Look Beyond the Scientific Veneer of a GMO Report

By Keith Kloor | June 20, 2012 9:25 am

In the science blogosphere, medical falsehoods and pseudoscience are routinely called out. The watchdogging is done by a mix of scientists and journalists, who are constantly rebutting a never-ending stream of misinformation about vaccines, autism, and other public health-related subjects.

For example, the indefatigable blogger known as Orac (he is a medical doctor and cancer researcher) regularly debunks proponents of alternative medicine and leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. Numerous science writers have been similarly dogged, such as Emily Willingham and Seth Mnookin, author of the acclaimed book, The Panic Virus.

In contrast, the highly charged issue of genetically modified foods doesn’t receive the same level of attention from the science blogosphere and mainstream media. This puzzles me. (A notable exception did occur recently when anti-GMO campaigners threatened to destroy field research in the UK. Many science journalists and bloggers–mostly in the UK–leapt into the fray and defended the besieged plant scientists.) Last week, for instance, I wondered why a recent study that demonstrated environmental benefits of GMOs didn’t get more press.

In fact, some of the supposedly pro-science media (at least when it comes to climate change) on the progressive political spectrum , such as the environmental website Grist, have often published dubious coverage of GMOs. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to see this well-reported piece just appear at the Mother Jones site. So did a number of commenters, one who wrote:

Thanks for an article that talks about science and not the gm scaremongering that we see most of the time on MJ (my only pet peeve about Mother Jones).

That scaremongering–which is a staple at Grist–evidently flows from A) numerous misconceptions about biotechnology in general; B) anti-corporatist sentiments; and C) a litany of unfounded health and environmental concerns.

It so happens that the worst offenders of GMO alarmism and misinformation are environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists. No, wait, I take that back. The absolute worst purveyors of falsehoods about GMOs are the same folks who preach against vaccines and tout all manner of unproven alternative health remedies. People like self-appointed health guru Joseph Mercola whose popular website is a “horrible chimera of tabloid journalism” and “uncommonly efficient at spreading misinformation,” according to the the Science-Based Medicine blog.

What underlies the propaganda that Mercola (and those like him) disseminate about autism, vaccines, cancer, GMOs, etc., is a “natural health” philosophy. A similar in-harmony-with-nature mindset explains much of the environmentalist squeamishness towards genetically modified foods. Greenpeace, for instance, warns that GMOs

can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non ‘GE’ environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way.

In truth, the uncontrollable spread of disinformation about GMOs is what’s really contaminating the environment. The latest, most egregious example is a report with an Orwellian title, “GMO Myths and Truths” that purports to be science-based. It was done by a UK-based nonprofit group called Earth Open Source, which

challenges the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture on the grounds of the scientifically proven hazards that they pose to health and the environment and on the grounds of the negative social and economic impacts of these technologies.

Here’s how their clever press release opens:

Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?

A new report released today, “GMO Myths and Truths,” challenges these claims. The report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms (GMOs).

In actuality, it’s an extended Gish Gallop that twists science in the most cynical fashion to advance an ideological agenda. If the writers of this report were smarter–if they weren’t so blinded by their own biases–they would have tried to give it an even greater sheen of credibility by not stacking the deck the way they did. That was the giveaway to me. The authors, (one who is a founding editor of an anti-GMO website) pretend to be authoritative but their skewed review of the scientific evidence leads them to conclude that GMOs are dangerous, have no redeeming value, and no utility whatsoever as an agricultural tool.

I have to think that any self-respecting scientist or academic–even one who is no fan of GMOs–would be given pause by such a sweeping verdict.

So it surprises me that NYU’s Marion Nestle, the renowned food studies scholar and health advocate, heaps such unqualified praise on the report. In a blog post at her site (which is where I first learned of it), she writes:

Whether or not you agree with these conclusions, the authors have put a great deal of time and effort into reviewing the evidence for the claims.  This is the best-researched and most comprehensive review I’ve seen of the criticisms of GM foods.

Can the pro-GM advocates produce something equally well researched, comprehensive, and compelling?  I doubt it but I’d like to see them try.

In the meantime, this report provides plenty of justification for the need to label GM foods.  Consumers have the right to choose.  To do that, we need to know.

The first thing I thought: did Nestle spend any time reading the report, or did she just scan the summary and dazzle at the voluminous citations? The second thing I thought: did she bother to check the author bios and if so, did she notice that they have obvious biases and conflicts of interest that might have compromised their ability to choose and assess the evidence cited in their report? The third thing I thought: did Nestle, as the plant scientist Karl Haro von Mogel pointed out in one comment at her site, know that “very detailed reviews of evidence” from the National Academies of Science [in 2004 and 2010] have previously been done? (It’s worth reading through the comments at Nestle’s blog post, many of them from plant scientists who are miffed at her credulity.)

Nobody should misread my skeptical take on this GMO report or my criticism of Nestle for her unquestioning acceptance of it, as a boosterish embrace of GMOs. By all means, let’s keep studying the impacts and efficacy of genetically modified crops–on a case by case basis.

But it would be nice if we could go about this as rationally and clear-eyed as possible. That is made harder by the sewage of disinformation that flows on the internet, as discussed above. It’s made even more difficult when influential scholars like Nestle lend their gravitas to a skewed report on GMOs that disguises itself with a scientific veneer.
CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology, GMOs, science
  • grypo

    How does this differ from the climate debate where better information will not lead to better understanding due to ideological considerations?

  • huxley

    What underlies the propaganda that Mercola (and those like him) disseminate about autism, vaccines, cancer, GMOs, etc., is a “natural health” philosophy. A similar in-harmony-with-nature mindset explains much of the environmentalist squeamishness towards genetically modified foods.

    – Keith Kloor

    This is the root underpinning the anti-GMO movement and it is more prevalent on the left than the right. Since journalists and scientists are much more liberal than conservative, they are less inclined to attack allies on the left, however much they may disagree.

    We are in a culture war. I would go farther and call it a cold civil war. This is another price we pay for that war.

