Truth Always Wins

The politicized and polarized nature of the climate debate is well established. Those who track the testy, emotionally-charged conversation on agricultural biotechnology wonder if the GMO discourse is heading down that road.

I’ve argued that the rhetorical tactics of GMO skeptics and climate skeptics are similar. Others have also come to see these commonalities (cherry-picking studies, trafficking in pseudoscience, etc). Additionally, it is unfortunate that numerous greens and progressives have allowed ideology to trump science when it comes to GMOs.

One might conclude that a public dialogue shaped by interest group politics and scientific distortions is a recipe for polarization. But that would be a wrong assumption. As Yale’s Dan Kahan recently said:

I’ve reported data multiple times showing that GM foods do not meaningfully divide ordinary members of the public along partisan or cultural lines.

This suggests to me that there is still time (at least in the United States) for a level-headed, GMO conversation to prevail. But I think the window is closing rapidly. A social movement revolving around food and health concerns has made GMO labeling a galvanizing issue. The grassroots campaign to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients is a stalking horse for a larger, hydra-headed campaign against an industrialized food system and the technology (biotech) that has come to be associated with that mode of food production.

The politics of this campaign, which is gaining momentum–and industry efforts to counter it— seems bound to inflame the public GMO debate in ways that turn it into a partisan issue. (These are the kinds of dynamics that politicized climate change.) Is there a way to head off this war before it becomes loaded with cultural meaning and poisons the debate? Alas, I think we’re already past that point.

I say this because much of mainstream media is taking its cue from the GMO labeling campaign. This biased CNN segment from last year (which I criticized here) is a good example.

So is the reporting from a Reuters journalist who has played up pseudoscientific studies suggesting that numerous medical problems can be linked to GMOs. This reporter consistently ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence and declarative statements from scientific institutions on the safety of GMOs. Instead, the reporter turns to anti-GMO activists to comment on science and safety-related questions. Even more astounding, this reporter inserts false balance into her GMO stories. From a recent article:

But some scientific studies have cast doubt on the safety of these biotech crops.

By such logic, I would expect this sentence on a story about vaccines: “But some studies cast doubt on the safety of childhood vaccines.” And I would expect this sentence on a story about climate change: “But some studies cast doubt on the theory of global warming.”

It’s true, right? We can find such studies, even though we know they are bogus outliers. Would that sentence be acceptable in stories on climate change or the safety of vaccines? No. People would cry false balance.

Now let’s go to Dr. Oz, the broadcast TV star with the immensely popular daytime talk show who has been taken to task for promoting all manner of quackery. In recent years he has irresponsibly given cranks a huge forum to peddle unsubstantiated fears about GMO foods. And yesterday, like the Reuters reporter, Oz used an activist from a environmental group with a demonstrable anti-GMO bias as an expert on the safety of agricultural biotechnology. The fear-mongering slant of the segment was painfully obvious.

Let’s move into the realm of pop culture. Here’s Bill Maher’s 2012 rant against Monsanto and “frankenfoods” on his HBO show. “Shut up and eat your f**ckin mutant chile!” he shouted at one point.

Fortunately, not everyone in media is unhinged on GMOs. In 2013, Nature put together a balanced, informative package of stories and more recently, Cosmos, an Australian magazine did the same. (Disclosure: I work as a senior editor for Cosmos.)

Additionally, Amy Harmon’s outstanding feature stories in the past year have opened an important, multi-dimensional window into the promising science of crop biotechnology and the socio-political challenges to it.

Has this recent wave of cleared-eyed reporting on GMOs shifted the media landscape from knee-jerk hostility to more contextualized coverage? Some commentators think so.

For me, the true test comes when popular anti-GMO activists are treated more critically in the media and even challenged to defend their most outrageous claims in interviews. Bill Moyers failed this test with Vandana Shiva several years ago, but one of his colleagues at BBC did not.

Speaking of Shiva, here she is recently, diving into a typical rabbit hole of fantasia, likening agricultural biotechnology to dictatorship and terrorism. According to her:

The real science is telling us we need to work on biosafety, we to need to insure there is a right to know, we cannot rush ahead with imposing hazards on the world. Lies will not last. Truth always wins.

Let’s hope she is right on that last point about truth.

66 Responses to “Truth Always Wins”

  1. mem_somerville says:

    I remain confused on the state of the journalism and media around this. But I will say that a couple of recent posts at traditionally librul outlets were promising signs. Today’s No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health at MoJo was surprising.

    Even more surprising the other day was Ari Le Vaux at Alternet: Is the Outrage Over GMO Overblown?

    Skeptics of GM food should come to grips with the fact that the act of genetic manipulation is itself not unholy.

    And this is from one of the top overblowers in the recent pastThe Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods.

    I’m particularly interested to watch those play out because I’m told that the message has to come from trusted sources in the tribe, right? So what did Ari’s tribe think?

    This article is propaganda and lies from an evil pig who should have killed himself a long time ago. (Lordofthemisanthropes)

    Ari Le Vaux is a food columnist. He doesn’t know anything about this subject. Why is Alternet even posting this article? (RAP77)

    How much did Monsanto pay Ari Le Vaux to write, and AlterNet to publish, this self-serving nonsense? (PaxHumana)

    Since when did the tribe distrust and dismiss food columnists? But maybe that’s progress of a sort. And at least I got a good laugh out of it.

  2. Rod Herman says:

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
    ― Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers

  3. Mike Fons says:

    I love the idea of genetically modifying crops for drought tolerance, disease/pest resistance, and to use less pesticide. But, I am not a big fan of genetically modifying crops to be resistant to Roundup and other herbicides, so farmers can spray theS#IT out of them with herbicide on a regular basis. I prefer other methods of weed control like soil steaming, cover crops, and mechanical weeding. There are some people, like Keith Kloor, who have an almost religious-like love of GMOs,, and turn a blind eye to problems with herbicide resistant GMOs and overuse of herbicide, similar to how a creationist turns a blind eye to dating methods.

