Bill Nye Gets Invited to Attend Another GMO Debate

By Keith Kloor | December 5, 2014 12:31 am

If you missed the recent Intelligence Squared debate on GMOs, it’s worth watching. Or if you prefer, read the transcript.  Like Nathanael Johnson, I was initially dubious about the event, then pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.

I was also a kinda surprised to see Bill Nye (The Science Guy) piggyback on it:

His opinion, alas, is not very Science Guy-like, as we learned several weeks ago. Some of you might recall the open letter from Kevin Folta, a University of Florida plant scientist, inviting Nye to participate in “a forum at a major university for a civil, evidence-based debate on the benefits and risks of agricultural biotechnology.”

The Science Guy never responded.

Nevertheless, he is sufficiently interested in the topic to have attended the GMO debate organized by Intelligence Squared. He even got to ask a question:

My question is about time. Everybody can agree I think that you can know exactly what happens to any organism, any plant, any crop, but you cannot know — I believe you cannot know what happens to an ecosystem, so can the four of you agree on a number of seasons, a number of years, a number of plantings and harvestings where we would be — I think what people are concerned about is the effects on an ecosystem where you accidentally create a —

The moderator sensed Nye was veering off and cut in:

You were almost at a question mark there.

Nye, momentarily thrown, finished his thought:

Well, I am — well, what is the timescale for each side? Is it — for geologic time it’s at least centuries, not five seasons. So, that’s what everybody — I think what many people are concerned about with regard to genetically modified foods.

This was a roundabout way of suggesting that “many people” are concerned about potential negative impacts to an ecosystem. It’s not clear what kind of ecosystem Nye had in mind. (Agricultural fields are human-made ecological systems that heavily modify landscapes to enable the growth of specific plants.) In any case, Nye was asking what timescale we should be thinking of when considering “the effects on an ecosystem”?

It was a fuzzy question that didn’t really get answered. I think what we can infer from it is that Nye is vaguely concerned about environmental impacts from GMOs. What would be nice is for the Science Guy to articulate this concern more clearly, using what science says about this issue to lay out the potential scenario that worries him.

To that end, he has received another invitation to discuss his opinion about GMOs. It comes from three graduate students who have just shared their letter with me:

Dear Mr. Bill Nye and Dr. Kevin Folta, 

We are graduate students at Purdue University studying plant physiology, biochemistry, and human nutrition and collectively have different views on the use and implementation of genetically modified crops. Being at a major land grant institution and surrounded by agriculture in every way, we recognize that farmers, who are stewards of their land and environment, are choosing to plant genetically modified crops because it is financially beneficially for them to do so. These crops offer benefits that save farmers valuable time and facilitate more consistent yields.

Recently, Mr. Bill Nye made unsupported comments about genetically modified crops that alarmed us. As students who are concerned about the impacts of farming on the environment, we were surprised that Mr. Nye’s comments were made without substantiation from peer-reviewed research. Dr. Folta, a professor and department chair of the University of Florida’s Horticulture Department, has a long standing reputation of echoing the scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified crops and seems to hold views that are perpendicular to Mr. Nye’s.

Mr. Nye has publicly pursued climate change and science deniers through debates and open forums in the past. Most famously, Mr. Nye formally debated Ken Ham in a public setting and demonstrated that belief-based arguments have no validity. It seems fair that Mr. Nye be given the opportunity to support the assertions that he made, but using the support of rigorous, peer-reviewed science that closely adheres to the scientific method that he has championed throughout his career.

As scientists, our fundamental mission is to better understand reality through the scientific method and logical reasoning. As such, we are offering to host a debate between both of you here at Purdue University. This is neutral ground and would be of great relevance to our mission as a university, to the farmers of our region, and to the students in our programs. We are willing to arrange a venue and provide moderation in a debate like those both of you have participated in previously and can be flexible to accommodate both of your busy schedules.

Agricultural biotechnology and environmental stewardship are of great interest to all of the students studying agriculture in various contexts.  A frank discussion between two scientists with apparently contrasting views on the benefits and risks of this technology will be of wide interest and stimulate thoughtful discussion throughout the scientific community and the public.

 Sincerely,

 Michael Dzakovich

            MS Student – Plant Physiology

 Laura Henry

            PhD Student – Biochemistry

 Ben Redan

            PhD Student – Food Science and Human Nutrition

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  • DavidAppell

    >> The Science Guy never responded. <<

    It is kind of sad to learn that Bill Nye is just another scientific poseur.

    • Buddy199

      “He studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University (where one of his professors was Carl Sagan)[10] and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1977.”

      According to his Wikipedia resume, my scientific education makes me more qualified to speak to GMO’s than him, and I have zero qualifications.

      • Josh

        Well the facts are the facts. The importance is not what one’s degree is. What is important is whether you understand the science and how much time you are willing to dedicate to learning it. Hence his ability to debate evolution. The question is will he do that with the science of GMOs.

  • mem_somerville

    What’s really astonishing to me is how much he sounds like a plant fundamentalist when he says these things. He’s a horto-creationist. The other day I tweeted out an article that amused plant scientists around the world: Why breeding a new flower was once morally radical.

    Cross-breeding flowers by deliberately taking pollen from one and dusting it on the other might seem like basic horticulture, but
    initially it was seen as a morally radical act. “People were heavily influenced by religion and this feeling that only God could create a new
    flower,”

    Every time he opens his mouth I do the dog-head-tilt and wonder WTF he’s thinking? He sounds just like this to me:

    “composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that
    contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the
    parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning”

    That’s Michael Behe, creationist, explaining irreducible complexity. I hear Bill Nye ecosystemsplainin’.

    Then this, from PopSci:

    If Nye were in charge of drawing the line, he would draw it at combining ova and sperm in a lab, not at engineering pieces of genetic material into plant embryos.

    This sounds like every argument I had with anti-stem cell religious fundamentalists.

