Great assessment! It seems you’ve leaped into the fray both feet, and that you’ve accepted that pretty much all of the objections anti-GMO types are fear-mongering hysteria that have little basis in science.
Many anti-GMO activists will use any and all means necessary to have GMOs banned, even if it’s through dishonest means. This is who we’re dealing with.
As far as the “unintended consequences”, really that argument can be made about any cultivar that is introduced into an ecosystem. Every new stressor will have a resultant effect, whether it’s organic, GMO, or anything for that matter. It’s smart to always determine what effect a specific stressor has on an ecosystem, but to claim that GMOs are in any way more risky in this scenario is fallacious.
Currently, pro-GMO is losing the PR war and it may come to a point to where GMOs are either severely restricted, or outright banned, for purely political reasons. It seems that most people are swayed by fear-mongering and appeals to emotion more than facts and sound logic, and anti-GMO activists have made great strides in appeals to emotion. I’m not sure what it’ll take to sway people, but currently it doesn’t look good. It’s unfortunate that lies and misinformation are more compelling to the greater public consciousness than scientific reality.
Anti-GMO is an ideology/belief system, meaning its believers cannot rationally approach it. They effectively have no choice but to defend it against reality. The ideology colours their perception, and they become impervious to information discrediting or invalidating their ideology. This seems to be a fundamental modus operandi of the human brain, in my opinion related to the human ability to form hive-like societies (where the founding beliefs of the society must trump the observations of the individuals).
Monsanto is always the poster child for GM crops.
You can endlessly debate for or against soybeans that resist vast quantities of herbicide, without having made any point establishing if *all* genetically modified crops are unsafe or not.
It’s a kitchen sink approach: one decides from the start that GM crops are evil, and then gathers arguments, of any type, to support that “conclusion”.
These opponents are dead certain that GM foods _must_ be poisonous somehow. That’s why they applaud “research” like the Seralini paper, or that the monarch butterfly larva is inconvenienced when eating milkweed liberally sprinkled with BT maize pollen.
Generally, no argument will ever convince the typical BT opponent that genetics can indeed improve crops and feed this hungry world.
“You can use the “unintended consequences” argument about any technology. This is a common opposition tactic – people understand fear, and calling for safety research sounds benign. Antivaxxers take this tactic often. The real question is, though, how much testing is enough? For the opposition, it’s never enough.”
I couldn’t agree more about this obnoxious tactic. I’ve argued against the naturalistic fallacy with chemophobes, anti-vaxxers, and anti-GMOers — but to little avail. On the Mike Adams is a Dangerous Loon post, a commenter was echoing the anti-vaxxers war cry and essentially calling to “green our GMOs.” As far as I can tell, this means that GMOs are perfectly acceptable — once every single shortcoming in farming and business practices is corrected and the GMOs themselves have been tested until the end of time to prove their 100% safety. See, not anti-GMO, pro-safe GMO.
I am not sure there is any activity in human history that has ever been proven to be 100% safe. A person can die doing anything, and there would be instances where you could not specifically say that the activity they were doing did not in some way contribute to their death.
That is assuming safe is roughly means “does not cause death”… if you broaden it to mean “does no harm” you enter an ever bigger fuzzier ceiling of requirements that can never be met.
“In my opinion, GMO is a very important technology that will help us (in conjunction with other biotech, including more traditional methods) to improve the crops on which we rely to feed a growing population in an environmentally sustainable way.”
That is almost always the central pro-GMO argument. The same person who worries about global warming, seems to accept an ever-growing human population.
If you don’t like human-made global warming, then you should not be ok with an ever-growing human population.
The urgent focus should be on stopping or at least slowing population growth, not on growing more food.
Developing countries usually have the fastest growing populations, and as they become westernized they will create ever more pollution. Global warming, if it really is human-caused, will get ever more out of control.
So if we really do care about this planet, we really do not need GMOs.
And you neglected to mention the real central reason for being anti-GMO. It is because DNA is poorly understood, and we cannot guess the long term effects.
Mainstream science advocates are usually extremely optimistic about current scientific understanding. But we are babies playing with fire, so I do not think our experiments with the foundations of life will turn out well.
THAT, imo, is the real objection of the GMO skeptics.
The same person who worries about global warming, seems to accept an ever-growing human population.
Who says that a “pro” person isn’t concerned about growing human population?
The urgent focus should be on stopping or at least slowing population growth, not on growing more food.
And how are we supposed to accomplish that? Accelerate war? Attrition by starvation? Gas chambers? Interesting that you accept that GMOs aid in “growing more food”, usually anti’s claim that GMOs have a “failure to yield”.
So if we really do care about this planet, we really do not need GMOs.
Why does one preclude the other? Most people who accept GMOs as part of the “agricultural toolkit” also care about the planet. We also realize that GMOs can go a long way in helping with that. For instance, the usage of Bt crops means reduced usage of chemical pesticides. Or, no till crops reduce carbon emissions caused by tilling. We can work on better environmental stewardship with the help of GMOs.
It is because DNA is poorly understood, and we cannot guess the long term effects.
That is where you’re wrong. DNA is so well understood that we’ve made a science around it and can manipulate it with predictive results. The “long term effects” are better known with direct manipulation than with other techniques that alter DNA more randomly. Of course, when constantly moving goalposts, utilizing the Nirvana Fallacy, and demanding 100% safety guarantee, it’s easy to claim that we don’t know the risks.
On that level, we know far less about the risks of organic farming which has an actual history of harm, primarily with the use of uncured manure and compost as fertilizers that pass on pathogens to consumers. The demand for impossible safety testing is irrational when the same demands for safety testing aren’t extended to ALL agricultural types.
The only ones who have the poor understanding of science are typically the anti-GMO activists.
“If you don’t like human-made global warming, then you should not be ok with an ever-growing human population.”
This is a bizarre thing to say. We don’t have to be in favour of population growth to acknowledge that it’s happening and take measures to ensure that people are properly fed. Support for GMOs and concern about the expanding population are not mutually exclusive, or even in opposition to each other.
Others have already pointed out the flaws in hardnose’s logic – false choice, non-sequitur.
But more, GMO has potential benefits beyond increased yield.
Improved nutrition (such as golden rice)
Disease resistance – necessary to keep ahead of evolving pests and pathogens
Possibility of reduced nitrogen inputs, reduced fertilizer, which is perhaps the most significant environmental effect.
Lower land and water use
Better food security (drought resistance)
Reduce pesticide use.
Even without population growth (which we can’t magically make happen) getting more for less with a smaller footprint is a good thing.
Regarding “DNA is poorly understood” – this is a meaningless statement. Operationally define “poorly” in this context. Genetics is actually a mature science. Of course, we don’t know everything. We don’t know everything about physics, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be transmitting massive levels of electricity to every home, enough to kill someone if they get exposed. We also pump explosive gas into homes – homes with CHILDREN. Don’t get me started on cars, nuclear energy, and air travel.
Bottom line – our understanding of genetics, the research that has been done and is being done, and the nature of the changes of most GMO crops represent manageable and acceptable risk – less risk than many other things we take for granted in our society.
But – it is easy to overhype risk and the unknown for ideological purposes.
Excellent summary of the silliness associated with criticisms of GMO’s.
A point of (well-intentioned) pedantry though: the term Third World has a very specific historical context (namely countries not aligned with either the Eastern or Western bloc during the Cold war) that gets very murky in modern contexts. For example, Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, but wouldn’t traditionally be considered a Third World country based on its communist government. A much more descriptive, and accurate term would be developing country, as that is accurate regardless of political or economic system, or any historic allegiances.
Not a huge deal either way, common usage being what it is, but economic development is what I spent too much money studying in graduate school, and that was one of the few linguistic arguments I didn’t cringe at whenever it was brought out again.
Great work Steven. Glad to see you really digging into this topic, and I hope NDT does too.
In my 14 years of public discussion of this topic I’ve found the anti-GMs to be more vicious and difficult than Creationists or anti-vaxers (which I’ve debated endlessly as well).
You touch on it more in the comments– What are the missed opportunities that anti-GM causes? Silberman’s group says lack of Golden Rice caused 1.4 million human life years lost. We have plants in academic/industry/go’vt labs that can tolerate flooding, heat, cold, freezing, pests. We have higher vitamin A, iron, folate and many others. We have plants that require less insecticide and fertilizer. These are not dreams- they exist now, but are not developed or moved toward commercialization.
So for us it is not about simply setting the science straight. It is now about a body count and environmental impact from NOT employing a safe and effective technology. That’s why we need to win the hearts and minds of the middle. The activists have controlled the dialog with misinformation.
Time for scientists to step up. Thank you for your great work. kevin
At the very least, all the noise that anti-GMO activists create is preventing any meaningful conversations from being had about GMOs, or agriculture for that matter. We end up spending most of our time dispelling myths, correcting misinformation, and putting out other fires intended to distract and create fear. It is indeed unfortunate that we are not seeing more benefits GE crops can potentially bring.
I don’t think that pointing out that we have been genetically modifying our food for thousands of years by hybridization and selective breeding really does much good with any intended audience. My guess is that most fence sitters and nearly all anti-GMOers would differentiate between “natural” genetic modification via hybridization and selective breeding and “synthetic/aritfical” genetic modification.
I think it’s more important to point out that we have been artificially genetically modifying plants for more than 80 years through various forms (chemical & radiation) of mutagenic breeding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding
I would argue that mutagenic breeding is less controlled and more haphazzard than what is done with transgenic GMOs, but there are absolutely no labeling requirements for mutagenically derived foods, and they are allowed in certified organic foods/products without restriction, and there doesn’t appear to be a huge mutagenic breeding manufactuversy.
From the Wikipedia article: “Reports from the US National Academy of Sciences state that there is no scientific justification for regulating genetic engineered crops while not doing so for mutation breeding crops”
Anti GMOers: Be consistent or explain the difference for your positions in regards to GMOs and mutagenically bred foods.
“That is almost always the central pro-GMO argument. The same person who worries about global warming, seems to accept an ever-growing human population.”
You mean accept it’s true? It’s the only way I can see this sentence making any sense in context at all.
“If you don’t like human-made global warming, then you should not be ok with an ever-growing human population.”
Just hit the ground running making up things hardnose? Where are you getting this huge assumption?
“Developing countries usually have the fastest growing populations, and as they become westernized they will create ever more pollution. Global warming, if it really is human-caused, will get ever more out of control.”
Thanks for joining us in 2014.
“And you neglected to mention the real central reason for being anti-GMO. It is because DNA is poorly understood, and we cannot guess the long term effects.”
WTF does this even mean?
“But we are babies playing with fire, so I do not think our experiments with the foundations of life will turn out well.”
Hardnose, this statement right here is how I know you are lying about your ‘scientific’ background.
Queue Mlema swamping this thread with sweet anti-GMO articles from Indian newspapers while JAQ’ing off.
Anti-gmo activist try to convince peoples that gmos are automatically bad for the environment. But if they are diseases resistant, so you need to grow less of them to have the same yield, because less of you crop die, if they use less water, if you can use less pesticide., if their can resist more harsh condition, so you can grow them in place were people are starving. In the end you can reduce the quantity of resources used to grow food to feed more people. What in all that is bad for the environment?