  4. JH says:

    “I love the idea of genetically modifying crops for drought tolerance”

    Hey, now wait just a stinkin’ minute here…isn’t there another way to make plants more drought tolerant? What if there was more CO2 in the atmosphere? Wouldn’t they use less water?

    Oh, sorry, that’s an anti-science climate skeptic thing. It would be false balance to mention that.

  5. Mike Fons says:

    Yes, I believe increase in CO2 level does make plants release less water into the atmosphere and therefore become more drought tolerant. It appears increase in CO2 has some positive and some negative effects. I personally don’t believe it is the best idea to do a science experiment on future generations by burning our limited supply of fossil fuels as fast as humanly possible to see what the outcome will be. Even if all of the pollution we dump into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is not changing the planet’s climate, which hard to believe it wouldn’t, I would still support all of the climate change regulations because I personally like breathing clean air and having access to clean water. I would hate to see US air quality ending up like China’s smog. Also, back to main point, traditional plant breeding is another effective method to create drought resistant plants.

  6. Mike Fons says:

    I believe the biggest danger from GMOs is not the safety of the GMO foods themselves, it is the overuse of herbicide. Most of GMOs of today are herbicide resistant type, so millions of acres of GMO cropland is now drenched in Roundup or other herbicide on regular basis, which has potential to runoff into waterways in under-regulated areas and developing nations. Also, most scientific safety studies on herbicides are done on the active ingredient only, like glyphosate in Roundup for instance. But, the actual formulation of the herbicide used by farmers contains many other ingredients, which not surprisingly can increase the toxicity level of the herbicide.

  7. David Skurnick says:

    “But some studies cast doubt on the theory of global warming.”
    This sentence, including the word “the”, implies that there exists an identifiable entity called “the theory of of global warming”. That’s not the case. Even the IPCC says there’s enormous uncertainty in the climate’s sensitivity to increases in greenhouse gases. Predictions of warming at 1.5 degrees per century vs. 6 degrees per century are virtually different theories. Also, there are new hypotheses that the pause in warming might be caused by heat going into the deep oceans or by a change in winds. These hypotheses are not a part of any of the models underlying the IPCC Report, so they also constitute additional theories.
    The above-mentioned theories have been propounded by climate scientists who support the (alleged) mainstream view. There are other theories supported by scientists who are climate skeptics. I don’t pretend to know which, if any, of these theories might be valid. My only point is that there is no such thing as a single “theory of global warming” to cast doubt upon.

  8. mem_somerville says:

    Of course you are aware that herbicides are not GMOs, right? And that GMOness is not required for herbicides?

    People conflate that a lot. But if you banned GMOs today you’d still have plenty of herbicides used. It would be great if people could understand the difference.

  9. Mike Fons says:

    Yes, I completely understand that GMOs are not herbicides, and I was not aware that people got those mixed up. Genetically modifying a plant be resistant to an herbicide, like Roundup Ready corn for instance, results in huge increase of Roundup herbicide being used, and gives farmer the ability to spray entire field with Roundup without killing the corn. Yes, without herbicide resistant GMOs farmers would still use herbicides, but they wouldn’t be used to the degree that they are now. I would like to see more farmers use herbicide alternative like soil steaming, cover crops, and mechanical weed control. I would also like to see companies like Monsato make less herbicide resistant GMOs, and start making more GMOs for more useful things like drought tolerance, disease/pest resistance, and less pesticide use. I think GMOs have a lot of potential for good, but herbicide resistant GMOs are not an example of that.

  10. mem_somerville says:

    Yes, without herbicide resistant GMOs farmers would still use herbicides, but they wouldn’t be used to the degree that they are now.

    [citation needed]

    Can can you also please support your claim that your alternatives will not produce resistance?

    Glad to see you support more GMOs though. But your fixation on herbicides confuses me. Do you protest Clearfield all the time too?

  11. JH says:

    “traditional plant breeding is another effective method to create drought tolerant plants.”

    I agree.

    “would hate to see US air quality ending up like China’s smog”

    It used to be quite smoggy here in the US until the clean air act took effect. CO2 doesn’t have anything to do with smog.

  12. Mike Fons says:

    I don’t believe I mentioned weeds evolving resistance to herbicide in my previous comment, but to answer your question I believe there is always potential for weeds to evolve a way of resisting a method we use to kill them. The alternatives to herbicide I mentioned were soil steaming, cover crops, and mechanical weeding). For soil steaming I think it would be difficult for a weed to evolve the ability of being blasted with hot steam, but I do not put it out of the realm of possibility. For cover crops, it may be possible for weeds to evolve ability to penetrate through cover crops, but seems that that would only be sporadic if cover crops are planted properly. As for mechanical weeding, it may be possible for weeds to evolve resistance to being whacked with a weed whacker or mowed/plowed, but seems fairly unlike especially if the mechanical weeding is done frequently. I do not have a problem with herbicides if used in moderation, but I believe the fast rate at which farmers are increasingly using herbicide and pesticides is not unlike the fast pace at which we are pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, or fast pace of increasing antibiotic use, and genetically modifying plants to be resistance to herbicide with intent of drenching that plant in herbicide does nothing to stop the problem of increasing use of herbicide.

