Archive for May, 2011

Introduction to Animism

Introduction to Animism

 by Lanie Johnson, M.A.  and Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Let’s start with some formal definitions of animism.

 “the belief that all natural phenomena have souls independent of their physical being” (from Latin anima, soul), Webster’s New World DICTIONARY, Third College Edition)

 “Any of various primitive beliefs whereby natural phenomena and things animate and inanimate are held to possess an innate soul.” (The American Heritage DICTIONARY of the English Language)

Ken and I have observed that most people are either not familiar with Animism or have differing ideas about what it is. This is understandable since there are no written historical records. However, scholars in archaeology, anthropology, history & philosophy of religion are in general agreement on these two points:

         • Animism is the most ancient religion. Although there is some controversy regarding the derivation of the word “religion” – most people agree that it is from the Latin religare (to bind strongly. So Animism is like other religions in that it involves being strongly bound, but it differs in that its binding is to the Universe rather than to a particular deity.

                  “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the

                  universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw

                  forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by con-

                  conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”

                                                               – Carl Sagan, Astronomer & science  writer, 1994

         Animism is not a religion that has a special building or temple, or scripture, or holy days. The religion of Animism, strongly binding one to the Universe in all its manifestations, all of which have spirit or soul, is more a way of life or culture than a formal religion.

         Animism was originally the religion of all Hunter-Gatherers, our ancestors for most of the last 200,000 years. How do we know that? Through archaeological traces of our ancestors and comparative anthropological studies of present-day hunter gatherers, all of whom are animists.  

        It is basically a belief that every part of the world is suffused with spirit and is therefore sacred. It  thus stands apart from most contemporary religions in which only certain things, like a particular text, such as a bible, or building, like a church, mosque, or synagogue, is sacred, and the rest of the world is regarded as profane.

         Our present culture started only about 10,000 years ago. So, the original religion of most of humanity has been Animism for 95% of the time we have been here.

         To tell you the truth we (Ken & Lanie) sometimes confuse hunter gatherers and animists, because a hunter gatherer’s spiritual life is so infused with their culture.

         There is some confusion about the difference between Hunter-Gatherers, Indigenous people, Primitive or Tribal people, and so on.  People like the Maasai and Bantu of Africa, and many American Indians, were not Hunter-Gatherers.  They are or were horticulturalists, that is, people who till small gardens, or agriculturalists who farm, or pastoralists who herd animals.

          Animism can also be distinguished from Paganism in that Pagan means “of the country” and refers to farmers.

As their name implies, Hunter-Gatherer people hunt animals and gather wild plants they find around them.  They live in small groups or bands of 10-30 related persons. Most of their possessions are communal. They have no hereditary or elected leaders. They make decisions by consensus and have a cooperative, sharing society. Of course, this doesn’t mean they never get angry, jealous, or mean.  However, they have created a culture in which such behavior is minimalized. Theirs is a way of life in which one has relationships with non-human life forms – thanking plants or animals used to sustain human life, for example.

We would like you to listen now to the words of Chief Seattle, and see if you recognize some of these animist ideas in his speech:

CHIEF SEATTLE’S SPEECH                                                                                               

            First off, we need to tell you that these are probably not Chief Seattle’s exact words. They are based on notes taken by a local physician, who attended the speech, and which were written up some years later in a newspaper article. Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed in this speech fit so remarkably the animist point of view, and have such a poetic nobility, that they can stand almost as an animist manifesto. Here are the words: 

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

         Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

         We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, [the body heat of the pony,. . .] and man, all belong to the same family

         The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.

         If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us; that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

         Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

         This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

         . . .Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival. . .

         We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children and love it, as God loves us all.

         As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he Red Man or White Man, can be apart. We are brothers after all.

Hunter Gatherer Beliefs:

         How far back does Man’s intelligence and sense of aesthetics and beauty go?   Thirty thousand year old flutes, cunningly carved from the wing bones of Swans and Mammoth ivory, demonstrate planning, impressive craftsmanship, and love of music.  Four hundred thousand-year-old throwing spears (or Javelins) show that H. erectus was no unconscious thinking scavenger, but was capable of forethought, and able to learn skills handed down from others.  But, were these guys religious?

         Deliberate Burials:

         So far, there are no hints of any religious thoughts on the part of H. erectus.  However, there were deliberate burials of Neanderthals.  Do they represent thoughts of an afterlife or a return from death?  The position of the buried person, often in a fetal position, and facing East toward the rising sun, indicate hope for renewal just as the Sun is reborn each day.  The inclusion of tools, weapons, and ornamentation shows the hope for a return in which the buried party will find all the possessions needed to carry on his/her life again.  Some burials also contained offerings of such things as deer antlers, boar jaws, flint tools, and Red Deer jaw bones.  There are other clues.

         Cave Bear Grottos:

          High up in the Alps grottos have been discovered in which many Cave Bear skulls have been carefully arranged.  Cave Bears are thought to represent the Animal Master, whose propitiation would hopefully insure the return the next year of Man’s principal food animals. 

