One of the most infuriating things about dealing with some people on the left is their rejection or mistrust of science. Sure, we like to point and laugh when politicians like Bobby Jindal call the Obama administration “science deniers” – especially when Jindal has a degree in science and we know he’s just catering to climate change deniers.
When a bunch of yahoos modify their vehicles to produce huge plumes of black exhaust, a practice known as “rolling coal” that burns excess fuel, we look at them and see it as an immature rejection of climate change science. Remember this video from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver? Some writers on the left took the video and posted articles with headlines like, “Amazing: Watch John Oliver and Bill Nye Crush Idiotic Climate Change Deniers (Video)” or “John Oliver Nails Climate Change Deniers On HBO Show (VIDEO)” as proof that climate change denialists were wrong.
What’s more, since Bill Nye, one of the great celebrities of the scientific world was in the video, it was considered by some to be a defining moment in the debate. Haven’t watched it yet? Here you go:
OK, so if 97% of scientists say that the evidence is irrefutable in regards to climate change, isn’t that the end of the argument? What’s more, if someone were to tell us that climate change isn’t real and that all of these scientists were part of a big liberal conspiracy with the green energy industry, we would think they were nuts. Right?
After all, we make fun of Alex Jones or others in his line of work when they go on long rants about giant conspiracies involving FEMA death camps, the Illuminati, or how we Jews control the entire media and the banks. One of the common refutations to these and other nutty stories their followers believe in is that if there was such a giant plot, wouldn’t someone eventually blow the whistle? Wouldn’t at least a few out of all of the thousands of individuals involved spill the beans either on their deathbed or to sell a book and get TV time?
With this line of logic, we laugh and dismiss claims from conservatives like the one that President Obama’s birth certificate was faked as part of a giant communist plot to destroy the United States or that global warming is a liberal hoax cooked up to destroy the fossil fuels industry. We also consider creationism a complete myth for which there is zero evidence, and we cheered when Bill Nye “destroyed” Ken Ham in that debate earlier this year. Remember that?
So then why do so many people on the left ignore that same reasoning when it comes to the subjects of vaccines and GMOs, and why do we find them embracing some of the same conspiracy ideas promoted by Alex Jones or David Icke? Take for example the fact that Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is revered by a lot of us on the left, and despised by many on the right for his positions on climate change and evolution, among other things. Yet when he offered his opinion on genetic modification, he was angrily denounced as not being qualified to speak on the subject. There was a similar outcry when Jon Stewart had a segment on The Daily Show that mocked anti-vaccination liberals.
A recent study which was discussed in an article at Forbes found no evidence of the claim that GMOs are harmful compared to non-GMOs. The study looked at field data from more than 100 billion animals:
The field data represented more than 100 billion animals covering a period before 1996 when animal feed was 100% non-GMO, and after its introduction when it jumped to 90% and more. The documentation included the records of animals examined pre and post mortem, as ill cattle cannot be approved for meat.
What did they find? That GM feed is safe and nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed. There was no indication of any unusual trends in the health of animals since 1996 when GMO crops were first harvested. Considering the size of the dataset, it can reasonably be said that the debate over the impact of GE feed on animal health is closed: there is zero extraordinary impact. (Source)
In case you were wondering, 100+ billion is a huge number to pull data from and certainly if there was any statistical anomaly, it would have stuck out in a study that large. As mentioned in the Forbes article, if GE feed was indeed toxic to these animals as claimed in the retracted Seralini study, there would be sick or dead chickens, pigs and cows everywhere. This would stick out like a sore thumb and these commercial farmers would either suffer huge financial losses as sick or dead animals are not allowed to be sold for human consumption, or switch back to non-GE feed. If vaccines and GMOs were actually toxic to humans, wouldn’t the average life expectancy in the United States be declining instead of rising?
To be fair, there are farming practices such as clearcutting forests or failing to rotate crops that cause serious environmental issues. There’s also the overuse of pesticides, herbicides (which is partially responsible for the declining monarch populations), and fertilizers – but those are issues which should be tackled separately from the anti-GMOs hysteria which this study has shown to be completely misguided.
A common retort is that the studies are controlled by the seed companies (yes, there are more GE seed companies than just Monsanto) and that this means thousands of other studies were rigged in favor of Monsanto and others. Yet, there is no evidence that these studies, many of them independent, were improperly influenced by these corporations. After all, with thousands of scientists and others involved, certainly at least a few would have come forward and provided clearcut evidence that this had happened. If a conspiracy this huge existed, someone would eventually spill the beans, show documentation of the conspiracy, and become a huge hero of the anti-GMOs movement – except in all of these years, it hasn’t happened.
What is far more plausible is that individuals like Vani Hari and others are capitalizing on a legitimate mistrust of corporate and government organizations, and leveraging it for their own financial gain. Moreover, these grifters are exploiting those who are not scientifically literate and use long, scary-sounding chemical names to steer fearful people towards products that they endorse, usually for profit through affiliate marketing. They’re taking a populist message with a concern for food safety, combining that concern with an almost cult-like or social status mentality, and getting rich doing it.
Science is making our lives better and longer, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. While a healthy amount of skepticism is something we should all practice when approaching new information, we shouldn’t throw out proven science and embrace conspiracy nonsense instead. Just because an attractive person with a smile, an over-sized prop magnifying glass, and a concerned-sounding message puts it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
In closing, I know the usual crowd of anti-GMO people will accuse me of being a Monsanto shill or being jealous of Vani Hari’s success, neither of which are true. I believe in science and the findings of trained researchers who have spent their lives devoted to making the world a better place for humanity. If a majority of real scientists (not random food and diet bloggers with a degree from Google U) were to find that genetically modifying our foods was indeed harmful, then I would accept those results – but that hasn’t happened.
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson
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