  13. J M says:

    “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) is a demographic defining a particular market segment related to sustainable living, “green” ecological initiatives, and generally composed of a relatively upscale and well-educated population segment. The author Paul H. Ray, who coined the term Cultural Creatives in his book by the same name, explains that “What you’re seeing is a demand for products of equal quality that are also virtuous.”[1][2] Included in the cultural creative demographic are consumers of New Age goods and services.[3][4]

    Researchers have reported a range of sizes of the LOHAS market segment. For example, Worldwatch Institute reported that the LOHAS market segment in the year 2006 was estimated at $300 billion, approximately 30% of the U.S. consumer market;[3][5][6] and, a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2007, 41 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic. In Japan roughly 17 million adults or 12% of the population are LOHAS consumers.[7]”

    I think you are right when you say the window is closing, Keith.

  14. J M says:

    “I’ve argued that the rhetorical tactics of GMO skeptics and climate skeptics are similar. Others have also come to see these commonalities (cherry-picking studies, trafficking in pseudoscience, etc). Additionally, it is unfortunate that numerous greens and progressives have allowed ideology to trump science when it comes to GMOs.”
    The curious thing is that climate sceptics generally are not anti-GMO and not anti-vaxxers. Greens tend to be believers in CAGW, dangers of GMOs and vaccines.
    I think there is an ideological, world-view divide here. What do CAGW, anti-GMO and anti-vaxxer ideas have in common?
    The answer is Doomsday. We’re going to hell if we do not do something. Bad things are going to happen if we do not act.
    Personally, I think the scientific evidence for global warming is solid. There’s uncertainty regarding how much the climate will warm which is the source of heated debate (and mud-slinging) today. That’s all.
    However, what bothers me about climate science is the fear-mongering. The same sort of rhetoric I see with anti-GMO and anti-vaxxer movements. It turns me off. OK, I know some climate scientists think that the best tactic to induce action is scaring people. Doesn’t work for me.

  15. Stu says:

    Keith often tends to present a ‘one size fits all’ kind of climate change skepticism. I think he is just not interested in the various skeptical arguments in general, otherwise he would spend more time untangling the Fox news skeptics from the more technical ones. But maybe that difference is slight to him. Who knows.

    The lukewarmers may be right.. the only reason I still define myself as a skeptic, and not a lukewarmer and not a warmist/alarmist, etc, is because I don’t know. I don’t present any type of ‘climate policy’ as being the correct one. My interest was/is never political. I just wanted to try to figure out for myself what was going on… Keith never represents that side of skepticism in his posts. It’s a shame, because it narrows the debate a lot, and to feel you’ve been aligned with crankery for seeing through or calling out obvious bad science and overhyped science communication (Marcott’s hypothetical elevator speech to Obama for eg) feels wrong. I don’t want to start every post by saying ‘I accept the central theory of global warming, but…’ People only understand skepticism (or let’s say critical evaluation of climate claims) from a conservative values standpoint. It’s been sold that way for far too long.

  16. Stu says:

    PS, the other thing is Keith often calls out bad CS communication (Hiroshima bombs at SS for eg). He just doesn’t do it under the skeptical label. It’s probably just a difference of definition/self definition.

  17. Buddy199 says:

    Unlike GMO’s, AGW is a central tenant of liberal dogma, which is why Keith never questions it’s core principles or seriously entertains it’s critics. Simple as that, it has little to do with science and everything to do with apostasy.

  18. Stu says:

    I disagree. Amongst my liberal friends, GMO’s seem to be sitting at the same level of concern as climate change, refugee issues, etc. You’d receive some pretty weird looks in my circles if you were to say ‘give GMO’s a chance’. You’d almost certainly be accused of falling for the lies and disinformation of the ‘shills for industry’ and ‘industry paid scientists’. It would certainly be an ‘irresponsible’ position to take.

  19. JH says:

    “the scientific evidence for global warming is solid. There’s uncertainty regarding how much the climate will warm”

    Well said. I’d add:

    A) “substantial” in front of “uncertainty” in the above statement

    B) Substantial uncertainty about the impacts of any given amount of warming.

    C) Massive uncertainty about the cost vs benefits of the many proposed mitigation plans.

  20. Buddy199 says:

    I’m assuming you’re from the U.K., where (as well as in Europe) there certainly seems to be a much greater concern about GMO’s than in the U.S., judging from the comparative amount and intensity of coverage the media and politicians give GMO’s vs. AGW. Then again, I could be mistaken; liberals could be just as concerned here and you could be from New Jersey.

  21. JH says:

    This sentence…implies that there exists an
    identifiable entity called “the theory of of global warming”. That’s not the case.

    Indeed. Different people, different “theories.” Most of the claims made about future storm intensity, etc, don’t seem to rest on any sound theory; they seem to rest on a general supposition that increased energy in the atmosphere will cause, er, “more energetic” weather.

    The reality is that AGW is not a theory. It’s really three things blurred together, and the lack of distinction between these three things is the source of most of the controversy. One side wants to keep the three things together as an inseparable whole, the other side wants (rightly) to pull them apart and analyze them independently.

    Thing 1: Global temperature records and various other lines of evidence that demonstrate warming. Although some of us skeptics might quibble about the quality of those records and the magnitude of warming they imply, the trends are irrefutable.

    Thing 2: Predictions about the future of everything on the planet, mostly derived from models, and in many cases derived from models that are derived from models that are derived from models. Aspects of the “theory” that fall into this category are highly questionable and deserve intense skepticism. Few if any are sound.

    Thing 3: what to do about it.

  22. mem_somerville says:

    I have no problem with multiple strategies. But none of them are immune to their own issues–including resistance–or in some cases additional water use, fuel use, time, etc. All of those things will impact farming costs and productivity as well. And they could have soil impacts that you aren’t addressing. Seems to me steaming could have much broader-spectrum impacts on beneficial soil microbes and insects, for example. But I’d be happy to look at comparison studies you might have.

