This is the second of my interview articles, this time with Professor Alan McHughen, who has recently published a fascinating book, “DNA Demystified.” As the title suggests, the book delves into what is DNA and how it became a part of the technology of our modern world.
I keep reading of an annoying claim that GMO DNA transfers to humans easily, so that’s why we should be scared of it. Some of this belief is based on a poorly designed study that may, or really may not, indicate that plant GMO genes transfer to humans. These “researchers” claim that DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream.
Someone flunked basic human physiology and cell biology when they made this claim since it’s nearly biologically implausible to consider this to be real. Many of us have actually passed these courses so we are very skeptical.
In case you’ve ignored this area of false controversy, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes.
In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgment of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific ideas and conclusions from pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other beliefs.
I often discuss scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.”
A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation. A scientific theory is considered to be the highest scientific principle, something that is missed by many science deniers. In addition, a scientific consensus is formed by a similar method – the accumulation of evidence.
I have writtenfrequently about the scientific consensus because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical scientific issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many areas of biomedical knowledge.
This tome has one goal – to clarify our understanding of the scientific consensus, and how we arrive at it. Through this information, maybe we all can see the power of it in determining what is real science and what are policy and cultural debates.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well-studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.
Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the argument from ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.
The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that this technology is absolutely safe.
I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high-quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.
GMOs are one of those modern technologies that many people avoid, mainly for irrational and unscientific reasons. Of course, many people push fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about GMOs using little or no scientific evidence to support their claims.
One of the tropes of the anti-GMO movement is that nature does it better for food, a logical fallacy. In other words, they believe that our ancestors’ foods are somehow better than our GMO foods. Of course, this belies the fact that there are over ten thousand years of GMO foods – it’s really not something that showed up during the last century or so.
People seem to endow “nature” with a special status that is ridiculous. Evolution proceeds along a random process where environmental changes select for certain mutations over time (and yes, I’m oversimplifying the process), which is called natural selection. Moreover, there are random mutations that just occur that provide no benefit to the organism, although they might in the future because of some environmental change.
Nature has no goal. It has no guidance. It has no underlying value of good or evil. Unless you believe that some higher being controls it, and at that point, you’re a creationist, claiming that “nature” is better than the alternative is basically ridiculous.
So, we’re going to talk about how genetic modification has moved from the early days of waiting for a random, beneficial mutation to the modern world of genetic modification.
Over and over, I’ve read comments on the internet (obviously, my first mistake) that there is no GMO scientific consensus regarding whether genetically modified organisms (generally crops or food) are safe for humans, animals, and the environment. Well, that’s simply not the case.
Furthermore, there are even claims that GMOs are not necessarily productive or provide higher yields, and so-called organic foods are healthier (they aren’t) and are better for the environment. Again, that’s not necessarily the case.
We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.
The consensus is so clear, outside of vocal, loud and junk science pushing individuals and organizations, that many scientists call it the “Theory of anthropogenic climate change,” which would mean it’s at the pinnacle of scientific principles, essentially an unassailable fact.
How many times have you read a comment from an anti-vaccine zealot along the lines of “do your research, vaccines are bad.” That comment seems to imply two things – that the anti-vaxxer believes they have done real vaccine research, and those on the science/medicine side have not done real vaccine research.
Typical of nearly every claim made by the anti-vaccine religion, this is another one where they understate how hard vaccine research really is while overstating their actual skills and experience in comprehending real scientific research. I suppose this is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect – a cognitive bias wherein people without a strong scientific background fail to recognize their actual ineptitude in the field and mistakenly overrate their knowledge and abilities as greater than it is.
One of the tropes of the pseudoscience world is that glyphosate causes cancer – but what does real science say? Well, numerous large epidemiological studies have yet to provide evidence of a link that would convince us that the herbicide has any link to any cancer.
Recently, another article in a prestigious cancer journal looked at thousands of individuals exposed to glyphosate, and once again, have found no convincing evidence that glyphosate causes cancer. The totality of evidence, unless you are into glyphosate- and GMO-free cherry picking, continues to lead us to a simple conclusion – there is no link between the chemical and any of the 200 or more types of cancer.
People love their bananas, one of the most popular fruits consumed in the world. We generally only eat one banana cultivar, the Cavendish, which replaced another cultivar that was susceptible to Panama disease, a type of Fusarium wilt. Unfortunately, the Cavendish banana has been devastated by a new form of that fungal disease which might lead to the end of the availability of the banana in your local grocery store. But there is hope – scientists are developing GMO bananas that may save the fruit from becoming a distant memory.