Friend and blogger Don Carr has pointed out the scientific disconnect Senator John Thune and other tools of the plutocracy exhibit in their embrace of scientific evidence to defend genetically modified crops and their rejection of scientific evidence to fight climate-change legislation.

The statements of South Dakota's Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch on GMO labeling also display the Republican incoherence on federalism:

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture have passed a resolution supporting a national uniform labeling policy for genetically modified foods. South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch says a national standard is needed to overcome all the problems caused by different and diverse state regulations that hamper bio technology.

[Sec. Lentsch]: "The reason why that's so important to get a national footprint on it is to stop the piecemeal approach. You know, in Oregon, there was one county that decided to take on GMO lableing. If you could imagine the patchwork that would happen at a local level across our country, it... would be impossible to try to even manage that. I think that provides clarity and consistency for our consumers" ["NASDA Wants National GMO Labeling," WNAX Radio, 2015.02.09].

Remember, Lentsch directed the SDGOP, which avidly supports states rights and local control on issues like immigration and teacher pay when it suits their agenda. But let states jump ahead on health and environmental concerns that cut into corporate profits, and letting the small laboratories of democracy try different things becomes a piecemeal, patchwork mess that must be ironed out by big government.

Secretary Lentsch underscores a running theme in SDGOP politics: their only principle is power. Their only goal is serving the corporate colonizers who want what they want and will use any available tools and rhetoric to get it.

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Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) doesn't care about my economic liberty, but he sure cares about my academic liberty. He's so worried that I won't have the freedom in my classroom to promote critical thinking, scientific inquiry, and respectful discussion of differences of opinion that he's proposed Senate Bill 114, "to encourage and protect the teaching of certain scientific information."

When Republicans like Jeff Monroe presume to tell teachers like me how to conduct respectful and intelligent debate, you know something fishy is going on.

SB 114 is really a sneaky retread of Senator Monroe's attempt last year to write intelligent design and other bushwah (yeah, bushwah, as in, not opinion, not scientific theory, but superstition and falsehood masquerading as real science) into K-12 curriculum across South Dakota.

To make sure there is no misundertanding, let's review the text of Senator Monroe's bill in full. SB 114 creates a completely new section under our education statutes in SDCL Chapter 13-1:

Section 1. That chapter 13-1 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

The South Dakota Board of Education, local school boards, and all school administrators shall:

  1. Endeavor to create an environment within all elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects taught in curriculum and coursework that is aligned to the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48; and
  2. Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, human cloning, and other scientific subjects that may cause debate and disputation.

In addition, neither the Board of Education, nor any local school board, or school administrator may prohibit any teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the courses being taught that are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.

Section 2. The provisions of this Act only protect the teaching of scientific information and may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, to promote discrimination for or against any particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or to promote discrimination for or against any religion or nonreligion.

Section 3. By no later than the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the secretary of education shall notify all school administrators of the provisions of this Act, and the school administrators within each school district shall notify all teachers within that school district of the provisions of this Act [Senate Bill 114, original text, filed 2015.01.27].

Section 1 is absolutely unnecessary. The Board of Education, local school boards, and school administrators already provide teachers with tools and help to find the resources enumerated. We already have all the tools we need to tell Monroe's little minions why intelligent design is as imaginary as unicorns.

Section 2 is absolutely unnecessary. Scientific information is already made freely available in our K-12 curricula... except when conservatives like Senator Monroe try to block the teaching of honest information about birth control. Plus, we already have the First Amendment to prevent proselytizing in the classroom.

Section 3 is unnecessary grandstanding. Do we not assume that teachers are aware of all relevant statutes to their profession? Why should we read them just Jeff Monroe's pretty statute? Why not set aside a whole day of in-service before school starts to have Senator Monroe and legislators in every district come to their schools to recite chapter and verse the entirety of Title 13?

Senator Monroe proposes a hoghouse vehicle for an unnecessary intelligent design debate. Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that the low teacher pay his legislative negligence facilitates is leaving us with fewer and fewer teachers who can explain science, fact, and logic to students. Maybe that's been his "intelligent design" all along.

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Corporate welfare rolls on in South Dakota. Less than a month after announcing a $50-million partnership with billionaire T. Denny Sanford to fund vo-tech scholarships, Governor Dennis Daugaard is kicking some more state money back toward the Sanford professional family. The Sioux Falls Development Foundation announced Tuesday that the Governor will grant $3 million from the Future Fund to SAB Biotherapeutics. The company genetically engineers cattle to produce vaccines and treatments for various diseases. SAB Biotherapeutics will use this money to expand, possibly creating 200 new jobs paying in the $50K–$70K range in Sioux Falls.

Expanding jobs and curing Ebola is great. But note that this isn't the company's first swig at the public trough. SAB Biotherapeutics started as Hematech in Massachusetts back in 1998. Governor Mike Rounds bribed them into moving to South Dakota in 2003 with a $7.5-million economic development package. Then they became a Japanese company, then a Sanford company at the end of 2012 ("SAB" stood for "Sanford Applied Biosciences").

