Wired, Pheromones, and Conspiracies

Wired has a very nice article on the controversy over the use of LBAM pheromone in an urban area in California, in which they do an excellent job balancing both science and public reaction. From Wired:

“Since material safety data sheets can make even the most benign molecules sound terrifically dangerous, vigilant citizens will express their concern about rather innocuous substances — damaging their credibility with the scientists who should listen to their objections — and making it hard to sort out any real threats.”

Rather predictably, the comments have a high level of burning stupid:

“All of you posts supporting the collusion and concentration of power by a wealthy few big ag/chem corporations better get informed or stop writing without revealing your ties to these corporations. IT IS NOT A PHEROMONE, it is synthetic in hugely, hugely unnatural concentrations with lots of carcinogenic and mutagenic inerts. The spray is inhaled deep into lungs like silica and asbestos. We got sick. Animals died. Some of us are still sick. Has one person been contacted who filed a pesticide related health complaint? – NO! Isn’t that enough for you doubters? Don’t you respect the people,or do you just respect and believe the CDFA/USDA, who are nothing more than propaganda machines for big corporate interests.”

I really just don’t get the conspiracy thing.

I have a lot of friends that work for USDA, and they are just some of the nicest folks around. This is also true of friends that work for agrochemical companies. None of these people would go along with a massive plan to cause harm or defraud the public.

This is also true of the people I worked with when I was employed by a pharmaceutical company, the other “big corporate interest” that gets a lot of blame. They all worked at that company because they believed they could truly create change with their work, and make lives better.

Are companies profit motivated? Sure.
But nearly every big company that has behaved badly has been brought down by an insider. You might be able to get a few people corrupt enough to misbehave, but they will be found out. (To get an entire corporation to lie, it apparently takes a Vice President.)

The other thing I hear a lot is that the USDA, college faculty, and state employees are getting rich by working with the agrochemical industry.

Uh. No.

Sure, we take money from companies, in the form of grants and contracts. And you would not believe what a pain in the ass grants and contracts are. Right now, if I buy a centrifuge using the money from Grant A, I am not supposed to use it for work on Grant B. Every dime is strictly accounted for. In a rather crazy, counterproductive way, actually.

You can do some consulting work, but the total amount of time you spend on different projects is tracked. If you try to dip into too many pots, you will get a phone call that you won’t enjoy.
This is not a lucrative job. I’m not poor, but I’m not rolling in dough and shilling for agrochemicals either.

I have almost 20 years of experience, I am in a senior leadership role at a large research station, and I have never made more than $55,000/yr in my entire life.  Comfortable, yes. Rich, no.

Being a scientist, especially an agricultural scientist, is not a fast track to riches and fame.

But I digress.
Back to the article.

I liked these comments:

“This pheromone has to be labeled as a “pesticide” simply because the end result of using it is the destruction of a pest. If water is sprayed and used to destroy a pest, then it too will have to be labeled a pesticide.”

“What would you suggest? I like to ask this of people who whine and criticize, because they never have the answer. Think on it for a while, and when you come up with the solution to the problems that span 6,000,000 square miles and encompass 300,000,000 people, by all means, let us know what it is.”

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$1,000 For Teachers From Toshiba

Toshiba America Foundation gives grants to teachers in grades K-12. Elementary school teachers (K-6) are eligible for up to $1,000 to support their ideas for project-based learning in science and mathematics.

Funded projects in grades 7-12 provide students with the opportunity to practice science in new ways that promise to increase their engagement with the subject matter and improve their learning. There is no funding limit for grade 7-12 applications, but most grants are for $10,000 or less.

This year’s application deadline for both programs is August 1.

Just thought I’d spread the info around :)