    I am entirely gob-smacked every time he talks about this.

    • Buddy199

      Luckily, Gregor Mendel didn’t have any religious qualms about horticultural experimentation.

    • Tom Scharf

      Pro-AGW and anti-GMO is usually coupled with an appeal to nature mindset.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature

    • Kevin Folta

      Horticreationist is brilliant.

    • Viva La Evolucion

      Similar to how there are now antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria brought on by decades of antibiotic overuse, there is also potential for creation of super-weeds, super-insects, super-virus, super-bacteria, etc. arising from the overuse of herbicides/ingrown-pesticides/etc on GMO crops. I believe Bill was referring to these potentially negative changes in future ecosystem as the things that concerns him.

      • mem_somerville

        Those things are not unique to GMOs. And like it was pointed out in the debate, you don’t stop using antibiotics because of this.

        And this is precisely what Bill (and you) don’t seem to understand. You are conflating issues.

        • Viva La Evolucion

          No, you don’t stop using antibiotics because of antibiotic resistance, but you also don’t continue overusing antibiotics do you? I would say it is best to use them as sparingly as possible, and I believe the same to be true for herbicides. There are some quite high tech new effective and affordable alternatives to herbicides available that do not involve tillage. I personally believe GMO’s have a lot of potential for good in farming, but I don’t believe their current use in Roundup-Ready style GMO crops are a good example of that. Roundup Ready crops use more herbicide than their non-GMO counterparts, and are therefore making the problem of resistant weeds worse. This is precisely what you don’t understand.

        • Mackinz
      • Dan Holmes

        When you live in a rural community, it doesn’t take a genius to look at what farmers doing. Planting the same crop year after year, over-fertilizing, crop dusting twice a year, lime and who knows what else, so I can see what the argument is when this method of corporate driven GMO crop production keeps rolling on. Short term is ruining of the water supplies, and seeing what field run off is doing to the local eco-system. I’ve seen the change in the last 25 years by just watching how farms are run. Stewards of the land? I don’t think so, this is corporate driven, money driven farming. See a larger picture, not just what is happening in the lab.

      • Mackinz
    • Mackinz
  • Vm

    Bill Nye is human. He’s not perfect. Galileo argued with kepler because he didnt believe in elliptical planetary orbits. Einstein was skeptical of quantum mechanics

    This may be a bit beyond Nye’s science background since he’s not a biologist AFAIK.

    As was said of Hawking, how do we know if any new work from his is really a true but extremely non-commonsensical work on cosmology and quantim mechanics and not just him being senile? The answer was peer review of course.

    • Michael Dzakovich

      Right on, Vm. If these issues are out of Mr. Nye’s expertise, he knows well enough to consult the literature to gain an understanding of the current knowledge in the field. His recent book “Undeniable” and comments on social media platforms are reiterating the same fear mongering statements that he made in his 2005 “Eye of Nye” episode. I just want him to backup his statements with properly conducted, peer-reviewed studies.

      • http://pythagoreancrank.com PythagoreanCrank

        Hey Michael, I’d like to get in touch with you about your invitation to Nye.

        • Michael Dzakovich

          Shoot me a message; I’m easy to find.

    • Josh

      That is completely true, but it’s how he responds to the facts that will define the controversy..

  • brian

    “What the GMF?”

    Someone help this Englishman out with ‘GMF’ please. And yes, I did Google:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=GMF

    • Benjamin Edge

      Don’t worry, you are not alone. I’ve never heard it before and assume it is a typo, but for what, idk.

    • bobito

      I think it’s a take off on “WTF” (certainly that one will be on Urban Dictionary). So it’s “What the Genetically Modified F***”

      • brian

        Ah, OK – thanks

  • Ryan B

    Here is a great link both sides of the argument should see. http://fora.tv/

  • Tom Scharf

    Basically the uncertainty argument coupled with the precautionary principle. It’s an argument worth considering although when you look at the track record of GMO’s there is nothing to demonstrate a valid fear. Given the natural world already does this without Nye’s overview, it isn’t a very compelling argument. It’s valid to argue this, just not backed up with enough specificity to make a dent in the benefits vs. drawbacks trade off.

  • David Ropeik

    I spoke to Nye after the debate. I noted the invitation that had been made for him to debate. I also noted to him that the IQ2 debate had been civil, and how important such discussion of science issues is, like the ones he’s done, and how a similar event on GMOs, were he to participate, might encourage further civil discussion of the topic. I encouraged him to consider the idea, and even noted to him that it could be good for his brand, since there was quite a Fame Crush around him and he was handing out his business cards like candy and hyping his book. (We all do that sometimes!) The gist of his response was, “Oh, THAT mess!”. He demonstrated no interest in a thoughtful public discussion nor public debate. (BTW, Michael Hanson was at his side and started into a rant at me for raising the matter with Nye. I basically told him this civil forum was not the place for his yelling. To his credit Nye also quickly shut him up.) On the merits of the GM food issue, Nye said his concern is about possible long term environmental effects caused by cross-species hybrids. As we spoke Robb Fraley came by and the three of us discussed this aspect for several minutes. Nye and I asked Fraley how long the testing is before a GM hybrid created in the lab hits the fields. Fraley said it’s about 7 years of corporate then government testing between creation of such a hybrid to field application. Nye was quite pleasant toward Fraley and left wit with “Well, then I’m open-minded.” Yes, you can use the quote if you want.

    • mem_somerville

      Michael Hanson was at his side

      Well, that explains a lot of THIS mess. That’s where he’s getting his misinformation. Very unfortunate.

    • Kevin Folta

      Thanks for that David. If Hanson is his mentor then it all makes sense. I think it is going to take professional organizations and other scientists to turn up the heat on Nye. People respect his opinion, even when it is wrong. We need to make his opinion correct before he loses respect of the public.

      Once the climate folks realize he’s a science denier they’ll pounce on him big time.

      • Melissa L.

