Mike Adams Capitalizes on the Myth Spread by Vandana Shiva

By Keith Kloor | July 25, 2014 2:13 pm

My colleagues in the media have taken notice of the execrable rant by Mike Adams, in which he likens some science writers and scientists to Nazis.

To recap: The self-proclaimed “Health Ranger” said that certain publishers, journalists and scientists “have signed on to the Nazi genocide machine of our day,” which he identifies as the agricultural biotech industry dominated by Monsanto. The unspecified genocide-promoting group was the equivalent of Hitler’s propagandists, “paid biotech muckrakers — people I call “Monsanto collaborators,” Adams wrote.

He then suggested (his emphasis), that

it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.

Several days after this incitement was published, Adams noted that a “Monsanto Collaborators” website had been created, naming specific individuals (including myself) and publishers. It was baldly transparent. Some colleagues didn’t mince words.

The sinister piece by Adams and the follow-on “Monsanto Collaborators” website was chilling, prompting some of those named on the site to alert the FBI.

Adams has since tried walking back the most menacing aspects of this episode. True to conspiratorial form, he now says the “Monsanto Collaborators” website is part of a “false flag operation.” (See my updates here.) This is a person who makes Glenn Beck and his chalkboard look quaint.

Leaving aside the febrile mind we are dealing with here, it’s worth taking a step back to discuss one claim that Adams has seized on as a main building block for his twisted reasoning. This claim–that GMOs have driven more than 250,000 Indian farmers to commit suicide–is widely dispersed in the mainstream biotech discourse (amplified by influential thought leaders) and accepted by many, especially by those already inclined to be suspicious of GMOs.

It’s a myth.

If you want the short explanation, read this piece by a Canadian reporter. If you want the long, complicated version of how this myth came to be so established, read a feature story of mine, published last year in Issues in Science and Technology. (An overview, with links, can be read here.)

Now, remember that Adams describes

GMOs as a Nazi-style holocaust. (The Holocaust killed 6 million people, and GMOs are already blamed for hundreds of thousands of suicides in India, with the number growing by the hour. The future death from GMOs may reach 100 million or more…)

Who else talks like this? None other than Vandana Shiva, the Indian-born, globe-trotting environmentalist beloved by many in green, progressive circles. It is Shiva, in fact, who is the relentless propagator of the Indian Farmer-GMO suicide narrative, which she has often called a “genocide.” For real. It is Shiva who has cemented the “seeds of suicide” narrative in the public discourse. If you want to learn how she’s done this, let me point you again to my long feature, which chronicles Shiva’s role as the essential myth-maker.

So it is no surprise that the “Monsanto Collaborator” website is plastered with Indian farmer-GMO suicide quotes and a media video report featuring Shiva. This led me to tweet:

Oh man, was I apparently wrong. The original Adams screed equating journalists and scientists with Nazis, along with its incitement to violence, has been reproduced on one of Shiva’s websites (Seed Freedom) and promoted on its Facebook page. Was this done by minions running these sites on her behalf, without her awareness? Or does she fully endorse what Adams has written? I have no idea. Maybe someone can ask her.

For me, the larger issue is that one of the biggest GMO falsehoods has been successfully mainstreamed. And now this falsehood, which Shiva has done more than anyone to spread and embellish, has been co-opted by the warped, fanatical mind of Mike Adams.

It should be plain for all to see, including Shiva, to what end he is employing her flammable anti-GMO rhetoric.

Postscript:  I’ve already said elsewhere that I don’t think it’s fair to tar GMO critics with the stain of a Mike Adams. Every political/social movement, every ideology, every political party has its extreme wing. Yes, the anti-GMO movement regularly peddles misinformation and engages in scare-mongering tactics. But I honestly don’t think Adams is representative of this movement.

That said, as I indicate above, the well of outrageous GMO myths is deep and Adams draws on one of the biggest myths of all from this well.

This is a myth that has been shaped by one of environmentalism’s leading voices–Vandana Shiva. And she has dispersed it widely, with minimal to no push-back in the media (especially at progressive outlets). So it’s taken hold and used to toxic effect by a Mike Adams.