  • MarkB

    You’re surprised that a renowned food studies scholar and health advocate should heap unqualified support on such a  report? Why? That’s exactly where I”d expect this drivel to come from. Regarding that “in-harmony-with-nature mindset,” you might want to elaborate on that. The mindset of much of today’s environmentalism is romantic It aligns with, and often self-identifies with the political left, but takes its cue from Rousseau rather than Marx. Lenin said that Communism was Socialism plus electricity, and would have sent modern Greens to die in work camps in Siberia. Thus, many people will appropriate science as a convenience, while implicitly rejecting the fundamental scientific mindset. John Muir, I’m lookin’ at you.

  • BBD

    KK

    +10

  • http://www.r343l.com RachaelLudwick

    Thanks so much for Gish Gallop! I don’t pay much attention to creationism (or debunking of same) so I had no idea there was a term for the dump of seemingly reasonable, fact-based (usually well-cited), convincing information that is pure BS. You see smaller versions in comment threads sometimes where a commenter will post every anti-GM claim with a seemingly informative link.

    GM (and skepticism about the utility of modern agriculture) really does seem to be one of the left’s orthodoxies. I assume that if someone leads a sentence with “GMOs …” with no qualification (which GMOs in which context?) then they are one of the faithful. Few technologies are so consistently the same regardless of application. If we described pesticides the way GMs are described we would be making blanket statements about how all pesticides cause egg-shell thinning in birds.

  • Mary

    @MarkB: one of my peeps just sent this book by one of the report authors: http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/e07.html In harmony all right.

    Yeah, this report was like an extended collection of all the bad science on this topic that appears at HuffPo, in one handy PDF. They source with blog posts and other activist material extensively. It’s the grayest of gray literature–with huge omissions as Karl pointed out.

    Sadly it’s also not the first time Nestle has pumped a gray report like this. Her threshold for evidence is worrying.

  • Dogwood

    You accuse Marion Nestle of looking at this report superficially but your treatment of it could not be more superficial. You dismiss it out of hand as the “most egregious example” of Orwellian propaganda, but without evaluating any of its evidence. All you are able to tell us is that you think its authors’ backgrounds suspect and you don’t like its conclusions. How superficial is that? You wonder whether Nestle spent any time reading the report, but your treatment of it raises exactly the same question about you.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    But it would be nice if we could go about this as rationally and clear-eyed as possible. That is made harder by the sewage of disinformation that flows on the internet, as discussed above. It’s made even more difficult when influential scholars like Nestle lend their gravitas to a skewed report on GMOs that disguises itself with a scientific veneer. 

    Keith, like grypo, find this passage puzzling in the context of your other writings on the ‘deficit model’ and climate change. How is your plea here wrt to GMOs any different than what Michael Tobis (and others) advocate wrt to climate policy?

  • Keith Kloor

    Dogwood (7),

    That’s a fair criticism, one that I anticipated receiving and thought about trying to head off.

    But as one of the commenters said at Marion Nestle’s post, “it would take a more voluminous report to detail the errors made in this one.” 

    I wasn’t prepared (nor do I have time right now) to get into the weeds just yet on this report. But I did want to point out what I thought should have been warning bells for anyone taking the report seriously. 

    That said, I also did invoke the term “gish gallop” to characterize what I believe to be a craftily misleading report.

    I want emphasize: had the authors of the report not been so greedy and tried to put a stake through the heart of GMOs, they likely would have been more convincing and credible. But as I said, the sweeping black and white picture they paint gives them away. 

     

  • Wentworth

    GMO science is a religion. 

  • Dogwood

    But if the authors think there are good reasons for concern about genetic engineering in food and agriculture, shouldn’t they make their case and state their conclusions plainly, rather than being mealy mouthed about it as a PR tactic, which seems to be what you’re recommending. Wouldn’t that be much more Orwellian? Also, we’re always telling people not to engage in ad hominem attacks, but we don’t exactly seem to be setting a good example. It’s like we’re saying, “We don’t like the look of these people and so we don’t think you should either.” Isn’t the picture we’re painting also a bit sweeping, a bit black and white?

  • Keith Kloor

    Dogwood (11)

    I don’t believe the authors of that report engaged in good faith with the scientific literature. I’ve become familiar with it and immediately recognized they were cherrypicking and also, to boot, relying mostly on gray literature, not peer reviewed.

    I also checked out specific examples that I’m more familiar with and noticed that they were slanting the evidence to make their case.

    The average reader with only a passing or superficial knowledge won’t pick up on this, of course. But you’ll notice that my post was mainly directed at two audiences: My fellow sci journalists and Marion Nestle, who I feel should know better.

    In that sense, I didn’t perform all that great a service for the average reader, which I’m aware of. But this is a (non-paying) blog with a specific audience (but I know who’s paying attention), so I write accordingly.

    But to bring this full circle, the authors (in my mind) clearly started out with their conclusions and twisted the evidence to support them.

    Grypo/Marlowe,

    Your question is a good one and I’ve been thinking about it. Let me chew on it some more–I’d prefer not to reflexively respond.   

  • Keith Kloor

     @11 Oh, just to add, I wasn’t suggesting that the authors tone down their unwarranted alarmism just for public relations purposes. I was saying that that if they wanted to really be credible, they would have allowed some nuance into their report. They couldn’t do it. 

  • lisasbag

    I’ve had a look at this report and a lot of the studies are peer reviewed or based on peer-reviewed lit or official government data, for example, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ and Benbrook’s material. And the animal feeding trial data is peer-reviewed. What do you think about it? 

  • lisasbag

    Had another look and a lot of the claims made for how great GE crops are, are not from peer-reviewed publications but from industry sources or newspaper headlines. Do you advise us not to believe any of these industry or media claims in favor of GM crops because those definitely are not peer-reviewed?

  • Joshua

    Interesting post, Keith, although from a quick read it does seem a bit hyperbolic (looks like you might be pushing on an agenda a bit hard). Still, there’s a lot to look into, and I hope to find the time.

    Along those lines…from the Mother Jones article.

    Gurian-Sherman from the Union of Concerned Scientists says he thinks sustainable practices like crop rotation and mulching can eliminate the need for both Bt and chemical insecticides.
    However, there are no large-scale studies proving this, in part because
    there is so little research money devoted to these practices compared
    to GM research.

    I think this is an issue that you fail to address. To the extent that you might be accurate in your broad-stroke criticism of environmentalists – I do think it is important to look at the various causative elements that might be in play.

