Monday, October 27, 2014

PF December 2014 - Potential Topics

The National Speech and Debate Association has opened your chance to vote for the December PF Debate topic.

December 2014 PF Ballot - Topic Area: Criminal Justice

Resolved: The United States Department of Defense should discontinue the transfer of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces.

Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

In my humble opinion, the first option is interesting but very fresh. This usually means there will be very little literature from which to draw meaningful evidence; Pro or Con. We have seen the use of military-grade equipment recently by the Ferguson, Missouri police force for crowd control and "show of force" so the topic is about as "fresh" as they come.

The second, choice risks bogging down in conflicting cost-benefit analyses but there is a much longer history to prison privatization which can allow a richer exploration of Pro and Con issues with empirical evidence which looks at a broad range of advantages and disadvantages. 

Both resolutions are U.S. specific but there is no reason why we cannot look to international examples as models for the U.S. regardless of which resolution is chosen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

LD Nov/Dec 2014 - Right to Be Forgotten - Negative Position

Resolved: The "right to be forgotten" from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.

For part 1 of this series, click here.


The most obvious position for the Negative is the right to be forgotten should not be a civil right but such a position begs another question, if not a civil right then what? Should it be - uhm - "forgotten?"

I mean, if anyone of us were in a position where certain information about us was circulating on the Internet which harms one's evaluation of our character and that rogue bit of information was somehow no longer relevant to our present life, we may wish for a way to remove it.  Indeed, for you more experienced debaters, think of Rawls' Original Position in his theory of justice. In fact, do not be surprised when Affirmative debaters are running Rawls' 'veil of ignorance' against you. The question is, is making the right to be forgotten a civil right, and perhaps we should expand that to universal civil right, really necessary? Perhaps there could be alternate solutions.  Bear in mind, in Europe, the right to be forgotten is already a civil right and more and more nations are beginning to agree it should be and many are claiming the basis of the right is rooted in the concept of natural rights based in the right of property.

If I own a property (any kind of object, thing, piece of information) and put it on display for public enjoyment, enlightenment, or scrutiny, I still retain the rights to it and should have the right to pull it back into the private realm at any time I choose. That is sort of what the Affirmative may be claiming. However, in the EU, it seems the laws have taken it a step farther and the regulations "are not limited to personal data that people “have given out themselves”; instead, they create a new right to delete personal data, defined broadly as “any information relating to a data subject.” For this reason, they arguably create a legally enforceable right to demand the deletion of any photos or data that I post myself, even after they’ve gone viral, not to mention unflattering photos that include me or information about me that others post, whether or not it is true" (Rosen 2012).

But that is the EU and we are the U.S. and according to many of the values and laws we hold dear we see things a little differently which favor the Negative position (for sure as U.S.-based Lincoln-Douglas debaters we see both sides of the issue equally). In the U.S. there exists a very strong desire to protect the right of free speech. The old saying is, "I may not agree with what you are saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it," is rooted in what the founding fathers viewed as one of the most important rights in that it, along with the right vote, provides a means to check the abuses of government and freedom of speech is a major component of liberal democracies and the principle that everyone has a voice.

So what happens if Affirmative does argue the right to be forgotten is a natural right and thus inalienable.  In the U.S. we hold certain rights to be inalienable but even those rights can be suspended when it serves a greater public interest.  Look to many examples in the so-called right of eminent domain, or internment camps for U.S. citizens during the Second World War. In the U.S. all forms of Internet expression are considered speech (this does not include illegal activity like spamming, hacking or hijacking other sites) and thus protected by the U.S. constitution. As I mentioned in part one of this topic (see link above) there is a clash of rights in that the right to be forgotten, clashes with the right to free speech in the U.S. where many of the Internet search giants are located. It clashes with the right of a search engine provider like Google to provide links and it clashes with the right of the host site to display the disputed information.

For those of you interested in Google's position in this debate, you may be interested in reading this document. In particular, question 4.

In the first section below we will examine several lines of argument dealing with the burdens of rights on liberal societies, discuss the practicality of a right and touch upon principles of "ought implies can". In the second section, I will very briefly discuss the fact that cultural diversity may make the right meaningless in some locales.  Finally I will talk about how common values are protected by the Negative position.

The Burden of Rights

The theory of rights can be conceptualized in different ways and indeed several philosophers have their own ideas about what it means to have a right.  For most of us, a civil right is an entitlement to an individual which limits others from infringing upon the one possessing the right.  However, typically for governments, there is a utilitarian aspect to the concept of rights which tends to weigh the importance of the right to an individual against the burden of the limits it imposes on the majority.

Waldron (1989):
...a person may be said to have a right if and only if some aspect of her well-being (some interest of hers) is sufficiently important in itself to justify holding some other person or persons to be under a duty. Thus, when A is said to have a right to free speech, part of what is claimed is that her interest in speaking out freely is sufficiently important in itself from a moral point of view to justify holding other people, particularly the government, to have duties not to place her under any restrictions or penalties in this regard. On this conception, basing duties on rights is quite a different matter from basing them on general utility. For a utilitarian, the government's duty to let someone speak out is never inferred merely from the importance of the interest that the individual person herself has in the matter; rather it is inferred from a calculus that relates the importance of that interest to the importance of every other interest that may be affected by the imposition of the duty. By contrast, a theory of rights bases its commitment to the practice on the good to each individual, taken one by one, of being able to speak her mind freely. In other words, A's right to free speech is based on the importance of A's interest in the matter, B's right is based on the importance of B's interest, C's on that of C, and so on; whereas for the utilitarian, free speech for A may be justified only through a calculus of the interests that A and B and C and everyone else have at stake in the matter.

Consider if a right to three full meals for individuals is claimed. While such a right may be in the best interest of individuals, it places an enormous burden on governments, food services, etc. to guarantee the right and would be impossible in some parts of the world. It may be appropriate in parts of Europe to claim people have a right to universal health-care when the nation is able to meet the financial burden of the request and is capable of erecting the required infrastructure to grant the right.  It may never be considered a human right or universal civil right since, many nations could never meet the need.

Waldron (1989):
This point is important for evaluating what critics sometimes say about welfare rights. Sometimes it is said that there is no human right to welfare (education, a decent standard of living, medical care, a job, holidays with pay, etc.) because these are not goods that can be secured in poor countries for everyone. 

This, of course, raises another very important issue for the Negative with respect to the ability to grant rights to individuals.  As stated by Waldron, "If it is impossible for a thing to be done, it is absurd to claim it as a right."

At face value, it sounds rather trivial to claim an individual has a right to be forgotten and so search engines or data providers have a duty to adhere to the requirements of the individual right.  But, when one grants this right to an aggregate; a population of individuals, the complexity of the imposed duty expands accordingly.

Waldron (1989):
The problems posed by scarcity and underdevelopment only arise when we take all the claims of right together. It is not the duties in each individual case which demand the impossible (as it would be, e.g., if we talked about a right to happiness or something like that); rather it is the combination of all the duties taken together which cannot be fulfilled. But one of the important features of rights discourse is that rights are attributed to individuals one by one, not collectively or in the aggregate.'

The Negative side of this issue reminds the judge to not ignore the tendency to view the issue not just as an individual right, but as duty to protect the rights of a population for 10's of thousands of individuals, perhaps millions, perhaps billions and what would be the cumulative effect on those charged with executing the required duties?

In addition, these duties, taken in the aggregate, impose additional duties.  Negative rights granted to one, implies a duty for others to protect the rights of the one.  These kinds of rights put limitations on the liberties of others who are now duty-bound to not violate the rights of the one and that duty leads to the imposition of other duties.

