Non-science used as science
I have read with interest the article on “Science, Non-science and Nonsense” written by Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva in “The Island” of 11.3.2021. In this article “Dr. Sarath Gamini”, as he is popularly known in the medical circles, refers to me (without mentioning my name) and my research and a lecture given by me to the Sri Lanka Medical Association. This is my response to him, particularly, on the issue of glyphosate pesticide.
I take strong issue with Dr. Sarath Gamini’s erroneous characterisation of my research, related to glyphosates, and the categorization of the government decisions and policies related to the glyphosate pesticide. For clarity, let me reproduce the paragraph on glyphosate in toto from Dr. Sarath Gamini’s article, highlighting the area where he refers to me and my research:
“The campaign conducted blaming the weed killer glyphosate as a cause of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in the farming areas, mainly in the North Central province, was one burning issue then. There was no scientific evidence to prove this, despite the efforts of some professors in the medical field to find some. However, the importation of the chemical was banned mostly due to political expediency. One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so. When a visiting Sri Lankan expatriate doctor claiming to be a researcher in the field was asked, he could name only a small country, still contemplating doing so. He was lost for words to answer probing questions on the matter. His research has since been discredited in the USA. How the ban adversely affected the productivity in the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka has never been assessed or discussed.”
I am an American Board-Certified Occupational Medicine physician, and I have worked as a tenured full professor for over 34 years in the California State University, Long Beach, which is one of the largest and most respected university systems in the United States. Second, I have published more than a dozen peer reviewed scientific articles, and have given over 50 public lectures in relation to the toxic effects of glyphosate pesticide. Except for an unsigned petition sent by some disgruntled supporters of pesticides (the contents of which were found to be completely false) my research has never been discredited in the United States, or anywhere else. In fact, I won several awards for my research, including the Research Accomplishment of the Year award from my university, the prestigious “International Award” from the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association, and the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility (SFR) Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (an award that I shared with Prof. Channa Jayasumana). By the same token. As far as I know, Dr. Sarath Gamini does not have a single publication related to the toxicity of glyphosate pesticide. I raise this issue because one of the conditions that Dr. Sarath Gamini has stipulated, throughout his article, is that one has to be knowledgeable and competent in order to be able to make comments on any issue, within medicine or any other scientific field. Does that apply to Dr. Sarath Gamini, on the issue of Glyphosate as well?
Now, to get on to the content, throughout the paragraph on glyphosate, Dr. Sarath Gamini makes an assertion that the ban on glyphosate pesticide was made without any scientific evidence and “mostly due to political expediency” and he says, “One is not aware of any other country in the world doing so (the ban)”. These statements clearly demonstrate Dr. Sarath Gamin’s ignorance on the subject. Let me state the following facts for his knowledge, as well as that of the general public.
Hundreds of scientific research studies have linked glyphosate not only to Chronic Kidney Disease but also to many other health conditions, including autism, birth defects, inflammatory bowel syndrome and liver diseases. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the scientific evidence in a 2015 report and classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate – brand name Roundup – is primarily associated with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), a cancer in the immune system. Following this determination, in October 2015, the first Roundup (Glyphosate) product liability lawsuit was filed against Monsanto in San Francisco District courts. In August 2018, a jury awarded $289 million in damages to the plaintiff – Dewayne Johnson – who is a former school groundskeeper for a California county school system when he developed NHL after spraying glyphosate regularly for several years. This amount was later reduced, during the appeals process. During this trial, evidence released by lawyers for the plaintiff tells an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation, collusion with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and previously undisclosed information about how the human body absorbs glyphosate. These documents provide a deeper understanding of the serious public health consequences of glyphosate, and the false advertising related to Monsanto’s conduct in marketing glyphosate.
In a second case, the jury awarded a staggering $2 billion in damages to a couple – Alva and Alberta Pilliod. In court proceedings, the Pilliods testified to using Roundup regularly, starting in 1982. The couple used the consumer version of the weedkiller, whose label lacked any warnings about covering skin or wearing protective masks. Following these successes in courts, more than 18000 cases have been filed by people who developed cancer after regularly spraying glyphosate. According to some legal reports, Bayer – the German company that bought Monsanto in 2016 – has formally submitted a $8 billion for a global settlement. In March 2020, Monsanto also agreed to pay $39.5 million as a settlement for falsely advertising Roundup is “safe” for people and pets. The settlement, which was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, resolves allegations brought by several plaintiffs who claimed Monsanto failed to warn consumers about the health risks of glyphosate.