    It would be easy for plants to avoid steam by dropping the roots just a little bit lower. Or seeding in a harder coat. Plants are tricksy little bastards that way.

    There’s a great discussion on GMO cover crops recently here. The right ones could be really helpful.

    But again–glyphosate is not a GMO, it does not require GMOs for use. And you still don’t demonstrate that without GMOs there’d be less herbicide. It would just be different–and possibly less gentle–herbicides. Or the plants would be developed in “conventional” or others ways to use the same stuff–which is underway as a way to skirt the GMO fixations people have now.

    I’d be happy to look at your claims that without GMOs there’d be less herbicide whenever you deliver it. Please remember we went down this thread because of your claim:
    I believe the biggest danger from GMOs is not the safety of the GMO foods themselves, it is the overuse of herbicide.

    So it’s up to you to substantiate that. I don’t think you’ve made that case.

  23. mem_somerville says:

    Here’s a good piece with herbicide stats:

    Herbicide use in corn and soybeans stood at 243 and 133 M lbs, respectively, in 1982, peak years for both, and by 2010 was at 197 and 110 M lbs, respectively. There has been a rise in herbicide use over the past 10 years or so, as a few very low use rate herbicides, especially in soybeans, have been replaced by somewhat higher use rate products but still not reaching the rates of the past.

  24. Mike Fons says:

    Actually, soil steaming is beneficial for soil microbes. Please look up soil steaming on google when you get a chance. And, if soil steaming is done frequently in rotation with mechanical weeding then I think it would unlikely that weeds would have time to drop roots deep enough to avoid being killed. Also, steaming soil for longer amount of time may help combat problem of weed seeds evolving resistance to being steamed. I am not against GMOs, but I don’t like lumping them all into one category. I am against herbicide resistant GMOs, and I am also against creating herbicide resistant crops through traditional breeding as well, if intent is to drench entire fields of such crops with herbicide. Regarding your statement “And you still don’t demonstrate that without GMOs there’d be less herbicide”. There are multiple studies, which you can look up, that show that RoundUp use has greatly increased with introduction of Roundup Ready crops. Now that the 2,4-D herbicide is about to be approved, I’m sure there will be big increase in the amount of 2,4-D being used. Some additional problems with herbicides that substantiate my case are herbicide persistence in seawater and effects on coral reefs (again please look it up yourself). Lack of thorough safety studies on actual formulations of commonly used herbicides (most safety studies are done on active ingredient only and not actual formulation used, which has potential of underestimating toxicity). Increasing natural weed resistance to herbicides, which we eluded to. Other, unforeseen long term consequence that may arise from the drenching of millions of acres of land in herbicide on regular basis, especially in under-regulated developing nations where crops like Roundup Ready soy are being grown more and more often.

  25. J M says:

    Good points, JH. A couple of additions:

    A: The way emissions are growing, even low TCS will mean substantial warming. We’re heading for at least 600-700 ppm

    B: a few of degrees of warming up north is positive. Smaller heating bills, longer growing season etc. Depends on the area.

    C: Just look at Kyoto and EU ETS. Totally FUBAR. The great idea to reduce CO2 production in Europe and outsource the jobs and emissions to more carbon-intensive developing countries. Talk about zero-sum game…. except for the hundreds of billions wasted.

  26. Mike Fons says:

    Also, another way to eliminate herbicide usage is through hydroponics/aeroponics and aquaponics. By the way, I believe that the herbicide stats that you quoted are for the United States, and not worldwide. Nevertheless, my point is that using herbicide resistant GMOs greatly increases use of the specific herbicide tailored to that GMO crop. For instance, Roundup Ready crops will increase use of Roundup, or 2,4-D crops will increase use of 2,4-D herbicide. I realize that there are more potentially dangerous herbicides than Roundup or 2,4-D, but I am still not convinced that genetically modifying plants for herbicide resistance, through traditional breeding or genetic engineering, is a sustainable long term strategy. I would like to see more high tech farming methods, including ones I mentioned and some GMOs, that don’t require drenching farmland in herbicides on regular basis. I also like bio char and composting.

  27. Charles Rader says:

    Mike, I’m always bemused by this anti-Roundup argument about GMOs. It might make some sense to be suspicious about herbicides as a general category of use of chemicals in agriculture, but there are all sort of reasons to separate the herbicide issues from the GMO issues. Failing to do so can take the herbicide opponent in the backward direction.

    I’ll give a few simple examples.

    First, let’s consider corn. Corn is naturally immune to the herbicide atrazine. For that reason, many corn farmers used to use atrazine for weed suppression in cornfields, exactly the way glyphosate is now used with glyphosate-resistant GMO corn. Mostly for that reason, atrazine used to be the world’s most used herbicide, but not anymore. But it is very clear that atrazine is far more toxic to animals than glyphosate is. In the case of corn, a thoughtless antagonism to glyphosate linked to anti-GMO scares could result in farmers switching back to a more toxic herbicide.

    Second, let’s look at wheat. There are no herbicide resistant GMO wheat varieties, at least not yet, but there is one rather common use of glyphosate by wheat farmers. They use it to kill the wheat plants about a week before the harvest so that they can harvest grain with a low moisture content. If glyphosate residues in our food is a worrisome concern, it should certainly be many times more worrisome when applied a week before harvest than if it is applied for weed control months before the plant is harvested. I’m not aware of any vocal concern being expressed by anti-GMO propagandists about this use of glyphosate – a use which would certainly disappear if GMO herbicide-resistant wheat was being used.