BUT a lot of anti-GMO activists defend global warming, and when you talk to them about the AGW deniers and the strategies they use, they agree with you, and become «Pro-Science», but shift the topic on GMO, and the become exactly the same as AGM deniers, and they don’t even see it. and reallt don’t like to be point as the same. ( I had the same problem with a lady friend of mine who is Anti-fluoride).
Luckily At least One of them did! and really, koodoo to Mark Lynas.
On a SGU episode you talked about Fungus being a great cause of dying crops, destroying the equivalent of crop to feed 600 millions person, it is a lot spoiled food. If a GMO could help reduce that problem, in what universe is this bad?
I totally agree with the way you see this topics. You put this in words, a lot better and with a lot more science, than I could ever done! Thanks!
rezistnzisfutl- I agree, the only way to communicate this with a well-fed public is to win back the emotion- we need pathos. They can claim lumpy rats, but we don’t wheel out blind kids. We need to focus away from Bt and roundup ready and focus on missed opportunities. What didn’t we do? What are the costs ?
The urgent focus should be on stopping or at least slowing population growth, not on growing more food.
You might not have noticed (anti-GMO blinkers oblige), but raising living standards, and giving people things to desire happens to be the best way to slow down population growth. Countries with the lowest living standards tend to have the highest birth rates. Many developed countries will have to deal with population decreases in the near future.
While purposefully starving people, as you apparently advocate, isn’t a very ethical way to rein in populations, creating a perceived shortage of resources by making it possible (and socially required) for people to acquire a house, a vehicle, holidays and other material goods has exactly the same result (fewer children). As a bonus, no one can dispute the morality of improving people’s lives.
I don’t advocate starving anyone. I advocate not promoting GMOs as a way to provide for an ever-increasing population. That is the ONLY justification I have seen from GMO proponents.
GMOs won’t help to westernize poor undeveloped nations. If you want to westernize people because you think it’s a better way to live, and so they will have something to do besides have babies, that is a different subject.
The need for ever more food is a justification for reckless genetic engineering.
Let’s face it, scientists in general enjoy messing with nature. I can’t really blame them for that. So they find supposedly compassionate reasons why it must be done. But it’s just an excuse.
The general public, on the other hand, does not feel safe with GMOs, and I can certainly understand why. Monsanto, etc. have enough money to suppress research findings they don’t like. They can ruin the career of anyone who dissents. Don’t be naïve and say that doesn’t happen here, it surely does.
Have there really been enough long-term studies to assure us that GMOs don’t contribute to allergies, autoimmune disorders, cancer etc.? I really doubt it.
Thank you so much for writing this Steven. It helps tremendously when people such as yourself weigh in on these issues because it makes us science communicators come off just a little less crazy when we’re in the wasp nests and viper pits trying to inject a little bit of reason and scientific evidence.
I know you’re a meticulous and thorough researcher, and I don’t know if any of this will be useful to you, but in my little corner of the internet we have a dedicated bunch of people volunteering for a project called Skepti-Forum. Together our community has discussed extensively the claims you’ve written about and much more. We’ve been trying to put together a few resources to make everyone’s lives easier, and there might be some data here you could use.
For example, we’re working on this Wiki of scientific literature which includes people such as Seralini, Carmen, and Huber. We include critical evaluations and references that people can read to understand these situations more clearly. You can find that page here: http://wiki.skeptiforum.org/wiki/Scientific_Literature_on_GMOs
That page begun out of our evidence-based Facebook discussions and is our attempt at trying to get more organised. While a little less organised given we’re using Facebook tools, we’ve been collecting our discussions covering a wide range of issues surrounding genetic-modification: http://wiki.skeptiforum.org/wiki/GMO_Skepti-Forum_Threads
By doing this, we’ve been able to receive then apply skeptical inquiry to the various claims and memes that circulate around social networks such as Facebook. A lot of people have found this endeavour to be useful, so I thought I should share here.
All in all, I really appreciate you speaking up on this issue because your words and references significantly help small projects such as ours.
If you ever have some information you think should be on our Wiki, please let me know. I also know that you’re a bigger public speaker and might have contractual obligations, but if you’re ever bored, there are many people on our forum who would love to have a Q&A with you.
Hardnose, I guess you’d call me a proponent, and it is not only about more people. It is about a smarter planet of well cared for people that can make good decisions for a common goal.
We can’t expect the hungry in places with rampant disease and malnourishment to participate in family planning.
My hope is that we’d use the best of all technologies to raise up the living standards everyone, to the point where they can become educated, safe, healthy, and able to participate in a larger plan for humanity.
GM is also about the resources. We’re looking at limited phosphorous and water in the next fifty years. How do we sustain production?
GM is also about the environment. How do we make more on less space with fewer inputs?
It is about helping farmers remain in business. Someone has to make the food, and by controlling input costs and ensuring yields, GM can be of value.
So there you have it. It is not just about feeding more. It is a technology with positives and negatives, but with many more benefits than risks– and that will only get better with time. Use all technology as soon as possible to make the future a good place to end up.
I’m of the opinion hardnose is a troll. He generally drops in, makes a few offhand, ridiculous statements then disappears. I can’t ever recall him having a consistent conversation about anything here. Occasionally he even claims to be a scientist himself but as you can see from his posts this is nearly impossible.
Yeah, His inconsistency is consistent lol He is definitively a troll, maybe a true believers, maybe not. who care really about him, it’s the people that read stuff like he write and are fence sitters that counts.
I think it’s good when people making mistakes engage in a discussion. Whether they will consider changing their stance is really unimportant. What’s more important is when those fence sitters do come across these types of discussions they can get an understanding of where people like this go wrong and hopefully that pushes them in the direction of reason.
““The general public, on the other hand, does not feel safe with GMOs, and I can certainly understand why”
The general public appears benevolent on the matter. Don’t mistake a few squeeky wheels for ‘the public’.”
Interestingly, I linked this blog post on facebook last night and I was fully expecting some of my more “interesting” friends to make comments, if not here then definitely on the facebook post itself. Nothing, not one word.
As for hardnose being a troll, I don’t think so, I think he is genuine in his beliefs. He gives the impression of being an older gentleman who has some very fixed and jaded views on just about everything and while honestly wanting to engage lacks the tools and the deeper understanding. Very much an armchair critic.
Yeah GMO’s are one of those things I think people sort of cringe at but don’t really understand what the discussion actually is. They make that gut naturalistic fallacy because they’ve seen a few memes on facebook or whatnot but really I don’t think most people care where their food comes from.
Many scientists are quite un-scientific outside of their comfort zone. The human mind can partition itself in rational and irrational (ideological) parts quite easily, and use different standards of reasoning without even becoming aware of the lack of coherence.
I have read the whole article, and just re-read it. The authors states essentially that “some GMO critics maintain” that there are possible unknown risks. It’s just lip service to the unintended consequences thing. They do not give credence to any specific anti-GMO claim.
The Scientific American article states that there is a small minority of reasonably credible scientists who are worried that, further down the line, there might be unforeseen negative consequences to GM foods, and therefore call for continued vigilance and testing. Apart from the lone toxicologist defending the Seralini rat study – if the results are so striking, why aren’t we seeing the effects, epidemiologically, all over the place? – there is nothing remotely unreasonable in there.
However, there is also nothing in there that contradicts anything said in this blog post. The popular claims of the anti-GMO movement as detailed here remain outright lies. To side with people who spread those lies only serves to obscure the actual, far more relevant issues. Richard Dawkins said as much (and more, and better than I ever could) more than 14 years ago in his open letter to Prince Charles (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2000/may/21/gm.food1). It’s sad that we still have to repeat this over and over again, while hundreds of thousands of people died and continue to die preventable deaths due to the ignorance and fear of a vocal minority.
Everything has possible, unknown risks. Everything. That’s the danger of not being omniscient and living in an uncertain universe. The thing is, science gives us useful, predictive theories that give us more accurate odds than our instincts and superstitions as well as some ideas of what to expect when we do something new.
The problem I have with the anti-GMO crowd is that they don’t seem to have a coherent theoretical framework that lead to their dire predictions. The closest I’ve seen them come is an appeal to hazards that arise from unexpected interactions between genes, which is possible, but they don’t apply that standard consistently: Breeding also produces novel combinations and can produce mutations that are just as likely to produce the same sorts of hazards. Nature isn’t as static, sterile, and passive as the anti-GMO double standard assumes.
We’ve done okay with the opaqueness of GM by breeding for millennia, so why would a more transparent and controlled GM process be inherently riskier? If something does go wrong with the newer method, it’d be a lot easier to track down and analyze. If something goes wrong as a result of good old fashioned breeding, there’s no paper trail to follow.
“I have read the whole article, and just re-read it. The authors states essentially that “some GMO critics maintain” that there are possible unknown risks. It’s just lip service to the unintended consequences thing. They do not give credence to any specific anti-GMO claim.”
“across campus, David Williams, a cellular biologist who specializes in vision, has the opposite complaint. “A lot of naive science has been involved in pushing this technology,” he says. “Thirty years ago we didn’t know that when you throw any gene into a different genome, the genome reacts to it. But now anyone in this field knows the genome is not a static environment. Inserted genes can be transformed by several different means, and it can happen generations later.” The result, he insists, could very well be potentially toxic plants slipping through testing.
Williams concedes that he is among a tiny minority of biologists raising sharp questions about the safety of GM crops. But he says this is only because the field of plant molecular biology is protecting its interests. Funding, much of it from the companies that sell GM seeds, heavily favors researchers who are exploring ways to further the use of genetic modification in agriculture. He says that biologists who point out health or other risks associated with GM crops—who merely report or defend experimental findings that imply there may be risks—find themselves the focus of vicious attacks on their credibility, which leads scientists who see problems with GM foods to keep quiet.”
And opponents say that it is not true that the GM process is less likely to cause problems simply because fewer, more clearly identified genes are switched. David Schubert, an Alzheimer’s researcher who heads the Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., asserts that a single, well-characterized gene can still settle in the target plant’s genome in many different ways. “It can go in forward, backward, at different locations, in multiple copies, and they all do different things,” he says. And as U.C.L.A.’s Williams notes, a genome often continues to change in the successive generations after the insertion, leaving it with a different arrangement than the one intended and initially tested. There is also the phenomenon of “insertional mutagenesis,” Williams adds, in which the insertion of a gene ends up quieting the activity of nearby genes.
True, the number of genes affected in a GM plant most likely will be far, far smaller than in conventional breeding techniques. Yet opponents maintain that because the wholesale swapping or alteration of entire packages of genes is a natural process that has been happening in plants for half a billion years, it tends to produce few scary surprises today. Changing a single gene, on the other hand, might turn out to be a more subversive action, with unexpected ripple effects, including the production of new proteins that might be toxins or allergens.
Opponents also point out that the kinds of alterations caused by the insertion of genes from other species might be more impactful, more complex or more subtle than those caused by the intraspecies gene swapping of conventional breeding. And just because there is no evidence to date that genetic material from an altered crop can make it into the genome of people who eat it does not mean such a transfer will never happen—or that it has not already happened and we have yet to spot it. These changes might be difficult to catch; their impact on the production of proteins might not even turn up in testing. “You’d certainly find out if the result is that the plant doesn’t grow very well,” Williams says. “But will you find the change if it results in the production of proteins with long-term effects on the health of the people eating it?”
