Not 4004 BC. The Doctrine of Creation considered geologically.

Some years ago I was asked to write an Anglican view of creation for the Geological Society of London’s Special Publication on  Geology and Religion. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here it  is. My brief was to deal with the relationship of geology  to Christianity. Hence I omitted the important issue of the environment which would have required as much wordage again. Hence I only deal with the Geology/Genesis aspects and consider the variety of responses from the Sea of Faith, throught the (sane) views of those like Peacocke, Polkinghorne and McGrath and finally Creationism  in its various forms.

 

Needless to say Triceratops-riding Christians were never far away.

Caution Creationists3

 

Here is my chapter

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation in the church today

339lgscreation

UK Conservatives, meet the DUP: extremist, creationist, sectarian

A good take on the DUP’s views on Science and other matters. Against that DUP is not monolithic and one can be sure that other MPs from other parties in all the UK have equally unacceptable views, both from left and right.

My caveat on this would be that we cannot conclude all DUP MPs hold these views and definitely not members or DUP votes who included Roman Catholics.

Primate's Progress

“Our MPs will be the kingmakers, playing a huge role” (R: Gregory Campbell MP, from whose victory speech those words are taken)

Overview: I am assuming as I write this that the Conservative Party will remain in power in the UK for the immediate future. As a matter of arithmetic, this will require the cooperation of the Democratic Unionist Party. All this may, however, change at any time.

Kingmakers.There is no doubt that this is how the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) see themselves. And there is no doubt that they aim to exploit this role to the full. Not by formal coalition, the trap  into which Nick Clegg so disastrously lead his party in 2010, but “confidence and supply”, which will leave them free to make new demands and to threaten to withdraw support at any time. I will not attempt to unravel the complex affairs of Northern Ireland…

View original post 3,319 more words

How geology has changed in 350 years, with a snook to Creationists

From very early times people had observed and made use of the geological environment. Minerals have been mined for millennia and one of the earliest accounts of mining is to be found in Job 28.

1 “Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined.
2 Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.
5 As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
6 Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.
7 “That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it.
8 The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it.
9 “They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots.
10 They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing.
11 The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light.
12 “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
13 Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.

The sheer number of mines in the ancient world shows just how much practical knowledge of rocks and minerals there was. There is a mine for copper and base metals near Mt Sinai which dates back to 1400 BC, which may well have provided the metals, needed for the tabernacle. Old Testament Cosmology reflects its origin in 500-1000BC

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

Many Greeks and Romans observed natural phenomena and Pliny was the first vulcanologist to be killed by a volcano in 79 AD, when he was helping people to escape from the eruption of Vesuvius.

Today Creationists reject all geology and suggest bizarre alternatives but none as humorous as this one

10389436_10203030956276827_2185931412440811414_n

Out on a cycle ride pedalling over hills made of 330 my old Carboniferous limestone and smeared with Glacial Till some 20,000 years ago I saw this sign outside an Anglican church. It is both true and dishonest. Theories do change as this essay describes, but the purpose of the poster was to sow seeds of doubts and open the way fro Creationism.

033





Try another thought experiment in the year 1650. You are interested in fossils, minerals and rocks and wonder how they all got there. You are very well–read and can read all the Latin works on minerals, but you want to get back to the beginning. So you read the Bible with creation in six days and an enormous deluge. As many had worked out the Biblical Chronologies, with Ussher’s Annales Veteris Testamenti published in 1656 as the most famous, it was thought that the age of the earth was to about six thousand years.

Jacobus_ussher

And then there was the Deluge. Most people in Europe were aware of the devastating effects of floods. They were intimately acquainted with flooding of the Severn and Trent in England, the Seine, Rhine and Danube on the continent, not to mention flash floods in hilly areas. Sudden floods could not only wash away river banks and property, they could also leave thick deposits of sand and silt. A primitive understanding of sandstones and silts would compare them to mud and sand and thus it was believed they were deposited by water.

What would you conclude? You would think that the earth was not very old, humans had been around about 6000 years and that the Flood had mashed up the earth’s surface and could well have laid down strata, just as you had seen by a river bank. You have ended up with a fairly typical Theory of the Earth of the late 17th Century, which were produced by the dozen.

As savants (I use the French word as many of these highly educated writers were not scholars in the usual sense of the word, as some were men of means, others university professors or in secular employment.) began to look at the earth and its rocks after 1660, the formed stones or fossils began to be studied in earnest. Any substance embedded in a rock was called a fossil, whether they are human artifacts, minerals or plant– or animal– like objects. These formed stones became a center of controversy in the late 17th Century. Some argued that they were impressions of dead animals or plants and others denied it. What is obvious to us was not at all obvious then, as no one would expect plants or even sea–shells to be turned into stone. It was contrary to commonsense and observation. By the end of the century most savants accepted the organic origin of formed stones, but that created another problem. How could one explain fossils found at high altitudes, say at 2,000 feet in the limestones of Northern England or many thousand feet high in the Alps? Something watery had to deposit them there and the obvious culprit was the Deluge.

So by 1700 most savants in Europe reckoned the earth to be thousands of years old – probably somewhat older than Ussher’s date of 4004BC – and that most rocks were laid down by the Flood. To make it more plausible, Whiston and Halley suggested that a passing comet affecting the oceans caused the Flood, thus giving a naturalistic twist to this scriptural geology. Therefore until nearly 1800 most early geologists followed a Flood Geology model as this made greatest scientific sense to them.

The progress of geology appears to us to be painfully slow. Until 1760 the 18th Century was not a very fruitful period for geology but observers added to the knowledge of the earth. After mid–century many savants throughout Europe turned their eyes away from the stars above to the rocks below. Often the story is told that it was the heroic efforts of a few men like Hutton and Lyell who argued for an ancient earth in the face of virulent opposition from the church. That has the same truth content as the flat–earth story, even when put forward by learned scholars from Cambridge or Berkeley. It is perfectly true that some Christians opposed geology but most did not.

