Banner
    Progressive Anti-Science: Biologists Are Just Tinkerers
    By Hank Campbell | July 31st 2012 05:30 AM | 34 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    Do you work in genetics? If so, you are out to ruin the brains of children, according to a claim at Alternet.org.
    The biotech industry is willing to tamper with our food supply, our kids' minds and our basic consumer rights.
    I am not sure when it became a consumer right to buy seedless watermelons but I am not an irrational progressive blogger, so I have poor grasp of things I know nothing about, like what the Founding Fathers were thinking when they left that bit out.  Yet I have to give this guy for knowing his audience. Anti-science hippies love their emotional verbage, especially when it sets out to disparage anyone who deviates from their world view.  Eating a modern banana (clones!) will apparently give children brain damage or maybe make them susceptible to Big Ag mind control. Or something. I don't know, who can figure this dross out?
    Some people are too smart for your own good.

    Food geneticists, for example. These technicians have the smarts to tinker with the inner workings of Momma Nature's own good foods -- but not the smarts to leave well enough alone.
    Tinker, huh? Tinkerers in America are a little different than they are in Europe, where they are basically gypsies ("pikeys") who wander around doing odd jobs, but one core meaning is the same; amateurs. That's what Jim Hightower, syndicated writer and radio talk show host, thinks of science.  Seriously, the people behind Andy Capp, Wizard of Id and other fine cartoons pay this guy to write and the anti-science audience paying for that content is three times as large as this actual science site.  Clearly, science media was a bad idea on my part, I missed out on the big money.  Their site is chock full of anti-Republican and pro-Democrat ads, which tells you which party hates biologists and science the most. Nature, in all its glorious, randomly mutated awesomeness, is good and biologists are bad.  No surprise, given his distaste for science and his fetish for 'natural' foods (which are decidedly unnatural, but he doesn't know enough science to know that) that we can guess how he will vote in November. He'll vote for the anti-science party all over the ads on that site.

      
    Actual ads I screencapped from that site.  I guess Republicans are 'special interests' but a $13 billion organic food company is not.

    He does concede - let's face it, you'd have to have the intelligence of a rock not to - that science has done some okay things.  Presumably like ending lots of deaths due to diseases and feeding the world. He just wishes science would not do anything now.  Like feed the world.  You see, he is living in a fairytale Utopia, where organic food can feed the world.  And no organic food has any genetic modification (unless it is random cosmic rays doing it) and we are all fat and happy and DDT-free. In other words, he is living in a food-rich country, basically part of the agricultural 1%, and wants children in other countries to die for his progressive experiment.
    if you are parent you may be worried about the plethora of highly questionable bio-engineered organisms that the profiteers have quietly been slipping into everything from snack foods to school lunches.
    Whatever. You know what my father ate in his school lunches? Lard. On homemade bread, with some salt.  I get that he (and AlterNet and their audience) despises science - science isn't perfect, it is done by people, and some people are flawed - but school lunches are a lot better than when I was a kid and my lunches were a lot better than my dad's.  Thanks, farmers, for not listening to these people when I was young, and making food affordable.

    I'm thrilled that the progressive 1% can afford to shop at Whole Foods, just alarmed at their ability for self-deception. Fully 25% of imported certified 'organic' food is just conventional food anyway, and since organic food need only be 95% organic and can have dozens of inorganic ingredients if they are deemed 'essential' - including GMOs - then I am proud I am not educated by advertising the way writers and readers at AlterNet.org are.

    Hightower is anti-beer, anti-vaccine, anti-steak, anti-science and, most importantly, anti-Republican.  That last one was once enough to get you a fat audience in science blogging 10 years ago but those days are gone.  People increasingly recognize that the Holy Trinity of Anti-Science Positions espoused by Progressive Mullahs (human embryonic stem cells, evolution, global warming) is not the extent of anti-science positions at all; in reality, when it comes to the overwhelmingly majority of science issues, the right-wing people of Mississippi are far more accepting of science than the left-wing people of Seattle are. 

    As you might expect, his article about how stupid and/or evil scientists are is a segue into supporting warning labels on genetically modified foods.  Sorry, it is supposed to be framed as the 'right to know' campaign, not warning labels.  But voters will be convinced.  The left are masters at public relations and the biggest public relations trick they ever pulled off was convincing anyone Monsanto is good at PR.

    But what he does not know is that if a true 'right to know' law about food were passed, and not one specifically written to exempt the organic industry, there would be nothing left without a warning label - which makes warning labels pointless.

