In this space, I’ve frequently shown how GMO fear mongering plays out in the media. The latest frightful example aired Monday on CNN. It was a piece about the mysterious genetically modified (GM) wheat recently found in an Oregon farm field.
First, some quick background: In the early to mid-2000s, Monsanto field tested GM wheat in 16 states. But as NPR reported, “the country’s wheat growers told the company that they did not want it.” So Monsanto never sought to commercialize the crop and stopped its field tests in 2005.
Nobody knows how this isolated strand of GM wheat suddenly reappeared. Is it sabotage, as Monsanto and others have suggested, or a case of gene flow? Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the GM wheat has not spread, there is fallout for Monsanto and repercussions for American wheat farmers.
There are two kinds of people who write about genetically modified foods: Those who believe that GMOs are bad and those who don’t. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m in the latter group.
Unfortunately, the simplistic debate between these two camps has devolved into a Three Stooges slapfest:
More specifically, one group shrieks about “seeds of death” and Monsanto’s evil plot to sterilize humanity while the other group (the one I belong to) responds with alternating mockery and sober rebuttals. Personally, I try to avoid writing much about the deranged wing of the anti-GMO movement. It’s like taking on Lord Monckton and James Delingpole in the deranged wing of the climate skeptic sphere. What they say is so absurd that you can’t treat them seriously, so you end up lampooning them.
Unfortunately, the anti-GMO hysterics are, like the climate science is a fraud shouters, the face of their respective movements. Read More
A recent survey on conspiracy beliefs in the United States attracted a lot of media attention. The first question:
Do you believe global warming is a hoax, or not?
Do …………………………………………………………. 37%
Do not ……………………………………………………. 51%
Not sure …………………………………………………. 12%
The political breakdown, according to the poll, found that “Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax.”
In Watermelons, The Green Movement’s True Colors, British journalist/blogger James Delingpole promises to show that the man-made global warming is a fraud, one that has already cost billions of dollars and is a clear and present danger to our liberty and democratic traditions — and, ironically, to the environment itself.
He largely accomplishes this task and, for the most part, does so without sounding hysterical or radical. This alone would recommend this book to all who care about the environment, the human condition and the foundations of our way of life.
If somebody can tell me when “Dellers,” as he is fondly called by his many fans in the climate skeptic blogosphere, is not being hysterical and radical, I’m all ears. This is the guy who pens editorials titled, “Wind farm scam a huge cover-up.” That on one of his pet issues he is also guilty of the same pseudoscience and fear-mongering that he accuses others of seems to elude him, as I discussed here.
So what’s behind all this wild-eyed talk of global scams and hoaxes? Read More
I didn’t get into journalism to be a media watchdog, but it’s become one facet of my career since I started this blog in 2009. Curtis Brainard, the science editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, has taken note of my GMO-related posts and articles and written a nice appraisal. Here’s an excerpt: Read More
Today, the hostile forces arrayed against evolution, vaccines and climate science are marginalized. They are not tolerated in the least by the scientific community and their pseudoscience does not go unchallenged in the media or science blogosphere. True, these unscientific forces still have have a hold on some segments of the public, but that’s always going to be the case. After all, 28% of American voters still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and 13% of voters think that President Obama is the anti-Christ. There’s never going to be a 100% rational-minded populace. The best we can do is keep the crazy in check and not let it infect the mainstream.
Which brings me to the insanity of the GMO debate. Why is it so unhinged? There’s a convergence of forces, of which these are representative: Read More
I’ve been arguing that the worst misinformation and myths about genetically modified foods has spread from the anti-GMO fringes to the mainstream. A jaw-dropping example of this is provided by Michael Moss, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, who was recently interviewed by Marcus Mabry, a NYT colleague about the Monsanto protests that took place last weekend.
The interview lasts only a few minutes. Listen to the whole thing to fully appreciate its inanity. I’ve transcribed the exchanges that will blow your mind. Read More
There was a time when Gary Null, a popular alternative health speaker and author, was the Deepak Chopra of nutrition. He’s written best-selling books (one of them about reversing the aging process) and like Chopra, has been featured by PBS during fundraising drives. Nearing 70, Null was in the news several years ago when he sued the manufacturer of his own dietary supplement, claiming it nearly killed him.