It is difficult to say exactly who first argued for an ancient earth in the 18th century as scientists were arguing for it in many European countries from 1760 to 1800. Like many scientific discoveries it was a culmination of previous work and no one scientist should take all the credit. It was a cross–fertilizing, trans–European venture with significant workers including Whitehurst, Hutton

james-hutton-caraciture

and Smith from Britain, Buffon, Cuvier and Soulavie from France, de Saussure and de Luc from Switzerland and Werner and Blümenbach from Germany. There was considerable diversity between them, both in religious belief and scientific method. They differed on the age of the earth: de Luc and de Saussure favored an age of tens of thousands of years (MECs –Middle-aged Earth Creationists!) whereas Hutton, Buffon and Soulavie favored millions. However both of these views would be lethal to a young earth. Geologists were slowly piecing together very fragmentary evidence and there is no sense that any started from an assumption of an old earth in some kind of materialist opposition to the Christian Church. It would be truer to say that geologists started with young earth and flood geology assumptions and then changed them, as contrary evidence proved irresistible. A good example is Sir William Hamilton, plenipotentiary at Naples, who is best known to the British as the husband of Lord Nelson’s mistress, Emma. However before he married Emma in 1791 he carried out much research on Mt Vesuvius. He observed that in between many bands of lava was a band of burnt soil indicating sufficient time between volcanic eruptions elapsed to allow the formation of soil and vegetation. He concluded that the earth must be more than thousands of years old.

We move from Naples to Chamonix in the Alps. Henri de Saussure of Geneva was a great explorer of the Alps and the second to climb Mt Blanc. His Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-96) is a wonderful account of his explorations and geology. When he commenced his work he was convinced that the rocks in the heart of the Alps were those formed during the early stages of Creation. He began to question this as a result of his exploration of the Arve Valley from Geneva to Chamonix. This included ascending the precipitous Mt Buet (10,500ft) with a large barometer and Mt Blanc. Two places were of prime importance in convincing de Saussure of the earth’s vast age. First are the waterfalls at Nant d’Arpenaz, near Sallanches. Water plunges down a vertical cliff of over 1000 feet and the cliff is a synclinal fold of Mesozoic limestone rotated though 90 degrees. (Figure 3.) The second are vertical sediments (actually Ordovician) at Vallorcine 10 miles east of Chamonix. These were thought to be crystalline-like granite but de Saussure found rounded pebbles indicating water–erosion. Instead of crystalline “creation rocks” (i.e. those formed in the initial creation) followed by sediments, de Saussure now had older sediments underlying the newer sediments. He concluded that the earth had to be old but never speculated in print what the age could be and simply considered it to be “très vieille”.

Writers like de Saussure and Hamilton published their findings either in tomes or journals, which were widely read throughout Europe. During the last decades of the 18th Century the question was not whether the earth was considerably older than Ussher suggested, but whether its was millions of years old as Buffon, Fr Soulavie, Fr J. Needham (both Roman Catholic priests) and Hutton suggested or tens of thousands as de Luc and de Saussure posited. The choice was OEC or MEC!

So much for the age of the earth, but how were the rocks deposited? The proto–geologists of the 17th century were convinced of the major and, possibly, only cause – The Noachian Deluge. It is fashionable to make jest of this and to claim that this was the pernicious influence of the church. This is standard fare of the “pop” atheist but is rejected by any competent historian of geology. With Genesis as the only writing available, which spoke of the early story of the earth, it was almost inevitable that they should opt for the Flood. It made a tremendous amount of sense as no one had any inkling how old the earth was. The Flood could apparently explain how strata, which looked similar to river deposits, were formed and why fossils could be found on high ground. The realization of the true nature of fossils served to confirm this and thus until about 1830 the Flood was seen to be an important geological agent. Consequently, the many Theories of the Earth written in the 17th Century all emphasized that the strata with fossils were laid down by the Flood. As the 18th century wore on, several observers began to question it. In 1749 Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle questioned the flood arguments of Whiston, Woodward and Scheutzer and offended the theologians at the Parisian University of the Sorbonne. These theologians objected to Buffon minimizing the effect of the Flood rather than raising the age of the earth – a point which is often lost.

Towards the end of the 18th century some geologists, notably Hutton, ignored the Flood altogether. Others suggested the strata were deposited by  a succession of catastrophic floods, and that the Noachian Deluge was the last of many. After Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1830, Whewell named Hutton, Fleming, Lyell and similar geologists Uniformitarians in distinction to the Catastrophists, who included George Cuvier, Jameson and many geologists on both sides of the Channel. Most notable in the 1820s were the English clergy –geologists Sedgwick, Henslow, Conybeare and Buckland who was reckoned to have believed in some fifty deluges! As a high proportion of strata (in today’s terms from the Cambrian to the Quaternary) was clearly deposited by water and contained marine fossils, multiple floods, or catastrophes, made sense. However by 1820 only the Quaternary deposits were regarded to be Noachian. As it turned out these were drift deposits formed during the Ice Age.

The differences of Uniformitarians and Catastrophists are often reduced to parody as if one group were reasonable scientists escaping the clutches of the churches and the other second–raters beholden to church dogma which insisted on the Flood. It is frequently claimed that Lyell enabled geologists to escape dogma and become free in their science, especially in regard to the age of the earth. This argument is wrong on several counts. First, all geologists sought to explain geological events by natural causes (even by comets causing floods) and by comparing present processes with what happened in the past, thus Catastrophists were uniformitarian in one sense. Secondly, both Uniformitarians and Catastrophists were equally convinced of the vast age of the earth. Thirdly, from 1780 to 1830 Catastrophists had made a larger contribution to geology than Uniformitarians, particularly on the Geological Column. And fourthly, many Uniformitarians, most notably the Reverend John Fleming were devout evangelicals.

So far, we have considered many aspects but not the historical order of strata, which geologists call the Geological Column. This is one of the most important interpretative constructs of all geology, but its origin even confuses many geologists. There are several principles behind its method. First there is the Principle of Superposition, which was grasped in the 1660s by Nils Steno, later a Roman Catholic Bishop. This simply states that in a pile what lies at the bottom was put there first and what lies on the top was put there last. Very obvious and very simple and inevitable because of Gravity. However the out–working of these principles is never easy because at times strata are folded or inverted. By 1790 i.e. before Cuvier and Smith

200px-william_smith_geologist

began to use fossils there was a rudimentary geological column with rocks in approximate order that gave us the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary strata in descending order of age. (diagram ex Laudun) The Primary rocks were mostly granites and gneisses and were thought to be the rocks of the original creation. (Remember that both Christians and Deists believed that God originally made the world.) These were overlaid by newer and newer rocks. It was relatively easy to work out a rough order where strata were more or less flat and folded rocks. Hutton was the first to work out The Principle of Cross–cutting Relationships and the occurrence of unconformities in the 1780s.