         Religious thoughts:

         Cro-Magnon cave paintings in France and Spain, such as the “Sorcier des Trois Freres” may also represent Animal Masters or some kind of sympathetic magic, insuring the success of the The Great Hunt, which was surely early Man’s greatest occupation.  His view of the Earth as sacred is demonstrated in contemporary HGs like Australian Aborigines, who see animate forms in natural geography, like the “woman’s legs” in NW Australia 


         What about HG cosmology? that is, beliefs about the relationship between humans & Nature. One expression of their cosmology is in the games they play. The widespread incidence of games of chance (gambling, really) shows an underlying philosophy that life is a game of chance; in other words, acceptance of Nature and what it brings. On the other hand, games of strategy, which appeared later, among agriculturalists, indicate interest in control.

         Ancient myths are often about animals as the first people – or older brothers – who are valued as teachers. HG religion is usually called Animism, or the belief that everything in the world is alive and has a spirit: people, animals, birds, trees, rocks, water, etc. It’s based on respect for the natural world and all its beings.

Animism, as Daniel Quinn says, “embodies a worldview: the world is a sacred place, and humans belong in that sacred place.” There are many different ways of relating to the Natural World as an Animist, as we’ll now see as we explore some selected readings:



         The beautiful and insightful adventure of a South African WWII hero, who upon his return, searches for & finds the last remnants of the remarkable Bushmen, surviving in style in an inhospitable desert.

THE HARMLESS PEOPLE. Elizabeth Marshal Thomas.

         An anthropologist lives with South African Bushmen and describes a society that works – wonderfully. She returns 20 years later to see what effect our culture has had on theirs.

THE FOREST PEOPLE. A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo. Colin M. Turnbull.

         Another anthropologist lives with Congo Pygmies. He admires their lifestyle and social organization, which they manage to retain despite the incursions of Bantu agriculturalists. 


         A scholarly analysis of the impressive technological and cultural achievements of our ancient ancestors.        


         Do hunter-gatherers have something to tell modern culture? A brilliant analysis by the most respected scholar on the subject. 

ORIGINAL WISDOM: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. Robert Wolff.

         A psychologist lives with the most remote people of Malaysia, the S’ingoi.

OUR BABIES, OURSELVES: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. Meredith F. Small.

         A Pediatric Anthropologist examines different cultures’ approach to parenting.

LIMITED WANTS, UNLIMITED MEANS. A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. John Gowdy, ed.

         The interaction between Hunter-Gatherer economics and the environment. Describes a culture in harmony with the Earth.

Animist Beliefs Compared With Those of Our Culture

Comparison of Taker & Leaver Beliefs

 by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

(1)  Taker beliefs lead from one to another; they’re linear or sequential. (they do have some side branches – look like an amino acid)

Leaver beliefs seem more or less equal, or mutually dependant; they relate to each other in a non-linear fashion. what worked better: radial symmetry*, as in a medicine wheel or a Radiolarian (primitive protozoan which lives in the ocean)

* resembles a coral or a Hydra (phylum Coelenterata) or an orange

(2) Thinking of religion & mythology – J Campbell says that one of the functions of mythology is an attempt to put human behavior in harmony with the way the Universe as they know it functions. e.g., Venus of Laussel and the lunar cycle. and the first agricultural cities in the Near East (hieratic) which were laid out according to the paths of the sun, planets, and stars. Stonehenge is another example of this principle. These religions, their behavior, and even their city plans, were organized in accord with the way people of that time thought the Universe was ordered.

The problem with Taker mythology/beliefs: not in accord with what we presently understand how science & the Universe are organized. In fact, it puts us on a collision course with these principles. That is why we are on the way to destroying ourselves and the rest of the Earth.

The reason Animist beliefs prevailed for 100’s of 1000’s, perhaps millions of years, and that they did not destroy the Earth & each other – is not because they did not possess chainsaws & rockets, but because their belief systems put them in accord with the physical and biological laws that govern all living organisms on Earth.

The radial/spherical symmetry way of looking at Animist beliefs is analogous to the way the Universe is organized. it ain’t sequential.

I am not sure whether the Earth is radial, spherical or neither. An orange (radial) has 2 poles (flower & stem end): if cut in ½, between poles, you will not get 2 identical pieces. – You can cut it in an infinite # of ways & always get 2 identical halves as long as you include both of the poles. This is the pizza pie principle – an orange = inflated pizza pie. The difference between radial & spherical symmetry: In a spherically symmetrical object,  it doesn’t matter how you cut, because as long as you include the center, you’ll get identical halves.

If the Earth has radial or spherical symmetry: This would be yet another example of Animist beliefs being in accord with the way the Universe is organized.

J Campbell quotes the 15th century  philosopher, Nicolas Cusanus, who said “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.”

Only God Can Make A Tree

Only God Can Make A Tree, But Monsanto Might Patent It

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.
Sandpoint Reader

“Science is too important to be left to politicians or to a scientific establishment increasingly in bed with big business.”
– Dr. Mae Wan Ho, Institute for Science in Society (ISIS)
What is the one thing that a Christian fundamentalist and a secular liberal can agree upon? That the U.S. Patent Office (USPO) was dead wrong.

Legend has it that the Patent Office thought that they were merely granting a patent for a particular sequence of chemicals, but by approving a patent on an oil digesting bacterium, they had granted the world’s first patent on a living organism.
The fundamentalist would assert the USPO had committed blasphemy. The Progressive might turn to the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, saying the USPO had released into the world all the troubles in that box.

