A Tale of Two Sciences

By Keith Kloor | October 26, 2012 7:25 am

I’d like you to read two statements. Here’s the first:

The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gase emissions is now.

That is from the 2006 resolution on climate change from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Here’s the second:

There are several current efforts to require labeling of foods containing products derived from genetically modified crop plants, commonly known as GM crops or GMOs. These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe…There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

That is from an October 20, 2012 statement from the same organization (AAAS).

The anti-GMO efforts described above are driven by those who would consider themselves liberals or progressives. Many of them seem to be food and environmental advocates. Their views are sympathetically echoed in progressive media outlets, which often carry reports that play up dubious research attesting to the public health dangers posed by GM crops. Influential thought leaders much admired by progressives also seem to disregard or be suspicious of the consensus science cited by AAAS in its full statement.

It is my assumption that this aforementioned group in the progressive camp would agree with the 2006 statement on climate change by AAAS, but disagree with its recent statement on genetically modified foods. Is this intellectually inconsistent on their part? I think so and made the case several weeks ago in a Slate article titled, “GMO opponents are the climate skeptics of the left.”

Others have made a different comparison that is no less flattering (I would think). Here’s how one newly minted science communicator puts it:

The similarities between this [GMO] issue and the anti-vaccination movement (where de-bunked studies are touted as fact and a personal “right to choose” or “gut feeling” takes priority over what has been shown to be true) are striking, which makes me wonder if once again we are seeing a public reaction to “science.”

That depends which science. Progressives have no problem with the science that shows global warming is real. The science many of them deny is the one that shows no health or dietary problems associated with GM foods.

Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, GMOs
MORE ABOUT: climate change, GMOs
  • http://www.skepteco.wordpress.com Graham Strouts

    As you know Keith, I believe you misread the situation. There is no anomaly between the “progressives” positions on GE and climate change- they are both alarmist, and used to suit a political agenda, as I have written about here:http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/shill-for-monsanto-shill-for-big-oil/

    For example, take the 2006 (a bit old) AAAS statement you quote above:” rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control
    greenhouse gas emissions is now.”

    Increases in extreme weather are frequently sited as evidence of CO2-induced global warming, but this is not backed by the science: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_21752735/climate-spin-is- Part of the confusion is the rather lazy assumption that the “science” of GE (specifically its safety) is comparable to the “science” of climate change in methodology, uncertainties and policy implications, which is obviously not the case.

    With GE, we are dealing with readily verifiable lab tests on rats which have been performed hundreds of times, and a straight-forward policy issue of, it’s safe so go ahead and use it with proper regulation.

    Climate science is completely different in every sense- no easy way to verify with experiments or observation; considerable uncertainties and hugely complex and highly politicized policy implications, and no easy or obvious and uncontentious policy response, even if we accept the “consensus” science. The difference is obvious: cost. There are no cost implications really with GE: if it is safe, and works, go ahead and use it. Climate policy? Noone really knows, with vigorous ongoing debates on everything from carbon tax, wind vs. shale gas/nuclear, to geo-engineering. The “Progressives” you refer to only accept the “science” of climate change in so far as it suits their anti-growth, anti-industrial agenda- which is precisely why they dont accept rational technologies such as nuclear or GE (or shale gas for that matter), both of which have been shown to help reduce the very CO2 emissions they claim to be concerned about.

  • Scott

    To a child the world and adults are huge structures. To a person that’s 7 foot tall, the world is filled with small creatures and unwelcoming accommodations. Facts and perceptions are relative.

    When it comes to two sciences, especially when one involves GMOs, I reject it completely. The fact it’s been a bait and switch deception since being forced into the food supply isn’t bad enough, combine this with the legions of paid academic referees, umpires and score keepers trying to keep Big GMO’s secret from the public: They’ve been doping with the global food supply.

    Perhaps it’s no irony that the professional biking industry has sought to unravel the Lance Armstrong mystique. They used him to catapult their sport into a multi-billion dollar global empire. With his work done, they use their money and scale to disparage their warrior. His services are no longer needed because they’ve achieved market dominance that can be easily preserved with artful advertising dollars invested.So too with the GMO boys and girls. Using science as a bludgeon, we’re now being told that global warming, which has reached global visibility regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the premise, is comparable to GMOs which represents a quite different and opposite reality: the vast majority of the population aren’t aware they’re eating GMOs. We’re talking two ends of the awareness spectrum: Global warming=Global awareness and GMO foods: Global Distribution & contamination = Consumer ignorance. All the monies being spent by the GMO special interests are meant to keep consumers in-the-dark, or more poignantly….on the GMO Slave Plantation, slurping, burping and unknowingly consuming a key element in the pesticide industry sales process.

