Checking out visits to this blog, I made the depressing discovery that my latest post “Real Science 1” has had only about one-fifteenth of the readership of two “hot-button-issue” posts, “Unsafe at Any Dose?” and “Causation IS Correlation”.
Why is it depressing? Because winning minor skirmishes over particular issues, useful though it is, is not going to tackle the core belief of GMO supporters. Which is, that they have the Science and we don’t. And this is their key claim, the claim that that guarantees them legitimacy, the one that gets trumpeted and re-trumpeted on pro-GMO sites, that is believed and reinforced by the mass media, and that opponents of the whole GMO/pesticide nexus have so far done no more than snipe at. We can point to individual papers that contradict their claims and they trash those papers by subjecting them to criteria that no pro-GMO piece ever had to undergo. There are fewer scholarly papers finding problems with GMOs than there are scholarly papers enthusiastically endorsing them, and there are more scientists, at any rate more people who are called and who call themselves “scientists”—88% more, if you believe the latest polls--who believe that GMOs and pesticides are perfectly safe than scientists who are skeptical of those claims.
Small wonder then that many anti-GMOers become anti-science, become exactly what pro-GMOers portray them as being, while others are in denial, refusing to accept the situation, latching on to anything that seems prejudicial to GMOs regardless of its provenance or reliability. But such responses are not just futile—they’re unnecessary. All you have to do is put the conflict in a broader context. Once you do that, you will understand what is happening, why it is happening, why it had to happen, and why the picture is already changing and will change even more. In our favor. It may not be quick, but we can speed it up by five, ten, fifteen years, once we realize that GMOers are weakest where they feel themselves strongest. We can challenge them on their most basic assumptions, provided we are willing to raise our heads out of the trenches and survey the battlefield we’re fighting on from a longer and broader perspective.
In the post series entitled “Real Science”, I’ll first examine the sociology, psychology and history of science, with particular reference to its most recent 200 years. Then I’ll talk about what’s been happening in the biological sciences over the last fifty or so years, culminating in changes to some basic assumptions that GMO advocates seem not to have noticed. Finally I’ll survey the economic forces that have sought to control and direct science and why those forces have been initially so successful, but also why they cannot remain so.
Boring, abstract stuff of no conceivable interest to people who are trying to get labeling laws passed, or put folk with placards round City Hall, or host informational seminars, or do any of all the countless things activists must do? No way! Don’t think for one moment that I want in any way to depreciate those things. Quite the contrary. I myself am actively involved in them, here at ground zero in Hawaii, so I know they have to be done. But, and a very big “but”…
It’s on the high ground of pure science that the decisive battle will be fought—and won! Never mind the “pro-science” rhetoric on the GMO side. Once you see the Big Picture, you can see how much (or how little) that’s worth. Because that’s what it is, sheer rhetoric, the endless repetition of the same mantras: GMOs have been proven safe, no-one has ever gotten sick from them, pesticides are harmless to humans below the government-certified “low dose”, if anyone says different it’s junk science, farmers have been doing this for millennia, opposition to any of this is anti-science, and on and on. Words. I’m going to give you facts. Facts you can use to put an end to all this who’s pro and who’s anti-science.
Because the issues we’re talking about are empirical issues. Things that sooner or later will be decided on the basis of indisputable fact. I don’t for one moment doubt that there are many people on the GMO side who sincerely believe that they are on the side of science and reason—“all paid by Monsanto” is just a pro-GMOers’ myth. Indeed I even know WHY they claim to be pro-science. Because they ARE pro-science. In a sense.
You see, the science they are pro is basically the science they learned in college or grad-school, twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Well, unfortunately for them, science is always moving, at some times faster than at others, and twenty years can be a long time in science. In my next “Real Science” post but one, I’ll explain the two most recent major developments in biology—evo-devo and niche construction theory—and exactly how these impact the pro-GMO case (in a word, adversely). First, though, I need to place these developments squarely in the context of the Still Bigger Picture—how science has evolved over the last five hundred years, and how much what we still call “science” has itself has been changed by that process. So that’s what’s coming next—stay tuned!