How to recognize an anti-science zealot

1) They deny the human cause of climate change.

2) They deny evolution.

3) “Monsanto!!”

Fascinating and disturbing piece from science journalist, Keith Kloor, on what it’s like to take on the anti-GMO forces for having the temerity to report upon what science actually has to say about GMO food (i.e., it presents no more threat to human health than similar non-GMO food).  As I’ve discussed before, there are legitimate concerns to have regarding GMO food production– potential cross-contamination risks, environmental impacts, etc.,– but there’s just no evidence that there is any threat to health.

That said, the clearest way to tell you are dealing with an anti-science zealot on the matter is “Monsanto!”  Sadly, many are convinced that Monsanto might as well be the Empire from Star Wars and out to destroy the world and that’s all they need to know about GMO food.  Actually, I can think of a really clear parallel, “Benghazi!” Just as hearing “Benghazi!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about Hillary Clinton, “Monsanto!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about GMO.  Not to argue that Monsanto is a perfect company, really, their practices are largely beside the point here.  Rather, when all anybody has to say about GMO is a demonization of Monsanto, chances are they are not dealing in the area of thoughtful, nuanced discussion.

Lots and lots of good stuff in Kloor’s piece:

That would be the made-for media villain: Monsanto, or as its detractors like to refer to the biotechnology company, Monsatan. That meme, in which Monsanto became tagged on the Internet as “the most evil” company in the world, because it was hell-bent on taking over the world’s food supply and jamming “frankenfoods” down our throats, was already firmly established when Shiva decided to build on it with the Indian farmer suicide story.

I’ve got a shelf of books that vilify Monsanto for its corruption of agriculture. I’ve seen documentaries on this. Everybody hates Monsanto, right?

Never mind that this image is cartoonish. What matters is that it sounds truthy

It’s all about the narrative and how forcefully you build it: “Corrupt Hillary” is a “criminal”; a pediatric researcher who pushes back on anti-vaccine scare-mongering is the equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp guard; the scientists at Monsanto have created murderous “seeds of suicide.” …

Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies at James Madison University, was someone who never questioned the “Monsanto is evil” narrative until he was accused of being a shill for the company after some of his writing had been deemed by anti-GMO critics as too positive about biotechnology. In a 2015 essay, he writes, tongue firmly in cheek:

Like most people, I knew how Monsanto really was, despite not having thought too hard about it…I knew Monsanto sues farmers into oblivion, caused a rash of suicides in India, suppresses negative media coverage, and pays politicians and scientists to lie on its behalf.

But there was one story I didn’t believe, because I knew it wasn’t true: Monsanto hadn’t paid me. So I did what any academic or journalist would do, and started learning more about the company that supposedly had me on its payroll.

Levinovitz talked to scientists at Monsanto and soon a “complicated picture” emerged of a large multinational “that employed a wide variety of people, some of whom cared mainly about making money, and others who cared mainly about doing good science.”

I also think this bit is key:

In the meantime, put yourself in the shoes of food activists and greens who oppose GMOs and who truly believe they are on the side of angels. They wake up every day to fight evil. There are no shades of gray in this black-and-white world, which you should view through their lens

Yep, and there you have it.  Sure, there are some real black-and-white issues in the world.  Rape is wrong; murder is wrong; pillaging is wrong, etc., but most of the world is far more complicated and beware those who are convinced otherwise.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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