Waldron (1989):
We talk about rights when we think that some interest of an individual has sufficient moral importance to justify holding others to be under a duty to serve it. But if a given interest has that degree of importance, it is unlikely that it will justify the imposition of just one duty. Interests are complicated things. There are many ways in which a given interest can be served or disserved, and we should not expect to find that only one of those ways is singled out and made the subject matter of a duty. For example, if an individual's interest in speaking freely is important enough to justify holding the government to be under a duty not to impose a regime of political censorship, it is likely also to be sufficiently important to generate other duties: a duty to protect those who make speeches in public from the wrath of those who are disturbed by what they say; a duty to establish rules of order so that possibilities for public speech do not evaporate in the noise of several loudspeakers vying for the attention of the same audience; and so on.

We can cross-apply Waldron's example to include protection of the right to be forgotten. If the right induces a duty to delete undesired references to an individual, it is reasonable to assume it would induce additional duties upon governing bodies or at minimum the owners of every blog, news source, social media site, information producer, etc., to review all information or depictions to be published and eliminate those which violate the civic duty to protect select individuals. At this point we enter the realm of full-blown censorship. The burden created by the right weighs unfavorably against utilitarian consideration of limitations of others and would be difficult if not impossible to fully carry out.

I will wrap this section up with a very brief mention of Immanuel Kant who in his famous work, Critique of Pure Reason, states "The action to which the "ought" applies must indeed be possible under natural conditions."  I simply don't buy the common belief that ought and should are synonymous terms.  Why do we have two words?  As commonly defined, ought implies duty or obligation and while I think it pushes the definition to claim it implies a moral obligation in this context, I think as Kant suggests (for this Negative position, at least) the duty implicit in ought exists only when it is possible to perform the duty.  As seen above, there are several reasons we can apply which argues the duty is not possible to perform due to cascading burdens, utilitarian principles or simply because the accumulation of requests would swamp the right to free speech.

Universal Rights?

The resolution does not specify a particular country or locale where the right to be forgotten should be a civil right. One assumes we are debating a universal civil right based on the concept of human dignity which drives the establishment of most universal human rights. However, some cultures do not recognize human existence and thus, dignity outside of the context of a public sphere, hence the notion of privacy is not a overarching value for these cultures. Therefore, it is not appropriate to assume universal status for the right to be forgotten.

DeHert & Gutwirth (2004):
Very often it is said that human rights have a strong ethical footing. They are not about biological individual human beings, but about something more. Some legal texts on human rights emphasise the development of the 'person'. Other texts hold that human rights are based on 'human dignity'. The dignity of the human person is not only a fundamental right in itself but seemingly also constitutes the ultimate basis of fundamental rights. Without any doubt, this protection of 'something more' by human rights serves legitimate purposes, but it may lead to a conception of human rights too restricted to be of universal validity. It is questionable whether the notion of personhood in the German constitution has many affinities with a conception of personhood existing within, for instance, African or Asian societies where there is less emphasis on the individual. In certain African tribes there is no existence of a person outside the group. Does this mean that there can be no protection of human rights in such a society? What is wrong with extending protection beyond individual biological human beings? The same question of universal validity can be asked about the use of 'human dignity' as an ethical notion, borrowed from Christianity. Within the Western World there is no consensus on the necessity of this notion, so why export it to other cultures?
It is a very interesting philosophical idea that perhaps humans are not really human withdrawn from the context of a public sphere. The idea that some cultures may hold that dignity is possibly realized in social settings is reasonable and argues against the idea dignity is preserved in privacy. It is food for thought.

Negative Values

Given the ideas posted above, I believe it should be fairly easy to defend the value of liberty, especially when one considers the restrictions on free expression imposed by the right to be forgotten. One can also extend the argument to a value of justice in that the burden on the many carries more weight than personal interests in the right to be forgotten. One may also look to the societal values of fairness as already mentioned with justice. Also one could potentially argue for the value of democratic ideals based on the universal human right of free expression and its compatibility with democratic principles.  Finally I think a reasonable case can be made for the duty of governments under the social contract by upholding utilitarian evaluations when balancing the burden of permitting individual rights.

In this post I have once again avoided legal arguments because I think the legal issues are complex and perhaps unresolvable,

Good luck, debaters.  There is a lot of room in this topic for purely analytic positions, which can be interesting if done well.


Charney, E. (1999) Cultural Interpretation and Universal Human Rights: A Response to Daniel A. Bell, Political Theory, Vol. 27, No. 6 (Dec., 1999), pp. 840-848.

DE HERT, P. & GUTWIRTH, S. (2004), Rawls' political conception of rights and liberties. An unliberal but pragmatic approach to the problems of harmonisation and globalisation. Epistemology and Methodology of Comparative Law, pp.317 - 357, eds. VAN HOECKE M., published by Hart Publishing.

Rosen, J. The right to be forgotten, 2012, Stanford Law Review (64 Stan. L. Rev. Online 88)

Waldron, J. (1989) Rights in conflict, Ethics, Vol. 99, No. 3. (Apr., 1989), pp. 503-519

Sunday, October 5, 2014

LD Nov/Dec 2014 - Right to be Forgotten - Affirmative Position

Resolved: The "right to be forgotten" from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.

For part 1 of this series, click here.


I think there can be real value to taking a very high level approach to this resolution. By this, I mean one can take a position based on a conceptual definition of "right to be forgotten" that is not specific as to how such a right would be implemented. Maybe we really don't need to care if the "right to be forgotten" means certain things, or everything is deleted from searches and it may allow the Affirmative to slide over legal arguments which tend to get very specific and will vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Really this is what makes the Internet such a tough arena for rule/law enforcement. The Internet spans every cultural and ideological boundary on the planet and unless people can universally agree that some content (such as child exploitation or dangerous extremism) should have no means of expression, one is unlikely to see a particular form of filtering gain world-wide acceptance.

Affirmative defends the conclusion the right to be forgotten ought to be a civil right, nothing more. The enforceability of such a conclusion need not be an issue considering there are other "civil rights" valued by the international community which are not enforced in every jurisdiction.  Look at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and you should realize there are many "rights" which are denied people around the world, but it does not mean the right is not a valid right.

I guess if we are going to talk about legitimate civil rights (whether universally enforceable or not) we will need to understand the scope.  A right is basically an entitlement granted by an authority and in this world there are many, many authorities. A 'civil' right is understood to be an entitlement granted to citizens by a government.  Now, since we are talking about a right with respect to Internet searches, it is logical the authority must have some kind of jurisdiction over the Internet or more properly, access to information on the Internet. That begs the question, which entity has jurisdiction over the Internet.

Rosenblatt (undated):
Under the current system, in order to decide what state's or nation's laws govern disputes that arise over Internet issues, a court first must decide "where" Internet conduct takes place, and what it means for Internet activity to have an "effect" within a state or nation. Even apart from the Internet, this border-centric view of the law creates certain difficulties in an economy moving toward globalization.  Entire bodies of law have been developed by every nation to deal with the resolution of international conflicts of law, conflicts that arise when geography and citizenship would allow a dispute to be decided by the laws of more than one country, and the laws of those countries are not consistent with each other.  Conflicts of law are particularly likely to arise in cyberspace, where the location of an occurrence is never certain, where ideological differences are likely to create conflicting laws, and where rules are made not only by nations and their representatives, but also by sub-national and transnational institutions.

The European Union (EU) took action in 2012 requiring the deletion of non-relevant personal information if requested. A key distinction is, the EU views the information posted online as "data" owned by the subject of the data, whereas, in the U.S. such postings are expressions of free speech. (Stuart 2014).

Stuart (2014):
The primary problem with the application of a right to be forgotten in the United States is that any information posted online is considered speech, including compiled information from a search engine, and any effort to delete such information other than by the original poster implicates the speech of search engines. The First Amendment strongly protects such speech from any limitation. In addition, the Communications Decency Act and its safe harbor immunize Internet service providers from liability with respect to speech of websites.