  28. Charles Rader says:

    mem_somerville, I suppose it is easier to get data on herbicide use expressed in pounds, but it’s essentially meaningless. What matters is total release of toxicity, or some sort of environmental impact measure. Using a measure by weight is why Dr. Benbrook is able to give us his alarming statistics.

  29. Mike Fons says:

    Charles, those are excellent points that you make. Please known that I am not opposed to GMOs, I am opposed to overuse of herbicide. I can see how Roundup Ready crops being sprayed with Roundup is better than spraying traditional corn with atrazine. I guess what I am really getting at is that herbicide is not necessary to grow corn or other crops, like some pesticides are. There are a lot of ways to control weeds, and drenching cropland in herbicide is not in my opinion a long term sustainable method. I would like to see the money being spent on herbicide development being put to better use in creation of other high tech farming and weed control methods, including mechanical weeding, soil steaming, cover crops, aquaponics, hydroponics, aeroponics, etc. As for GMOs, I am in favor of genetically modifying plants to be resistant to disease, drought tolerance, and to use less pesticide, I just don’t like see it being used to continue the bad habit of herbicide overuse.

  30. Tom Scharf says:

    Cries of false balance = politically correct way of suppressing dissent.

    “It’s true, right? We can find such studies, even though we know they are bogus outliers.”

    “We” know…that would be your side, right? The only way to win the argument is to eliminate dissent, not to…errrr…win the argument? It simply isn’t “fair” to have the argument, is it? And when you were given the opportunity to have this debate, you walked away, right?

    This whole attitude just plain oozes with academic elitism. If you don’t think so, then what do you think academic elitism would look like?

    So science shouldn’t have to debate GMO’s, climate science, or vaccines, the three debates in the public sphere that they arguably could have the most impact on. What should they debate? Whether Schrödinger’s cat is real?

    Let’s examine the potential results of not allowing “false balance”. Case in point:

    Kerry said yesterday “climate change is perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”. Kerry painted a picture of looming drought and famine, massive floods and deadly storms as a result of global warming. “typhoons such as the one that struck the Philippines last year could become the norm and “wipe out entire communities”. Etc.

    We can’t allow false balance to contradict these type of statements of “fact”, can we? There are simply no valid responses to this statement of “science”, is there?

    Because as Kerry says, “we should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts,” This is a laughably ironic. Apparently Kerry hasn’t read the IPPC SREX or the latest AR5 statements on extreme weather.

    Once you suppress dissent on politically divisive issues, the other side is given carte blanche on propaganda. If the climate science community was honest, it would clamp down on their own ideologues, but it is not, and it does not. Until then, “false balance” is necessary.

  31. JH says:

    I don’t think there’s any telling where exactly we’re headed with T or CO2, but with TCS at 2°C or less, 700 is a doubling and then a bit, so perhaps we’re headed for a total warming of 2.25°C or so.

    Of course, that means we pump out 300 ppm more of CO2 – a tripling of the CO2 we’ve already pumped out from burning fossil fuels.

    But seemingly there’s much to be learned about the relationship between CO2 and temp in the real atmosphere, as it increasingly appears the temp is linear over the long term despite the exponential rise in CO2.

  32. msafwan says:

    Honestly, if public is a court, seems like anti-GMO and anti-Vaccine movement already won the court because they already created a reasonable doubt which pro-GMO again and again fail to answer/address directly . It seems like the proponent of GMO have nothing too argue about the accusation instead saying it was invalid and should be ignored.

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with proponent of GMO, they doesn’t really make sense to the public, instead… people learn more about GMO from anti-GMO movement.

    As I said before, if public is a court, pro-GMO have lost the battle because they fail to address the doubt raised by the public. Also, if authority not being transparent about the reason of its policy also create sense of conspiracy which further worsen the antagonistic view toward GMO.

    Its a fact that vaccine create side-effect ( there are people who got sick after get a vaccine), this just erode all trust toward the system and solidify trust toward the opposite view, especially since nobody really cared about the side-effect (no attention or answer was given to side-effect victim).

  33. JH says:

    Keith, here’s an interesting little nugget:

    “This reporter consistently ignores the…declarative statements from scientific institutions on the safety of GMOs.”

    Do “declarative statements from scientific institutions” hold any water with the public? I don’t think they do. Is there a reason for that? How have such statements held up over time? What’s the ratio of successes to failures?

    My suspicion: the success ratio is fairly high – say, 80% – but low enough that, when large expenditures or people’s health and rights are at stake, these statements are well questioning.

    I think there’s a lot more to learn about a) how frequent conflicting information from the scientific community drains public confidence in “declarative statements” and b) how often these statements prove incorrect in the long run. It’s a mistake to ignore this when you’re looking at climate, GMOs, or any other scientific information that piques the public interest.

  34. Tom Scharf says:

    One of the problems I think is the food science area has a lot of bad science in it, particularly these statistically questionable “linked to” type statements. Weak correlations without any reasonable path of causation.

    Can anyone make sense of what food types are good for you anymore? Organic was supposed to be better, and we all know that everything causes cancer now, or has been “linked” to it. Except red wine prevents cancer (or more likely people who drink red wine lead healthier lifestyles).

    They are even changing their mind on butter.

    My advice is if you are reading an environmental or food science article and you come across a “linked to” or “suggests” statement, stop reading, or at least read on with a skeptical view.

  35. Bill C says:

    Since that the initial radiative effects of CO2 in the atmosphere are logarithmic, that makes temperature rise linearly when CO2 goes up exponentially. So they say.

  36. Mike Fons says:

    I don’t consider the increase of total herbicide use expressed in pounds as meaningless. Do you consider the increase in super weeds that can survive Roundup as “some sort of environmental impact measure”?

