Jon Entine is the author of several books including, Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People, as well as the founder and executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, a non-profit that promotes science literacy and supports “transparent, ethical, science-based regulations of biotechnology and related sciences.” In this episode, Jon talks to Robert about how “our genes carry meaning,” the “disinformation industry” that makes money by promoting catastrophism, why Africa is a “cold spot” for Covid-19 infections, and why we are only in the second inning of the genetics-led revolution in agriculture and medicine.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And we’re going to be talking a lot about those last two things, innovation and politics today with my guest, john Entine. He is the executive director and founder of the genetic literacy project and an author of several books. JOHN, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Jon Entine 0:25
Great to be here, Robert. Let’s go. Great.
Robert Bryce 0:29
So I warned you that guests on this show introduce themselves. So you have a long bio long CV. Imagine you’ve arrived somewhere Do you have say 45 seconds to introduce yourself? You don’t know anyone? Go?
Jon Entine 0:43
Yeah, my elevator summary. I
Robert Bryce 0:44
guess that’s it. The elevator started.
Jon Entine 0:47
I’m a lifelong journalist. I spent 20 years in network television at ABC and NBC, in New York working for Primetime Live 2020. Tom Brokaw, his longtime producer, mostly focused on investigations of one kind or another. And at the end of my TV career, I did a book I did excuse me, at the end of my TV career, I did a documentary on genetics in sports, very controversial issue about black athletes, and what are the genetic factors that contribute along with cultural factors, very explosive documentary, but led to a book contract. And really, my dream was always to go into writing. So after many Emmy Awards, and a lot of influence in television, I decided to move into writing focus during the 2019 90s on sustainability issues, actually coined the term green washing as it’s currently used. And then, beginning with my first book in 2000, working on Tom Brokaw documentary called taboo, why black athletes dominate sports and why we’re afraid to talk about it had a string of seven books, another on religion, shared ancestry of Jews and Christians and the genetic factors that drive differences, very unusual way to look at religion and also got interested in agricultural biotechnology, GMOs controversy over chemicals in ag keema phobia trying to balance out dangers with benefits. And then 10 years ago launched what is now a pretty loud voice. I think in the sustainability community. It’s called genetic literacy project genetic literacy. project.org, a nonprofit foundation funded that focuses on human gene editing issues similar to disease issues, Coronavirus, vaccine development, but mostly not just on inflammation, but on denialism like vaccine denialism. And then also on ag biotechnology, and again, focusing on the misinformation who’s getting it right, who’s getting it wrong, and what are the political and environmental incentives for groups that both promoted and denigrated?
Robert Bryce 2:57
Sure. Well, you mentioned your, your, your book, in passing Abraham’s children race, identity, and the DNA of the chosen people. There are a lot of things I want to talk about. And we do before we started talking about recording, we talked about climate change and Gene drive and genetic modification, genetic engineering. But as I look at your work, and it seems to me your your book, The Abraham’s children is the most personal one and, and that it’s it relates to your mother dying of breast cancer, and then you find finding out that your sister carries the gene BRCA to, if I’m remembering correctly, that is a as is the marker or a gene that contributes to or is linked to breast cancer. So a lot of Am I right to say that your interest in genetics is very much personal is and if so, how do you explain that? If you don’t mind? I think that’s a good way a good place to start. Yeah, I
Jon Entine 3:49
think you’ve really captured what has driven a large part of my work. My mom, my aunt, and my grandmother all died in my senior year in high school all within 16 months of each other.
Robert Bryce 4:00
No kidding. So you’re 18 when your mother died 1717
Jon Entine 4:05
and 18 when family members died, and it was all a breast or ovarian cancer, and we just thought it was the, you know, horrible, horrible tragic luck, frankly. But as we began to see investigations and research into genetics and the causes of diseases, information unfolded that a lot of the deaths in Ashkenazi Jews related to a variant in breast cancer were linked to three genes two known as braca, one and one called braca. Two which are you know, sequences on the on genes. And it ended up that my family died because they were Jewish. In essence, family members died. Ultimately, my sister both of my sisters got breast cancer. Both had mastectomies and ultimately one of my sisters just three years ago died of pancreatic cancer which is linked to the same brockagh mutation and my daughter, I’m a mixed marriage, my, my former wife is Christian, but she was unlucky enough to inherit the genetic mutation for breast and ovarian cancer, as well. And I wanted to understand not only how genetics has become a driving force in disease, and targeted specific groups, whether it’s Jews or Amish, or the Basque people or Iceland, all because of either cultural or geographical isolation, intermarriage. But but but why we are afraid to talk about genetically based differences, which was really part of the reason I took up the sports in genetics. So it was really an extension. But actually, it’s something quite different at the same time,
Robert Bryce 5:42
well, so I have Abraham’s children here, I have it on my Kindle, I didn’t have time to get the the hard, hardcover copy. But it really is a very personal book in that regard. And I think you know, I’m not an expert on your work. I don’t, you know, don’t claim to be but the way you wrote it, it seems that it’s an exploration not only of your family, but also just, well, how would I put it that you want to explore how you got to where you are, and that there’s that motivation for what you do now with genetic literacy project isn’t just about oh, well, it’s an interesting topic. There’s, this is your own heritage as a Jew as a, as a science writer, and it brings all of those things together in it, I mean, this is this one of the things that drives your work, because I mean, you’re, you know, when I look at genetically genetic literacy project.org website, I mean, you put a lot of effort into it is that what drives you that that family history is something else that work?
Jon Entine 6:35
Very, very much so. But I would say that crime along with the fact that, you know, I’m, I’m 69 years old, I’m an acid dropping hippie from the 60s. You know, my parents wanted to meet with one other nice Jewish son to be a doctor. And I wanted to change the world, I was going to protest marches. And that’s what drove me into journalism. It was really to be a crusading journalism, investigative reporter, and producer. And, and, and any way that I could address issues, I’ve tried to do that. And that drew me into the agricultural part of what I’m interested in, because there’s the issues of how can technology which is often misunderstood. Very, very revolutionary, and therefore it’s disruptive, change the world. And then you add to that the fact that it’s a very personal experience with me as well. And it’s really the catalyst that was behind my launching the GLP, back in 2011. And it still motivates that my interest today and I write about differences. Look at COVID, for instance, people are do not understand that the cold spot in the world for COVID is Africa. Why would Africa the youngest continent that that explains part of it, they’re younger, but the worst health care system in the world, Sub Saharan Africa below the you know, the northern places in Africa is by far with with no health care, and no infrastructure of any kind, you know, on the scale necessary to address something like this is a cold spot and the
Robert Bryce 8:11
well let’s let’s come let’s come let’s come back to that I you know, I do I do interrupt a lot, john. So I didn’t know I know you’re you’re passionate about these issues. But let me before we get to the cold spot, and I want to talk about COVID. And I want to talk about climate change. And I want to talk about how important this genetic engineering, genetic modification, transgenic use of transgenic technologies really are incredibly important now, especially now, but before you go there, I just want to revisit the Abraham’s children. In that book now, which Forgive me what, how many years ago? Did that come out? I don’t have that right. 1007 2000. So
Jon Entine 8:49
14 years ago, it’s still in print, as is the taboo book on black athletes. Right? We just came out in 2002 1000.