As pointed out by Stuart, the idea that filtered search results is censorship is really ignorance of that fact that all searches are filtered by a number of proprietary criteria which not only eliminates some listings (mainly due to copyright infringements) but orders the sequence in which they appear. With that understanding, this debate is not about censorship per se. Technologically, it may not be a major problem for a search service such as Google to filter "data" or "speech" since it is already done but Google has consistently rejected removal requests except under U.S. court order. In the EU where, this right currently exists, it is the court that decides whether or not an individual's request for removal from Internet searches is proper, meaning a court will evaluate the individual's so-called "right of personality" (equivalent to publicity right) against the public's right to know and decide if the removal is justified in situations where Google refused to cooperate. Google is a U.S. corporation not under EU jurisdiction, even though Google does have a business interest in at least considering the EU court requests on a case-by-case basis. It is not about individuals going to Google and saying, "take me off your search engine results." The requests are carefully evaluated and courts intervene when necessary.

So this, is the crux of the jurisdictional and ideological debate which essentially pits the EU protection of the right to privacy against the U.S. protection of the right to free speech and for this reason, while I think taking on the legal ramifications is a legitimate strategy for any LD debater, I think it may be possible to run the debate on more of a philosophical framework which leaves the legal details and implementation for another day and another debate.

Here is a road-map to possible paths for the Affirmative:
Based on a general right to personality (publicity - see below) we focus on privacy and identify other values.

  1. We introduce an argument repressing the right to personality harms the need for safety which prevents the attainment of self-actualization. This can be expanded to dehumanization.
  2. We explore the notion personality is personal property, thus a preeminent natural right.
  3. We argue that human dignity is protected by permitting one to express their personality as they desire and thus fulfills the need for self-actualization.
  4. The argument is developed that privacy is a prerequisite for autonomy and freedom and a mechanism for achieving self-actualization.

What We Value

The Affirmative seeks to protect a number of important values derived or related to an individual's desire to maintain a certain anonymity or more properly the individual's desire to have some control over what is exposed to public scrutiny. Whether or not privacy is a right is a question of law.  One may think they have a right to privacy but in many jurisdictions it is implicit or not guaranteed.  Nevertheless, almost universally, individuals value privacy, and as with most values, the sphere encompassed by the value of privacy is broad and difficult to define.

DeCew (2013):
The public/private distinction is also sometimes taken to refer to the appropriate realm of governmental authority as opposed to the realm reserved for self-regulation, along the lines described by John Stuart Mill in his essay, On Liberty. Furthermore, the distinction arises again in Locke's discussion of property in his Second Treatise on Government. In the state of nature all the world's bounty is held in common and is in that sense public. But one possesses oneself and one's own body, and one can also acquire property by mixing one's labor with it, and in these cases it is one's private property. Margaret Mead and other anthropologists have demonstrated the ways various cultures protect privacy through concealment, seclusion or by restricting access to secret ceremonies (Mead, 1949). Alan Westin (1967) has surveyed studies of animals demonstrating that a desire for privacy is not restricted to humans. However, what is termed private in these multiple contexts varies. Privacy can refer to a sphere separate from government, a domain inappropriate for governmental interference, forbidden views and knowledge, solitude, or restricted access, to list just a few.

In her essay on "Privacy", DeCew recognises the contribution of Jurists Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis' Harvard Law Review article, "The Right to Privacy" (1890) which argued for "a general right of immunity of the person, “the right to one's personality”...Warren and Brandeis thus laid the foundation for a concept of privacy that has come to be known as control over information about oneself" (DeCew 2013). While Warren and Brandeis may be credited with establishing a pragmatic standard for future legal consideration, it is the concept of the "right of personality" which allows the Affirmative to isolate important values.

Weber (2011):
In Continental Europe, the right to be forgotten can be considered as being contained in the right of the personality, encompassing several elements such as dignity, honor, and the right to private life. Manifold terminologies are used in the context of the right of personality – mainly the right for the (moral and legal) integrity of a person not to be infringed and for a sphere of privacy to be maintained and distinguished. The (privacy) right to indeed keep certain things secret has already been arguably extended to the right of Internet users not to make their activity trails available to third persons. Essentially, rightholders are relying on their own autonomy to individually decide on the possible use of their own data.  

As Weber adequately reveals, the values of dignity, honor, privacy, and autonomy are at the core of this issue. In fact, one could argue nearly all values uniquely cherished by individuals are generally linked to self-determination and many are specifically linked to privacy and individualism from the public sphere.

A Hierarchy of Needs

It was psychologist Abraham Maslow who postulated the famous "hierarchy of needs" commonly visualized as a pyramid built upon the broad-base of physiological needs, progressing step-wise through security and social needs and culminating in the need for self-actualization. Maslow's theory or variants of it are useful for describing how the individual values are connected to fundamental human needs. In many ways unwanted exposure in the public-sphere disturbs our sense of personal safety and certainly the nature of information revealed in the public-sphere has a direct impact on our needs for self-esteem and respect as human beings. The arguments linking needs and the right to be forgotten are mainly pragmatic but some scholars recognize the effect of technological advancement on the ability to fulfill needs.

Marcinkowski (2013):
One may of course argue that the issue of personal data protection is an intellectual exercise for developed and affluent Western societies, while limitations to or complete loss of informational privacy is an inevitable cost of innovation and development of a society. In my view, however, such underestimation of the issue is improper, as it undermines the basic values that are fundamental to a free and democratic society (this issue will be discussed more in the latter part of this Article). Rapidly advancing technological revolution is, paraphrasing Abraham Maslow, a catalyst of changes, from which a new image of the human being, society, science, basic values, and philosophy emerge, while privacy—including informational privacy in particular—is located among basic needs, which are part of a wider need of safety (that are placed just above basic physiological needs). 

Understanding the hierarchical nature of needs attainment explains the potentially dehumanizing effect loss of privacy imparts on victims.  A person struggling to attain those needs on the bottom of the needs hierarchy (i.e. safety) cannot advance to higher levels of attainment. Ernst Cassirer (1963) famously stated:
There is, at least, one right that cannot be ceded or abandoned: the right to personality...They charged the great logician [Hobbes] with a contradiction in terms. If a man could give up his personality he would cease being a moral being. ... There is no pactum subjectionis, no act of submission by which man can give up the state of free agent and enslave himself. For by such an act of renunciation he would give up that very character which constitutes his nature and essence: he would lose his humanity.

The Philosophy of Personality

John Locke, in the Two Treatises of Government claimed all humans have an inalienable right to life, liberty and property (Tuckness 2012). Property can be described as things external to humans arising from creation, including the innate ability of humans to create. Hegel includes the abstract right of personality as significant in distinguishing humans from mere things and the right is expressed in the exercise of freedom. Hegel claims a person expresses freedom externally by appropriating objects and the expression of one's personality is also an object to be owned. As explained by Duquette (undated) "Property is the embodiment of personality and of freedom. Not only can a person put his or her will into something external through the taking possession of it and of using it, but one can also alienate property or yield it to the will of another, including the ability to labor for a restricted period of time. One's personality is inalienable and one's right to personality imprescriptible." Thus, I would interpret Hegel's view as one that ascribes personality to the inalienable right of property.

Oreg 2012:
This notion, for example, can justify the right to property. By controlling physical objects the person can realize his personality in the outside world. This notion similarly justifies the right to identity. ... Without information identity, a person cannot externalize his personality beyond his own consciousness. A person whose identity is not conceived by others can only connect with the physical world – he can hold objects, operate them, and walk across the land – but he cannot exteriorize himself in a manner in which minds other than his own give meaning to things. Only his mind conceives himself. Only it gives him meaning and purpose. He is therefore restricted to his inner dimension, which is narrow (in its singular perspective) and of limited duration (his lifetime).

Thus one exists in the minds of others as an external expression of one's personality and even though that existence is abstract (a mental image in the mind of others), one retains the ownership of that abstract expression and that is an inalienable right and nothing should deprive us of our inalienable rights.

