Podcast: NatGeo promotes pesticide fears; How weed affects your brain; Real-life Jurassic Park?

jurassic park trex
Credit: Kshitij Rawat
Despite its long history as a reputable science magazine, National Geographic has recently embraced simplistic narratives about the environmental impact of pesticides. How does weed affect your brain? The science is more nuanced than our ongoing culture war over drug use would suggest. We might already have the technology to create some version of the legendary Jurassic Park.

Join geneticist Kevin Folta and GLP contributor Cameron English on this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies as they break down these latest news stories:

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Everybody agrees that reducing pesticide use is an important target on our way to sustainable farming. But protecting our food from insects, weeds and other pests is still necessary if we want to eat, and for now that means carefully using relatively small quantities of chemical crop protection tools. Sadly, such nuance has been lost on NatGeo. Despite its vaunted reputation, the legendary science magazine has decided to promote exaggerated narratives about the dangers of pesticides.

As weed becomes legal in more jurisdictions and its recreational use increases, new research is expanding our understanding of the drug’s impacts, both good and bad, on our health. Smoking marijuana, it turns out, isn’t the life-destroying habit those government-funded PSAs from the 1990s suggested, but neither is it the wonder drug some legalization advocates have promoted.

“We could probably build jurassic park if we wanted to. wouldn’t be genetically authentic dinosaurs but [shrug],” Neuralink co-founder Max Hodak tweeted recently. “Maybe 15 years of breeding + engineering to get super exotic novel species.” Hodak’s comments raise the perennial questions that pops up every time new genetic technologies become the subject of conversation: Does the fact that we can do something mean we should do something?

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Some conservationists have argued that putting our resources into resurrecting extinct species (or creating new ones) may incentivize more of the behavior that drove so many animals to extinction. The better strategy is to focus on protecting the species that are still alive and can be saved. But other researchers say using genetic engineering to bring animals back to life could yield important scientific insights; rejecting this opportunity out of an abundance of caution makes little sense, they say.

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Related article:  Farmworkers' group, nine states urge federal court to ban widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos

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Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

Cameron J. English is the director of bio-sciences at the American Council on Science and Health. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

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