I got an email from a young person at a university stating they were working on a research paper, and while many in the science and scicomm community are jaded about such requests - we are doing someone's homework for them, it is said - I always answer. It's a nonprofit, answering is the job.

The questions were rather specific to GMOs so I stuck to that, but of course I write about a lot more than agriculture while the rest of Science 2.0 writes about virtually every area of science.

The 5 questions I answered below and I added some more thoughts for this article:

1. Why did you create Science 2.0?
2. Why did you choose to write about GMOs?
3. What impact do you think the anti-GMO activist have on the scientific community?
4. Why do you think anti-GMO sentiment has spread?
5. What do you think is the best way to combat the spread of anti-GMO sentiment?

1. Why did you create Science 2.0?  

Science 2.0 was created as a way to allow scientists to speak directly with the public. Corporate media has editors and a tone, and many scientists will not be suitable either in their style or their writing craftsmanship to get into the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or others. Many scientists also did not trust journalists because they get so much in science wrong while the public also did not trust corporate journalists due to a lot of advocacy. Science 2.0 filled that gap; scientists became the journalists, except with no editors so they could be unfiltered. 

I think that mission is even more important now. Anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, anti-whatever, those people create websites and Facebook pages, while scientists comment on Twitter, which is lost to the ether a day later. Maybe write an article on Medium. The world needs polymaths who are sharp thinkers talking about science issues, and the public doesn't want it under corporate control, even if it's a publication I like such as Forbes.

 2. Why did you choose to write about GMOs? 

Imagine if Raisin Bran tried to sell more Raisin Bran by claiming Cheerios caused cancer. You would protest that, and I protested it when the organic industry began to claim they were more nutritious, better for the environment, and healthier for consumers. They were engaging in fraud.

We can't opt out of food so it is a health issue but once companies began to advertise their "nocebo" - the opposite of a placebo, the lack of something makes you healthier - it became a values issue as well. Companies hoping to sell their higher-priced alternatives tried to claim that if parents cared about their children, they wouldn't buy Product X. It caused trust in the food supply to decline among the poor and less educated. The war on GMOs was very much wealthy white people virtue signaling to other wealthy white people, but because none of us can opt out of food it caused poor people who couldn't afford organic to opt out of vegetables entirely. I grew up poor, on a farm that was organic before organic was even a USDA certification, and I knew that there was nothing superior about copper sulfate over Roundup or any other weedkiller. So I began to write about GMOs even though I disliked the Monsanto company because they were right on the science, and that takes priority over my opinion on corporations.

That last part is a real obstacle to getting science outreach overall. Want to defend medicine? You are defending pharmaceutical companies, activists charge. Want to defend agriculture? You are defending chemical companies, activists charge. It isn't just activists, a giant swath of partisan humanities academia will also attack scientists if they defend science. There is a reason the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute is on the A-Team for organic industry PR people. They will hand out a "visiting fellow" appointment to anyone who attacks scientists. This is a pattern of creating an "icy chill" effect common among the anti-science movement.

In a community like Science 2.0, other scientists will defend you. On Twitter, you're on your own, and if you identify with the political demographic that opposes almost all science, it will hurt your feelings when they turn on you.

3. What impact do you think the anti-GMO activist(sic) have on the scientific community? 

The only impact anti-science activists have on the science community is creating an "icy chill" effect. On our comments section, if I leave a comment it automatically gets 20 downvotes within minutes. Activists use online bots to penalize pro-science people. Corporations can't engage in the same tactics because everything corporations do is legally "discoverable" by opposing lawyers, so if a corporation tried to use bots to tear down Organic Consumers Association or Mother Jones, they would be caught. In my experience, corporations wouldn't do it anyway. They are not evangelists, the way many on social media attacking scientists are.

I am immune to their tactics but many academic scientists don't want to be too noticeable on social media or they will get trashed, their dean will get emails, they will get phone calls, they will get people confronting them at their homes. These things have all happened. The consensus on GMOs among the science community is even greater than it is on climate change. In a community of 10,000 people we can defend each other, but a lone scientist on Twitter is quickly shouted down, thus the "icy chill" that Freedom of Information Act documents have shown is a tactic of the seamier part of the organic movement.

