Did you know that a group of scientists whose work has stirred public controversy are under siege? That their findings are vehemently contested? That they are harassed by zealots and that some have endured death threats?
In Europe, virulent anti-GMO opposition has been building for over a decade. (New Scientist has a nice rundown of how the alarmist campaign against GMO’s took root and spread in the UK.) This despite abundant evidence that worrisome impacts to public health and ecosystems are unfounded, notwithstanding hysterical media reports to the contrary.
No matter, opposition to GMO’s is passionate and in some parts of the world shows no signs of abating. By now, scientists are likely resigned to it. Indeed, as Emily Waltz wrote in Nature several years ago:
No one gets into research on genetically modified (GM) crops looking for a quiet life. Those who develop such crops face the wrath of anti-biotech activists who vandalize field trials and send hate mail.
But as she reported, some of these same researchers have also become hostile to their own colleagues–or at least those who are investigating potential safety or contamination issues. The case (and behavior) she discusses has some notable parallels with the gatekeeping charges leveled against the climate science community. Part of the rationale rings a similar bell, too: The concern that shoddy science (in this instance, a paper that asserted GM corn could have “unexpected ecosystem-scale consequences”) gives ammunition to opponents (anti-GMO activists).
The comparisons with climate science do not carry over in one notable respect: Outrage over the harassment of GMO scientists and the destruction of their research. Environmentalists, who have rallied to the aid of climate scientists under attack, stay mum about the continued destruction to GMO field crops and the intimidation campaign against biotech researchers. Why do you suppose that is?
Perhaps they are just taking their cue from scientists themselves. As the NYT reported last year:
There is a ripple of unease among many scientists who study the warming of the planet these days. Some have faced harassment, legal challenges and even death threats related to their research, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports.
On Tuesday, the board of directors of the association, which publishes the journal Science, released a strongly worded statement “vigorously opposing” such attacks on researchers, saying that the tactics inhibited the free exchange of scientific ideas.
“Reports of harassment, death threats and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas, and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policy makers and the public,” the board said. “This both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the application of science to the solution of global problems.”
This led one biotechnology researcher to observe:
Unfortunately there is no mention of the plight of genetic scientists who have also been subject to legal threats by anti-GMO lobby groups, and by certain organic organisations. These threats suppress free-speech on important human welfare and safety issues.
Evidently, not all scientists are deemed worthy of coming to the defense of.