Neil deGrasse Tyson is right about GMOs: You should, in fact, chill out
Seriously, chill out. Your food isn’t going to turn into CHUD babies in your tummy.
Ezra Klein had a really good post up at Vox that, I think, accurately summed up why it’s simply false to argue that “both sides do it” when it comes to denying scientific reality for their own ends.
In laboratory settings, there’s no evident difference between liberals and conservatives in their propensity to believe what they want, evidence be damned. In one experiment, Yale law professor Dan Kahan showed you could get liberals to start doubting global warming (and conservatives to begin accepting it) by making clear that any solution would require geoengineering. In another, he showed that both liberals and conservatives were more likely to rate someone an expert on climate change if they agreed with their conclusions. In a third, he showed liberals were about as resistant to evidence showing concealed carry laws are safe as conservatives were to evidence showing climate change is dangerous.
The difference, at least for now, isn’t between liberals and conservatives. It’s between the liberal and conservative establishments.
He goes on, using the GMO (genetically modified organisms, a term for produce that’s had its DNA manipulated in a lab as opposed to the traditional method of manipulating it through strategic breeding) situation, to argue quite convincingly that the big difference between the right and the left is liberal leaders, more often than not, value science over tribalism and will openly criticize other liberals who spout anti-scientific bullshit. That puts a major and inarguable check and how far liberal anti-science hysteria will go. While there’s no doubt that evidence-free scare-mongering about the health risks of GMOs is being promulgated by liberals, it’s also true that liberals are a huge part of the pushback. Indeed, Neil deGrasse Tyson was recorded telling people to “chill out” about GMOs, which created a shitstorm of crybaby behavior from anti-GMO activists.
Tyson responded to that crybaby behavior on Facebook, and made a lot of good points. Indeed, he is far more generous to his critics than I would have been:
4) I offer my views on these nuanced issues here, if anybody is interested:
a- Patented Food Strains: In a free market capitalist society, which we have all “bought” into here in America, if somebody invents something that has market value, they ought to be able to make as much money as they can selling it, provided they do not infringe the rights of others. I see no reason why food should not be included in this concept.
b- Labeling: Since practically all food has been genetically altered from nature, if you wanted labeling I suppose you could demand it, but then it should be for all such foods. Perhaps there could be two different designations: GMO-Agriculture GMO-Laboratory.
c- Non-perennial Seed Strains: It’s surely legal to sell someone seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, requiring that the farmer buy seed stocks every year from the supplier. But when sold to developing country — one struggling to become self-sufficient — the practice is surely immoral. Corporations, even when they work within the law, should not be held immune from moral judgement on these matters.
d- Monopolies are generally bad things in a free market. To the extent that the production of GMOs are a monopoly, the government should do all it can to spread the baseline of this industry. (My favorite monopoly joke ever, told by Stephen Wright: “I think it’s wrong that the game Monopoly is sold by only one company”)
e- Safety: Of course new foods should be tested for health risks, regardless of their origin. That’s the job of the Food and Drug Administration (in the USA). Actually, humans have been testing food, even without the FDA ,since the dawn of agriculture. Whenever a berry or other ingested plant killed you, you knew not to serve it to you family.
f- Silk Worms: I partly mangled my comments on this. Put simply, commercial Silk Worms have been genetically modified by centuries of silk trade, such that they cannot survive in the wild. Silk Worms currently exist only to serve the textile industry. Just as Milk Cows are bred with the sole purpose of providing milk to humans. There are no herds of wild Milk Cows terrorizing the countryside.
5) If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-prerennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival. That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.
On the last point, I have myself noticed that this is the fallback position of someone who has been called out for distorting the science to whip people up about GMOs: They’re not being anti-science, they just suddenly developed a strong concern for the wellbeing of farmers in developing nations that they don’t demonstrate in any other aspect of their lives. It’s a classic moving goal posts maneuver and should be understood as such. If you care about developing world farmers, eliminate the word “GMO” from your vocabulary and start focusing on the economic issues at stake. The origins of their crops aren’t the issue, but the legal and economic constraints on them are. Otherwise, you’re just using them as a shield, and that’s exploitative itself. After all, the problem of developing world agriculture and monocultures predates the development of GMOs.
The fact of the matter is the hysteria over GMOs is all about unsupported fears that they are poison, and just a general romanticizing of the idea of “natural”, as if anything human beings could do was unnatural. The developing world farmers gambit comes up after the whistle is blown on the bad science, to change the subject and put the person who is pro-science on the defense, and for no other real reason. If one is truly concerned about the economic wellbeing of people in developing nations, you don’t start with a GMO ban, but you completely rethink trade policies to put an emphasis on labor over profit—the word “GMO” would never come up, since laws about seeds would encompass all produce, regardless of genetic structures.
I feel for Tyson, since his lengthy reply addressing various and very diverse arguments shows he’s been the victim of a Gish Gallop from people who, unable to argue the merits of their fears that GMOs are poison, start tossing out a bunch of arguments that have nothing to do with the actual point that Tyson was making about how they aren’t dangerous. It’s a tedious thing that’s grown worse on the internet, which is why I have a blanket policy about moving goal posts with people who want to argue with me: The first time the goal posts move, the argument is over. Defend your initial position or GTFO.
The good news is that Klein is right. Even though these arguments get derailed and digressive with various people moving goal posts and refusing to stay on-topic (because they know they will lose the argument if they do), the fact of the matter is that the willingness of liberal thought leaders to stay firm about science in the face of panics that are based on deep-rooted but irrational fears about “purity” and “nature” demonstrates a real integrity that the left has that the right is simply missing. After all, most conservative leaders either wholesale defend the bizarre conspiracy theory about climate change or at least won’t criticize it openly. You certainly won’t get many conservative leaders dismissing people who deny climate change as a bunch of idiots, despite the fact that it’s the most pertinent conclusion you can draw. That so many Democratic leaders and liberal thought leaders absolutely refuse to engage in lies and bullshit simply because those lies press certain buttons amongst the liberal base is to be commended.