Schubert joins Williams as one of a handful of biologists from respected institutions who are willing to sharply challenge the GM-foods-are-safe majority. Both charge that more scientists would speak up against genetic modification if doing so did not invariably lead to being excoriated in journals and the media. These attacks, they argue, are motivated by the fear that airing doubts could lead to less funding for the field. Says Williams: “Whether it’s conscious or not, it’s in their interest to promote this field, and they’re not objective.”
Both scientists say that after publishing comments in respected journals questioning the safety of GM foods, they became the victims of coordinated attacks on their reputations. Schubert even charges that researchers who turn up results that might raise safety questions avoid publishing their findings out of fear of repercussions. “If it doesn’t come out the right way,” he says, “you’re going to get trashed.”
There is evidence to support that charge. In 2009 Nature detailed the backlash to a reasonably solid study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA by researchers from Loyola University Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. The paper showed that GM corn seemed to be finding its way from farms into nearby streams and that it might pose a risk to some insects there because, according to the researchers’ lab studies, caddis flies appeared to suffer on diets of pollen from GM corn. Many scientists immediately attacked the study, some of them suggesting the researchers were sloppy to the point of misconduct.
There is a middle ground in this debate. Many moderate voices call for continuing the distribution of GM foods while maintaining or even stepping up safety testing on new GM crops. They advocate keeping a close eye on the health and environmental impact of existing ones. But they do not single out GM crops for special scrutiny, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Jaffe notes: all crops could use more testing. “We should be doing a better job with food oversight altogether,” he says.
Even Schubert agrees. In spite of his concerns, he believes future GM crops can be introduced safely if testing is improved. “Ninety percent of the scientists I talk to assume that new GM plants are safety-tested the same way new drugs are by the fda,” he says. “They absolutely aren’t, and they absolutely should be.”
There’s not much substance in there, HN, just some vague allusions to tinkering with nature being a bad idea. They even acknowledge:
“True, the number of genes affected in a GM plant most likely will be far, far smaller than in conventional breeding techniques.”
Okay, so why would deliberate gene insertions on a ‘far, far’ smaller scale than occurs through breeding be dangerous?
“Yet opponents maintain that because the wholesale swapping or alteration of entire packages of genes is a natural process that has been happening in plants for half a billion years, it tends to produce few scary surprises today. Changing a single gene, on the other hand, might turn out to be a more subversive action, with unexpected ripple effects, including the production of new proteins that might be toxins or allergens.”
Oh, I see – naturalistic fallacy plus ‘we don’t know but it might be bad’. No suggested mechanisms and no empirical data to back this up?
I don’t know a lot about the science behind GMOs, which is why I’ve not commented much, but I have been following the comments thread, and I don’t recall anyone arguing against your last quote ‘MODERATE VIEW’.
I think this tallies pretty well with the view espoused in the original post in fact. Nobody here has argued that GM is completely without risk, or that testing and safety procedures and regulation should be relaxed, just that the common objections tend to be based on conspiracy thinking and appeal to emotion rather than the science, and don’t address the real issues.
“Nobody here has argued that GM is completely without risk, or that testing and safety procedures and regulation should be relaxed, just that the common objections tend to be based on conspiracy thinking and appeal to emotion rather than the science, and don’t address the real issues.”
If you consider any controversial issue at all, you will find crazed conspiracy theorists. These crazed conspiracy theorists are used to discredit anyone who dissents from Big Science, Big Drug or Big Gov.
Anyone who is not a trusting placid sheep gets thrown in with the wackos.
That is not fair or honest.
It is very easy to demolish the arguments of wackos, much harder to deny the reasoning of sober skeptics.
We should be very careful about GMOs, especially regarding possible subtle long-term health effects.
‘admits’ there ‘may’. That’s not enough for me. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there were some of this happening, sometimes, but this is far from evidence of a systematic suppression of negative research. Grand conspiracy this ain’t.
It is probably only a small percentage of researchers that even try to dissent. And of those that try, who knows what percentage are trashed.
Most scientists are more concerned about their careers than about discovering truth. This is understandable, since everyone has to survive somehow. But it means that science is very far from being an infallible oracle. Wherever you find a mainstream consensus, you will also probably find a mob. And mobs are generally vicious. They have too much invested in their “truth.”
It is common for scientists in the small minority to feel persecuted by the majority. It’s mostly bullshit. If the evidence were there, the minority would become the majority.
Those quotes all add up to – speculation about unforseen consequences. When you drill down on any specific concern, there isn’t much there to be concerned about. Of course, this all warrants further research, we need to monitor and research new GM strains, and tread carefully. That is the general position of those who are positive toward GM technology (that you dismiss as placid sheep).
We are criticizing the excessive abuse of the precautionary principle. For ideologues, they take it to an absolute degree, so no amount of research would ever be enough.
Dr. Novella, that’s not a realistic portrayal of what independent scientists are saying. Even the IAASTD, which I think can be considered to be the IPCC equivalent on food, science and technology for 2050 says that development in biotechnology has outpaced testing and regulatory capability. Until you take time to investigate this technology you won’t be able to make a critical assessment of its applications or the political and economic environment in which they’re employed. A number of legitimate concerns have been raised. You’re simply not interested in looking at them. You’ve got access, and we’ve had discussions before. Why not take some time to gain some expertise?
Mlema – you are making false assumptions. I have looked at these issues. I have spoken to scientists in relevant fields, such as genetics. I understand the issues raised.
As I have written at least several times, I favor further research and careful study of new GMOs. Research is never complete, nor are regulations ever perfect.
I agree that there are legitimate concerns about biotech. As I wrote – we should focus on the actual concerns, and not the myths. In this regard, it is the anti-GMO crowd that are counterproductive. They are the ones generating the myths.
Having said that – so far, specific safety concerns brought up about GMOs, when you take a close look at the actual published evidence, are not major. They certainly do not warrant taking an anti-GMO stance, or criticizing the entire technology with vague warnings about unintended consequences.
If you disagree, then refer to a specific technological concern with GMOs and let’s take a deep dive.
“Even the IAASTD, which I think can be considered to be the IPCC equivalent on food, science and technology for 2050 says that development in biotechnology has outpaced testing and regulatory capability.”
That is not in the IAASTD report. I could be wrong, its a long report, so if you could directly quote the part in the report, that’d be great.
I think you probably got that from an article that just made it up. If you did get that information from an article, could you link to it?
Cool Doc. I will qualify my comments in this way:
I’ve never said that my concerns warrant taking an anti-GMO stance, or criticizing the entire technology. As you know I feel that this technology has been of untold benefit in medicine. Also, I’ve said that particular agricultural applications have given temporary benefit, and may also play some specific role in disease prevention – although I think that is so far more efficiently done through genetic tools other than transgenic.
And since I’m not an expert, I’ll just present this as a question of sorts. We know the technology is mutagenic: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1559911/
And equivalence is generally established as:
the plant is the same as the parent, and the added genes as expressed in bacteria (typically, and which have a relatively simple secondary metabolism compared to plants) don’t cause concern – therefore, the GMO plant is safe.
Is equivalence which is established in this way adequate to prevent problems caused by the method and gene by which we’ve altered the parent? Please let me know if I’m not explaining this well. In other words – we don’t typically test the whole transgenic plant. We say: if the parent is safe, and the product of the inserted gene is safe – then the transgenic product is safe. But this doesn’t take into account the effects of the process and the resultant “new” disregulation which always happens when you insert the transgene.
Further, feeding trials don’t rule out problems. So, for instance (on something topical), there were apparently feeding trials done on bt brinjal prior to release. But this dude says:
“The safety claims made for these plants are not supported by existing data. On the contrary, there are alarming signs that the consumption of food derived from these plants could result in adverse health effects. In addition the feedings studies show major deficiencies in the protocol used for the feeding trial and do not meet international standards.”
He was funded by a group that wants to keep gmos out of agriculture, which is probably a fair counterpoint to the industry that wants to add them. So can someone impartial examine the feeding studies and tell us if they were or weren’t deficient? and do the results show concerns?
and, since I don’t know how familiar you are with the subject, “biotechnology” covers a number of genetic technologies, not all of which are GMO. So note remarks limited to transgenic or GMO. I would say the report see no major role for GMOs as they’re currently utilized in industrialized nations.
That you would cherry pick and misrepresent the author’s intent with your extracted quotes from Freedman’s article is hilarious. You do understand that the following is intended to convey how few qualified people there are challenging GMO safety, right? It is not championing the scrappy few rebels under Admiral Ackbar’s command with the courage to stand against the Empire.
“Schubert joins Williams as one of a handful of biologists from respected institutions who are willing to sharply challenge the GM-foods-are-safe majority.”
You don’t have too dig: The subtitle explains that the article is about listening to “proponents” and “critics” to decide “who is right.” You have simply discarded Freedman’s coverage of the proponents, leaving only the critics — the equivalent of showing only the debits (and not the credits) on a balance sheet and then exclaiming aha! because there are only negative numbers. Even for you, this is silly.
“He was funded by a group that wants to keep gmos out of agriculture, which is probably a fair counterpoint to the industry that wants to add them.”
This is why people accurately characterize you as an ideologue. If you can’t parse this statement of yours for fallacies and specious reasoning, then I simply call ‘baloney.’ You can’t have haunted these pages for so long and still claim to be a babe in the woods.
Mlema: “Even the IAASTD, which I think can be considered to be the IPCC equivalent on food, science and technology for 2050 says that development in biotechnology has outpaced testing and regulatory capability.”
Hoss: That is not in the IAASTD report. I could be wrong, its a long report, so if you could directly quote the part in the report, that’d be great.
Mlema: Hoss, here’s the report: [Link]
there’s also a synthesis: [Link]
and, since I don’t know how familiar you are with the subject, “biotechnology” covers a number of genetic technologies, not all of which are GMO. So note remarks limited to transgenic or GMO. I would say the report see no major role for GMOs as they’re currently utilized in industrialized nations.”
I searched the 600 page report again, this time more thoroughly. I still can’t find what you’re attributing to the report. Again, if you could quote the report directly, that would be great.
In regards to the definition of biotechnology in the report:
“The IAASTD definition of biotechnology is based on that in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Carta- gena Protocol on Biosafety. It is a broad term embracing the manipulation of living organisms and spans the large range of activities from conventional techniques for fermentation and plant and animal breeding to recent innovations in tissue culture, irradiation, genomics and marker-assisted breeding (MAB) or marker assisted selection (MAS) to augment natu- ral breeding.”
Mlema: “I would say the report see no major role for GMOs as they’re currently utilized in industrialized nations.”
Are you sure about that? Here are a couple quotes from the report.
“A number of challenges—scientific, regulatory, social and economic—will fundamentally influence the degree to which genetic engineering is used in crop and livestock improve- ment research over the coming decades. Greater or lesser use of genetic engineering will, in turn, shape the evolution of the agricultural sector and biodiversity. Conventional breeding and genetic engineering are complements; thus the reference case development pathway includes a combina- tion of a strong traditional plant breeding capacity together with the use of transgenic traits when useful, cost-efficient, pro-poor, and environmentally sustainable. A wide range of new traits are at various stages of development, some of which are likely to lead to varieties that are drought-resis- tant, exhibit improved nutritional content of feed and feed- stuffs, and offer enhanced shelf-life (Graff et al., 2005). It is likely that a combination of transgenic and conventional breeding approaches will be necessary to meet the crop im- provement requirements of the next 50 years.”