During the 18th Century many workers produced their tables of strata, but these remained rudimentary until the important breakthroughs of the 1790s. The German geologist Blümenbach worked out that animals and plants could go extinct – with great implications for the history of life. Also in that decade fossils were first used to work out the order of strata. The French say Cuvier and Brogniart were first with their work on the chalk (Cretaceous) around Paris, but the English claim priority with William Smith who mapped the limestones (Jurassic) around Bath. It is often portrayed that they used only fossils to work out the relative order of strata, but they could do this only because the strata were almost horizontal and the Principle of Superposition enabled them to work out the order of the strata in the first place. As they also noticed that certain fossils always appeared in the same order, they realized that the order of fossils was a historical sequence. If they then went somewhere else and found those fossils they could correlate them with those they had already found. By 1799 Smith had worked out the succession of strata from the Coal Measures (Pensylvanian) to the Chalk. This he improved in 1816, when his new Geological Column was essentially that of 1860 and today. (see Figures 4 and 5 ) In his work Smith was encouraged by three Anglican clergy – Warner, Richardson and Townsend. What is often not known is that in 1797 Smith believed all rocks were laid down at the same time, i.e. about 6000 years ago but by 1805 realised that the earth was ancient. With these breakthroughs using fossils the elucidation of the history of the earth and the Geological Column could begin in earnest. It is often claimed that the use of fossils in dating rocks and producing the Geological Column is a case of circular argument from evolution. As Cuvier and Brogniart were dogmatic anti–evolutionists and Smith knew nothing about it, that charge is falsified. Fossils are not absolutely necessary to elucidate the order of strata as I found when I mapped a large area of fossil–free Precambrian in South Africa, by working out which strata lay above another, and working out the displacement due to faults.

From then on geologists gradually began to work out the Geological Column and tried to work upwards and downwards from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. They used a mixture of the Principle of Superposition and the use of index fossils. By the 1820s they had worked out most of the strata from the Carboniferous (Mississipian and Pennsylvanian in the United States) to the top of the Cretaceous, but had problems with the Permo–Trias (New Red Sandstone) owing to the lack of fossils. What was above and below defied them. The newer strata – the Tertiary – did not contain easily identifiable stratigraphic units and the fossil contents of different layers seemed to merge into each other and contained some forms living today. In 1831 Adam Sedgwick

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

and Roderick Murchison began to work on what are now the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian rocks of Wales. Sedgwick worked on the Cambrian in Snowdonia where the strata contained few fossils and were heavily folded and thus relied more on the principle of superposition. Murchisons’s task was easier as he found more fossils and encountered less folding. He was also fortunate to have a Shropshire vicar the Reverend Thomas Lewis, a former pupil of Sedgwick, to direct him to sections passing down from the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian) to the older strata which he termed Silurian. Murchison, to his shame, never gave full recognition to Lewis. The work was slow and laborious and resulted in fractured relationships between Sedgwick and Murchison and was only completed after their deaths when Lapworth suggested the Ordovician to lie in between the Cambrian and Silurian. What is not widely known is just how many of the early 19th century geologists were devout Christians, including several evangelicals such as Sedgwick, Fleming, Lewis and Townsend.

By about 1850 the whole of the geological column was more or less worked out and it is almost identical to what we have today. (Figure 5.) The main differences are some name changes of stages and the recognition that parts of the Cambrian and Silurian are now Ordovician. The whole succession of life from the base of the Cambrian was also worked out. Up to then there had been little work on the Precambrian and much of that waited until the 20th Century. From reading this you may think that the Geological Column is of only local value as initially it was worked out in Britain and the European mainland. However, the same sequence was found throughout Europe and, given local variations, is the same throughout the world. I had its universal validity demonstrated to me while teaching geology for Wheaton College in the Black Hills. Almost all strata from the Precambrian to the Tertiary are present in a small area. Very quickly I could make sense of the geologic succession by comparison with British formations, as they were remarkably similar. Even the fossils were similar. I found the same comparison in the Grand Canyon the year before. By 1850 geology had come a long way in two hundred years, but no one had any idea of the real age of the earth. It would be correct to say that in the 17th Century geologists started with the assumption of a young rather than an old earth and during the 18th century were forced, by geological evidence to accept an old earth. Until 1910 there were many guestimates, both educated and uneducated, on the age of the earth. From the middle of the 18th century it was clear that the earth was more than a few thousands of years old, but how old was not known.

400px-Geo_time

The authors of the various Theories of the Earth reckoned the earth to be thousands of years old – older than Ussher suggested but not much. Two who broke loose from the Theories of the Earth were de Maillet and Buffon. Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738) was a French diplomat who wrote Telliamed: or conversations between an Indian philosopher and a French missionary in 1748. It was an odd work both accepting mermaids and that the earth to be over two billion years old. The second was Buffon, born as Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-88), the Keeper of the Jardin du Roi in Paris. He published many volumes of Histoire Naturelle. Buffon also carried out experiments on the cooling of red-hot globes of iron and then applied his findings to the cooling of a globe the size of the earth and estimated the age of the earth to be about 75,000 years.  In unpublished manuscripts Buffon reckoned the earth to be 3 million years old.

By 1800 many thought that the age of the earth was millions of years, yet no precise figure could be given. Twenty years later, the eccentric British clerical-geologist William Buckland (1784-1856) was reckoning “millions of millions” of years.

buckland

There was no concerted attack by the church as most educated Christians happily accepted geologists’ findings, which was not surprising as many were clergy. When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, the vast, but unspecified, age of the earth was as established as heliocentricity. The Reverend Samuel Haughton (1821-97), Geology Professor at Dublin and an ardent opponent of Natural Selection, suggested that 1,526 m.y.(million years) had passed since the beginning of the Cambrian, three times the present figure. That was too cavalier for William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), who believed in the precision of physics. From 1855 Kelvin reckoned the age of the earth to be no more than 100 m.y. With the authority of physics against them, most geologists succumbed.

In the 1880s Kelvin reduced his estimates to about 24 m.y. and for a half-century from 1860, few geologists dared to suggest more than 100 m.y. for the age of the earth. In 1860, John Phillips (1800-74), nephew of William Smith and geology Professor at Oxford, suggested 96 m.y. He estimated that the rate of deposition today is one foot in 1,332 years. As the estimate of the thickness of fossiliferous strata was 72,000 ft, that made about 96 m.y. This date gave credence to Kelvin’s 1868 estimate of 100 m.y.  Though rates of deposition were very much guesses the thickness of strata in the various periods are good indication of the relative length of the periods. Despite this great disparity of estimates, the one agreement was that the age of the earth was to be measured in millions of years. This was shared by most Christians, including the evangelicals, whose ideas of time were included in the booklets published in 1910, entitled The Fundamentals.