    Climate and political blog readers will often see attribution assigned to a love of government tyranny, a foolish romantic attachment to a utopian view of a “natural” environment, etc. OK – those are issues that are worthy of consideration. But along the same lines, I think that people feel justified by a sense of embattlement – and don’t think such a sense of justification is entirely unwarranted.

    Part of the reason why people may be biased towards assuming that “natural” methodologies are preferably to those that are genetically engineered is, undoubtedly, in response to the disparity in research that grows out of commercial vested interests.

    This problem gets exacerbated by the very real and I say growing assault against long-standing mechanisms for funding non profit-oriented research (not to say that there plenty of valid criticisms to be made).

    I think of a field I know more about – education, and the disproportionate focus on for-profit reforms as compared to non corporately-advantageous methodologies that do cost money but ironically pay huge dividends to society in the long-run. I see in myself a knee-jerk reaction against some successful for-profit reforms because of those underlying disparities.

    I don’t think that there is a way to understand these phenomena without looking at all the causative factors and understanding that they are all a reflection of how humans reason, particularly in the fact of controversy, and particular w/r/t issues that touch on issues social, political, and personal identifications.

    That isn’t to offer justification for knee-jerkism – but to say that without fully engaging with the broad spectrum of reasons for why people may feel embattled, all you’ll get for your efforts to identify knee-jerkism is more knee-jerkism on both sides.

    It’s kind of like in the climate debate when “skeptics” correctly criticize tribalism amongst “realists,” but fail to understand the full range of antecedents (including fundamental attributes of human psychology that full afflict “skeptics” themselves) that led to climate scientists feeling embattled.

  • Joshua

    Nice to see the new comment interface.  Too bad that it eats paragraph breaks.I hope that the paragraph-eating didn’t make my rant completely unreadable. I don’t need any extra help in that regard.

    [Joshua: I tried fixing you paragraphs. I still haven't found a way to make the new comment systems work for everyone. It gives some problems, others not so much.]

  • Keith Kloor

    @14

    I see mishmash– newspapers, blogs, journals, books, etc (puffed up, it seems, with citations, to give it a hefty feel).

    @15 

    I don’t know you would ask me that, since I already find their sourcing/citation wanting–no matter what the claims are.

    @16

    I don’t feel the post is hyperbolic at all–you wouldn’t be tone trolling me, would you? :)

    As I’ve said upthread, the post’s one weakness is that it doesn’t directly engage with the report’s claims. But I could only bite off so much in one post, as I’ve already indicated.

    As for Gurian-Sherman, sorry, but I’m not inclined to take anything he or the Union of Concerned Scientists say at face value. I see them being pretty ideologically slanted on the biotech issue.

    Your points about knee-jerkism are taken.

  • Keith Kloor

    Here’s a somewhat related post.

  • http://watersecurity.wordpress.com Pat

    A great list of independent scientific articles is available here (on the Biofortified blog): http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/ There is some internal debate as to whether someone who was employed by a large agriculture company, should be eligible for inclusion even if said large company didn’t pay for the research… but the list is extensive.

  • Joshua

    As for Gurian-Sherman, sorry, but I’m not inclined to take anything he
    or the Union of Concerned Scientists say at face value. I see them being
    pretty ideologically slanted on the biotech issue.

    I think that there were two distinct parts to the section from the Mother Jones article I excerpted. One was a paraphrase of what Gurain-Sherman said, and the other I saw as an editorial comment that funding has not been available to study the efficacy of crop rotation and mulching. So I don’t see where I’m asking anyone to take what Gurain-Sherman said at face value, only to be open to his speculation that alternative methodologies might have merit and to the editorial comment that scientific research into those methodologies is lacking. I don’t have to the background to know for sure that the author’s editorializing is accurate, but it certainly seems plausible. I’ve been a bit involved in the exploding urban farming movement here in Philly, and from what I’ve seen, there are a lot of ideologically-oriented young farmers involved who are inclined towards “natural” methodologies but who are also schooled very quickly that ideology only goes so far when you’re breaking your back to grow seeds into vegetables. They take the science of their craft seriously, but I think that many of them advocate the benefits of mulching and crop rotation based on personal experience and what I presume to be experience-based testimonials and information generated outside the typical arena of scientific research. Given that they are likely to have a very understandable  “skepticism” about the veracity of profit-oriented research, what are they supposed to do? Should they ignore their own experiences and the information they get from others who have similarly toiled in the summer sun, and simply accept profit-oriented research findings without having a similarly thorough scientific investigation of the relative efficacy of alternative methodologies? That seems to me to be an unrealistic expectation, let alone one that really seems to be optimal. Just getting more information out there will not be enough to overcome biases. And there’s more to that than simply referring back to the climate debate notion that more information doesn’t change people’s minds. As much as I think that people are affected by ideological biases, I’m not so much of a cynic that I think that those biases are an unscalable obstacle for everyone. I think that the young farmers I know are very pragmatic – strikingly so, often. They are all about producing more vegetables as efficiently as possible. I think that if there was a body of scientific information available that was not shaped so strongly  by the vested interests of for-profit funding, they would be willing to rethink their ideological biases – although I have no doubt that I could easily find a blog commenter or two, while never having met the folks of which I speak, would readily assume otherwise. :-)

  • Joshua

    OK – so what’s the trick for putting in paragraph breaks?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #22,

    Type you comment, switch to html view with the blue < > button, and then hit Enter twice after every </p>.

  • Joshua

    Thanks.

    Niv.

    Test.

  • Gaythia Weis

    I think that the key to this whole debate is in Keith’s statement here: “let’s keep studying the impacts and efficacy of genetically modified crops”“on a case by case basis.”

    I believe that the lesson to be learned from the anti-vaxx wars and  other such battles is that they are a distraction and a sideshow that glorifies a few extreme opponents in a bath of publicity and also serve to avoid facing real matters at hand.  In the case of vaccines that had as much to do with public health management as anything.  Whooping cough turned out to be spread by adult caregivers of too young to be immunized infants and by the fact that boosters turned out to be needed sooner than originally thought.  Hep B in infants is largely due to Hep B in mothers, and they are generally drug users or from parts of the world where this liver disease is endemic (Pacific islanders). Increasing the availability of pap smears to those without such coverage is probably the quickest and most effective means of reducing cervical cancer.  And so on.

