If you follow my posts on GP, you know that I’ve been writing a lot about GMOs and genetic engineering. I was planning to lay off the subject for a bit, maybe write about advances in prenatal diagnostics or the wonders of sleep training and okay-to-wake clocks, but I’m compelled to write another on GMOs. Why? Monsanto. More specifically, March Against Monsanto. I don’t often get into debates on social media, mainly because it’s usually a futile endeavor. Still, every now and then I succumb to a moment of weakness.
This time I’ve been following recent news on the Séralini paper republication. If you’re not familiar with it, this 2012 paper was formally retracted from Food and Chemical Toxicology after the conclusions were found to be unreliable. You’d likely recognize the well-known image of deformed white lab rats; the paper claimed a causal link between GM maize and glyphosate (AKA Roundup) added to drinking water, and development of tumors in rats. The paper was published again last week in a lesser-known journal. Importantly, the paper was republished not because reviewers agreed with the conclusions, but to allow the data to be accessible in the long term. In fact, it was not even peer-reviewed prior to republication.
Lo and behold, anti-biotech types were using the hashtag #ScienceSpeaksForItself to tout and promote the republication as presumed evidence of danger, and to support their cause. This entirely ignored that the change of journals doesn’t change that there is no causal link between genetically modified food and cancer/disease. Long story short, I ended up in a dispute with none other than March Against Monsanto. And yes, I verified that this is THE March Against Monsanto twitter feed, linked from their Facebook page.
Now I don’t say this to be snarky: the majority of people using such hashtags don’t understand biology even at a fundamental level. You don’t get to use the all-mighty “science” as a champion of your movement unless you comprehend it at least basically. As I always say, if you don’t understand transcription, translation, and protein synthesis and function at a high level at minimum, you don’t have sufficient background to justify an inherently anti-GM stance. See my previous post for a quick and basic molecular biology primer.
So back to my tiff with MAM. Here is the Wikipedia page if you haven’t followed the movement. Not only does this movement oppose Monsanto and corporate interests, but GM technology in general. One of their more ubiquitous march slogans is “Hell No GMO.” Catchy, huh? One of my main gripes is that the movement perpetuates this erroneous notion that GMO/Evil Big Science is synonymous with Monsanto. March Against Dow wouldn’t sound as catchy would it? But I digress. Anyway, I won’t get into the details of the entire Twitter exchange (link), but here are a few of the more interesting tweets:
Exhibit 1 – outlined in green: “tech humans can’t understand.” This is pure fear-based drivel. Just because Marchers Against Monsanto don’t understand the tech does not mean humanity is drawing its fate from a hat nor is it playing genetic roulette. Genetic engineering of food is not achieved blindly. In addition, GMO crops’ traits are precisely selected, as opposed to the methodologies of conventional breeding. I’ve said before and will say again – Pro-GM folks have been repeating ad nauseam, “we’ve been modifying crops/organisms for millennia,” a process known as artificial selection. Moreover, basic biology deems that organisms have been modifying themselves since the dawn of life, altering their own genes to express favorable traits (natural selection.) Sound familiar? Yep. GM technology is also applied to alter genes to express favorable traits, albeit in a more targeted manner than artificial or natural selection. GMOs are among the most stringently-tested crops in existence. This is a far cry from losing control.
Exhibit 2 – outlined in pink: The all too pervasive “follow the money” worldview that scientific consensus can’t be valid because it must be funded by corporate interests. I’ve addressed this in previous posts so I won’t get into the nitty gritty. That said, here is an excellent post about scientific consensus, and how it applies to GMOs. There is no doubt of scientific consensus on safety of these crops based on the very definition of the term. You don’t get to invalidate science or justify an inherently anti-GM stance without understanding or accepting what the term consensus means. To do so is not tenacious or strong, rather it is pigheaded, foolish, and immature.
The tweet above pretty much speaks for itself. Need I define “science?” I hate to stereotype people involved in the MAM movement, but come on.
Moving on to the crowning moment in the conversation, voila:
It struck me to ask about MAM’s position on vaccines because of the comment about scientific consensus. People who don’t “believe” in scientific consensus often don’t “believe” in the efficacy and safety of vaccines. The first response seemed like a canned answer. I didn’t press further yet @MarchAgainstM blurted out this unbelievable comment. I kid you not, I didn’t use the word “crazy” “retard” “box” or “anti-science” anywhere. My fingers wouldn’t have even considered typing those sequences of letters. I was flabbergasted. Firstly the sheer offensive and hateful nature of using both the words “crazy” and “retard” in any derogatory context is totally unexpected and unacceptable from a social media account representing a self-proclaimed millions of people. Second, while the first response showed a refusal to take a position, the second response showed an obvious yet implied support of anti-vaccination beliefs.
I hate to generalize, to homogenize what I hope is a mixed bag of individuals. Still, the reason I wrote this post is that movements like March Against Monsanto are representative of a greater societal ill: fear of the unknown, scientific illiteracy, indiscriminate distrust of government and corporate interests, all fueling the vicious and circular mob with pitchforks mentality I’ve so often condemned. I certainly hope that not all Marchers Against Monsanto disbelieve in scientific consensus, hold a blind “follow the money” paranoia, or are scientifically oblivious. I implore anyone who has Marched Against Monsanto or plans to do so to ask, what am I really marching for?
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.