It all began in the 1970s when Dr. Ananda Chakrabarty, a biochemist at General Electric, filed an application with the USPO for a patent on an industrial process for destroying waste oil.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of Dr. Chakrabarty’s application by a 5-4 decision. The Patent Office announced that henceforth they would consider “non-naturally occurring, non-human multi-cellular living organisms, including animals, to be patentable subject matter.”

The lid was off Pandora’s Box. It yawned wide open.

Genetic Engineering, Cloning and Chimeras:

In order to understand the controversies emerging from this and similar rulings, we need to examine the scientific techniques used to produce these new kinds of organisms.

Genetic Engineering (GE), cloning and the production of chimeras (pron. Ki-mee-rahs) are three very different techniques which are often confused in the public’s mind. All involve rearrangement of DNA, the chemical from which genes are made.

GE operates on the molecular level, and involves cutting out a piece of DNA (the “Trans-gene”), from one organism and its insertion into the genetic material of another organism.

For example, the “anti-freeze” gene from a Flounder can be inserted in potatoes, thus conferring on them the ability to survive severe frosts.

Chimeras are produced using cells and whole animals. Embryonic cells or tissues from another animal are injected into an embryo, thus producing an animal which is composed of two genetically different kinds of cells.

In one experiment, human embryonic brain cells were injected into a mouse embryo. They migrated to the mouse’s developing brain, thus producing a mouse whose brain contained 1% human brain cells. Scientists are now wondering what would happen if they injected enough human cells to make a mouse whose brain was 50 % or even 100%  human. Care to speculate?

Here’s another chimera scenario to contemplate.

When stem cells are taken from a very early embryo and injected into a different embryo, these cells are capable of developing into any kind of adult cell, depending on the nature of the host cells surrounding them. Suppose human stem cells were introduced into a male mouse embryo, migrated to the mouse’s reproductive glands and developed into sperm.

Suppose the same thing was done with a female mouse. Suppose these two mice were born and later mated. Of course, the Disney Company already has a copyright on Mickey Mouse.

Cloning operates on the cellular level. A cell’s nucleus contains the genetic instructions for the production of an entire animal. In this technique, a nucleus is removed from an adult animal’s cell, then placed inside the egg of another whose nucleus was previously removed.

The egg is then placed in the uterus of yet another animal and allowed to go to term, thus producing an animal genetically identical to the one from which the original nucleus was taken.

This is how the now famous “Dolly, the Sheep” was produced.

Human clones have already been created by transferring the genetic material from human cells into the de-nucleated eggs of cows and pigs. This was done not to create embryos and bring them to term, but in order to provide stem cells.

Even many of those who support legalized abortions find it disturbing that human embryos have been deliberately created in order to provide material for transplantation or other uses.

Somehow, they sense that it is different from using stem cells from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures – procedures by which barren couples can have children. Those embryos would have been discarded anyway.

I understand how they feel.

When I started out in genetic research, I ran a laboratory that analyzed human chromosomes. Most of our work came from physicians who suspected chromosome defects in unborn fetuses. Although I knew that people might opt for abortions on the basis of my analyses, it did not bother my conscience because I was aware that that such defects usually result in gross birth defects.

However, with the passage of time, many requests for analyses started to come from people whose names identified them as coming from cultures which did not value women. I put two and two together and realized they were electing to abort only on the basis of gender. I was sufficiently disturbed at the use of my expertise for such purposes, that this was one of the reasons why I switched my research interests.

The Wonderful World of Patent Laws

Fish that glow in the dark, goats that produce spider silk in their milk, giant Salmon, etc. These are the GE stories that most often reach the popular press. They sound like something out of science fiction, and yet they are fact. GE has opened possibilities of fantastic new combinations of living organisms, never seen in the natural world.

However lurid and eye-catching these stories are, there lurks beneath their surface even more far-reaching implications. If you really want to scare yourself silly, welcome to the wonderful world of patenting living organisms.

Admittedly, patents are not very sexy. If you want a cure for your insomnia, curl up with a good book on patent law some time. However, because GE patents are impacting our lives, you had better learn something about them.

A patent is a government grant of the exclusive right to make, use or sell an invention, usually for a limited period. Patents are granted for new and useful products made by or thought up by the mind of man.

As world trade continues “globalizing,” there are efforts to make the patent laws of most countries compatible. The Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an agreement, administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO), for this purpose. Among other things, TRIPS states that all countries must extend their patent laws to include living organisms.

The Legal Morass

Despite TRIPS, countries still disagree among themselves about the patenting of life forms. The European Union (EU), the collective voice for most of Europe, has issued a directive on patents, part of which states “the human body … including the sequence or partial sequence of a gene, cannot constitute patentable inventions.”

It also excludes from patenting: human cloning, use of human embryos and modifications of animals, causing substantial suffering without substantial medical benefit.

The first patent on a human gene was granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 1991. The EPO stated at that time that “DNA is not life.” Obviously, the EPO and the EU are not on the same page.

The Canadian Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision rejected a patent application for a mouse carrying a human cancer gene, saying that that the mouse failed to meet the definition of an invention.

On the other hand, patent office officials in several countries have expanded the concept of what can be patented, and ruled that living organisms themselves can be patented when they contain foreign genes.