    In the case of GMO’s we don’t have to join in with the other side in painting all GMO’s with the same brush.   Credibility with the public at large would be gained by making it obvious that real scientists can distinguish a good GMO application from a bad one. That real scientists are not in the pockets of certain large corporations.   That bad GMO applications will be denounced by scientists also.  That appropriate regulation of the technology is actively advocated by scientists and their supporters.  That much of the problem attributed to GMO’s is actually due to other excesses of monopolies and monocultures, and the scientific community supports regulation of these also.

    If average members of the public can see scientists and other supporters of science actively highlighting and attempting to address issues with GMO’s in a balanced fashion as they occur, then the totally denialist activists who today can gain the headlines would be seen as a few distant crackpots not worthy of consideration.  

    One way to start demonstrating that there is nothing to fear by a GNO designation in general would be to support labeling.  The corporate food industry furiously fought food labeling for ingredients, and nutrition.  But if the public sees such ingredients as part of a well studied and regulated process, they are generally accepted.  People still indulge in their favorite junk foods also.  Being fully informed is a good thing.  People favoring a science approach should never be against that.

  • Keith Kloor

    So there is a question from @1 and @8 that implies an intellectual inconsistency on my part. Regular readers know that I have previously written about how research shows that more and better (as in accurate) information on climate change won’t really move the needle in the debate–or at least won’t get climate skeptics to change their positions. 

    Anyone closely following the social science and cognitive studies on this will probably agree. See Dan Kahan et al at the Cultural Cognition Project if you need to catch up on this. I think he and his colleagues are on to something.

    That said, I think Kahan’s work pertains most to those who already have very strong and fixed views on a given issue. (At least I think it does. I’ll check with him.) The great majority of people don’t follow these fierce debates as closely as blog commenters. The average person’s knowledge of climate science and biotechnology is superficial, at best.

    Thus I still think there is an important role for journalists (and science communicators) to play when it comes to informing the public. If I didn’t think that, I would get out of journalism and fold up this blog. Now, obviously, I also think there is much room for improvement, otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time writing (what I hope is) constructive criticism of media. (Such criticism comes in all varieties; I recognize that my take on media coverage of climate change, for example, differs from that of Joe Romm’s.) 

    So, to sum up:  I don’t think a story about the reality of climate change every day on page 1 of the New York Times is going get world leaders to hammer out a global treaty limiting carbon emissions, or convince committed climate skeptics to stop questioning the integrity of climate science.

    But I do think such stories, when they appear in the media, still have much value in keeping people informed, up to date on developments (research, political, policy, etc), and hopefully can also serve to advance the larger debate. Journalism thus plays an essential role, just not as essential (in terms of prompting action) that some to seem to believe.

    My thinking on this applies to other issues, such as GMOs, nuclear power, evolution, etc.  I recognize that journalism gets filtered through one’s own world views and ideological biases. But I tend to share Joshua’s optimistic hope, expressed in #21:

    “As much as I think that people are affected by ideological biases, I’m not so much of a cynic that I think that those biases are an unscalable obstacle for everyone.”

  • jeffn

    Joshua, do you really believe nobody has spent any time and money studying crop rotation and mulching? Seriously?
    Crop rotation has been in practice, and studied, since farming was invented. So has genetic manipulation- a fact the UCS also ignores.
    Mulching? Have you ever been to a farm?

  • http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan dmk38

    [The comment below is from Dan Kahan.]

    I don’t see any inconsistency between Keith’s post & his writings on the impact (or lack thereof) of scientific information on the climate change debate. I have a *slightly* *slightly* *slightly* different interpretation of why (maybe it really is only an elaboration).

    Keith is right, of course, that the avg person’s knowledge of the facts on GMOs is miniscule.

    But the difference in knowledge that really matters, I’d argue, has to do with what people know about the respective *cultural meanings* of climate change & GMOs.

    Like Keith says, at this point everyone has a strong position (everyone, even people who only watch American Idol & never MSNBC or Fox) on climate change. They have that position b/c everyone knows what having a position *signifies* about the kind of person one is. More scientific information by itself doesn’t change what it means — what it says about who you are — to hold one or another position on climate change. So more of that sort of information is largely inert.

    But w/ GMOs, people don’t have a clue about the *meaning* of the issue. At least not yet & not in US. In Europe, the issue already has meanings — and there is plenty of cultural polarization.

    Well, when people are talking abouit science of GMO risks they are also conveying information about meaning. This can happen, e.g., b/c of who the speakers are: if groups I see as holding my worldview are all saying “danger danger danger!!,” the issue starts to aquire that meaning for me. At the same time, in that circumstance, members of the cultural community *different* from mine are getting the same information about meaning, at least if they don’t see anybody like them seconding the weird, alien cultural group represenative’s concern. They figure out that they should be skeptical about the danger claim. (Does this sound at all like the history of climate change?)

    The meanings can also come from other cues — like idioms that connect some putative risk source to a cultural icon that is already potent in meaning.

    In those circumstances, people can *quickly* polarize on a novel issue. My research group has done studies that show that effect in action on things like nanotechnology & the HPV vaccine.

    So I think Keith is 100% right to be worried about the scientific misinformation campaigns. Not necessarily b/c they are confusing people on the science but because the identity of the speakers and the framing of the communications are amplifying meanings that have the potential to polarize.

    If Keith is right (I’m learning from him by reading his posts on this issue), then the groups raising the alarm call are polluting the science communication environment with toxic partisan meanings. They are creating really strong emotional and psychological reasons for people (ordinary, nonpartisan people, too) to dig in.

    In *that* polarized atmosphere, accurate scientific information won’t matter, or won’t nearly as much as it should.

  • steven mosher

    Next Joshua will suggest giving Lindzen time on GCMs to test his theories.

    hint. whenever money is spent on science there is a funding effect. the funding effect does not bias the outcome necesssarily. It changes the questions we ask.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Thanks for the follow-up Keith and Dan. Lots to chew on there.  

  • Mary

    This phrase makes me weep: “accurate scientific information won’t matter”. Alas.

