Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond


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Eye To The Ground: A Talk by Eoin Lettice for Cork Culture Night

CorkSkeptics_Plants_Poster_450px“Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together” – Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)

Humans exist because plants exist. Plants have shaped our world, allowing animal life to evolve and they continue to have an overriding influence on our society. From the food we eat, the medicines we take, the beer we drink and the clothes we wear; plants make life possible on Earth. Indeed, Ireland has built two of its largest industries – agriculture and tourism – on its green image.

In this talk, Eoin Lettice—lecturer in Plant Science at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork —will examine the importance of plants in society and even unearth some intriguing mysteries which can be solved with a knowledge of plants. What caused the Salem witch trials? Why are the British a nation of tea-drinkers? And what caused the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’?

Eoin will discuss the present place of plants in culture and society and discuss the idea of ‘plant blindness’ – the inability to see or notice plants (and their importance) around us. Given the crucial importance of plants to critical global problems like food security and climate change, we ignore plant blindness at our peril.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 23.24.14About The Speaker: Eoin is a lecturer in plant science at the School of BEES, University College Cork where he teaches a diverse range of subjects including plant biotechnology, plant pathology, soil science, biological control and organic horticulture.

His main research focus is the biocontrol of plant pests using sustainable approaches. He’s also interested in science communication, running the Communicate Science blog and novel methods in teaching and learning.

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This talk is part of Culture Night Cork 2013. It is open to the public, and free to attend. It starts at 7:00pm on Friday 20th September.

Please note that this talk will take place in the Lee Rowing Club, which is a change from our usual venue. Directions and more information can be found here: http://culturenightcork.ie/events/129/lee-rowing-club-cork-skeptics/


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GM Crops talk at Cork Skeptics in the Castle, Feb. 18th

Eoin Lettice, Lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, UCC

Genetically modified crops have been the subject of considerable controversy for many years. Some of the concerns people have stem from legitimate worries, others are based in misconceptions and rumours. The very idea has become so threatening to some that even small test GM crops planted only for research purposes only have to be guarded in secrecy for fear of attack and destruction by well-intentioned but often misinformed people. After a very thoroughly researched, balanced and well-presented talk by Eoin Lettice on Friday night, the controversy is far from resolved; although the audience can certainly claim to be far better informed than we were previously. It is always frustrating and fascinating to explore a subject that cannot be conclusively pigeonholed into a Good for Humans / Good for the Planet category, and the evening raised as many new questions as it answered old ones.

In his talk, Eoin took pains to emphasise that GM crops were not a panacea to the world’s food problems, but that they could play a beneficial role in certain circumstances. He described the methods by which new genes can be inserted into existing DNA and how marker genes are used to distinguish between modified and unmodified cells (luminous green potatoes, anyone?). A lot of the focus on GM has been on yield improvement, something that fails to resonate with consumers, although research indicates that if consumer uses could be found for such crops (a putative cure for cancer, for instance), that this might have a significant effect on public perception.

Eoin takes questions from the floor

Progress in genetic modification has been affected by political considerations, particularly in Europe, where there has been a moratorium on research until quite recently. It has been proposed to allow the different states of the EU to decide for themselves how they want to address the issue – an unsustainable position according to Eoin.

Questions from the floor included concerns over multinational influence over the framing of legislation (esp. Monsanto); concerns over leakage of herbicide resistance into other crops; concerns over biodiversity and the deliberate sterility of some crops which meant that farmers would be forced to buy seeds every year from the manufacturers. Eoin pointed out that in many cases similar issues existed with non-GM crops and that this was an issue for farming generally and not just for GM alone.

Eoin’s talk was presented with passion and the subject was presented very clearly. The discussion was lively with some valuable commentary from the floor. Clearly, this is an issue that is far from being resolved.

You can view more photos from the night on our Facebook page.


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Trust Me, I’m A Scientist: A Talk by Eoin Lettice

On Friday 18th February, we will host a talk by Eoin Lettice entitled Trust Me, I’m A Scientist: Gentically Modified (GM) Crops and the Public Perception of Science.

With an increasing demand for high-yielding crop varieties, the genetic modification of plants is seen by many as part of the solution. However, with serious opposition in some quarters to GM technology, has there been a failure by scientists to communicate the benefits and risks of GM properly to the public? This talk will look at public perceptions of science and at how science is communicated. Particular focus will be on the area of genetically modified crops and how the public perceive them.

About the speaker: Eoin Lettice is a lecturer in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University College Cork. His research and teaching focus is on plant pathology and plant biotechnology. He also writes the Communicate Science blog, which was nominated for an Irish Blog Award, Irish Web Award and shortlisted for an Eircom Spider Award in 2010.

The talk will begin at 8pm on Friday February 18th, in Blackrock Castle Observatory, which is close to the Mahon Point Shopping Centre. Everyone is welcome and the talk is free to attend.
Please see our Skeptics In The Castle page for directions to the Castle.