        I’m just a lay person chiming in here, but I’ve got to say, your statement; “We need to make his opinion correct” is quite disturbing. That sounds like something I’d expect to hear from some back-room religious conservative meeting. Be careful of your own fervor. You may see the issue of utilizing GMO crops as a no-brainer but there are millions of others who believe they have good reasons to distrust that attitude. If you and/or your cohorts start looking down your noses you’ll never make the impact you’d like. Of course there are many you’ll never convince…..

        • Kevin Folta

          Hi Melissa, I think my point is that Nye is a great asset to science. He’s in peril of losing that because he’s adopted non-scientific thinking here. My point was that his opinion is inconsistent with science, and the “science” Guy should get that sorted out. It’s more concern than fervor. I need him to be effective, so his science needs to be correct.

          There are millions with opinions, and that’s fine. However, my job as a scientist is to help those that don’t understand science, and help them understand it. Then they formulate opinions based on reality rather than belief. That’s what I do, and that’s as completely opposite to “back room religious conservative” as you can get!

          There are no “good reasons to distrust” hard science.

          You’ll change your mind. The pushback against genetic engineering is the same thing that happened when Americans spoke of using electricity, cars, pasteurization, microwaves, etc. There is resistance to science-based changes, but it goes away with time. My hope as an educator and scientists it to make it go away faster so that we can use good science to help the environment, the poor, the farmer and the consumer.

          Right now I’m frustrated because good technology can’t be used, and the sweet people most vocal against it don’t realize the body count they are creating. Let’s hope it changes soon. Thanks.

          • TreeParty

            I have appreciated your civil and reasoned comments on this thread, but I’m having trouble with a few of the concepts. For starters, it’s hard for me to think of engineering a tolerance for an (sic) herbicide as a “genetic improvement”. It’s only a survival advantage if you (or Monsanto) plan to blanket the countryside with plant poisons.
            My understanding is that about 80% of GMO crops worldwide are of the “Round-Up Ready” variety, so that has been hard on monarch butterflies at least, even if not honey-bees. We are seeing glyphosate resistant weeds becoming a significant problem for farmers, so the jury is still out on whether the long term “ecological” effects are mostly benign.
            And it strikes me as somewhat unscientific to say, “But what about almost all of agriculture, which is already an “ecological disruption”? Kind of like a red herring: doesn’t really address the safety of glyphosate-resistant food crops. You must be aware that many of the same people who express concerns for the safety of the particular kinds of GMO crops that are being used are also quite worried about the sustainability and ecological viability of the pre-existing system of industrial, monocultural agriculture.
            The “benefits” that pertain to the widespread use of GMO’s as presently constituted seem to accrue to Monsanto, et al, WAY more than they do to the starving masses. What I have read leads me to think that the widespread use of glyphosate-resistant food crops leads to very modest increases in yield, and reductions in costs to farmers, etc. Maybe there is some promotional advertising going on that exaggerates the benefits of these GMO’s by use of selective data – you would know that better than I would, for sure.

          • Kevin Folta

            Hi TreeParty. Let’s think on this. First, there are no effects on bees, that’s even in the MSDS. Butterfiles? Again, a milkweed shortage, if that exists, is due to farming, not necessarily glyphosate. Farmers kill weeds with tilling and other chemical controls. Organic farmers have bands of Mexican laborers that remove them with hoes and by hand.

            You have subscribed to this “monoculture industrial farming” concept that needs to be refined. Farmers own family farms, almost all of them. The seeds that tolerate herbicides allow them to farm with less disruption of soil and lower costs. The chemical is quite innocuous unless you are a plant. Believe me, if timing were a little different, and it was invented by Sun Frog Chemical rather than Monsanto, this would be organic allowable.

            Farming has impacts on the environment and certainly altering natural ecosystems. How do we make decisions that help farmers farm, and provide food for people? Should we let fear of progress, or hate for a company, limit what we can do? I don’t think so.

          • TreeParty

            My understanding is that the correlation of monarch population decline in the last decade, and agricultural use of glyphosate, is very strong:
            http://www.mlmp.org/results/findings/pleasants_and_oberhauser_2012_milkweed_loss_in_ag_fields.pdf

            Do you dispute that the agricultural system in the U.S. can be characterized as “monocultural industrial farming”, which is almost completely fossil-fuel dependent? While “large-scale” family farms and non-family farms make up only 12% of U.S. farms (in 2007), they account for 84% of the value of production. That’s like saying that Walmart is a “family business”. (PS – I don’t shop at Walmart..) Oh, and my gut is full of “plants”, yours too. How confident are we glyphosate is not affecting our intestinal flora?
            How do we make decisions that help farmers farm, and provide food for people? Let me get back to you on that – I gotta go tend to my garden. But I think it should NOT be by altering food crop genomes precisely and specifically to allow the ever greater application of plant poisons.

          • RobertWager

            Check the correlation between decline of monarchs and deforestation and sub-zero winter temps in Mexico.

          • TreeParty

            I could find NO correlation to “sub-zero winter temps in Mexico”; can you find one? This is from a National Geographic article reporting on the decline of the monarchs:
            “Although illegal deforestation and severe weather have contributed to the decline, research done by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve suggests that the overwhelming concern is U.S. farms’ large-scale use of herbicides that destroy milkweed. Further studies done by D. T. Tyler Flockhart, of the University of Guelph in Ontario, and his colleagues compared the relative effect of each threat and determined that loss of milkweed had the greatest impact on recent monarch declines.” Here is a link to the Flockhart study: http://norrislab.ca/wp-content/uploads/Flockhart-et-al.-In-press.pdf

          • Kevin Folta

            I don’t shop at Wal Mart either. First, monoculture is a bogus term. It works for bananas and strawberries where it is often a monoculture. Corn has some pretty cool diversity, and it is a wild genome that varies greatly between hybrids.