    Marion is doing this on other topics as well–she’s done it on nanotech and on irradiation:Is nanotechnology the new GMO?

    and

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/06/the-german-e-coli-outbreak-questions-and-answers/240124/&nbsp;

    I love quoting Carol Tucker Foreman on the topic of irradiation: “sterilized poop is still poop.”

    Poop? How about serious microbial contamination from various possible sources? I told her she was unnecessarily polarizing this, but funny–she didn’t respond to my comment…imagine.

  • grypo

    The suggestion implicit in Dr. Kahan’s comment is that misinformation campaigns must be prevented prior to the population wide integration of the science into a cultural dynamic. That’s a good answer to the question. So it certainly matters to what degree GMO’s have made into the consciousness to see if Keith’s post matter here. But, OTOH, there must be something within the climate debate that carries no cultural meaning and would be a useful starting point, right?

    “everyone knows what having a position *signifies* about the kind of person one is. More scientific information by itself doesn’t change what it means “” what it says about who you are “” to hold one or another position on climate change.”

    But is the populous that binary just because the debate is? Is everyone so strongly hierarchical individualistic or egalitarian communitarian that information no longer matters, even to those scoring low on both of those scales? It would seem to me that information deficits would matter significantly to everyone else. Everyone’s given up on the HI’s anyway. Ha!

  • Ken

    Leaving aside all the debates about the validity or lack of validity of any specific studies, I do think it would be hard to disagree with the basic understanding that the very act of creating a genetically engineered plant as the technology is applied today leaves open the potential for unanticipated changes in the genome and the structure and functioning of the plant and that it would take many studies and many years to understand whether these changes were meaningful or not or whether they had any negative impacts on the plants themselves, on the environment or on animals or people who ate them.

    This also means that every new GMO would have to be extensively studied as it could potentially have a completely different set of issues from any other since every insertion event would cause a different type of disruption.

    Thus, to even make a blanket statement that “GMOs” are safe or unsafe is meaningless.

    I think that any scientist would also have to agree that to make the blanket statement that “GMOs” are “substantially equivalent” to non-GM varieties is also meaningless and unscientific. Certainly there are plenty of peer-reviewed, published studies that support the fact that the GM varieties are not substantially equivalent. It will take many more years to determine whether those differences are meaningful or harmful.

  • Joshua

    Steven

    Next Joshua will suggest giving Lindzen time on GCMs to test his theories.

    Sure. Personally,  I would  have no problem with that. I feel that way independently of the evidence that he is a diehard tribalist, who writes essays comparing environmentalists to eugenicists and signs off on editorials comparing the climate debate environment to the imprisonment and execution of scientists during the Lysenko era. I can also see why, even if I don’t agree with them, some would not be inclined to not give Lindzen time on GCMs to test his theories given his tribalistic proclivities.

    whenever money is spent on science there is a funding effect.
    the funding effect does not bias the outcome necesssarily. It changes
    the questions we ask.

    Assuming that comment is directed at me…

    In fact, you and I have discussed that very issue in the past – and as such, it seems that you’re deliberately building a straw man argument vis a vis my point. Of course, it’s possible that you simply don’t remember what I said on the issue in the past, but given the  history of our exchanges, I’m disinclined to give you the benefit of the doubt there. I am open to change that view, however, and to good faith exchange of views going forward if you’re seriously interested in my view. 

    Briefly: While I do think that the point about funding having an effect of changing the questions we ask is an important one, I also think it is has sometimes been overstated and offered as a rationalization for conspiratorial thinking.

  • Joshua

    jeffn -

    Joshua, do you really believe nobody has spent any time and money studying crop rotation and mulching? Seriously?

    Let’s play a round of find the straw man, shall we? You go first.

  • Gaythia Weis

    I believe that political messaging has gotten really really clever about appealing to basic emotions, skipping over not only lengthy debates but sloganeering and soundbites also.

    For example, my fundraising e-mails from Planned Parenthood arrive with the send money link in Komen style pink (a hot button color if there ever was one). There’s a message in there someplace, as to why money is needed this particular week, but really, push back against the evil pinkness is all I am expected to need to know.

    So, before we can begin a conversation, an emotional mood has been set.

    In the case of GMO’s (or vaccines or climate change) I think it is not true that information no longer matters, as asked by gypo. The problem is that in fighting back, the words we use sometimes merely amplify the stance of our opponents.

    If we tell people that they are anti science or stupid of course they get defensive.

    But even without overtly saying “Hey Dummy”in trying to explain the science, if we aren’t attentive to the pre-existing underlying cultural meanings that I believe that Dan Kahan is talking about, our messaging has a false ring. It comes out sounding exactly like a script predicted by our opponents, and thus amplifies their own messaging.

    Specifically in the case of GMO’s, the term “GMO” has gotten lumped together in the public mind with a lot of greedy corporate excesses that are not strictly related to GMO’s themselves, but can be associated with them.

    The activists have seized upon, and then amplified, some key emotional hooks. Most of us, as scientists, are not actually in favor of a world dominated by a few greedy, anti-environmental and monopolistic corporate overlords. Thus, many of the things criticized by activists ought to also be actively agreed with by scientists. To regain credibility, that is where the conversation needs to begin.

    I think we can start by asking people what it is that they are really concerned about. I believe that these things are likely to be such things as the future of family farming, sustainability, biodiversity, environmental protection, and the nutrition content of food products.

    Once we’ve proven we are listening, we can, in my opinion, begin to systematically address ways in which GMO technology can meet those needs, but also ways in which it has gone and can go astray and needs to be limited by appropriate regulation.

    Bringing nuance and rational analysis back into the public conversation will take hard work, but I believe that it is possible. In my opinion, the future of civilized society depends on it.

  • Gaythia Weis

    First I sent off a comment before saying anything at all.  Now I’ve done it without remembering the paragraphing.  Couldn’t this interface include editing or at least preview capabilities?

    [I've fixed the formatting in your last comment. Hoping to get all this sorted out within next day or two.//KK]

  • Gaythia Weis

    Mary, I actually think that “sterilized poop is still poop.” is a very useful  phrase.  It could be the perfect opening to pointing out that sterilized poop is actually a great organic soil amendment.  One that could be worked with with your bare hands.  Which is to say that it is not still poopy, in the yucky and hazardous sense.This, then, is the perfect opening for anything you might have to say on the technicalities of reduction of microbial contamination.

