I recently wrote a story about Jake Lutick-Fuller, after interviewing the 10-year-old science activist who wants to be a genetic engineer when he grows up. Jake isn’t your everyday kid with a volcano at the school science fair. The mushroom and mycology aficionado likes to trek through the forest weekly, observing the biology and ecology of plants and fungi in the Nanaimo, British Columbia area. He has a passion for genetic engineering, and wants to use it to save pine trees from the pestiferous Mountain Pine Beetle. And he made science activists proud at this year’s March Against Myths. Founded as a grassroots response to the ideological, anti-biotech, anti-vax, and seemingly anti-establishment March Against Monsanto, MAMyths held its first international counter-protest on May 23, 2015. The group’s high level objective is to offer science-based facts to counter fear mongering and misinformation about biotechnology, GMOs, and other scientific issues.
And the kids were out in full force at this year’s March Against Monsanto. The MAM movement began in 2013 as a grassroots response to the failure of California proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients. MAM started as an anti-GMO movement but has since evolved into a full-blown promoter of conspiracy theories, ranging from chemtrails to anti-vax varieties and everything in between. This year was no different. Backed financially by the organic and “natural” food industries, and with visions of syringe-addled tomatoes and menacing corporate bigwigs dancing in their heads, hundreds of thousands of concerned protesters gathered around the world to march.
I witnessed indoctrinated children firsthand in Chicago, where I led the MAMyths counter-protest with my co-founders. Kids as young as five and six peppered the MAM crowd holding signs bearing messages like “Stop poisoning me!” and “I am not a science experiment.” Many joined in the shouting of expletives and accusations. At one point, after hearing me say that I’m a mom of two, a 13-year-old boy who had been listening and supporting hecklers stepped forward. His face contorted in fury, he shouted at me, “You’re killing your children!” Saddened, I simply shook my head. The child thought I was arguing with him and he repeated, “Yes you are, you’re killing your children! You’re poisoning them!” I turned my back rather than argue with a young man who seemed too far gone to reach.
Though I’ve written about the problem with child indoctrination before, I believe there is a clear line between a brainwashed child, and one who makes an informed decision about participating in activism. As parents, my husband and I strive to lead by example, modeling critical thinking and making logical conclusions based on observation of the world around us. At the young ages of four and two, our kids have just begun their journeys of learning. Rather than convince them that all of our opinions are paramount, we prefer to endow our children with the tools of learning, a passionate curiosity, and the ability to rationally evaluate information and ask relevant questions. Of course, avoiding indoctrination is easier said than done. I’m almost certain it’s impossible.
Rachel Parent seems to be a study in child indoctrination. Like Jake Lutick-Fuller, Rachel Parent is a Canadian, a kid, and an activist. The 16-year-old GMO opponent founded “Kids Right to Know” at age 12. Like its grown-up “right to know” counterparts, the kids’ organization waves a right-to-know flag when it comes to genetically engineered foods. The proclamation begins on high, disguised at a human rights issue, and trickles down to anti-GMO activists wielding figurative torches and pitchforks, demanding the right to know what’s in their food. With visions of syringe-laden GMO tomatoes dancing menacingly in their heads consumers wonder, “why not just label it?” I’ve written about why not extensively, so rather than reinventing the wheel, free to check out a couple of those posts here and here.
Rachel Parent’s website is chock full of misinformation and unscientific fear mongering. Just one of the myriad myths she promulgates is the now infamous image of tumor-ridden Sprague Dawley rats from the retracted Gilles-Éric Séralini study linking GMOs to cancer. The image is scary, but a novice would fail to grasp that Sprague Dawley rats are prone to tumors when they live beyond a certain age. This variety of rat was inappropriate for the poorly-controlled experiment.
Anti-GMO activists often tout Séralini, without mention that the researchers failed to show the control rat in the now widely-circulated image.
Her father is Wayne Parent, also a vocal GMO opponent and co-founder (with his wife) and CEO of the “Nutrition House,” Canada’s largest “Natural Health” franchise. Rachel Parent is a role model for young anti-biotechnology activists-in-training. She is charismatic and sways kids to the ideological side of the fence during their formative years. The energy and trustworthiness that often accompanies youth has taken Ms. Parent on a whirlwind activist adventure. For the past few years, Parent has spent her time speaking publicly, making television appearances, spreading misinformation about biotechnology and its impacts on health and environment, and mingling with the who’s who of food woo. She’s posed for pictures with anti-GMO celebrities ranging from Food Babe to Jeffrey Smith to Vandana Shiva.
What’s the difference between someone like Jake Lutick-Fuller and someone like Rachel Parent?
Lutick-Fuller, who knows the Latin name for almost any fungus, used his sharp intellect to convince his parents Joshua and Heidi to allow him to accompany them to their local MAMyths event, though they were initially wary. His only ideology seems clear: follow the evidence. On the other hand, Parent appears to parrot ideology, even after being corrected with evidence, repeatedly.
One of these kids trusts the scientific method and scientific consensus. The other seems to promote a distrust of mainstream science.
Parent seems to have been swept along by the dizzying effects of adoration and fame. Even adults can become overwhelmed by this level of exposure, which can easily take precedence over facts. Indeed I don’t blame Ms. Parent for going along with the momentum; it would have been difficult not to. Lutick-Fuller is only 10, but from what I know of him and his parents, I suspect that he won’t easily succumb to such effects.
Parent’s parents seem to be guilty of a certain level of indoctrination, though I can’t speculate. Lutick-Fuller’s parents regularly guide their son with two questions: 1. Where did you get that information? 2. Can you prove it? These are questions that any rational mother or father would want in their parenting repertoire.
Finally, and this is just my opinion, there seems to be something not quite right about a child leading a movement. It’s too easy to be swept away by the role of leader and lose sight of the issues and of objectivity. Informed activism is one thing, being used by a movement as a figurehead, an immune “she’s a kid” shield is another.
This post is meant to serve as a conversation-starter, as fodder for thought. I myself haven’t put my finger on what differentiates a child who can and should be an activist, and one who shouldn’t. My friend Martin Fike put it this way: “A child should not be leading a movement, especially one on an issue that requires impulse control to analyze objectively.” He makes a good point but it made me wonder, do most grown-up activists possess sufficient impulse control? In the meantime, read my interview with the awesome Jake Lutick-Fuller at the Genetic Literacy Project here.