I got a letter from a science student in Mexico who is concerned about the results of their national election in which they elected a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has begun appointing the various secretaries and advisors to form a government. His concern is that the appointment of María Elena Álvarez-Buylla Roces to the directorship of Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT), the state science council, is problematic.
So I looked into it. My first superficial impression is that she seems to be a good choice: she’s chair of the ecology department at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, she already has a position on CONACyT, and she’s a developmental evolutionary ecologist, a field I find fascinating. She’s qualified and has great credentials. She is so much better than anyone Donald Trump would appoint here that I’m wondering what Mexicans have to complain about.
But then my correspondent points out that she has some troubling ideas about science. In particular, she’s got things wrong about GMOs, which is one of her obsessions.
- She has mentioned that “Western Science” is the responsible of giving us the flashiest achievements but perhaps the most useless such as putting a man on the Moon.
She stated that GMOs are poison and that these can lead to cancer
She has mentioned that there is a rise in the US for autism which is caused by the consumption of GMOs
She of course links to the Seralini studies.
(The Seralini studies, you may recall, are the notorious bad experiments that claimed to show that the RoundUp Ready genes, not RoundUp itself, caused cancer when injected into rats.)
I might be slightly sympathetic to the argument that the moon landings were a superficial flash in the pan, since we haven’t bothered to sustain that effort, but it smacks of the usual ignorance of a different field of science and engineering than hers — like Sarah Palin’s ridiculous dismissal of fruit fly research. I also am not sure what “Western Science” means. There’s just science, and you can do it no matter what side of the world you live on. And isn’t developmental evolutionary ecology also “Western Science”?
“Genetically modified organism” refers only to a process for generating targeted, planned gene changes. A GMO is no more poisonous than organisms with random genetic changes…which are basically all organisms. You could argue that glyphosate is potentially toxic, but study after study has failed to find evidence of that.
There is no causal connection between GMOs and autism. This is just the worst. Autism is the default villain of so many anti-science arguments.
These claims call her judgment into question. There is good reason to have reservations about her appointment. As a citizen of the US, of course, I have no right to impose on the Mexican science establishment, so all I can do is suggest that my Mexican colleagues take a look at the Facebook page for the resistance, #ResisCienciaCONACyT, their blog at # ResisCiencia18, and follow their Twitter feed. Make up your own mind, organize and fight back!
I also have another suggestion. The US president currently has not bothered to appoint a science advisor, and in the vacuum, the default leadership of American science policy has fallen to a guy with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and in general his appointments to science and engineering positions have been jokes (our Secretary of Energy is Rick Perry, who didn’t even know what the DOE was). Perhaps María Elena Álvarez-Buylla Roces could be sent up here to do the job? Maybe even a notoriously anti-GMO scientist would be an improvement on what we’ve got now.
But still…Mexico and the US can do better.
P.S. You know the three largest cities in the Americas are São Paulo, Mexico City, and Lima, right? New York only makes it to #4. The population of Latin America needs a strong agriculture to sustain itself, so why is Mexico rejecting a key strategy for improving their crops?