• Oops, They Did It Again

    Earlier this week I congratulated TED for their letter to TEDx organizers, which aimed to stop the promotion of pseudoscience and junk science from TEDx platforms. I thought last year’s TEDxBogotá would be the last time TED name would be dragged by mud on Bogotá. I was wrong.

    Yesterday, TEDxBogotá 2012 took place. And, once again, they used it to promote unscientific stances. How can I assert this?

    Well, from the speakers’ program, which included: Farm Stories by Rosa Poveda and Playing Hosts by Josefina Klinger.

    From what I could find, Ms. Poveda is a promoter of ‘organic’ agriculture. She has an abandoned blog, in which she poured a false analysis claiming the alleged superiority of ‘organic’ food against conventional food.

    Actually, research shows that ‘organic’ food is no better than conventional food and there is ample reason to suspect that the ‘organic’ products pose a greater health risk than any other food, conventional or GM. Moreover, evidence suggests that ‘organic’ food makes people antisocial.

    However, Ms. Poveda also has under her belt a 2009 ‘documentary’, which describes her in these terms:

    Rosita Poveda, native peasant fond of guevarism and agronomy, with tough hands and a belly laugh. Rosita, evacuated from Suba, has the greatest story in Bogota! Five years ago she persuaded an architect to give her a plot of land in the suburbs: it was used as a sort of rubbish dump where some hideout for thieves. Without money but with a lot to do, Rosita has transformed the garbage in a farm with native agriculture. She founded an association too, which teaches organic agriculture to university students from every part of South America.

    Rosita is very poor: she hasn’t got platas! Yet she is absolutely sure that her project will be always growing and that the architect will give soon her another pair of plots…

    That’s why Poveda collects donations using Western Union and her savings account.

    I’m pretty sure the letter TED sent to TEDxBogotá organizers contained a bit warning them specifically about people who promote their products and make antiscience food claims.

    In turn, Klinger had already exposed at TEDxBogotá and it seems at least odd that out of 180 proposals, hers resulted among the 12 finalists for this version.

    Nor is it trustworthy at all that she is being promoted at Zeitgeist venues, it being a crypto-fascist movement of right-wing economic and conspiranoic delusions.

    The typical messianic arrogance of woo sellers is fully exposed in this Klinger’s profile:

    She feels that the universe chose her as an instrument to look after “such a temple”. From the sea she learned the value of honesty. “It always returns what is not his”, she says when referring to the garbage that someone can get to throw her way. With her ecotourism initiative, Mano Cambiada, she aims to position Nuquí as a rich landscape and environmental destination.

    It is worth noting that her ecotourism proposal seems, broadly, worthy of being recognized and exalted as a valid and valuable alternative to monopolies.

    What is a shame is that this alternative gets stained by illogical and irrational thinking that seems to emanate from Klinger’s proposal.

    I think TEDxBogotá deserve getting their license revoked. What do you say?

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    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker

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    • Michael

      I’ve heard mixed data on the study of organic foods, but from my taste experience, there is no doubt that organic food is usually far better tasting than non-organic food. Supermarket fruit and vegetables are often insipid by comparison.

      • Well, certainly your taste experience is anything but objective! Can you provide evidence about the “mixed data”?

      • KotMaya

        Lol google “organic label makes food taste better” for a nice, scientific study.

    • I am a huge advocate of organic food (having been involved in green politics and environmental organisations to some degree). i have visited a good few organic farms and many non-organic farms.

      I buy organic food, predominantly.

      Why? Well, I think many organic buyers are misrepresented. I for one buy not because they taste better (on the whole, i think they do, marginally), or for health reasons, but because they are a fuck sake better for the environment and biodiversity in general. You need to see a proper organic farm to really understand this. You need to see their field margins. You need to see their crop rotations. You need to see monocultural farms in comparison. For example, one great organic farm in the West Country in the UK is banked by monocultural farms all around. They consist of massive fields with one crop, virtually no hedgerows, and no field margins. Empirically, before your eyes, you can see how much better for wildlife organic farms are. They are generally run by people who actually give a major shit about the world.

      I am wary of people that slam organic farms out of some preconceived notion etc etc.

      Also, the work, and actually the life, of Georgina Downs is testament to problems with pesticide usage.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgina_downs
      http://www.theecologist.org/how_to_make_a_difference/cleaner_air_water_land/361015/case_study_campaigning_against_pesticides.html

      Her story is interesting since she moved to the country and found herself getting ill. In fact, so ill, she couldn’t attend college. One day she was in the garden and a tractor from the farm at the back of her garden passed fairly close. A few seconds later, she was covered in a film of pesticide. This started her research into her own ill health and health issues in rural communities in the Uk. The government changed the rules on distances from field edges farmers can spray (although they repealed it using some dodgy technique, by memory).

