Environment

A Tale of Two Sciences

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOct 26, 2012 11:25 AM

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I'd like you to read two statements. Here's the first:

The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gase emissions is now.

That is from the 2006 resolution on climate change from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Here's the second:

There are several current efforts to require labeling of foods containing products derived from genetically modified crop plants, commonly known as GM crops or GMOs. These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe...There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

That is from an October 20, 2012 statement from the same organization (AAAS). The anti-GMO efforts described above are driven by those who would consider themselves liberals or progressives. Many of them seem to be food and environmental advocates. Their views are sympathetically echoed in progressive media outlets, which often carry reports that play up dubious research attesting to the public health dangers posed by GM crops. Influential thought leaders much admired by progressives also seem to disregard or be suspicious of the consensus science cited by AAAS in its full statement. It is my assumption that this aforementioned group in the progressive camp would agree with the 2006 statement on climate change by AAAS, but disagree with its recent statement on genetically modified foods. Is this intellectually inconsistent on their part? I think so and made the case several weeks ago in a Slate article titled, "GMO opponents are the climate skeptics of the left." Others have made a different comparison that is no less flattering (I would think). Here's how one newly minted science communicator puts it:

The similarities between this [GMO] issue and the anti-vaccination movement (where de-bunked studies are touted as fact and a personal "right to choose" or "gut feeling" takes priority over what has been shown to be true) are striking, which makes me wonder if once again we are seeing a public reaction to "science."

That depends which science. Progressives have no problem with the science that shows global warming is real. The science many of them deny is the one that shows no health or dietary problems associated with GM foods. Why is one science accepted and the other rejected?

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