The Philosophy of Dignity

Closely connected to the abstract concept of the right to personality is dignity which can be described as the external projection of one's status. Such status may specifically arise from selection to a particular position or office in society but more generally as status from being uniquely human without regard to any externality such as offices, positions or honors given us by others. Thus, dignity is not something to be bestowed upon someone rather it is an internal expression of one's human identity projected to the outside world. It is an owned expression of personality and thus, as we have shown above, inalienable.

Eberle (2013):
From the perspective of an individual, dignity might be thought of as the ability to pursue one’s rights, claims or interests in daily life so that one can attain full realization of one’s talents, ambitions or abilities, as one would like. That is one path to satisfaction, social recognition and stature, certainly attributes of dignity. This might be thought of as self-realization, although that is not the only conception of dignity. What matters here is that each person should be free to develop his own personality to the fullest subject only to restrictions arising from others’ pursuit of the same.

Under this interpretation the fulfilment of the value of dignity is exercised in the free expression of one's personality and this expression is in keeping with the attainment of Maslow's higher needs for self-actualization.

The Value of Privacy

We visualize privacy as the domain which most closely surrounds us and in which we have complete freedom to express our personality and exercise complete autonomy.

Laas-Mikka & Sutrop (2012)
One of the most thorough treatments of privacy has been presented by Beate Rössler in her book, “The Value of Privacy” (2005), which centers on the question of why we value privacy. Rössler endeavors to show that “privacy in liberal societies is valued and needed for the sake of individual liberty and autonomy, that is, for the sake of both freedom for each individual to fulfill himself, and thus ultimately for the sake of a life that is rewarding” (2005:44). She describes privacy as the ability to control ‘access’ in the physical or metaphorical sense to one’s personhood, enabling autonomy practices; to decide over matters that concern one (including free behavior and action, that is, decisional privacy), to control what other people can know about oneself (informational privacy), and to protect one’s own space for self-evaluation and intimate relationships (local privacy). In the context of development and application of new technologies, our main concern is with informational privacy, a person’s control over the access and use of information about himself or herself.
Thus we see the importance of privacy as a value which further supports the values of liberty and autonomy.  Such support between values is not expected since the exercise of autonomy requires liberty.  In many ways, privacy is a like the right to be forgotten since, each are values with limited legal support.

And So It Begins...

Thus I have taken several approaches which can lead to the same end of defending the Affirmative side of the resolution without need to discuss legal remedies or technical details of how such a right would be implemented.  The idea is merely to argue that such a right is legitimate.  We leave it to the courts and advocates to figure out how to make it work and implement plans. For our part the real issue is, the right to be forgotten is an element of the right to personality and that, as we have seen above, is a natural right.

Run with it, debaters.  If time permits, I may come back and revisit this resolution in a few weeks with a legal framework but I think that would be a very difficult debate.

Click here for the negative position

(Note: all sources are available for free on the web.)

Cassirer, E. The Myth of the State. Yale University Press, 1963, p. 175

DeCew, J., "Privacy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Accessed at:

Duquette, D.A. Hegel: Social and political thought, Internet encylopedia of Philosopy, Accessed at:

Eberle, E.J. Observations on the Development of Human Dignity and Personality in German Constitutional Law: An Overview, Liverpool Law Rev (2012) 33:201–233, DOI 10.1007/s10991-012-9120-x, Accessed at:

MARCINKOWSKI (2013), B.M. Privacy Paradox(es): In Search of a Transatlantic Data Protection Standard, Ohio State Law Journal, Vol 74:6,Page 1167-1193


Oreg, E. Right to information identity, The John Marshall Journal of Information Technology &
Privacy Law, Vol. 29-4, 2012

Rosenblatt, B., Principles of Jurisdiction, accessed at:

Spencer, A.B., Jurisdiction and the Internet: Returning to traditional principles to analyze network-mediated contacts, University of Illinois Law Review, Vol 2006, Pages: 71-127

Stuart, A.H. (2014) Google search results: Buried if not forgotten, North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology, Vol 15-3, 2014, Pages: 463-517

Tuckness, A., "Locke's Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Weber, R.H. The Right to Be Forgotten: More Than a Pandora’s Box?, 2 (2011) JIPITEC 120, para. 1.

Friday, October 3, 2014

PF Nov 2014 - Genetically Modified Foods - Pro Position

Resolved: On balance, the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the harms.

For part one of this series, click here

The Overview

There is nothing in the Pro position which suggests the evidence is in and we no longer need be concerned about wide-spread GM food use. Caution is always prudent and it always best to check and recheck when the health and safety of humans and biomass may be at stake.  But we must also look ahead and see that very soon, under the pressure of increasing population growth, global warming, pollution, and loss of fertile soils, a potential for a steady decline in food security is likely. While caution is prudent it would also be wise to utilize all of the tools at our disposal.  The fact is, people in the U.S. have been consuming genetically modified foods since 1994 and thus far we have not identified substantial negative human health or environmental effects. In reality, every technological advancement in food production, whether through innovative breeding, development of new pesticides or fertilizers, or genetic engineering all present risks that are managed by appropriate administration, regulation and testing.

GM foods are under the microscope. It is a fact that none of the non-GM foods consumed around the world have had the same level of evaluation as GM foods. One source I looked at stated the level of insecticides in most brands of coffee is higher than some GM foods and many of the chemicals in coffee have never been tested for health effects. To put things in perspective, probably everything we do as a species has some adverse effects on the planet, but as the resolution asks, do the benefits outweigh?

Technically, the resolution does not put any demands on the development, manufacture or consumption of GM foods.  We are not expected to defend increases or decreases in its usage. In many respects, the resolution simply asks us to pause and assess.  We have been developing GMOs since the 1980s and we have been consuming them since 1994.  On balance, do the benefits outweigh the harms?  For the Pro, the answer is yes.

The Status Quo

Let's begin this process by looking at the status quo because we need to pause a moment and see where we are at and where he are headed.

Long (2013):
From a global perspective, the world is heading towards a food shortage. Even though there have been technological advances that, for example, have allowed U.S. farmers to roughly triple corn and soybean production in the past five decades, population and economic growth are placing a surging demand on food. Additionally, we are also confronting rising temperatures, increased drought, and increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and surface ozone concentrations... U.S. agricultural exports in 2011, the most recent figures we have, were worth $137 billion. That is about 10 percent of all our nation’s exports now and it’s almost doubled over the last 10 years. And if we look at projections for world food prices and demand, it could well double again over the next 10 years,  becoming a most significant part of our exports. Now despite these increases in production and exports, demand, at the present time, is growing faster than supply. This has resulted in wheat prices more than doubling in just seven years and sorghum prices almost tripling over that time.

The so-called 'Green Revolution' is pretty much over.  The age of innovative breeding, use of pesticides and fertilizers, and improved tilling and cultivation techniques has reached the point of diminishing returns.  Food prices are rising, crop yields are falling and food security is at risk.  Pro would advocate that all technologies should be applied to avert the looming risks to food security including breeding, pesticides, fertilizers and genetics. But Pro is not advocating plunging ahead irresponsibly. Even very conservative and cautious protocols urged in other parts of the world understand the risks of suspending GMO deployment.

An Abundance of Caution

The Pro agrees it is prudent to be cautious, but not so cautious progress halts.  We must find the balance between caution and our sense of urgency to meet the demands of the changing world. Let's enlighten the opponents about the realities of scientific certainties.

IUCN 2007:
To date, scientists have found no unequivocal evidence of direct negative damages to biodiversity or human health associated with released GMOs, though some potentially negative impacts have been demonstrated in laboratory experiments (see below). However, the potential risks justify the need for a precautionary approach to minimise risks associated with releasing GMOs. On the other hand, some governments, supported by the WTO, are concerned that excessive precaution might prevent trade in GMOs that could provide real benefits to farmers and consumers, and especially the rural poor.

At issue is the principle of "scientific certainty" and if the intent is to uphold a moratorium on GMOs until we are absolutely certain there are no risks, we may never attain that point.

