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GMO opponents are the left’s version of global warming deniers

Zombies and GMO. Can't go wrong.

Zombies and GMO. Can’t go wrong.

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Global warming and evolution is supported by a massive mountain of scientific evidence, and has been established by a definitive scientific consensus. Both are theories that are “well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” As I have stated before, rhetoric and debate are not going to refute these theories. We demand scientific data, produced in world class laboratories that have been published in top tier, high quality, high impact factor journals, and that has been subjected to tough analysis and criticism from peers.

Both global warming and evolution are well-substantiated explanations of the natural world. There is no debate, unless someone has a political or socio-economic bias.

 

Although denial of anthropogenic global warming and evolution tend to be the domain of the right wing, the left-wing have their own particular brands of science denialism–GMO’s. Last year, I deconstructed and debunked a very poorly written article, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology by French researchers Gilles-Eric Séralini and Dr Joël Spiroux de Vendomois, which essentially invented data about a certain strain of GMO corn caused cancer in rats.

If I were the only progressive who thought the data and conclusions in this article were useless, then maybe I should be writing about something else. But I wasn’t. Lots of pro-science (and from what I could tell, progressive) writers thought that the article was bogus:

As a sort of counter groundswell started to build against the anti-science nature of the GMO refusers, an article in Slate Magazine stated that the anti-GMO political left are using the same debate methods and tactics that have been adopted by the climate change denialists–they ignore the scientific consensus, cherry-pick data that supports their pre-determined positions, and use popular polls, instead of scientific evidence, to support their beliefs.

The same individuals and groups who are outraged by whatever the climate deniers do politically, seem to ignore those same anti-science principles when it applies to their hatred of GMO products. It’s like Mother Jones, the left wing magazine who will jump on any global warming denialist, has switched places with the Wall Street Journal when it comes to GMO foods.

According to the Slate article,

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

The latest audacious example of scientific distortion came last week, in the form of a controversial (but peer reviewed!) study that generated worldwide headlines. A French research team purportedly found that GMO corn fed to rats caused them to develop giant tumors and die prematurely.In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.

As I pointed out, the study was nearly instantaneously ripped apart by literally dozens of scientists, myself included. It wasn’t that hard.

  • The selection of rat model was faulty
  • The statistics were amateurish and suspect
  • The cherry picking of data would have made a global warming denier proud
  • The sample size, and how the size of the control group vs. experimental groups were chosen, reminded me of someone who had never taken a science course
  • Dr. Kevin Folta, University of Florida, stated that the study was “designed to frighten” the public.
  • One of the co-authors, Dr Joël Spiroux de Vendomois, is a homeopath. I mean seriously, someone who believes in a pseudoscience, something that has absolutely no plausible mechanism of action, is expected to be a reliable scientist? I think not.
  • NPR reports, “has been campaigning against GM crops since 1997,” and whose research methods have been “questioned before,” according to the New York Times.
  • Also according to the Slate article, “the circumstances surrounding Seralini’s GMO rat-tumor study range from bizarre (as a French magazine breathlessly reports, it was conducted in clandestine conditions) to dubious (funding was provided by an anti-biotechnology organization whose scientific board Seralini heads).”

But the concerns about the scientific honesty of their work is further exposed in the article:

Another big red flag: Séralini and his co-authors manipulated some members of the media to prevent outside scrutiny of their study. (The strategy appears to have worked like a charm in Europe.) Some reporters allowed themselves to be stenographers by signing nondisclosure agreements stipulating they not solicit independent expert opinion before the paper was released. That has riled up  science journalists such as Carl Zimmer, who wrote on his Discover magazine blog: “This is a rancid, corrupt way to report about science. It speaks badly for the scientists involved, but we journalists have to grant that it speaks badly to our profession, too. … If someone hands you confidentiality agreements to sign, so that you will have no choice but to produce a one-sided article, WALK AWAY. Otherwise, you are being played.”

seralini-junk-scienceCould you imagine if a global warming denialist published an article and established the same conditions on a journalist? Every single journalist, except those at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, would walk away laughing, beating their chests about scientific integrity. Why not in this case? Is it because this “science” supports their values, their point-of-view, and their well-constructed environmental politics?

The scientific criticism of Séralini’s article was so widespread and so harsh that the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, eventually retracted it in 2013. And as you might surmise, the GMO refusers created all kinds of strawman arguments (and veiled conspiracies) about why the journal retracted it. One GMO refuser group called the decision to withdraw the article  “illicit, unscientific, and unethical.” Actually Séralini’s work was “illicit, unscientific and unethical,” and the journal did the right thing in retracting it.

