Guardian Takes Down Pseudo-Journalism Video on GMOs

By Keith Kloor | March 21, 2013 4:19 pm

I used to think, as I wrote in Slate last year, that nothing rivaled the amount of misinformation that has so badly muddied climate science:

Then I started paying attention to how anti-GMO campaigners have distorted the science on genetically modified foods. You might be surprised at how successful they’ve been and who has helped them pull it off.

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

This state of affairs has anguished science-minded progressives. It puts them in the position of calling out their natural allies, which as Mark Lynas has discovered, is not such great fun. In the zero sum political world we live in, you don’t get pats on the back for questioning your own assumptions and those of your tribe; you get stabbed in the back for going off the reservation.

As for myself, I continue to be shocked at how progressive media covers biotechnology. A recent example was  an awful piece of anti-GMO propaganda dressed up as journalism and posted on the Guardian site–initially without any attribution. The first person to bring it my attention was Robert Wilson on Twitter. Lynas also mentioned it. Soon after, I wrote about it in this space, noting:

The piece is as slanted and error-ridden as they come, made all the more obvious for its reliance on a notoriously discredited study by a French researcher with a weird history who has long been an anti-GMO opponent.

Charlie Petit at MIT’s Tracker site took notice of my post, saying my ire “had merit.” And now, belatedly, the Guardian would appear to agree, since they have taken down the video, according to one of the editors.

And so today, there is one less piece of blatant misinformation polluting the science communication environment.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: biotechnology, GMOs, Journalism, select
  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Great job guys. I hope is also prompts more thought and evaluation of future cases like that for news outlets.

    How long until your hate mail cues up from the Seralini fans? Or some new conspiracy theory about your paymasters? 3…2…1

    • Kevin Bonham

      Or some new conspiracy theory about your paymasters?

      This is the thing that frustrates me most when I wade into these discussions. I *wish* Monsanto paid me to be a shill… then I might not be living stipend check to stipend check as a poor grad student. It’s a great tactic in the end – “only sellouts disagree with me, therefore anyone that doesn’t agree with me must be a sellout and therefore can’t be trusted.”

      • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

        Are you claiming sell-outs do not exist? Certainly they do, and they muddy the spread of true knowledge everywhere. That is why you are expected to prove your case, not just make assertions.

        • Kevin Bonham

          Of course sell-outs exist, and there are also people with good intentions that nonetheless have conflicts of interest that makes them less credible.

          The trouble is, many anti-GMO activists dismiss anyone that disagrees with them as sellouts. Dismiss any study that demonstrates that GMOs are BS because it must have been paid for by Monsanto (some are, plenty aren’t).

          I agree that you should not be able to just make assertions, but you also shouldn’t be allowed to say, “Prove your case, but don’t use any facts that disagree with my position, because any facts that disagree with my position must be of dubious provenance.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

            Ugh, welcome to my world. I can’t communicate the scientific literature without being called a “shill for Monsanto”. It sucks that the big Mon has got the science right, because when I report the science (non-Mon, too) I get pegged as some stooge. These companies don’t do anything for me, never did, even when we asked nicely for a few bucks to sponsor a student travel award. No love there.

            What it does tell us is that people are willing to make strong points without evidence. This is the fundamental pattern of the anti-GMO movement.

          • Kevin Bonham

            It sucks that Monsanto has the science right, because I think Monsanto is evil, and it pains me to take their side in an argument.

  • Buddy199

    In the zero sum political world we live in, you don’t get pats on the back for questioning your own assumptions and those of your tribe; you get stabbed in the back for going off the reservation.
    ——

    Actually, it’s a very old story, sadly. Nice work though.

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

  • Tom Scharf

    Those anti-science Republicans are at it again…passing the Monsanto Protection Act.

    “It explicitly grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to override a judicial ruling stopping the planting of a genetically modified crop.”

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/03/21/174973235/did-congress-just-give-gmos-a-free-pass-in-the-courts

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      They are anti-science. But in this case they’re even more pro-business.

