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Is Grist Joining the Science-Based World on Biotechnology?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJuly 9, 2013 5:15 PM


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Several years ago, well before Mark Lynas made his famous public apology for being an anti-GMO activist, I asked him in an interview to explain his change of mind. What prompted it, I wondered. His response:

There was no “Road to Damascus” conversion, where there’s a sudden blinding flash and you go, “Oh, my God, I’ve got this wrong.” There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at the weight of the evidence.

If you want some insight into what set the stage for Lynas's turnabout on GMOs, read this Observer profile on him. The short version is that he had a worldview that was governed by ideology, not science. His mind only gradually opened after he began questioning the behavior and worldview of the group of greens he had belonged to. That, in turn, led to a rethinking of his own environmental mindset, which today is science-based. Ideally, more greens would follow suit and let science, not ideology (or ideology disguised as pseudo-academic babble), guide them. Unfortunately, this is not the case with GMOs. It's also not the case in progressive, green-friendly media circles, where GMO commentary is as absurdly slanted as anything written about climate change on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. And no site has personified this ideologically blinkered worldview on biotechnology more than Grist. It's just been flat out embarrassing. Someone over there must have finally realized it, because it looks like they want to start fresh with a new food writer, Nathanael Johnson, who says he wants to

get past the rhetoric, fully understand the science, and take the high ground in this debate — in the same way that greens have taken the high ground in talking about climate. It’s hard to make the case that we should trust science and act to stem global warming, while at the same time we are scoffing at the statements [PDF] of *snort* scientists on genetic modification.

Ah yes, I too have noticed this double standard in what I have called a tale of two sciences. Johnson's approach is a breath of fresh air for Grist:

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of pieces, attempting to highlight legitimate concerns and identify the arguments that should be taken out back and … retired. In the courtroom, a judge will often work with both sides to determine a set of facts that all can agree upon, before moving on to argue about how the law should apply to those facts. I’d like to do something similar here: sort out established facts, and gain a sense for what the bulk of the science indicates.

This is a laudable goal. It's also one he should be able to achieve, for as Michael Specter observed in the New Yorker earlier in the year, it would "not have been hard" for Mark Lynas to previously discover the facts on GMOs, had he bothered to look. "Many people have written about them," Specter drily noted. And now so too will Grist, it seems.

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