“18.104.22.168 Alternative pathways—more biotechnology
In spite of the limited growth in the development of trans- genics, it is possible that these technologies will reemerge as a major contributor to agricultural growth and productivity.”
I have a suspicion you’ll somehow weasel your way out of this.
I’ll only say that these are projections. Treat them as such.
One of the “Persistent Anti-GMO Myths” mentioned in the title is the one about GMO research somehow being bought and paid for by industry. It is a myth, because it isn’t true. If you make the claim that the world’s safety and regulatory bodies — or anyone here — have based their claims about GMO safety on tainted, industry-paid junk-science, you are spreading a myth. By doing so, you are calling everyone, from the AAAS down to little old me, a shill.
The Unpaid Shill Myth
This is the thing where a critic of GMO doubles down on calling you a whore by saying you give it away for free.
mlema – It is true that gene insertion can cause regional mutagenesis, usually upregulating or downregulating protein production. This is partly why the process is so tedious and time consuming. Many insertions are made, and only the healthy cells are used. After multiple selections, the plant with the new gene is back crossed multiple times to the parent to establish a stable and healthy line with the new gene.
“Many scientists are quite un-scientific outside of their comfort zone.”
With hardnose it’s not simply a case of someone expressing opinions outside of his wheel house. He often expresses views and opinions that are completely ignorant of the basic things all scientists should be aware of.
pnambic culled the important message from that scientificamerican article you posted:
“The Scientific American article states that there is a small minority of reasonably credible scientists who are worried that, further down the line, there might be unforeseen negative consequences to GM foods, and therefore call for continued vigilance and testing.”
The key to note here is that those of us who support GMO aren’t advocating uncontrolled experimentation or dissemination of GMO products. I certainly feel that it’s something we need to keep an eye on and definitely needs to be regulated. However, the potential for good it can do outweighs any irrational fear I might have. As Bronze Dog points out, everything has an aspect of risk. I equate concern with GMO’s as similar to concern that LHC will create a black hoe that destroys the world.
All the specific concerns in that article are dealt with reasonably by ongoing monitoring and testing.
“Many scientists immediately attacked the study, some of them suggesting the researchers were sloppy to the point of misconduct.”
This doesn’t sound like an “attack” as it is a genuine criticism of the study.
“The Scientific American article acknowledged that anyone who tries to publish research that does not confirm the mainstream pro-GMO consensus, gets trashed.”
No, your only citation was ‘backlash” and “attack” that sounds more like criticism of bad science.
“These crazed conspiracy theorists are used to discredit anyone who dissents from Big Science, Big Drug or Big Gov”
First of all, the minute you begin to use ‘Big’ anything you’re sliding into conspiracy land. Dissent is one thing, and as skeptics we naturally encourage questioning, however we also appreciate scientific consensus. Once you part from that, again you begin your slide into conspiracy land.
“I think it should be adequate for now that Scientific American admits there may be a mainstream pro-GMO mob, which prevents dissenting voices from being heard or respected.”
So one editorial article implying questioning bad science is an ‘attack’ is sufficient for you? And you wonder why you’re claims of a science background won’t be taken seriously?
“It is probably only a small percentage of researchers that even try to dissent.”
“Sometimes the evidence isn’t there — yet — because the mob blocks it”
Now ay you should be lumped into the conspiracy crowd hardnose…
” Until you take time to investigate this technology you won’t be able to make a critical assessment of its applications or the political and economic environment in which they’re employed.”
You mean appeal to your biased sources for information on anti-GMO views? Should I point out Dr. Novella has posted several blogs on this subject, provided plenty of useful and reasonable sources for his information, all that implies he’s done some research? Meanwhile you sling newspaper articles as evidence mlema, who do you think appears to have done the more reasonable research?
“I’ve never said that my concerns warrant taking an anti-GMO stance, or criticizing the entire technology”
Do I need to go ahead and dig through for some more deliciously biased quotes from you on several articles on this blog indicating otherwise? this is one of your more egregious claims because 1 – you’re bias strongly shows you are anti-GMO and 2 – it’s easy enough to find all the support from your quotes directly to prove you do not mean what you say here. Stop being disingenuous and just fess up mlema. This backpedaling has just got ridiculous.
“I equate concern with GMO’s as similar to concern that LHC will create a black hole that destroys the world.”
This is a gem. For some reason, every overstuffed idiot on the internet thinks they are an expert on food science (presumably because they eat). Only a few know quite so little about high energy particle physics to be scared of black holes at CERN. But you nailed it: they equate. Mlema will invoke the precautionary principle until we’re all frozen in time and Hardnose will rankle at the shadowy reach of Big Proton.
That’s the problem, and why they coincide in my mind. In both cases it’s an extreme level of misunderstanding. In both cases they don’t understand the science and so their irrational fears feed their activism. Look at the crux of hardnose and mlemas most ‘reasonable’ argument – that we don’t know what will happen in the future. The truth is we have a strong idea, but no one would insist we ‘know’ anything about what might happen in the future. However if we balked every time we didn’t know what results down the road would be exploration would be dead in the water – we’d never have discovered other cultures, other lands, gone to the moon, or really accomplished much of anything.
The only reasonable approach is to be cautious but optimistic. Mlema likes to paint himself as just that, but his rhetoric doesn’t support that.
That’s what it comes down to, is the Nirvana Fallacy – they want unattainable and unrealistic guarantees of safety, things that they don’t even demand of their vaunted “certified organic” anyway.
I recall in my first engineering mechanics of materials class when we were utilizing Safety Factor that structures comprising specific materials cannot exceed, and the discussion came up as to how these Factors of Safety (FOS) were determined, and why they weren’t higher/lower. In essence, if we were to make cars, for instance, with an extremely high Safety Factor, they’d weigh many tons and would get terrible fuel economy, and there would not be many cars on the road because they’d be prohibitively expensive. The same goes with pretty much any engineering endeavor where structural considerations are taken into account. Many of the conveniences we now take for granted would never have been introduced, and many of the life saving and life extending things, we wouldn’t know about.
Nothing in the world is risk free. We could hole ourselves up in our homes and move as little as possible, and we’d still be at risk (most accidents occur around the home, sedentary lifestyle, etc). Furthermore, to demand all but a perfect safety guarantee without making similar demands on similar things (certified organic, for instance) is irrational. That is what they are abusing the precautionary principle to the point of Nirvana Fallacy. Nothing in the world is without some element of risk to it.
“Many scientists immediately attacked the study, some of them suggesting the researchers were sloppy to the point of misconduct.”
As @grabula pointed out, these “attacks” were in fact criticisms of the study. Digging up a five-year-old article about a seven-year-old paper is pretty far to have to go for evidence of a conspiracy. It goes without saying that this “smoking gun” of yours has nothing to do with food or environmental safety. Even if you spin it just right, it is a stretch to say the Nature article is about bullying. It is about how, on certain charged topics, a scientist can expect an outsized reaction from the scientific community and should better know their territory. No passes given for rookie mistakes.
Since Kevin Folta has been visiting here, and I am particularly fond of quoting him on this exact point, I will explain, using his words, why you need to bring your A game if going against scientific consensus:
“Those that support the hypothesis that GM crops are dangerous need to have the cleanest experiments, perfect controls, massive numbers, good replicates and appropriate statistics.”
Rosi-Marshall’s paper did not. Criticisms of the study include: that there was no dose-response assessment (there should have been); that assumptions were made about toxicity in pollen (they should not have been); that improper controls were used; that the study’s conclusions were overstated; and that the study’s data did not support statements made by its authors in the paper.
You essentially went back in time five years to find a fluffy feature article concluding that GMO science is a hot-button topic. Stop the presses!
“Don’t expect mlema to help you out here. His MO is to generally require YOU do the footwork for him.”
I expected as much, but its yet another demonstration of Mlema not checking sources that mesh with his ideology. You’d think with being called out on it so frequently, that it’d cause a change in behavior, but such is the life of an ideologue.
Yes, I call it the Google-Gallop: Have a view, hit google up for a few links that look like they support your view and then copy and paste them into the conversation with a few lines about “Scientists always lie but the internet doesn’t!!! LOOK… I FOUND BLUE UNDERLINED CLICKY TEXT!!!”
Wait for people to concede out of pure frustration.
How is it that a survey of the criticisms have been laid out in the post and we are 90+ comments in and no one has brought up Nassim N Taleb’s gauntlet dropping paper in response to the pro-GMO community? A thorough understanding of risk is essential to any meaningful examination of this issue. So far no one has been able to provide a valid on point criticism to his position.
It’s a testament to how educated the readers of this blog are that it took quite a few posts before someone showed up and linked to the crackpot Jeffrey Smith (and I’m not even sure if they were endorsing him or just posting it). Or it’s at least a testament that this article hasn’t yet been linked to by any anti-GMO sites.
Steven, one point I don’t know if I’ve ever seen made – considering the widespread use of GMO’s (granted it’s still only on some crops), IF they caused all the horrible health issues claimed for them, statistically wouldn’t we have seen HUGE spikes in all sorts of diseases over the last 20+ years that would have put the entire scientific community in a panic to determine the cause?
Granted the loony bin anti-GMOers already makes all sorts of outrageous claims about disease being on the rise, but that’s beside the point.
On a side note, I don’t know how often other folks here search on GMO’s, but if you want to see just how badly the science side is losing when it comes to informing about GMO, do a Google search. You’ll likely find that 95% or more of the hits are fear mongering pseudoscience sites. And the worse part is they all SOUND like they are promoting science, the average person would never be able to tell the difference.
That’s a separate subject, but as long as the Internet allows anyone to publish and search results are based on popularity and not expertise, how can science combat that type of misinformation? I’m simply posing a question, not suggesting we should limit the Internet. I would though, like to see some type of Internet search that filters based on “established science”.
“On a side note, I don’t know how often other folks here search on GMO’s, but if you want to see just how badly the science side is losing when it comes to informing about GMO, do a Google search. You’ll likely find that 95% or more of the hits are fear mongering pseudoscience sites.”
Yep, doing research for my paper was a drag. A lot of them are obvious up front about their stance but some start out looking like a science based website then quickly turn into a hive of scum and villainy. I can’t imagine what the average person would get from this if they decided to do a little research on their own
Hoss, I don’t know how serious you are in wanting to know what the IAASTD document is saying. It really is a pretty astounding accomplishment, directed by the same gentleman who was the IPCC chairman from 1997 to 2002 – Robert Wilson. I can’t pull out just one statement matching my own – because this paper is a comprehensive assessment of everything having to do with science and agriculture – and GMOs are only a tiny part of what’s addressed in a global setting. I would say read the first chapter, then go to chapter 3, read the “key messages”. Then go through 3.2 and scan the italicized statements. Then, if you want to go back to 5.5.4 and read the whole of section 5, it will be more clear that 5 is about projections in consideration of a number of drivers and “synergies”. A reference case is given and alternative pathways are portrayed.
Hopefully if you’re willing to do that you’ll understand why I said that the consensus doesn’t see a major role for GMOs as they are today – which is 99% corporate-owned pesticide producing or pesticide resistant commodity crops. There are too many problems with access, biodiversity, environmental and economic issues.