    Sorry, but it’s time to flush GMO science into the open. The tale of two sciences, one involving the surreal patented DNA traits with fictitious claims of equivalence to normal foods, delivered in unlabeled form in the mouths of children isn’t bad enough, the academic dishonesty and hubris shows the entire operation for what it truly is: Controlling our food…and enslaving us all.

  • PaulM

    Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?I am sure you know the answer to this Keith. “Progressives” are motivated not by science but by their left-wing anti-industry views. So they love climate science, which they see as portraying big oil companies as destroying the planet, but don’t like GM because they see that as an opportunity for big industrial companies to make money. See Scott’s response.  

  • harrywr2

    Is this intellectually inconsistent on their part?

    The view that nature is a delicate flower that should not be tampered with is a simple intellectual standpoint that accommodates anti-GMO,anti-hydro, anti-nuclear and climate alarmism.

    Personally, I live on a radioactive rock where things like earthquakes,hurricanes,volcano’s, various meat eating animals and other ‘natural phenomenon’ will kill you in a New York minute given half a chance.

  • Mary

    I agree with Graham that both are alarmist and misusing science to serve their agenda. But at least in the US the anti-GMO faction has impacted and paralyzed legislative action more than once, and has managed to delay and prevent research. Politics holds back animal engineers

    Bernie Sanders nearly stopped some recent Dem legislation from getting through the Senate as he tried to stuff a labeling law into the bill.

    A food security bill for the developing world was targeted by activists because it contained the mere word “biotechnology”.

    Having been in the battle on this front for years, I have witnessed these same paralyzing things. They are just not as well known as the climate front. And it was all done by the left.

  • http://arthur.shumwaysmith.com/life/ Arthur Smith

    What strikes me here is this effort to divide the world into two factions when clearly there are many. This is a typical “inside-the-beltway” media-driven perspective that is simply false in the real world. Draw the Venn diagram involved here. We have, using a simplistic yes/no divider, the group of those who agree with the first statement in one circle. The group of those who agree with the second statement in another circle. The overlap of the two is the group of those who agree with both statements. Outside the two circles are those who agree with neither. All 4 groups of people exist, and I see no evidence presented that any of the groups is larger or more coherent than another. Those who tend to trust scientific bodies like AAAS (such as myself and I would guess most actual scientists) are in the overlap of the two circles. Those who tend to distrust such bodies would be outside both. Focusing on and labeling one particular group (ignoring the others) and complaining about the inconsistency of their opinions seems a little pointless here.

  • Ben

    I will respond by saying that not only are the “progressives” inconsistent but AAAS is as well.

    The scientific evidence is clear: Really?global climate change caused by human
    activities is occurring now
    I do not doubt that some impact due to our activities is occurring now but what percent is emissions versus land use versus deforestation?

    This statement implies All warming is 100% due to Human emissions and no other factor contributes. Personally I put about 5-10% on emissions 10-20% on Land use (both real albedo, moisture content convective changes and causing measurement error some of wamring is local and spurious at global level) and another 10-20% on Deforestation (albedo and sequestration changes) thus 50-75% is cyclic and natural. and it is a growing threat to society Growing? the “rate” of warming by any account has declined to the point that the “unprecedented warming” period is now nearly equal in length to the “pause”. 

    Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather Every metric I know of shows a decline in extreme weather globally and most do regionally. I would love to see some data for this that does  not start in a quiet  period., rising sea level, Again data show no change in sea level rise rate from the previous century we did no drown in the 20th century why would we in the 21st with out acceleration? The only data that show significant rise are local data with out isostatic rebound correction or correction for tide gauge sinking. shifts in species ranges, Ranges change all the time hard to attribute to warming let alone to our warming. and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years.

    Where are they getting data that shows the pace of change increasing from 2001-2006 and what evidence of harm. Evidence of harm from warming? or evidence of harm from warming caused by us? The time to control greenhouse gas
    emissions is now.
    Nothing in the statement offers any connection to greenhouse gases even tangentially this final sentence is completely a leap of faith.