      • Buddy199

        Being skeptical of a liberal ideological and political agenda that opportunistically cloaks itself in “Science” (with a big S) is not the same as being anti-science, although the two are deliberately conflated by liberal media. The anti-GMO fraud is overwhelming a liberal backed movement. As far republicans being a tool of evil business interests, Eric Holder (via Obama) has publically stated that it’s just too unsettling to the economy to prosecute too-big-to-jail bank criminals who destroyed our economy. Cast no stones from your glass house.

        • klem

          Exactly. The vast majority of Republicans are pro-science, but since some of them disagree about a couple of points like evolution and climate change, they are all smeared with the ‘anti-science’ label. I feel embarrassed for the left.

          • Buddy199

            Global temperatures have trended warmer, the exact extent of which is individually due to human activity, solar irradiance, ocean currents, cloud physics and other unknown factors isstill scientifically unsettled. The effect of that warming 50 to 100 years from now is at best a guess which will likely turn out as wildly inaccurate as predicting what the Dow will be in 50 or 100 years. It is completely rational and justified to reserve judgment when it comes to many of the hysterical claims made by AGW proponents. Especially in light of the civilization altering solutions they claim must be implimented immediately. To throw intellectual caution to the wind because your ideological bent is itself unscientific. The left has no monopoly on science or logic, just smugness.

      • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

        There is nothing more anti-science than the building of stereotypes.

    • Adam

      Nice Tom

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

    The Guardian editor said on Twitter: “Running it wasn’t my call. We have made the call to take it down”

    You can’t just delete it and that’s that. Why did it get published, what went wrong, and what will happen in future? We need to know. Don’t just airbrush it from history – come clean about it.

    • harrywr2

      “Why did it get published”

      There is always ‘truth in the national interest’.

      Some farming techniques and products disproportionately benefit large, heavily mechanized farms. In Western Europe there is no so thing as a ‘large, heavily mechanized farm’ when measured by US Standards. There hasn’t been for more then 100 years.

      Everyone is for ‘free trade’ when it involves selling domestically produced products at a profit to other countries. Support wanes when the flow reverses.

      So most countries to some degree engage in practices where they are seen to be ‘free traders’ while at the same time engaging in protectionist practices under the excuse of ‘consumer watchdog’ or some other fig leaf.

      We see the hypocrisy in the Solar Panel Business. Many US Solar Panel makers benefited from US Government financial help. When Chinese Solar panel makers that benefited from similar help try to sell into the US they get slapped with ‘unfair trade’ claims. for ‘foreign made’ products…but if one has entered into ‘free trade’ agreements then the incentives have to be paid regardless of country of origin of the product.

      Protectionists, regardless of political persuasion will use any evidence to make their point.

    • JonFrum

      Yes they can just delete it. They are crusading journalists, dedicated to ferreting out the truth, except when it comes to telling the truth themselves. In this way, they are no different from governments and corporations. Oh, wait, they are a corporation.

      To ask your questions, they’d have to own up to their own prejudices. And prejudices, by definition, are what the hated enemies, have.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.adams.3994 Andrew Adams

      You can’t just delete it and that’s that. Why did it get published, what went wrong, and what will happen in future? We need to know.
      Do we really need to know? Personally I’m happy enough that they took it down once the problem was pointed out.
      FWIW my understanding is that the Guardian has a deal with ITN for them to supply video footage and this video was provided as part of that deal without its provenance being clear.

      • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

        Yes, we need to know what statements, were wrong and why they were wrong.

  • klem

    Now that Lynas has changed his opinion regarding GMO’s and turned on his ‘progressive’ friends, they have begun to bash him for it. I’ve seen this pattern before, he has begun to recognize that environmentalism is almost a religion and he is not the religious type, he doesn’t fit anymore.

    He is now moving down a slippery slope, the same slope already heavily traveled by millions of ex-climate alarmists, I guarantee that by the end of this decade he will be a climate denier. I’ve seen this before, I guarantee it.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rjvg50 Kirk Holden

      You would put your reputation as a producer of random comments at risk? Please consider the down-side of this courageous act.

      • klem

        I’ve considered it, I’m good with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103940283 Karen Berthelsen Cardenas

    try this very strange one. I would understand if they showed the difference to give us an insight on spending due to weather disasters, or budgets allocated for weather forecasting, or how weather had adverse effects on the economy – but to merely look at weather from an administration in power perspective – what are they thinking?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2013/mar/22/weather-worse-coalition-government

    • Tom Scharf

      Wow, that is one crazy article. I sure hope this is satire.