Robert Bryce 8:56
Sure. So the in Abraham’s children, you you tell this incredible story about father, William Sanchez, who’s a Catholic priest in New Mexico. It’s a remarkable story if you don’t mind recount that, because it to me, it was one of the things that in reading your book that it was, well, wow, this comes out of left field. here’s a here’s a, here’s a Jewish journalist trying to track his own history. And yet somehow we’re ending up in in New Mexico with a bunch of people who are Catholics who are descendants of Spaniards. But anyway, go ahead, if you don’t mind, because I think that that that story is just a remarkable one. Go ahead.
Jon Entine 9:34
Thank you. It’s actually remarkable story to me as well, if you go back in time to to around the year 2000 2001. Right when the Human Genome Project was getting a lot of publicity with Francis Collins and cover of Time Magazine, a few small genetic ancestry organizations began popping up now we have 23andme, of course and ancestry.com, but then there were none that were using genetics to track ancestry in one started in Houston called family tree DNA. And a, a Catholic priest in Albuquerque called up the head of family tree DNA and said, You know, I’m really curious, I want to get myself tested and he ended up being sent a test by family tree DNA when he got the results back. Father Sanchez was flabbergasted. And he called again back the the the head of family tree DNA and says these results came back and it says, You know what, you know, it says that I might have some Jewish ancestry. He says, well, a good guy from family tree DNA says, Well, actually, it looks like you are descended from Jewish priests that there are markers that we found on, there’s a part of Judaism called they call the codename, which is ancestral priesthood, which is believed to be a genetic line. And it’s, there’s stories about it all the way going back 2000 years, and he says, you have the genetic markers that are common among Jewish conium among Jewish priests. He says, what could you possibly be any connection, he says, Well, I am a priest, maybe that has something to do with it. It was really remarkable. And he was astounded to find out that his family when he went back into his own family history, were Spanish conversos, who had come over in the end of the 1400s, the early 16th century, early 1500s settled in northern Mexico, which was one of the expatriate converso populations, practice their Judaism until Catholicism was really imposed on them, but retained all these.
Robert Bryce 11:43
That was, I thought one of the remarkable things that they were lighting candles on Friday nights in Catholic house means sweeping
Jon Entine 11:48
dirt into the middle of the floor, and all these things, they had no idea. And now they’ve done testing and found that about 30 to 40% of the, of the Spanish population in southern United States in northern Mexico are converted Jews who were who ultimately were forcibly converted to Catholicism over the past three or 400 years.
Robert Bryce 12:10
And wasn’t it Sanchez is in his parish, that there were several dozen people are in his reserve among his relatives, if memory serves here that were that had the same blood, the same genetic ancestry is that remember, 27
Jon Entine 12:24
family members who tested to have Jewish ancestry genes that normally occur only in Jewish populations. And I think 11 of them converted to Judaism. When I wrote the book, he was just in this bewildered state about what his identity was. And he has since left the priesthood and converted to Judaism. Because as he says, you know, I’m a Christian by belief, I’m not shedding my belief in Jesus as my Savior, but Jesus was a Jew. And I want to acknowledge my Judaism because Judaism is a tribal religion, it’s in my blood, it’s in my genes. It’s faith is only a part of what it means to be a Jew. And I want to acknowledge and honor that.
Robert Bryce 13:02
Yeah, that’s it’s just a remarkable story. I mean, just one that you know, I lived in New Mexico for a little while and, uh, you know, who would ever think right? You know, all these very observant Catholics would would be would be Jewish. You wrote in that book you said our genes carry meaning I really liked this part of it. You said, This ancient script now being deciphered is literally lifting the curtain on God or nature’s plan will often at odds religion and science are spinning an interlaced narrative of identity. Is that idea of lifting the curtain? How far as the curtain been lifted in when it comes to genetics, I mean it because in seeing some of what’s happened, I mean, it does seem that this almost borders on magic. And yet it also from what you’ve already said, we’re maybe only in if you’re going to use a baseball analogy. Now I’ve talked about curtains let’s use baseball in a nine inning game. What inning are we in when it comes to these these genetic technologies and being able to change plants change? You know, medicines change us? How Where are we in the game?
Jon Entine 14:05
Yeah, that’s a great analogy. I’d say we’re in the second inning, maybe the second inning
Robert Bryce 14:09
out of nine innings in terms of our cape attempt in terms of our ultimate capability to to, to, to manipulate or to engineer I don’t know what the right word is, but to to change our change genetics and the things that we need, or we’re just in tune. The second ending out of nine is your assessment.
Jon Entine 14:28
A lot of it is just understanding the power of genetics. And I don’t want to overstate this, there’s a danger of what is called genetic essentialism, where we reduce everything to genetic factors, and whether it’s crops or humans or animals. We are theirs. We are a mixture of environmental and cultural factors, as well as genetic factors. So we don’t want to overstate that, but we are we you know, we are descended we share an ancestry with not only animals, but plants. I mean, You can look at our DNA and there’s plant, there’s things that we share with almost every single plant in the world. So we’re just beginning to understand who and what makes us up. And the more we understand it, the more we can manipulate it, which is both good. We’ve seen eradication of genetic disorders, especially with this new process called gene editing. People have heard the term CRISPR. And we’ll go into that a little bit, I’m assuming, yes, we can now literally eradicate diseases that have single genes that are causing them, like maybe Huntington’s disease, where 100% of the people who have that gene die of it, but most disorders are a mixture of environmental factors, cultural factors and genes themselves. So it’s not the cure all it’s not a magic bullet. It’s it’s one more step in the path of human understanding, to lower the curtain on the mystery of life and death.
Robert Bryce 15:54
So we’re raising curtain lowering the curtain where we got lots of curtains around here that well, so let’s talk just briefly about taboo because I live in Austin and I while back I interviewed john Hoberman, who’s Britain’s as well, he had a book called Darwin’s athletes. And now taboo, you said grew out of some of your TV work, give us a brief rundown of that book. And then I want to talk about COVID and climate the rest of these but I think, you know, of the books that you’ve written, the ones that I thought were, you know, caught my eye were obviously Abraham’s children, which we talked about, but what about taboo and the site? And why did that book catch? Why was it so controversial?
Jon Entine 16:30
Yeah, I actually.