      So on and so forth. Again, I would visit a Soil association approved organic farm, or equivalent, to see how fantastic they are wrt biodeiversity and quality.

      Obviously there are issues, potentially, with yield etc. But I find it hard to understand how people think pesticide ridden produce is the norm, and somehow naturally grown stuff is somehow odd and suspect.

      The problem is (and I would potentially call that here) is that people concentrate on nutrient value of the food. But to most deep-thinking consumers like me, this is THE LEAST important aspect (in fact, there is little or no difference). What is more important is:

      1) biodiversity

      2) ethical practices of the farm as a whole (generally more green and thoughful)

      3) soul conservation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_conservation)

      4) processes like utrophication being eradicated

      5) Combatting climate change (oil carbon data show that regenerative organic agricultural practices are among the most effective strategies for mitigating CO2emissions.)

      6) all other contamination issues, transportation improvements, sustainable practices and so on

      • Hi Johno!

        I was going to give you a lenghty answer, but then I came across Mark Lynas’s speech at the Oxford Farming Conference a few days ago (http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/ )

        I’ll quote him:

        “As one commentator put it recently, Europe is on the verge of becoming a food museum. We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

        But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

        To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

        As Borlaug was saying, perhaps the most pernicious myth of all is that organic production is better, either for people or the environment. The idea that it is healthier has been repeatedly disproved in the scientific literature. We also know from many studies that organic is much less productive, with up to 40-50% lower yields in terms of land area. The Soil Association went to great lengths in a recent report on feeding the world with organic not to mention this productivity gap.

        Nor did it mention that overall, if you take into account land displacement effects, organic is also likely worse for biodiversity. Instead they talk about an ideal world where people in the west eat less meat and fewer calories overall so that people in developing countries can have more. This is simplistic nonsense.

        If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one. It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.

        It doesn’t even apply this idea consistently however. I was reading in a recent Soil Association magazine that it is OK to blast weeds with flamethrowers or fry them with electric currents, but benign herbicides like glyphosate are still a no-no because they are ‘artificial chemicals’.

        In reality there is no reason at all why avoiding chemicals should be better for the environment – quite the opposite in fact. Recent research by Jesse Ausubel and colleagues at Rockefeller University looked at how much extra farmland Indian farmers would have had to cultivate today using the technologies of 1961 to get today’s overall yield. The answer is 65 million hectares, an area the size of France.

        In China, maize farmers spared 120 million hectares, an area twice the size of France, thanks to modern technologies getting higher yields. On a global scale, between 1961 and 2010 the area farmed grew by only 12%, whilst kilocalories per person rose from 2200 to 2800. So even with three billion more people, everyone still had more to eat thanks to a production increase of 300% in the same period.

        So how much land worldwide was spared in the process thanks to these dramatic yield improvements, for which chemical inputs played a crucial role? The answer is 3 billion hectares, or the equivalent of two South Americas. There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields. Nor would there be any tigers in India or orang utans in Indonesia. That is why I don’t know why so many of those opposing the use of technology in agriculture call themselves environmentalists.”

        Cheers!

        • Hey mate

          The problem is here that you are conflating two issues, and expecting one thing to be the answer to the other, and calling it out on it. which is a straw man.

          We have two problems:

          1) farming methods of mono-cultural farms (and this includes all of the things above)

          2) world overpopulation.

          We should be able to have:

          1) organic farming
          with
          2) a sustainable population.

          I have long, long been a claimer that THE ONE AND ONLY major problem in the world is population. Sort that out, EVERYTHING else follows.

          • What I’m saying here is there are better farming options than organic farming -and there are-. And organic food is riskier for human health than conventional food. It also takes a lot of land to produce the same ammount of food.

        • Lotharloo

          It seems that you are unaware of the unsustainable nature of industrial farming. For example, check the “peak phosphorus” article on wikipedia. Basically, we are running out of phosphorus and that would mean an end to conventional monoculture farming. There might be a lot of hype around organic farming, true, but organic-type farming is definitely the future just as using renewable energies is the future of the energy sector.

          • Nope. Organic farming is for people who can have that LUXURY. That’s it, is a luxury, and it comes at a great health-risk associated problems.

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