    The annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to GE cultivars has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011.

    Herbicide-tolerant crops worked extremely well in the first few years of use, Benbrook’s analysis shows, but over-reliance may have led to shifts in weed communities and the spread of resistant weeds that force farmers to increase herbicide application rates (especially glyphosate), spray more often, and add new herbicides that work through an alternate mode of action into their spray programs.

  37. JH says:

    Agreed about the research around health and nutrition. Despite innumerable proclamations about what’s good and bad for you, not much has really changed in nutrition in the last 80 years.

    But see it’s not just health and nutrition. It’s The Population Bomb, Peak Oil (which many climate concerned haven’t given up on yet, despite suffering a stinging slap) and many other proclamations that turn out to be not so right. (I grant that these particular examples weren’t endorsed to my knowledge by learned societies).

    I think it would be very interesting to check the score of the Learned Society Declarative Statement.

  38. Joshua says:

    The curious thing is that climate sceptics generally are not anti-GMO and not anti-vaxxers. Greens tend to be believers in CAGW, dangers of GMOs and vaccines.

    I always love it when self-described “skeptics” ignore the data and persist with their arguments regardless.

    Have you looked at Kahan’s data? Have you looked at his analysis? Do you have evidence that contradicts his findings?

    Perhaps more interestingly, do you believe in due applying due skeptical diligence before formulating a viewpoint? If so, I would would suggest reading up on the mechanics of cultural cognition and then rereading your comment from above.

  39. JH says:

    Keith, here’s another interesting nugget:

    ‘And I would expect this sentence on a story about climate change: “But some studies cast doubt on the theory of global warming.” ‘

    Are there any studies that cast doubt on the entire theory of global warming? I can’t say I know of any.

    This is where I suspect the comparison between GMOs and Climate Change breaks down. If you review the literature, there are actually manystudies that question various aspects of various bits and pieces of various different ideas that fall under the “theory” of global warming. While the “consensus” (eg the RC team) disagrees with these papers, sometimes vehemently, for the most part they accept (perhaps because they’ve been forced to by the larger community) that the papers present legitimate work. I don’t know, but from the sounds of it there’s really not a comparable body of contradictory work regarding GMOs. Am I right or wrong?

  40. Tom Scharf says:

    One of the main differentiators between GMO’s and climate change is you don’t get a bunch of people on the pro-GMO side making crazy apocalyptic statements and over-stating the current status of the science.

    For example, you don’t have an activist group saying that if we don’t implement GMO corn, hundreds of millions of people are going to die. GMO’s are not “the greatest challenge of our time” and the other hyperbole that is ever present in the climate debate.

  41. Tom Scharf says:

    You are confounding a disinterested US public for who are the anti-GMO activists.

    The data says that the US public just isn’t very interested in the GMO debate. They simply aren’t even aware of the debate in most instances. 1/3 of the US also thinks the Sun revolves around the earth.

    For those who do care about GMO’s, and are activists about it, the anti-GMO crowd is almost entirely green. Are you actually disputing this?

    Have you even looked at where all the anti-GMO propaganda comes from? Have you ever noticed a correlation between the anti-GMO and anti-Big Ag?

    Have you ever looked at which NGO’s come out in favor of GMO labeling and such?

    This must be shocking to you. So continue on in your denial that anti-GMO = green. The other 97% of us will move on with the obvious.

  42. Joshua says:

    Tom –

    I prefer evidence that has more weight than your anecdotal observations about what seems obvious to you.

    Have you looked at Kahan’s data and analyses?

    It is not merely that the public is largely indifferent. It is also that groups associated with various sets of beliefs (such as egalitarian/communitarians) are not significantly differentiated by views on GMOs – in marked contrast to issues like gun control, nuclear power, climate change, taxes for businesses, illegal immigration, government spending, etc.

    Now you may believe that “Greens” are not largely identified with egalitarian/communitarians, who align according to those other issues, such as freakin’ nuclear energy and climate change – and who knows, maybe you’re right – but unless you show some actual evidence, I consider your argument to be unpersuasive. I mean you do have evidence, right? I mean what with you being a “skeptic” and all, surely you would only form such certain opinions without any freakin’ evidence.


  43. Joshua says:

    And notice how “JM” is just as confident about how the d[pemographics break out on views about vaccines.

    And notice how, in his astute observations about who “fear-mongers” and who doesn’t, he fails to recognize anything like fear-mongering about deficit spending, or having an illegal immigrant Muslim as president, or Sharia Law taking over in the U.S., or the horrible consequences of the “war on Christmas,” etc.

  44. Joshua says:

    And notice how “JM” is just as confident about how the demographics break out on views about vaccines. Take a look at Kahan’s data re: vaccines. Perhaps you want to assert the superiority of your anecdotal observations on that topic as well?

    And notice how, in his astute observations about who “fear-mongers” and who doesn’t, “JM” fails to recognize anything like fear-mongering about deficit spending, or having an illegal immigrant Muslim as president, or Sharia Law taking over in the U.S., or the horrible consequences of the “war on Christmas,” etc.

    ‘Prolly just coincidence.

  45. JH says:


    You must have seen Revkin’s post from yesterday by now.

    I especially like this quote from David Victor:

    “we in the scientific community have spent too much time talking about consensus. That approach leads us down a path that, at the end, is fundamentally unscientific”


  46. If truth always wins, why is DDT still banned? It’s the only effective means to controlling mosquitoes that carry malaria.

  47. Keith Kloor says:

    Sorry for being MIA on comments, many which are interesting and I’d like to return to. Returned from AAAS conf to House of Germs, and we’ve all been down for the count this week.