Robert Bryce 16:32
It was published by public affairs, is that right? Yeah. Yeah. Which is published. The imprint that I’ve published my books,
Jon Entine 16:39
okay. Yeah, I actually wrote taboo, partly in response to a challenging of john Hill. Berman’s work, because I was honestly not a fan of it. In many ways. JOHN, comes out of the postmodernist school, I would call it the essentialist environmental school that most things in the world are environmentally driven. And as I made the case before, environment plays a huge role in many things. But I was spurred on by the reaction to the documentary that broke Oh, and I did in 1989, called black athletes back then fiction, which stirred an international debate at one Best International Sports film, and was the most highly rated documentary of the year. And I was just struck by how resistant people were to suggest that there could be population based differences. It obviously opens up the Pandora’s box of discussing things like IQ differences, if you’re saying that East and West Africans have different body types that drive sports performance and success at the elite level, why might not that be applied to the mind? So that’s the controversy, why we’re afraid to talk about it. And taboo is, you know, maybe 1/3 the story of genetic differences in the drive athletic patterns of sports at the elite level. And the two thirds is really the history of race science. How, how, if we’re not careful, even my book could be misused by racists, whose goal is not to eliminate, but to create a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority based on the natural variation that happens when genetic unfolds in various parts of the world with different environmental factors. So it was a challenge to write something that was in essence in the big picture potentially politically incorrect and in my case, I was warned it was going to end my career people so really look me in the eye and say, this could be a very interesting book, but you’ll never get to write again. But it did just the opposite it did what I hoped it would do, which was disturb for a fairly high level debate over the mix of environmental and social factors. And actually it although there’s certain factual things that have been updated I think at the time I said there were 100,000 human genes that’s what they thought now we know that there may be 20 20,000 human genes Okay, some of some of the facts are different but the argument still holds and it’s very very powerful if you want we can discuss some of the some of the fun and fascinating findings that we have
Robert Bryce 19:09
well, so I am interested in that but we also want to keep this at about an hour and not not try to try to cover every issue so let’s let’s update to genetic literacy project. But before I do I want to just point out on your Twitter handle, I believe your Twitter ID you identify yourself as an iconoclast. I like that word. I don’t use it very often. What does that mean to you and what is it what why why do you refer your to yourself that way? Well, with that with that descriptor,
Jon Entine 19:37
I think I’ve always been willing to push against the grain a little bit on my reporting even as a television news producer and executive at NBC and ABC
Robert Bryce 19:50
because some people would say all kinds of classmates well you just a contrary and you’re just a hardhead I guess. Sometimes that would be the, the other synonym that would go along with it. I guess is are some people would say that I think what’s what popped into my head?
Jon Entine 20:03
Yeah, I mean, actually my Forbes had I had a column for quite some time at Forbes magazine called the contrary and so perhaps your your is correct. I guess what I like to do I, in my research and thinking about the world, I use a Greek concept called EPO, K, EPO, ch, G. And it’s linked to the phenomenologists of the early 20th century in philosophy that was my major in college was philosophy. And it really means taking new ideas, taking ideas, and framing them and doing your best because we’re humans, we can’t totally succeed at this, but try to drain out all the associations that a concept or an idea has, and try to see it fresh as if you’re bringing no prejudices to at all We can’t we’re humans, we obviously bring ethical, social, historical baggage to it. But it’s a technique that largely can work. And when you do that, you’re surprised because it doesn’t necessarily mean you reject past ideas, but you develop new folds of nuance to see things differently. And I think that’s what I prided myself on. Like, for instance, in the in the 1980s, I worked on a documentary called he she about male female differences. And I remember interviewing some female scientists, all focused on a disease called ch disease can congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which is when females are born sometimes with male looking genitalia. And the reason is because of a genetic disorder that causes testosterone to be released during embryonic development. And they said they all were feminists of the 1980s. And they all rejected the idea that there was any genetic factors in male female differences. You know, their idea was you give a give a give a little girl a truck and a gun and she will identify with the same things that boys identify you give boys dolls, and and then they said, you know, something, we don’t believe that anymore. Because we see to ch disease, people who had this testosterone that was affected the brain development, their commitment, all their play characteristics and their behaviors, and everything tracked along the male continuum. And they became what they called Neo feminists, we believe that there are differences that don’t set up a hierarchy of better and worse, but we have to acknowledge our differences, whether it’s
Robert Bryce 22:22
which is which are which are a lot of the issues now that are coming out with transgender athletes today with Caster Semenya and many other Roger pilkey Jr. was on the podcast a few weeks ago talking about some of that some of that work in fact it’s really some of the latest reporting on that has shown that a lot of the science accepted science on that’s just been flat wrong.
Jon Entine 22:42
Yes. It really opened up your eyes when you when you are willing to consider things in a nuanced kind of way and you don’t feel like you have to choose ideological camps you don’t choose environment is everything genetics, it’s everything and try to understand how these how these differences play out in different cultural settings. So let
Robert Bryce 22:59
me let me ask you about that because you mentioned something that I think is interesting because I looked at this and I thought because I often say I’m not a republican I’m not a democrat I’m just disgusted right i don’t i don’t pick a political party. How do you define your politics?
Jon Entine 23:15
I don’t know I you know I I would use the term progressive though. People tell me progressive means like the political, the far left right now, and I don’t consider myself a far leftist. I mean, I have to be honest, I voted. Except for Rudolph Giuliani and his first campaign in New York when he was considered non partisan. I think I voted democrat my entire life and, and definitely see the world through the lens of wanting to seize a social betterment. You know, I’m not aggressively political. If you go on the GOP website. Even today, we have an article slamming misreporting on fox news about COVID vaccines, for instance, right. But we’ve also come down really hard on like the New York Times has been of the major journalistic organs has has been one of the worst on reporting on on crop biotechnology, so so called GMOs. They recently had a cover story in the New York Times about learning to love GMOs, which is basically a repudiation of about 20 years of really vapid reporting by the New York Times. So we’re not afraid at the GLP reflecting my personality, but also the independence of the journalist. We go where we think the evidence takes us and if it ends up taking down Monsanto because it misuses dye Kamba and rolled it out recklessly and hurt a lot of farmers or going after anti biotechnology activists, and the environmental movement, which has come very become very sclerotic and very anti technology, whether it’s talking about nuclear energy or talking about crop biotechnology,
Robert Bryce 24:48
right? Well, let’s come back to that because it will just one last thought on that in terms of the environmental groups or the pressure groups that are anti GMO, but I just note that your your piece at lunch, Let’s go back to the to COVID. We started there about the COVID. cold spot. And you publish that, I think both essays, long ones, with a colleague of yours in quillette, which is certainly not something that would I remember that we were in California a few weeks ago with the breakthrough Institute, and some guy was saying, Oh, yeah, they’re just white nationalists. They’re a bunch of Nazi quillette. He’s talking about in my being, have you ever read it? I mean, you know, but so you publish that in quillette? Because that’s an international news, news outlet. But it’s also one that’s not ever identified with the left, as far as I can tell. It’s identified
Jon Entine 25:32
with the right people are familiar with Colette, it’s basically I think, in some ways, we’ve reflects that a kind of classic view. Yeah. That that is willing to go where the evidence is, there are articles on there that frankly mimic something you’d find in the most PC journals in the United States, but it also is willing to take up uncomfortable positions. And to me that’s that’s what I think is what drove my interest in having it co co printed in the genetic literacy project, as well as in Colette. I thought I I thought I hit a chord with a different audience.