IUCN 2007:
Science works with probabilities, so most scientists use statistical measures of certainty, and state these explicitly in their publications. As Giampietro (2002) points out, it is impossible to ban uncertainty and ignorance from scientific models dealing with evolutionary processes, and as such, science can never really “prove” that GMOs in general are safe for biodiversity and human health. The “beyond reasonable doubt” provision in WCC3.007 will therefore remain more a political issue than a scientific one, though the negative result -- that a GMO has caused damage to biodiversity or human health -- can be demonstrated...The existence of ecological risks per se should not be used as a reason to stop innovations altogether, but the precautionary approach encourages scientists to carefully assess the trade-offs that may be involved (Giampietro, 2002). 

The Harms

It is difficult to quantify the harms of GMOs.  After all, it is because we do not yet know what harms may arise we urge caution.  It is appropriate, though to realize we have a problem looming due to increasing food stress for large populations and pressure from changing climate.  We identify the harms that already exist in the status quo as a result of current farm practices.

Kegley (undated):
Our current conventional agricultural system relies heavily on synthetic pesticides, and when pesticide exposure is mentioned, the first thought that may come to mind is pesticide residues on food. But for those who live in agricultural areas or work on conventional farms, exposure is a full-body experience. Farm workers have the highest exposures, since they are often involved in applying pesticides or working in the crop soon after the pesticides are applied. And ironically, people seeking a bucolic rural lifestyle may also have higher exposures simply from living near farms where pesticides are used.
Gilbert (2012):
The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the latest figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world...Using estimates from 2005, 2007 and 2008, the researchers found that agricultural production provides the lion’s share of greenhouse-gas emissions from the food system, releasing up to 12,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year — up to 86% of all food-related anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions. Next is fertilizer manufacture, which releases up to 575 megatonnes, followed by refrigeration, which emits 490 megatonnes. The researchers found that the whole food system released 9,800–16,900 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere in 2008, including indirect emissions from deforestation and land-use changes.
Industrial-type farming has major impacts on the environment but perhaps those can be mitigated by adopting the practices of traditional "organic" farms.  Then again, maybe not.

Oxford 2012:
'Many people think that organic farming has intrinsically lower environmental impacts than conventional farming but the published literature tells us this is not the case,' said Dr Hanna Tuomisto, who led the research at Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). 'Whilst some organic farming practices do have less environmental impact than conventional ones, the published evidence suggests that others are actually worse for some aspects of the environment. People need to realise that an "organic" label is not a straightforward guarantee of the most environmentally-friendly product.

And as to the perceived heath benefits of organic products, perception is not science.

Stanford (2012):
After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared the consistently healthier choice, despite running what Bravata called “tons of analyses.”

Pro cannot claim, GM food production will eliminate environmental or health impacts associated with farming and food production.  Nevertheless, by reducing the impacts, in a multitude of small ways, by reducing the number of times farmers need to run hydro-carbon gulping machinery through the fields, or using less fertilizer or pesticide which washes into ground water, and so many other improvements to conventional farming the accumulated benefits add up to a major weight in evaluating the benefits of GM food.

No Health Harms

Just for completeness, and I am sure you will have no problem finding the data, there is currently no known health effects from approved GM foods.  So let's just cover it now.

IUCN 2007:
Much of the GM production currently grown worldwide is destined for animal feed. According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, food from animals fed on these crops is as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops (FSA, 2005). The FAO has also concluded that risks to human and animal health from the use of GM crops and enzymes derived from GM microorganisms as animal feed are negligible (FAO, 2004). Following an evidence-based study, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that “GM foods currently available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely, nor have shown, to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts” (WHO, 2005). To date, the consumption of GM foods has not caused any known negative health effects. In the US and Canada, objective estimates suggest that 70 to 75 per cent of processed food contains GM ingredients (Phillips and Corkindale, 2003). Some 300 million people have been eating genetically modified crops for a decade or more, and no health problem has yet been identified as being caused by the consumption of GM products (Soupcoff, 2004).


It is now time to begin accumulating the small benefits that add up to tilt the balance in favor or Pro. This is nothing more than a compendium of benefits gleaned from the literature and there is so much more which I leave to you root out.

One of the true success stories of GM foods arises from the enhancement of the nutritional value of food items. This contribution is recognized by the World health Organization " asserts “can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development” (WHO, 2005)" (IUCN 2007).

Notable examples of proven nutritional value are found in the so-called "golden rice" with enhanced vitamin A and iron which has been shown to increase the iron-status of anemic women in the Philippines.  In addition, potatoes are being developed in India which contain nutrients and protein missing in the diets of millions of poor children.

WHO (2005):
Qaim and Zilberman (2003) report that farmers in Argentina that adopted herbicide-tolerant soybeans reduced per hectare production costs through the reduced number of herbicide applications, and thereby increased total factor productivity by 10%.
On average, the Bt cotton farmers in China reduced pesticide spraying for the Asian bollworm by 70%, producing a kilogram of cotton at 28% less cost than the non-Bt farmers (Huang et al. 2002b). These benefits have had a significant impact on the agronomic, environmental, health and economic situations of approximately 5 million resource-poor farmers over eight provinces. Similarly, farm-scale trials in China of GM rice containing genes which make them resistant to insect larvae that devastate rice crops showed 80% less pesticide use and yields increased by 6–9% (Coghlan 2005). In addition, farmers who grew the GM varieties suffered less pesticide-induced illness than those growing the old varieties (Coghlan 2005).
A two-year study of the economic impact of Bt cotton adoption by the farmers in the Makhathini Flats of Kwa-Zulu Natal Province of South Africa showed that farmers not only experienced yield increases, but that the savings from reduced chemical applications outweighed the higher seed cost (Ismael et al. 2001). Between 1997 and 2001, the number of South African cotton farmers who adopted the planting of Bt cotton increased 16-fold (Bennett et al. 2003).
Several agro-economic studies have been commissioned since the introduction of seed derived from modern biotechnology in the USA. One report illustrates that the greatest yield increases were achieved with insect-resistant maize, while the greatest reduction of input costs was seen in herbicide-tolerant soybean (Gianessi et al. 2002). The economic benefits associated with the cultivation of Bt maize by farmers in the USA in 2001 were primarily the result of the decreased need for pesticides. The financial gain takes into account the seed-price premium paid by farmers for Bt maize seed. Benbrook (2002) argues that farmers in the maize belt forfeit a significant proportion of their farm income to biotechnology companies because of the seed-price premium.

Raney (2006):
China, where some 7.5 million small farmers are growing IR cotton, represents the most successful case so far in terms of productivity, farmer incomes, equity and sustainability. Much of China’s success rests on its highly developed public agricultural research system, which has independently produced two transgenic constructs that confer insect resistance. These have been incorporated into a large number of locally adapted cotton varieties and compete directly with Monsanto’s IR cotton varieties. As a result, transgenic seed prices are much lower in China than elsewhere and farmers reap substantially higher returns. The role of the public sector in developing and distributing IR cotton varieties has been instrumental in reducing the price premium. Lower costs and marginally higher yields translate into large net profit gains in China.

Raney (2006):
HT soybeans are estimated to have increased total factor productivity in Argentina by 10% on average, with the cost savings being slightly greater for smaller farms (less than 100 ha) than for larger farms, owing mainly to lower seed prices among small farmers who are more likely to use uncertified seed than larger farms [23]. Aggregate global welfare benefits from HT soybeans are estimated at more than US $1.2 billion, with the largest share going to consumers (53%), followed by seed and biotechnology firms (34%) and farmers (13%). Owing to comparatively weak intellectual property protection, Argentine soybean growers receive 90% of the benefits in that country.

Raney (2006):
The IR cotton varieties available in Mexico (as with most varieties available elsewhere) incorporate a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which confers resistance against a narrow range of pests. Comarca Lagunera is the only state in Mexico where these pests constitute the major threat to cotton production; hence, it is the only state where IR cotton has been widely adopted. The major pests in other states require continued chemical pesticide use, making the IR varieties of less value. The authors estimate that farmers gained 83% of the total economic value created by the crop on average for the two years in the study.