If the free market doesn't value life-saving vaccines enough to allow biotech firms to pay their own way, well, then I guess spending state money to promote public health is necessary. But perhaps this expansion will allow SAB Biotherapeutics to come up with a cure for addiction to government handouts.

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Keenly interested rural observer Don Carr smells bull-fudgery in Senator John Thune's faint signal of sensibility on climate change. Carr says Senator Thune should get serious about science for the sake of agriculture:

If Senator Thune actually believed what scientists and the U.S. military tells us about our dire climate future, he would be compelled to act immediately and with force. He’d have to stop pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline and questioning the economic impact of climate change solutions.

...[W]hat South Dakota farmers urgently need now from Senator Thune is leadership that drives immediate action on mitigating and adapting to a volatile climate, not this incremental, cynically motivated, glacial-pace acceptance.

Continued inaction puts a sector that generates $25.6 billion of economic activity a year for South Dakota at severe risk [Don Carr, "Loos Science Tales: Senator Thune's Science Problem," Republic of Awesome, 2014.11.20].

Carr has a direct stake in saving agriculture from global catastrophe: he's managing his family's farm in South Dakota. Carr notes that Senator Thune is maddeningly capable of acknowledging scientific consensus when it serves his image and corporate backers. Carr even agrees that science says GMOs are safe to eat, showing that he's not some GMO-free corn flake crier (sorry, it's an inside blog joke). Carr is serious about science and agribusiness; Senator Thune should be, too.

34 comments

I don't spend much time arguing about climate change here—on Keystone XL, for instance, I can think of numerous reasons the tar sands pipeline will be bad for South Dakota (eminent domain, higher gasoline prices, bogus job numbers, ongoing pollution threat) before I even get to the acceleration of our need to lash our pontoon boats together at Harney Peak and sprout Kevin Costner gills.

But for those of you concerned about greenhouse gases, I happen upon a paper by SDSU dairy professor Alvaro Garcia that contends that today's beef and dairy cattle may not be producing more carbon dioxide and methane than North America's pre-colonial buffalo herd.

Methane emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern beef and dairy herds

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Carbon dioxide emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern dairy herd

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Note that one only finds our modern domesticated ruminants underfarting the mighty tatanka if one assumes the upper-end buffalo population estimate.

Dr. Garcia further contends that the corn our modern herds eat sequesters more carbon dioxide than the grasses old-time buffalo and cattle ate. He also contends that producing more milk per cow uses inputs more efficiently and results in less greenhouse gas output.

In other words, the mega-dairies Mike Rounds promoted with EB-5 visa investment are fighting climate change.

For what it's worth, the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is one of dozens of publications of the American Research Institute for Policy Development. It promises review of submitted papers in two weeks or less and publication within another two weeks, for a fee of $220. Four weeks is crazy-fast turnaround time for real research review and publication. University of Colorado Denver research librarian Jeffrey Beall questions ARIPD's credentials and includes ARIPD on his list of suspected predatory academic publishers. Beall found the peer review report issued for another ARIPD submission appallingly inadequate. ARIPD's address—40 Monticello St., Monticello, NY 12701—appears to be a residential apartment building.

So the journal publishing this information could be as shady as the information our Senator-Elect peddles. Read carefully!

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Susan Wismer and Mike Myers go to Sioux Falls tonight to debate Governor Dennis Daugaard on KELO-TV for his job. Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Gordon Howie, and Mike Rounds go to Vermillion tomorrow night for their first big broadcast Senate debate.

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA!

Partial solar eclipse, animation of lunar penumbra and terminator, October 23, 2014. From NASA! (Time in UTC; subtract 5 hours for Central, 6 for Mou

The gods evidently see more portent in the Senate debate; they are throwing a pre-game eclipse party! The new moon's shadow hits Kamchatka at their Friday dawn, then slides across Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48, and Mexico throughout our Thursday.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, the partial eclipse begins in Vermillion at 4:23 p.m. Central, and maxes out just after 5:36 p.m., when the moon will obscure just about 49% of the sun. The moon will still be taking a bite out of the sun when the sun sets at 6:33 p.m. Predicted cloud cover for Vermillion tomorrow p.m.: 14%–17%.

Out in Spearfish, the eclipse begins just before 3:10 p.m. Mountain, just in time for the kids to get out of school and see all the freaky shadow effects. Spearfish eclipse max is at 4:28 p.m. Mountain with 53% solar obscuration. The moon scoots past the sun completely at 5:38, about 22 minutes before Spearfish sunset. Predicted cloud cover: 28%–33%.

Go see the eclipse (but how many times do we have to tell you: don't look directly at the sun!), then see who eclipses whom at the SDPB Senate debate!

Bonus Third-Grade Science/Halloween Humor:

—How does a deaf astronomer know what ghosts are saying?
—She reads the eek-lips.