Robert Bryce 26:07
Yeah, good. So let’s talk about the the piece that you had and Colette and and GLP. And my guest, just a reminder, very quickly, as john Antony is the executive director of the genetic literacy project, you can find them genetic literacy project.org. That essay you published just a few weeks ago on the cold spot in Africa, when it comes to COVID. That they as a continent, it has not been affected due to nearly the degree that North America, Europe, Asia has been hit. Cut to the chase here, why, why is why hasn’t COVID taken the toll in Africa that it’s taken elsewhere?
Jon Entine 26:39
Like any story, it’s, it’s complicated. And whenever you talk about genetics, you also always have to say environment in the same breath. So the cultural environmental factors that are clear, are a young population average ages 19, I think the average age in the United States is in the 40s, Germany is in the high 40s, maybe early 50s. So obviously, older populations are more more vulnerable and more co-morbidities issues of that kind.
Robert Bryce 27:06
And just to be clear, so you’re saying there and I’ve just want to repeat this, because I think it’s something I’ve heard before I’ve heard or referenced before, but they’re roughly 1.11 point 2 billion Africans and on the continent, then the average age is 19, which has implications for a whole lot of things into including demographics, population growth, energy, demand, food, demand, all kinds of things. But anyway, I just so please, continue.
Jon Entine 27:30
Sure. So that’s a major cultural I mean, cultural environmental driver of the low numbers. But it also has, as I referenced before, one of the worst health infrastructures of any place in the world. And so the the numbers, the age numbers alone can’t explain it, because there are other countries, as I addressed in that article, that also have very low average population that have really been hit extremely hard by COVID. So what explains it, so I actually found that there was a University of Hawaii professor, she’s quite well known in her field, which was looking at genetic factors that could explain it. And when you look at other coronaviruses, and also the impact of diseases on various populations, other diseases, you see that that different populations are affected by different diseases are at different rates substantially because of their genetics. And she was starting to look at all these cofactors. And I began to see, probably there were 15 or 20. Examples, over time of genetic differences in which people of sub Saharan African ancestry did not have as high an incidence of other kinds of Corona viruses or other health impacts. So this was a supposition, it was in accord with her research, which is still ongoing. And it’s actually I think what fascinated me was not that this is going on, I was just fascinated by the fact that, again, like taboo, we’re not talking about genetic differences, as if it’s a subject that we don’t want to discuss at the population base level, because of the Pandora’s Box issues, what other what other issues might be related to, to population. But if we’re really truly wanting to address coronaviruses, and other diseases in the future, we have to unpack this because the solutions ultimately might not be a vaccine, it might be genetic tweaking, that will allow us to replicate some of the factors that existed in Africans. But as I said in the article, there are other diseases that impact other populations more or less purely on the basis of their genetics, whether it’s Irish call disease, which affects the Irish or Ashkenazi Jews affected by or aggressive breast cancer BRCA. Yeah, yeah. So so it’s really the implications of this are far beyond the Coronavirus has absolutely immense as the implications in that area might be. It really will help inform us in addressing a panoply of other potential threats. I’m to humanity.
Robert Bryce 30:02
Well, so let’s broaden that out because I, one of the things that we talked about before we started recording was What? What? What are going to be the most impactful parts of the genetic? The genetic literature, and I gotta say, the genetic literacy, what’s the right term of art here, but the different technologies that that our ability to locate, identify change engineer genes, what are the ones that are the most important now, you mentioned CRISPR. in passing, we talked about gene editing, genetic modification. And then you mentioned something I hadn’t heard of before called gene drive. So handicap this for me, and I’m a layman. And you know, at all of this layman, and I’m a sophomore on pretty much everything in touch. But what handicap the technologies in terms of genetic engineering, genetic modification, which ones are the most important have had the most impact? And which ones are going to have the most impact in the in the future? Yeah, great
Jon Entine 30:54
question. You know, I think our biggest challenge is climate change. It really is it infects, so much of the of the horrible parts of what’s going on in the world today. Climate change is driving agricultural production, some cases positively, but in most cases negatively. It’s increasing it impacting increase in diseases, because certain kinds of insects that are disease carrying, whether it’s malaria, malaria, being carried by mosquitoes and Zika, things of those kinds, is very impactful in that way. food production is being affected dramatically by climate change. There’s just so many, many issues in the agricultural and medical field, that we need new technologies to deal with this. We all know that we want to reduce the impact of human activity in the world. One of the single biggest areas is agricultural impact. 20% of climate change, dislocation is probably caused by agriculture. Yet, as you mentioned, Africa’s there 19 year olds, there, they’re going to have families, African populations going to increase the average caloric intake of Africans is 900 calories, it’s been creeping up them 700 calories will go up to 15 1600. Over the next 30 years, we’re going to have to have a 50% or more increase in food production. We have no more arable land left in the world. How are we going to get there, we need new techniques. The new techniques are genetic editing CRISPR, which you work with in the genome of a particular plant or animal and making tweaks on it everything from increasing yield to decreasing potential diseases. We have traditional GMOs, which has been vilified, I think unfairly. But we have this new technique called gene drives. And that addresses a panoply of things gene drives is when you you look at an issue we’ll use mosquitoes that carry lots of vector lots of diseases, you actually can either using gene editing or GMO technology, tweak a population of disease carrying mosquitoes, put them into the population maybe alter their genes, so they only produce males that there’s no females when that when that when they breed. And then ultimately, these Zika carrying mosquitoes die out because they can’t breed. This has been the technology has been developed. It’s been released in Brazil, two months ago was released in the Florida Keys because of the high increases of gang and Zika and other diseases there. It’s being discussed with the California Health and agricultural authorities about releasing it there. I mean, it’s it’s a very controversial because you’re listening
Robert Bryce 33:47
if I can interrupt to the Florida I wasn’t aware of this, but you know that I mean, mosquitoes this has been an issue for humans for hundreds of years with malaria and the rest of it, but I wasn’t aware of what was going on in Florida. So there have been this is a pilot is it who’s doing it in Florida. Do you know the entity that’s carrying it out?
Jon Entine 34:03
Yeah, they Well, the Florida Department of Health is doing it supported by by both the FDA and the USDA who have who have lost study this technology there’s the company. The vanguard of this technology is called oxitec, OSI TDC, based in based in the UK and it’s but there are many kinds of gene drives being developed not only to potentially eliminate vector carrying diseases, whether it’s rodents in Australia, or mosquitoes in Brazil, we also now can are using gene drives to put them in, in plant in agricultural settings to rid us of microbes disease microbes that essentially can destroy. For instance, right now we have the banana population. The bananas that we 98% of them are under threats by Disease carrying by disease carrying pathogens that could be okay. Yes, I dress them using gene drives. So it’s a really cutting edge technology
Robert Bryce 35:13
and just just interrupt you because you had something on genetically literacy project.org website about this that jubilees the Jubilee strain of bananas, you’re saying is, is threatened because of a new past? Is that did I hear you? Right?