While Kelvin was shrinking the age of the earth, the French physicist Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered radioactivity in 1896. Radioactivity had two major implications for the age of the earth. The first was that radioactive decay created immense energy, thus negating Kelvin’s arguments for a cooling earth. The second was that radioactive elements could be used to measure time as they disintegrated at a fixed rate – known as their half-life.   In 1905 the English physicist John William Strutt, later Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) showed that a mineral containing radium was 2 billion years old because of its helium content. In the same year Bertrand Boltwood suggested that Lead may be the end product of the decay of uranium and calculated the ages of 43 minerals from 400 to 2,200 my. The radiometric dating game had begun.

 

Arthur Holmes and the Age of the Earth

For the next fifty years the most innovative geologist on the dating-game (and on plate tectonics) was Arthur Holmes.

th

He wrote many articles on geological time and several editions of a short, but profound book The Age of the Earth in 1913, 1927 (this edition cost sixpence) and 1937. In 1913 he based his work on three Uranium-Lead results from the Paleozoic. Combining this with the thickness of sediments, he estimated the base of the Cambrian to be 600m.y., remarkably close to present figures of 550m.y. Whatever flaws there were in his early work, they show remarkable geological insight. As time wore on the number of age determinations multiplied and is now almost infinite. A study of Holmes’s work over half a century (as carried out by Cherry Lewis) shows how an initially tentative scientific theory can be gradually supported by strong experimental data.

Initially Holmes reckoned the age of the earth to be under 2 billion years, but from 1946 this was seen to be nearer 4.6 billion, with the Cambrian commencing in about 550-590 m.y., with the lower estimate being accepted today. Despite the many refinements and explosion of methods and age determinations, this figure has remained the same for half a century. There are three basic methods of determining the age of the earth. The first is to date the oldest rocks on earth, as this will give a minimum age of the earth. The ages of the Amitsoq gneisses of Greenland, first “dated” by the Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath and others in the early 1970s, have not yet been bettered.  The five methods used give an average of 3.65 billion years, with a variation of less than 0.1 b.y. either way, which is about 2%. Nearby the Banded Ironstones give ages of 3.8 b.y. These are for whole rocks and in the last ten years minute fragments of detrital Zircons in early Precambrian sediments have given ages up to 4.4 b.y. indicating that the grains may have been formed at that time yet deposited by water about 3 b.y. ago. That indicates that the earth had cooled to form a crust with 200 M.y. or so from the formation of this planet. The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y.  The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y. The third is more theoretical and is to determine “model lead ages” from the decay of uranium into lead for the Earth, Moon and meteorites. It was developed independently by Holmes and Houtermans in 1946. (For a more technical discussion read Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth.)

The greatest advance in the late 20th Century was the discovery of plate tectonics and its precursor continental drift. Though this came to be geological orthodoxy in the 1970s, Wegener, Holmes

th

and du Toit were suggesting continental drift from the fit of continents in the 20s and 30s. Most significant was the matching–up of the geology of Africa and South America. To give an example, I worked in the Precambrian strata near the mouth of the Orange River in South Africa. When a geologist friend returned from Uruguay I was able to describe to him the Precambrian geology of Uruguay, without having been there or read a book on the subject. The discovery of subduction and ocean floor spreading turned old ideas of continental drift into a highly plausible theory. Plate tectonics has a superb explanatory power and explains so many geological riddles of the past. As a result it has come to be seen as the over–arching theory of geology and has unified the somewhat disparate geology of the last 200 years.

 

References;

Rudwick The Meaning of Fossils, 1972 London

Young, Davis, & Stearley; The Bible, Rocks and Time  IVP 2008

The Biblical Flood, 1995, Eerdmans

Roberts, M Evangelicals and Science 2008 Greenwood

  1. J. Gould, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle, 1988 Viking

** A. Cutler, The Seashell on the Mountaintop, 2003. (A readable and superb biography of Steno, a 17th century geologist and anatomist.)

  1. Winchester, The Map that changed the World, 2001, Penguin (Readable, but anti-Christian)

 

Historical Box

Geologist                           Dates                                 Contribution                             Religion

Steno                               1638-1686                             Principle of superposition       RC Bishop

Ray                                 1627-1705                            Hints of older earth                   Minister

Buffon                            1707-1788                          Great age                                     Nominal RC

J-L Soulavie                1752-1813                             Great age                                    RC Priest

de Luc                         1727-1817                            Much geology                               devout Prot

Werner                       1749-1817                           Much geology                              ?prot?

Hutton                         1726-1797                         Unconformities etc                     Deist

Smith                           1769-1839                         Use of fossils                               anglican?

Cuvier                         1769-1832                          Fossils, strat,                                nom prot

Sedgwick                    1785-1873                          Cambrian etc                              Evang clergy

Buckland                     1784-1856                          fossils, ice age                          Anglican clergy

Lyell                            1797-1875                         Uniformitarianism                        Unitarian

Murchison                   1791-1871                          Silurian                                        nom Anglican

Thomson (Ld Kelvin) 1824-1907                   Physicist, age of earth                     Presbyterain

Holmes                        1890-1964                   Radiometric dating                            none

 

 

What is science? A reposte to Creationists

Most of us are familiar with the story of Adam naming the animals in Genesis chapter two. What an ordinary human activity! Yet, in a sense, it is a scientific activity as Adam is seeking to understand the animals by naming and classifying them. Naming and classifying are essential to daily life but it is also one of the fundamental scientific disciplines known as taxonomy. Now this may come as a surprise to many to suggest that Adam naming the animals is a scientific activity.  Of course, he was doing what comes naturally to us and that is classifying things in the world so we can use them. However this activity and later developments of agriculture and technology, which are hinted at in Genesis chapter Four, give indications of the beginning of a scientific outlook, however rudimentary. So, what is science and how has it changed down the centuries? That is the question I seek to answer here.

What is science?

That seemingly simple question is not so easy to answer. There are many answers to the question, even though many consider the answer to be obvious. We need a far wider picture of science than men in white coats doing experiments in laboratories. And then when we stop and think, we will have to decide what science is. To complicate matters a historian of science will tell us that what we mean by science today may not be what was meant by science in the past. We will even find that what we might call science in the past was associated with occult practices like astrology and alchemy. Astronomy was associated with astrology until well after Copernicus’s day, and chemistry grew out of alchemy with its occult concerns and search for elixirs.

Thus we need a definition which includes a broad understanding of contemporary science and one which allows for changing views of science during throughout history. So what is science and what to scientists do?