Following the lawsuits and the expert epidemiological evidence that was presented in courts, more than 20 countries have now banned, or restricted, the use of glyphosate. Although Monsanto’s new owner, Bayer, is fighting hard to limit these restrictions, the list is growing day by day. Some of these countries include Belgium, Denmark, France, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Mexico. There are many cities and institutions in the U.S., including, New York, Key West, Los Angeles, the Universities of California and Miami who have now regulations to restrict the use of Glyphosate-based pesticides. (For a complete list of these restrictions please see Where is Glyphosate Banned? | Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman (baumhedlundlaw.com)
In his article, Dr. Sarath Gamini describes the revocation of the ban on glyphosate for the use in tea and coconut cultivation as a “fortunate” one. In my mind, this was one of the most “unfortunate” Cabinet decisions for several reasons: First, this policy decision was taken without much scientific advice. There was an Expert Committee that was appointed to provide advice on this matter. I was invited as an expert to testify. However, two weeks before the hearings were scheduled, the Cabinet paper was approved hastily. The main argument put forward was that there was not enough of a labour force for the removal of weeds, manually. However, many weeds have now developed resistance to glyphosate, so that one has to use manual labour to complete the process of weed removal. Second, there is no tracking and post-marketing monitoring process available in Sri Lanka to ensure that this toxic pesticide does not end up in the hands of fruit and vegetable growers and in our food. Third, the regulatory costs of protective equipment, biomonitoring and the certification of the tea and coconut products to ensure that their glyphosate levels are within acceptable limits is costly – a cost that outweighs the benefits. By now it should be clear to the reader that I have a completely opposing view on glyphosate to that of Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva.
Furthermore, in this article Dr. Sarath Gamini describes how, over the past few years, we have seen many untruths, hypocrisy and myths being propagated by professionals misleading the ignorant public and creating social unrest and even violence. As examples, the author describes, among others, several recent incidents, including the alleged sterilization of women without consent in Kurunegala, the propagation of a questionable local medicine that was touted as a cure for Covid-19, and the issue of compulsory cremation of deaths due to Covid. I will not comment on any of these issues for two reasons: First, I was not present in the country when most of these incidents took place; Second, I have not studied the social and political dynamics, surrounding these incidents, and the policies.
Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to say this to Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva: Now that you have talked about glyphosate, please “walk the walk” and demonstrate that you have the expertise on the subject and that you know what the “established knowledge” is. Dr. Sarath Gemini’s view of the established knowledge on glyphosate is completely antithetical to that of mine. Therefore, I would like to invite Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva to a public debate about the toxicity of glyphosate and the appropriateness of using the pesticide in Sri Lanka agriculture.
Dr. SARATH GUNATILAKE
Professor, California State University, Long Beach, California
Diplomate, American Board of Occupational Medicine
Email – email@example.com )
Online education – an alternative
By Dr. Rasanjalee Abeywickrama
Education is a weapon that can improve one’s life. It is a most important tool that helps to spread knowledge in society, which is a most noteworthy benefit of Education. Furthermore, it acts as a medium that transfers knowledge from one generation to another.
Education helps to boost a country’s economy and society; therefore, it is a milestone of a nation’s development. It offers knowledge and skills to the populace, while shaping the personality of the youth of a nation. Education is generally considered the foundation of society which beckons economic wealth, social prosperity and political stability. Economic and social status depends on individual education, since it contributes to individual capability in managing the quality of life. The main purpose of education is to prepare and qualify them for work, to play their part in a country’s economy, as well as to integrate people into society by teaching them the values and morals of society.
Education, for a child, begins at home. It is a lifelong process and determines the quality of an individual’s life. Education improves one’s knowledge and skills, and develops personality and attitude. Students must be equipped with knowledge and skills which are necessary to participate effectively as members of society and contribute towards the development of shared values and common identity.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still haunting the human race and it will be completing its horrible journey of two years within another five months. It has changed the whole world and lives of each and everyone around the globe. There cannot be anyone who has not been affected by this virus at least once, economically, physically and psychologically. While man is busy planning to go to Mars, this microorganism is busy taking the lives of millions on earth and taking away all the freedom which man had on earth, including the freedom to breathe. While it has affected all the sectors and trades, education is one of the most affected sectors.
There are several ways this virus has affected education. The loss of livelihoods of thousands of parents has caused a financial crisis and education of their kids has been affected, dramatically. Schools remained closed for much of the time, since March 2020. Kids were unable to go to school continuously, at least for one to two months, for over 15 months now. Physical engagement with peer groups and teachers is completely hampered due to shifting to online education, where kids will only be able to talk to each other and to the teacher through a screen which looks so artificial. It does not provide the actual interaction, which is essential, especially for kids in primary grades and early childhood education.
