Friday, October 1, 2010

Is the Bt Brinjal report plagiarism, merely a case of hyper sensitization?

Can it be categorized as a case of plagiarism? As the very person from whose few lines have been excerpted from his published article, can be termed a copy cat. As a person who is the fellow of NAAS, he was invited to express his views and except the historical account and some fact findings, no part of recommendation goes from Dr Kumar’s article or ISSSA’s article. So is it a clear case of hyper sensitization by the media savvy anti-lobbyists.

Bt Brinjal is back in news, surrounding the controversy of plagiarism by Indian Academic Societies. It is learnt that in March 2010 Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the six science academies - the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (India) to give an unbiased scientific assessment on the feasibility of transgenic crops and the proposed regulatory mechanism for GM crops. They submitted the Inter-Academy report on GM crops to Environment minister in September last week, recommending the lifting of the imposed moratorium and limited release of Bt brinjal.

But it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by US based GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA) and an article “Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push”, which was published during December 2009 in “Biotech News”, a publication of the Department of Biotechnology written by Dr P Ananda Kumar, Director of Delhi based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology. The plagiarism allegations against the academies has been leveled by the advocacy group “Coalition for GM Free India”, which dubbed the report as a biased, political position paper. Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had been alleged to plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal.

But Dr Kumar defied that being a fellow of the NAAS, one of the academies, he attended the meeting and submitted his inputs for the Inter-academy report upon the GM crops and Bt Brinjal. If the same person has expressed his views at both the places (report and magazine), then the similarity in views are bound to happen. Then what is the wrong in that and where arises the question of plagiarism?

The reason could also be attributed to the fact that at present there are very few experts in the field of genetically modified crops and that’s why majority of the academicians directly depended on those as their very source of reference. But the mere understanding can’t be termed as expertise over the same.

Later on the day, Environment & Forest Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh has thrashed the report, terming it full of absurdity and lack of scientific rigour, which does not give a larger scientific view and focused only on findings of a scientist (Ananda Kumar). Ramesh had imposed moratorium on release of Bt brinjal on February 9 citing lack of consensus among various stakeholders and still of the view that he has not yet heard even a single state asking government in the country wanting its revocation.

A day after it became known that a report by top science academies had recommended an immediate release of Bt brinjal, people opposed to GM crops produced a counter report, authored by David Andow of the Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, United States with diametrically opposite conclusions. It was released by Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case seeking a ban on genetically modified crops. Rodrigues claimed that Andow was an acknowledged international expert on the environmental risks of genetically engineered crop plants. This report finds faults with the clearance granted to Bt brinjal by the GEAC in October last year. The report by the American scientist says that the expert committee, on whose recommendation GEAC had given its clearance, had relied on dubious scientific assumptions and had either ignored or inadequately evaluated environmental concerns. Today, It has almost become business of many of the so called no-profit but money making organization and other such welfare organisations, to stop the diffusion of all the technology, which may harm their usual business.

Even head of the academics head are playing hide and seek and trying to salvage the things, but the unnecessary confrontation can be well avoided by proper mention of acknowledgement to the authors and citing references and sources to the contributors of the report. The confusion over these paragraphs arose, because of no reference to where these paragraphs were taken from, which reference should have been made. The author (P Ananda Kumar) is a member of the academy so his views can be quoted in the report. In June 2010, at an inter-academy meet, the issue of commercially releasing Bt brinjal was discussed at length, in which around 60-70 members from all the six academies were present and they had presented their views on the subject.

It can be taken as just another case of media sensitization, which is overtaken by the anti-lobbyists’ front. Today, the anti-lobbyists have become too media-savvy and the very media, which was revered as the fourth pillar of the democracy highlights/ debates the unnecessary things out of proportion without having investigating the facts and revelations. Steadily but surely, the media is going too critique to Indians and going for lot of paid editorials and articles, which is really not a good sign of a healthy future. But now the big question is where gone the unbiased and independence character of media, once been referred as the mirror of the society. Everything is having its own flaws and goodness, but the thing is that whereas the good things need to be highlighted, the other darker side can be taken care of. As nonetheless, refuting any technology yields nothing for the welfare of the mankind. During this time, when not only the Indian subcontinent but the whole world is facing the challenges of food security, hunger and malnutrition, climate change, weather extremities etc., which can only been fought with taking all the stakeholders in the confidence, without harming the cause. With the constitution of NBRAI, it is hoped that the issues of media hypocrisy and chauvinism would be moderated and things are going to addresses as far as the biotechnology and GM industry is concerned.

The controversy:

"It (brinjal) is an important cash crop for poor farmers who transplant it from nurseries at different times of the year to produce two or three crops, each of 150 to 180 days' duration."

ISAAA report: "Brinjal Shoot and Fruit Borer (BSFB) causes significant losses of up to 60 to 70 per cent in commercial plantings. Damage starts in the nursery, prior to transplanting, continues to harvest and is then carried- over to the next crop of brinjal. BSFB damages brinjal in two ways. First, it infests young shoots during the vegetative phase, which limits the ability of plants to produce healthy fruitbearing shoots, thereby reducing potential yield." Another piece of data used to justify Bt brinjal has been lifted from the industry report: "Farmers usually spray twice a week, applying 15 to 40 insecticide sprays, or more, in one season depending on infestation levels." Figures relating to the financial cost of insecticide spray by farmers too come from the industry document. The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.

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