Your quote regarding the definition of biotechnology is a perfect illustration of what I’ve warned against. That is: many breeding technologies utilize modern genetic knowledge and tools but aren’t transgenic. All those you’ve listed are considered extensions of conventional breeding. (although gene splicing is of course GMO) Basically: biotechnology, including genetic tools, isn’t all GMO. I guess you understand that, but I wasn’t sure from the quote you pulled. One industry hope is that we’ll all refer to all breeding as “genetic modification” – thereby confusing the differences between these technologies and removing regulatory barriers.
It doesn’t seem to me that Mark Lynas was ever much of an anti-gmo activist. He claims to be a founder of the anti-gmo movement. I’m sure someone here will find some evidence of that. I do find evidence that he was recruited by biotech to further their interests in Europe by influencing public opinion. Of course, those who uncritically support anything “gmo” will not see anything untoward in this (despite the fact that “gmo” doesn’t narrow down what we’re actually talking about very much.) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/interactive/2011/oct/20/gm-food
He said he engaged in vandalism of field trials of GMOs. So you know he’s not a rational person, or somebody that has the ability to discriminate cause and effect. He’s not a crop scientist, or a molecular biologist or genetic engineer – so why should i believe he knows what he’s talking about or isn’t being disingenuous for personal gain? Everything he says seems to be pretty standard fare for an industry proponent.
In a similar non-scientific way, Keith Kloor is a writer (not a scientist) who has actively sought to disseminate the idea that anti-gmoers are equivalent to climate change deniers. I first have to say: I do think there’s a consensus among scientists that the climate is changing due to human activity. But – I don’t see any scientists who are anti-gmo. It’s not really possible for a scientist to be anti-gmo. It’s like saying “I’m anti-technology”. I do, however, see a lot of non-scientists who are anti-gmo and anti-monsanto (the company that has become synonymous with “gmo” due to it’s development of transgenic crops which comprise nearly 100% of all gmos in existence) When someone is anti-monsanto, they are automatically anti-gmo – because that is Monsanto’s products. If those people realized that some of the medicines their families depend on were genetically engineered, their approach to gmos might be different. But, as it turns out, many pro-gmoers are similarly indiscriminate in their approach to the science. There’s plenty of mythologizing to go around. Industry advocates (biotech, organic industry, etc.) work hard to exploit this lack of knowledge on both sides. They point out the pseudoscience on one side, or misrepresent the real science on the other.
For instance, there are plenty of climate change deniers who avidly support biotech. There’s no real equivalency on these issues (beyond the fictional one created by industry proponents in order to marginalize scientists who raise legitimate concerns)
Regarding the Indian cotton farmer suicide myth. Dr. Novella makes the common mistake of reacting to an extreme narrative to in turn dismiss the actual and complex story of bt cotton in India. He refers to Mike Stone’s report on his work with Indian cotton farmers to support increased yields. http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone/stone-wd-largerquestions.pdf
But he fails to consider what the paper is actually about (latching on to “yields” in the abstract perhaps.)
Statistics on yield are widely variable. But more importantly, they don’t paint the whole picture of overlaying American biotech on Indian farming. This same author provides the following discussion on bt cotton narratives http://makanaka.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/understanding-how-bt-cotton-deskilled-farmers-in-india/
If you spend much time trying to figure out the correlation between bt cotton and yields, you’ll find that anything you want to believe can be supported by someone with more or less credibility.
I guess Dr. Novella liked the paper I linked to earlier on income and bt cotton (Jonas Kathage/Matin Qaim; University of Goettingen), but didn’t like the one I linked to which discusses the ongoing debate its findings are a part of. http://www.scidev.net/global/biotechnology/news/bt-cotton-yields-come-at-hidden-cost-to-farmers-study-1.html
Basically, bt cotton is just another pesticide product. Built-in instead of purchased separately. The bt cotton in India still needs pesticide applications for a number of pests not affected by, or resistant to the Cry toxins. So, the reduction in pesticide is good, right? Yes. And temporary. And harmful to some insects beneficial in integrated pest management. But what’s not temporary is that the Cry toxin genes are now engineered into almost all Indian cotton hybrids. If a farmer decided he wanted to try something different, he’d be hard-pressed to find any non-bt seeds at this point.
“Hoss, I don’t know how serious you are in wanting to know what the IAASTD document is saying.”
Yeah, Hoss, you only asked several times that Mlema produce a source and back up his claim about what the “the IAASTD says.” But you didn’t let him know if your were really serious. Perhaps you were just kidding around. Ha. Ha.
In the short time I’ve been commenting here, @Mlema has proved himself (pretty sure Mlema’s a he) to be a writer, not a reader. That is, Mlema writes endlessly, even referring you to other comments of his and footnoting himself, while clearly glossing over or ignoring what is written by others. But now we see that Mlema doesn’t even require others to engage in his particularly perverted form of JAQing off — he is quite content to write lines for everyone, “correct” copy in articles, and generally revise history to suit his desires.
I other words, @Mlema possesses the uncanny ability to always knows what everybody is really saying. This saves everyone from having to go through the trouble of actually saying it.
“Even the IAASTD … says that development in biotechnology has outpaced testing and regulatory capability.”
“Regarding the last link immediately above, I would just correct a few things written in that article.”
“So, everywhere this article reads “in the last 5 years” – read instead: since bt cotton became a notable % of planted cotton.”
“So, we shouldn’t question the safety studies commissioned by the industry – we should instead discard any examination of those studies done by industry opponents. Have I got that right?”
This last one is something I didn’t think to say. I can only imagine how the IAASTD feels.
“Regarding the Indian cotton farmer suicide myth. Dr. Novella makes the common mistake of reacting to an extreme narrative to in turn dismiss the actual and complex story of bt cotton in India.”
Well, Dr Novella, it looks like Mlema has got your number: how dare you post an entry on your blog about Mike Adams’ anti-GMO propaganda just to avoid the thorny, storied, and complex history of Bt cotton in India. It’s almost like you’re trying to redirect a narrative for some reason.
Pointing out that Kloor is a writer and not a scientist is a very bad way to cast aspersions on his bona fides. Kloor is a science writer, which means he is professionally required to not only understand science, but to be able to report on it and explain it to morons like you. The likening of anti-GMOers to climate change deniers is pithy and apt. It has become a meme and a slogan for GMO proponents. That doesn’t make it fake or a lie or a myth (like your Indian farmer genocide). Analogy is a very effective way of making a point and the GMO/climate change analogy resonates. As long as the analogy isn’t false, the argument isn’t false. In this case, the two are precisely analogous: ideologues on one side of an issue use motivated reasoning to deny the scientific consensus on that issue. Are the two exactly the same thing? Of course not: one is about climate change, the other about GMO. Please stop being so willfully dense. You just don’t like Kloor because he demolished your favorite fairy tale. Definitively. For all to see.
“It’s not really possible for a scientist to be anti-gmo.”
This is beyond dense. This is utter gibberish. You used to just put words in peoples’ mouths, now you’re deciding what is and isn’t possible for them to do. Next you’ll be telling me how to cut my hair and I just got it the way I like it! Sad face.
“Regarding the Indian cotton farmer suicide myth. Dr. Novella makes the common mistake of reacting to an extreme narrative to in turn dismiss the actual and complex story of bt cotton in India”
Stop, just stop. This myth has been put to bed to all serious and rational minds. you’ve been given enough evidence to choke a credulous donkey and yet here you are still blathering on about it. I would have thought that about 3 or 4 GMO blog posts on Neurologica you’d have realized how very wrong you are in relying on this myth but you just keep hammering away at the bones of what was once a dead horse. I’m not interested in engaging with you on anymore of your dogmatic thinking but I’d like to see you at least stop making the most egregious mistake you continue to insist on making.
Told ya. Mlema INSISTS we post and pinpoint very specific evidence and topic discussions so he can engage in his linguistic acrobatics but when asked to post some specifics to support his evidence you get a lot of evasion and ‘do your own work’ type responses.
@Steven Novella, thanks for the post, very informative.
“Also @Steven Novella, are you alerted when someone comments on one of your posts? Because I have been considering posting a comment on one of your posts from a few years ago, but I wasn’t sure if you would ever see it.”
^the quotations are because I asked this same question on your previous two posts as well.
This letter from 64 scientists proposes to diversify the panel in charge of a pending study. I wonder how the letter sits in the skeptic community. I agree with their points that the current panel is way too narrow in expertise to accurately assess GMO in totality.
“SCIENTISTS CALL FOR DIVERSITY ON NAS GMO PANEL: A group of 64 scientists is raising concerns over the panel selected by the National Academy of Sciences for its new study on genetically engineered crops, arguing that the group “does not contain the necessary expertise required” to fully answer the questions at hand. The panel put together for the study, entitled “Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects,” falls short on biophysical science, social science and international expertise, and would benefit from farmer representation as well as a better gender balance among panelists, the scientists say in their August 4 letter, which is available here: http://bit.ly/1oa43bp
A friendly reminder: the NAS panel will hold its first public meeting on the study, Sept. 15-16. Brush up on the study here: http://bit.ly/1op7wwF“
“Mlema INSISTS we post and pinpoint very specific evidence and topic discussions so he can engage in his linguistic acrobatics but when asked to post some specifics to support his evidence you get a lot of evasion and ‘do your own work’ type responses.”
Perfectly captured. As Mlema’s goalposts recede into the distance and you suffocate under an avalanche of shifted burden-of-proof, your own repeated request for a single source for a single statement goes unheeded. Still, the failure is yours, never Mlema’s (you just weren’t serious enough).
Has @Mlema ever been a fair-minded participant in discussions here? A good egg? A critical thinker? Of open mind? Not so…maddening (i.e., Mlema-y)?
“I can’t pull out just one statement matching my own – because this paper is a comprehensive assessment of everything having to do with science and agriculture – and GMOs are only a tiny part of what’s addressed in a global setting.”
You need to concede that your statement has nothing to do with the IAASTD report. Your excuse for not being able to find supporting statements in the report is a non-sequitor and a distraction. Also, I did a few google searches, and I still couldn’t find anything to support your statement.
“I would say read the first chapter, then go to chapter 3, read the “key messages”. Then go through 3.2 and scan the italicized statements. Then, if you want to go back to 5.5.4 and read the whole of section 5, it will be more clear that 5 is about projections in consideration of a number of drivers and “synergies”.”
If you can’t give a simple source quote, then I’m not doing your ridiculous f***ing reading assignment just to prove you wrong yet again.
“Hopefully if you’re willing to do that you’ll understand why I said that the consensus doesn’t see a major role for GMOs as they are today – which is 99% corporate-owned pesticide producing or pesticide resistant commodity crops. There are too many problems with access, biodiversity, environmental and economic issues.”
Actually you’re wrong. Please read the IAASTD report to find out why. I also bet you didn’t know the report suggested the relax some testing and regulations(I don’t remember off the top of my head the specifics, but they are covered in the report, which you can read for yourself) of transgenic crops.
“One industry hope is that we’ll all refer to all breeding as “genetic modification” – thereby confusing the differences between these technologies and removing regulatory barriers.”
That’s a pretty general statement. Do you have any support that Big GMO is trying to use an equivalency fallacy to undo science based regulations? My guess is that’s just another myth.
