A 180 degree turn on GMOs. Thank science.

A heartening story about changing your mind. Because he discovered science.

Leading Environmental Activist’s Blunt Confession: I Was Completely Wrong To Oppose GMOs.

If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank. By his own reckoning, British environmentalist helped spur the anti-GMO movement in the mid-‘90s, arguing as recently at 2008 that big corporations’ selfish greed would threaten the health of both people and the Earth. Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research, and NGOs like Greenpeace have spurned donations of genetically modified foods.

But Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On Thursday at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong.

To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on “natural” agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either.

The article goes on to cite another 180 degree turn – from Arthur Allen on autism and vaccines. And, we have also covered the story of Dr. Robert Spitzer and his ultimate rejection of conversion therapy to treat homosexuality. When these people realized they were doing harm by holding on to their unsupported beliefs, they rejected those beliefs. A hard thing to do.

There is a skeptical saying, “You can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.” That seems to be a general rule of thumb but as with everything, it’s not universal. This is why the scientific/skeptical position is so important to emphasize. Maybe we have to push our reasoned perspective with gentle nudging, or maybe with graphic examples of consequences, perhaps calmly, perhaps with humor or vulgarity, even. It may take all views to reach the variety of people in the audience.

These issues are also VERY complicated. There is not only a scientific viewpoint, but social and economic factors to consider. Lynas used to “demonize” the GMO technology, in part, by focusing on corporate greed. For many, this is the non-scientific issue they hold on to as well. There may be merit to that argument. But it’s not correct to skew the scientific information to bolster this non-science-based “anti-” belief. The science must be taken on its own and the other issues on THEIR own to find the best policy direction.

There is much to be said for people who stand up and say I recognize I was wrong and am sorry for it. (Recommended reading: Mistakes were Made but not by Me by Tavris and Aronson) The day I get some good ghost science, I shall happily do the same.

  4 comments for “A 180 degree turn on GMOs. Thank science.

  1. January 4, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    I think opponents of GMOs would be smart to focus on the damage that pesticides and herbicides can have on the environment. Because many GMOs are created in order to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, they can be overused and misused creating environmental damage. There is also the cross pollination issue with farmers. There are many facets to this argument (and I think convincing arguments for more regulation) but like you said, skewing the scientific information is wrong.

  2. January 4, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    FYI a transcript and video of the speech is here on Mark Lynas’ website. He is @Mark_Lynas on Twitter if you’d like to thank him directly for becoming pro-science.

  3. January 6, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    I draw an analogy between rejecting GMO due to concerns about Monsanto and other agricultural firms (which concerns may well be valid), and rejecting vaccines because of concerns about Big Pharma’s ethics (which are certainly valid). Neither makes sense.

  4. January 7, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    I posted this story to my Facebook timeline and the anti-GMO mother of a friend of mine commented, “Interesting. But science isn’t always right.” I feel like that says a lot about the idea of “science” that many anti-GMO (and anti-vax and climate change deniers) hold. That it is a monolithic entity rather than a global network of diverse institutions all trying to contribute to our body of knowledge about the physical world. It’s not a THING, it’s a process of inquiry.

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