            Large-scale family farms are still families at the helm. They buy adjacent land, etc. These are people, individuals. Are you pulling a Romney?

            I’m glad to introduce you to a few of them if you have questions. Maybe I’ll ask one to come here.

            I’m entirely confident that glyphosate is not affecting intestinal flora. First, there is no evidence of that (it is a kooky hypothesis only) and second, I can do the math. How much is applied to gm plants? When?

            The answer is 750 g active ingredient per acre, or 83 mg / square meter. It is applied long before the plants flower, let alone with food on the plant.

            So how would physiologically relevant amounts end up on plant matter you eat? The math just does not support the hypothesis.

            Have fun in the garden. I need to work on mine too. We’re a few weeks from planting for Spring.

          • TreeParty

            Hi Kevin,
            I use “monoculture” in the dictionary sense of the use of land to grow only one type of crop. This approach makes sense in an “industrial” context, but is profoundly aberrant ecologically. I understand that we need to make concessions to “efficiency” to feed >7 billion humans, but I would no more want to become MORE dependent on monocultural, industrial (and fossil-fuel based) agriculture than I would want to be more dependent on an ever-growing world population!
            One thing that will help, and that public policy should promote, is more local, urban and sub-urban food production. The benefits are many, and extend to taking pressure off farmers to continually increase yields. So you see that I would actually like to see EVERYONE become a “farmer” to the degree that they can. (Pulling a Romney?! OUCH!) Meanwhile, there is a large literature already on “sustainable agriculture” that I won’t bore you with, but just to say that there may be another promising use of GE to produce non-legume crops that can “fix” nitrogen.
            While I see the chief dangers of “Round-Up Ready” GMO’s to be environmental more than physiological, I don’t share your confidence in their safety in the human body. Have you read the Samsel/Seneff study? While it is not a “smoking gun”, it does make a worrisome case that glyphosate is potentially hazardous to your health by inhibiting CYP enzymes, even in very tiny doses. I guess time will tell. By the way, I wonder if you are aware that for at least the first fifty years of its employment as a refrigerant and propellant, freon was “known” to be a remarkably safe chemical; until it was discovered to be decimating the stratospheric ozone we all depend on.
            I guess my bottom line is that concerns over the long-term safety of glyphosate-resistant GMO’s are not irrational or unscientific, as you seem to be claiming they are. I am not foreseeing an eco-disaster arising from their use; but to the degree their use extends and accelerates unhealthy trends in agricultural practices, with quite modest advantages for everyone except Monsanto, we can do better. I understand that, up until now, “the science” says that GMO’s are “not harmful to human health or the environment.” I think the population dynamics of the monarch butterfly are but one counter-indication. So there are risks to this technology. Do they outweigh the benefits? My view is that it’s still too early to know for sure.

          • Brian

            TreeParty, I’m a family farmer. We raise corn, soybeans, popcorn, and wheat on 2,100 acres in Indiana. We are a fairly typical row crop operation. It takes four of us to handle the tasks of farming. Grandpa, Dad, one hired hand, and me do it all. It’s no Walmart operation, but our popcorn is sold there. http://bit.ly/16v2ZTt

            On the topic of milkweed I have to say that milkweed was a weed before Roundup Ready technology came around. I saw quite a bit of milkweed this year on our property borders just feet or inches from RR crops.

            I’m more than happy to answer any questions about how our farm works.

          • TreeParty

            Good on ya, mate! May your profits be large, and your weeds small! So my concern about that “quite a bit of milkweed on your property borders” would be, if you sprayed it with Roundup, would it shrivel and die, or just laugh in your face? I’m being facetious, clearly, but I understand that “superweeds” are becoming an issue in your “neck of the woods”. Have you “Enlisted”?

          • Brian

            If I sprayed Roundup on milkweed it would definitely die. Here we are having some issue with glyphosate resistant marestail. In some fields you can see patches of marestail where some will die and some won’t when hit with glyphosate. Palmer amaranth has found it’s way to our area, but I didn’t come across any of us this year. Saw a few last year. Resistance is a thing that can be managed. Frankly RR worked so well that some farms relied on it too much speeding up the results of selective pressure. 2,4-D will really smoke a marestail so Enlist is something that can really clean those up in soybeans for us. Different herbicides kill weeds with difference mechanisms so those modes of action ought to be rotated regularly. 2015 will be the first time Enlist products can be planted in the US. I understand the corn sold next season can only be used as on farm feed for livestock until Dow gets the export markets approved.

            I’ve actually worked through Dow along with about a dozen other farmers in visiting Washington, DC to tell our personal stories about how we run our farms and how products like Enlist and others from different companies can help our operations.

          • Nate

            As a 5th generation family farmer, I know a few anecdotes on this topic. Everyone is concerned about these vague and nebulous, long term potential problems from glyphosate exposure. If you ban that, it means farmers are forced to return to conventional crops and herbicides, some of which are IMMEDIATELY toxic. One accidental spill on the skin, or drifting mist to the eyes and you are seeing double and the sun drives knives into your head. They also, in general, have much longer half lives than GM herbicides. I’ll take Round Up exposure any day. Even IF there were some issue, i highly doubt returning to the chemicals of a previous era is any kind of improvement.

          • TreeParty

            I take your point. I would be worried that, if glyphosate exposure selects for glyphosate-resistant weeds (which it does), then farmers will be forced to return to conventional herbicides anyway.

        • Derek Wolf

          You’ll see that a lot, from Folta. His opinionated thoughts and subjective beliefs are often incorrectly marketed as “Science.”

          While ignoring all the independent scientists who raise issues and find risks involving GM tech/practices.

          You’ll also find “science” misused as a political party of sorts. In this case, “science” perversely used in place of “biotech corporate interests.”

  • Lou Lohman

    You people really need to get off his back. He hasn’t made any statements that are false. In fact, from what I can see, he was very careful NOT to make definitive statements that he couldn’t prove (“… but you cannot know — I believe you cannot know…”) . All he’s done is ask a question: what kind of timetable are we working with in regards to experiencing the possible effects of our genetic tampering?