Fernandez-Cornejo & Caswell
The economic impact of GE crops on producers varies by crop and technology. Herbicide-tolerant cotton and corn were associated with increased returns, as were insect-resistant cotton and corn when pest infestations were more prevalent. Despite the rapid adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans, there was little impact on net farm returns in 1997 and 1998. However, the adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans is associated with increased off farm household income, suggesting that farmers adopt this technology because the simplicity and flexibility of the technology permit them to save management time, allowing them to benefit from additional income from off-farm activities.

Water Safety
van den Brink (2010):
In the intensively farmed maize-growing regions in the USA, surface waters have often been contaminated by herbicides, principally as a result of precipitation run-off shortly after application of herbicides to maize and other crops. In general, glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium are relatively rapidly broken down in the field. A model study in which glyphosate-tolerant maize and glufosinate-ammonium tolerant maize were compared with conventional maize showed that glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium loads in run-off could be generally one-fifth to one-tenth of those of atrazine and alachlor. This is an indication that the introduction of herbicide resistant maize has reduced herbicide concentrations in vulnerable watersheds (Cerdeira and Duke, 2006). 

van den Brink (2010):
The first released insect-resistant maize provided protection against the European corn borer and a reduction in insecticide use was expected. Fewer non-selective insecticides, such as organophosphates and synthetic pyrethroids, could be used. The introduction of insect-resistant maize reduced the risks associated with the application of some insecticides including risks from exposure to field workers’ and consumers, adverse effects on nontarget species, and ground water contamination by insecticides. 

van den Brink (2010):
Drought tolerance of Bt maize with resistance to rootworm is improved, because the rooting system is not suffering from rootworms (Andow, pers. comm., see appendix) A higher production and a more efficient use of water is a positive environmental effect. 

As I said, there is much, much more that can be added to this section which directly address many of the harms identified in the status quo but you need to figure how to condense into a four minute constructive speech.

Good luck debaters. Have fun with this topic.


Fernandez-Cornejo, J., Caswell, M. (2006), The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States, Economic Information Bulletin, No. 11

IUCN, 2007, Current knowledge of the impacts of genetically modified organisms on biodiversity and human health, The World Conservation Union, Postion Paper, 2007, Pages: 1-53

Kegley, S. PhD. The Health Costs of Our Food Production System: Pesticide Exposure and Effects on Farmers, Farm Workers, and Rural Residents, Physicians For Social Responsibility, accessed at:

Long, S.P. (2013) Food, Feed and Fuel from Crops under Global Atmospheric Change: Could we have it all in 2030?, 2013, Proceedings of the 2013 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture

Oxford University (2012) Organic farms not necessarily better for environment, Oxford Media, News and Events, Accessed at:

Raney, T. (2004). Agricultural biotechnology for developing countries. Health Policy and
Development Journal. Vol. 2, No. 2, Aug. pp. 122-130.

Raney, T.; Economic impact of transgenic crops in developing countries, Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2006, 17:1–5

Stanford (2012), Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, study finds, Stanford Medicine, News Center, accessed at:

WHO (2005). Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: an evidence-based
study. Accessed at

van den Brink, L., et al (2010) Inventory of observed unexpected environmental effects of genetically modified crops, Applied Plant Research, 2010

Thursday, October 2, 2014

PF Nov 2014 - Genetically Modified Foods - Con Position

Resolved: On balance, the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the harms.

For part 1 of this series, click here


It is important for the Con and by extension, the judge to recognize that the biotech industry is currently being funded mainly by the U.S. multinational agricultural industry which intends to recuperate its expenditures and earn a profit through increased sales of bio-agro products.  Like the price of oil, as long as the price of conventional sources of petroleum products remains low, the incentive to invest large sums of money into alternative fuels production remains low because the investment costs cannot be recovered.  In the agro-business, as long as food prices remain relatively low, consumers will prefer non-GM foods, for a variety of reasons mainly associated with perceived risk.  Still, investment in GM foods has continued despite the relatively low price of non-GM foods in the U.S. and these GM foods have been in production for many years. Currently, the industry does successfully market and sell a lot of GM food in the U.S. because it is heavily discounted (Curtis, McCluskey & Wahl, 2004) and because consumers are often unaware they are buying GM food products because the products are not labeled as GM products. So another important question is how can consumers make intelligent choices about which products they consume if they are not told what is in the products?  Resistance to product labeling may be driven by the fact that setting up the mechanisms and controls necessary to track GM foods from planting, to harvest, through production and marketing will increase the cost of foods an estimated 5% to 15%.  Charges have been made the agro-giants lobby strongly against any moves which will increase the costs of these products. If the consumer public perceives high risks in engineered food products, it would be in the best interests of the industry if consumers were not aware of their purchases, even if, as claimed by the industry and some leading studies, there are no apparent harmful effects from consumption of GM foods.

Let's begin by looking at the promises and claims of the biotech industry and perhaps we will find the touted solvency of genetically engineered foods is really a solution looking for a problem.

Food Shortages

In 1789 Thomas Malthus predicted the explosive rate of population growth would eventually overtake the availability of food supplies. Despite his seemingly sound method of extrapolating future trends, it seems he failed to account for the even greater explosive growth rate of technological achievement which has thus far held off the grim reaper.

Altieri & Rosset (1999):
The world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before. Enough food is available to provide 4.3 pounds for every person everyday: 2.5 pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of meat, milk and eggs and another of fruits and vegetables. The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality and lack of access to food and land. Too many people are too poor to buy the food that is available (but often poorly distributed) or lack the land and resources to grow it themselves (Lappe, Collins & Rosset, 1998).

The report by Altieri & Rosset is old but this is significant because it was made at the time when the biotech industry was announcing breakthroughs in genetic engineering that could solve world hunger problems. At the time, there was and is plenty of food. The real problem is one of distribution and economic disparity often present under the management of third-world regimes. Surely this begs the question, if we are unable to distribute the foods we have, how can GM-foods be delivered?  Perhaps, we grow the food locally and overcome the problems of distribution.

Conko & Smith (1999):
The world has experienced severe famines in this century, but they have not been caused by a general lack of food (and have not taken hundreds of millions of lives). Rather, they have resulted from political turmoil and non-democratic governments. The work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen demonstrates the importance of liberal democracy, the rule of law, and respect for individual rights in ensuring the coordination and delivery of basic economic goods (Sen, 1981). At current levels, world food production could provide more than 2,500 calories every day for all six billion people (Goklany, 1999). Ensuring true food security in a world of nine or ten billion, however, will require more than just redistribution.

Studies, I cite below show many gains in food yields are the direct result of advances in conventional techniques aimed at breeding desirable traits in plants, and many improvements to farming and land utilization. It is these kind of techniques which can match the continued increase in world population and avert the Malthusian predictions.

Gurain-Sherman (2009):
While GE [genetic engineering] has received most of the attention and investment, traditional breeding has been delivering the goods in the all-important arena of increasing intrinsic yield. Newer and sophisticated breeding methods using increasing genomic knowledge—but not GE—also show promise for increasing yield. 

It is reported that even in those areas traditionally poor in food production, application of modern, conventional techniques are effective in increasing yields in places where they are needed most.

Altieri & Rosset (1999)
Much of the needed food can be produced by small farmers located throughout the world using agroecological technologies (Uphoff & Altieri, l999). In fact, new rural development approaches and low-input technologies spearheaded by farmers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world are already making a significant contribution to food security at the household, national, and regional levels in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Pretty, l995).

We can present many reports which show that conventional agricultural techniques can be sufficient to solve the world hunger problem if other barriers to distribution and poverty can be removed.  But that is a different debate for a different resolution.  Perhaps Pro can claim there is no reason not to vote Pro if genetic engineering can deliver greater yields at better cost efficiency.