    Intellectual inconsistency is rife on both issues at least on GMO its only on one side but on climate change its on both sides recognizing your own blind spots is a good first step.some other great ones are 97% (75/77 of over 10,000 sent the survey) Massively funded denial machine (2 orders of magnitutde less funding then NGO (WWF,Greenpeace) and government funding not to mention the millions that “Bog Oil” gives to these same NGO’sSky Dragons

  • Ben

    Bleh formatting all mess up but you get the point some typos as well no edit sucks

  • Michael Larkin

    “Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?”

    Because it isn’t about the science. If it were, neither would be accepted or rejected. We aren’t talking about the laws of thermodynamics here, but about stuff that’s not yet been definitively proven. That makes it a good opportunity for politicos to try to force science into the same mould as ideology. How sad that some so-called scientists are reciprocally trying to force ideology into the same mould as science.

  • Keith Kloor

    I’ve fixed the spacing on some of the comments. I won’t be able to respond to the thread until later in day, but will definitely do so.

  • BillC

    I agree with HarryWR2 (#4), except my rock is a little more gentle – and perhaps just a teency  bit more fragile, given that there are 7+ billion of me.

  • Lucibee

    I see no inconsistency here.

    Both statements from AAAS are a commentary on the current scientific consensus. Try leaving all your baggage behind and re-read them for what they are. Then it should make sense. Hopefully! :)

  • Jarmo

    Why aren’t the media and politicians calling these people “deniers” and “flat-earthers”? http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/gordon-brown-says-global-warming-skeptics-are-flat-earthers.html

  • tlitb1

    “Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?”

    Keith Kloor, you seem to take the AAAS as a sort of benchmark, or an arbiter of a science truth. I think if you modify your perspective and then look at their first statement as showing the same brand of exaggeration and alarmism that they later argue against in their second statement then you maybe you would better ask another question – such as: Why they do that?

  • Joshua

    (6) Arthur –

    Thank you for your comment. It helps me to clarify my own thinking.

    A while back I also tried to use Venn Diagrams to frame related debate – although I’m a bit embarrassed by how convoluted my “thought experiment” was — (if you’re interested, it is comment #147 in Keith’s August 16th “What to Do About the “Polluted” Climate Discourse? post – posting the link won’t get past the filter).

    As I see it, the basic underlying problem in these debates is the willingness of virtually all parties involved to simplify inherently complex issues and divisions out of a natural (cognitive, psychological and emotional) drive to confirm biases. 

  • cagw_skeptic99

    “The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years.”There was no actual evidence of that then, and even less so now.AAS panders to the grant money, just like the rest of the rent seekers promoting CAGW.  The anti GMO folks are just mostly left wing nuts.

  • Fred

    Keith: Given your unerring ability to get the AGW issue wrong if you are in favor of GMO crops this is one of the best indications GMO foodstuffs are harmful.

  • OPatrick

    Firstly, and probably most importantly, what Arthur Smith said. Secondly it’s not particularly surprising that most people who’s views I would identify with would agree with both statements, they are far from being equivalent. One is a forceful and positive statement about our understanding of the science and the consequent positive actions that need to be taken. The other is a statement more about the absence of evidence and is, relatively, narrow in its focus. It isn’t a positive statement saying we should urgently pursue GM technology, rather its saying that the arguments against GM which rely on particular foci on safety aspects are not scientifically valid. There is of course a much wider range of reasons to be sceptical of the use of GM technology.

  • http://www.skepteco.wordpress.com Graham Strouts

    @ OPatrick: “There is of course a much wider range of reasons to be sceptical of the use of GM technology.” such as? Please provide scientific verifiable evidence…. if you want to argue that there are valid reasons to oppose GE tech per se.eg here is recent article by Prof. Pamela Ronald of UCD who references scientific evidence that among other benefits, GE tech has increased farmer incomes and reduced pesticide use,http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/08/12/would-rachel-carson-embrace-frankenfoods-this-scientist-believes-yes/Your “of course” sounds like you hold an ideological opposition, not one based on any evidence; as such you reinforce the idea that Greens are anti-science, anti-progress for the poor- a rather paternalistic attitude. Farmers are not stupid- if the tech does not benefit them (and by extension, the consumer) they would not use it.

  • OPatrick

    Graham, the wider range of reasons I am referring to include issues such as whether the benefits are as those who market them claim they are and owenership of the technology. I don’t discount all possibility that there are issues more susceptible to scientific questioning, such as unintended consequences and long-term sustainability, but these are minor compared to questions over the control of the technology.

