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.