  • Keith Kloor

      All,

    Thanks for all the smart comments.

    Just a quick housekeeping note: The webmaster is setting up a separate blog site to test out another comment software. I’m going to contact a few of you via email later or tomorrow to go over there and test it. That way hopefully we can find the right one that is compatible with everyone’s browsers.

  • huxley

    Testing from Safari…P1.P2.P3.

  • huxley

    A web comment editor is not that complicated nor is it all that dependent on clients unless one is being fancy, which seems to be the problem with the curent editor. Just check to see that the new one runs on Firefox, Safari and IE.

    I’m rather annoyed with the webmaster. Just in case, leave me out of this.

  • Jeffn

    #35, find the straw man round one. Joshua writes two posts noting the claim by the Union of Concerned Scientists there is lack of study on crop rotation and and mulching. Jeff asks if he seriously thinks two farming practices with centuries of use have really never been studied. Joshua say the question is a straw man. Sigh. If we can’t discuss what you point to, we can’t discuss.

    Gaythia, my guess is that there are rather a lot more scientists who work for corporations than not. My sense is they’re proud of their accomplishments with GMO and don’t take kindly when people who should know better attack them with misinformation. Interesting, isn’t it, that corporate scientists brought us chemical pesticides but also the way to grow plants that don’t need them. One invention will win out. It’s, I dunno, almost like a market has some benefits. Nah!

  • Jeffn

    Keith, I’ve never had a problem with page breaks in iOS or Firefox if I:
    Hit the blue brackets.
    Delete the text and HTML paragraph brackets
    Type away hitting return after each line.

  • Gaythia Weis

    I am a chemist who has worked for large corporations (although is not currently).  Certainly many corporations operate with high standards of moral integrity. Good corporations suffer when other corporations do cut corners and behave badly.  Also, scientists rarely have direct control over how a product is marketed and used.   Scientists can, and should, work to foster good science based policies both within the corporation and in society at large.

    The problem with GMO technology, IMHO, is not in the technology itself.  GMO implementations  have gotten tangled up with issues regarding monopolistic practices, monocultures and over usage that breed resistances and affect biodiversity.

    In my opinion, the science would be better served if we acknowledged the excesses that have occurred and worked to ensure more appropriate regulation  in the future.  Current organizations, both corporate and non profit, engaged in very legitimate research and development are suffering from the negative impressions left by some of these corporate practices.Our objective is to have a more successful nuanced conversation with the  public regarding some of the very positive and progressive possibilities that may arise from GMO technology.  To do this, GMO needs to be segregated away from cultural contexts that lead to highly negative impressions.  GMO technology itself  should not be seen as a means for foreign domination and thwarting national aspirations, it should not be about monopolistic domination of seed sources, it should not foster weed resistance to widely used herbicides, it should not threaten biodiversity or cause environmental harm, it should not be a tool that works to destroy diversified small family farms. 

    If we expect the public to draw a line between GMO technology and the excesses of agribusinesses, we have to be willing ourselves to call out those excesses ourselves.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > The activists have seized upon, and then amplified, some key emotional hooks.

    Sounds quite endearing. Let’s test it:

    Dad, when I grow up, I want to be an activist!

    Depends on the dad, I suppose.

    What about you, Keith?

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @44

    +1

  • Nullius in Verba

    #44,

    I think a large part of the problem with radical new technologies like GM (relatively speaking) is that when you start off, they’re very expensive. It has outstanding potential, but you have to invest a lot of money to get there.

    That means that any company that makes the investment is going to put a very high priority on making a profit from it, and protecting their investment, and that can involve some sharp practices.

    This is particularly the case where development costs are high but reproduction costs are low. It’s like the entertainment industry – it costs a lot to produce a music CD, but once you’ve got one, virtually nothing to make more. The market normally works to find the cheapest way of doing things by allowing the competition to try to reproduce your product for less, but in this case that is trivial to do, so the method of spreading your development costs over the products you sell conflicts fundamentally with the market mechanism. They invented intellectual property and patents and copyright to try to fix this, but in any conflict between regulation and the market, the market generally wins.

    So really, to address the perceived problems with the GM industry, you need to be talking about a far more general problem: a business model for high value products that cost a lot to develop and nothing to reproduce. How can the massive research and development costs be raised without charging much more than the marginal costs of the product?

    Oddly enough, part of the reason R&D is so expensive is the extra safety hoops that have to be jumped through, so one obvious answer to the problem the GM campaigners complain about would be to remove the regulatory barrier the GM campaigners themselves insist upon. As so often, they are the authors of their own misfortune. That could as easily be done by increasing regulation of non-GM foods (which are no safer) instead of removing safety regulation. Similarly, expanding the market across which they can sell the products would also lower their costs, so removing the bans and restrictions in various places would also remove part of the need for the sharp business practices.

    This is another reason why it is bad to have this conversation confined to the political left, whose reflex response to problems is for the state to seize control of the means of production – to regulate, to ban, to subsidise, to have the government run it. To ‘smash the corporations’. They need input from the free-market right, who may see other options from their different perspective. It needs to be a dialogue.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    [Seeking profitability after R&D investment] can involve some sharp practices [from corporations].

    An understatement.

    The opposite of labeling, perhaps.