Jon Entine 35:26
Yeah, the weather’s been, it’s got been going on for about 2030 years that okay, the major, you know, the, the bananas that we eat right now is if you go back 100 years was not the bananas were eating, then the bananas we’re eating that were wiped out by, by diseases, banana diseases. And it was replaced by the current type of bananas that that that are grown, and that we see both in Europe and the United States. But there’s a there’s a disease past that is spreading dramatically. And there’s no known way of addressing it. The only ways are genetic, whether it’s through gene editing, or it’s through gene drives that can be potentially used to eradicate these diseases, but
Robert Bryce 36:08
in the drives, just to be clear, john. So it’s a way of genetic, then, for instance, the mosquitoes that you somehow did you change the genetic code so that the offspring are just one species one or 111, sex and the male. So that’s what it is for.
Jon Entine 36:25
Yeah, that’s what is for mosquitoes, so they don’t propagate, right? Yeah, they’re not if they’re not propagating, they can’t be spreading it. But we also can do it on plants as well. So you’re not propagating the the
Robert Bryce 36:36
AC so you so you edit out the gene for a certain susceptibility perhaps, or you edit out for if you did it in humans, you do edit out the BRCA gene, or the bracha gene or
Jon Entine 36:47
gene drives refers to driving a genetic change through an entire population. So if you use CRISPR, and you use GMOs, and this is a method for spreading it into the population, so it has a dramatic and widespread effect in a short time. But listen, you aren’t you’re in some cases, like in the case of the disease carrying mosquito, you could be ending a species. And so the critics of it have jumped on this, the anti biotechnology industry, which grew up on GMOs has now switched to things like gene editing, and specifically targeted gene drives saying, oh, you’re destroying a, you know, a population, and then they do the butterfly effect. The idea that, you know,
Robert Bryce 37:26
I’m all in favor, I’m all in favor of getting rid of mosquitoes.
Jon Entine 37:29
Scientists have looked at this, and you know, they’re there. They’re literally 10s of 1000s of populations that are ended every year and millions that are created every year. So it’s really not an issue from a science point of view. It’s a it’s a political ideological wedge used by anti biotechnology groups.
Robert Bryce 37:48
So I want to come back to the anti biotech groups. But I also just want to I interviewed Pamela Ronald, who, you know, is a genetic plant geneticist at the University of California Davis. And we talked about CRISPR, which it’s a common acronym, but I looked it up clusters of regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats, which I’m only, you know, only heard of palindromes in English class, right, Bob and radar and the rest of it, but, but this is referring to the genetic sequence, that and those, those sequences that repeat themselves so that CRISPR is a method, it refers to gene editing and editing out parts of those different sequences as as as demanded by the goal. Right. Is that fair?
Jon Entine 38:29
Yes, I think you’ve said it. I mean, it’s hard for people to wrap their head around it. But essentially, we know. And we know this from studying nature, that individual genes can carry carry messages, the RNA is carried in as a as a messenger that tells genes what to do. And if a gene is doing something deleterious, and you change the message, that it’s not going to do that deleterious impact. It’s happens in nature all the time. They’re natural mutations, we are all the product of natural mutations, every single plant that’s born is a is a new mutation. And so but basically, what you’re doing is harnessing what nature already does one of the reasons gene editing CRISPR does, it has not faced the regulatory schema that the challenges that GMOs have faced is that GMO is not exactly how nature happens there. There are some similarities to it. But generally, you can take a gene from one species and put it in another and create the impact that way it sounds scary. But in fact, as I mentioned earlier, we are all the product of many genes, including plant genes, but gene editing takes away that argument, because it’s work works within the genomes of that species itself. So deleting something or you’re adding something
Robert Bryce 39:53
that you’re not bringing a gene from some other, some other organism and inserting it then Exactly.
Jon Entine 39:58
So it’s less controversial, I think. Think it’s a specious difference it’s it’s a difference without a real with a real impact but but it’s the anti GMO industry was built on the the Frank and Frank and Gene like Frank Lloyd Wright Yeah, the idea of moving a gene from one species to another, they can’t play the Frankenstein card so now they’re playing other scare tactics.
Robert Bryce 40:19
Well, let’s talk about one of the things that was in fact I read about on the genetic literacy project website about a transgenic maize variety in Africa and you know, mind transgenic What does that mean?
Jon Entine 40:31
transgenic is what what that’s moving a gene from one from one species to another a GMO, okay is what’s called a trans gene. And a gene editing is what is called a cyst cis gene. And it means operating within the genome itself. These are more technical terms.
Robert Bryce 40:47
Gotcha. So, the article that I’m referring to I’ll read this because it to me it’s just remarkable. The data from the third confined field trial of the Taylor maze project de la maze project that is being carried out at the Institute for agricultural research summary has shown that the variety produces nine tonnes per hectare as against three tonnes by the best producing maize in Nigeria. The variety is also resistant to stick to stem bores and fall army worm. I mean, this is just an I talked a little bit about this with Pamela Ronald when she was on the podcast, but then just think sounds amazing, a 3x increase in output? I mean, is this something that we can expect now that this is going to become more common? Because I mean, I’m used to in changes in efficiency and like automobiles, oh, well, we got a 15% increase in efficiency, and we’re a single digit increase in efficiency of in any kind of machinery, but 300% increment this isn’t, it’s, it’s truly incredible. Is that going to work? Is that going to come that can that scale? Now tell me about that?
Jon Entine 41:49
Well, I think we were we meaning the people like myself who follow this word, frankly, as startled as you are, because the historically transgenics GMOs have helped increase yields by maybe seven to 20% over the year, mostly not by tweaking, yield production itself by lowering the impact of diseases, let’s say. So yield has increased as a result of other factors rather than the holy grail has always been Can you increase the yield itself. And up until the last year, we haven’t been able to address that now. And literally the past three or four months, there’s been a slew of academic studies that have come out, including the one that you’re suggesting that raised the possibility of a tectonic change in the way we think about the impact of transgenics and gene editing. So I can tell you is that the the genetics world is as startled as you are, this obviously has to be replicated. It’s a trial. But even in the past month, a series of studies a large article in Smithsonian magazine, based on the nature biotechnology research showed that you could take a human protein gene and put it in rice or potatoes, or wheat lentils and increase yield by 50%, which also itself would be an incredible just isn’t
Robert Bryce 43:17
it incredible? When you think about the cereal grains alone rice and corn and wheat, I mean, a 50% increase? I mean, this is just it. You know, it’s funny, because I think about all these things in terms of well, Malthus, right? Well, you know, mouth has been proven wrong for all since 1776. Right? But it’s he’s on the verge of being true, proven wrong on a scale that even through Norman Borlaug in the Green Revolution, and all the things that we’ve seen so far, it’s maybe we ain’t seen nothing yet. Is that a fair assessment?
Jon Entine 43:49
I think it is. And it really points to the difference between what what I would call the techno optimists who I really should say, call them techno realist versus old line environmentalist who are very fearful of the role of technology as a potential solution to environmental challenges like pesticide overuse or energy problems, that their idea is let’s cut back. Let’s restrict use awareness,
Robert Bryce 44:22
use less reduced mobility.