If I had to bet, I’d bet “Persistent Anti-GMO Myths” was written because of you.
“I other words, @Mlema possesses the uncanny ability to always knows what everybody is really saying. This saves everyone from having to go through the trouble of actually saying it.”
lol That’s spot on. It’s really annoying how Mlema has a tendency attribute statements to papers, when the paper says no such thing.
“Told ya. Mlema INSISTS we post and pinpoint very specific evidence and topic discussions so he can engage in his linguistic acrobatics but when asked to post some specifics to support his evidence you get a lot of evasion and ‘do your own work’ type responses.”
I find Mlema’s evasiveness when pressed to be extremely dishonest. Mlema’s commenting history demonstrates he’s currently incapable of an objective analysis of GMOs. I’m tired of reading the consistent nonsense, which stands contrary to the science.
Sorry Mlema for this sounding like a personal attack against you(it’s not). I just find your reasoning and your beliefs annoying as f***.
“Sorry Mlema for this sounding like a personal attack against you(it’s not). I just find your reasoning and your beliefs annoying as f***.”
Mlema has pretty thick skin, but keeps the “wounded to the core” card right up his sleeve. He will play it when backed into a corner (he did with me). But I think Mlema is playing a longer game: the ol’ “driven to suicide” gambit. When we’re all dead or drunk or institutionalized, Mlema wins!
” I wonder how the letter sits in the skeptic community.”
Which skeptical community are we talking about? Something specific? This skeptical community? Are you part of this skeptical community? Do you consider yourself a skeptic? Are you trying to build some sort of dichotomy between what you call a “skeptic” and what you think a real skeptic is?
Moving forward I’m going to have a hard time taking anyone seriously on a skeptical public forum who uses skeptic as a label for ‘other’. This tactic is tiresome and childish.
“Has @Mlema ever been a fair-minded participant in discussions here? A good egg? A critical thinker? Of open mind? Not so…maddening (i.e., Mlema-y)?”
Generally no. Mlema is one of those individuals who spends a lot of time jaq’ing off and generally tends to argue from a credulous perspective. He’s guaranteed to show up in GMO related blog comments, it’s his sacred cow but he’s pretty consistent with other subjects occasionally as well.
“If you can’t give a simple source quote, then I’m not doing your ridiculous f***ing reading assignment just to prove you wrong yet again.”
Let’s not forget he wants you to cherry pick for him instead of providing the context for his claims. We’ve already seen he’s got a way of selecting very specific pieces to interpret the way he feels supports his views.
“If I had to bet, I’d bet “Persistent Anti-GMO Myths” was written because of you.”
My first thought when Dr. Novella posted it. I can’t tell if mlema is just so in lock step with the anti-GMO crowd that the myths addressed here just seem to be initiated by his ramblings or if Dr. Novella decided to specifically hit some of the talking points mlema has been marching out in order to support his bias.
“I find Mlema’s evasiveness when pressed to be extremely dishonest. Mlema’s commenting history demonstrates he’s currently incapable of an objective analysis of GMOs. I’m tired of reading the consistent nonsense, which stands contrary to the science.”
But Hoss, he’s not against science and technology of any kind, he’s just concerned about local farming.
As far as sounding like personal attacks my feeling on mlema and his argument style is similar to my attitude with Fullerton. Eventually you cross so far over into dogmatic noncritical thinking that you begin to ignore any evidence presented to you, creative interpret or just dismiss science based evidence presented against your stance and generally make an @ss of yourself that your argument can’t be taken seriously and your argument style has to be attacked. I chose several discussions ago not to engage mlema in the details of argument – he doesn’t care and his message is clearly biased. If you continue to show up spouting the same old crap, there’s no real point in attacking the substance of the argument. In this case mlema is planted firmly in his anti-GMO stance and has shown no movement to consider a more rational approach.
“and would benefit from…a better gender balance among panelists”
I missed that. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything involving this kind of science. Sounds to me like the touchy feelies getting too touchy and feely without really considering what the goal is.
I echo both BJ7 and Grabula’s responses. It seems that the authors of the letter want to completely restructure the panel to something that it wasn’t intended for in the first place. The way it is now is fine.
That being said, I think it’s a good idea to have other academic panels having discussions that may be more focused on economics and social aspects of agriculture, hopefully with as much objectivity and as little bias as possible. The authors of the letter definitely don’t apply (looking at their profiles, and the fact that their group is called Pesticide Action Network who’s stated goal is “…to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.”, I doubt their objectivity, sincerity, or ability to offer much use to a meaningful conversation). In fact, there are already discussions being had about it.
The unfortunate thing is, anti-GMO activists, well meaning but misinformed activists, and other ideologically-based groups too often muddy the waters and prevent real conversations from being had about modern agriculture and how things can be improved. Most of the time is spent debunking myths and correcting factual errors, but much of that is not heard over the cacophony of fear mongering and appeals to emotion.
“and would benefit from…a better gender balance among panelists”
That caught my attention as well. There seems to be an ever increasing push towards “gender balance” for the sake of gender balance, and that reeks of ideology. Hardly the best foundation for a scientific inquiry into a sensitive and ideology ridden subject.
We’re not male, female, white, black, European, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, old, or young scientists, but scientists. We are trying to get the most reliable information in the full knowledge that as individuals, we are susceptible to all kinds of cognitive foibles, and we combine our efforts to minimize their effect.
If we accept that scientific knowledge should reflect the moral and ideological choices of a society (choices which I respect if not always understand ), we are in no better shape than the soviet or christian scientists of yonder.
The comment about the gender balance of the panel sounds more like the sexist idea that women are innately more “sensitive” than men or an assertion that interpretation of the evidence is entirely dependent on sex, rather than a desire for women to be encouraged into science or get equitable treatment there.
Really? What skeptic community? Really? Ah I don’t know…..maybe this one? What is a Skeptical Society? Is a society a form of community? If you are stuck on the words “skeptical community” then you have disappeared around the bend of self awareness. Objecting to that phrase is truly bizarre given the context of Novella’s public persona and web presence. Novella constitutes a skeptical community petri dish.
“Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. He is the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He is also a senior fellow and Director of Science-Based Medicine at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and a founding fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine.
The NeuroLogicaBlog covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society.
Dr. Novella also contributes every Monday to SkepticBlog, and every Wednesday to Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to issues of science and medicine.”
Beyond the inane “skeptic community” objection, the letter I have referenced illuminates a schism within the scientific community regarding the parameters of pro-GMO scientific studies. You can nit pick about anti-GMO science all you want and I will call you a industry dupe everytime. 64 scientists have signed on and put their careers and reputations on the line. A lot of you have careers in science. How willing are you to sign your name to a document that runs against the consensus? How much do you value your tenure or funding? Are skeptics going to call these scientists biased because they are in opposition to the pro-GMO position? These scientists are calling out the methodology and efficacy of GMO studies. You cannot claim the position of objective science when objective science is not whats happening on the pro-GMO side. Pro-GMO science is biased. Pro-GMO science is completely influenced by industry. This letter seeks to level the playing field and remove the bias in these industry sponsored studies.
The others can speak for themselves, but I am not part of any sceptical community. I have a sceptical outlook on life – meaning that my degree of acceptance of any proposition is in proportion to the evidence for that proposition and the scientific plausibility of that proposition.
I am here because I have found Steven Novella has this same sceptical outlook – as do the regular posters here, save a few contrarians who are useful as examples of how not to think about things.
I have no idea why some individuals believe what they do based on what they wish to be true, or what feels right, or what some fringe scientist has to say on the subject.
“I wonder how the letter sits in the skeptic community”
The sceptical community probably does not have an opinion. The sceptical community probably has not even assessed the letter. The sceptical community has probably not come to any consensus about the letter. The sceptical community probably does not even have consensus positions on anything.
The sceptical community is probably just trying to promote scepticism in the wider community so as to counteract the pervasive touchy feely, wish it were true, science illiterate, pseudoscientific, and anti-science, fringe dwellers.
In the mean time, some of us who have a sceptical outlook, have provided our initial reactions to the letter. But it seems you would rather complain about our objections to your question than understand why we objected.
And it seems in you were so excited about complaining that you completely forgot to reply to our actual responses to the letter.
“You cannot claim the position of objective science when objective science is not whats happening on the pro-GMO side. Pro-GMO science is biased. Pro-GMO science is completely influenced by industry. ”
Show your work. These three claims are not true because you say they are. Please stop inventing terms like “objective science,” “pro-GMO science,” and “anti-GMO science.” There are no such things; there is only good science (rigorous) and bad science (flawed methodology, conclusions not supported by data, etc). You make it sound as though people make a choice about which science to accept or believe in. This is called motivate reasoning and cherry-picking. A good scientist will not engage in these practices and a smart person shouldn’t either. Certainly you cannot expect such fatally flawed arguments to be accepted here in the “skeptical community.” Science is not loyalty-based or a belief system. Science follows the evidence whether it is ideologically convenient or not. You should do the same.
The ‘evilness’ of industry and the ‘heroism’ of your 64 scientists are red herrings — they have no bearing on GMO safety.
Valiantly into the fray after the battle has been waged
You can nit pick about anti-GMO science all you want and I will call you a industry dupe everytime.
In other words, your mind is made up. If people do not share your opinion, they have been duped…
How much do you value your tenure or funding?
… or they are mercenary and dishonest.
Are skeptics going to call these scientists biased because they are in opposition to the pro-GMO position?
Actually, they have problems with the composition of a panel of scientists about to evaluate the history, purported benefits and purported negative effects of GMOs. They are not necessarily “anti-GMO” — that’s what your adversarial mindset reads into the letter. They express a number of concerns, some of which might be relevant (I have not looked at the CVs of the panelists, so I cannot offer any comment on their concerns), and some of which seem spurious (like the gender balance). I have seen scientists write far more critical, and far better crafted letters without any risk for their career or funding.
““You cannot claim the position of objective science when objective science is not whats happening on the pro-GMO side. Pro-GMO science is biased. Pro-GMO science is completely influenced by industry. ””
Along with showing your work as jsterritt asks, you’re also making a huge assumption. I’m personally not ‘pro’-GMO, I’m pro-science. At the moment the science supports it as a viable way to solve some issues we have and the risk appears to be minimal.
Pro-GMO science is completely influenced by industry.
This is your premise. “Pro-GMO is flawed and fallacious (P) because the science is completely influenced by industry (C)”. It’s begging the question. You make a factual statement that any research supporting the safety and efficacy of GMOs must be flawed because it’s driven by industry. For one, it’s already been demonstrated to the contrary that much research has been done completely independent of industry. For another, industry research isn’t necessarily incorrect. This is yet another conspiracy theory that assumes anything industry must be bad, that all scientists are somehow in collusion with industry, and that all research to the contrary has been suppressed or silenced by industry. None of that have you or anyone else been able to demonstrate, it’s a massive assumption on your part, and there is much evidence to the contrary.
Like grabula says, it’s not so much that we are pro-GMO, it’s that we’re pro-science, the science supports the safety, efficacy, and positive contributions GMOs make to medicine and agriculture, and in that light we are pro-GMO. I am pro-GMO because I see how useful they already are, and that there is much potential in the future for them.
