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Banging the Drum on Science When It Fits Your Tune

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOctober 28, 2014 11:16 PM


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In her last big superlative GMO story, New York Times reporter Amy Harmon wrote:

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.

Harmon generously linked to a post of mine, which pointed out that liberals "are attentive watchdogs when it comes to flawed coverage of climate change. But with crazy talk on GMOs, they are MIA." I was referring specifically to progressives in media who monitor real (and sometimes perceived) journalistic shortcomings in coverage of climate change. I am gratified that my own occasional attempts to "police frightful coverage" of GMOs, as CJR put it, have been noted by some of my peers. Many who inhabit the progressive sphere have yet to come to terms with the tolerance for dodgy science and misinformation on GMOs that is disseminated by thought leaders and public interest champions. For example, what would you say if a much respected, highly credentialed public intellectual wrote a blurb for a book entitled, "The Climate Deception," a collection of climate skeptic essays? Well, Marion Nestle recently did the equivalent of that with GMOs. This is the sort of thing I highlighted in my Slatepiece a few years ago. Look, there will always be high profile figures who accept a well-established scientific judgement in one field but reject it in another. Such hypocrisy will not go unnoticed and may undermine one's credibility. In the case of GMOs, Fred Pearce in New Scientistargues that Greenpeace has sullied its name by using the same tactics as those it fights against in the climate change arena:

Climate sceptics are undoubtedly dodgy data dealers. They argue, for instance, that the world has cooled since 1998. They don't point out that 1998 was an exceptionally hot El Niño year, nor do they admit the extent of atmospheric warming in the 1990s and earlier. They deny that the temperature trend remains upwards. And they ignore continued warming in the oceans. But Greenpeace cherry-picks data in just the same way in its campaign against GM.

This kind of behavior is environmentalism's cross to bear. A similar scientific inconsistency dogs the American heartland, according to Don Carr, a chronicler of rural life: 

There is a disturbing double standard in agriculture between farmers and ranchers that embrace the science behind genetically modified crops but reject the science behind human-induced climate change. I’m no scientist, so I need to rely on their work to inform my opinions. When they form a consensus around the safety of eating GMO crops or the threat of climate change, I listen. But things aren’t that cut and dried in conventional agriculture. Agriculture lobbyists* and their messengers take to blogs and the airwaves often, banging the drum on the science behind the safety of eating GMO crops while often denying the science behind human-caused climate change.

That selective embrace--and rejection--of science taints the messenger, be it an agricultural lobbyist or environmental group.

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