Jon Entine 44:26
And then there’s the whole, you know, we met at the breakthrough Institute. Yeah, they believe that technology used appropriately, while not but not a silver bullet, can actually be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And whether it means using nuclear energy to produce clean energy, which is scalable, which the old line environmental movement rejects out of hand based on, you know, Chernobyl and 1980s views of the technology, but that also applies to biotechnology as well that that rather than saying that We should move to organics organics doesn’t increase yield actually organic agriculture as beneficial, it has done to focus our attention on issues such as soil quality preservation, it has a 45% yield lag with no more arable land in the world, the only way you’re going to increase land to feed Africans and Asians whose caloric and you know, intake is increasing and the numbers of their population are increasing is by clear cutting the Amazon or other forest. So we need technological solutions. And this is like, could not be better news. These are not ready for primetime. But there’s no reason to think that within a decade or so many of these products, maybe less will be rolled out and begin to be part of a comprehensive climate change solution, which I think we need to we need to develop.
Robert Bryce 45:53
Well, I think it’s interesting you say that, because as I mentioned, I interviewed Pamela Ronald, and she developed a flood with other people, other colleagues, flood resistant form of rice. And in her TED Talk, she showed the you know, the time lapse video of that growing and it was like magic. And I told her, I said, it’s just incredible that they could develop this technology, by by looking at strains of rice, and then inserting them in, in editing them into other strains of rice, and then achieve this now, technology that in a span of a few years, is now being used by something like six or 7 million farmers. I mean, it’s just an incredible amount of progress,
Jon Entine 46:34
drought resistant rice to which we need because of climate change this dislocations of other kinds. Right?
Robert Bryce 46:40
Well, so So let’s talk about you touched on this a minute ago, john, about these groups, and, you know, we’re on a podcast named them, who are these entities? What are these entities that, as I look at it, they’re anti hydrocarbons, they’re anti nuclear, and they’re anti genetic modification of anything? Who is this? And so it name names and tell me, what’s the motivation? What are the what, what is this? Where is this bias coming from? That is anti technology, anti modern, I would say it’s even anti modernism. And there’s smacks of anti humanism as well, that’s my view. So what’s, what is the unifying worldview here? And who is it? And who, what? And how much money are they getting? And From who?
Jon Entine 47:20
It’s, those are big questions, important questions to ask, but let’s flip it before I address that, sure. Who are the environmental groups that are actually thinking at a high level, and obviously, you have groups like the breakthrough Institute, but they’re there, their impact is small, because at this point, there’s still, you know, represent a tiny fraction of people on these issues. But you have somebody and relative and
Robert Bryce 47:43
relatively small groups themselves, I mean, they’re, you know, their staffs, you know, if you tend to, you know, 10 or maybe 20 people they’re not, they’re not big organizations, they’re promoting this positive and pro human view of the future. Sorry to interrupt. No, no,
Jon Entine 47:58
but you have you have large groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, which is a very smart, solution focused organization grew out of the, I think, maybe with a person organization to legally start challenging corporations and others for their polluting back in the 1970s. And we’re part of the reasons why we have a Environmental Protection Agency. That’s an agent that’s an organization that’s looking at all technologies, and having an open mind and saying what works and what doesn’t work. And they reframing the debate rather than a technology is bad or good and saying, what are the trade offs? Everything has a downside to it. are we creating more problems by introducing this technology or not? So I would say EDF is a problem solver. Worldwide wildlife. foundation is another one that is interested in solving problems. Nature Conservancy is another one. So I don’t want to dish environmental groups because many of them recognize we have to take a different view. But there’s a lot of what I would call old line environmentalist, which are still rooted in an anti corporate viewpoint that anything where technology has a, a was developed by corporations is is viewed with something between suspicion and disdain and often off the table. Or they also have this backward looking, catastrophic view of the world and they do promote catastrophism The sky is falling and it’s become a fundamental fundraising tool for for what they do. And I would put groups that some people believe have a great reputation, and they do do certain things very well. So you don’t want to paint the whole organization. It’s uncertain topics. But I would say NRDC is one of the worst in this. I would say Saturday
Robert Bryce 49:52
is one is one of the worst in emoting misinformation, fear, fear mongering and promoting. Yeah, they
Jon Entine 49:59
do it on chemical They do it on biotechnology, they do it on nuclear energy. They are not solution minded. They have certain topics that are off the table Sierra Club, you and I were at a meeting in the in the breakthrough Institute and got into a conversation with a person from the Sierra Club who turns out there magazines and he said they won’t even talk about nuclear energy as a potential solution. It is a it is an untouchable subject so they won’t even engage the new science on it. But the use of biotechnology he
Robert Bryce 50:33
does he did notice he didn’t reply to that we’re talking about someone that we met at the CF who’s with Sierra Club. Notice he didn’t reply to your email, but I emailed him with information about the backlash against renewable energy, something he didn’t, he didn’t fly to me either. So apparently that’s off the table. But that’s a different discussion.
Jon Entine 50:49
And that’s the discouraging part. It’s a lot of these mainline groups. pesticide Action Network, for instance, it’s one thing to say a pesticide is problematic and protect potentially we should regulate it in a stricter way. No one who understands technology would say that if we have new information about the impact of an input that we shouldn’t restrict it, but but when do you want to ban it, you only want to ban it when what replaces it is actually safer, rather than worse. So you need to do cost benefit analysis, which is something that I would say the far environmental left is doing cost benefit analysis is an anathema. The early iteration of the of the precautionary principle, which was first introduced in the late 1980s, early 90s, had a cost benefit clause built into it, but it was pushed out by activists in the late 1990s. And now there’s a push by many countries which have adopted that philosophy to ban things, even when things that will replace it are worse than what was bad. I’m a realist, I want to see change. Sometimes change is dramatic. But often change is incremental. And and I do see technology evolving. And I do see in certain areas like addressing chemical inputs in in agriculture, like addressing nuclear energy, as a potential as one potential arrow in the quill to fight climate change issues. We have to consider the benefits against the potential negatives and voting but why nuclear?
Robert Bryce 52:21
So just to just to destroy the murderer’s row, if you’re going to name you see, you mentioned the natural resource Defense Council if you don’t mind, who were the other groups on that list that you think are the ones the big the would we would you call them promoters of disinformation or were fearmongering How do you catch that?