As usual, you’re dead wrong and the science is against you. All you have is a bag of conspiracy theories chock full of misinformation.
“it’s that we’re pro-science, the science supports the safety”
I’m finding it more and more true that the type of person that uses ‘skeptic’ or ‘skepticism’ in scare quotes or as a way of trying to support an us vs them type argument miss the point of this.
I’d certainly support a new endeavor in science if it were interesting to me but if the evidence shook out that it wasn’t going anywhere then I’ll move on. If it begins to provide evidence to support continued interest then I’m comfortable supporting it as far as that goes. The important point here is that I believe other skeptics understand that sometimes you have to let something go, especially when the evidence just stops supporting it.
Along with that I think I’ve just grown bored with this kind of dogmatic blindness. Teaser, Mlema, the fullerton types who have a hard time sussing out the difference between what they want to believe and what the evidence and consensus support.
Dr. Novella, I think I have to continue our “deep dive” here as the most appropriate post – even though I have a feeling it will get lost in all the vitriol. I apologize for that because it’s probably at least partly my fault for comments I made on an earlier post. But anyway…
Dr. Novella: “It is true that gene insertion can cause regional mutagenesis, usually upregulating or downregulating protein production. This is partly why the process is so tedious and time consuming. Many insertions are made, and only the healthy cells are used. After multiple selections, the plant with the new gene is back crossed multiple times to the parent to establish a stable and healthy line with the new gene.”
Mutations aren’t limited to the region of insertion, but can be found at relatively great distances from the site. Back-breeding can mitigate effects, as you’ve said. And as some scientists have suggested, sequencing up to 50Kbp on each side of the insertion site to ensure a match to the parent may help. But more importantly, since the transgene is the mutation we want to keep – it’s the concomitant changes linked to the transgene or vector that can’t be bred out. And even if that were possible, what we’re left with in the ideal transgenic cell with no changes other than the transgene is: a cell that continually expresses a protein not evaluated as it’s manufactured by the plant cell, but, instead, as it’s manufactured in a bacterium (where, for example, glycosylation doesn’t happen as it does in the cell) and the possibility of new metabolic reactions from the transgene product’s effect on metabolic pathways. http://www.naturpedia.info/alimentazione/Prescott.pdf http://www.bfn.de/fileadmin/MDB/documents/service/skript239.pdf
Dr. Novella: “FDA requires …that any new proteins are tested, but also the new food has to be tested for equivalence, including nutritional and potential for allergens and toxicity. This would account for any mutagenic changes.”
We have to ask: what sort of safety assessments are appropriate in light of the above differences from conventional breeding? Currently, “substantial equivalence” is enough to garner a GRAS approval. The FDA has a voluntary consultation process through which the developer submits a summary of its safety and nutritional assessment, promising that the new protein is safe and the rest of the plant doesn’t substantially differ from the parent plant.
Scientists say that the proteins tested aren’t necessarily equivalent to those manufactured in the new plant because they aren’t tested as expressed in the transgenic plant, but instead are tested as they’re manufactured by microbes. A plant’s secondary metabolism is many hundreds of times more complex than that of a bacterium. And the means by which equivalency of nutrients is tested don’t reveal the presence of unknown toxins or unfamiliar allergens. The protein that the gene manufactures through bacteria is compared to known allergens, and we look for toxins typical to the parent plant (like glycoalkaloids in potatoes).
“The concept of substantial equivalence has never been properly defined; the degree of difference between a natural food and its GM alternative before its ‘substance’ ceases to be acceptably ‘equivalent’ is not defined anywhere, nor has an exact definition been agreed by legislators. It is exactly this vagueness that makes the concept useful to industry but unacceptable to the consumer…..scientists are not yet able reliably to predict the biochemical or toxicological effects of a GM food from a knowledge of its chemical composition…Substantial equivalence is a pseudoscientific concept because it is a commercial and political judgment masquerading as if it were scientific. It is, moreover, inherently antiscientific because it was created primarily to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical or toxicological tests. It therefore serves to discourage and inhibit potentially informative scientific research.” – E. Millstone, E. Brunner and S. Mayer
There are a number of examples of pleiotropic changes in GM crops which only became evident through investigation done post-commercialization. And the potential risk becomes greater as we “stack” traits (like pesticide resistance) or attempt to engineer nutritional changes. Developers don’t typically do feeding studies, and the results of their safety evaluations aren’t made available for scrutiny by independent scientists. It’s happened that when raw data is made available, it’s been interpreted differently by scientists as warranting feeding studies. And in general, feeding studies have been scarce and without consistent controls or parameters. Even so, there appear to be indicators of some consistent problems, regardless of which GMO is being looked at. http://www.biosafety.ru/ftp/domingo.pdf http://www.unionccs.net/images/library/file/Agricultura_y_alimentacion/Health_Risks_GMOs.pdf
WARNING: this is MY OPINION on the contentious GMO debate that continues and continues:
Here’s how I see the war between pro and anti:
On the one side we have unscientific people, motivated by fear of the technology or anger at the industry, crying out that 100′s of thousands of Indian farmers have killed themselves because of GMOs, and that GMO seeds have “terminator genes”, etc.
And on the other side we have those with vested interests in the industry, or techno-fix thinking, claiming there’s a growing “body count” because regulations are too strict and expensive, and that GMOs are precise, and can “feed the future” with reduced nitrogen inputs, lower water use, reduced pesticides, etc.
And I think there are social commitments to these viewpoints as well. I’m more likely to be on one side or the other if my friend is too.
And somewhere off to the side of these two “sides” is the science.
Mlemma said: “claiming there’s a growing “body count” because regulations are too strict and expensive”
Interesting…. I can’t find a single comment from the Neurologica crowd that claims regulation should be relaxed or is too expensive. I think I’m safe in saying that most of us want much more of the government’s budget to go to the FDA and to enforcing sensible, science-based regulation on our food and drugs.
As for GMOs “feeding the future” – plant and animal genetics are indeed a vital tool for continuing to feed a growing population. I think you will find this has been the case for all of human recorded history. This “techno-fix” thinking you apparently dismiss is, in fact, a major reason why you have enough to eat today. This is not a radical concept. GMO is just another in a very long line of tools for manipulating plant and animal genetics.
You can continue to paint anyone arguing “pro GMO” as being aligned with industry goals and you can dismiss us as shills to industry, but you will continue to be wrong.
I don’t support relaxing regulation. I’m not aware of any pro-GMO people who do. I advocate closing loopholes for “organic” crops so that they have to live up to the same safety standards as GMOs. That’s how I’d prefer to make the standards more uniform and less arbitrary. I like the idea of the FDA and equivalent regulatory bodies having teeth.
If anyone wants to propose new regulations specifically for GMOs, they’d better have a good reason for singling them out. That reason had better be based in science and data, not marketing, propaganda, urban legend, or popular paint-by-numbers journalist narratives.
How do you expect ever more cherry-picking to support your ever more rarefied worries about GMO safety when you cherry-pick papers that directly countermand each other? You link to 2 papers in the same breath: but the first (by Pescott et al) is demolished by the second (by Valenta/Spök) for its flawed methodology and conclusions. This shows how unconsidered your cherry-picking is: as someone has already noted, it’s like you feverishly mine Google for anything that remotely resembles support for your “argument” and link to it without discrimination. Maybe you just have to explain to us how to read them, or what the authors really meant.
Anyway, we know this is all just blowing smoke so you can continue trying to salvage your beloved Indian farmer genocide myth, which is becoming synonymous with “Mlema.” Your “opinion” on this subject has zero value or credibility. The tenacity with which you cling to this disturbing fantasy is fantastic. And disturbing.
Do not get your hopes up for a source for Mlema’s “body count” claim. Mlema doesn’t “do” sources. The “body count” claim merely suits Mlema, who thinks it nicely balances out the Indian farmer suicide meme that he won’t let go of. I would point out to Mlema that even if this equivalence existed in reality (which it doesn’t), two wrongs don’t make the Indian farmer suicide myth right.
“You can continue to paint anyone arguing “pro GMO” as being aligned with industry goals and you can dismiss us as shills to industry, but you will continue to be wrong.”
“Developers don’t typically do feeding studies, and the results of their safety evaluations aren’t made available for scrutiny by independent scientists.”
Dr Novella addresses the second part of your claim in his blog post (see “GMO Research” on this very page). Moreover, Nathanael Johnson covers this ground thoroughly in his seminal Grist series on GMOs. If you claim you haven’t read it, then you haven’t even begun to try to understand the topic on which you presume to teach.
As for the first part, it is my understanding that feeding studies are not required to demonstrate safety. Rather, developers of GMOs must demonstrate that new breeds are identical to existing breeds except for the new traits. In turn, those traits must be tested for immunogenicity and allergenicity (safety). To require long-term feeding studies for foods that have already been demonstrated safe would be taking the precautionary principle too far and without any plausible reason — only free-floating, ignorance-based fears of “what if?” Most GM breeds do not contain substances that are significantly different from those already in the diet. Those that do require testing and approval. We’re talking about atoms composing molecules composing chemically identical food products here. What exactly would a feeding test of two chemically identical foods conceivably hope to show, other than spurious results introduced by the testing itself? Btw, there has been one remarkable large-scale feeding study of GM food: billions of people have consumed them without adverse effect for decades.
“It’s happened that when raw data is made available, it’s been interpreted differently by scientists as warranting feeding studies.”
Obvious red flags include: “It’s happened that,” “interpreted,” and “warranting.” This is as flaky a statement as any you’ve ever come up with. Show your work. What data? By whom? The cherry-picked single studies you link to? Or is it just something that, you know, like, happens?
What do you think is more likely: that the world’s regulatory bodies of experts have chosen to ignore these studies for some strange reason; or that their findings were based on all the evidence and that these esoteric ones you chase down didn’t have the merit (or rigor, replicated results, or gravitas) to tip the balance against GMO safety? I know you think it’s the latter, but that’s what makes you a scrappy zealot. Dr Novella, the commenters here, and internet-accessible authorities around the world keep giving you hundreds, even thousands of studies in support of our arguments. You counter with a handful of cherry-picked ones — and half the time they don’t even say what you say they do! You’re not David going up against Goliath, you’re pissing into the wind. Keep it up.
“And in general, feeding studies have been scarce and without consistent controls or parameters. Even so, there appear to be indicators of some consistent problems, regardless of which GMO is being looked at.”
Hmmmm, sounds familiar. What you claim as well-established scientific fact, I can only find written in the introduction to the Domingo paper you linked to: “The results of most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects and may alter the hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters. However, many years of research with animals and clinical trials are required for this assessment.”
You will notice that the final sentence of this grave utterance directly contradicts the first. Which is it: do most studies indicate GMO toxicity? Or are many years of animal and clinical research required for this assessment? I have placed this sweeping statement in bold, because of how colossally stupid it is.
Speaking of colossally stupid, I would remind you that you are not arguing in favor of safety, and I am not arguing against it. Your strategy is the well-worn dopey one of begging the question that GMOs are somehow unsafe, the same one-note song you have sung ad nauseum in these pages. This ‘testing gambit’ completely resembles the anti-vaccinationists’ absurd claim of not being “anti-anything,” but merely “pro -safe vaccines.” Safety may have been determined to the satisfaction of the world’s experts, but what about Mlema’s personal journey and impossible standards? It is the same old JAQing and special pleading.