  48. JonFrum says:

    I’ve argued that the rhetorical tactics of GMO skeptics and climate skeptics are similar”
    And you’ve been wrong. GMOs have been studied in controlled experiments from head to tail, and we have years worth of data come from public consumption of GMO crops.
    There are NO proper controlled experiments in all of climate science relating to anthropogenic global warming. None. There are only projections based on mathematical models. The results of those models depend entirely on how they are written, and the assumptions they are based on. They are highly complex, non-determinate models, and are, at best, educated guesses, not ‘science.’
    The claims of the anti-GMO crowd have been put to the test and have been falsified. Climate skeptics point to the fact that advocates of the climate change meme have never put their claims to proper, scientific tests of falsification.
    As much as Kloor wants to link the anti-GMO crowd to climate change skeptics, the science does not support his position. If he can show me where 100-year projections of global surface temperatures have been verified, I’d be happy to take back my statement.

  49. J M says:


    Sorry, been away from the keyboard…

    I read Kahan’s assessment. His two poles were liberal/conservative. Green was not measured. Are all liberals green?

    I definitely know that Greens are anti-GMO. Greenpeace, FOE, WWF…all for organic and against GMOs.

    About anti-vaccine greens….I just wonder why you find anti-vaccine crap on sites promoting organic food, new age stuff (homeopathy, natural this and that) and opposing GMOs? The greenie stuff, you know?

  50. Joshua says:

    J M –

    Not all liberals are green, but clearly there are strong associations between greens and the type of taxonomy Kahan constructs yet there is no significant signal for anti-GMO beliefs in that taxonomy.

    Similar, with being anti-vax.

    And then there’s the point that if you look at the overall population, anti-GMO and anti-Vax just aren’t large #’s.

    My point is that rather than speculation and anecdote, it would make sense to base conclusions on evidence.

    You could be right, but Kahan provides evidence – and the evidence he provides does not support your conclusions.

  51. J M says:


    Good points. Kahan tried to get an idea of overall population, as I understand it. Kahan did not identify greens in his study.

    However, I do not speculate but provide evidence when I give links to green and anti-GMO sites which also spout anti-vaccine fears. The link is there but understandably many greens do not wish to connect the dots.

    There is also no denying that some liberal enclaves, such as Marin County in California (with an active Green party) are also anti-vaccination hotspots.

  52. Joshua says:

    J M –

    Do you doubt that Greens are strongly associated with
    particular segments of Kahan’s taxonomy? As such, you’d expect to see a
    signal in his data.

    Here – look again:

    to websites, IMO, does not constitute very useful evidence. It does
    not tell us about the relative prevalence of anti-GMO or anti-Vax
    ideology among different groups, and it doesn’t tell us how significant
    are the numbers of anti-GMOers and anti-Vaxers.

    If you look at
    Kahan’s data, you will see strong signals in his taxonomy for other
    issues that are associated with Greens. Not so with concerns about GMOs
    and not so with vaccines.

  53. J M says:


    You draw conclusions from a study that specifically does not single out “green” values and persistently ignore what actually takes place in the real world, including websites and blogs; How well anti-GMO and anti-vaxxer ideology fits in with green values of anti-corporatism, new age distrust of medicine and the cult of “natural”.

    How can you seriously make a claim that the Greens are not against GMOs?

    If you know any green group that supports GMOs, please tell us.

  54. Joshua says:

    J M

    You draw conclusions from a study that specifically does not single out
    “green” values and persistently ignore what actually takes place in the
    real world, including websites and blogs;

    I’m not ignoring it. I’m saying that pointing to websites does not comprise a scientific evaluation of evidence. It could be that the evidence you’re pointing to is only evidence of the beliefs of an unrepresentative extreme. It could be that the evidence that you’re pointing to fails to reflect that there are other anti-GMOers who aren’t a part of Green groups.

    I’m not ignoring your evidence, I’m just pointing out that it is not evidence that can be used to scientifically evaluate the phenomenon you’re trying to describe.

    Once again, look at the chart that I linked. You can see signals in the data related to other issues that distinguish Greens – and not just extremist Greens. You can see signals that distinguish segments of people that are clearly associated with Green ideology. What you don’t see is any signal related to GMOs.

    I live in a community where I recently saw an anti-GMO billboard. There is a natural food store in my community where many Greens shop – and presumably seek out foods on the basis of them being anti-GMO. But there’s also a supermarket, where far more people who identify as Greens shop. And in that supermarket they have an organic food section, where people who identify as Green probably buy disproportionately to some extent, but where many people who identify as Greens buy non-organic food and where people who don’t identify as Greens purchase organic food,.

    Simply repeating that the study does not signal out Greens in its analysis does not address the unscientific nature of your analysis. Again, you could be right. But personally, I won’t be convinced unless you have some actual evidence beyond your reasoning that is based on an anecdotal approach to evaluation, and which is obviously vulnerable to observer bias at many different levels.

  55. JH says:

    “If you know any green group that supports GMOs, please tell us.”

    Hmmm….but if you support GMOs, you automatically loose your pointy green hat and cape. Banishment. So by (self) definition, Greens do not support GMOs.

  56. J M says:


    You avoided my question whether you know any green organisations which are not anti-GMO? Never mind, we both know the answer.

    You claim that the evidence I presented is “unscientific” and “only evidence of the beliefs of an unrepresentative extreme.” Your point being that there is no evidence that the Greens are anti-GMO.

    Why is it then that every Green NGO is anti-GMO? Why is every Green party in the world anti-GMO? Including the Green party of the United States?

    Or do think the Green party of the USA does not represent the mainstream Green ideas in the US?

  57. Joshua says:

    My response seems to have disappeared. Maybe because of a link. Let me give you the text and the link separately.

