I naively once thought that anti-GMO activists only occasionally crossed paths with the anti-vaccine ones. Sure, on the Venn diagram of anti-science beliefs, anti-GMO anti-vaccine activists overlapped quite a bit, but I just thought they were separate species. Maybe they once were, but there appears to be a substantial amount of convergent evolution between the separate species of anti-science activists. It’s hard to distinguish the two these days, as I regularly see one or the other type of activists just lump GMOs and vaccines together as one evil against all children. Continue reading “Anti-GMO anti-vaccine activists – convergent evolution”
Real science is hard. It takes lots of high quality evidence to support it. That evidence needs to be published in real journal. It needs to be repeated. And it has to be open to criticism and analysis. GMO science, the study of genetically modified organisms used for crops and food, shows us that GMOs are safe.
The hard work and intellectual challenges to form a scientific consensus about the safety of GMO crops and foods isn’t something that appeared out of the ether. These individuals didn’t suddenly wake up one day and proclaim from the ivory tower that GMO science says that GMOs are safe. Not even close.
Science has provided substantial evidence supporting the assertion that GMO’s are safe. GMO refusers have provided precious little evidence, save for Cherry Picking, Special Pleading, and a few Strawman Arguments. Oh, and the occasional Poisoning the Well with the Monsanto shill accusations. Sometimes the GMO deniers will resort to the Naturalistic Fallacy that things that grow “naturally” ought to be the way foods should be – this ignores the fact that we’ve been genetically manipulating our food for ten thousand years. We’re just better at it today, but the DNA is still the DNA.
Like I said in another article, “The typical pseudoscientist will use logical fallacies to state very definitively that “it’s proven.” It’s the same whether it’s creationism (the belief that some magical being created the world some small number of years ago), alternative medicine (homeopathy, which is nothing but water, has magical properties to cure everything from cancer to male pattern baldness), or vaccine denialists. The worst problem is that in the world of the internet, if you Google these beliefs, the number of websites and hits that seem to state that they are THE TRUTH™ overwhelm those that are more skeptical or critical.”
So, using an open, but critical mind, the evidence is overwhelming – the GMO science says it’s safe for human consumption.
A scientific consensus is one of the most powerful principles in science, sitting just below the predictive power of a scientific theory. In general, a scientific consensus is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and disagreement is limited (sometimes from individuals who are not experts in the field) and considered insignificant.
This lead me to a search for the prevailing scientific consensus on GMO safety and climate change.
For clarity, the major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that a theory is essentially considered a fact. The theory of gravity is a fact. The theory of evolution is a fact. A theory is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it would take an incredible amount of data to refute it.
The only thing that matters in forming a scientific consensus or theory is evidence. Not rhetoric. Not debate. Not opinion. Not political expediency. Not logical fallacies. Just evidence.
I’ve written about the scientific consensus on GMOs, and it is clear that nearly every independent scientific organization across the world agrees that GMOs are safe for humans and/or the environment. Moreover, most of these same organizations provide a similar consensus about climate change–ironically, there is a significant portion of people who deny one consensus but accept the other, despite the fact that the consensus for both scientific principles are based on nearly overwhelming evidence.
On the next page, I will review the statements of seven prestigious scientific organizations across the world for the scientific consensus on GMO safety and on climate change.
There is a feeling among many scientific skeptics that the anti-GMO and the antivaccine broadly intersect. Unfortunately for simple generalizations, that assumption is not supported by rational political analysis. In fact, it’s much more complicated than that.
Those of us who are on the political left want to believe that it’s only the right wing (Republicans in the USA, but other countries have their political parties of the same general sentiment) that are science deniers.
One of the memes that I use is that those liberals who deny vaccines or think that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are dangerous, really aren’t all that much different than climate change deniers, who deny basic science, cherry pick only the data that supports an a priori conclusion, or ignore the consequences of their beliefs. But it appears that the vaccine and GMO deniers are cut from different political cloths.
The science deniers of the world, whether they deny evolution, global warming, vaccines, or GMO safety, spend their time inventing pseudoscience to support their beliefs and claims. As I have written previously, “Pseudoscience is easy. It doesn’t take work. It’s the lazy man’s (or woman’s) “science.” But it has no value, and because it lacks high quality evidence in support of it, it should be dismissed, and it should not be a part of the conversation.”
Alternatively, real science is really hard. And it takes time. And it’s based on high quality evidence. And it is repeated. And it is almost always published in high quality journals. As I’ve said a thousand times, real science takes hard work and is intellectually challenging. You just don’t wake up one day and say “I’m a scientist.” No, it requires college, graduate school, teaching, working in world class laboratories, publishing, defending your ideas to your peers, and one day, if you don’t stop, you will be an authority in your little field of science.
