Wednesday, August 17, 2005

ID, Stem Cells, Biotech & The GOP

Oh, the irony. Let's connect the dots, shall we?

Of the 15 states most aggressively involved in the ID debate, 12 are Red, 3 are Blue.
All but one hosts one or more biotech firms.
All produce corn, most produce cotton and/or soybeans.
At present, the bleeding edge of the biotech industry is in agriculture and of course, pharmaceuticals.
Pharmaceutical companies are one of the largest GOP contributors, with agribusiness not far behind.

So, the thumper crowd will find themselves at a cross roads sooner or later, as they continue to push for their watered-down version of science. Industries that are built on life sciences will require minumum base competence of their local labor pools, including a proficiency in the rudimentary mechanics of evolutionary theory. If they find that would-be employees are unable to meet this criteria, just how anxious do you think they'll be to remain in states that are covered in "disclaimer" stickers? How eager will these firms be to just roll over as fundamentalists rail against stem cell research?

Let's not underestimate what's to be lost if the radical right has their way.
Worldwide, biotech product sales have increased 20% in 2001 (prior to September 11), to $13 billion. An underlying framework for theoretical biology is developing concurrently in several fields. Growing alliances between biotech firms and pharmaceutical and fine-chemical companies are helping to propel the industry's growth. Increasing market sophistication regarding the valuation of biotech firms and products is promoting stabilization of the share prices of public companies. An explosive energy in today's biotech industry is driving agricultural, medical, computational, engineering, and industrial processes to significantly elevated levels of efficiency, efficacy, and environmental sustainability. Public bias against biotech products and services, especially agricultural biotech, continues to grow in Europe and elsewhere.

Here's a taste of what's "in the pipeline" for biotech:
Human therapeutics
Embryonic stem cell technology, combined with retroviral therapy, may soon allow replacement of aging or diseased organs and perhaps even slow or stop aging's molecular clock

Agricultural biotechnology
Crops will be substantially more nutritious. Edible vaccines will help eliminate disease. Genomic and genetic engineering will compress the breeding cycle 100-fold or 1,000-fold.

Industrial biotechnology
Within 50 years, biocatalytic manufacturing processes will permit total biological fabrication of consumer goods like clothing, plastics, and building materials. Biocatalytic approaches will support assembly of complex products like appliances and automobiles. Biotech will enable a far gentler, more sustainable manufacturing environment.

Biological computing
Integration of computer science and biotech will replace siliconbased chips with vastly faster, living computers. Bio-computing will enable wearable computers, nano-scale information processing, and distributed processing in everyday devices.

Materials science
Biologically based development will enable materials ranging from ultrastrong, lightweight fabrics incorporating spider silk to adhesives based on insect pads. Materials, textiles, and device components will provide environmental monitoring, e.g., of bacterial contaminants.

Environmental bioengineering
Biotech will enable sustainable manufacturing processes that minimize and/or repair environmental damage. Microbial cleansers will purify contaminated soil, industrial effluent, contaminated groundwater and air, and petrochemical spills.

This kind of promise is not lost on state governors, who have been actively courting biotech firms in California.
'These sorts of jobs will be high-skilled, high-wage jobs," said Premier Steve Bracks. He added, "We want to be part of the breakthrough in finding opportunities to cure diseases.' At least six U.S. governors have made reservations to compete handshake-to-handshake with foreign politicians. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for one, made it clear that he was coming to entice California companies. His counterparts from Florida, Iowa and Missouri also are expected."

This wooing isn't limited to state officials, either.
"Foreign dignitaries come waving tax breaks, research partnerships and incubator space in front of anyone with a biology-based business plan. They offer slick handouts, door prizes and catered parties in futuristic trade show pavilions designed to set them apart in an increasingly crowded field."

"Roughly one-third of the 16,000 participants at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference come from abroad. Foreign legions have swelled in the last five years as the rest of the world angles for the next big break in biotech. Among the largest foreign delegations: Australia, Canada, Belgium and France."

It's not just the pure promise of biotech that's appealing. Traditional manufacturing has been on the decline in the U.S for decades. We've all heard stories about once-thriving communities turned into little more than ghost towns when their resident factories close up shop and head overseas. An example from Michigan:
Michigan has lost an estimated 185,000 manufacturing jobs since 1999, so state business and political leaders are pressed to find new industries to fill that void. Biotechs are viewed by state leaders and industry experts as job creators of the future. The evolution of the state's biotech industry -- still considered by many analysts to be in its infancy -- could redefine the state's labor environment.

Biotech companies are viewed as attractive by economic developers because they typically escape cyclical moves in the national economy. Older workers are more valuable because of their intellectual experience, and the jobs are considered to be so-called gold collar positions because the average salary is $80,000 -- plus benefits. But the question is, do the state's business and political leaders have the money, patience and commitment needed to support biotech growth?

Donations to the GOP by the pharmaceutical industry are well known and goes without the need for elaborating. For those interested in a little background, see here, here, here, and here.

Now, for the perilous synchronicity.