I will begin by giving some of my family history. We go first to a small chemistry laboratory on the roof of Butler’s Wharf Bridge on the River Thames overlooking London in 1960. A biochemist works there on the chemistry of tea. The labs are full of glass apparatus and he is isolating and identifying unknown chemicals from tea – theorubigen and theoflavins and lots more theo-s. This is science, he is doing repeatable experiments, as the biochemist first isolates the compounds and then works out their molecular structures. After his work is published others can test his work. Now let’s go to the Namib Desert in South Africa in 1970. The son of the biochemist is making a geological map of a few thousand square miles for a mining company and prospecting for base metals. Every day he goes out and works out the order of stratification and marks them on his map. He identifies conglomerates, sandstones, lavas, limestones and tillites and estimates their thickness. He works out the historical order in which the rocks were formed and draws up a geological column and says that the tillites are the newest rocks and the gneisses under the conglomerate are the oldest. From a few radiometric dates made by researchers in Cape Town he ascribes tentative dates to the rocks. He records any mineralisation. He observes and records but does no experiments, as geology is a historical science. Is this science then? He was very annoyed when his uncle, a physics professor turned clergyman, asked him a few years later if all his geology was stamp–collecting, as if physics were the only true science. Twenty–five years later the geologist does a field project on the hybridization of Red and White Campions in Provence and records the shape of leaves, color of petals and the shape of calyxes. This is observation and interpretation but no experimentation. Is this science? The biochemist was my father and the son myself.

This is science in my family but ask yourself, “Which of these four activities is the most scientific?” Is it Chemistry, Physics, Geology or Biology? It would be very dangerous to favor one or the other, but these sciences are different and have overlapping understandings of science and at times have different methods.

There is Experimental Science where a researcher artificially selects something to test under controlled experiments. This is what my father and uncle were doing in their biochemistry and physics. Then, much of science is Observational, especially the earlier and classic forms of natural history, mineralogy and astronomy. These depend on detailed observation, classification and measurement. This I did in my project on Campions. There are the Historical sciences, which attempt to work out the historical order of past events. Geology and paleontology are classic historical sciences, and that was my main scientific discipline. Within all these is Measurement, in which some kind of mathematical approach is used to order the subject matter being studied. This may be anything from simple counting to the most complex calculus.

There is one major difference between Historical sciences and the Experimental and Observational sciences, and that is the former deals with non-repeatable events in the past, and the latter with potentially repeatable observations. These latter two aspects of science are sometimes termed operational science. As operation science deals with repeatable events, others can therefore test these by repeating the procedures. They also give rise to predictions from what has been discovered by those scientific procedures. I will give an example from my project on Red and White Campions. In Britain, which has a wet climate, I found they hybridized freely, but in Provence (France), which is fairly dry, they did not. From that, and other reasons, I predicted that at Mont Dore in the Auvergne, which is wet, they would hybridize. My prediction turned out to be correct, which gave support, but not proof, for my theory that hybridization was related to climate. Unfortunately I did not pursue my study. To give another example, as I write (May 2004) the transit of Venus is due to be visible in Lancashire in June, where it was first observed by Jeremiah Horrocks in 1639. From previous astronomical observations and his own calculations, Horrocks had predicted that the transit of Venus should be visible on 24th November 1639 and that it was in agreement with an elliptical orbit predicted by Kepler. As his predictions from his observations and calculations were proved correct this gave further confirmation of Kepler’s laws.

At times, some have questioned the reliability and philosophical soundness of historical sciences like geology on the grounds that they do not deal with repeatable events (what’s history is history!) and one cannot make predictions. The doubts have been expressed as follows;

Most sciences, including chemistry and physics, are empirical (or experimental) in nature; theories can be tested by experiments in the laboratory and/or by observations of the world. Some disciplines, like origins science, are historical in nature; that is, they attempt to explain events and processes that have already taken place in the distant past. Theories in historical sciences cannot be verified experimentally, so the explanations are always tentative.

At first sight, that sounds very convincing, but it contains several flaws. First, it implies that the ultimate in science is experimental thus ignoring observational science. The statement is confused over this. It has not clarified what historical sciences are, but by saying that “Theories in historical sciences cannot be verified experimentally”, it expresses a dangerous half-truth. Of course, one cannot test most geological ideas experimentally – e.g. whether T Rex could run at 20 m.p.h. or could only trot, or whether the direction of the Precambrian rivers in the Stinkfontein Formation in South Africa flowed towards the west, as I found from the measurement of cross-bedding in the sandstone. Neither can one make predictions for the future. However theories in geology can be tested rigorously and to a considerable degree of certainty. Much can be worked out about T. Rex from comparative anatomy – using the same principles that a human anatomist would use in identifying the age and sex of a human skeleton. From the study of the Stinkfontein sandstone, especially of its cross-bedding and grains of sand, a geologist would not make a prediction but a retrodiction and suggest that in that period of time (1000 m.y. ago) there was a source of the sand to the east and that these older rocks were very rich in quartz and were probably either quartzites, gneisses or granites. In fact twenty miles to the east these Stinkfontein rocks lay unconformably upon older rocks, which were quartzites and gneisses of the Kheis. Geologists perform these “tests” on their work continuously and when, as happens often, they are wrong, they have to revise their theories, which in turn are tested. Now geology is about 250 years old as a science, and theories have been tested rigorously in that period, so that much of geology is now certain not tentative.

When practiced properly, all these different scientific methods have great rigor as there is a careful methodology but they also need theory, which is very different from speculation. There is a popular misunderstanding that theory means something abstract and unproven, whereas to a scientist a theory is what interprets their data and seeks to make sense of it. The theory changes as further research is carried out.

We need to be aware not to separate scientific fact from scientific theory and regard the second of limited value. In fact we cannot separate fact from theory as whatever a scientist does is based on theory.  For example, in the early 19th Century the main theory guiding geology was that the Deluge of Noah had tremendous geological effects. Thus when the greatest diluvial geologist William Buckland went to Snowdonia in North Wales in 1822 he observed great mounds of sediment and scoured and rounded dome–shaped rocks (roche moutonee). He said the mounds were deposited by the Flood, which also scoured the domed rocks. He returned in 1841 after Agassiz had convinced him of the ice age. (Figure 1.) This time he said the mounds were moraines deposited by glaciers and the domed rocks were caused by the abrasive action of glaciers. In fact, for years his diluvial theory stopped him from seeing many geological structures caused by ice.

Science has not been an unchanging study of the material world and Scientific Method has not remained constant over the centuries. We should not speak of THE Scientific Method as today there are many Scientific Methods and these have changed over time. At the risk of over–simplifying, in the Ancient World the emphasis on scientific method was on observation, classification and measurement rather than experiment as we know it. This outlook continued until the mid–16th century when Copernicus almost unwittingly began the Scientific Revolution.