As I have said dozens of times in dozens of my articles, what makes science so special, and what makes anti-science so repugnant, is that science allows itself to be open to the bright lights of criticism. That’s what we all are doing now. We are blasting this study into bits because it is so poorly done. It is what we do to the other denialists, whether they are anti-vaccinationists, global warming denialists, or creationists. We take apart the bad studies that they provide, if they ever do. Just to be clear, we also criticize studies that support our own understanding too. That’s how science develops a consensus, through fine-tuning, but also through honesty, not through accepting very bad research.

As Pamela Ronald, a UC-Davis plant geneticist, pointed out last year in Scientific American: “There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.” Moreover, humans have been selectively breeding plants and animals for food for a very long time, manipulating genes all along. For example, wheat was domesticated about 12,000 years ago by forcing wild forms into six sets of chromosomes (hexaploidy) instead of the normal two. We have had GMO crops since then, and we have done quite fine.

The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences is an international non-profit organization that has as its stated goals to promote cooperation among scientists, to defend scientific freedom, to encourage scientific responsibility, and to support scientific education and science outreach for the betterment of all humanity. It is the world’s largest and most prestigious general scientific society, and is the publisher of the well-known scientific journal ScienceIt occasionally makes statements on the scientific consensus about various issues.

With regards to GMO’s, the AAAS has stated the clear scientific consensus on genetically modified foods (pdf):

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

The important issue is that these “GMO denialists” lack any credible scientific evidence that GMO foods pose any type of short-term or long-term health risk. There is a lack of biological plausibility to correlate consumption of genetically modified foods and any medical condition. And if this study by Seralini is their pivotal study, then they have failed miserably. In addition, there are numerous, and onerous, regulations regarding GMO foods that probably keep us safe just in case there is some unintended consequence of our activities, because science is not absolute, and a mistake could be made. But GMO has incredible benefits to the world, feeding us in a world with limited resources.

But the problem still is that the left wing accepts the anti-GMO point-of-view without the level of critical analysis that they do with the global warming deniers. The amount of data that supports climate change is overwhelming, and those that deny it must truly be blind. There are scientifically based climate change websites that discuss the tiniest parts of the story. Here’s one that just details the level of Arctic sea ice (and if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you about what’s happening to our planet, you are truly a denialist). I can find the same type of detail for evolution.

Sadly, there just isn’t the same level of science for the GMO refusers. There’s not that depth of science from the GMO refusers that gives us clinical trials, plausible mechanisms, and meta-reviews, all published in peer reviewed journals of high impact.

Slate concludes the article with a discussion about the intellectual failures of the left-wing GMO refusers:

The anti-GM bias also reveals a glaring intellectual inconsistency of the eco-concerned media. When it comes to climate science, for example, Grist and Mother Jones are quick to call out the denialism of pundits and politicians. But when it comes to the science of genetic engineering, writers at these same outlets are quick to seize on pseudoscientific claims, based on the flimsiest of evidence, of cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting, ecosystem-killing GMOs.

In a recent commentary for Nature, Yale University’s Dan Kahan complained about the “polluted science communication environment” that has deeply polarized the climate debate between political camps. He wrote, “people acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand.” This means that left-wingers in the media and prominent scholars and food advocates who truly care about the planet are information brokers. So they have a choice to make: On the GMO issue, they can be scrupulous in their analysis of facts and risks, or they can continue to pollute the science communication environment.

Remove “GMO” from Dr. Kahan’s commentary, and we could be talking about any pseudoscience, whether it’s creationism, vaccine denialism, global warming, or even HIV/AIDS denialism. Orac compares the misuse of science and scare tactics by GMO opponents to the behavior of the anti-vaccine movement, that is, instead of using real science to find a conclusion, they ignore science, ignore evidence, and jump on any pseudoscience, even if it’s very poorly done science. to support what they currently believe or what they want to believe about GMO’s.

And this goes back to one of my points that aggravates the left-wing members of the political discussion–they have converted the scientific consensus about GMO’s into a political debate rather a real scientific one, such as what has happened with climate change. GMO’s are safe, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of that statement. The left wing has created a political and social debate about GMO’s, an expensive and scientifically ignorant debate, no different that the same same one the Republicans have started with anthropogenic global warming.

Take politics out of science, it will make science so much better.

Key citations:

Comments (19)
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  • Rick

    Actually, you were missleaded.