Another troubling aspect of GE patents is the broadness of their applicability.

The Agricitus Company was granted a patent for all GE soybeans. Mycogen was granted an exclusive patent on any insecticide gene in any plant. The broadness of these patents has had serious consequences. Here are a few:

John Moore was a leukemia patient, who had his spleen removed in 1976. He signed a consent that stated the organ would be destroyed. Without his knowledge, his cells were cultured to produce anti-cancer drugs, now worth billions of dollars. The doctor was listed as the “inventor,” and the patent application was sustained by the California Supreme Court in 1990.

Scientists have identified two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which predispose women who to breast cancer.

Myriad Genetics has patents on mutations of these cancer genes, and they ordered laboratories to either cease screening for these genes, or pay royalties. Myriad priced the tests at about $2,000. Who owns these genes, the women from whom they were taken or a commercial entity? In 2013, the US Supreme Court unanimously rejected Myriad’s claim, stating that human genes cannot be patented. Score a big one for our side.

A U.S. company, Biocyte, owns a patent on all umbilical cords from fetuses and newborns because they worked out a process for isolating and freezing them. They now have the right to demand fees from anyone extracting and using any human umbilical cells.

Genetic material is also being taken from Third World countries, being marketed and sold without the consent of the people from whom they were taken.

For instance, blood samples have been taken from traditional people, such as the Australian aborigines and the Saami of northern Scandinavia, and the genes isolated from them have been patented and marketed commercially.

Some pharmaceutical and agri-businesses employ Ethnobotanists, people who gather plants from exotic places. They make use of indigenous peoples’ knowledge of the location and medicinal properties of these plants. The companies claim that these materials only have “value” when they have been extracted and marketed commercially.

In their eyes, the knowledge gained in thousands of years, and use by traditional people is valueless.

For thousands of years, Third World farmers have lived sustainedly on small, subsistence farms, saving and exchanging seeds. Now, their way of life is being threatened by patents on GE seeds and food.

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho says (GE) “crops will further destroy livelihood and self-sufficiency through corporate patents on seeds that farmers cannot [legally] re-sow or exchange, and through Terminator seeds that are rendered sterile, breaking the very cycle of renewal and regeneration that is the essence of life.”

Problems Inherent in  GE Technique

Those who defend the value of GE argue that cells and organisms in which genes have been inserted are similar to natural ones, and so there should be no concern over their safety.

They gloss over the fact that the inserted genes bring with them a great deal of other genetic material. A piece of a virus is attached to the Trans-gene, enabling it to penetrate the host cell’s defenses against foreign DNA and integrate into the cell. An antibiotic resistance gene from a bacterium is also attached to the inserted gene and used as a marker to distinguish which cells have successfully incorporated the Trans-gene. The Trans-gene is activated by attaching a gene from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus to it.

In addition, some unwanted baggage comes along for the ride. Snipping the Trans-gene out of its original DNA is an imprecise process, and often pieces of or entire neighboring genes are included.

The location and number of copies of genes have profound effects on organisms. Yet, it is inherent in the GE technique that it can’t be controlled where the gene lands in a cell and how many copies of it are included.

It is possible that many of the abnormalities now being reported in GE organisms are caused by the technique itself. For example, some pigs containing Human Growth Hormone genes have arthritis, deformities and blindness. Some sheep with this Trans-gene develop Diabetes. It  is also not known whether some of these conditions are caused by stress from the industrial farming conditions that the animals are subjected to, or by something in their food.

GE genes for producing commercially and medically important chemicals, such as hormones, antibiotics and blood components, have been incorporated in farm animals.  The animals can also be used as reservoirs for organ transplants.
Critics warn that hundreds of different viruses, specific to pigs, could be transferred to humans along with the transplants. This could be dangerous. For example, many scientists suspect that a virus, somehow leaping the species barrier from monkey to man without the benefit of GE, started the AIDS epidemic. Historically, most human diseases are believed to have originated in domesticated animals.

There are other dangers posed by GE organisms. They have never been part of our food chain, and therefore they may have unanticipated effects on other animals that eat them and plants that absorb their genetic material.

Trans-genes are deliberately designed to cross species barriers, invade other organisms’ DNA and became part of it. This has already occurred accidentally in creatures that they were never intended to be part of. For example, genes from GE crops have been detected in soil fungi and in the DNA of bacteria and yeasts in the gut of Honeybees.

Ethical Dilemmas:

It is easier to count the number of Angels that can dance on the head of a pin than to navigate through the mass of conflicting laws, regulations and opinions concerning the desirability and rightness of patenting life.

For example, Molecular Biologists and the AgBioTech businesses maintain that the human DNA code is patentable because the intellectual effort to discover it raises it from a discovery to an invention.

They contend that people deserve the fruits of their intellectual work and that because GE research is expensive – often taking years from discovery to market – they have a legitimate need to protect their large research investment with a patent.

Opponents of GE see many problems with patenting living organisms.

They argue that all GMOs are expropriations from life, and therefore do not qualify as inventions, but only as discoveries. They claim that the terms used to define these technologies have been made deliberately vague in order to cover up our ignorance of biological processes.

Many religious denominations have also voiced their concerns. The Church of Scotland looks at living organisms as part of God’s creation or a product of Nature. It asks how humans can claim to have invented a GE animal or plant just because they have added one or two genes to an organism that already has thousands.