One of the results of the Scientific Revolution Experiment was to play down the authority of learned tradition. During the period 1500 to 1700 there was a diminishing respect for authorities for their own sake and a greater recognition of primary observation and experiment. By the end of the period scientists would no longer defer to the authority of an Aristotle or a Galen only because of their status. Their opinions had to be demonstrable. Galileo was one of the first to challenge ancient authorities if their statements could not be verified. This represented a marked break with tradition, but even into the 19th century scholars from the humanities still deferred to ancient authorities whether of antiquity or a previous generation. At times they were hostile to the methods of scientists.

The effect of the Newtonian Age was to consider that Experiment was the most important scientific method and that anything else was inferior to it. That prejudice is still prevalent today both in popular and academic circles. As a result it is easy to downplay the importance of descriptive biology and the rise of the historical sciences, such as geology and paleontology in the 18th and 19th centuries. This chauvinism of the physicists is to be seen clearly in Lord Kelvin’s disparagement of geologists’ estimates of time in the late 19th century, as we will see below.

Private Eye frack themselves – again!

Private Eye  is always a good read, and for decades has cast its pen dipped in hydrofluoric acid on so many issues.  Its comment is always amusing and usually pertinent.

However, when they dabble in fracking they get fracked. Probably the reason is that they look to a persuasive experts, whose credentials are more in bullshit than anything else.

Here is their latest from May 2017. It is all very convincing but Ken’s letter to Private Eye eviscerates it. I will let him speak………..

 

Image may contain: text

 

Ken wrote to Private Eye

I just sent this to Private Eye.

‘Old Sparky’ who writes the ‘Keeping the Lights on’ column has been following the line of BS from the antifrackers. I was a bit surprised by what Old Sparky wrote about shale gas production. He seems to have swallowed some of the fake news from antifrackers.

I write this as I wrote the complaint which challenged the claims of Friends of the Earth last January. FoE were unable to sustain their claims about water pollution, health effects, asthma. See I am a retired, totally independent 12 years experienced oil rig engineer who, like Strobes, dislikes bullshit. The antifracking movement is entirely founded on bullshit.

So the Tories plan to reduce the regulatory hoop jumping? Why should ill informed people be able to pass comment on technical issues that occur underground?There is no evidence that the proposed fracking system will cause any problems, and 1 million wells in the US with not a single proven case of water pollution or health effect should indicate its intrinsic safety. There are however possible pollution paths from surface spills, and the regs in the UK block all of those potential leak paths. They do not need inspection.

Like any other industry, if the regulations say that you have to use a fluid particular system, then thats what you have to use. How many personal inspections does that need? In fact on previous wells there have been drop in visits by the HSE and Environment Agency, though Old Sparky’s ill informed ‘advisers’ will doubtless claim different. (I have never voted Tory BTW and hate Mrs May and Brexit!) Planning docs run to hundreds of pages will all techniques, chemicals etc exposed to public scrutiny. The regulations are here and here All of these would still be required, its just that the years that it takes to drill a perfectly safe well would be bypassed. The wells would still need to follow planning law, and comment on location/truck movements/etc are still in place. The Lancashire vote against permission was taken against legal advice, by councillors who were not competent to pass comment on the technical issues. These issues had already been dealt with by the expert Planning Dept who recommended approval. So the Tories are ‘gung ho’? Why not, for something that could be a massive revenue earner, with minimal intrusion on the beauty of the countryside? (I have visited the proposed Yorkshire frack site, its almost invisible, like the 100 wells in posh Poole Harbour…) Recently protestors tried in Pickering tried to block access to a well, and they couldnt find it! 😅

********************************************************************

An aside from MR; Here’s a well in Lancashire clearly visible from the road

DSCF0639

************************************************************************

Somehow the shale gas debate has been highjacked by fake reports of health impacts, financed by many anti fossil fuel organisations, yet there is not a single lawsuit in the most litigious country in the world. Claims of cancer/asthma are dismissed by experts, and extensive research into water pollution has revealed no cases of pollution but still the antis go on about it. In the UK carcinogens, and toxic chemicals are forbidden by UK and EU law, but that doesnt stop people claiming they will be used. Please feel free to contact me for a more sober view on what all of the expert engineering and geological groups say is a low risk technology. I expect Strobes to be able to get to the truth, rather than the bullshit surrounding these matters. The truth in this case is rather boring. Shale gas is a low risk activity. Ask the Royal Academy of Engineering, or the BGS.

The Transfiguration of Jesus and Brocken spectra

One of the most wonderful sights in the mountains is a Brocken spectre. It is a glorified shadow of a person caused by refraction of low-angle sunlight through wispy, foggy cloud. I’ve just killed the beauty and wonder of the Brocken Spectre . Here’s wiki on it  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brocken_spectre. It is named after the Brocken , a peak in the Harzgebirge in Germany.

They are most common in British hills in winter, when wispy clouds play with rays from the weak winter sun. I have only seen three. The first two were on January days on Foel Grach and Y Garn in Snowdonia some twenty years ago. I remember the spectre waving his ice axe at me.  That axe came from Chamonix.

My next was just after Christmas 2016. It was a perfect late December day  and so I drove to the Temperance Inn  beyond Sedbergh and set off to climb the Howgill Fells. I walked up a glacial valley to the foot of Cautley Spout and had a stiff climb to the top, watching out for ice.

DSCF0118

At the top of the falls I left the path , jumped a stream and headed up this hill. The views were great.

DSCF0119

As I got near the top I was met with a little snow and wispy cloud. It was time for a photostop. I look back northwards over my route, where I contemplated that I could be spending the rest of my life descending a steep slope.  I turned round savouring the view to the north east and Great Baugh Fell, and…………

DSCF0121

Wow and wow!! It was a Brocken spectre whichj gave me a much justified halo.

DSCF0122

I clicked away…

DSCF0124

and the spectre faded and went, almost as quickly as it had come.

DSCF0125

and so to the top, which was almost an anticlimax.

DSCF0126

and so to the descent finding that old knees and ice don’t mix.

DSCF0129

It was a fantastic day.

