Monday, March 26, 2012

NPR Retraction of Story on Apple Factories Provides Insight into the Mentality behind Attacks on Gene Patents and Agricultural Biotechnology

On March 16, the popular National Public Radio (NPR) program This American Life (TAL) was forced to retract statements made during an episode that aired in January alleging abuse of workers at Chinese factories manufacturing products for Apple. The explanation provided by “monologist” Mike Daisy, source of the "significant fabrications" reported on the TAL program, provide some insight I think into the mentality behind the flood of misinformation that has been promulgated with respect to gene patents and agricultural biotechnology, and which unfortunately has found its way into the courts and Congress.

TAL admits to having excerpted the fabricated story from "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," a one-man show that Mike Daisey had been performing across the country, and which is currently in production at the Public Theater in New York. In a press release, TAL says it first learned Daisey had fabricated parts of his story when another public radio program, Marketplace, tracked down Daisey's interpreter, who disputed parts of Daisey's monologue. After being caught lying, Daisey apologized to NPR, explaining that:

“I’m not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. [] My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it's not journalism. It's theater.'"
Daisey's rationalization of his lies reminds me a lot of the response of an author after I reviewed his book entitled "Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes", and pointed out some of the numerous inaccuracies in the book regarding patent law in general, and gene patents in particular. In the book, the author characterized himself as an intellectual property attorney, but when he was unable to refute the many inaccuracies in his book that I pointed out in my review, he dismissed them, and asserted that it did not matter because he had approached the issue as a philosopher, rather than as a lawyer or scientist; very reminiscent of Daisey's explanation that his report on NPR was "theater," not journalism.

The problem is, these people target a lay audience largely unfamiliar with the subject matter they cover, and push forward their work as evidence allegedly supporting their position. It would be one thing if Daisey had explained to his NPR audience that he was merely engaged in theater, or if the author of "Who Owns You?" had explained that his book was nothing more than philosophical ponderings, with no grounding in fact. But that is not how they present their work, and unfortunately their works can play an important role in motivating others (including judges and members of Congress) to take action.

For example, according to NPR the TAL piece featuring Daisey made him "Apple's chief critic and it also inspired a petition that collected more than 250,000 signatures demanding that Apple better the working conditions at the factories.” Books like "Who Owns You?” have no doubt played a role in shaping the current widespread antipathy toward gene patents.

I also found it interesting that Daisey characterizes his fabrications about Apple factories as "shortcuts in [his] passion to be heard." I suspect that this sort of mentality might explain the bending of reality routinely engaged in by the opponents of gene patents and agricultural biotechnology. They are convinced that gene patents and genetically engineered crops endanger society, and that companies like Myriad Genetics and Monsanto are evil, and will seemingly say anything in their passion to be heard. Like Daisey, they do not appear to be bothered by specific facts, and are willing to take shortcuts around the truth in seeking to eliminate these evils from the world.

The disturbing thing is that there is so much incentive for people to propagate these myths. People like Daisey clearly love being in the spotlight, and the more sensational he can make his reports of condition Apple factories, the more people he will have listening. NPR reported that this episode of TAL had the largest audience that show had ever achieved, and that Daisey became the most prominent critic of Apple factories because of the coverage. Unfortunately, I think there are also incentives at play, particularly in academia and with respect to advocacy groups such as the ACLU and Public Patent Foundation, for making overblown and sensationalistic allegations on hot button issues such as gene patents and agricultural biotechnology.


drkoepsell said...

You lie, Chirs. I NEVER characterized myself as an IP attorney! Show me where I say so, or retract this statement!

drkoepsell said...

sorry, Chris.

drkoepsell said...

you also lie that I did not refute your review, I did so here:

drkoepsell said...

from the book jacket: "David Koepsell is an author, philosopher, and attorney whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics, and public policy" He is Assistant Professor, Philosophy Section, Faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management at the Technology University of Delft, in the Netherlands, and Senior Fellow, 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, The Netherlands. He is the author of The Ontology of Cyberspace: Philosophy, Law, and the Future of Intellectual Prioperty, as well as numerous scholarly articles on law, philosophy, science, and ethics." The Acknowledgements state only that I wrote the book while a visiting fellow at the Yale Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center" and NOWHERE do I ever claim to be an IP attorney. My writing is clearly philosophical, though clearly about both law and science. For you to lie like this, to compare me to Daisey, is stretching your analogy to the breaking point. I know you have been dishonest in not fully disclosing your connections to BIO while attacking my work, but your lying outright like this, attributing a statement to me I NEVER made, goes beyond the pale. I always assumed you never actually read my book, given you completely mis-characterized my "commons" argument as an "anti-commons" utilitarian one, but now I think it's clear you didn't read it at all. You must be lashing out at the loss in Prometheus that to distract from that you have to create a new story about those who disagree with you. It's kind of sad. Now, if you have an ounce of ethics in you, retract your claim that I ever said I was an IP attorney. In my refutation of your review, I admit the small errors I made, now you should do likewise about this big one. It's a bald lie, or show me where in the book I claim I am.

Anonymous said...

Here is a quote from David Koepsell's discussion of Chris Holman's book review (url provided above):

"Patent law does apply to discoveries, but they must be “new.” Now, this does not include discoveries of natural things that have long existed, which are not “new” and the case law is clear on this. The only “discoveries” that can then be logically patentable are those that are somehow inventive, which I argue genes are not, even in their “isolated and purified” state. Once again, this is an instance of Holman taking the conclusion of an argument I make out of the context of the argument itself, claiming it is an error rather than explaining the line of reasoning that leads me to my conclusion, and then saying I am merely wrong. We disagree, and I state my reasons in the book."

Does this not imply that David Koepsell is an expert on IP law?

Michael Samardzija

Arthur Gershman said...

Drs. Samardzija, Holman and Koepsell,
You three all make good points, but no hominem arguments please.
Respectfully submitted,
Arthur P. Gershman
RN 27,035