In their eyes, extending patents to living creatures violates a normal ethical distinction between what is alive and what is not.

The late Pope John Paul II, speaking for the Roman Catholic Church, strongly denounced the idea of patenting living organisms or their parts, stating, “ … not everything that is technically possible is morally acceptable.”

Where is the Beef ?

In addition, other critics of GE ask, “Where are the health benefits that the industry promised the rest of us?”

After more than 20 years and billions of taxpayer dollars spent on programs such as the Human Genome Project, all they have to show are patented gene tests.

It would be ironic if Right to Life fundamentalists and secular liberals found common cause in their opposition to patenting GE organisms. Together, they would be a force to be reckoned with.


      “We are incalculably far away from being able to create life de novo … the argument that the bacterium is Chakrabarty¹s handiwork and not nature’s wildly exaggerates human power and displays the same hubris and ignorance of biology that have had such a devastating impact on the ecology of our planet.”
– Key Dismukes, National Academy of Sciences, U.S.

The Empire Strikes Back

                                    “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”

                  How Agribusiness Treats Scientists Who Question GE Safety

                                             by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

     My Phone was ringing off the hook.  When I breathlessly reached it, I found my neighbor, Dr. Charles Benbrook on the other end.  “I have a house guest who I think you might want to meet” he said.  “It’s Dr. Arpad Pusztai. We are having a get-together tonight at my house.  Do you want to come?”

     Did I want to come?  Is the Pope Catholic? Do cows give milk?  I had been reading about Pusztai for months in preparing for a lecture I was about to give on Genetic Engineering.  The name Arpad Pusztai (pronounced poos-tee) is not exactly a household word, but in some rarified circles he has rock star status.  He lives in Scotland.  What on Earth was he doing in the little town of Sandpoint, Idaho? I had better begin at the beginning.

      Genetic Engineering(GE) is the science of taking genes from one organism and inserting them in the cells of another, thus making novel combinations of genes that never would have appeared in the normal course of Evolution.  e.g. When a gene for producing the pesticide Bt is inserted into corn, every cell in the corn plant becomes a miniature factory.

      Right from the beginning, there has been controversy about the nature of these new combinations, dubbed Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their possible effects. Proponents of GE, which include Agribusiness, many Molecular Biologists (scientists who do GE), and government agencies, argue that it will bring great benefits and is safe because GMOs are essentially the same as naturally-occurring organisms.  Its opponents disagree, both as to the so-called “normal” nature of GMOs and as to their possible effects.

     The question arises, how can we determine if GMOs, are safe to use as food and to let into our environment? One obvious way is to do scientifically controlled experiments on their safety.  But because of the official government attitude that GMOs are a priori “substantially the same” as natural organisms, relatively little research into that question has been done.

     In 1998, Arpad Pusztai, who worked in the Rowett Institute in Edinborough, Scotland, received the first grant in the United Kingdom to examine the effects of GMO food on animals.  Dr. Pusztai, who fled his native Hungary during the anticommunist uprisings of the 1950s, is a biochemist, who specializes in nutritional studies.  He has written almost 300 scientific papers and has an international reputation.  He was thrilled to get the grant.  He did not know that it was going to destroy his scientific career.

     Dr Pusztai studied rats fed GMO potatoes, in which a gene from the Snowdrop plant was inserted.  That gene produces a Lectin.  That is a chemical that helps protect plants from insect pests.  He thought that it was going to be a straightforward study that would support the conventional scientific wisdom that GMO plants were just like ordinary plants.  He found instead that the presence of the gene resulted in stunted organ growth and produced immune system problems in the rats.

     He sent off a paper to one of the most prestigious scientific publications in the world, an English  journal, The Lancet.  It was reviewed and accepted.  That was his first mistake.  The second one was when he was interviewed on BBC national television about his discovery.  The Head of the Rowett Institute called Dr Pusztai and congratulated him on his presentation.

     Three days later, the roof fell in.  He was locked out of his laboratory and subsequently fired. His wife and co-author also lost her job at the institute, and the wrath of the scientific establishment came down on his head.  Letters came pouring into The Lancet, criticizing his paper and The Lancet for having accepted it.  They ranged from charges that his controls were inadequate, his interpretation of his data incorrect, to insinuations that he had totally botched the experiment by mistakenly putting an entirely different, toxic chemical into the potatoes.  The Editor of The Lancet, to his credit, vigorously defended the scientific value of Dr Pusztai’s paper.

     After weeks  and months of such a bombardment, Dr Pusztai and his wife decided to take a vacation to get away from all the stress.  That was mistake number three, and this is when the story really gets scary.  While he was away, his home got broken into, and guess what was taken – his research data books!  I wonder how much they would bring at a pawn store?  At about the same time his former lab at the Rowett Institute was also broken into.

     Perhaps the unkindest cut of all came when rumors were spread that, yes, Dr. Pusztai had been an eminent scientist, but that now he is old and suffers from dementia.  He had become addled.

     Back to that evening at Dr. Benbrook’s house on Upper Pack River Road.  Chuck Benbrook runs an internet information service, called Ag BioTech InfoNet.  It is devoted to GE impacts and applications to agriculture, especially pesticides.  Dr Benbrook is an agricultural economist, who formerly worked in Washington D.C. as Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture .  He met Dr Pusztai at a conference in Paris, and invited him to the US where he had arranged a speaking tour for him. 