As I reflected on the Brocken Spectre I thought about my tentative relocation of the Mount of Transfiguration. Decades ago I took a propaganda tour from Lake Gallilee to the Golan Heights and then back via the slopes of Mt Hermon and Caesarea Phillipi. South of Caesarea Phillipi we drove past the Mount of Transfiguration, which would be considered a molehill in East Anglia. A year or two back I wondered if the “high mountain” Jesus took Peter and James and James up was not the mole hill of Mt Tabor but could rather Mt Hermon. After all that IS a high mountain and was snow-covered when I was there in April. And so I thought of what the gospel writers (Matthew 17 vs1-9) wrote;

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.
3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Yes, it was a high mountain and what happened. Like so many passages in the Bible which speak of a divine encounter it is difficult to work out what happened. The two opposite errors are either to be overly -literalist or spiritualise it. I have long found the whole section of the confession of St Peter at Caesarea Phillip and the Transfiguration as one of the most important passages on Jesus Christ. It brings out the nature of Jesus as Messiah, the waywardness of followers summed up in the rebuke to Peter , “Get behind me, Satan” (Something we all need to hear), the cost of discipleship and carrying our cross and then the Transfiguration , which seems to be a foretaste of the Resurrection.
The first part is very much every day and down to earth, but the Transfiguration is something more. I find the meaning very profound and moving and it strengthens my faith, but the Thomas in me asks what happened. I cannot answer that question, beyond saying something very profound and moving happened. (I will never make a good fundamentalist!)
I wonder, and I say this tentatively, was the Transfiguration in part the disciples and Jesus seeing Brocken spectra on Mt Hermon.
Now to some I will be seen as fanciful and to others as explaining away a central part of the Gospel – the Transfiguration.
Whatever happened, and something did, I wonder if a Brocken Spectre helps us to understand, tacitly if not intellectually, the wonder of the Transfiguration.
At best, in this life we only have passing glimpses of the Resurrection, which are as transient as a Brocken Spectre, but still wonderful.
I may not see another Brocken Spectre but I will see……………………………
Painting by Carl Bloch

Fake news is nothing new: 6 pseudo-news websites have colored GMO debate for years

Ummmm! Interesting

A review of 6 fake sites on GMO foods. The last two are of interest.

The Ecologist –a long standing eco-magazine which I took in hte 70s and loved. It now publishs OTT stuff on Green issues whether GMO or Fracking

 

RT – Russia Television – a Moscow based disinformation channel which is implacably opposed to fracking, but never deals with pollution caused by petroleum extraction in Russia

 

 

‘Fake news’ may be new to most people, but not to followers of the anti-GMO debate. Here are some of the leading purveyors of misleading information.

Source: Fake news is nothing new: 6 pseudo-news websites have colored GMO debate for years

“Fake news” is now a well-known term, at least to Americans in the wake of the US presidential election. But followers of events in genetic modification of food and crops have been familiar with the “fake news” phenomenon for years. A number of websites have thrived for years, offering misleading stories with alarmist headlines — in opposition to GMO crops and livestock. Some of these sites (they all have a strong, if not exclusive, online presence) focus directly on GMOs, while others provide a forum for selling products, and still others take a broad stroke on a number of environmental and health issues. Here is a selection of these “Fake news” sites.

Natural News

Natural News, renamed from NewsTarget.com in the mid-2000s, is headed by the self-described “Health Ranger” Mike Adams, who has described biotechnology scientists as “the most despicable humanoids to walk the face of this planet.” [Read GLP’s profile of Mike Adams.] The site publishes original articles, while also aggregating the work of others — almost unanimously in opposition to GMOs, vaccines, or anything it considers to be under influence of corporations. It is affiliated with the non-profit organization Consumer Wellness Center, created in 2006 by Adams.

The website promotes natural health and lifestyle products, including this $2,000 “hydrogen infusion machine.” It was dubbed the “worst anti-science website” by science-based Skeptic.

.] In December, 2016, for example, a story headlined “US Court of Appeals: States and counties can ban GMO crops despite federal laws,” claimed the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had passed a law allowing local and state authorities in Hawaii to enact bans on genetically modified crops. In fact, the Ninth Circuit (which under the US Constitution cannot pass laws) did the opposite: it overruled decisions by county and local officials in Hawaii to ban GMO, citing the authority of the state and the US Plant Protection Act.

And in May, 2016, the site published a story claiming: “CRISPR gene editing lies exposed by genomics expert.,” It wrote:

The biotechnology industry is carrying out a concerted public-relations campaign to promote the idea that new, so-called “gene editing” technologies are the more accurate, safer successor to now-defunct traditional genetic engineering (GE). But this campaign is founded upon several straight-up myths about the new technology, which is nothing more than the same reckless GE paradigm under another name.

The expert? Jonathan Latham, editor of another “fake news” site, Independent Science News. In reality traditional genetic engineering is anything but defunct, since 90 percent of all corn and soybean planted in the US is genetically modified, and, in Hawaii, the papaya industry was saved by the introduction of a modified, virus-resistant version of the popular fruit.

Natural News is not exclusively devoted to opposing genetic modification and promoting organic and “natural” products. Adams has promoted such causes as AIDS denialism, 9/11 truther conspiracies, Barack Obama citizenship ‘birther’ claims and is a believer in ‘dangerous’ chemtrails and the ‘danger’ of vaccines.

Mercola.com

The website Mercola.com has been publishing online for more than 20 years. In addition to selling a wide range of “natural” products, books and fitness plans all under the Mercola brand, it also publishes articles favoring organic foods, and opposing genetic modifications.
Mercola is the creation of Joseph Mercola, an Illinois-based doctor of osteopathic medicine, who claims it as “the world’s No. 1 health Website.”

Arguing that traditional medicine (including vaccines, pharmaceuticals and surgery) kills, he offers alternative cures including prescribing “organic, non-commercially harvested” seaweed supplements to treat thyroid problems. Mercola promotes and sells a variety of “alternative” products; for which he has received multiple warning letters from the FDA.

His website offers a steady stream articles opposing (among other things) GMOs, and which offer his natural products as alternatives.

In a recent article arguing against eating soy, Mercola points to the fact that most soy grown in the US is modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate, which, he claimed is responsible for the disruption of the delicate hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle. The article cites two studies, one in amphibians and the other in hamsters, showing how (in amphibians) a “tiny amount” of glyphosate caused anatomical abnormalities and (in hamsters) infertility in three generations. None of these appeared in peer-reviewed journals. Instead they were published by the Pesticide Action Network and in the Huffington Post. The site also uses anti-gmo stories to help promote a $99.00 glyphosate testing kit.

Independent Science News

This news site was started in 2011, by the Bioscience Resource Project, an organization that says it provides independent research and analysis in the agriculture-related biosciences and has been in existence since 2006. The site is edited by Jonathan Latham, who holds a PhD in virology and has published papers on a wide variety of topics, including genetics.

