Wednesday, September 26, 2012

GMO phobia is pseudoscience

Slate published an excellent piece by Keith Kloor today comparing the American left's fear of genetically modified foods to the right's denial of climate change science. He does not pull any punches.

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.

In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.

This GMO denial makes little sense if you believe that the Democratic party is the party of science. It makes perfect sense if you believe that people in general tend to ignore science the moment is threatens their world view.

Evolution science is troublesome if you're a Bible literalist. If you want to fight the creation of new taxes, it's an awful sock in the jaw to hear that climate change is a negative externality of civilization and government interference may be needed. Conservatives who deny science are resisting new ideas, but that doesn't mean liberals deserve credit for accepting science that compliments their world view. In the case of climate change, the science supports the position liberals naturally hold.

The anti-vaccine movement is perceived as a left-wing anti-science movement. It's not as neat a divide as climate change, but it is closer to evolution denial, while 60 percent of Republicans reject it, a full 29 percent of Democrats deny evolution as well. The anti-vaccine activists includes people on the left who hate pharmaceutical companies with people on the right who fear government control of their children.

What we are seeing with this movement against using science to improve food is members of the left are the ones having their views challenged by science, and instead of listening they are responding like zealots. It doesn't matter what the experts say, they already have their minds made up.

The way this anti-GMO narrative perpetuates falls neatly in line with the life cycle of social activists. People in these political circles are turning to each other to learn about science on the subject, which includes big-name organizationspseudointellectual documentaries, and fellow activists.

As I've said before, science-denial on the left does not excuse conservatives for their science denial and talking about the issue does not give the right a pass. Scientific findings should guide our politics, but we should never let our politics determine scientific findings.


  1. A classmate of mine and I are researching liberal concerns for 'bodily purity' and how they relate to attitudes toward natural foods, natural remedies, and to GMOs. I'm inclined to agree with your evaluation. In line with the Jonathan Haidt's social intuitionist model of morality, we suspect that some liberals first have the moral intuition that bodily purity matters, and second construct or adopt reasons to verbalize that intuition; the point being, that moral reasoning is most often biased reasoning.

    - A. L.

  2. Well said, I've found Haidt's morality ideas compelling, especially about purity.

  3. Climate deniers have their pseudo-science and their blowhards in government and the media and so do ag-chem companies. Fact is GMOs have never been subjected to long term controlled studies by anyone, except that we are all being subjected unwittingly to a long term study which is now about 15 years old.

  4. Why do you think we need one? I don't know of any long term study on health impact of using an iPhone, but I'm not going to live in fear until one comes out.

  5. Michael you have absolutely no clue whatsoever what you're talking about. GMOs are not just food that's a bit different. They are fundamentally changing the entire world we live in, especially by crosspollinating with wild types and making the original plants extinct. Being anti-GMO has little to do with being left or right, but it's the conservatives who are against GMOs the MOST because they are usually smarter and wiser than jumped up liberals. Stop embarrassing yourself and read Jeffrey Smith's Seeds of Deception. GMOs are not "much the same" as regular food. Only corporate shills are pro-GMOs these days.

  6. I want to know what i am eating good or bad.I am Conservative and want labeling,everyone i have ever spoke to in person wants it.