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The Sun is our friend: vitamin D, solar power, and photosynthesis, the basis of life as we know it.

But Black Hills science writer Stan Gibilisco points out that the Sun is dangerous. He's not talking about wrinkles; he's talking about coronal mass ejections:

Quick correction: the solar storm to which Gibilisco refers was reported on this month, but it appears to have taken place in July 2012.

I'd call coronal mass ejections star farts—NASA refers to them as "giant bubbles of gas... ejected from the Sun"—but that appellation might trivialize the civilization-busting power of such storms. International insurer Lloyd's takes coronal mass ejections seriously; so should we all. Gibilisco thinks we ought to harden our electronic infrastructure to prevent a coronal mass ejection from shutting down GPS, satellites, the Internet, and the national power grid for weeks or months:

Among other preparations, we could brace for coronal mass ejections by stockpiling large power transformers to replace those that a strong solar storm would fry. Large power transformers cost $2.5 million to $7 million to manufacture, plus maybe 30% overhead to ship and install. Multiply by 2100, and you have a cost of $15 billion. That's no small expenditure... but during the last decade, were spending that much defending American interests in Iraq every 21 days.

But the electric utilities don't have a CME-response stockpile of large power transformers, because free-market competition stops them from preparing for disaster:

A major problem with protecting the national power grid is that it consists of 2100 high voltage transformers run by an assortment of 5000 or so independent entities. One speaker (Dr. Michael Gregg) estimated that it would require a relatively few million dollars to protect some valuable components of the electric power system. However, following these remarks, it came to light during the discussion session that such a measure has lacked support owing to legal and business constraints by these 5000 entities in competition with one another. It probably goes without saying that politicians are not going to enter that fray. Nor would they be willing to budget the much greater expense of acquiring and storing backup high voltage transformers. The threat to nuclear power plants (see: Are nuclear reactors vulnerable to solar storms?) was hardly mentioned [Steve Tracton, "Are We Ready for Potentially Disastrous Impacts of Space Weather?" Washington Post: Capital Weather Gang, 2012.07.11].

Our failure thus far to respond to Gibilisco's call for sensible solar storm preparation is one of the impacts of partisan gridlock and anti-science sentiment in Congress. Dust-ups about EPA efforts to regulate carbon emissions have tangled passage of the NASA budget. Members of Congress don't go on Fox to rail against the Sun, because science-based warnings that the Sun will wreck modern civilization don't raise nearly as much campaign money as Limbaugh-parroting cries that Candidate X is a Barack Obama Marxist waging war on coal.

If the next big coronal mass ejection hits the earth, who made the most profit on utility stocks and who raised the most campaign donations will instantly become irrelevant. Power companies and Congress need to think a bit more on the cosmic scale and protect our modern civilization from the threats Old Sol throws at us.

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Carter Johnson and Tim Johnson ELI Wetlands Award 2014-trim

No relation: Senator Tim Johnson (right) congratulates Dr. Carter Johnson on receiving the Environmental Law Institute's National Wetland Award for Science Research, National Botanical Gardens, Washington, D.C., 2014.05.08.

It may seem impolite to talk about wetlands research while southeastern South Dakota is in a flood emergency. But given that wetlands are nature's way of controlling floods and require less energy than sump pumps and bulldozers, maybe now is the perfect time to talk about some practical, award-winning science from South Dakota.

My friend Carter Johnson received the Environmental Law Institute's National Wetlands Award for science research this spring:

For over 40 years, South Dakota State University Distinguished Professor of Ecology Dr. W. Carter Johnson has been a major contributor to wetland science, including significant contributions to the understanding and management of riparian and prairie pothole wetlands. Carter is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the impacts of global climate change on prairie pothole wetlands. He has published approximately 125 peer reviewed articles, books, and book chapters [Environmental Law Institute, press release, 2014.04.03].

Dr. Johnson is among those researching and warning of the harms that climate change and our hunger for grain are doing to grassland, pheasants, and water quality. Johnson says draining wetlands for agriculture has made flooding worse along the Missouri River.

But the good professor is no radical rewilder seeking to banish all industry from the prairie. Far from it, Johnson wants us to restore the prairie by putting the grass back to work. His own EcoSun Prairie Farms venture south of Brookings (discussed on this blog two summers ago) has restored native grasses and wetlands and is making money selling seed, hay, and grass-fed beef.

In this TedX Brookings talk from February 2014, Johnson proposes a half-and-half solution for the prairie: restore half of the prairie to "working nature" like his prairie farm concept while keeping the other half for tillage and organic agriculture. But whatever the ratio, Johnson says, "We need more from our land than grain. We need more grassland. We need wetlands. We need healthier streams in our landscape."

Flood abatement is just one reason to pay attention to Carter Johnson's award-winning work and his vision for the prairie. Some changes in our agricultural policies and practices could lead to a healthier prairie ecosystem, not to mention less time and money spent sandbagging along the Big Sioux.

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