Some kids are at least fortunate enough to gather some knowledge through online platforms as they have access to relevant electronic equipment and network connections. Sadly, kids in low income families are not fortunate enough to obtain such facilities. Some kids who were supposed to be in Grade 1, during the year 2021, have not yet been to school for at least one day, but applications are already called for year 2022 Grade 1 school admissions, which shows how much time, from their early childhood education, has been wasted. This would adversely affect all of them as early childhood education is not solely about developing learning and writing skills, but about social engagement and social development, via engaging in activities with peer groups.
Education should enhance cognitive, social-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning. It should also ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, wherein no one is left behind. This has become a challenging task with the ongoing pandemic situation. Though online education is not the best option, it is the only option available for kids of this generation. But there are many practical issues related to access to laptops, desktops, smartphones and internet connections. In many areas, kids have to climb trees to get internet connections. Huts have been constructed on tree tops to enable kids to follow online classes. Therefore, we need to look for better and more effective ways to continue the education of kids.
The most effective way to handle this issue of online learning, at the moment, is to telecast educational programmes, in the morning or afternoon hours instead of repeat telecasts of teledramas, TV shows or any other entertainment programmes. If all the national TV channels can work towards this, it will offer a practical solution to the problems associated with online education. Since all children are at home these days, it is an efficient way not only to educate them, but also to reduce the damage caused to their brain development due to watching unsuitable content on TV. Even radio stations can help in this regard.
The country they saved
Many YouTube videos are accessible on the Internet, which show interviews with retired/injured soldiers who were with the Sri Lanka Army during the period 2005-2009. They proudly talk about how they fought, how they got injured, how they re-joined the battle, after recovery, and how they saw their friends and higher officers get killed. Without any sadness in their voices, they show their wounded limbs and blinded eyes. Most of us who were not in the battlefield, too, can be somewhat satisfied by thinking about our much lesser contributions – donation of blood, donation of money towards various funds such as “Api Wenuwen Api” (although not sure what happened to those), helping families of soldiers, etc.
Many would now feel sad about those injured soldiers and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard this country, when seeing how this country is managed by some politicians, who claim that they were the people who saved this country.
Special rules for UK-SL MPs cricket
The High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK, Saroja Sirisena, responding to a call by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, met the Speaker on May 24 at his office at the House of Commons, while the Lion Flag fluttered in front of the House of Commons on the occasion. Our lady diplomat, as per The Island report on 31st May, proposed and, ‘…both agreed that a friendly exchange of cricket between the members of the two Parliaments would be a fine opportunity to celebrate there shared love of cricket.’
Being concerned of the risk of conversion of the gentlemen’s game into a “Parliamentarian’s one”, shall we propose an amended 13-point set of rules applicable only to our legislators.
1. “Scrap retired hurt” phenomenon altogether as they will never dream of ‘retiring’, worse they do not understand what ‘hurt’ means.
2. Out!, and back in the pavilion, can be re-called by the Captain under “National team player” to the middle, to continue batting.
3. Ministers, who rush Bills for speedy enactments are best suited as Pace bowlers, but they will have to compete with ‘swing both-ways’ experts.
4. Talented ‘googley’ bowlers are in abundance, but English MPs are good readers of the googley; more prudent choice would be a specialist ‘Chinamen’, [there is no dearth of them either], further, the opponents do have little experience in facing them and would naturally be extra nervous to hear the first syllable of the word.
5. Sixers should be banned altogether, for they being highly skilled masters of the art will effortlessly hit every ball for a ‘SIX’.
6. Sledging, supported by familiar un-parliamentary vocabulary can be used excessively, as the opponents will not understand them, however, as a precautionary measure, the stump microphone should be disconnected from commentary.
7. Media should be allowed in the field to get voice cuts blaming the opponents, after every bungling by themselves.
8. English team has done their ‘home-work’ using freely available data : will demand free access for Agents of Bookies at the Lanka dressing room, with the idea of winning the game easily. However, such motivation can be countered by displaying 11 ultra-luxury SUVs on the grounds [as prizes for the winners]
9. A special sitting of the House prior to the match, to propose and pass a handsome match-fee for the players, would be an added incentive.
10. To compensate for their lack of experience and knowledge in playing on a level field, a ‘20%’ [a familiar numerical] bonus of runs or wickets can be granted.
11. In fairness to the Englishmen, any attempt to play a Dil-scoop using more familiar hands, minus the bat, should not be allowed.
12. The two field umpires plus 3rd, 4th umpires and match referee should be provided with special security in the event of a loss to the local team.
13. The moment the English side appealed against a Lankan batsmen, before the Umpire delivered his verdict, the bodyguards should rush to the field to prevent untoward incidents happening.
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