  • http://www.skepteco.wordpress.com Graham Strouts

    and how should we settle such issues? For example, are you claiming that those studies Ronald refers to are fraudulent or biased in some way? Please state your case, with evidence. On the other hand, there are clearly vested interests driving the anti-GE campaign who routinely put out bogus studies and misrepresent the evidence, as I have written about here: http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/the-truth-about-the-terminator/The “misrepresentations” and blatant scare-mongering of the anti-GE movement are obvious; please show evidence of misrepresentation by the biotech industry or independent public scientists.

  • OPatrick

    Graham, you seem to be vastly over-interpreting my point. I’ve no particular strong interest in GM one way or another, although I do have concerns about the companies that tend to be most involved in their development and use. I’ve made no claims about the studies Pamela Ronald referenced. I don’t object to the AAAS’s statement on GM crops, nor do I object to their statement on anthropogenic climate change. I think this would be the positon of most people I share ideas with, who I would generally characterise as liberal and progressive.

  • Matt B

    Hey KK, per Fred you are now the Colonel Klink of all things environmental! Be proud!

    Start watching at the 5:00 minute mark…….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9PcaCEPHhM

  • Tom Gray

    The answer to the question posed:”Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?”is simple. Science is political. People fund and create the science that supports their political needs. Science is not a Platonic ideal. It is a human activity with a human created output that is funded by the humans with  research goals that are decided in the human political process. Why would anyone think it was different? The answer to the question is self-evident.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    FWIW there are contrasting studies that GMOs (in particular Roundup resistance) has INCREASED use of Roundup because farmers can strew it about without worrying about hitting the crops.That being said there remain economic and biological worries about GMOs.  First, although being sold as the saviors of the third world, the patent thicket about them makes them too expensive for subsistence farmers esp the need to buy new seed each year, so please don’t tell Eli about how Monsanto is going to save the world (actually Eli had a scientific relationship when Monsanto decided to get out of the chemistry business and go all in for biotech.  It was not for charity’s sake.  That is just the nature of the beast not a knock).   Second GMOs cost a lot of time and money to develop, which means that they strongly encourage monoculture, and monoculture in crops is dangerous, viz, the potato famine and the various blights of bananas.Third, there is the matter of taste, which is why those with the where with all will prefer stuff that is ripened to eat (paying a premium for locally grown food).Then, of course, we have the problem of emergent problems, which may or may not arise wrt GMO crops and to a large extent depend on how universal they become, whether crops designed for non food use have their genes cross over, etc.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #25,

    Regarding increase/decrease of artificial pesticide use, yes, there will be different effects for different genetic modifications. ‘Genetic engineering’ is like ‘mechanical engineering’ – far too broad a term to neatly summarise what it does.

    Regarding patents and crops being too expensive for anyone to buy – the result would be the same as not having GMOs at all. Complaining that they would be insufficiently available seems like an odd reason to want to ban them.

    Regarding subsistence farmers, the aim is to enable them to stop farming and go do something more productive instead. 500 years ago 90% of our population worked on the land. Now it is only 5%, because those 5% can produce enough food to feed the rest of us.

    Regarding having to buy seeds every year, the same applies to F1 hybrids. It’s a technological limitation as well as a commercial one. But if we suppose genetic engineering could overcome that, then there’s no particular reason why farmers could not buy a license to collect seeds and replant. It would save the company money on distribution costs, encourage customer loyalty, etc., which would allow discounts.

    The issues with costs and ownership are a bit like those in the music industry. The costs of creating them is vastly greater than the costs of reproducing them. If you want them, somebody has to pay for them to be created. Bear in mind too that patents are limited, and in 20 years time anybody will be able to use them.

    Regarding monoculture – the reason is not time and cost to develop, but efficiency, and it applies just as much to non-GM crops. They’re easier to produce and quality control, they’re more predictable in how they respond, their quality is more uniform. It’s true they’re more vulnerable, but the benefits are generally considered to outweigh the costs. But probably the best hope for solving the problem would be genetic engineering, to introduce controlled diversity in immunity without introducing variations in growth times and fertiliser responsiveness and so on. You could get the advantages of monoculture without the risks. It’s a possibility worth considering.

    Taste of course is a function of the particular mix of chemicals in the food, which genetic engineering has the potential to improve.