     I spent over three hours dinning and talking with Dr. Pusztai.  I found him to be charming, highly intelligent, and surprisingly unbitter about what had happened to him.  If he is demented, maybe we should all have Alzheimer’s.  He was as sharp as a tack.

     University of California at Berkeley (U C Berkeley) graduate student David Quist went down to Oaxaca, Mexico, to show farmers how to test seeds for GMOs.  Oaxaca is known as the birthplace of Corn, and its ancestor plant, Teosinte, still exists there.  It was feared that genes from GM corn (or maize as it is properly known), might, by way of its airborne pollen, get into Teosinte and the form of maize farmed there called Criolla, and turn them into “superweeds” i.e. wild forms of domestic plants, that because they have been genetically transformed, with let’s say built-in pesticide-producing capabilities, can successfully compete with their agricultural relatives and crowd them out.  For this reason, and because transgenic (GE) crops are considered a particular threat to biodiversity, the Mexican government had declared Oaxaca a GMO-free zone.

     Quist needed controls to show the farmers what both positive and negative results looked like. For the positives, he brought along store-bought corn from the US, where at least 40 % of the crop is now GMO.  He used native Mexican Criolla for the negatives.  But, something was wrong.  He kept getting positive signals from the Criolla.

     Quist took samples of the Criolla back to Berkeley where he and his major professor, Dr Ignacio Chapela of the Department of Environmental Science, decided to do more detailed studies.  They came up with two major findings: (1) Much of the Criolla had a Cauliflower Mosaic Virus(CMV) gene in it.  CMV is used by Molecular Geneticists as a Promoter, typically used to “turn on” or activate inserted foreign genes; and (2) There was other foreign genetic material in these plants, and (3) most importantly, it had moved around in the Criolla DNA.  Genes are not supposed to do this.  They are supposed to sit tight where they are put.  If they move around, they could have different, unexpected effects.

     Chapela and Quist submitted their findings to Nature, perhaps the most respected and tough-to-get-into journal in the world.  Their paper underwent four rigorous peer-reviews in eight months, was accepted and published.

     The proponents of GMO’s insist that GE is a safe, predictable, and exact science.  They give the impression that they know and can control where each inserted gene goes in the genome, and how it is expressed.  They do not talk much about the possibility that these genes could be passed to other plants.

     This paper challenged all of those assumptions, and the reaction was not slow in coming.  Several Letters to the Editor were sent to Nature by both present and former graduate students and others who had connections with the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, across the campus at U C Berkeley.

     Plant and Microbial Biology had recently signed a contract with bioengineering giant, Syngenta, for which they received twenty five million dollars.  In turn, they agreed to do research for Syngenta and to put Syngenta employees on their Board of Directors.  Even in these days of megabucks, this is a lot of money for one department.  Quist and Chapela had been among a lot of people at the University who had opposed the deal, concerned that it would encourage research that favored genetic engineering and curtail  studies that did not.  We shall see how this plays out.

     The letters were unusual for a scientific publication.  There were the usual challenges about possible errors in: techniques, controls, statistics, and interpretations.  However, there were in addition,  ad hominem arguments, accusing Quist and Chapela of allowing their political convictions to sway their research conclusions. There were also allegations that they did not have appropriate scientific backgrounds to understand the intricacies of GE.         Nature ran an editorial that for the first time in 133 years of publication, rescinded support for a paper which however they did not ask to be withdrawn.  In addition, in an unusual move, Nature asked Quist and Chapela to retest their samples using a different technique, and gave them a scant four weeks in which to do it.  They actually accomplished this, and confirmed their original results.

     AgBioWorld Foundation, a pro-biotech web site run by Tuskegee scientist C.S. Prakash, was a center for criticism of Quist and Chapela.  It posted many emails critical of them, and curiously enough, 60 of the emails seemed to come from two persons, Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek.  This caught the eye of an enterprising columnist, Jonathan Matthews, from the British publication, The Ecologist, who succeeded in tracing the emails to the Bivings Group, a Washington PR firm. One of Bivings’ largest customers is another bioengineering giant, Monsanto.  Bivings specializes in ‘Internet Advocacy’ campaigns and ‘Viral Marketing’.  In other words, Bivings floods internet postings and chat groups with anonymous or bogus correspondents, in an attempt to influence opinions favorable to their clients. 

     Matthews discovered that neither Murphy nor Smetacek are real people. He also revealed that AgBioTech was linked to Bivings on the internet.

     GMOs have become a multibillion dollar business, very important to the AgBioTech industry and to the governments of the United Kingdom and the U.S., which support these businesses. This industry has many allies in the molecular biology field, whose prestige, research money, and very jobs depend on the public’s perception that GE is a good thing.  These institutions  will go to great lengths to protect their investment, and they will oppose anyone who tends to cast doubt on the worth and safety of their discoveries.  And, they do not always play fair.