    GMOs safety is a topic without consensus, according to a recent statement by the European Network of Scientists. They wrote that statement to avoid articles like this one from being written.

    http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/

  • 3Point_Pete1

    GMO News Summary June 27, 2014

    Filed under: Globalization, GMO Corporate State, GMO Health Hazards, GMO-Based Poison Infliction, Mainstream Media — Tags: Argentina, glyphosate, India, Monsanto, Seralini — Russ @ 4:39 am

    >

    *The 2012 Seralini study, the best scientific work done on a GMO to date and one of the best scientific studies of recent years, has been republished byEnvironmental Sciences Europe. The new publication includes expanded material, a reply to the media smear campaign against the study, and a commentary on how the original publication was censored by an anti-scientific cabal presided over by a Monsanto commissar.

    This makes two duly constituted peer review processes the study has passed, while its retraction by Food and Chemical Toxicology was the result of a secret conclave among the editors and could muster only the most bogus rationale. Scientists around the world welcome this vindication.

    *More proof from Argentina that glyphosate causes cancer. A new report from the health ministry of the Cordoba province documents high rates of tumors and cancer deaths in the agricultural depratments of the province. These areas are dominated by poison-based industrial soy production, with massive applications of glyphosate.

    The government is doing its usual thing of emphasizing the broadest numbers it can in order to submerge the significant figures for the plantation zones. As Damien Verzenassi, medical doctor and one of the organizers of field studies in villages among the plantations, says, “They keep demanding studies on something that is already proven and do not take urgent measures to protect the population. There is ample evidence that the agricultural model has health consequences, we are talking about a production model that is a huge public health problem”.

    *It’s not just in Western countries that surveillance bureaucracies see domestic spying and subversion on behalf of international corporations to be their primary task. In a report recently leaked to the press, India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) attacks domestic anti-GMO critics and activists for being enemies of the commodification economy, and therefore of India. The nature of the allegation itself proves the opposite. Since globalization seeks the global dictatorship of a handful of multinational corporations, almost all of them based in the US and Europe, nothing could be more alien to India and the well-being of the Indian people than this corporate domination. Conversely, nothing is more treasonous than the actions of those who want to hand over domestic economies and polities to these corporations.

    That’s just as much true in the US as it is in India. Corporations have no home and are the enemies of all of humanity.” http://attempter.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/gmo-news-summary-june-27-2014/#comments

  • Anthony Gerard DiNardo

    Reasons to never write long comments on a phone: they get screwed up and you can’t figure out how to delete your screwed up half comment.

  • 3Point_Pete1

    The Health Dangers of GMOs

    Filed under: Food and Farms, GMO Corporate State, GMO Health Hazards, GMO-Based Poison Infliction, Mainstream Media — Russ @ 12:53 am

    >

    I think that when the ultimate destruction is tallied, the worst poison vectors of poison-based agriculture will be the herbicides and pesticides, including GMOs as poison plants. That GMOs endemically express Bt toxins and are endemically suffused with vicious herbicides will turn out to have been their worst effects. So in the future, as I write about the health effects of the poisons of poison-based agriculture, I’ll be focusing more on these than on the dangers of genetic engineering as such. It’s interesting, though, that corporations and governments live in terror of what safety testing would reveal about genetic engineering as such. Perhaps they know something we haven’t learned yet.

    At any rate, in this case as always the truth is on our side. There’s never any need to exaggerate it. To give one example where some might be prone to exaggerate, there’s no need to say “All GMOs as such are definitely hazardous to human health.”

    What we know:

    1. The Showa Denko and X-SCID incidents provide proof of principle that the results of genetic engineering can be lethal to humans.

    2. When we consider GMOs as such, we find there’s a strong theoretical basis for their being dangerous to human health, and considerable experimental and epidemiological evidence that this is so.

    3. At the very least, no GMO should ever have been commercialized without long-term rigorous safety testing. There’s sufficient evidence today for a recall of existing commercialized products and a moratorium on new approvals until they’ve all been sufficiently tested.

    That’s the position supported by the science, and that’s what critics say.

    Contrast the hacks, who have zero evidence on their side. They have nothing but lies and dogma.

    They originally dodged the precautionary principle and justified commercializing GMOs without safety testing based on the fraudulent ideological, anti-scientific dogma of “substantial equivalence”. The US FDA led the way in promulgating this criminal lie. (The EFSA equivalent is called “comparative safety assessment”, a term invented by the ILSI industry group to replace the embarrassing “substantial equivalence”.) This dogma never had a rigorous definition (it was an intentionally vague bureaucratic notion) but was always known to be a lie by any definition.

    Today the main lie regarding GMO food safety is the ever-inflating number of meals allegedly safely eaten. This started out a few years ago at a relatively modest figure in the billions, but quickly hyperinflated to “three trillion”, the figure always regurgitated today.

    This lie tries to shout down the growing evidence of surges in many allergies and diseases correlated with the commercialization of GMOs and their subsequent ubiquity in the food supply of the West and other places.