    Comments

    Frank Parks
    Yay Hank!  Say, would you mind passing me another of those non GMO Twinkies?
    Hank
    That's a terrific example.  Most of the things that have never been genetically modified from nature are the ones that never existed in nature in the first place.
    Gerhard Adam
    I fundamentally agree with you and fully agree that we need to stop the emotional arguments, as well as the notion that information is useful when there are exemptions [such as for organic food].  I also recognize that the notion of an unadulterated "Mother Nature" is equally a fantasy.

    However, when we eliminate the science we are left with a few other points that contribute to this whole issue.  As we just discussed in another post, there is a general consensus of "caveat emptor", since it appears that no one has a problem in taking advantage of gullibility, so it should come as no surprise if more and more people are becoming skeptics, even if they are ill-informed skeptics.   Therefore, it should come as no surprise when "skepticism" is marketed just as readily as any other "product".

    In the second place, the issue is problematic because it does represent the elimination of choice.  People are essentially being put in the position of having to accept whatever "science" or politics [using the science as justification] deem as appropriate.  Again, this has nothing to do with whether people are properly informed, or if there are issues of concern here.  Simply that such decisions are rarely a good idea.

    This is why I'm in favor of labeling as a means of providing information.  NOT WARNINGS.  Warnings are not information, they are fear-mongering and ultimately marketing.  Also, you know that despite your claims about feeding the world's hungry, that is not an agenda item for GMO foods. 

    Again, I can appreciate that banning GMO's may flow into decisions made for third-world countries and can affect some of the products they may be relying on to grow their own economies, the point is that there is too much effort to market to people that don't need these products.  So, unless something is being left unspoken, then it appears that companies are attempting to sell products to consumers that are less than thrilled about being compelled to purchase them.  That's the choice a "free market" has.  Yet, despite all the proponents, it seems that they are decidedly looking to force consumers to accept whatever producers want not customers.

    This would be different if it were a matter of public safety, such that non-GMO foods were dangerous [in the same way that being anti-vaccine is], but that isn't the case.  So, while there is nothing wrong with the science regarding GMO foods, a better, more believable case needs to be made as to why we should embrace it.

    If it helps the environment, then show me.  If it reduces the use of pesticides then show me [not with anecdotes].  If people are informed about the actual benefits, then they will likely accept and embrace the technology. 

    In some respects it is like the decision of the government to support digital television instead of allowing coexisting analog signals.  It was done purely because it was more convenient for industry, instead of letting the market determine the outcome.  This has a very similar "feel" to it, and consequently it is meeting resistance.

    The rest of the rhetoric would occur no matter what, because there are die-hards that will never accept GMO's.  Just as there are people that think eating meat is evil, etc.  In my view, that isn't where the legitimate arguments are.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What's really sad is that Jim Hightower is one anti-GMO person who is relatively careful to not denigrate science and scientists - 'relatively' being a key term. I also happen to think he's correct on most of his stands, but this frankenfood nonsense - unless it's referring to Al Franken's meals - has the leftist new agers aiding and abetting the anti-science tea party people. 'With friends like these...'!

    Thanks for once again pointing out the left’s science hypocrisy!
    Shows how progressives are only interested in science insofar as it coincides with their dogma.

    Gosh, both you and Hank must be of the six percent of scientists who are Republican.

    Hank
    I'm not a Republican and not a scientist.  I don't even know any Republican scientists, that small percent are people on surveys.  But people who do know them tell me they are older and are leftovers from the time when science academia paid a lot less but was politically balanced.  Go figure that being paid more correlated to a greater political skew left. I'd have thought the right chased money more.
    "in reality, when it comes to the overwhelmingly majority of science issues, the right-wing people of Mississippi are far more accepting of science than the left-wing people of Seattle are." Nonsense. Your understanding of the mindset of most Seattle liberals is as ignorant as your opponents understanding of genetic modification. I lived in Seattle for 9.5 years. How many years have you spent there? I've not lived in Mississippi, but I've lived in Kansas for decades and think I understand the general conservative American mind set.

    Also, you might want to proof read this article. I spotted a bunch of errors.

    Hank
    Let me see if I understand your logic - you have never lived in Mississippi but just know they are more anti-science than Seattle, because you live there?  That makes no sense at all.

    I can use Alabama instead, if you prefer: they only have 0.5% exemptions from vaccines for "beliefs" while Washington has 6.2% and Seattle has nearly 20%.  That's anti-science.  Sorry if that hurts but do something about it instead of running around shrieking that right-wingers must be stupider because you read it on Alternet.
    Interestingly, recently nearby British Columbia has also had lower rates of vaccination compared to the national average, but it's hard to get stats to check if the exemptions are due to belief.
    There is a Vancouver, B.C-based website that promotes homeopathic immunizations! Frightening! The so-called researcher doesn't consider the possibility that his vaccinations seemingly work only because most of the people surrounding the innocent children (victims of deluded parents) are protected by the majority who received real vaccines!
    I live in Seattle. Hank is correct. They're so afraid of GMOs and "chemicals" at Whole Foods, they can't even spell bisphenol A properly on the sign in the elevator.

