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A Brilliant GMO Story

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 7, 2014 1:59 AM


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There's a reason why journalism and writing professors implore their students to "show, don't tell." Stories are more deeply felt when they play out with action and dialogue crafted around a narrative. Showing is also a more effective means for imparting the essence of a controversial issue, news event, or research finding. Some journalists have transferred this skill really well to their blogs (like Ed Yong and Deborah Blum). I haven't been able to pull that off here, or in my issue-oriented pieces elsewhere. I tend to activate my story-telling brain only when I'm working on magazine feature stories, where I have a main character or two to draw out. So for example, I did a lot of telling in this 2012 Slatepiece entitled, "GMO Opponents are the Climate Skeptics of the Left." (It rankled many people I normally agree with on most political issues.) Others, such as Michael Specter, have made similar comparisons, pointing out the characteristics and commonalties of science denialism. For progressives, this has become a touchy subject, especially as it relates to agricultural biotechnology. Amy Harmon's latest feature on GMOs in the New York Times mentions this tension:

Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones.

Like her biotech-related orange story last year, this latest one about a conflict over GMOs in Hawaii is a masterpiece. Both are riveting stories that illuminate important aspects of the GMO debate. I thought this tweet best described Harmon's latest work: 

Brilliant journalism, a story structured to follow the thought process of a man who just wants to get it right. — Tim McGarry (@camphorlane) January 5, 2014

It's brilliant because Harmon shows us not just one man's struggle to sort out facts from fear-mongering, but also the mindset of those that he comes up against.

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