    The “three trillion” Big Lie is often accompanied by a corollary direct factual lie, implicit or explicit, that governments have performed epidemiological studies and determined that the food supply is safe. But the fact is that no government has ever performed any such study. Nor has anyone else. Nor could such a study easily be designed, since governments have suppressed information about GMOs in the diet by not requiring labeling.

    And then it’s common to see, for example in the pages of “Scientific American”, the direct lie that government regulators like the FDA performed safety tests in the first place, prior to commercialization. To repeat, no government has EVER performed or required a single such test.” http://attempter.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/the-health-dangers-of-gmos/

    That should tell us all we need to know about the cartel and government attitude toward truth where it comes to the health hazards of GMOs. They believe that GMOs are hazardous to human health, and they believe that rigorous safety testing would prove this. Therefore, they made sure never to require or perform the testing.

    They hope claims of naivete and innocent ignorance will save them at the New Nuremburg. But their ignorance is not innocent. It is willful and systematic, and is based on their belief that they’re lethally poisoning humanity. Morally this is every bit as culpable as the most consciously premeditated mass murder policy.

    As for the self-styled “reasonable”, “moderate” commentators we see everywhere, those who are total ignoramuses where it comes to the subject but who believe in the non-existent “scientific consensus” because the New York Times told them to, they’re the same type who in the past have known that tobacco was safe, asbestos was safe, as were PCBs, DDT, dioxin, thalidomide, and many others. Their record of wrong-headed conformity is so perfect that it’s practically a guarantee GMOs are at least as toxic as these.

    • kellymbray

      Is this our science illiterate hobby farmer?

      • 3Point_Pete1

        Is this the lab coat cultist who believes industry-funded studies with predetermined outcomes is “science”? …who advocates global crop contamination, the further destruction of biodiverse ecosystems, thousands of years of seed heritage, and soil health?…. who couldn’t possibly understand even the most basic concepts of agriculture and/or evolution?

      • 3Point_Pete1


        New information in the updated report includes:
        A review that is claimed by pro-GMO lobbyists to show that 1,700 studies show GM foods are as safe in fact shows nothing of the sort. Instead many of the 1,700 studies cited show evidence of risk. The review also excludes or glosses over important scientific controversies over GMO safety issues. (p. 102)
        A review purportedly showing that GM foods are safe on the basis of long-term animal studies in fact shows evidence of risk and uses unscientific double standards to reach a conclusion that is not justified by the data. (p. 161)
        A laboratory study in human cells shows that very low levels of glyphosate (the main chemical ingredient of Roundup herbicide, which most GM crops are engineered to tolerate) mimicked the hormone estrogen and stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells. The level of glyphosate that had this effect was below the level allowed in drinking water in Europe and far below the level allowed in the USA. It was also below the level found in GM glyphosate-tolerant soy, which is imported into Europe for animal feed and human food. If confirmed in animal studies, this finding would overturn regulatory assumptions of safe levels of glyphosate. (p. 221)
        A rat feeding study led by Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, which found toxic effects from a GM maize and tiny amounts of the Roundup herbicide it is grown with, was retracted by a journal editor for unscientific reasons. Yet the study is far stronger and more detailed than many industry studies that are accepted as proof of safety for GMOs. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had to reject the study in order to protect its own previous opinions on this and other GMOs, for reasons explained in the report. The findings of this study, if confirmed, would overturn regulatory assumptions of safe levels of glyphosate and Roundup. (pp. 94, 147)
        Claims that an EU-funded research project shows GMOs are safe are not evidence-based, since the project did not even test the safety of any commercialized GMOs. Some animal testing data gathered by the project actually reveal health risks from the GMOs tested. (p. 166)
        Claims that Europe is becoming a “museum” of farming because of its reluctance to embrace GM crops are shown to be nonsensical by research showing that Europe’s mostly non-GM agriculture out-yields the USA’s mostly GM agriculture with less pesticide use. Instead, it is the GM-adopting USA that is falling behind Europe in terms of productivity and sustainability. (pp. 232–233)
        Risks from an important new type of GMO that is designed to silence genes are not being properly assessed by regulators. (p. 78)
        Contrary to claims by GMO proponents, the real reason GM golden rice isn’t available has nothing to do with anti-GMO activists and everything to do with basic research and development problems. (p. 197)
        Conventional breeding continues to outstrip GM in delivering crops that yield well, resist disease, are nutritious, and tolerate drought and other types of extreme weather. (pp. 284, 318–321)
        Crop genetics are only part of the solution to our food and agriculture challenges. The other part is agroecological farming methods that build soil and focus on growing a diversity of naturally healthy and resilient crops. (p. 303)”
        – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/gmo-myths-and-truths#sthash.vUv1EWJC.dpuf

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