    I've got to say I find your article a bit offensive. I'm not disagreeing that some leftists have gone insane and ARE anti-science, but you make it sound like they all are. I'm a moderate liberal, I am engaged to a VERY liberal woman and friends with very liberal people who are nothing like you suggest. I'm also not saying that conservatives are anti-science. I think we're dealing with pocket cultures more than anything. There are extremists on both sides who are anti-science, but the way I read this article makes it sound like you believe anyone who is a progressive liberal is paranoid about vaccines and GM foods. I really have only me a few people who are all that concerned bout these issues. The people I have me who are tend to excessively paranoid about MANY things and come from the left and right. I do agree that the progressive liberals you're talking about are a danger along with some of the tea-party group, but I think you put more stock in media than you should. We're people, not just political parties.

    Hank
    I've got to say I find your article a bit offensive. I'm not disagreeing that some leftists have gone insane and ARE anti-science, but you make it sound like they all are. I'm a moderate liberal, I am engaged to a VERY liberal woman and friends with very liberal people who are nothing like you suggest. 
    Where in this article, or any of 2,000 articles that I have written, have I said anything against liberals?  I make fun of kooky, anti-science progressives and you say you are not one. Okay. If you make fun of kooky, anti-science libertarians, should be 50% of America be offended and tell they personally know conservatives who are not anti-science?  It makes no sense.

    We must consider you are reading what you want to read rather than what I wrote.

    Good point. I'll concede to that. It was more the feeling of the article than anything I guess. As my SN suggests, I've got to admit I'm probably not nearly as intelligent as most of the readers and writers on this site. I truly do love this site though and enjoy reading the articles here even if they're a bit over my head. I'll try not to jump to conclusions from now on.

    Keep in mind that there are several writers on Science 2.0 that lean to the left. The challenge in writing about science is that one's affiliations constantly threaten objectivity. That also applies to readers. When we read in between the lines, we sometimes see things that were not really in the mind of the writer.
    I completely agree and I begrudgingly agree with hank as well. Again, I'm not as smart as you guys, I read these articles to try to further my own intellect and enjoyment. My comment really was an emotional/partisan response and I overreacted. Objectivity has never really been my strong suit and I retract my first comment. It's a good article, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I reread the article and hanks points are quite correct when read more thoroughly. Being a moderate, and a fairly strongly opinionated one at that, I have keep in mind both sides are understand that Hank was teasing a specific group and not liberals at large.

    Hank
    I have a book coming out on political interference in science and I think this is a problem I will have - while the right happily accepts distinctions between Republicans, conservatives and libertarians the left happily interchanges liberals, progressives and Democrats.  And so the right wing pundits help them do it.  Maybe liberals are too inclusive?  There is almost nothing a NYC cop and a San Francisco hippie progressive have in common so calling them both liberal makes no sense.

    The problem may be that scientists - Enrico says some, but I can only count two people on this site who are not left, I am right monetarily but left socially - will think when I say progressive I am talking about them.  But I am talking about the people who want to ban Big Gulps, Happy Meals, goldfish, golf, hiking, etc. (everything but pot and gay marriage, which the right covers) and engage in social authoritarianism coupled with an anti-science agenda.
     Enrico says "some", but I can only count two people on this site who are not left 
    I'm sure you're correct. You know the site and its writers far better than I do. But I tried to be objective; only a few took the political compass test, so that was my only "evidence".   :)

    Allowing one's affiliations to affect one's objectivity is bad, bad, bad...
    BUT
    Reasonable people are aware of the problem and allow for it and maybe dispute any issues which are thus tainted.

    This system of using our brains is called "tolerance".

    Unreasonable people, however, use a small transgression from absolute objectivity as an excuse to erupt into a frenzy of ill-tempered vituperation calculated to achieve precisely nothing beyond bad feeling and disruption of a previously peaceful discussion.

    Still, "psuedo-hippy stinking commie" Sascha and "fascist pig sacked from academia" Lubos are quite entertaining.  I guess that's because they don't mix business and pleasure.