Production and Yield

The Pro side can yet claim there is a benefit to GM foods even though conventional farming can meet current requirements, if GE can deliver better yields at lower cost.  For example if one acre of land can feed fifty people with conventional methods and the same acre can feed more than fifty people using GE technology without a cost increase, then there is a net benefit.  In fact it has now been about a quarter of a century this topic has been investigated and researched. Despite glowing assessments by the industry and extremist rhetoric from the certain groups spreading disinformation about the GM food industry, the truth is found in between in qualified scientific investigations.

Dean & Armstrong (2009):
"a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed 12 academic studies and indicates otherwise: "The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield (of crops) indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of Bt corn." However, it was further stated that this increase is largely due to traditional breeding improvements."

Note: A "Bt" product is one which creates a particular protein called Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis) Delta Endotoxin which  kills caterpillars. Hence the plant protects itself from catepillar infestation.

We do not need to presume Dean & Armstrong are correctly interpreting the report by the Union of Concerned Scientist. We can refer directly to their paper published in 2009 in which senior scientist Gurian-Sherman asserts immediately, "This report is the first to evaluate in detail the overall, or aggregate, yield effect of GE after more than 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization in the United States. Based on that record, we conclude that GE has done little to increase overall crop yields." Looking specifically at the United States which has the longest history of utilizing GM products Gurain-Sherman elaborates.

GE soybeans have not increased yields, and GE corn has increased yield only marginally on a crop-wide basis. Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as result of the GE traits. Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices...It is time to look more seriously at the other tools in the agricultural toolkit. While GE has received most of the attention and investment, traditional breeding has been delivering the goods in the all-important arena of increasing intrinsic yield. Newer and sophisticated breeding methods using increasing genomic knowledge—but not GE—also show promise for increasing yield.

This fact is reiterated in other sources.

Altieri & Rosset (1999)
Recent experimental trials have shown that genetically engineered seeds do not increase the yield of crops. A recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service shows that in 1998 yields were not significantly different in engineered versus non-engineered crops in 12 of 18 crop/region combinations. In the six crop/region combinations where Bt crops or herbicide tolerant crops (HTCs) fared better, they exhibited increased yields between 5-30%. Glyphosphate tolerant cotton showed no significant yield increase in either region where it was surveyed. This was confirmed in another study examining more than 8,000 field trials, where it was found that Roundup Ready soybean seeds produced fewer bushels of soybeans than similar conventionally bred varieties (USDA, l999).

Pretty (2001):
There is widespread consensus that yields have not increased, rather they have tended to be lower compared with conventional varieties (Elmore et al. 2001a, b). Nebraska University’s comparative study of HT and conventional soya beans (1998–1999) found that HT yielded 6% less (200 kg/ha) than their closest relations and 11% less than high-yield conventional soya beans. Researchers distinguished between two problems: yield drag, arising from problems relating to the transgene or insertion itself, and yield lag, arising from the type of soya beans into which the transgene had been inserted (the yield potential of conventional varieties may have overtaken that of an older GM variety). Benbrook’s (1999) study of 8200 university-based varietal trials in 1998 found a similar yield drag of 5–7% for GM varieties, with ‘the best conventional variety producing yields on average 10% or more higher than comparable Roundup Ready™ varieties sold by the same seed companies’. Yields of cotton appear largely unchanged at most locations (ERS-USDA 1999a), and those of maize are mostly unchanged (in 12 out of 18 regions), except where there has been high corn-borer pressure. Where pressure was high, yields were 5–30% greater for GM maize (ERS-USDA 1999b). In Missouri, however, no significant differences in yield under various corn-borer pressures across the state were found (Minor et al. 1999), and at the University of Purdue it has been concluded that farmers may not benefit by adopting Bt technologies under average pest infestation levels, given that economically-significant pest attack occurs only one in 4–8 years in most locations in the USA (Hyde et al. 2000).

Butterflies: The Canary in the Coal Mine

I have seen in some groups, a certain...shoulder shrug...attitude about recent reports of a link between the decline of the monarch butterfly population and genetically engineered agri-products. Perhaps the disregard is based on, 1) a lack of understanding of the role of butterflies like the monarch in plant fertilization and, 2) a sense that the benefits of GM foods outweigh the risks of a few dead butterflies.  And yet, these same 'shoulder-shruggers' would likely avoid purchasing GM products if they found them so-labeled in the markets.  Many years ago, miners took canaries into coal mines as a kind of early warning system against the accumulation of harmful gases since the canaries threshold of tolerance was much lower than a human, the miners had time to leave before the gases overtook them. One dead canary could save many miner lives. How about millions of butterflies?

Dean & Armstrong (2009):
Despite these differences, safety assessment of GM foods has been based on the idea of "substantial equivalence" such that "if a new food is found to be substantially equivalent in composition and nutritional characteristics to an existing food, it can be regarded as safe as the conventional food." However, several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.

In their report, Dean & Armstrong assert there is 'more than a causal association between GM foods and adverse health effects' and cites six separate studies detailing harmful health effects on animals which consume GM foods.

Pretty (2001):
As transgenes result in the manufacture of new products in crops, usually proteins, a risk to humans arises if these products provoke an additional allergenic or immune response. Conventional non-GM foods already contain a large number of toxic and potentially toxic products, and so the key question is whether a specific GMO could result in a new hazard.

It is reported that nine out of ten food allergies are triggered by proteins found in common foods such as nuts, soybeans and wheat and peanut allergies are famous for being fatal if not treated very quickly. Con cannot claim that food allergies are a certainty.  As pointed out in the following article, often allergies only arise after repeated or prolonged exposures to allergens, but the risks of potentially dangerous GM foods entering our food supply has already occurred.

Bakshi (2003):
In September 2000, a variety of transgenic corn, called StarLink, prohibited for human consumption was discovered in Taco Bell taco shells. This transgenic corn species was produced by Aventis Corporation, which was approved by federal agencies in 1998 for animal feed. However, because the corn has been genetically modified in a way that makes it harder to break down in the human gastrointestinal tract, agencies have refused to approve it for human use (Kaufman, 2000). It is postulated that the ability of a protein to withstand heat and gastric juices is an indicator that it will cause an allergic reaction (Taylor & Lehrer, 1996; Lehrer, 1999a). 

The biggest unknowns arise when GM material migrates to other species through natural processes known as gene flow.

Pretty (2001):
The first potential environmental risk is gene flow, where transgenes could transfer from a GMO to wild relatives and/or bacteria in soil or human guts. Gene flow is a natural phenomenon (Ellstrand et al. 1999), with many species of plants crossing with related species, and so the question of novel risk rests on whether the transgenes could lead to the transfer of undesirable traits, and the emergence of permanently transformed populations.

The public aversion to GM products may be application of the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".  The fact is, there have been no studies which examine the effects of GM foods other than examine the effect of individual chemicals upon human health.  However, these kinds of assessments are inadequate.

Bakshi (2003):
The health risk assessment of genetically modified foods currently relies on the testing of the toxicity of single chemicals. However, food is a complex mixture of thousands of chemicals. ... The National Research Council (2000a, 2000b), Society of Toxicology (2000), and Royal Society of Canada (2001) have recently recommended that effective toxicity protocols be developed to determine the safety of whole foods. Other adverse health effects could result from overexpression of existing protein or other toxicologically active constituent, resulting in much greater exposure to that constituent than previously encountered by humans in their diet (Royal Society of Canada, 2001). 

For All These Reasons...

There is more I could add but I caution you, dear Con debater, to be wary of biased reporters. This is one of those topics which requires a deeper analysis than a simple one-page Google search will allow. For the most part, I try  to use only academic sources with a preference toward peer-reviewed papers.

For the most part I setup the angle that corporate greed and manipulation of the markets and opportunities may be influencing many of the Pro positions, but I resisted the temptation to run the debate down that path. I will leave that to the bold and adventurous among you.  Despite my reluctance, Be sure to check the bibliographies of the source I provided and you will find more than enough information.  I hope I have given you enough here to get started.