Jon Entine 52:38
Yeah, I mean, there’s a group called the Environmental Working Group and Center for Food Safety, both of them especially ew g promotes what’s called the Dirty Dozen every year which they say are the dozen fruits and vegetables which have the most chemicals on it, all of which are perfectly safe and they and they’re there their propaganda has been denounced by others, but we have the GLP put put out our dirty dozen and we listed the environmental organizations like pesticide Action Network invite, like I said, Environmental Working Group Center for Food Safety, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and and literally a lot of others as you go something called Via Campesina, which sounds like it’s a, a wonderful organization, because it promotes indigenous rights. But it promotes indigenous rights by trying to lock them into technologies that are outdated, and actually more problematic than cutting edge technologies. So groups that I think their intentions are good. I think their solutions are many cases, anti science are trying to rejectionists. And again, the secret sauce for a lot of these organizations is that catastrophism raises money, and they are businesses of their own kind. And so it does nothing to say we have a potential solution that might incrementally increase the benefits to society. That doesn’t score that doesn’t raise money for the Sierra Club. So instead, they say, insects are dying around the world. And we have face a catastrophe and we’re going to have an index, insect Armageddon, well, entomologist don’t believe that. But that doesn’t stop the New York Times from doing a New York Times magazine cover story on this three years ago, that literally created the insect Armageddon movement that has dogged environmentalism for the past three years. That and still is something entomologists are fighting tooth and nail and saying, we got to be more direct and understanding about where the problems are and what we can do. Creating this catastrophism basically creates also a reaction among among the science rejection is on the far right, who save Well, if it’s catastrophic, if climate changes is going to happen by the end of the by the end of the decade, and there’s nothing we could do. Well, we’re not going to spend money on it. You have to be realistic. And present solutions that actually can move the meter and also ultimately open the open open the minds of people to do more dramatic innovation. Sure, I think that the these organizations are really the opponents of the very technologies that can really help the people that they claim to be fighting on their behalf.
Robert Bryce 55:24
And what’s the rationale though, just to I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time more on these groups. And because you know it, I just find it a lot of it just distasteful because I think there but what’s the, you know, when it comes to opposed to hydrocarbons opposed to nuclear posed to GM, GMOs or genetic engineering? And what’s the is it is an anti, you said, anti capitalist, anti corporate, is there something else that was just a war against the man? Or is there something else that I mean, is there some other unifying belief system that is driving these these groups? Well, or is it just campaigning and money raising is that is that I definitely don’t think it’s just
Jon Entine 56:00
campaigning in money. I have not found an activist who I disagree with, in a fundamental way like this, who’s purely doing it for greed, except for maybe an individual here and there, right? Most of these groups have, you know, have drunk the Kool Aid, they really believe that they are fighting for humanity. And so that justifies using tactics that you and I would find unsavory. Greenpeace has admitted that it’s tactic of, of creating a sense of fear about an Armageddon, like problem in any issue, really, really is the is the secret sauce to their fundraising. And I do think a lot of these groups are legacy groups from from, again, my culture, growing up the baby boom culture, which believes that government governments have been corrupted by big business, that big businesses is infiltrated and undermine environmental protection. That there this is part of the international movement, led by people like Bill Gates and Bill Gates is vilified on the left as much as he’s vilified on the right. So it’s a combination of cultural and ideological factors. And it has the benefit is that it also raises money to keep these organizations not only able to perpetrate their proper propaganda, but to grow and increase their footprint. So they are businesses just like Monsanto or DuPont, or Syngenta is a business and they operate as businesses operate blindly. Sometimes in the public good, but often not.
Robert Bryce 57:37
That’s a good I liked the way you summarize that. So one of the other things in looking at, you know, doing some research ahead of this. We were both in the film frack nation, which appeared a few years ago, which was done by and mcelhinney and Phelim McAleer. And you called at that in that interview, you really hammered The New York Times. And you’ve hammered him a couple times. You mentioned him already here. And but that was about the shale gas Revolution, the reporting that was done by Ian Urbina, if memory serves in the New York Times, and you just said that they got it completely wrong. There’s, it’s easy to pick on the New York Times, and a lot of people do it. But is there in your view, as in general, has their science coverage been been very good their coverage on climate change? How do you view that as, as a media outlet in terms of where you’re, you know, your your, your field of work? How do you assess them? And is it getting better or worse? And is it just a standard that it might not be very good overall, in terms of big media outlets?
Jon Entine 58:40
I think it’s one of the best newspapers if not the best newspaper in the world. So I don’t want to this is not an attack on the new york times per se. A lot of the criticisms I have are our challenges of individual reporters, like the inner bank, or bhaineann. And his reporting was later roundly discredited. And he was actually taken off that beat, in part because other people came through after I think I started the ball rolling. And ultimately, articles are articles by individuals and blessed by editors. And I don’t think there’s an institutional bias. In general, I think there’s what you might call a liberal bias of the New York Times just like there is for the Washington Post’s I think the Wall Street Journal’s non editorial pages are even have a slight liberal bias, to be honest. So I don’t think there’s a conspiracy here The New York Times is a trusted organization covers most science articles with resources that are beyond the scope of almost any organization in the world. So last thing I want to do is, is discredit them in the broadest sense, but I do want to point out that no one should be immune from criticism and that just because citing the New York Times and saying well, The New York Times says is no better than saying Fox News says not because fox news is is a right wing journal because the New York Times doesn’t say it An individual writer says it. And it somehow makes its way through an editorial process that is human and flawed. And I think the the, the coming out party on GMOs was, was really stated by the New York Times cover story A month ago saying, you know, rethinking GMOs that maybe it’s the solution and not the problem. It took them 20 years to do it. But they’re finally they’re finally doing it. So I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. I do think it’s a wonderful newspaper, and I do trust it. And I read it every day along with the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and a slew of other environmental journals to find out what’s going on in technology. Innovation.
Robert Bryce 1:00:40
Will you beat me to the one of the questions I want to ask you so then in terms of science in general, but I would say your your your main beat genetic literacy, which publications do the best job?
Jon Entine 1:00:55
Huh. Um, I, you know, our job is not to report on the science, it’s to report on misinformation, and the ideological and sometimes financial incentives of the disinformation industry. And I don’t think anybody does what we do on a scale that we do it. So we kind of without tooting our own horn too loud. I mean, we I remember the first day we we launched the GLP. We were not our failure. I mean, we had 26 visitors and 25 of those were me checking the website. We’ve had days in the past month that we’ve had 80,000 unique visitors on one day, and our our information is picked up. When I did the quillette article, which was also, like I said, co published on the GLP, it was cited in a debate in the House of Lords on this very, very issue. So there’s a lot of people out there who are fighting misinformation in their own way people like Steven novella, who has a column neurologica. Like a slew of very, I think, impassioned, science, misinformation, challengers. And you so you really have to comb the internet and, and find sources that are focused on this on this. But what we do with the GLP is not only are we publishing our own articles, and we welcome articles, we’ve welcomed articles from people like civil leads that we finally disagree with, because they’re really an organic promoting organization, because we believe in diverse ideological perspectives if it’s science grounded, but we also call late from the web 10 to 12 articles a day. So we’re actually a pretty good source for saying Where’s interesting research coming out of who are the ones who are pushing back against misinformation and disinformation. But but it’s a it’s a constant challenge, just to find journalists and news organizations that are pushing back against the status quo on a lot of these groupthink reporting issues
Robert Bryce 1:03:01
whatsoever, hardest part of your job
Jon Entine 1:03:05
raising money when when, you know, you can’t just go to the corporate trail, and and you kick dirt in the face of the political left. And suddenly, hard left groups, like the tides foundation, who has tons of money won’t support you. And then you turn around and kick dirt and Monsanto and corporate groups and the right wing. And you know, we have 20 articles in the past month, taking on fox news and misinformation from the far right on everything from vaccines to climate change, and suddenly they view us suspiciously. So we’re great at making enemies, we’re not so good at making friends. And ultimately, it’s hard to raise money in that. Luckily, we have some great foundations like the Templeton Foundation, where I just put in two grants in the past week, one focusing on misinformation in the developing world in Latin America, Africa and in Asia, and how activist groups have infiltrated religious organizations is Islamic and, and evangelical and Christian ones and another focused on sustainability and the role of biotechnology in advancing climate change solutions in agriculture.