    Pass the popcorn, someone.
    It's amazing to me that you can take one snip of a quote and then spin it into such absurd generalizations that are so broad and nebulous that there is little to analyze or evaluate. No, I am not a "hippie liberal" but a retired neuroscientist who has little tolerance for bullspit of any political persuasion. Perhaps you will be so good as to point out anti- science liberals who have worked actively to undermine the teaching of evolution? And I'm pretty sure that it wasn't a hippie leftist in Texas who proposed banning the teaching of critical thinking. In my opinion, most people would agree that the religious right has been the dominant anti-science force in the USA for some time.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but at the risk of pre-empting Hank on this ... I have to agree with him that the sentiment regarding anti-vaccine rhetoric is dominated by the left.  Similarly the nonsense about everything from diet [vegan] to genetic modification is also dominated by the left.

    In addition, while it is easy to pile on the right regarding evolution, let's remember that the left is equally as daft with their UFO's and psychics.  None of which are particularly scientific, so it really isn't just a "personal" thing.

    I also have to agree with Hank that the teaching of evolution doesn't rank very high in terms of social significance, compared to some of these other areas, so while the right can be super-annoying about it, they aren't particularly relevant to any actual consequences [except perhaps to their own education].

    Just for the record, I know absolutely how annoying those religious views can be, so I'm certainly no apologist for them, but I do have to acknowledge that at the end of the day, I don't particularly care if those people want to teach their kids about fairies and elves ... it's really not my problem if they won't be able to find jobs later in science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The label used in the title of the post, "progressive," is most commonly used as a substitute for "liberal" but there is no requirement to embrace the lunatic fringe. It would be just as abhorrent and intellectually dishonest to make an absurd link between the label "conservative" and the radical right.

    As an example of the broad generalizations that are stated as fact without evidence, I have to mention "anti-vaccine rhetoric is dominated by the left," I guess you missed the Republican nomination debates.

    A number of surveys of self-identified religious fundamentalists who reject the scientific explanation of the origin of the universe, the origin of life and its subsequent evolution ranges from 28 to 38 percent of the American population. I find that of concern, certainly more than a handful of UFO kooks.

    Hank
    But why?  Other than it being your pet peeve.  Some kooks wanting to teach religion in a science class is no more harmful than some kook contending there are UFOs.  Kids see through it and we shouldn't let it become common, but it is not hijacking science.  Yet if you read science media - overwhelmingly partisan - that and global warming and hESC are the only 3 anti-science positions around.  It is completely dishonest. 
    It would be just as abhorrent and intellectually dishonest to make an absurd link between the label "conservative" and the radical right.
    One best selling author does just that, every day.  But he doesn't just label conservatives, he contends all Republicans are genetically and psychologically broken.  Who stands up to that nonsense?  A lot of liberal scientists, actually - because they understand kooky progressives in their midst are not the same as liberals (who are quite good for science).  You might use libertarian and conservative and Republican interchangeably but you shouldn't; it is cookie cutter simplicity. I expect better recognition of differences from a neuroscience PhD.
    Last comment because I'm obviously out of my league. "Some kooks wanting to teach religion in a science class is no more harmful than some kook contending there are UFOs. Kids see through it and we shouldn't let it become common, but it is not hijacking science. Yet if you read science media - overwhelmingly partisan - that and global warming and hESC are the only 3 anti-science positions around". I disagree with a few things here. Kids do not see through the psychobabble of creationism in science classrooms. They are being taught this by people who they are told are educated and know what they are talking about. They then go home to parents who may believe the same thing (don't get me wrong I'm not trying to generalize this part) and it becomes part of their intellectual beliefs. The idea of UFOs is FAR less harmful because it's not taught in schools as being fact or at all in any schools I am aware of. As for global warming; it's pretty clear that humans are effecting the environment. It's not as if we are solely responsible for global warming because the earth has a history of change, but there is evidence now that is pretty unquestionable.

    Hank
    Fair enough, but if the encroachment of a few attempts at teaching religion in schools mattered in the least, America would not (and could not) have led the world in science for the last 70 years. Religion used to be sort-of taught a lot more, it was ingrained in the culture even if it was not taught, but we produced lots of American scientists who lead the world in Nobel prizes. If tolerance of religion leads to cloudy thinking and stupid people, as militant atheists suggest, then certainly believing in psychics, ghosts and astrology more would also.

