Michael Specter gave an interesting TED talk about the dangers of science-denial . Most of his talk is about the people who oppose vaccines, such as the former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy who thinks that she knows more about medicine than people who do medical research. He notes that a doctor who advocates vaccination has been receiving threats from the anti-vaccine lobby, including threats to his children. An good new development is that Andrew Wakefield (the British ex-Doctor behind the discredited research linking Autism and Vaccination) has been barred from practicing by Britain’s General Medical Council .
Michael also mentions the opposition to GM food which has the potential to save many lives in developing countries that have food shortages. This convinced me to reduce my opposition to GM food, it’s really not GM food that I’m opposed to but the poor testing, the bad features (such as the Terminator Gene), and the Intellectual Property controls which allow GM companies to sue farmers who accidentally have GM crops grow on their land due to wind-borne seeds. It’s also a pity that there is no work being done on GM versions of any food crop which is only used for feeding poor people. Every GM plant is one that is used to provide food for rich people and is essentially a way for farmers in first-world countries to make more money. But GM versions of Cassava (with less of the toxic chemicals among other things) and Sorghum would improve the situation of many poor people.
One interesting related development is that Craig Venter has just announced the creation of the first synthetic life . This technical development could lead to dramatic changes in the production of basic foods, such as algae that produce proteins that have the ideal mixture of all the essential amino acids needed for humans as well as the semi-essential ones that children need. While feeding pond slime to children isn’t going to be glamorous it would be a lot better than the current situation where a significant number of children in developing countries have their physical and mental development stunted due to malnutrition. Craig mentions the possibility of using his research to develop vaccines much faster, including perhaps the possibility of vaccinating people against fast evolving viruses such as the common cold!