Nancy Scola

Nancy Scola is a writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Science Progress, Politics Magazine, AlterNet, and the Columbia Journalism Review.

Recent Articles

Alfalfa Seeds and the Supreme Court.

As expected , this week's Supreme Court oral arguments on Monsanto had much less to do with the pros and cons of genetically modified (GM) seeds than it did with the ins and outs of environmental regulation. On that point, the justices who actually spoke seemed fairly skeptical of the Ninth Circuit's decision to completely halt the sale of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa seed, rather than just sending the question back to USDA to re-decide. That said, we did get some insight into how the justices are thinking about GM agriculture. In particular, we learned that Antonin Scalia does not think that cross contamination between conventional/organic crops and GM crops is "the end of the world." To which the attorney for Geertson Seed Farms, one of the plaintiffs, offered the entirely appropriate and accurate rejoinder: "I don't think we bore an end-of-the-world burden, Justice Scalia." At one point, Justice Sotomayor did jump in with the fact-based question of how GM contamination could...

Alfalfa, from Monsanto's Lab to the Supreme Court.

Phillip Geertson is an Idaho alfalfa-seed seller. Tomorrow, his case against Monsanto makes its way to the Supreme Court. Monsanto, you see, wants to market a RoundUp Ready alfalfa seed, engineered to withstand their RoundUp brand herbicide. Geertson and his allies at the Center for Food Safety argue that we simply don't know enough about the environmental, health, cultural, and economic impacts of RoundUp Ready alfalfa to deregulate it as the USDA wants to do. The worry is over genetic drift. Genetically modified alfalfa can contaminate nearby alfalfa fields, leaving the seed pool swamped by patented Monsanto seeds with no conventional or organic alfalfa for sellers like Geertson. Monsanto calls that vision "science fiction." A federal district court agreed with Geertson in 2007, yanking RoundUp Ready alfalfa from the market. Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farm is intriguing in the context of the long debate over the safety and desirability of genetically modified agriculture. But court...

The Civic Consequences of Shiny Things.

Steven Johnson has shaped my way of thinking about technology more than any other writer. His 2002 Emergence was a revelation for its description of how everything from ant colonies to cities to software share a certain organic interconnectivity that makes them so powerful. That's what has made his recent celebrations of the iPhone and iPad as triumphs of closed environments so disappointing. On the facts, Johnson has a certain correctness. The App Store is, as he points out, chock-a-block with apps created by a range of developers. Still, it's striking that he seems so reluctant to see that Apple products so controlled by one company might have effects beyond the quantitative measure of iBeer Zombie Pizza apps. Last night brought a little hope, but in a strange way. Johnson gave the annual Hearst Foundation New Media lecture at Columbia Journalism School. The subject : "The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book." The latter refers to the sort of proto-blog books that big thinkers like...

Free Laws for a Free People.

Legendary public domain advocate Carl Malamud uploaded a photo of a Law.gov sign yesterday, which seems to create a perfect opportunity to talk about what it is he's up to here. Open law advocates like Malamud argue that legal information in the United States today has a structural problem. Layers of laws and regulations that govern our lives aren't easily knowable. They can be difficult to find, and sometimes expensive to acquire. That's a problem for citizens and entrepreneurs, putting them at a disadvantage to big firms and big business that can afford the time, expertise, and money to navigate the law. At least in theory, it's also destabilizing for government in the long term. People cut off from access to the law are less motivated to see the legitimacy of laws. Enter Malamud's plan. The idea behind Law.gov is to create a common electronic framework for publishing laws, regulations, and hearing records. An open standard creates the opportunity for every level of authority --...

Bachmann Runs Net Neutrality Through Her English-to-Crazy Translator.

Paul suggests below that Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann is the embodiment of the theory that people who are demonstrably crazy tend to have have far more potential for career advancement in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. And her convoluted understanding of the whole raison d'être of network neutrality seems aimed at validating Paul. Bachmann wants to let you in on a little secret: President Obama's plan to prevent the discrimination of content on the Internet is actually -- flippity-floppity -- a scheme to practice the discrimination of content on the Internet: They’re advocating net neutrality which is essentially censorship of the Internet. This is the Obama administration advocating censorship of the Internet. Why? They want to silence the voices that are opposing them. There's literally no place where Bachmann's reasoning makes sense. None. Not D.C. Not Minnesota. To review, net neutrality is an operating principle that holds that the Internet...

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