Robert Bryce 1:04:21
So is let’s let’s return to that. And then I want to draw to a close because we’ve been talking now for a little bit more than an hour. So back to the climate change in plants and plant genetics then one of the things that really fascinates me is this idea of possibility of nitrogen fixation, right? That that is a technique where, you know, farmers for for centuries could only use guano and then we had the haber Bosch process where they got synthetic ammonia, but the possibility that plants could fix their own nitrogen, it just seems it you mentioned the holy grail of you know, you pesticide or pest resistance in other Have any kind, but then increased yield nitrogen fixation? I mean, what are those, which I guess the traits that we’re going to need to develop in in different crops is going to vary by region. But is there is there one specific set of traits, that’s going to be the ones that are going to be the real game changers besides what we talked about in terms of yield,
Jon Entine 1:05:21
I think you’ve hit on the single most important one, probably the largest amount of pollution that we get out of agriculture comes from, from from from fertilizer, and it not only degrades the soil, we have the runoff in into waterways. So it’s so it’s an environmental pollution in many ways. It’s again, a trade off issue, we’ve utilized it, it’s over quite some decades now. It’s dramatically helped increase yield. And it’s been a savior in the developing world, especially but not without its negative, and quite severe environmental consequences. I think we will that will happen pivot pivot bio is something that people should google and and look up, it’s one of the leaders looking into that. And there are other companies on the frontlines of this technology, it will happen, how it will happen, how long it will take to play out and become something that can be scaled up that I can’t predict. But again, call me a techno optimist and, and there are technological fixes that haven’t worked on many things over the years and optimists have been disabused of their optimism on certain things. But I really believe that this is an area that that we will find a solution within and along with the yield it is the the hope
Robert Bryce 1:06:41
for major solution, the ability to reduce that fertilizer input and and increase yield at the same time. Yeah, we’re
Jon Entine 1:06:47
definitely going to get it on on pesticides, uses, that’s that’s significant as well. But that, but we’re far along in that area in finding those kinds of solutions. But the nitrogen one is, is a is a more of a challenge,
Robert Bryce 1:07:02
right. And and in that again, for, as you pointed out early on, then this the with the climate, the specter of the changing climate, more extreme weather, etc, that these are going to be the critical, it’s going to be through genetics, plant genetics, that those are the only ways that we’re going to be able to make those kinds of breakthroughs that are going to be essential if
Jon Entine 1:07:20
this is not a get out of jail free card for on the issue of overusing and misusing energy, we will have to phase out a lot of fossil fuels, particularly the most carbon intensive ones like coal. So this is not an excuse to not address those other issues. It’s just recognizing that we do have some solutions. And I would like to see rather than like when the UN report came out a month or so ago about climate change problems that we’re facing, and over the short term, rather than just saying sky is falling, which we need to say to some degree, the sky is falling. But but but we have solutions as well. And the documents and the support system for solutions is a lot. There’s a lot smaller than the than the loud voices calling for catastrophic change and problems. So we need voices of solutions. And every report on climate change should say here’s what we can do in agriculture. Here’s what we can do in energy reduction and changes. Here’s what we can do. Here’s the roles that nuclear energy and clean coal can play recognizing that we’re that the developing world is not going to play to our tune. We got to do things that are realistic in the real world and get things done not just talk about what we hope to do.
Robert Bryce 1:08:40
So last couple of things in my guest is john Entine. He is the founder and executive director of the genetic literacy project it’s genetic literacy project.org so what are you reading? You’re sitting in front of your bookshelf there are a lot of books behind you some of them what you wrote. But what’s on your nightstand what kind of what do you what do you read when you’re not working? Are you always working? what books you what books are you reading now?
Jon Entine 1:09:01
I make it a point to to I’m an old guy book club. So and we pretty much I put policy off the table because we we end up spending half of our book club talking about policy and debating about you know the dangers of trumpism or whatever the issue happens to be. Even though we are ideologically quite diverse on many issues that we do, we do share a general disdain for our former president, but I i guess i read smart nonfiction just read the the tattooist of Auschwitz, which was a book that came out a few years ago partly based on a memoir, partly fictional. What
Robert Bryce 1:09:39
was the title again?
Jon Entine 1:09:39
I’m sorry, the tattooist of Auschwitz. tattooist of Auschwitz. Okay? Yeah, and it’s a story about someone, a Jew, who went through Auschwitz, it’s a true story, a memoir that was retold 50 years after the incident right near his death and after the death of his of his survivor, wife who’s one of the major characters in the book. And he faced a dilemma that I think we’ve helped shed some light on some of the issues that that we’re talking about here. And that he was tagged to be the person who put the tattoos on on when incoming, on incoming people who were sent, often eventually to the crematoria. So, in essence, he was a collaborator. But he used those contexts to smuggle out jewels and other things to get food to keep people within the, within Auschwitz alive. And he lived with the fact that he was both a, someone who collaborated with the enemy, maybe working with corporations to, to get solutions on issues. But he also brought a lot of good. And I think that really reflects on the issue that we’re talking about here. Sometimes we have to look at cost benefit analysis, and we have to partner with with people that sometimes we don’t agree with all of their tactics, but we have to keep our eye on the prize. And he his eye on the prize was to save people’s lives. And that’s what our goal is as well. And I think we have to think big. So my fiction is really about problem solving. In the wider sense. That’s that’s what I tend to focus on.
Robert Bryce 1:11:17
So Well, that’s a good segue maybe to this final question. So what gives you hope?
Jon Entine 1:11:26
The breakthrough Institute, smart people from the left and the right, getting together and talking solutions, people that I might not necessarily be friends with. And the idea that the younger generation, my daughter’s 23, is cares about what what moves the meter, not about resit, what resonates purely ideologically, that’s a sea change. The younger generation I think, is much more pragmatically oriented. I don’t want to be, we know, overstate the role of technology and improving the world. But we have to be recognized that there there is a potential for huge innovation advances. And that really drives my optimism and I do think the world will be better rather than worse. But I think it takes stepping out by solutionist people like breakthrough hopefully, like the GLP that says here’s the way we can do things that are better. And, and and not just say the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Robert Bryce 1:12:26
Well, that’s a good place to stop. Thanks, john in time, I’ve mentioned it before. He’s the founder and executive director of the genetic literacy project at genetic literacy. project.org. JOHN, thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast.
Jon Entine 1:12:39
Thank you. Great show and big fan and glad to be invited on
Robert Bryce 1:12:43
and all you in podcast land tune in for the next edition. It’s going to be good, really good. And if you want to give us a rating on your favorite podcast, outlet, five 612 14 stars, whatever you feel like until next time, see you back here. Thanks.