The anti-GMO crowd is mostly lazy. They have this luddite belief that all technology is bad, but have absolutely no evidence to support it. Sure, they pick out one or two poorly done articles and then shout for all the world to hear “GMO’s are dangerous to…bees, humans, babies, whales, trees” over and over and over again. Yet what do the GMO refusers really bring to the table? Continue reading “What does science say about GMO’s–they’re safe”
As I’ve written a few hundred times before, there’s really no such thing as a “debate” in science, at least in the sense that two sides argue in front of the public, and then there is vote on who is “right” or “wrong.” All that matters in science is the quantity and quality of evidence, that’s it. Yes, sometimes scientists do argue about evidence, but that’s usually done in peer reviewed articles, notes, and other forms of communication. It is mostly civil. And eventually, the evidence drives to a consensus.
Only to the public is there a delusion that there are debates on science. You might think there are debates about anthropogenic global warming, evolution, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, and GMO/biotechnology, but there really isn’t. Scientists aren’t sitting in bars across the world throwing bottles of beer at each other because everyone is divided between pro and anti-GMO. Because that’s just plainly not happening.
When I read that 97% of climate scientists support the fact of global warming or that 99.4% of natural scientists agree with the fact of evolution, it implies that there’s some sort of vote. But if there were, it would be, what we call in US elections, a landslide. But in reality, scientists come to a consensus about broad principles over time, and that is based on published evidence, not logical fallacies or bad data.
As we entered 2014, General Mills, the Minnesota-based food processing giant, announced that the breakfast cereal, Cheerios, probably its most popular brand, will be labelled as GMO free. And the anti-science GMO refusers were partying across the land, with the anti-science Huffington Post adding to the Cheerios cheers:
Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen highlighted what General Mills’ decision means in a press release. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand,” he said.
Of course, this was a pretty simple move for General Mills. About all it’s really going to cost them is a new box design to promote “GMO-Free”. It’s inexpensive and simple for General Mills because there are no genetically modified oats as of today. So, they don’t have to find new sources for the grain or most of the other components of the cereal. Actually, the only thing they had to do was switch the tiny amount of beet sugar used to sweeten the cereal to another type, something that is ostensibly an easy step in manufacturing.
Despite General Mills taking a tiny, inexpensive and risk-free step over the line to label GM-free, and going against what the industry has wanted, no labeling whatsoever, really nothing much has changed. General Mills is still opposed to all state initiatives demanding GMO labeling, which have mostly failed, probably as a result of corporate expenditures opposing these initiatives. General Mills still thinks genetically modified foods are safe and should not removed from the market. But with over 90% of Americans buying into the anti-science activism and believing that GMO’s are dangerous, and 59 percent of Americans now getting their nutritional advice from the internet, it becomes a brilliant marketing move for an aging brand. Instantly, Cheerios stands out in the supermarket aisle as one of the few major brand cereals that is GMO-free. It was a low-risk move that probably had no material impact on either General Mill’s strategies with genetically modified foods or the cost of manufacturing the cereal.
Although I have no evidence confirming my cynicism, eventually General Mills can increase the price of its GMO-free cereal, because demand will be higher for it. Then other oat cereal manufacturers will do the same, and eventually we’ll have more expensive cereal. I’m sure the anti-science GMO-radicals are happy that companies can make more profits for really not doing much. But that’s capitalism for you.
My job here is to push science, and push it hard. And I’m not pushing “science” as some esoteric philosophy of academia, but as a relatively easy system of gathering evidence in support of (or alternatively, in refutation of) what people believe. There isn’t some button you push to get “science”, even though way too many people think that click on a Google search qualifies as science (and evidence supporting their “science”). I try to call out false equivalences, that is, that all evidence is equal, even if one side of the “debate” has low quality or even no evidence. I try to provide methods to rank evidence, so that an average reader can get an indication of the quality of evidence supporting a pseudoscientific or anti-science belief, which allows anyone to make a better critical analysis of what is written.
But sometimes, you don’t even need science. Just common sense, something woefully lacking in many of the anti-science memes that seem to easily circulate across social media these days.
When I wrote an article about Richard Dawkin’s comments on genetically modified organisms (GMO) agriculture, I got a lot of comments on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and comments here. One of those sources lead me to an article by one of the world’s top scientists, Nina Fedoroff, a Penn State University faculty member, who actually studies biotechnology, and, more specifically, in the field of transposable elements or “jumping genes,” one of the major beliefs of GMO refusers. Her scientific bonafides are public, including being past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, probably one of the most prestigious institutions in science. That she is also an alumna of Syracuse University is just a bonus. Continue reading “Where’s the common sense in the GMO discussion?”
Recently, the National Science Board (NSB) published its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report for 2012. This report comprises quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and engineering by objectively reviewing science and engineering progress in both the US and internationally. The report does not make policy options and recommendations, but it is used by different governmental and non-governmental entities to formulate their own policies and recommendations. This report is required by law. Continue reading “National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators–2012”