    He’s concerned, and rightly so, that our actions may have unforeseen consequences. We’ve been wrong before; we used to use mercury, a deadly poison, as medicine. We used to prescribe heroin to children to relieve their coughs. And we’re trusting ourselves to alter the genetic makeup of living organisms? I’m not saying I side with anti-GMOers (because I don’t), but I don’t dismiss that perspective out-of-hand, either.

    And besides, I thought a big part of science was asking questions. Maybe that’s just me, though.

    • ginny11

      Absolutely. Researchers become very invested in their research, and can get tunnel vision in their ambition and passion for science. But, just because we CAN do something does not mean we SHOULD do something.

      • RobertWager

        Please tell this forum your answer to 9-10 billion people without using GE crops as part of the answer.

      • Kevin Folta

        I think is is immoral if we CAN do something and choose not to do it, especially if people suffer or the environment is impacted.

    • mem_somerville

      The papaya allergy claims are 100% bullshit. False. Wrong. Unsubstantiated. Unsourced. Fiction. Lies.

      So you, in fact, are wrong.

      • John

        I had severe pain in my wrists… could hardly use them anymore. Then I cut all forms of corn and everything with corn products out of my diet and in a couple of months it cleared up. If I think “Oh, maybe it was just coincidence” and eat even a little corn again, the pain comes back. Corn used to be my favorite food, but my body developed some kind of reaction to it now. And that’s no bullshit! I am 99% sure that it’s due to genetic engineering!

        • IanAndersonLOL

          Yeah, and over 1% of all pregnant women claim they’re virgins. The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

        • mem_somerville

          Yeah, there was a guy who claimed he was allergic to starlink corn once too. Guess what happened in the double-blind test? Mm hmm.

          But if you can pass the double-blind, go for it. And then you can sue “corn”. How you will find out which corn, I don’t know. There are many varieties, and in the commodity system they aren’t sorted out.

          And since most corn goes to animal feed and to processes that would remove any “GMO” character, you are gonna have to work harder than just asserting you are “99% sure that it’s due to genetic engineering!”. Because from here it smells like bullshit still.

          I’m sure you are aware of what happened when they retested the folks who were 100% sure they were gluten-sensitive. That fell apart as well.

          So I suggest you sue everyone in corn production after your double-blind test.

          • Matthew Slyfield

            The have had the same basic result with double blind testing people with claimed EM sensitivity.

          • matthewelvey

            John’s silence is telling!

      • Viva La Evolucion

        Another unsubstantiated lie is that GMOs result in less pesticide usage. True, GMOs like Bt crops result in less insecticide, but herbicide is also a pesticide, and GMOs like Roundup ready corn/soy/cotton require increase herbicide usage, so technically GMOs use more pesticides. Sorry.

    • Chris

      Absolutely agree with you. Some of the other peeps on here seem to think GMOs are the same as cross pollination or breeding dogs. These (with the above misconception) people are intellectually related to those surgeons in the 1970s who used to surgically move people’s organs upwards in thier bodies to make them well. Before realising that people’s organs ARE lower when x-rayed standing up!!

    • Kevin Folta

      Lou, the reason is most clear. Nye, being the public voice of science, needs to stick by peer-reviewed evidence, not half-corked claims. There is no reason to anticipate some eco-disaster for these crops, no more than conventonal breeding or mutagenesis. Those crops are not tested. Moreso, farming destroys ecology. Corn, tomato, soy, potato, wheat, brassicas… well pretty much everything is not from North America, and nobody ever said we need to do tests for ecological interactions.

      Of course, with transgenic crops EPA and USDA do strongly consider ecological interaction, like invasiveness, as do the companies that produce them. Where I am, at a public institution, breeding programs absolutely must consider invasiveness and ecological interactions. If something bred here was to be released and cause harm… we’re talking traditional breeding… it would be millions in damages and cleanup.

      So Nye gets it really wrong. If he says any genetic improvement must be tested for 40 years, then I can understand him. But to single out one method of genetic improvement is not reasonable, not scientific, and he should not spread that nonsense.

      • tralf

        I have to disagree with your idea of what a scientist “must” do. If all scientists went around thinking that if something has been published it must be so, we’d be perpetually stuck in the Victorian era’s mass of paper laws.

        No, a scientist must only question what she sees inspired to question, whether it’s out of curiosity or fear. But then it’s her duty to report the discoveries in spite of how she feels about it personally.

        • Kevin Folta

          Hi Tralf, no argument there. We constantly question the peer-reviewed literature, mostly because rule breakers are more fun, and move the whole of science forward.

          The difference is that when you further interrogate the evidence and it holds up, you can’t keep fighting it. BNtSG makes a mistake of floating a claim with no basis in science whatsoever. It also is claim that would apply to any crop, not just GM, as none of them are native to our continent (‘cept sunflowers, canola, and a few other minor crops).

          The problem is that when a scientist with credibility, or a science communicator like BNtSG, present poorly constructed criticisms of established science, it erodes their credibility. I like Nye and always considered him an ally in science.

          Now he’s a political puppet and his handlers are running him to address their pet politically-left issues. That’s great for discussion of climate, evidence supports him.

          But to have him pollute a legit discussion on ag biotech with claims that make no sense– that just reinforces the will of those that want bad policy and outright bans of crops that help farmers, the environment and can help the developing world. He needs to be corrected.

        • Mackinz
      • Mackinz
    • Young CC Prof

      Actually, in a brief video he put out himself, he said GMOs are new species. By any reasonable definition of the word species, that is not true.

      Quite a few well-educated people who aren’t biologists express concerns about the long-term and downstream effects of GMOs, but that’s absurd. Is there are remote chance that a GMO crop could produce a problem far down the line? I can’t say no. But it’s like worrying about your child failing a class in college when he’s currently a baby and fighting for his life in the hospital.