I get the anguish Tom Philpott expresses here:

But then I ask myself: What has he–and other “rigorous critics of GMOs”– done to keep the rhetoric from boiling over? Has he ever fact-checked the claims made by Vandana Shiva, which feed the feverish rants of Mike Adams?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
  • Loren Eaton

    ‘Surely, even @drvandanashiva, the most influential #GMO myth disseminator, would not want to be associated with this…’
    I don’t know, Keith. She already compared growing GMOs next to Organic crops as rape. No telling what’s going on behind that dot.

  • mem_somerville

    I think this is the most frustrating piece of this arena. Just like anti-vaxxers who flog misinformation, there are no consequences to folks like Shiva (and her regular amplifiers) who spread this manure.

    This has public heath consequences in ways reminiscent of vaccines. If people chase the wrong source of blame (like mercury), you spend inordinate time and resources chasing that, without solving anything, while fear goes unchecked. There are wider consequences beyond the individuals who choose to avoid things due to fear.

    I definitely agree that Adams is influenced by that type of talk, or by this kind of falsehood: Children born to parents who eat GM wheat may DIE before age five, warn scientists. This kind of misinformation really is toxic–as we can see–but what can you do about it?

    • Tom Scharf

      Mostly you simply say thank you to Adams for discrediting himself and reducing his own credibility.

      You can imagine a sane version of Adams who cleverly stays away from this kind of hyperbole but spreads much better and more convincing misinformation. What would be your strategy if you wanted to discredit GMO’s? This likely wouldn’t be it.

      Your side is better off if there are more Adams, not less.

      I think the fear that the public is going to swallow this type of propaganda is pretty low. But there certainly are examples where mass hysteria has worked, nuclear power for instance.

      • bobito

        “nuclear power for instance”

        I think that’s part of the issue here. “Genetically Modified Food” sounds scary on it’s own to most people. So even using the proper terminology paints a negative image to those that don’t care to learn more about it. Then you throw in super-weeds….

        The fact that GMO food isn’t just called “food” is the battle that was lost. And good luck getting that genie back in the bottle…

        • Benjamin Edge

          “Superweeds” is another misnomer designed to instill fear. Herbicide resistance is not unique to GM crops.

          GM food IS just called “food”, but the anti movement does not like that and is trying to get that changed state by state.

          • FrenchKissed

            Nor are weed superpowers limited to herbicide resistance. All weeds, by their very nature, are “superweeds.” You can place a large shed right on top of a weed seedling and it will find its way to the edge and emerge a hardy plant

      • mem_somerville

        But this already has clouded the discussions. The most active folks on all the labeling and other legal shouting are using these things as evidence.

        The Adams thing is further off the charts than most of it, but it’s the (freakishly) logical conclusion of the lies and fearmongering if you are already primed to be Monsanto-hating conspiracy theorist.

  • Tom Scharf

    Greenpeace is asking for the EU science adviser to be fired because of his views on GMO’s.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2014/jul/24/science-advisers-coalition-environment-ngo-europe

    • mem_somerville
      • http://beginingsinwriting.wordpress.com/ R.w. Foster

        How do you do that? Post links with your own text here on Disqus? I tried looking it up there, but I’ve not had any luck finding out how.

      • First Officer

        NGO’s complain the position is an appointment. Who here got to vote for NGO officers in an open to the public election?

  • Tom Scharf

    “The future death from GMOs may reach 100 million or more… ”
    “Who else talks like this?”

    ummmmm…..take a guess…

    Report: 100 Million Could Die From Climate Change By 2030

    http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/09/27/report-100-million-could-die-from-climate-change-by-2030

    • Cassandra

      The difference is that climate change involves things that do kill people – intensified storms, drought, heat, cold, etc. Current GMOs don’t have any known affect on health at all. Do you see a bit of difference there?

  • Lee Siegel

    Keep fighting these anti-GMO wackos with the truth, Keith.
    Adams’ call for violence was despicable, and his attempt to back off it is pathetic.

  • Stu

    Jeez. That’s so ugly.