  • Joshua

    hmmm. No more /p’s when I press the HTML toggle. Well, let’s see if I get any paragraphs…

    NiV -I think there is another aspect of the problem. Business decisions that once were seen as viable because they produced moderate profits over the long term are no longer seen as viable because investment decisions are made on the basis of share value, and only investments that reap outsized short-term profits via stock leveraging are seen as desirable. This phenomenon adds to the dynamic you describe. FWIW, I liked your comment until the last paragraph. I don’t see how you could think that the “free market right” isn’t “part of the dialogue.” Not to dismiss that the “anti-corporate” ideology of the left has an influence, but in my view, the “free market right” is equally a driving force, if not significantly more so. And so I think that your last paragraph – as distinct from the others – reflects an interesting window into the problem.I think it is human nature to solve problems by fitting them into recognizable patterns. That strategy is a fantastic tool that serves us well in many ways, but sometimes it is a limiting feature in our reasoning. In my experience, as a life-long leftist, your characterization of the “political left” – certainly in modern-day America – is a vast overstatement. By way of further explanation: In all of my many interactions with many leftists, I have met very, very few who want “the state to seize control of the means of production ““ to regulate, to ban, to subsidise, to have the government run it.” In fact, the vast majority of leftists I have ever met and talked to are extremely distrustful of state control, even if they recognize that the state has a role to play in addressing societal issues.Again, in my view, your characterization was over-generalization, and an example off over-applying a recognized pattern to a highly nuanced and complex situation. I think that it’s ironic that you apply that strategical approach to the problem being discussed given that much of the content of the rest of your comment was very much on the point of problematic responses to complicated situations that result from simplification of complexities to fit into preconceived patterns. I think that there are many explanations for the tendency we all have towards “motivated reasoning,” but I think the fundamental pattern-finding nature of our cognitive processes is a key element.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #49,

    ” Business decisions that once were seen as viable because they produced
    moderate profits over the long term are no longer seen as viable because investment decisions are made on the basis of share value, and only
    investments that reap outsized short-term profits via stock leveraging are seen as desirable.”

    So far as I know, modest profits are still perfectly acceptable. What I think you may be talking about is the attitude of investors to risk. High risk investments require high profit levels, to balance out the losses from all the failed attempts. Low risk ventures can still tolerate moderate profit levels, and in my experience still do. Your experience may be different.

    “FWIW, I liked your comment until the last paragraph. I don’t see how you could think that the “free market right” isn’t “part of the dialogue.””

    Oh, it’s certainly part of the overall dialogue – I’m here talking, after all. But it’s often seen as the opposition, as mere apologists for corporate greed, rather than a source of insights and ideas.

    In this case I expressed it somewhat clumsily. What I meant was that the debate described above is between protesters who block GM as a proxy for corporate greed, and scientists who ask that they don’t attack the science while joining them in opposing corporate greed. Both fail to understand that it isn’t corporate greed causing the problem, it’s the nature of products that are expensive to develop but cheap to copy, and what is needed is an alternative business model.

    Characterising the former visceral opposition to corporations as left-wing, and the latter interpretation in economic terms as right-wing is a gross simplification – stereotypes of the political extremes. I just wanted to point out that it was a different perspective, that it offered mitigation of some of the issues the former feel strongly about, and it is only by talking to people working from such different perspectives that you can explore all options. Left and right are just labels.

    “By way of further explanation: In all of my many interactions with many leftists, I have met very, very few who want “the state to seize control of the means of production ““ to regulate, to ban, to subsidise, to have the government run it.””

    Excellent! Glad to hear it! So what suggestion would you make to deal with the problems of profit-making GM companies, that doesn’t involve regulation, bans, subsidies, or government control?

  • Joshua

    Niv -

    In this case I expressed it somewhat clumsily. What I meant was that the debate described above is between protesters who block GM as a proxy for corporate greed, and scientists who ask that they don’t attack the science while joining them in opposing corporate greed. Both fail to understand that it isn’t corporate greed causing the problem, it’s the nature of products that are expensive to develop but cheap to copy, and what is needed is an alternative business model.

    I see that as a false dichotomy. Corporate greed plays a role (it isn’t mutually exclusive with the other factors you mention). Corporate greed is relevant to investment decisions.

    So far as I know, modest profits are still perfectly acceptable. What I
    think you may be talking about is the attitude of investors to risk.

    What I’m speaking of is a fairly ubiquitous phenomenon largely attributable to the development of executive compensation as a direct extension of share prices. Investment decisions are increasingly being made primarily on the basis of attracting investors (to raise stock prices)  – perhaps irrespective of long-term viability or at times even in spite of considerations of long-term viability. It’s a fairly well-recognized and described phenomenon. It is related to the widespread underestimation of risk, and an overvaluation of the advantages leveraging debt, but it isn’t quite the same thing.

    But it’s often seen as the opposition, as mere apologists for corporate greed, rather than a source of insights and ideas.

    And here I venture towards basic agreement with you. I thought I made that clear in my earlier response. What I’m countering with is the opposite phenomenon, as I felt was reflected in your earlier post.  A characterization of concerns about corporate greed as merely a ideology of statists who love them some government tyranny.

    So what suggestion would you make to deal with the problems of profit-making GM companies, that doesn’t involve regulation, bans, subsidies, or government control?

    I think this sets up another false dichotomy. If you want me to offer a solution that depends on the establishment of an unrealistic Utopia where no government exists, they I see little reason to respond. The point, IMO, is to look at the benefits and costs of regulations, bans, subsidies, and government controls, and to see where they may or may not make sense, with a full comparison to realistic analysis that places them in the context of what might occur in their absence. If you’re starting with the presumption – as it seems to me that you are – that they are necessarily a negative and corrupting force that lead to nothing other than unintended negative consequences at best and tyrannical governmental overreach at worst, then I would go back, again, to my point about the downsides of the pattern recognition tendencies that underlie our reasoning processes.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “If you want me to offer a solution that depends on the establishment of an unrealistic Utopia where no government exists, they I see little reason to respond.”

    No. I was simply offering you the opportunity to show me how wrong I was. My thesis was that faced with a problem such as this, the reflexive response of the left is to regulate. You say that’s not true. OK, I find that intriguing – I’m interested to hear a proposal from the left that takes a different approach. So what, if anything, would you have suggested as an answer to the issue of the GM industry’s approach to exploiting their IP, had I not brought the tendency to regulate up? What would your friends on the left have suggested?

  • Jeffn

    #52, niv,
    The most frustrating thing about conversations with leftists is that, outside of their cocoon, they either don’t know what they want or haven’t the courage to express it.
    You have a classic case going here.
    They can’t think of any solution other than regulation, they haven’t a clue what that regulation should be (make it nice for the environment, and shiny and cheap too), vaguely seem to recognize- without grasping – that things that are expensive to make are expensive to buy, but certainly won’t let you suggest that they wnt regulation!
    Since they can’t discuss the policy coherently,, they just make up scary stories about the product.
    The other fun one is the group that will happily tell you we just need a carbon tax high enough to force a reduction in consumption, while simultaneously getting angry if you suggest that would be expensive.