(All sources are easily found online, even if I do not provide a direct link)

Altieri, M.A. and Rosset, P. (1999). Ten reasons why biotechnology will not ensure food security, protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world. AgBioForum, 2(3&4), 155-162

Bakshi, A., Potential adverse health effects of genetically modified crops,Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 6, Pages: 211–225, 2003

Conko, G., Smith, F.L. Jr. Biotechnology and the value of ideas in escaping the Malthusian trap. AgBioForum, Vol. 2, No. 3&4, Pages: 150-154

Curtis, K.R., McCluskey, J.J., & Wahl, T.I. (2004). Consumer acceptance of genetically modified food products in the developing world. AgBioForum, 7(1&2), 70-75

Dean A., Armstrong, J.; Genetically Modified Foods Position Paper, Ammercan Academy of Environmental Medicine

Gurian-Sherman, D.(2009), Failure to yield: Evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009, Pages: 1-43

Pretty, J. (2001) The rapid emergence of genetic modification in world agriculture:
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

LD Nov/Dec 2014 - Right to Be Forgotten - Introduction

Resolved: The "right to be forgotten" from Internet searches ought to be a civil right.


This particular resolution and its implications are a consequence of modern technology and life in the digital age. In many ways, the Internet is a kind of world in which there are very tame, seemingly regulated places and there are other wild, one may say, unregulated areas. In the early days of the Internet, after its development as an information sharing network by the military and government contractors, it was viewed as a place where absolute freedom of expression flourished and many around the world strongly advocated it remain that way. Of course, in a completely open and unregulated world of the Internet, harmful messages and forms of expression also exist and soon international campaigns were launched to ban or outlaw certain messages and depictions which were more or less universally deemed harmful to certain groups - for example children. Of course every call for censorship has been met with an equally resounding outcry for freedom of speech and so the Internet continues to carry all manner of messages and depictions while some have been systematically shutdown.

This resolution deals with the unfortunate fact that some things, once they get on the Internet cannot be easily removed. For example, one photo, or one statement which is unflattering, derogatory or defaming released on the Internet may continue to circulate for years despite efforts by the "victim" to remove it. It can be removed from one site only to reemerge on another, and some, sites, citing freedom of expression may refuse to remove the content. The "right to be forgotten" is a movement of sorts, which attempts to establish a legal right to have personal information removed from Internet search engines since, virtually everything on the Internet these days, is accessed by way of a search engine.  If, for example, I convince Google to remove all references to my name from its search engine, there is a real good chance, most people will never again run across my information when doing Internet searches.  I will be essentially forgotten in the world of the Internet.  Now, this does not mean certain websites are forced to remove the information about me, it only means search engines will not provide links to the information about me. However, there is a trend and in Europe a requirement, the right to be forgotten extends to all sites which hold or manage personal information about individuals.

Why This Resolution?

The are several reasons why a person may want to be "forgotten" on the Internet. Very often, potential employers, universities, committees or organizations will search the Internet for information about people, potential candidates for jobs, student applicants, etc.  Let's say for example, a student was charged with a petty crime at age 18 and the individual does not want that information (which may now be cleared from court records) to somehow be found on the Internet when making applications to colleges or for employment. The person could either legally change name, or somehow ask everyone who has information about the prior issue to kindly remove it from the Internet.  Under the "right to be forgotten" the person could simply file whatever documentation is necessary to have the major search engines (or information repositories) remove the name from searches and for all intents and purposes no prior issue would be found.  It would be naive to assume that employers, and universities do not search out candidates using specific information services and general search engines. Considering the infinite life-time of information, even if it is no longer accurate, such searches can be the difference between being selected or not for a job, appointment or position.  Consider, the situation of an abused person or ex-spouse who is simply trying to "hide" from their domestic partners out of fear of exploitation or abuse. The right to be forgotten provides a means for individuals to maintain autonomy and live anonymously in the sometimes hostile world of the Internet. It may also be claimed the right to be forgotten protects one's right to privacy in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, article 12.

Why Not This Resolution?

There are many factors which make the right to be forgotten a difficult, perhaps even impossible principle to enforce and this may serve as justification for negating. Probably the single most important issue and the one that has been the bane of all calls to regulate Internet content, is freedom of speech.  Of course, in the U.S. freedom of speech is a constitutional right guaranteed by the first amendment but by many counts it is considered an implicit right of all liberal democracies and an explicit universal human right under article 19. Further, one should consider that when two rights clash, for example UDHR Article 12 and UDHR Article 19, preference should be given to the one which carries the greater weight and certainly the loss of freedom of speech has a much bigger impact than the loss of privacy considering there is already very little privacy in the age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, NSA meta-data collect, etc.

Another big issue revolves around the issue of the public's "right to know" and the nature of factual information versus defamatory information.  The freedom of speech has always been guaranteed under the provision that information published should be factual. In other words, it is illegal to publish information that is untrue or misrepresented.  This extends to the issue of the public's right to know the truth.  Certainly, it is a benefit to society to know that a certain individual is a convicted child molester and one would not want such people, "disappearing" from the Internet.

Finally, consider the fact that information about a person, may not be 'owned' by that person. for example, if I write a critique about the Prime Minister of Italy that he personally considers unflattering or contains information he does not want others to discover, what gives him the right to demand it be taken down as long as it is factually true and does nothing to present some other overriding social harm?   The issue over information ownership is at stake and I am not willing to relinquish my intellectual property rights for the sake of some one's reputation, if the information I possess is true.

Examining the Resolution

The "right to be forgotten" (RTBF) this is the terminology which defines what this debate is about; specifically the "right" to have personal information removed from the internet. But a precise definition of the terminology is somewhat elusive and may be regionally or ideologically influenced.  One thing seems certain. The right to be forgotten does not necessarily mean one has a right to have all of their personal information removed without some kind of scrutiny and qualifications and these are likely to be disputed in the round.

The specifier "internet searches" seems to limit the debate favorably for the Aff. I say this because the EU law enacted this past summer also includes data collectors, which is much broader in scope than search providers.  Technically a data collector is any service or site which collects and retains an individual's personal data.  Under the terminology of the resolution, such data collectors need not be discussed.  This means that while Google may be required to remove links to personal data, the personal data itself may remain on remote computer systems accessible from the web by persons who know how to retrieve it even though the EU law requires data collectors to comply with the removal request when the law allows.

Again we have the familiar word "ought" which in simplest terms means should with the implication it should be done because it is the right thing to do. If it helps, you can look at my previous examination of the word here.

Finally we at the term "civil right".  I remind you (and in case you are a novice, I inform you) that individuals are generally granted two kinds of rights; natural rights and given rights.  Natural rights are defined as the inalienable, god-given rights which every human being has in equal measure and which cannot be revoked (although one may choose to forfeit them). These include, life, liberty and property (or some may add happiness).  The given rights are those granted by civil authority.  In other words, the government grants certain rights such as the right to drive, or vote or participate in the government, or whatever.  These rights may be revoked at various times by decree of the authority that grant them and generally they are protected by the authority that grants them. In the U.S. "civil rights" tend to have a narrower focus specifically referring to rights granted under the 13th and 14th amendments of the Constitution and generally referring to any rights guaranteed by the Constitution. However, for the sake of this resolution we should not limit the definition to the constraints of U.S. law.

More About the Resolution

This resolution does not require us to debate this topic as a U.S. specific issue.  Clearly, at this time, the European Union and several other nations seem to be the leaders of the "right to be forgotten" initiative so one does well to look at the issue with a more universal point of view.  It is interesting, the Universal Declaration of Human Right potentially has conflicting articles considering the right to privacy versus the right to freedom of speech.  When reading the various positions under the European point of view, this apparent conflict is small and easily resolved whereas in the U.S. the right to freedom of speech is a foundational principle of U.S. constitutional law which the Supreme Court has fervently defended.

The Aff position is here.