The self-help guru has had a long and interesting career. One reporter notes:
His first tome, “The Complete Guide to Health and Nutrition,” [published in 1986] led to a decades long column in Penthouse magazine, where Null railed on topics like the ineffectiveness of mainstream cancer treatment and the deadly health risks of vaccinations.
In addition to his promotion of alternative cancer treatments, Null has argued that HIV is harmless and does not cause AIDS. In his  book AIDS: A Second Opinion, Null questioned the role of antiretroviral medication and instead advocated a range of dietary supplements for HIV-positive individuals.
Null, as you might expect, is fiercely opposed to genetically modified foods. Indeed, “natural health” proponents are among the most fanatical opponents of GMOs. As David Gorski at the Science-based Medicine blog has observed:
There’s a lot in common between anti-GMO activists and antivaccine activists. Perhaps the most prominent similarity is philosophical. Both groups fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, otherwise known as the belief that if it’s “natural” it must be good (or at least better than anything man-made or “artificial”).
If you want a taste of this fetish, I suggest you tune in at noon on weekdays, to WBAI, where Null is the long-time host of a radio show on the virtues of alternative health practices and the dangers of conventional medicine. (Here is an archive of his hour-long shows.) Naturally, he uses this forum to explain why vaccines and GMOs are unsafe. His soothing voice belies the misleading pseudoscience of his claims. He may talk like Mr. Rogers but what he says could kill you, if you are someone who has cancer or AIDS and you take his advice.
Guest post by Cami Ryan, a Canadian agricultural researcher:
Last week, an executive with a biotech trade group asserted in an interview that it wasn’t too late to win the hearts and minds of consumers suspicious of genetically modified foods. Biotech advocates just need to do a better job of explaining the technology and its benefits. The headline for the piece read:
It’s not too late to change the conversation on GMOs
While I admire this optimism and agree that we should continue to engage in conversations about GMOs, there are certain present-day realities that constrain our efforts to find common ground on this very controversial topic.
At the top of this list is the sheer amount of information we are inundated with every day. Many of us are tapped into mobile technology. We are referred to as ‘just in time’ users (Rainie and Fox 2012). We account for 62% of the entire adult population who often look to online sources and online social networks for information. Anti-GMO interest groups have successfully leveraged these networks to disseminate misinformation and influence public opinion. Using carefully crafted words (frankenfoods!) and images (syringes in tomatoes), they create myths–GM corn causes cancer, fish genes have been forced into tomatoes or GM corn kills the larvae of monarch butterflies–that tap into people’s fears about genetic engineering.
When you combine these myths with our cognitive habits, things become even more complex: Read More
Whatever your opinion of the worldwide protest against Monsanto this past weekend, one thing is true: It deserved media coverage. Lots of noisy people with colorful signs took to the streets to voice their opposition to GMOs and the company that has come to symbolize them. It was an event tailor made for TV.
So when CNN’s Jake Tapper announced on Tuesday that his show–The Lead–was covering the Monsanto protest, I looked forward to watching the segment. Tapper is one of the best political journalists in Washington. I’ve long admired his work. (In 2013 he moved from ABC to CNN.) He recently scored big with a major scoop on the Benghazi ‘scandal.’ Tapper is a journalist who gets a story right.
Alas, his reportage on the Monsanto protest was flawed from the start, when he matter of factly told viewers that 2 million people in 436 cities and 52 countries had turned out for the March on Monsanto. This is a claim that the protest leaders have made and spread with much success. Reporters know better than to repeat verbatim the turnout claims of organizers. In this case, there is also good reason to think that the 2 million number is a tad inflated, to put it charitably. Read More
The world is full of people who hold whacky views. This doesn’t make them nuts or stupid.
We can mock Donald Trump for being a birther, but this doesn’t make him a crazy person. We can ridicule Senator James Inhofe for believing that global warming is a big hoax cooked up by a cabal of climate scientists, but this doesn’t make him an idiot. We can laugh at Bill Maher for his anti-vaccine and anti-GMO tirades, but this doesn’t make him an anti-science loon.
Similarly, with respect to where people stand on some issues or who they vote for, we shouldn’t assume that intelligence or lack of information are major factors. Some of you may recall this now infamous Daily Mirror cover that appeared in the UK after George Bush’s reelection in 2004: Read More