    And emergent problems are an issue for any technology, including the selective breeding we have been doing for the past 6,000 years. Have you heard about the naturally bred potatoes that turned toxic during droughts? Or the naturally bred celery that left chemical burns on the hands of the pickers? We breed resistance into crops all the time, but without understanding of the chemical changes that implement it. Plants produce their own pesticides, they fill their flesh with poisons to stop themselves being eaten. They too have to change them and develop new ones as fast as the pests grow resistant to them. And this arms race has been proceeding invisibly for thousands of years.

    When the plant breeders bred pest resistance into that celery, they didn’t realise that the plant did it by producing high levels of psoralins, a chemical pesticide. All these problems of emergence already exist, and always have.

    By contrast, genetic engineering has at least some idea of what the change involves, and what other effects it might have. It’s also a lot more thoroughly tested. So although genetically engineered organisms are by no means perfectly safe, they are at the moment considerably safer than the natural ones. It may be that in the future we will invent technologies that expand their power enormously, and then we will have to see, but technology is generally our best bet for solving problems, including the problems the last set of technologies created.

  • Nils

    @Keith: Maybe it has to do with suspicions about big industry, as someone above pointed out, in connection with what a recent study called the “technophilia/technophobia split in environmental discourse”. Some environmentalists count on technological solutions to our problems, which would be the crowd buying in the whole green tech/green economy buzz. Others are highly dismissive of such techno-fix-utopias and see the whole thinking behind it at what got us in the mess in the first place.Science, then, is merely a tool for validating these deeper beliefs, and it apparently is no problem when you swim with the huge consensus position, if such a thing exists, on one issue, and rely on minority voices in another one. As long as you can refer to any “science” at some point, it’s fine.So on the one hand, suspicions against big oil and coal are being seen as warranted, and most voices within the scientific community support such a view. Great! On the other hand, suspicions against the agrobusiness is being seen as warrented, and some voices within the scientific community support such a view. Also great!Relying on science appears to be a matter of degree, not a matter of yes or no. Science is equivocal, as critical observers especially of the climate debates have not become tired to point out. You may well be right to discover some non-consistent behaviour there on the side of the environmental movement (which you always should take care not to unify and thus simplify too much, by the way). But why should environmentalists be any more consistent than everyone else?

  • http://www.skepteco.wordpress.com Graham Strouts

    @Nullius in Verba #26 excellent summary, great points. Most of the criticisms of GE tech apply equally to any farming; but some GE traits actually have the potential to ameliorate some of the more serious problems caused by earlier industrial farming methods, eg RR traits allows for no-till, which is much harder to achieve in organic farming.@Nils #27- surely everyone should strive for consistency and providing evidence- based support for their claims; environmentalism has always claimed to be based on science, at least since Silent Spring if not before; so I think KK’s point is that if enviros. use science to support their calls for action on climate change- which he supports-, then they undermine this position if they take a fundamentally anti-science view on other causes such as GE crops or nuclear. I agree that one is undermined by the other, but I disagree with Keith that enviros generally take a science-based approach to CC either- rather, they take an alarmist-based approach here as well, so on my view, enviros are indeed consistent. Green’s approach to GE and many other topics actually are consistent in an ideological attack on modernity, science and Enlightenment values- often aligned with far-Right groups and mystical woo: http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/vandana-shiva-admits-there-is-no-terminator/Others have suggested that the real issue is distrust of Monsanto etc, but no evidence for their untrustworthiness is ever presented- this belief that a Big Corp must be Evil because they have profit motives is fed by the same anti-science woo that drives all enviro concerns over GE. What is interesting in the comments so far is that several commentators, including myself, are more likely to reject or question the AAAS statement on CC than the one on GE! As I said in my first comment, this is because the two “sciences” are entirely different in methodology and policy implications, they are not in any way comparable other than that they are both “science”.

  • Steven Sullivan

    No reason to ever mistrust Monsanto?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#Other_legal_action_-_As_defendant

    And oh, look,  the first — and recurring — response to KK’s post is to claim that the AAAS’s 2006 stance on AGW is itself alarmist.    

    Nearly a laugh, really a cry, Keith. Your blog is swarming with denialist kooks and free-market ideologues. Is there anything to be done about it?  

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    One of the apparent advantages of being a libertarian, is apparently not to be historically ignorant and shameless.  How else Eli asks could someone write something about how “regarding subsistence farmers, the aim is to enable them to stop farming and go do something more productive instead. 500 years ago 90% of our population worked on the land.”

