To people who are brand new to the culture wars, California's Proposition 37 might be scary. It has demonstrated that the world is a very small place, lies and hysteria can travel around the world and be perpetuated by the blogosphere, the Tweety pages and the Faceyspaceys well before there can be any fact checking or even common sense checking.
A hackneyed activist-driven study by Gilles-Eric Séralini caught fire because it said something anti-science activists worried about not having; a link between GMO foods and health issues. Sadly, some science journalists caved into the weird demands of the researchers that they could only see the paper during the embargo if they agreed not to pull back the curtain and let any rational biologists see it - the political journalism equivalent of gaining access by promising to let campaign managers have preapproval of all quotes from a candidate - but it was only a day later that the study was debunked by all but the most rabid anti-science zealots.
Proposition 37 is much the same. Two weeks ago it was almost certain to pass because voters were told the issue is food transparency. What voters did not not know until an expensive awareness campaign is that people aren't getting transparency, the $29 billion Organic Big Ag industry made sure to exempt themselves from transparency, and the trial lawyer who wrote it made sure not to impact GMOs in restaurant food or alcohol and they made sure to exempt...organic food.
Now, support for Prop 37 has dropped from 66% in favor two weeks ago to 48% now.
What changed? People were told the arbitrary labeling law would lead to higher prices. And newspaper editorial boards have been overwhelmingly against Prop 37. They have differing reasons, some dislike it because it does an 'end run' around the legislature, and people who insist the law 'can be fixed' perpetuate that myth knowing full well a voter referendum cannot be modified by the legislature, or there would be no point to a referendum. others dislike it because the wording is intentionally flawed in order to be lawsuit bait and won't protect the public at all, it will just impact food prices and the E-Trade accounts of lawyers.
Who jumped on that Séralini junk science right away? The same organic soap makers and homeopathy peddliers behind Prop 37.
LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik thinks this rapid deployment of weapons-grade junk science is something new and special and Californian. Not at all, it is a legacy 50 years old and the grandmother of encouraging people to vote on science using emotion was Rachel Carson, author of "Silent Spring", whose legacy is carried on by advocacy groups today: they say science is scary and scientists are evil and, if you don't believe it...thalidomide! Carson launched the very first junk science nuclear bomb in the culture wars - and it worked. Hearings were held, only scientists questioned her evidence-by-anecdote and statistical manipulations, to everyone else DDT was bad. Modern anti-science progressives suddenly had a sure-fire template to raise money and advance their political agendas.
Luckily, in modern times people have access to information and not just expensive brochures prepared by activists. That is why Prop 37 is at least reaching reasonable levels of public approval when a month ago it was a rubber stamp vote for out-of-state special interests.
America faces three crucial issues in the upcoming decade; food, energy and the climate. On two of those, anti-science activists deny the science consensus and insist that scientists are out to ruin us and only retreating into the nature of the past can we survive.
How can we trust the consensus on climate change when partisan fundraising environmental groups insist the consensus is wrong about everything else?
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