  • huxley

    In 2010 I read a column by a liberal pundit, a well-meaning woman, who was exasperated with the Tea Party. She was willing to grant that the Tea Party had some valid concerns, but she kept saying that the Obama administration is doing this and the Obama administration is doing that. She was exasperated that the Tea Party was still not satisfied. What does the Tea Party want us to do, she kept saying, we’re doing everything.

    She could not understand that the Tea Party wants the government to stop doing so much and stop spending so much money. That possibility was nowhere on her map. That possibility was in her ideological blind spot.

  • Jeffn

    Ideological blind spots:
    They said they wanted action on reducing emissions, so we invented better, safer, smaller and more reliable nukes.
    They killed those and claimed we hadn’t done anything about the ” urgent” need to reduce emissions.
    So we found a way to make natural gas cheap and abundant and available to use in power plants for an immediate 50% reduction in emissions.
    They fought that, and claimed we were opposed to action.
    We asked what reliable, effective alternatives they had.
    So they compared us to Hitler.
    And they don’t understand why people stopped listening.

  • Jeffn

    Ideological blind spots:
    They said they wanted action on reducing emissions, so we invented better, safer, smaller and more reliable nukes.
    They killed those and claimed we hadn’t done anything about the ” urgent” need to reduce emissions.
    So we found a way to make natural gas cheap and abundant and available to use in power plants for an immediate 50% reduction in emissions.
    They fought that, and claimed we were opposed to action.
    We asked what reliable, effective alternatives they had.
    So they compared us to Hitler.
    And they don’t understand why people stopped listening.

  • The Ferg

    Great article Keith. I find that NaturalNews.com & health ranger to be a point of misinfo. And the anti-GMO, anti-vax, anti-fluoride people are the same group. 

  • Pingback: We must trust our public scientists « SkeptEco

  • http://ramanan50.wordpress.com/ S.V.Ramanan

    Genetically Modified Foods has been suspected of being hazardous to health.

    There has been wide spread agitation on the introduction of BT Brinjal in India.

    There seems to be undue haste in promoting BT Brinjals in India,whenMonsanto has already ruined our Agriculturists.
    The side effects of BT on soil and the health of humans are yet to be fully studied.
    Why hurry?
    Karnataka is Right

    http://ramanan50.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/gm-corn-causes-tumour-and-reduces-life-span/

  • mmazzi

    The only sewage of disinformation is this article, excuse me… blog. You dismiss all anti-GMO critics and paint them with a broad brush as being unscientific and emotional. Then you have the audacity to describe one of the writers of the scientific report as biased because they are anti-GMO. How ridiculous. That’s like calling an oncologist biased because they are anti-carcinogen. I don’t see you painting the army of industry scientists as “biased” even though they are paid to produce junk science. Wake up, take the blinders off. It’s a decades-old corporate strategy… oh, the lab rat gets cancer in 4 months? Design the study for 3 months… and so on and so on. Flood society with junk science promoting GMOs or whatever position we want. They know that the real, independent science will get buried in the heap. When it does get attention, it receives a smear campaign of “unscientific” or “not legitimate” etc., etc. Your blog does nothing to actually discuss the SCIENCE of the report, only to smear it based on all of your illogical assumptions.

    You discuss Marion Nestle for her comments about the report and wonder aloud if she actually read it. Did YOU read it? Your comments lead me to believe you did not. Just because one of the authors runs GMWatch, you dismiss it. Instead of discussing Nestle, why not discuss the main author… the scientist, Michael Antoniou, PhD? Here’s his bio from the beginning of “GMO Myths and Truths”:

    Michael Antoniou, PhD is reader in molecular genetics and head, Gene Expression and Therapy Group,King’s College London School of Medicine, London, UK. He has 28 years’ experience in the use of
    genetic engineering technology investigating gene organisation and control, with over 40 peer reviewed publications of original work, and holds inventor status on a number of gene expression biotechnology
    patents. Dr Antoniou has a large network of collaborators in industry and academia who are making use of his discoveries in gene control mechanisms for the production of research, diagnostic and therapeutic
    products and safe and efficacious human somatic gene therapy for inherited and acquired genetic disorders.

    You completely ignore him to discuss Nestle COMMENTING on the report. It’s blogs like this that are full of misinformation. Please, before you write one more word about GMOs, read the free, downloadable report in question: “GMO Myths and Truths” by Earth Open Source. In addition, read chapter two of “Seeds of Deception” by Jeffrey Smith. Before you jump on the industry bandwagon and bash him because he’s not a scientist, try reading what is written. I do not have to be a scientist to write about published science. Nor does being a scientist automatically validate what anyone says. If you knew anything about the anti-GMO movement, you’d know that we BEG FOR SCIENCE and welcome it… the sad fact is that US food policy was based, not on any science, but on the words of a former Monsanto crony… Michael Taylor… the current USDA food czar. He’s gone through the government/Monsanto revolving door enough times to make one’s head spin. In 1992, as assistant policy director of the FDA, he declared that we know of no substantial difference between GMOs and conventional food. He was lying. The FDA own scientists had concerns and called for more testing. ALL US GMO POLICY has been based on his statement for the past 21 years! There have been no human studies. I am a firm believer in science. Real, independent science. Not corporate junk science. Real science is becoming a rarity. I know every bio grad student will get on here to argue. Save your time. Please go read “Seeds of Deception”… it clearly summarizes the scientific dangers of GMOs along with the media censorship, political/corporate revolving door, etc. It is all well-documented. I especially encourage you to read it if you are in the scientific community. You will see how scientists who speak out against the Monsanto agenda have decades long careers snuffed out. (btw… why has Monsanto been safe under the anti-trust laws?) If you are going to criticize opponents of GMOs, then at least do your homework and find out what we are arguing rather than assigning us labels that you make up (or rather copied from the Monsanto smear campaign). Follow the money. Unfortunately, the science is usually right behind it.

    • Micro Pion

      I agree with you since Keith Kloor made it’s own disinformation in this article and he did not made a valid argument against anti-GMO only some superficial argumentations were proposed…

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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