States currently embroiled most aggressively in the ID "debate", their 2004 electoral result, and the biotech firms* they host:

Alabama (R)
BASF, DuPont

Arkansas (R)
DeKalb/Monsanto, Dow Chemical

Georgia (R)
Aventis, Dekalb/Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Novartis, Merck

Kansas (R)
Dekalb/Monsanto, Merck

Louisiana (R)
BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Merck

Minnesota (D)
DeKalb/Monsanto, DuPont, Novartis, Merck

Mississippi (R)
BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto, DuPont

Missouri (D)
Aventis, BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto, Merck

Ohio (R)
BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Merck

Oklahoma (R)
DeKalb/Monsanto, DuPont

Pennsylvania (D)
Aventis, BASF, DuPont, Merck

South Carolina (R)
BASF, DuPont

Texas (R)
Aventis, BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Merck

Wisconsin (D)
BASF, DeKalb/Monsanto

(*There may very well be more. This brevity of this list is a function of my available research time.)

The tax revenues generated by each of these firms for their respective states were unavailable given my limitations of research. However, it's no great leap to imagine that they are far from insignificant. Nor are the jobs they bring to their local communities. As much as loathing the pharmaceutical industry is fashionable and justified, to dismiss its contribution to the welfare of the community at large is to take a myopic view. And while farm subsidies is a debate better left to another post, agriculture is what feeds us, and to dismiss its contribution is likewise foolhardy. Fact is, these states depend on these industries for jobs and revenues. And I'm willing to bet all the money in my pockets that the IDers (Creationists/Fundamentalists) have failed to consider the impact of their political wrangling on their own futures.

When faced with legislative battles, these firms and their lobbyists are likely to weigh the cost of fighting ID iniatives against moving facilities to significantly cheaper overseas destinations. If the locals are bound and determined to drive themselves out of job markets rich with potential, then all the better for the pharmaceutical companies. They can get equivalent labor for a fraction of the cost, what with the plentiful labor resources and qualified R&D staff in countries like India, for instance.

The more alarming disadvantage will be to agribusiness, which is not so easily outsourced. Pure conjecture this is, but I'm sure none of us are interested in paying $3 per tomato because competent talent has to be shipped in from other states/countries.

Yes, this is the pessimistic view, but I feel it is also a pragmatic one. The realities of the influence of the fundamentalist community are dire when we turn an eye toward science education. To wit: as noted in the "What's The Matter With Kansas, Indeed" comment thread:
I was talking to a former middle school teacher that had moved (fled) from Kansas. She was saying that the policy is merely a reflection of the current reality in the classroom. When she teaches the e-word, a full third of the class puts their heads down and covers their ears, on orders from their parents.

ID/Creationism and stem cell opponents need to pull their heads from their nether-regions and think their positions through to full conclusion. What they propose will hurt America as a self-sufficient nation, to say nothing of the compromise it will affect for her on a globally competitive scale. These people are flirting with the dark ages on multiple fronts, and it behooves every rational being to stop them dead in their tracks. The Founding Fathers were truly prescient when carving a division between state and religion, and it matters now more than ever that we preserve it.


les said...

Well done, CB, and thanks. The scary thing is that, here in Ks. the fundamentalists would, I'm guessing, view the retreat to the dark ages as a positive. These folks already, publicly see ID as too progressive. The picture of doom you paint is their fondest dream. They're just f'in crazy. Keep up the good work.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Thanks, Les. It's been fairly observed (where I posted this on another site) that most of the above-referenced facilities are manufacturing, as opposed to R&D. So, with any luck, any success the fundamentlists have in those states will have negilgible effect there.
Still, I think the larger problem (and the point of my rant, really) is that the fundamental attack on life sciences is about more than just religious intrusion in the classroom. There's an impact to business that must be considered here. I would hope that GOP leadership will explain as much to these people before the "teach the controversy" crap works its way into states that DO host R&D facilities. Otherwise, I think we can reasonably expect them to bolt overseas without a second thought.

les said...

I wouldn't dismiss the impact on manufacturing--witness the Toyota plant that just went to Canada instead of Mississippi(?) to avoid having to teach the locals to read and cipher adequately; bioscience workers, even on the production side, would have to have some level of sophistication, I imagine. As to the GOP, look to where the leaders' investments are before calculating how much they're willing to cross the "base", especially for an R&D facility in a blue state. Am I too cynical? I can hope so, I guess. But I don't think these thugs give a rat's ass about the country as a whole.

Geo_Chick said...

CB, my husband was at a teaching conference and talked to a science teacher from a Kansas middle school. She left there 5 years ago after teaching for 10 years. She said that when she tried to discuss evolution a full third of the class would put their heads down, cross their arms over their heads and plug their ears! No risk of any dangerous knowledge entering their formative minds. This is what their pastors and parents told them to do to avoid 'contamination', sigh. So, even without the laws they are fighting for, they are already fighting hard. How do you convince someone, "nah nah nah, I can't hear you!!!"

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Geo Chick,
Your husband was who I was quoting at the end of the entry. He'd relayed the story under another thread. -grin-

Cantankerous Bitch said...

I don't trust them either, to put the benefit of the country first. I do, however, trust that they'll preseve contributor profits first. A pyrrhic victory, that.