightful piece on the importance of pleasure in learning.

From Joy: A Subject Schools Lack – The Atlantic:

The thing that sets children apart from adults is not their ignorance, nor their lack of skills. It’s their enormous capacity for joy. Think of a 3-year-old lost in the pleasures of finding out what he can and cannot sink in the bathtub, a 5-year-old beside herself with the thrill of putting together strings of nonsensical words with her best friends, or an 11-year-old completely immersed in a riveting comic strip. A child’s ability to become deeply absorbed in something, and derive intense pleasure from that absorption, is something adults spend the rest of their lives trying to return to.

[…]

Decades of research have shown that in order to acquire skills and real knowledge in school, kids need to want to learn. You can force a child to stay in his or her seat, fill out a worksheet, or practice division. But you can’t force a person to think carefully, enjoy books, digest complex information, or develop a taste for learning. To make that happen, you have to help the child find pleasure in learning—to see school as a source of joy.

Adults tend to talk about learning as if it were medicine: unpleasant, but necessary and good for you. Why not instead think of learning as if it were food—something so valuable to humans that they have evolved to experience it as a pleasure? The more a person likes fresh, healthy food, the more likely that individual is to have a good diet. Why can’t it be the same with learning? Let children learn because they love to—think only of a 2-year-old trying to talk to see how natural humans’ thirst for knowledge is. Then, in school, help children build on their natural joy in learning.

Read the entire article Joy: A Subject Schools Lack over at The Atlantic.

 

Technology and Machines Create New Jobs

Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data | Business | The Guardian

Study of census results in England and Wales since 1871 finds rise of machines has been a job creator rather than making working humans obsolete. In the 1800s it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Sooner or later taxi drivers will be fretting over self-driving cars.

The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload? A study by economists at the consultancy Deloitte seeks to shed new light on the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology by trawling through census data for England and Wales going back to 1871.

Their conclusion is unremittingly cheerful: rather than destroying jobs, technology has been a “great job-creating machine”. Findings by Deloitte such as a fourfold rise in bar staff since the 1950s or a surge in the number of hairdressers this century suggest to the authors that technology has increased spending power, therefore creating new demand and new jobs.

Their study, shortlisted for the Society of Business Economists’ Rybczynski prize, argues that the debate has been skewed towards the job-destroying effects of technological change, which are more easily observed than than its creative aspects. 

Going back over past jobs figures paints a more balanced picture, say authors Ian Stewart, Debapratim De and Alex Cole. “The dominant trend is of contracting employment in agriculture and manufacturing being more than offset by rapid growth in the caring, creative, technology and business services sectors,” they write.

“Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years.”