“Extremists in the environmental movement, largely from rich nations and/or the privileged strata of society in poor nations, seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks. It is sad that some scientists have also jumped on the extremist environmental bandwagon in search of research funds. When scientists align themselves with anti-science political movements, or lend their name to unscientific propositions, what are we to think? Is it any wonder that science is losing its constituency? We must be on guard against politically opportunistic, pseudo-scientists.”
Those are the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, whose advances in agricultural science are credited with saving tens of millions from starvation. Borlaug captures perfectly the story of Ignacio Chapela, a disgraced professor at Berkeley University, whose career now hangs in the balance as he battles for tenure.
Chapela, you may remember, won a Tarnished Halo Award from the Center for Consumer Freedom for his claim that genetically enhanced crops were “polluting” Mexico’s traditional fields. Unfortunately for Chapela, the prestigious journal Nature issued a retraction of his study, declaring: “The evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper.” According to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for Nature stated that “the editorial note saying the initial study should not have been published was ‘unprecedented’ in recent times.”
Accused of falsifying his research for the sake of a political agenda, Chapela has become even more political. Rather than continue his study of fungi (his expertise) Chapela has found refuge in the “anti-science political movement” that opposes genetically improved crops whatever the evidence. He is scheduled to speak at the next “Biodevastation” conference along with fellow anti-biotech scaremongers Vandana Shiva and Michael Hansen. The main attraction of this gathering of Luddites will be Percy Schmeiser, who was found guilty of stealing genetically enhanced seeds, and is now on a world tour attacking the very product he wanted, but refused to pay for.
Chapela’s appearance at Biodevastation completes his transition from scientist to activist. Yet he has the gall to complain that others are politicizing his tenure review. One member of the faculty committee deciding the embattled professor’s fate used Chapela’s Nature study — as an example of a scientific “hoax” — in a class on scientific methods and logic. Now Chapela wants that professor out of his tenure review process: “He had already made up his mind that I am a fraud and a disgrace to science even before my tenure came up,” Chapela complains.
“A fraud and a disgrace to science.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.