    Climate change is a problem but it is not killing anyone today - the anti-vaccine movement is real, short-term risk. The 60 year high in whooping cough instances in California is not inland, where I am, it is on the coast, where rich progressives live and Democrats get 82% of the popular vote.
    Gerhard Adam
    Last comment because I'm obviously out of my league.
    You're definitely not out your league and you should feel free to participate in whatever manner you like.  Sometimes you may get your ego bruised, but you brush yourself off and continue on.  That's how we learn and sometimes we may actually change our minds in the process. 
    Kids do not see through the psychobabble of creationism in science classrooms. They are being taught this by people who they are told are educated and know what they are talking about. They then go home to parents who may believe the same thing (don't get me wrong I'm not trying to generalize this part) and it becomes part of their intellectual beliefs.
    I do believe that you're right, but the distinction to be made is that it is harmful to them personally, but it doesn't actually harm society overall because there aren't enough people with such beliefs.  I often wonder how many kids have had their future career opportunities compromised because of such teachings, but again ... that's more personal than national.  I also address some of these issues in an older post; "The Luxury of Belief".
    The idea of UFOs is FAR less harmful because it's not taught in schools as being fact or at all in any schools I am aware of.
    My primary point of contention is that most science isn't actually being taught in schools.  If we were to take the average high school student [or graduate], I would expect that we find their scientific training is a bit paltry.  Instead, I would argue that a significant amount of science "education" arises from the media, including things like the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, etc. in which we find that things like UFO's and other such beliefs are given a fair amount of coverage, and implied credibility.
    As for global warming; it's pretty clear that humans are effecting the environment. It's not as if we are solely responsible for global warming because the earth has a history of change, but there is evidence now that is pretty unquestionable.
    Again, I think the primary problem here is that most of the contention here occurs because of political dialogue and coverage rather than the education received in our schools.




    Mundus vult decipi
    First off, thanks for the vote of confidence. I do see your point in that a small population being taught ideas such as creationism does not effect the nation. Maybe the better example of the GOP wanting to take critical thinking out of the classroom could demonstrate my point. I'm not sure how accurate this information is because of the enormous amount of crap news websites online, but if this is true, this would effect the future of these children. I spent the first half of college studying to be a teacher before deciding to switch to a pure math degree and, in my opinion, the greatest goal in education is to teach students to THINK. Critical thinking is what allows us to analyze, and solve the problems this world faces.

    I also agree that too much scientific knowledge comes from dubious sources (although I actually enjoy "ancient aliens" but only for entertainment). Scientific thought is definitely something that needs to be boosted in schools. From cell phones causing cancer, to GM foods poisoning us, the amount of garbage science we are exposed to in the media enormous. This goes back to my point of critical thinking. Imagine people without the critical thinking skills to research and come to their own conclusions about what is and isn't real science.

    I'm not sure of your personal opinion of global warming, but from the research I've done, it seems unlikely that the changes in our world are completely natural occurrences. Even some outspoken critics of global warming have now come forward and admitted that they were wrong. In the end it may not matter what is causing climate change, the fact is that it is happening. As a species we are going to have to adapt to it regardless.

    Gerhard Adam
    Critical thinking is what allows us to analyze, and solve the problems this world faces.
    Agreed.  I just happen to be old school enough to think that the biggest influences will come from the parents.  If the parents are twits ... then that's the future for that particular family.  If the parents value and education and critical thinking ... then that's the future for their children.

    I don't credit schools with that much influence, although I recognize they have some, it is a much more inflated sense of their own importance that comes through the media than actually exists in most cases.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You're definitely not out your league
    Very profund, Gerhard. As the old saw goes: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, write books and those who can't write books spend their days blogging :) 

    Yes, most of us are amateur commenters despite Hank's aspirations to draw the world's top scientists. But there are a few who are active in science and know their stuff and are willing to share it. They make up for the rest of us.

    Gerhard Adam
    As the old saw goes: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, write books and those who can't write books spend their days blogging :)
    Which is precisely why it's an "old saw" and why it is equally meaningless.  Does anyone really believe that everything they've ever learned was taught by individuals that couldn't "do"? 

    It was clearly said by someone that felt they could "do" but were inadequate in every other endeavor. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    There's no point in having an interesting exchange in this thread.  :)  You should start a new one because when a comment thread has been hijacked it has to go, lest the actual audience visit and think the place is insane.
    I agree with you hank; with everything except for teaching creationism. Our country should be beyond that at this point. Not sure if you meant me but I am not an atheist. I'm a pantheist (my own version of it). I believe spirituality can be created through science just as profoundly as it can through the nonsense that has plagued mankind throughout history. I wont go into my belief system because that's not the issue here. I just wanted to clarify in case the militant atheist comment in any way referred to me. It probably didn't but just in case. And again, thank you so much for creating this site. It's fascinating.

    Dubious Virtue
    I'm not contributing at all here... I just like the idea of a GM scientist tinkers coming to your door "Buy some nice pegs missus? How 'bout some pots? Or a little GM work on your luverly tomatoes out back? Make 'em nice and real big missus".
    Hank
    I think Guy Ritchie should hire you to do the screenplay for "Snatch II"!