    The aim, as history shows of such clearances is to seize the land. Go read what happened with the passage of the enclosure acts in the uk, as small farmers were forced off common lands, into cities where they could starve while working for nothing in the mills. It was only with the coming of unions that working people were able to better their lot. The common folk had a miserable existence in georgian and victorian england, which is why so many left.

    But Eli is certain that nullus believes it will be so much better with Monsanto in charge.

  • Leo G

    Love it Steve. Disagree with you and I become a “denialist kook” and an “ideologue” The way I was raised, this was called critical thinking. Oh well, times change. 

    Yes Keith, I too have friends with the same circular reasoning. Their reasoning is not based on science, but what they feel. We get into some good discussions, but what always amazes me, is that the moment I bring up scientific references for GMO products, the “evil corporation” Bullshit starts spewing. Unfortunately, from my personnal experiences, I have to agree with some of the up-posters, that most of these 2 debates are powered by ideology pretending to be science. Oh well, same as it ever was.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Scientific arguments for or against GMOs and statements that Monsanto is or is not a collection of noble folks do not necessarily support or contradict one another.  The issues are separate

  • Sashka

    PaulM @3 is probably right.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #30,

    “Go read what happened with the passage of the enclosure acts in the uk, as small farmers were forced off common lands, into cities where they could starve while working for nothing in the mills.”

    Ah. This would be in ‘The Totally True Marxist History of The World’, yes?

    What happened was that the commons stopped being destroyed by overgrazing, life expectancies went up, child mortality went down, average height went up, average nutrition went up, and the industrial revolution started to build the world we live in today. People went to work in the mills because the pay was often better and definitely more reliable, same as third worlders move to cities and work in sweat shops because it’s better than subsistence farming. The problem, I think, may be an overly romantic notion of what subsistence farming without modern methods was actually like.

    And the conditions of labourers in general improved only when demand for their skilled labour exceeded supply, and the amount of goods that could be produced for a given amount of human labour was so vastly improved through technology/automation.

    Unions on the other hand are a form of protectionism, and hence inherently wastefully redistributive – they enabled a smaller number of workers to seize a monopoly on labour, raising prices, and forcing other workers outside the union into unemployment. By raising labour prices they simply rendered many businesses unviable that could have employed people, and others less profitable that could have employed more. They shared a smaller pie amongst an even smaller number of people (i.e. them), and pushed their greed so far they eventually near wrecked the economy over here.

    “But Eli is certain that nullus believes it will be so much better with Monsanto in charge.”

    Oh! Bad luck, again! because I don’t.

    I think it will be so much better when Monsanto gets lots of competition, which will force prices down and improve commercial terms. That will only happen, though, when the market for such products expands and the regulatory barriers subside.

    If you make the business environment hostile enough, only the sharks can survive in it.

  • Martha

    “It is my assumption that this aforementioned group in the progressive camp would agree with the 2006 statement on climate change by AAAS, but disagree with its recent statement on genetically modified foods. Is this intellectually inconsistent on their part?”
     
    Basically, no.  Here’s why:AAAS statements are mainstream national statements that always require critical examination and knowledge of the political and other influences on its communication, in addition to science. 
     
    There is always a need to interrogate dominant power relations in a culture ““ which of course requires some accurate understanding of those relations, at any given time in history.  Since corporate influences on public and national communication is presently a major influence on American culture and media, it is not hard to get started on such an interrogation and build from there.  It’s a matter of sorting out the relevant influences, at any given time.   
    The AAAS statement on the status of climate change science was perhaps in fact very delayed, when as much information and context as possible is examined in the light of objectivity.  Indeed, a critical examination of interests and aspects of political power at that time, strongly suggests that the AAAS resisted making an accurate general statement on the state of climate science and is therefore partly responsible for delays in possible protective actions and legislation;  and sometimes will contributes to mainstream punditry, not advancement.
     
    The AAAS is not the “˜benchmark’, as another commenter notes.  It is one communicator in a national context.  No more, no less.
     
    As with climate change, an AAAS statement on GMO labeling needs to be examined in basic ways, and as an ongoing process.  Did you notice that the focus is clearly on labeling?  Why is that, do you think?  In reality, there is nothing particularly alarming about labeling:  it is done all the time.  Pick up a can of soup and see what information it offers.  Dozens of other countries moved to labeling of GMO products, years ago. 
     