     An analysis of these circumstances shows a clear pattern of strategy. Attack the dissenters’ science and methodology through letters to the editor in scientific journals, internet web sites, and press releases from scientific organizations, controlled or influenced by the judicious use of industry money.  In this way, divert the argument away from biological conclusions and toward experimental techniques.  Make personal attacks, either upon the investigators integrity or competence, or better yet, both.  Finally, attempt to destroy their careers, thus preventing them from doing further research along these lines, and as a warning to other scientists that research into the safety of GMO’s will not be helpful to their careers.

      I will bring you up to date about Drs. Chapela and Pusztai.  Quist and Chapela’s results have been confirmed by several other investigators. Dr. Chapela recently came up for tenure at Berkeley.  He was supported both by his own department and by the unanimous vote of the university tenure committee.  In an unprecedented move, he was denied tenure by the Chancellor.  He will have to leave the University.  Protests have been organized and letters circulated by students and faculty.

     As for Arpad Pusztai, veterans of the Hungarian uprising are not creampuffs.  They are survivors.  Dr. Pusztai has started an organization with a web site, devoted to telling about the other, darker side of GE. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS ARTICLE, VISIT THE FOLLOWING                                                                WEB SITES

<>               Dr. Pusztai

< >                                             Dr. Benbrook

< >                                                Dr. Prakash

< >                                             support for Dr. Chapela


How To Go For A Walk In The Woods With Your Grandchild

Lanie and Ken's house in a typical Sandpoint winter



by Lanie johnson, M.A. and Ken Fischman, Ph.D>


            Discover how we as elders can teach our grandchildren to live in harmony with nature


1.  Gather together with brief self-intros.

2.  State Purpose.

3.  Warm-ups

4.  Awareness Walk

            A.  Superhearing

            B.  Expanded Vision

            C.  Meditation/inner stillness – wildlife observation

            D.  Foxwalk – respect the Earth

            E.   Blindfold walk

            F.  Stalking game – how close can you get to the deer?

5.  Just walk and enjoy – K and L point out natural things according

            present environment.

6.  Safety guidelines (*Tell someone where going *Lost-proofing*

            Weather-proofing*Poisonous plants)

7.  Elements of survival/demo

8.  Role of Elder (Ken's sheet)

            Story teller – story

9.  Plight of children + what we can do

            Book list

10. Return trip + Garbage bags


1.  Introductions:

            We are happy to see you here today! [Did anyone have trouble finding this location? - feedback will help us give better directions] Before we start out on our walk, we would like for all of us to know a little about each other, so lets form a circle, go around, and have everyone do a brief introduction – just your name, where your from, and if you have grandchildren, how many [,and their names].  I'll start …

            I'm Lanie, originally from Princeton, N.J.  I spent most of my adult life in NYC, but now live partly on Donnelly, ID and partly in our solar-powered truck camper.  I have one great-niece but no grandchildren, but I have done a lot of work with families and children so I feel as if I have quite a large number of grandchildren.


2.  Purpose

            To inspire people [seniors] to [take their rightful place in]save [saving]the Earth and their Grandchildren     

You say you can't walk very fast?  there's an advantage to that: if you walk more slowly, you'll see more and miss less. Younger people are always in a hurry to get from A to Z -  in so doing, they miss the alphabet in between.  One of the most important things you need to do in Nature, is to slow down. 

You say that you can't see as well as you used to?  You can actually use that to your advantage also, in heightening your other senses.  Ever close your eyes in order to hear better or feel something by touch?  And besides, we are going to show you a different kind of vision that's more appropriate to use in Nature, and you may be as good or better at it than a kid. etc.

          In The Woods  K.  "We are here today to give you some hints on how you can enjoy walking in the woods with your young grandchildren.  By the way, did you know that in traditional societies, it was the grandparents who brought up the children because their parents were busy hunting and gathering?  And. guess what?  The parents in our post-industrial society are again too busy to take care of their children – and may be that's part of the problem …"

4.  Awareness Walk

            In our society, we do everything high tech and sequential.  In the outdoors, we hike with clodhopper boots, carry our houses on our backs, and restrict ourselves to walking on trails.  We use pricy, space-age materials and technological gimmicks, and put synthetic chemicals on and into our bodies.  We focus straight ahead, with our goal being to get from place A to place Z as fast as possible.  The irony is that in doing so, we place a wall between ourselves and Nature, screening out the very things we came to appreciate and enjoy.  We are almost like the proverbial monkeys.  We see nothing, hear nothing, but boy do we chatter a lot! 

            Lanie and I have stood less than 50 feet off a trail many times, and watched hikers pass by entirely unaware of our presence.  In the first survival course we took, 50 presumably aware people walked down a trail entirely unaware that they had passed under one of our instructors perched on a tree limb 3 feet over their heads.  They had never looked up!

            Traditional people were silent, glided through the landscape, and were totally aware of everything around them.  Their next meal, and perhaps their very lives depended on it.  Today we will introduce you to some of these traditional skills and ways of being in Nature.  We cannot give you a thorough course in such a short time, but we hope to give you some experience of that wonderful way and to whet your appetite for more.  At the end of our walk, we will tell you of courses and books that can help you expand this experience.

            [One last thing before we begin.  It would be disingenuous not to tell you that we have some ulterior motives.  We are hoping that what you experience today will deepen your appreciation of the natural world and make you aware of the role you can play as the mature, wise guides of our society, and especially our children now desperately need.  Our society has wandered off the path of being in harmony with nature and our grandchildren will have to pay the price unless people like you can help them find their way back.]

