Earlier this week, ABC News asked:
Can wind power be hazardous to your health?
Some residents of a Cape Cod town have complained about headaches, nausea and other symptoms that they attribute to noise from wind turbines near their homes. I’ve written about “wind turbine syndrome” a bunch of times, including here at Discover and over at Slate. I’ve also chided a journalist who’s become obsessed by it, and who after seeing the ABC piece, tweeted:
— Robert Bryce (@pwrhungry) October 24, 2013
This is of course not true. I think these people are sincere. In fact, I think believers in wind turbine syndrome are just as sincere as those who believe they are being sickened from power lines and WiFi signals and cell phones. Similarly, I’m certain that some people truly believe that GMOs cause 1) cancer, 2) autism, 3) Parkinson’s disease, 4) obesity, and 5) Alzheimer’s.
I won’t question the motives or sincerity of people who fall into any of the above categories. But the cause and effect they assert is not backed by scientific evidence. Read More
At The Conversation:
There is a classic position in the science communication literature which goes, roughly, if you meet resistance to science, throw facts at those who resist. If that doesn’t work, throw more facts at them, and throw them harder.
This approach, though roundly debunked, is unfortunately still a common default.
The author did not write this in relation to the climate debate (though of course it applies). He is discussing counterproductive language, such as use of the “anti-science” tag, to characterize the purveyors of anti-GMO misinformation and scaremongering. Read More
As I have previously observed, “the belief that GMO foods are deadly or potentially harmful” has come to dominate the public discourse on agricultural biotechnology. I suppose we can thank the whacky fringe elements for this (and their influential enablers).
At this point, scientists and science-based communicators who engage in the biotech realm should be fully cognizant of what they are dealing with, which is essentially the mainstreaming of GMO hysteria. The latest eye-popping example is this article in Elle, a popular women’s magazine. Here’s the subhead teaser:
With symptoms including headaches, nausea, rashes, and fatigue, Caitlin Shetterly visited doctor after doctor searching for a cure for what ailed her. What she found, after years of misery and bafflement, was as unlikely as it was utterly common.
The author of the piece reports that her symptoms disappeared once she eliminated “GMO corn” from her diet. Naturally, she concludes she is allergic to GMOs and that she is likely not the only one. After pounding his head against the wall (or so I’m imagining) an incredulous Kevin Folta shows up in the comments: Read More
I love this piece in the Guardian about GMOs, I really do. It’s so exquisitely disingenuous that you have to admire the writer’s chutzpah. Let’s start with this line (my emphasis):
Why is it that some politicians and prominent scientists and “communications” agencies are so exclusively preoccupied with GM [genetic modification]?
I can’t imagine that Andy Stirling, the author, wrote that with a straight face. Because when it comes to preoccupation with genetically modified food, nobody rivals anti-GMO campaigners, especially groups like Greenpeace, who have gone so far as to vandalize research beneficial to public health. Read More
Mark Bittman, the popular food writer for the New York Times, has written a column that is almost beyond parody for its unintentional irony. The only way to fully appreciate his lack of self-awareness is to stop and marvel at numerous passages. Let’s start at the top:
Things are bad enough in the food world that we don’t need to resort to hyperbole to be worried or even alarmed.
This is some chutzpah. Here’s Bittman from September 15, 2012:
It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products.
Almost everyone? Same column:
G.M.O.’s, to date, have neither become a panacea — far from it — nor created Frankenfoods, though by most estimates the evidence is far more damning than it is supportive.
This is completely untrue. If Bittman had wanted to be factual he would have referred NYT readers to credible sources on the state of the science on biotech crops and foods, such as here or here. Instead, he links to a website called the Organic Authority and a post that explains why
GMOs are bad for your body, bad for the community, bad for farmers and bad for the environment.
This is what is known as laundering untruths. Read More
Guest post by Ramez Naam.
Keith Kloor has graciously given me the opportunity to guest post here again. So let me cut to the chase:
I support GMOs. And we should label them. We should label them because that is the very best thing we can do for public acceptance of agricultural biotech. And we should label them because there’s absolutely nothing to hide.
Let me explain. First, so you don’t mistake me for a GMO-basher, let me introduce myself. I’m a computer scientist by training. I’m also the author of three books, all of which endorse the use of biotechnology to improve the human condition.
In the most recent of these, The Infinite Resource, I talk about the power of innovation to save the world. In between chapters on climate change and fresh water depletion, solar power and desalination, I make a forceful argument that genetically engineered crops and animals can help us grow more food, with better nutrition, and less impact on the planet.
I believe that. In the last two weeks I’ve written about the scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and the many reasons that advocates of organic food should love GMOs. And recently I went on MSNBC to make that case on national television.
In short, I believe in science, and I believe that science tells us that our currently approved GMOs are safe for humans and good for the planet, and that next generation GMOs will be even better.
So why label them?
The short answer is this: by fighting labeling, we’re feeding energy to the opponents of GMOs. We’re inducing more fear and paranoia of the technology, rather than less. We’re persuading those who might otherwise have no opinion on GMOs that there must be something to hide, otherwise, why would we fight so hard to avoid labeling? Read More
If you follow public debate on genetically modified foods, you know that Monsanto is routinely portrayed as the devil’s spawn. The multinational agricultural company is the arch-villain in the GMO wars. In liberal and environmental media stories, Monsanto is the baddie that poisons the earth with impunity and monopolizes the global seed market. Indeed, as Michael Shermer wrote several months ago in Scientific American:
Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs—genetically modified organisms—in which the words “Monsanto” and “profit” are not dropped like syllogistic bombs.
All this leads the conservative National Review Online to ask:
Whence the Left’s hate for Monsanto?
Well, it owes to a mishmash of anti-corporatist ideology, natural fallacy (GMOs are not natural!) and precautionary principle extremism. But here’s the odd thing. If you read through the reader responses to the NRO article, you’ll see lots of GMO-fearing conservatives who also hate Monsanto. What’s that about? Read More
In recent years, people have become increasingly concerned about unwanted substances lurking in their furniture and food. These are industrial chemicals we are exposed to every day and that have been found to accumulate in our bodies, “endangering our health in ways we have yet to understand,” CNN asserted in 2007.
In 2010, a New York Times article tried to make sense of the “avalanche of data” that has yet to yield any clear answers on what adverse effects (if any) these chemicals are having on our health. That hasn’t prevented some in the media from highlighting (and omitting) information that confirms their worst suspicions. Read More
When a social cause gains momentum and becomes symbolically important, partisans inevitably hijack it for their own ends. They do this by trying to define and control the meaning of the cause and how it should be perceived. We’re seeing this play out now with the Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a touchstone for environmentalists and climate activists.
An opinion piece by John Abraham in today’s Guardian is what I would consider a textbook case for how not to communicate about a cause that you care deeply about. Abraham, an outspoken voice in the climate arena, argues that President Obama’s climate change legacy hinges on the White House’s decision on the controversial pipeline. That’s absurd. For one thing, the President already has an impressive string of accomplishments on the climate and energy front.
Secondly, it really does the climate movement no good to frame the Keystone battle in such simplistic, over-the-top terms. Doing so overstates the importance of a single pipeline, a rhetorical tactic that green friendlies have been pointing out for some time.
Then there is this passage from Abraham, which is as poisonous to his cause as it is rich in irony (my emphasis): Read More