    And at a glance, anyone remotely familiar with WHO reporting on the GMO issue would recognize the AAAS statement on what the WHO actually reports on this, as simply incorrect.  Is it a deliberate use of ideology to mask interests, as in the past wtih climate change?  Probably. 

    It is important for us to learn to demystify and examine the specific context of public communication about important issues, and differentiate what and who is served by any given communication in time — and that requires recognizing that the AAAS is capable of both leadership, and obeisance to power relations.  I suggest that this is the real  inconsistency.  

  • Nullius in Verba

    #35,

    “Did you notice that the focus is clearly on labeling? Why is that, do you think?”

    Because they don’t think they could get away with banning their commercial competition without being able to present any valid reason for doing so. So they do the next best thing – start a health scare about it.

    “Pick up a can of soup and see what information it offers.”

    Will it tell you if the product contains allyl cyanide? Or benzyl isothiocyanate? Or indole 3-carbinol? Or how about 5-vinyloxazolidine-2-thione?

    No, of course it won’t. The labelling laws are selective, requiring some substances to be labelled but quietly ignoring thousands of others. The insinuation picked up by the general public is that they would only require a label if there was a reason for concern, and thus amounts to a law requiring your commercial competitors to effectively stamp “Toxic!” on their products while you don’t.

    Frankly, it’s behaviour Monsanto would blush at, but it’s accepted because they’re ‘organic’ and ‘environmentally friendly’, and so can do no wrong.

  • hr

    When you have the likes of Scott #2 who simply believe everybody is lying to them then you don’t have to worry about the inconsistency of your arguments. It seems to work fine when discussing the Big Oil funded Merchants of Doubt so why not the GMO advocates?

  • Martha

    Nullius 36

    While adding to the discussion, which I always appreciate, you ignored what I was actually commenting about, in the first place.

    Basically, in responding to Keith’s question, I raised the question about the context and timing of the AAAS communication  (e.g. Prop 37) to illustrate that we need to examine AAAS communication on both this and past issues such as the AAAS delay on communication about climate change, if we want to be objective.

    And that doing so seems to reveal the AAAS’s  inconsistency as a national communicator.  And that examining this may be more illuminating than a focus on the perception of  inconsistency on the part of  ‘the progressive camp’ as Keith suggested.

    I noted how the AAAS is just one national communicator, and historically has demonstrated obeisance to power, at times, rather than objectivity and leadership.  The post was on AAAS communication, so that was what I commented on.

    But regarding your interest in the labeling issue itself, rather than how the labeling issue has  influenced the AAAS statement on GMO’s at this time”¦ take it away.  I agree, the management of safety and health is constrained by costs and issues of mass production and marketing for a large population.  Manufacturers assume the burden of costs of labelling, for safety/health and also for their brand and market share, all the time — such as it is.  I would think most people recognize that labelling has many purposes and if people really want to know what is in their food, a label is just one (limited) source of this information.  

    Whether they do, and whether or not GMO’s are safe, it appears that a large enough consumer group in the U.S. is demanding labeling and information, that a mainstream science institution (largely a participant in getting GMO’s into the food chain in the first place) has to say something.   And so it has.

    Anyone, not just ‘progressives’, should wonder how this context can help explain the decision by AAAS to communicate what it has on GMO’s, which is simply not accurate and even makes a false claim about what the WHO has or has not reported in regard to the evidence and ongoing research.  If you are interested in the finer details of the GMO labelling issue, many people suggest it has a silver lining since it could be a kind of  recognition of the need to secure a more balanced approach to food production that again includes local economies, resourcefulness and other social determinants of health.  

    At a more superficial level, of course, it just reflects the increasing market share of those smaller manufacturers who have wanted to use the label but faced some barriers.   Anyway, I was interested in the question posed by Keith, and that is  why I commented.  While your reaction raises related questions, all important and interesting, it is not the type of interaction that interests (because  it does not take up the necessary counter-analysis to Keith’s question).cheers

  • Nullius in Verba

    #38,

    Ah, well, I regard such organisations as essentially political/bureaucratic, so I tend to ignore what they say anyway.

    “Whether they do, and whether or not GMO’s are safe, it appears that a large enough consumer group in the U.S. is demanding labeling and information”

    Yes, but they’re “demanding” it not in the economic sense of being willing to pay for it, but in the coercive sense of making other people who don’t want it pay for it too.

    Any manufacturer can already label their products as with/without GMO. It doesn’t require any new law.

