A Victory for Anti-GMO Forces and a Blow to Science

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNov 13, 2014 7:02 PM


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UPDATE:Additional news stories and responses at bottom. The campaign by Greenpeace and other anti-GMO groups to abolish the position of the European Union's chief science advisor appears to have succeeded. James Wilsdon, a professor of science and democracy at the UK's University of Sussex, laments this news in the Guardian, including the odd timing of the announcement:

Borrowing a trick from the Jo Moore school of media management, the European Commission chose the evening before the Rosetta landing to quietly confirm that its most senior scientific role, that of chief scientific adviser (CSA) to its president, is being scrapped.

Mark Lynas has a rundown at his website. He also notes:

But look – who else is celebrating the decision to abolish the European science advisor role? The climate sceptics, who hated Anne Glover’s equally accurate advice on the serious danger of climate change just as much as the greens hated her scientifically-accurate views on GMOs. It looks like Greenpeace has found itself with some uncomfortable but rather apt new bedfellows.

This is exactly what I pointed out in Slate a few years ago, which didn't sit well in some quarters. The green movement needs to address its GMO problem. If there are no environmentalist leaders willing to challenge the misinformation and scaremongering propagated by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other high profile vessels, such as Vandana Shiva, then the latter forces are more than happy to fill the vacuum. And they will continue to distort the science related to GMOs. That has consequences, as we see today. UPDATE: I dashed off this post early, while on the road. So I'm going to add responses and reactions when I can. Here's one from the respected UK climate scientist Richard Betts that captures the hypocrisy of Greenpeace:

Dear @Greenpeace you're not a friend of science if you only value the bits you like (eg climate research) not those you don't (GMO research) — Richard Betts (@richardabetts) November 13, 2014

Stephan Lewandowskly, a cognitive researcher who has published several studies on climate skepticism, also takes Greenpeace to task. He writes that,

psychologically, cognitively, and politically, science denial is denial is denial is denial. Wherever it happens to be pointing.

Lots of scientists are angry, the BBC reports. The Telegraphsays that Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, decided

to sack Prof Glover came after France made it clear to him that her opinions on GM technology were unacceptable and that the post should be scrapped. “She’s controversial because of her views on GM. Juncker doesn’t like the idea of GM crops being approved by the EU on scientific grounds. Even worse, she had upset the French,’ said an EU source.

Glover responded to this story on Twitter, saying it was false and asked for an apology. (It's worth noting that Juncker is also in the hot seat over another issue making news.) David Ropeik, a writer who specializes in risk, says that the EU, in bowing to special interest group pressure (driven by anti-GMO sentiment), is "essentially letting the frightened mob rule." Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado political scientist, thinks many people are jumping to unwarranted conclusions:

Sorry, but I've seen no evidence to support that Junker's junking of CSA [Chief Scientific Advisor] has anything to do with green advocacy. Correlation =/= causation — Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) November 13, 2014

I suspect that if reporters stay on the story, the reasons behind the decision to terminate the European Union's scientific advisor position will eventually come out.

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