    J M –

    You claim that the evidence I presented is “unscientific” and “only
    evidence of the beliefs of an unrepresentative extreme.” Your point
    being that there is no evidence that the Greens are anti-GMO.

    Do you notice how you had to piece those truncated quotes together? If you had looked at what I said without disassembling it an reassembling it, you will get a better understanding of my points.

    For example:

    (1) No, I am not saying that the evidence you provide is only evidence of extremes. I said that what you’re pointing to is evidence, but that you don’t know whether or not that evidence is primarily just evidence of a unrepresentative nature because your approach to the evidence is an anecdotal approach that is obviously vulnerable to observer bias.

    (2) No, I did not say that there is “no evidence that Greens are anti-GMO.” In fact, I specifically acknowledged that what you are pointing to is evidence of a
    sort. I am questioning, however, whether that evidence supports your conclusions, and I gave you specific points to address as to why it isn’t. It’s up to you whether you want to address those points are not –
    but your failure to address them does not make your strawman mischaracterization of what I said in any way accurate.

    Or do think the Green party of the USA does not represent the mainstream
    Green ideas in the US?

    The % of people who have some identification with environmentalism, and thus with “Green” ideology, is pretty large in the U.S. The number of people who
    consider themselves “Greens” as a defining ideological identification is pretty small and insignificant by comparison. Of that group, I don’t doubt that there is a prevalence of anti-GMO sentiment, but it is certainly not a uniform sentiment, (and you have not identified the association between views on GMOs with different degrees of sentiment – such as GMO sentiment from believing that labeling is preferable to thinking that GMOs are the devil’s spawn).

    My larger point is that you have no evidence that the number of Greens who
    have an extremist bent towards anti-GMO ideology is a significant % of “Greens,” at various levels of identification of being a “Green,” let alone that such a number would be anything other than: (1) be an insignificant “noise” in the “signal” of American public opinion and, (2) be proportionally that much greater than extremist libertarians who distrust corporate products such as GMOs or religious extremists who think that humans should not experiment with natural products or just

    run of the mill folks who aren’t Greens but who don’t trust GMOs.

    Once again, take a look at the chart I linked. Think about the questions I’ve asked you. Consider answering those questions. Just pointing to websites does not, IMO, equal a particularly analytical approach to answering the questions that we’re discussing. Kahan’s evidence does,
    IMO. No amount of failing to address the points will make your arguments more convincing or convince me of the validity of your argument. So, I’m guessing that this is a time for the ol’ “Agree to disagree” paradigm.

  58. Joshua says:

    Here’s a link for a clip for you to watch prior to reading my comment below:

    [insert normal www and youtube stuff here] XXXXXXXX/watch?v=DWiJPeGtxQ0

  59. Joshua says:

    Another attempt to link the clip:

  60. J M says:

    From my perspective, you are nitpicking. I live in Europe. Greens here oppose GMOs vehemently, as parties, NGOs and other organisations. As do the Green party and NGOs in the US. It is a fact, period.
    Maybe there are lots of greens who think GMOs are safe. It is just curious that they keep silent…..
    You can interpret Kahan’s study any which way. The fact remains that it measures attitudes of people on liberal-conservative axis. It does not identify religious people or the greens or any other small group on the left or right.
    You could also interpret Kahan’s study so that there is an equal number of wingnuts among the left and the right, regarding GMOs and vaccines. Are the wingnuts on the left mainly green? That is something that Kahan does not give an answer to.

  61. Joshua says:

    J M –

    I don’t thinking that asking for a scientific approach to evidence is “nit-picking.”

    The fact remains that it measures attitudes of people on liberal-conservative axis.

    Actually, technically, it doesn’t. And in fact the actual taxonomy that he used, I would say, is more likely to be instructive as to how the views of Greens fall out on different issues.

    You have not addressed the points that I raised about the anecdotal nature of your evidence, about your failure to explain what can reasonably be assumed from Kahan’s data w/r/t views of Greens – as people who are associated with a particular segment of his taxonomy – on GMOs. You haven’t addressed the points about how degree of association with Green technology might be, to some degree, explanatory. You haven’t addressed the lack of evidence you have related to the diversity of views among Greens who are anti-GMO. You haven’t addressed the points about balancing views from other segments of the public on GMOs.

    Of course, the data on Americans has limited value in understanding the views of Europeans, but if anything, I would say that in Europe opposition to GMOs is even more widely pervasive among a wider spectrum of the public.

    Last comment for me on this until/if you actually address those points Look at how Kahan’s data describes views on nuclear energy and ask yourself why they would show a pattern in views on that issue that is significantly different than what they show w/r/t GMOs?

  62. Tom Scharf says:

    ” I’m saying that pointing to websites does not comprise a scientific evaluation of evidence.”

    Hmmmm…sounds like motivated reasoning to me, ha ha.

    Look forward to the study that does measure green attitudes and correlation to anti-GMO.

    Just wondering, what do you think it will show?

    I think it will show a strong correlation. My guess is you “don’t know” and couldn’t possibly form an opinion yet, right? Feel free to avoid the question, as usual.

  63. NameNotGiven says:

    Anti Vaxx, anti GMO denialist movements are comprised largely of leftists.

  64. Steven Tyler says:

    That is the first time I have heard of using glyphosate to dry out a crop “FOR A LOWER MOISTURE CONTENT?” REALLY? How does that even come close to using glyphosate during the growth cycle for the same effect?

    Watch, this goon is spreading propaganda.

  65. mbsports says:

    Bill Maher is joking, I wouldn’t worry about it. Also, reasonable people, the ones that matter, the ones in decision-making positions are able to sift through the arguments and reach a logical conclusion.

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