Who has more credibility to the NPR audience, a scientist or someone who runs an organic yogurt company? It depends on the issue, of course. When it comes to global warming, science is awesome but when it comes to food security for poor people, science is evil corporations out to kill us all. So they accept the facts of the yogurt maker.
Henry Miller of Forbes - physician and molecular biologist, founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993 and, more recently, scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution - is calling them out. He discusses a common technique against science, especially by the kooky environmental fringe, invoking false moral equivalence by creating "pseudo-balance", like having world-renowned biologist (and Science 2.0 contributor) Lee Silver squared off against anti-science activist Margaret Mellon. They're both equal, right? Maybe to NPR.
Scientists of all stripes (and in broad culture liberals and conservatives) care about poor people and that means caring about food security. The more food, the cheaper it is and the cheaper it is, the more money poor people have to spend on other things. It is historical fact that when people have wealth beyond basic needs, culture and education improves. Progressives seem to want to make food more expensive, keep people out of nature and they'd tax the Moon if they could. If we can engineer crops that use less water they can grow in areas where a lot of poor people live, we should do it and improve their lives. Sure, that means poor Africans won't buy organic spinach from Europe but it's better for poor Africans to grow their own food locally and even sell it.
We've talked about the Aquadvantage salmon before. It could practically be a poster-child for anti-science denialism, on a par with global warming yet with a lot less science media coverage - the reason for that is the Big White Elephant In The Science Media Room. NPR covered that too, Miller opines, with "Science Friday" pitting scientist Alison Van Eenennaam versus the darling of radical environmental NGOs, Anne Kapuscinski.
Predictably, the denialist did some fearmongering, invoking a "worrisome 'precedent' for future animals" - that's slippery slope reasoning to you and me. Social conservatives do it too, like when they contend that support for gay men being able to cheer their kids on at a soccer game is worrisome. If you buy that business about a 'worrisome precedent' over a fish that happens to grow faster and is the most thoroughly studied and tested genetic modification in history, you have good logical company on the right.
I'd like to defend "Science Friday" a little, though "Talk of the Nation" and other anti-science fluff on NPR can take their lumps. "Science Friday" wants to appeal to a large cross-section of listeners, and that includes anti-science cranks, so cherry-picking one example out of 50 is just that, cherry-picking - their anti-NGO 'scientist' was actually a professor in 'sustainability' though, which is basically humanities with an even fuzzier title. Hopefully Ira can get a little more informed opposition the next time out. Otherwise, it will inspire food critics to grant us their in-depth science analysis of GMOs in The Atlantic again.
Link: NPR's Bias Against Genetic Engineering by Henry Miller, Forbes
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