      There are so many other things our society is doing which are much more likely to produce environmental catastrophe. Climate change, invasive species, deforestation for the sake of large-scale agriculture, severely deranged nitrogen cycle, factory-farmed chicken with drug-resistant salmonella. And, in the face of all this, people are worried about Roundup-Ready corn! It’s hilarious.

      Of course, it’s also incredibly selfish and short-sighted. We have, right now, crops that could end vitamin-A deficiency blindness worldwide. Environmental activists who’ve never been hungry a day in their lives are blocking them from being used.

    • Terri Knoll

      GMO’ers are working on half cocked science also. I have concerns like Bill does (the disappearance of honey bees for example) but I agree since he is such a public figure that he needs to give more factual data. I hope he continues to research GMO’s.

    • Josh

      It sounds a lot like the classic conspiracy theorist spew:
      “I’m just asking questions.” When their insinuations are clear.

    • Mackinz
  • ginny11

    Saying that we need to carefully consider the long-term and possible unintended and unforeseeable consequences of GMOs on the environment and on human health is absolutely reasonable. Instead of comparing GMOs to the artificial fertilization of plants centuries ago, we might want to also consider the analogy of introduced species into an new environment by humans that subsequently has caused environmental catastrophes. See: purple loosestrife in America’s wetlands, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, and a plethora of introduced plant diseases and pest between the continents by the export/import of plants and agricultural crops which have subsequently decimated native species (American Elm, anyone?). Those things happened because we didn’t know any better. We should know better now to be cautious. We should understand that the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific literature is often incomplete, and sometimes just wrong. The more catastrophic a mistake could be, the more cautious we need to be about the risk we take in making such a mistake. We become arrogant if we pretend this isn’t true, and if we think that as scientists, we can know more than we actually do.
    In addition, there are reasons to be concerned about GMOs in agriculture that have nothing to do with science, environment, or human health: for example, many people are rightly concerned about a few agricultural corporations holding a monopoly over our food supply. These concerns are equally valid and need to be considered.

    • Kevin Folta

      What about every crop plant out there. Every single one, with rare exception, is an “introduced species into an (sic) new environment”. Why is a GM crop different? One gene? I’m all for careful evaluation if it is across the board on any genetic improvement. Except we’ll never have new varieties.

    • JH

      Purple loosestrife in America’s wetlands is a “catastrophe”? Since when?
      New meanings for the word catastrophe.

  • Josh Howard

    I suppose I could be called anti GMO. Not because I believe GMO’s will kill or harm me though Bill brings up valid concerns. I am anti GMO because major GMO companies like Monsanto are some of the biggest assholes around. They sue farmers left and right because GMO crops fertilized their fields thus farmers who did not pay for the genetics got them. They have their fingers throughout the government, create plants resistant to pesticides so they can use more of it which in turn is a leading cause of colony collapse disorder among Honey Bees (peer reviewed), promotes heavy use of monoculture farming which is a terribly inefficient way to farm (peer reviewed), promotes heavy use of chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and powerful fertilizers all of which cause major problems in our water ways (peer reviewed), some of these chemicals have small traces of salt which slowly accumulates in the fields which over time can cause major growth rate drops and infertile fields (peer reviewed), and finally soil erosion can then be an issue following all of these. A small change has many small effects which branch into a bigger issue.. No, GMO’s won’t kill you. Everything that comes with GMO’s such as unsustainable farming may. Though i’ll admit some of these concerns come from modern farming as well and not just GMO’s.

    If anyone can challenge any of my points please do. I would like my concerns relieved. Do so with sophistication.

    • Kevin Folta

      Can you please post your link to CCD and the one on waterways? I’ll be glad to challenge some points, but I’m curious about the sophistication of your sources first. It is fun to determine if it is worth bothering to discuss before we do. We should do this every time in a comment thread.

      • Mackinz

        I was going to respond with numerous questions regarding his “facts” but I thought better of it because people who believe in all those myths at once aren’t interested in questioning their beliefs.

        Good luck, Prof. Folta.

        • Kevin Folta

          Thanks. That’s my point. I know of no source at all that connects GM crops to CCD. In fact, every report out there shows BT is harmless, with only some effects seen at extremely high doses that could never be obtained on the farm. Until we get that kind of stuff squared away…

    • JH

      ” I am anti GMO because major GMO companies like Monsanto are some of the biggest assholes around. They sue farmers left and right ”

      I’m afraid you’re the victim of a misinformation campaign about who sues who for what reasons.

      • Melissa L.

        Seriously? You’re going to deny how often Monsanto has gone after a small farmer because the farmer’s field has been sullied by their “product”? To say Josh is a victim of a misinformation campaign sound like you took a standard response directly from a Monstanto PR handbook.

    • John Ryan

      Yes, the farmer that Monsanto sued had 98% of his Canola crop using patented seed. I’m sure is possible for that farmer’s field to be accidentally pollinated, but not likely.

      • Kevin Folta

        It was 1100 acres and selected with roundup. He knew what he was doing. Two courts said so and a third would not hear his appeal.

      • mem_somerville

        There was a great paper just out that covers this story. It was even more absurd than I realized. Read the account of it here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.4161/21645698.2014.947843#.VIMUsntopkl

      • Josh Howard

        One out of many doesn’t prove anything. It’s like saying “yea, we arrested and jailed a bunch of innocent people, but one of them actually broke the law”.

        • John Ryan

          Josh, what bunch of people? Are there cases that you can cite?

    • mem_somerville

      If these “biggest assholes” sue left and right, how come the farmers couldn’t find anyone to testify to this in the big court case?

      Instead, the judge found that plaintiffs’ allegations were “unsubstantiated … given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened.”