  • Kevin Folta

    Keith, while it is maybe not fair to tar them all with the same brush, it is absolutely reasonable to ask them if they stand behind Adams and Shiva.
    Even more, we should call for them to publicly denounce Adams and Shiva.

    And we know the website is not a false flag effort, because if it was done by someone in us in science our journalism it would have been finished rather than hanging in a half-cocked stupid state while the issue was hot.

  • http://qpr.ca/blog alqpr

    the “long feature” link is broken

  • Aina Hunter

    “Was this done by minions running these sites on her behalf, without her awareness? Or does she fully endorse what Adams has written? I have no idea. Maybe someone can ask her.” Ever heard of due diligence, Keith? Here’s a journalism 101 refresher: It is not your readers’ job to ask Shiva anything. It is your job, and most reporters begin by picking up the phone. Alternately, if you don’t value her perspective, leave her out of your “article” completely. Otherwise you risk being mistaken for an amateur. Or worse, a coward.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      The second half of my post is all about her perspective, which is well documented. I’ve also spoken with her previously about the Indian farmer suicide/GMO narrative. I had told her about the numerous studies that contradicted her claims. Of course, she disagreed.

      Do you contest anything I’ve said in this post–or the long feature article I referenced? Or are you just annoyed about me not confirming whether she knows the Mike Adams article has been posted at her website and facebook page? And what about that article? Do you have an opinion on it?

    • Ray E.

      “As the Navajo saying goes, you can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”

      http://www.newslaundry.com/2014/07/26/exploring-gm-foods-part-iii-the-third-eye-of-shiva/

  • JH

    I suspect there is a legal avenue for those on the collaborators list: a lawsuit. It would be an epic mistake not to use it.

    The people on the list have the opportunity to demonstrate that Adams’ behavior financially devastate him, and possibly show other wacko hopefuls that the tactics he uses are more trouble than they are worth.

    OTOH, if the people on the list don’t make a legal move, they’re basically licensing more of the same, both for themselves and others in the future.

  • ellther

    The more we have folks like Adams dragging down the public view of anti-GMO/anti-Monsanto activism down to the level of chemtrails, 9/11 denial, Sandy Hook false flag operation set up by Obama to take away guns, FEMA execution camps etc, and the more we have people setting up anti-GMO / anti-Monsanto websites covered in pictures of swastikas and Nazi death camps, the clearer it is that the site of scientific skepticism, evidence and critical thinking has won.

  • http://www.fionagilsenan.com/ Fiona Gilsenan

    Although Adams crossed the sanity line (or the appearance of it) a long time ago, I’m glad in a way to see this gaining mainstream attention. Still, we can’t be sure what the outcome will be. I’d like to see more good video debates up on YouTube (imagine what Pam Ronald would do to V. Shiva?). Some good, long-form articles in media like the New Yorker or even Rolling Stone would also help. Keith, can’t you pitch them:)

    • Loren Eaton

      ‘imagine what Pam Ronald would do to V. Shiva?’ I’d pay good money to witness that, but don’t hold your breath. Unlike Kevin, Pam and Karl, Mike Adams, Vandana Shiva, Eric Seralini and Jeffrey Smith NEVER debate anyone…they preach only to choirs of their own choosing.

  • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

    Fact checkers get labeled concern trolls… been there, done that. After a while you get tired of banging your head against the wall and go do something more productive.

  • http://qpr.ca/blog alqpr

    Thanks for the postscript. I think it was necessary. (I also think that it’s hard to decide how much an advocate for any view or religion should be held responsible for finding and correcting extremists who claim to share their view – perhaps it depends on whether one is claiming some kind of “leadership” in one’s own advocacy.)

  • Tom Scharf

    “But then I ask myself: What has he–and other “rigorous critics of GMOs”– done to keep the rhetoric from boiling over?”

    It’s my opinion that nobody is responsible for herding the cats on their side of the fence. It’s enough to say it once that you disagree with an extremist position, or to repeat the disagreement when directly queried.

    We all know that this is a futile effort. The extremists are well aware of the counter arguments to their position, and aren’t likely to see reason. Many of them are simply narcissists who crave the attention and the best strategy is to ignore them.

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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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