      This whole “the government can control the weather meme” is apparently a viscous contagion. We used to laugh at Indian rain dances here in the US, now the government is doing them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.adams.3994 Andrew Adams

      Karen, I think you are taking this article way more seriously than it was intended.

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    FYI: Scientists and science communicators are chattering today about media and public perceptions (see the #evocomm discussion). These tweets caught my eye specifically:

    @DNLee5: Pseudojournalism is lot like pseudoscience – it is not following the methods, failure to build trust in the work presented #evocomm

    https://twitter.com/DNLee5/status/315454926648115200

    And Ed Yong made this point:

    Loving this concept of pseudojournalism as a counterpart (bedfellow?) to pseudoscience http://t.co/fjHVOmgcYQ HT @DrCraigMc

    https://twitter.com/edyong209/status/315457897867911168

  • Adam

    So you’re saying, there is 100% for sure no way GMOs can hurt you, because so much research has been done right? Round Up resistant plants make you use less Round Up right? Ohhhh waiiiittttt….

    • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

      Prove the value of GM by using independent research, and full access to all results. Every GM product is different, and can only be evaluated on it’s own merits. An advantage in one cannot over rule a disadvantage in another. There is no blanket acceptance deserved, when many harms have been demonstrated.

  • http://twitter.com/laursaurus Laura

    Another meaningless term is “factory farming”. Guess who grows all the “certified organic” produce in your local market? The exact same “factory farms.” Yes, they happen to be business savvy. People want to pay more for organic? Great! We’ll convert as much of our operations to produce the product people will gladly pay more for accordingly. In the big scheme of things, organic farming means diminished yields for the same acreage of land. Do you want to contribute to something that will inevitably lead to converting more and more pristine land into farms? That’s exactly what these “environmentalist” knuckleheads are doing. If the organic pesticides and fertilizers require more frequent application than synthetic, that means organic foods likely use more pesticides than traditional foods. More fuel must be burned. More CO2 is being emitted. What about water? The truly eco-friendly method would be to grow food as efficiently as possible. Organic farming is a tremendous waste of resources going to satisfy a purely emotional and ideological need t

    • Tom Scharf

      There’s a very simple rule set here:

      If it makes food more expensive, the environmentalists are for it.

      If it makes energy more expensive, the environmentalists are for it.

      They are naturally suspicious of any win-win solutions. Cheap gas, lower carbon? Veto of course!

      In many ways environmentalists believe firmly that if the solution doesn’t involve suffering and sacrifice from the masses, it isn’t worth doing. When they discover (to their shock) that this isn’t popular policy, they start the hand waving, green jobs!

      The shame on consumers for their willful destruction of environment lecture from the elitist left has gotten really tiresome.

      • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

        When you add up the damages from dirty power it is by no means “cheap”. The real cost to society for a gallon of gasoline is around 10 to 14 dollars a gallon. The negative consequences of burning coal are larger than their value added. Hiding costs does not eliminate them.

    • http://twitter.com/andrewadams99 Andrew Adams

      The term “factory farming” normally refers to industrial methods of raising livestock, not growing crops, and in that context it is certainly not a meaningless term, regardless of the rights and wrongs.
      The objections to factory farming are more about animal welfare than environmental concerns. Of course if there are stricter controls on the methods used this will push up the price of food but animal welfare is a perfectly legitimate concern and it is entirely right that it should be taken into account. And it’s not a straight choice between the worst excesses of factory farming and organic meat, there is a lot of space in between.

  • http://twitter.com/aligatorhardt aligatorhardt

    Claiming an article is from an “anti- whatever” source, is not a reason to dispute an articles statements. There may be good reasons to be against something, and most often there are. People generally are against something because harms have been done. Beware of those who claim they can do no wrong. Never give blanket approval on a controversial subject without proof. And never accept a rebuttal without proof of error. Assertions are only accepted in church, for everything else, reason and proof are required. This article claims to debunk another article, but gives no reason for the rebuttal.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and 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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