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/27/147506542/judge-dismisses-organic-farmers-case-against-monsanto

    • RobertWager

      }Verdict
      on GM crops in general: Quote from
      the USDA:

      …”there is no
      correlation between where GM crops are planted
      and the pattern of
      CCD incidents. Also, GM crops have been widely planted since the late 1990s,
      but CCD did not appear until 2006. In addition, CCD has been reported in
      countries that do not allow GM crops to be planted, such as Switzerland “[33]
      http://scientificbeekeeping.com/sick-bees-part-18e-colony-collapse-revisited-genetically-modified-plants/

      • Josh Howard

        Pesticides. Read my post right.

    • hyperzombie

      Though i’ll admit some of these concerns come from modern farming as well and not just GMO’s.

      All of them have to do with “modern Farming”, and if you really want less pesticides, soil erosion, less bee death, and healthier soils, you should support GMOs.

      • Josh Howard

        Really? Did you read what you just said? They have GMO crops which produce their own pesticides. How would that reduce it? Soil erosion is largely caused by monoculture farming which is practically required for using GMO’s, pesticides cause bee deaths, soaking your soil with fertilizers and other chemicals destroys it. it makes you require more fertilizer for the next year and even more for the next. if you are farming monocultures and do not at the very least practice crop rotation your soils will be useless years later.

        • hyperzombie

          They have GMO crops which produce their own pesticides.

          All plants produce pesticides, are you saying that it is better to spray insecticides rather than having harmless ones in plants?

          Soil erosion is largely caused by monoculture farming which is practically required for using GMO’s

          Most soil erosion is caused by tillage, Gmos help to reduce the need for tillage, reducing soil loss. GMos need no special farming pracitces, you could grow them Organically or in a window planter if you wanted. GMOs are just plant traits, not special plants.

          des cause bee deaths,

          Some do and some dont, this has nothing to do with GMOs. Gmos enable farmers to use less insecticides, helping the bees.

          king your soil with fertilizers and other chemicals destroys it. it makes you require more fertilizer for the next year and even more for the next.

          Farmers don’t soak fields in chemicals, they use as little as they can, they do cost money. You only have to use as much fertilizer as you removed the previous year, you cant get something from nothing. High yields require inputs, whether they are manure or synthetic fertilizers.

          you are farming monocultures and do not at the very least practice crop rotation your soils will be useless years later

          Really? Do you know that some farms in Europe have been growing the same crop on the same land since the 1800s? Have you ever thought about what crop they grow on those Asian rice paddies for a couple of thousand years now?

          I am all for rotating crops, but blanket statements like above, just prove your misunderstanding of Agriculture.

        • Nate

          Actually, correctly managed fertilizer programs improve the quality of poor soil. I know of no farmers in our part of Iowa that don’t practice crop rotation. This is anecdotal, but it stands to reason that plant health would be a good indicator of soil health, and for those with memories that go back far enough, current practices beget much healthier plants than the old days. Banning glyphosate is a surefire why to REALLY poison the environment.

    • Josh Howard

      First, I would like to point out that because this is a forum, and I have a life, I’m truly sorry I did not post each and every link to all of my information. You are more than welcome to look up for yourself the correlation between CCD and PESTICIDES. I did not say GMO’s cause CCD, GMO’s promote the use of heavy pesticide use because that is what many crops are designed to do. Survive shitloads of pesticides. There are plenty of articles stating there is very strong evidence to support pesticides as the cause of CCD. Specifically Neonicotinoids which are used on most agricultural land and a few other chemicals used in herbicides and pesticides are being heavily studied as well. Studies are still ongoing to determine the impact it truly has. They have been strongly linked. There are peer reviewed articles of this. I can’t use my typical search engines for them because I no longer have access to my college’s resources. But I assure you, they were there when I researched them last year.

      Secondly, there are plenty of cases where Monsanto has sued farmers for stealing their crop when farmers fields were contaminated. They also just sued Vermont. This is one quick 2 minute search. Iv’e heard of more so i’m sure there are.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/agricultural-giant-battles-small-farmers/
      (if you don’t like this one look for others. Plenty of them. I don’t like this as a source but hell, I don’t care at this moment)

      Thirdly, there are loads of peer reviewed articles stating that pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers do harm to waterways. I have no interest in relocating articles for you so if you are interested, go take a look at years upon years of research (They are easy to find). And as with the past few, GMO’s themselves are not polluting our waterways. For example “Round up ready” GMO crops are designed to be heavily doused in pesticides and herbicides. These kill or harm anything unfortunate enough to get in its path and soak into streams, rivers and lakes.

      Again, if this really irks you. Actually look something up before you post back. So far as I can tell, every reply I got is easily refuted. I think I mentioned all of the points you all brought up.

      And to restate what I already restated from my statement. GMO’s themselves may not directly cause all of these issues. However, GMO use strongly promotes and allows many of these issues to occur such as planting a monoculture which leads to soil erosion as well as a loss of soil fertility; heavy chemical use which gets into the watershed and likely causes CCD. Yes, GMO’s may be the key to our future, but right now it is only succeeding in creating an unsustainable way of farming.

      • Randall

        Not according to my hands on experience. With me, GMO’s promote the use of fewer and less toxic pesticides.

        I farm 70% non-GMO. For my safety and for the environment, i wish it were 0% non-GMO.

        The sooner these misconceptions (like yours) can be overcome, the sooner we can raise more GMO’s and it willbe betterfor the environment.

    • Nate

      I’ve already commented above on the fact that returning to convention herbicides requires the use of more chemical application AND many of the chemicals that would be returning, out of need for something to get the job done, have some pretty nasty acute side affects on humans and animals, which glyphosate has none of

      • Randall

        Glyphosate is much safer for app’icators, no approved ag chemicals when applied and handled according to the label threaten the public.

  • Pamela Wright

    I thought he was seriously suggesting the ecosystems should be studied over the same time span as geologic formations. I think that was really what he was suggesting. I was just goggling at the screen over that one. And no, his question never did get answered by any of the panel. I hope you have a different moderator if you do debate him. That was not a very well run debate in my lowly opinion.