According to the organization’s website:

Powerful interests routinely succeed in influencing the answers. In science, external forces influence strongly what is studied, what is published, and what is reported. When that happens, individuals (or policymakers) no longer have the information to decide rationally and choose thoughtfully. Society becomes dysfunctional at a fundamental level.

At ISN we chooses (sic) our stories carefully. Most concern simultaneous manipulations of the scientific process, the food/ag system, and the science media.

According to the site, these stories include:

  • “False agribusiness claims about the safety and performance of GMO food and crops
  • Bee Learning Behaviour Affected by GMO Toxins
  • Roundup-Ready to Yield?
  • Regulators Discover a Hidden Viral Gene in Commercial GMO Crops.

At best, the headlines and stories under them are misleading, at worst, they are simply false.

The website has posted stories arguing there is no scientific consensus on the safety GM foods (there is a consensus, actually), a guest post by well-known GM food opponent Vandana Shiva, and conspiracy theories about genetic testing and population mass surveillance by the government. It also has been linked by anti-technology intellectual Naomi Oreskes, who linked one of her Tweets to the website’s article on Monsanto, a piece by Jonathan Latham speculating that GM food (and therefore Monsanto and others who make them) were in peril because Chipotle had vowed to remove GMO products from its restaurants.

Sustainable Pulse

This website says it is owned and maintained “by a group of concerned citizens and scientists.” While some editors claim it is based in the UK, it is registered in Bulgaria, and two of its chief editors, Henry Rowlands and Radostin Nonkin, work in Bulgaria. In addition to its site, which predominantly features articles about opposition to GMOs, it is connected to what it calls “reference projects:”

  • GMO Evidence—“a simple resource that shows the global picture of harm from GMOs & Roundup.”
  • GMO Seralini—a main source page for all of Gilles-Eric Seralini’s papers and other materials, including his famous 2012 discredited study on tumors in rats that had been retracted, and subsequently republished in a so-called “pay for play” publication.
  • GMO Judy Carman—a similar source page for Australian anti-GMO advocate and researcher, who is best known for her (also discredited, based on questionable methods) 2013 study in the little-known open access Journal of Organic Systems, in which she claimed to have found a link between genetically modified maize and inflammation of the stomach in pigs.

On its main page, one of its most popular posts is a story, “Review Links Roundup to Diabetes, Autism, Infertility and Cancer,” referring to a 2013 paper by anti-GMO advocates Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel. No link between glyphosate and these diseases by any reputable scientific lab has ever been found.

In a lead story, Sustainable Pulse quoted “experts” from the anti-GMO activist community, such as GM Watch and GM Freeze, on their opposition to testing by Rothamsted Research on a type of wheat engineered to more efficiently use photosynthesis to increase crop yields. While the group also quoted the head of the Rothamsted project, quotes from the anti group questioned whether farmers needed to grow more wheat:

What is the purpose of growing more wheat in the first place? World food production already far exceeds the needs of generations to come but people still go hungry. Nobody is starving because of some fundamental flaw with photosynthesis; they are starving because they are poor.

Which is half right.

The Ecologist

“Setting the environmental agenda since 1970,” according to the news site’s masthead, the organization was established as a journal in London, publishing scientific papers that were, according to the papers’ authors, too radical for other journals and magazines. It published in print until 2009, when it became an online magazine and stopped publishing academic-type papers.

Taking a clear anti-globalization, pro-local effort stance on issues, it has posted stories pertaining to climate change, the oil industry, nuclear power, animal rights, and genetically modified foods. Jonathan Latham is frequently posted on the site, including this story accusing the Cornell University Alliance for Science for “being chicken,” in allegedly turning down a debate with anti-GMO activists. It turns out that the “invitation” was tucked into a dense comment section on social media. It also has been running stories critical of policies of the new UK government in the wake of the nation’s vote to withdraw from the European Union. The site also posts screeds from Carey Gillam, a former Reuters reporter who left the news agency for US Right to Know, and whose work is reliably anti-GMO.

The Ecologist’s editors and writers often produce pieces that look well-researched, but the conclusions invariably fall in line with their anti-GMO, technology-skeptic editorial trends. In February, a large piece on the Zika virus in Brazil and other parts of South America cited several studies discussing the possibility that a pesticide, or a previous genetically modified virus, was responsible for the microcephaly cases seen early last year. While the story was updated extensively and even refuted some of its earlier claims of “jumping DNA” and inserted transposons, it still concluded that any future release of genetically modified insects (such as the Oxitec modified mosquito):

Were to take place, it could give rise to numerous new mutations of the virus with the potential to cause even more damage to the human genome, that we can, at this stage, only guess at

Russia Today (RT)

Russia Today, or RT as it now known–its pedigree is Pravda, the propaganda organ of the Communist Party–made a headlines in January when a US intelligence report pointed to it as a major propaganda instrument used in attempts to influence the US presidential election. The television network and website (which have US versions) follow a pattern familiar to followers of Russia and the former Soviet Union—a state-run news agency that claims to be independent but generally hews to Russian policies and authorities..

It is often accused to spreading propaganda and violating journalistic traditions of impartiality. In the United Kingdom, the media regulator Ofcom repeatedly found RT breached rules on impartiality, and of broadcasting “materially misleading” content.

RT reports on a wide range of global issues, much like Reuters, the BBC, AFP or CNN. On GMOs, RT is solidly critical, as is the Russian government, which recently enacted a ban on any foreign GMO from entering the country, and outlawed the creation of a commercial GMO product.

Some stories, including this one on FDA approval of the Simplot potato last year that has a Reuters copyright on it, appear to be straight news, but emphasize comments from anti-GMO activists. The Reuters story heavily quotes Jeffrey Smith, founder of the anti-GMO organization Institute for Responsible Technology:

“It makes sense on paper,” he said of the potatoes that are purported to be resistant to blight – the pathogen responsible for the Great Famine. However, one of the issues is that the effects of modified these genomes are largely unknown.

“When we tamper with the genome in the way that they’ve been doing with genetic engineering in our food supply, you end up increasing allergens, toxins, new diseases or other problems – causes massive collateral damage in the DNA” he said.

This quote, of course, ignores the extensive testing by developers of the potato, reviews by FDA officials, and the advances in knowledge of genetics in general.

A video on RT spends more than six minutes opining on a number of issues, from the so-called “DARK Act,” to alleged “wheat escape” and perpetuates many of the typical myths that are refrains of the anti-GMO movement, such as whether QR codes really work, and the false story of the “world killing” Klebsiella microbe that was modified to increase alcohol production and boost decomposition.

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies and non-profits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow @AMPorterfield on Twitter.