Does it happen in other segments? Not that I have seen. I defend biological science and except for nonsense attacks here and there from someone associated with Discovery Institute when it comes to evolution, the only attacks I get are from a network of organic food activists. And their nexus relies on humanities academics. They are not all deniers for hire, though some are. When I have criticized supplements or smoking, there is no cabal of journalism academics from left-wing schools calling me a shill, it is only organic and ant-vaccine activists who have created a juggernaut of science denial. I don't write about climate change in any meaningful way so I suppose a similar infrastructure might exist there.

4. Why do you think anti-GMO sentiment has spread?

Anti-GMO sentiment hasn't spread, science won that fight. GMOs are off patent they have been around so long, they didn't get banned, which was the goal of the activists against it. Non-GMO Project continues to make money, but only by selling stickers on products that have no GMO version anyway, which is why the FDA is about to go after them legally. Activists are trying to scare people about vegetable oil and corn syrup and that hasn't worked.

Instead of driving people to higher-priced organic process versions, the organic segment has been forced to move their price down to compete with regular food. Whole Foods is now only 13% more expensive than Safeway, and to do that they rely heavily on imports. Testing has shown that up to 30% of organic imports are not organic at all, and since there is no surprise spot testing of organic food in the US the fraud rate could be just as high among domestic produce. No one can tell the difference, it is just a belief.

It is more interesting that people think anti-GMO sentiment is spreading. That is how glossy and slick organic industry marketing is. GMOs, not banned. Glyphosate, not banned. Neonics, not banned. In Europe it is fashionable to hate science but for all the weird stuff we worry about, America still has the highest adult literacy in the world. We can complain about that in a defining deviancy down way but we are still better off than other places.

I can make a compelling argument that those things are not banned because of Science 2.0 and Scienceblogs and other places where scientists write. If we had to rely on the New York Times, where Eric Lipton or Sheila Kaplan will just repeat quotes from their political allies in the Science Is A Vast Corporate Conspiracy space, we'd have the same products banned as France. But Science 2.0 fought for science rather than pageviews and full-page ads by Environmental Working Group. It is one of the reasons we are spreading to Europe.

5. What do you think is the best way to combat the spread of anti-GMO sentiment?

FDA is a 20th century bureaucracy in a 21st century world. Because a lot of their rules were created when only Mutagenesis (chemical and radiation baths to create new strains - which is allowed under organic certification!) was in use, politicians who sided with their organic industry donors pressured FDA to treat the successor to Mutagenesis, GMOs, like a new medical device. Yet insulin was already GMO and so was the Hawaiian papaya before that switch. It made no sense. If I want to create a Pacific salmon that grows all year round the way an Atlantic salmon does, it is not a Frankenfish to turn on a gene to do that. It is protecting wild salmon from being depleted by making farmed salmon less resource intensive. It is not a new heart disease drug that requires 15 years of double-blind clinical trials and a billion dollars, it is a fish.

With CRISPR-Cas9 all of the objections by anti-science activists are eliminated and in the last few years FDA has vowed to follow suit by only using new medical device/drug processes for actual new drugs, not simple food that grows better.

After World War II officially ended, there was still fighting. Some Germans still engaged in terrorism. Soldiers still shot at people who tried to kill them. And that is where things are at with GMOs, the war is over and it is just guerrillas throwing gasoline jars at scientists. Few take a Non-GMO Project label seriously, they know salt and water can't be genetically modified. There are still people protesting GMOs the way some protest vaccines or natural gas, but they are fewer in number because in America we teach young people to be critical thinkers, and there is nothing more OK Boomer than an old white person telling young people their strawberry is more nutritious if it used an older pesticide.

I have written a few times about the "green fatigue" young people have suffered under, and how it made them skeptical of a lot of claims. When I was young, if NRDC wrote a press release about a pesticide on apples and got Fenton Communications to place it on "60 Minutes", that pesticide was over regardless of how fraudulent the claims against it were. It's still possible to do that, media personalities still abdicate an alarming amount of their brainpower to producers, but bans are harder to come by. Some companies pulled BPA from cans despite evidence showing it was harmless, for example, but that was a marketing gimmick. Just like the pesticide on apples NRDC tries to claim it got banned - but did not.