  • Kirk McAllister

    I’d be surprised if this hasn’t already been advanced as an alternative to Kevin Folta’s proposed debate: “Bill Nye v Neil deGrasse Tyson on whether GMO technology represents the beginning of the sixth major extinction event.” Obviously, more than a bit hyperbolic, but there’s already a painful amount of hyperbole from the anti-GM forces these days (I was just speaking with a woman on Monday who was claiming that “agent orange” was going to be used on GM crops — WTF, 2,4-D is not, by itself, Agent Orange). The woman also claim that if 2% of agricultural production were organic, the current global warming trends would begin to be reversed (I’m sooo glad that it’s that simple).

    Kevin Folta’s credentials are obviously vastly superior to Tyson’s in this field, but I’d think Tyson’s perceived credibility as a well-known science educator on the part of the lay public might ultimately generate more interest. It would be a bit more of a level playing field — science educator (and scientist in a different field) v. science educator.

    This is more than a bit wishful thinking, but I’d think such a debate could generate really strong ratings, and provide a platform in which many people could be educated with regard to the real scientific issues, as opposed to the painfully tiresome f.u.d. issues.

    And Dr. Folta, as others have remarked before, I truly appreciate your patient efforts in providing information on the “net” to inform the public regarding what the current state of GM science is.

  • Viva La Evolucion

    Not only did they invite Bill Nye to attend the debate, but also roughly 30 percent of audience seems to be Monsanto employees. All of the nearly 30% undecided changed to pro-GMO. I find that a little hard to believe.

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  • Derek Bickerton

    Herewith an open letter to the three graduate students, Bill Nye, and anyone else who is interested. If you believe science is on the side of GMOs, do at least one of three things:
    1) Refute the claims of Swanson et al. (2014)
    2) Refute my arguments in “Unsafe at any dose?”
    3) Refute my arguments in “Causation IS correlation”.
    All the information you need is on my blog at smokinggmogun.blogspot.com.
    Do that and you can claim to be pro-science. Fail and admit you’re not.

  • Michael

    Well, one of the folks who is a lobbyist for Monsanto is a climate change denier…………..http://www.desmogblog.com/patrick-moore

    And here;s some of the bullshit coming out of his mouth.

    Stance on Climate Change

    “We do not know if we are a small or large part of the present global
    warming. It is not possible through science to determine an exact
    answer to this question. Certainly the natural factors, and there are
    many, that have acted to change the climate many times through the
    history of the Earth, are still operating today. They have not gone
    away. But human emissions of CO2 is a new
    (natural) factor. So it is very unlikely that we are the only factor
    causing the present global warming but we may be one of the factors.”[9]

    According to one article, “Moore contended that global warming and
    the melting of glaciers is positive because it creates more arable land
    and the use of forest products drives up demand for wood and spurs the
    planting of more trees. He added that any realistic plan to reduce
    reliance on fossil fuels and the emission of so-called greenhouse gases
    should include increased use of nuclear energy.”[10]

    Key Quotes

    3:08-3:48 “You see people should, sort of, wake up to the
    fact that the climate stopped warming more than 10 years ago. Nineteen
    ninety-eight was the warmest year we’ve had in the last 100 years. Since
    then there’s been a slight cooling trend. Yes, the Arctic ice was
    lowest in 2007 in any summer since we started measuring it, only in
    1979, so we don’t really have a very long dataset here, but for the last
    two years it has been rebuilding. Antarctica never did get warm, it has
    remained cold and the sea ice around Antarctica has not shrunk in the
    slightest, and you can find this easily on the Internet.” [21]

    7:35-8:13 “I think it is crazy for Al Gore to suggest that in
    10 years from now, we will not be using any fossil fuels. That is
    apparently his goal, and politicians of the world over are clambering
    over each other to make more wildly ridiculous promises about 80%
    reduction in fossil fuels or a carbon neutral world. Personally, I do
    not think a carbon neutral world is feasible: Not with this many people,
    and not if people are going to bring themselves out of poverty in the
    developing countries. It’s just not going to happen, and maybe it isn’t
    necessary to have a carbon neutral world.” [21]

    “I support sustainable forestry, which is sometimes best done by
    making clearings where new trees can grow in the sun. I have given my
    reasons for supporting nuclear power, vinyl and genetic engineering in
    my books, all of which stem from a concern for the environment and human
    welfare. And is Greenpeace suggesting environmentalists should be
    against “mining”? Have these people stopped riding bicycles, texting on
    cell phones, typing on laptops, and riding mass transit? How could they
    say anything more ridiculous?” [11]

  • Michael

    And here’s another one of his finer moments as shill for Monsanto.,
    http://crooksandliars.com/2015/03/lobbyist-fails-his-own-pesticide-challenge

  • Michael

    I also love how Bill Nye is no longer a Scientist, but an Actor/Director, who is given money to say things. That is what he does now. Anybody disagree, prove me wrong. But, first check out his facebook page, and then tell me I’m wrong.

  • Michael

    Scientific Fraud. Monsanto………………………..

    Scientific fraud

    On two occasions, the United States EPA has caught scientists
    deliberately falsifying test results at research laboratories hired by
    Monsanto to study glyphosate.[119] The first incident involved Industrial Biotest Laboratories
    (IBT). The United States Justice Department closed the laboratory in
    1978, and its leadership was found guilty in 1983 of charges of
    falsifying statements, falsifying scientific data submitted to the
    government, and mail fraud.[120] In 1991, Don Craven, the owner of Craven Laboratories
    and three employees were indicted on 20 felony counts. Craven, along
    with fourteen employees were found guilty of similar crimes.[121]

    Monsanto has stated the Craven Labs investigation was started by the
    EPA after a pesticide industry task force discovered irregularities,
    that the studies have been repeated, and that Roundup’s EPA
    certification does not now use any studies from Craven Labs or IBT.[119]

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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.

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