A Refreshing, Freshly Squeezed GMO Story in the NYT

By Keith Kloor | July 29, 2013 9:29 am

There is so much to admire about this New York Times story by Amy Harmon I don’t know where to begin. [UPDATE: This insightful take by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing--which I excerpt below–captures what is remarkable about the piece.] So let’s start with a tweet from National Geographic’s executive environment editor Dennis Dimick:

And Marc Gunther, who covers the business and sustainability intersection:

Indeed, it’s an engrossing, meticulously reported piece on a really complex subject. It should also interest anyone who drinks orange juice. What I marvel at is that Harmon crafted a pitch-perfect narrative that avoids all the land mines of an emotionally and ideologically charged issue.

On Sunday, when the story appeared on the front page of the New York Times, many journalists and scientists praised it at social media sites. Of all the responses, Michael Pollan issued the most curious on Twitter:

This perplexed and angered numerous people, including heavyweights in science journalism such as Carl Zimmer, who said this was “a harsh accusation from one journalist to another. ” Zimmer, like Bora Zivkovic and Seth Mnookin and David Dobbs, bristled at Pollan’s charge, as did Berkley scientist Michael Eisen:

Anastasia Bodnar, a geneticist who contributes to the essential Biofortified site, politely asked:

 

As of this writing, Pollan hasn’t responded to the mini-squall he triggered (he never engages on Twitter). But he left the same comment at his FB page, which led Andy Revkin to try and get his attention over there:

A batch of science journalists are discussing the “industry talking points” criticism on Twitter

Still no luck. If a reputable journalist accused  Michael Pollan of packing one of his magazine articles with too many organic food industry or anti-GMO “talking points,” I bet he’d chafe at the charge. Perhaps he would even ask for an elaboration.

UPDATE: If Michael Pollan’s drive-by hit on Twitter rankled some of science journalism’s finest, then his continuing non-response to criticism of it more than a day later has them shaking their heads:

Pollan has a very distinguished career and is someone who has scaled the heights of journalism with his best-selling books and many cover stories for the New York Times magazine. So while he may be acting as if he’s impervious to criticism, I’m guessing that he also finds it discomfiting to have pissed off more than a few of science journalism’s illustrious standard bearers. I can’t understand why he at least doesn’t post a series of tweets elaborating on his initial vague critique.

UPDATE: I’m late to this excellent write-up of Harmon’s piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing. It captures why Harmon’s story does not get ensnared in the usual politics of GMO debates (and to my mind, further underscores why many are bewildered by Pollan’s criticism):

I think this is a particularly great lens to examine the science and risk/reward perspective on GMO foods, because it takes us beyond some of the particularly volatile points in the debate — points that often have nothing to do with the actual safety or benefits of GMOs. Monsanto is not involved in the development of these GMO oranges. And what the growers and scientists are trying to do has nothing to do with increasing pesticide use. In fact, if they succeed, they’ll be able to reduce the amount of pesticides used on oranges. It’s a long read, but a worthwhile one.

ADVERTISEMENT
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+