Hugs (not vitriol),
jsterritt (aka the italics kid)
“I don’t support relaxing regulation. I’m not aware of any pro-GMO people who do. I advocate closing loopholes for “organic” crops so that they have to live up to the same safety standards as GMOs.”
This is where many folks like mlema go horribly wrong. For example, I’m sure an argument could be made that companies like monsanto would benefit from relaxed regulations. We see that battle everyday in other industries and we just need to stay vigilant.
In fact, much like the agnostic/atheism argument, I think the most rational point an anti-GMO type could take is to understand the science involved, understand that GMO’s aren’t the horrible disaster waiting to happen they want them to be, and focus instead on making sure legislation and monitoring remain consistent and steady so it DOES remain a viable solution to many of our problems.
But of course a little emotion goes a long way and tends to blind those who already don’t want to bother seeing.
“This shows how unconsidered your cherry-picking is: as someone has already noted, it’s like you feverishly mine Google for anything that remotely resembles support for your “argument” and link to it without discrimination”
It’s his MO as you’re starting to see. Latch on to a few key words without bothering to understand the meat of the source. He won’t stick around to argue each point very long, he’ll move on to other horrible sources and other horrible claims.
Of course it’s mostly emotional rhetoric, why he’s stuck so hard to the suicide myth. The growing ‘body count’ to which he refers I assume means the people dying all over the world from starvation and malnutrition. I still wouldn’t advocate relaxing regulations for this kind of science for a temporary boost in lives potentially saved. It would be nice however if the anti-GMO crowd wasn’t so damned vehement that more magical thinking 3rd world countries are fighting the concept of using GMO’s. In my opinion any growing body count has nothing to do with regulation and a lot to do with ignorance and a huge case of the naturalistic fallacies.
I’m finding it more and more true that the type of person that uses ‘skeptic’ or ‘skepticism’ in scare quotes or as a way of trying to support an us vs them type argument miss the point of this.
Those who use scare quotes around “skeptic” or “skepticism” are typically shooting for special pleading – they don’t want their pet ideology to be critically evaluated, or worse, rejected, so they condemn skepticism as some sort of dogma of its own. It’s much like creationists who adamantly deny evolution or condemn science altogether, and then accuse those who do accept evolution of practicing scientism. They don’t want their ideology to be beholden to the rigors of actual science. Or, they try to redefine it to mean something that it’s not in order to evade criticism. This is one of the biggest reasons why I’m a skeptic, because I value science enough to want to protect its integrity, keep it from being sullied.
We’ve seen denigration of “skepticism” by several people here: teaser, mlema, sonic, and hardnose are good examples. Skepticism requires adequate amounts of high quality evidence. Those who denounce skepticism and science want us to accept low standards of evidence, or to be free from the rigors of science. Classic special pleading.
“We’ve seen denigration of “skepticism” by several people here: teaser, mlema, sonic, and hardnose are good examples. Skepticism requires adequate amounts of high quality evidence. Those who denounce skepticism and science want us to accept low standards of evidence, or to be free from the rigors of science. Classic special pleading.”
What’s next? Burning at the stake for denigrating skepticism (scepticism*)? Are you wearing a pilgrim hat with a giant buckle on the front? Will Ye Smite the Blasphemers of Skepticism (scepticism)?
I thought that nobody on this skeptic (sceptic) blog (created by the person who founded the New England Skeptic Society) wants to be known as a skeptic (sceptic). Here you are defending the very honor of the skeptic (sceptic) label. Why are skeptics (sceptics) so defensive of being labeled skeptics (sceptics)? For christsake, google skeptic and see what comes back. That’s you people! You aren’t flying under the radar!
” Those who denounce skepticism and science want us to accept low standards of evidence, or to be free from the rigors of science.”
I don’t want you to accept anything. Actually I want you to be free to gloriously bask in “rigors of science.” Slip into your Borat swimsuit and be scientifically rigorous! Work up a good scientific lather! Get your scientific sweat on! BE RIGOROUS!
It only takes a minute to read through your comments here. You are adversarial and repeatedly try to characterize your opponents as something monolithic, when the only thing they have in common as far as you know is their opposition to your science-ignoring anti-GMO evangelizing. You have taken great pains to be dismissive of your critics in these comments and have invented all sorts of labels and terms and semantic distinctions with which to do so. You have called those you disagree with “industry dupes” and rejected out of hand any criticism of what you call “anti-GMO science.” You declare that you are completely close-minded on the subject at hand — the opposite of skeptical. Then you are flabbergasted when commenters bristle at your use of the ol’ “skeptic gambit” (sometimes the “scientism gambit”) — wherein you equate skeptics with dogmatists and ideologues. It’s a tired well-worn piece-of-sh!t dumb tactic that we see here all the time when someone on the wrong side of science seeks to reduce and dismiss science and/or skepticism as some sort of cultish choice that people make. In other words, it’s something people invoke when they have no decent argument (basically an ad hominem).
Upping the ante by calling your opponents witch-burners and illiterates who don’t even know how to define themselves correctly and “you people” is not the smartest way to dig yourself out of this particular hole, but it is a popular choice. Maybe you should learn, by the responses you’ve encountered (you know, context), that there are some words you don’t know how to use correctly. As someone obviously familiar with using slippery language, I’m sure you can see how sometimes one just gets away from you.
“What’s next? Burning at the stake for denigrating skepticism (scepticism*)? Are you wearing a pilgrim hat with a giant buckle on the front? Will Ye Smite the Blasphemers of Skepticism (scepticism)?”
Massive straw man… with a healthy dose of hyperbole.
“I thought that nobody on this skeptic (sceptic) blog (created by the person who founded the New England Skeptic Society) wants to be known as a skeptic (sceptic).”
Can you please qualify this? Who said they don’t want to be known as a skeptic? Does that person speak for all of us? Have you asked all of us? Please… show where you get this notion from.
Stop being an arse of a pedant. One is British, one is American, we all know what it means spelt either way. Whatever point you are trying to prove, you are just making yourself look more foolish.
“I don’t want you to accept anything. Actually I want you to be free to gloriously bask in “rigors of science.” Slip into your Borat swimsuit and be scientifically rigorous! Work up a good scientific lather! Get your scientific sweat on! BE RIGOROUS!”
And to top it all off you end with verifying what we all know by now, you clearly evidence that you have no respect or even understanding for the process of scientific rigour and the process used to understand the world objectively.
First question: what exact behavior has you worried about witch hunts, Teaser?
1. Asking for rigorous evidence of harm before acting on it?
2. Asking for a coherent theoretical basis behind assertions of hypothetical harm before acting on it?
3. Pointing out double standards between age old methods of GM like breeding versus newer methods?
4. Pointing out the unreliability of today’s mainstream journalistic practices?
5. Pointing out the propaganda methodology of scaremongering?
6. Attempting to disentangle complaints about one particular company’s policies from complaints about GM technology?
7. Pointing out logical fallacies?
8. Using side insults that can be ignored without losing any substance from our main arguments?
@Bruce – Perhaps I misread BillyJoe7′s tone, but he appeared to resent being called a skeptic (sceptic). Grabula also intimated a sense of hrrrrrmph and the skeptic label. I did not see anybody proudly accepting the skeptic label.
Additionally Bruce, I provided a footnote regarding skeptic v sceptic.
I HAD to absolutely respond to rezistnzisfutl fearful statement that people who do not agree with him (her?) wish to change his feelings about science. That is an especially illogical and emotional statement. “I am fearful people want me to stop thinking the way I think!” I would never special plead to anybody for any reason.
Other than those points I am guilty as charged on all accounts of hyperbole, fallacy indulgement, logic collapse and whatever else you want to pile on.
BronzeDog – I purposely characterized the tone of his statements to make a point. It’s obvious to anybody the proponents of GMO’s are completely owning this comment section. His level of concern regarding the “anti-GMO” crowd response seemed unnecessarily fearful of the opposition comments. I throw out a few sly observations and the sky is falling and science is going to die.
I do get a laugh when I am charged with being adversarial when I have seen the absolute shredding and ridicule of people who offer to post/debate on this blog.(i.e. fullerton)
For what its worth the title of this blog entry contains the word “Anti-GMO”. I was using the language of the original post.
I can’t let this ridiculous statement from you slip by without a comment:
“Btw, there has been one remarkable large-scale feeding study of GM food: billions of people have consumed them without adverse effect for decades.”
(Rebuttal to Mlema (sterritton 11 Aug 2014 at 9:21 pm)
Confusing cause and effect?
When did this study start? When did it end? I never received the enrollment form. Why wasn’t I notified I was part of a study? Should I stop now?
I will close with this observation:
To make a counter claim or statement in this blogs comments section is equivalent to charging the stone wall along the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg. Dissenters are subject to a verbal enfilade and have little chance of succeeding.
July 26, 2014
(English translation from the Chinese document)
We are a gathering of scientists and agricultural practitioners from 13 countries and regions and 5 continents, who have just attended the Food Safety & Sustainable Agriculture Forum 2014 in Beijing, China.
The experience in the cultivation and consumption of GMO, and the definitive scientific facts and analysis presented, have led us to the conclusion that arguably GM technology does not increase production yield. On the contrary, this has led to the increase in the application of pesticides, causing calamitous damage to the ecosystem upon which the survival of humankind depends.
The commercial application of GM technology in agriculture for the last two decades has exposed the entire planet and the very existence of humankind to serious threats. We unanimously condemn the GM vested interests in usurping the right of the human race to use natural seed resources for its sustainable survival and development. While the undeniable evidence of the dangers of GMO is exposed, the facts have been denied and suppressed, the media have been manipulated in order to freely expand the production of GMOs, and the global crisis has been pushed to new heights.
We believe that scientific research must be subordinate to the welfare and long term development of humankind, and should never be the tools to profit a few persons or interest groups. Agricultural production is the basis for human survival. To protect agricultural production and the earth,our home base, we hereby call upon all people with a conscience to:
1.Stop all commercial production of agricultural GMOs, and strictly prohibit the proliferation of GMOs outside laboratories.
2.Open public discussion and stop suppressing dissenting views and independent scientific research to ensure public knowledge and expression. Increase scientific research on the negative effects of GM technology.
3.Protect bio-diversity, return the rights to own and utilize seeds to the cultivators and the people, and fight against seed monopoly. Protect people’s freedom to acquire safe food and object to food monopoly and hegemony of a few commercial enterprises.
4.Call for a rational and sustainable mode of agriculture to return it to Mother Nature.
Mankind has no retreat confronting the threats brought about by the overall proliferation of GM products. Let us take up the holy responsibility and take joint action to protect the health and survival of the human race!
“I did not see anybody proudly accepting the skeptic label.”
We are all skeptics, but we are not all only skeptics.
“Additionally Bruce, I provided a footnote regarding skeptic v sceptic.”
What a load of bollocks, you were just trying to appear intelligent or were trying to be funny and failed at both.
“I am guilty as charged on all accounts of hyperbole, fallacy indulgement, logic collapse and whatever else you want to pile on.”
And this is where I end my discussion with you. Either you are being serious, in which case I agree fully, or else you are again attempting humour or sarcasm and to that I say: What a load of self indulgent, poor me, victimisation complex claptra