            A.  Superhearing          


                                    – Have group stop, be silent, and listen for a


                                    – What do you hear? Anything that you did

                                                not hear previously?

                                    – Show SH tech.(turn into a deer, etc.) Try to

                                                hear again. what is the difference in

                                                louses, direction, etc.

                                    – Discuss uses


            Ask the group what and how they heard. (short discussion)  We will teach you a new, but ancient technique in which you turn yourself into a wild animal like a deer.  (Demo by cupped hands behind ears and turning torso from side to side to enhance loudness and determine direction of sound)  Ask Q's What do you hear now? How is it different?  (louder, sounds not previously heard, direction,  etc.)

   you can use SH to find your way out of the woods also.  You might be able to hear and locate the sounds of rivers or traffic, and head in that direction.  By the way, did you know that there is no place in this country that you can walk in a straight line for more than 75 miles without hitting a paved road?  Did you know that our National Forests are cris-crossed by thousands of miles of lumber roads?

            (Short discussion of Concentric Circles) You have created a disturbance among the nearer animals that spreads like the concentric circles a pebble dropped in a pond make. The animals near you make warning cries (or stop making sounds), and this change spreads to others farther away.  Your presence has now been detected far from you, and that is why although there is wildlife all around, you see so little of it.

            we will show you how to move silently in order to overcome the concentric circle problem

            B.  Expanded Vision


                                    -  Stop group again

                                    -  Lets try an Expt. with vision.  Explain purpose

                                    -  Describe method, e.g. arms extended, etc.

                                    –  Questions – How great an angle can you see at? 

                                                What are the differences from focused


                                    – Purpose:  e.g. Wild animals see this way. 

                                                Movement more important in woods

                                                than detail.

                                    – Try walking this way for a few minutes. Anecdote-

                                                walking w. a w.o. flashlight


            Lets stop for a moment.  I want to show you something about vision.  Spread out in a line, about 2 arm-lengths apart.  In our society we learn early to stay focused, both physically and metaphorically.  we use this type of vision for reading, close work, and nowadays for watching TV  and computer screens.  This Tunnel vision.  We never learn that there is another way of seeing – Wide-Angle or Expanded Vision. 

            Look straight ahead at some object.  Extend your arms sideways.  Now start wiggling your fingers while slowly bringing your arms forward until you become aware of your fingers.  Notice how wide your angle of vision has become.  You can see a lot more now.  In this mode, you become more aware of movement than detail.  This is how wild animals and those traditional people who hunt them see.  This why if you stand stock still and an animal like a deer or rabbit appears to look right at you, they usually do not spook.  They see vague forms, and you may look like a tree trunk to them.  But if you raise an arm, they are gone like a flash.  Just then you reminded them of a hunter with a rifle.  Who says animals can't think and learn?  Why do the deer go to the tops of the mountains during hunting season while lazy hunters look for them in the valleys?  I have seen the reverse – Elk hunters on their horses on top of the mountains, and when I drove down into the valley, there were the Elk, grazing peacefully right by the road!

            Try this.  Look at the landscape like a painting, and while walking through it, enlarge your field of vision to take in as much as possible.  You will become aware of movement, like animals do and have a fighting chance of seeing them before they see you.  [Lanie and I once tried expanded vision while canoeing down a eastern rive at the height of Autumn color.  It was relaxing, like a form of meditation.  This is how Monet must have seen!]  We will ask you later what your experience was.  Don't worry about stumbling. You will be surprised at how well you can feel the ground with your feet.

            Discussion of EV experience).  A word about vision at night.  Most people use flashlights at night, but they therefore see only what is in the flashlight beam and their vision never accommodates to the dark.  Try this.  Stand in the dark for 3-5 minutes needed to accommodate and you will be amazed at how much you can see.  Also, try looking at things out of the corner of you eye.  You see better that way at night because you have more rods than cones there, and they are more sensitive to dim light.


flashlight beam = good metaphor for tunnel vision!             

            E.  Blindfold Walk – To experience the landscape through senses other than vision.


                        – Set up prior to walk (previous day?) Need varied landscape, e.g. sun/shade, rough/smooth bark, damp/dry soil, vary height of rope, crawl/climb, hear dry leaves, wind, etc. (string leading away from main string to e.g. hole in tree) Knots in rope can alert class to important places.

                        -  Explain purpose of exercise, and how to proceed through course (e.g. stay on same side of rope. Do not run through course, etc.)

                        -  Blindfold each person, and L&K will alternately lead people through, one at a time, with sufficient distance between them.

                        -  Let them examine the course afterward in order to see what they experienced.

                        -  Discuss why experience was different w.o. vision.

            Someone once said that "vision leads the other senses".  We have become 80-90% visual beings, mainly because we neglect our other senses, like touch, smell, hearing.  They are still there for the most part, lying dormant like a sleeping animal, and all we need to do is to awaken and retrain them, like an athlete trains her muscles.  Children enjoy blindfold games immensely, and there are many blindfold games you can play with them.  One of our favorites is the Blindfold Drum game.  The children try to find their way through a woods to the drummer.  A variant is to have other blindfolded children around the drummer, who listen for and try to point out the children advancing on the drummer.  By the way, adults like these games too!