  • EdG

    “Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?”Simple. Lysenkoism prevails, particularly in such government-dependent puppet organizations as the so called AAAS.But why use the word “science” as though it was a thing instead of a process? Fits the phoney ‘science says’ line that ideologues love to use but that, of course, just clouds the issue.P.S. 2006 statements on climate change are obsolete and misleading in terms of current scientific evidence. For example, here goes the ‘rising sea levels’ scare story, at least for those who actually do consider scientific evidence:http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/10/30/finally-jpl-intends-to-get-a-grasp-on-accurate-sea-level-and-ice-measurements/

  • Martha

    Nullius 39
    Or,
    1)  Smaller producers have faced real barriers to using the label i.e. to their advantage.  Organic, natural, locally sourced product that is also in large part or entirely GMO-free is the point for these producers, and the basis of their share of the market.  When the label means nothing (because it is unregulated) it diminishes their product and therefore their opportunities in the market.
    2)  Smaller producers have been locked out of the policy process on this issue for a couple of decades now, by agribusness, with government in a direct supporting role to it. 
    3)  Civic input has been locked out of the policy process on this issue for about the same amount of time, by the same forces.
    4)  U.S. manufacturers who rely on small, specific markets, have been unable to sell those products outside the U.S. as GMO-free because of trade restrictions related to regulatory frameworks for such labeling in e.g. Europe. 
     
    In other words, you don’t seem to know that the absence of regulation on this issue in the U.S at this time s not based on civic, market or science concerns:  it is mostly based on the interests of agribusiness in the form of corporate farming.   
    THe U.S. regulation of food in recent decades has focused heavily on cancer risks, and ignored other issues–including GMO’s.  The public apparently wants more input on more that concerns them.   Unless you wish to run the country all by yourself, the public and small producers have a right  to give input and to influence government decisions on matters that impact them, rather than continuing with a situation in which government is in bed with corporate farming.cheers

  • steven mosher

    Scientific arguments for or against GHGs and statements that CRU is
    or is not a collection of noble folks do not necessarily support or
    contradict one another.  The issues are separate

  • Pete

    Martha the nasty old agribusiness is a key player in feeding the great mass of the population while organic, local producers provide a lifestyle alternative to a niche market. I, myself, produced some lovely green beans that went down well at our dinner table. All deserve a say but not all are equally important when deciding who to organize the food industry.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #41,

    Any small business can use any label it wants to, so long as it is accurate (i.e. not false advertising).

    A label claiming that a product is GMO-free when it is not is regulated, as it would be false advertising. Voluntary trade bodies that check and certify that products meet defined criteria can be set up. Coordination between voluntary bodies can be arranged. All of this can already be done. None of it requires new legislation.

    What they’re trying to do is something entirely different – it is to require competing producers who do not sell to that market, nor want to, to label their products in a specific way to suit their own commercial interests.

    The trade restrictions related to labelling in Europe are exactly the same thing: a protectionist measure designed to drive out the competition – including in this case the US producers.

    All manufacturers, big and small, would benefit from government-enforced monopolies and protection, at the expense of the consumers and the competion. They put a lot of effort into lobbying for such laws, and selling the ‘benefits’ to the public. They’re quite hard to bring about, though, since legislators are well-aware of the downsides, and it usually takes a lot of back-room deals to get them through. And yes, it’s true bigger businesses have more success at doing that, but that isn’t an argument for letting everyone do it.

    In my view, corrupt protectionism is bad enough when it isn’t in defence of what is scientifically a load of old rubbish. But there’s nothing wrong with GM, and the people saying otherwise when selling their ‘organic’ garbage, are on a par with the old time snake-oil salesmen. I believe in freedom of belief, so if people want to believe that stuff and buy accordingly, then effective voluntary schemes can be set up to cater for them. But it shouldn’t be a matter for legislation.

  • LCarey

    Keith, I hope you and your family are safe and well in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  However, I did want to point out that with respect to Sandy, you’re way overdue on your “move along, nothing to see here” post regarding any possible connection between climate disruption and Sandy (you know, how we really don’t know for sure how warmer sea surface temperatures, increased atmospheric water vapor, rising sea level and altered circulation patterns will work out, it takes decades to know for sure, etc., etc.).  Quite a few people are starting to talk about there maybe being some kind of connection between climate change and the strength, size and path of Sandy, and you really need to get them to pipe down.  Best regards.

  • JimR

    Keith – hope you and family are safe.

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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, and an 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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