My colleagues in the media have taken notice of the execrable rant by Mike Adams, in which he likens some science writers and scientists to Nazis. To recap: The self-proclaimed "Health Ranger" said that certain publishers, journalists and scientists "have signed on to the Nazi genocide machine of our day," which he identifies as the agricultural biotech industry dominated by Monsanto. The unspecified genocide-promoting group was the equivalent of Hitler's propagandists, "paid biotech muckrakers -- people I call "Monsanto collaborators," Adams wrote. He then suggested (his emphasis), that
it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.
Several days after this incitement was published, Adams noted that a "Monsanto Collaborators" website had been created, naming specific individuals (including myself) and publishers. It was baldly transparent. Some colleagues didn't mince words.
Anti-GMO campaigners put @keithkloor and other journos on a hit list for writing about GMOs. http://t.co/wxByRr5i6Y — Phil McKenna (@mckennapr) July 24, 2014
The sinister piece by Adams and the follow-on "Monsanto Collaborators" website was chilling, prompting some of those named on the site to alert the FBI. Adams has since tried walking back the most menacing aspects of this episode. True to conspiratorial form, he now says the "Monsanto Collaborators" website is part of a "false flag operation." (See my updates here.) This is a person who makes Glenn Beck and his chalkboard look quaint. Leaving aside the febrile mind we are dealing with here, it's worth taking a step back to discuss one claim that Adams has seized on as a main building block for his twisted reasoning. This claim--that GMOs have driven more than 250,000 Indian farmers to commit suicide--is widely dispersed in the mainstream biotech discourse (amplified by influential thought leaders) and accepted by many, especially by those already inclined to be suspicious of GMOs. It's a myth. If you want the short explanation, read this piece by a Canadian reporter. If you want the long, complicated version of how this myth came to be so established, read a feature story of mine, published last year in Issues in Science and Technology. (An overview, with links, can be read here.) Now, remember that Adams describes
GMOs as a Nazi-style holocaust. (The Holocaust killed 6 million people, and GMOs are already blamed for hundreds of thousands of suicides in India, with the number growing by the hour. The future death from GMOs may reach 100 million or more...)
Who else talks like this? None other than Vandana Shiva, the Indian-born, globe-trotting environmentalist beloved by many in green, progressive circles. It is Shiva, in fact, who is the relentless propagator of the Indian Farmer-GMO suicide narrative, which she has often called a "genocide." For real. It is Shiva who has cemented the "seeds of suicide" narrative in the public discourse. If you want to learn how she's done this, let me point you again to my long feature, which chronicles Shiva's role as the essential myth-maker. So it is no surprise that the "Monsanto Collaborator" website is plastered with Indian farmer-GMO suicide quotes and a media video report featuring Shiva. This led me to tweet:
Surely, even @drvandanashiva, the most influential #GMO myth disseminator, would not want to be associated with this: http://t.co/ZfFXdbtrPG — keith kloor (@keithkloor) July 24, 2014
Oh man, was I apparently wrong. The original Adams screed equating journalists and scientists with Nazis, along with its incitement to violence, has been reproduced on one of Shiva's websites (Seed Freedom) and promoted on its Facebook page. Was this done by minions running these sites on her behalf, without her awareness? Or does she fully endorse what Adams has written? I have no idea. Maybe someone can ask her. For me, the larger issue is that one of the biggest GMO falsehoods has been successfully mainstreamed. And now this falsehood, which Shiva has done more than anyone to spread and embellish, has been co-opted by the warped, fanatical mind of Mike Adams. It should be plain for all to see, including Shiva, to what end he is employing her flammable anti-GMO rhetoric. Postscript: I've already said elsewhere that I don't think it's fair to tar GMO critics with the stain of a Mike Adams. Every political/social movement, every ideology, every political party has its extreme wing. Yes, the anti-GMO movement regularly peddles misinformation and engages in scare-mongering tactics. But I honestly don't think Adams is representative of this movement. That said, as I indicate above, the well of outrageous GMO myths is deep and Adams draws on one of the biggest myths of all from this well. This is a myth that has been shaped by one of environmentalism's leading voices--Vandana Shiva. And she has dispersed it widely, with minimal to no push-back in the media (especially at progressive outlets). So it's taken hold and used to toxic effect by a Mike Adams. I get the anguish Tom Philpott expresses here:
This kind of shite from @HealthRanger is what makes rigorous critics of GMOs look like loonies. http://t.co/vNlh5XZSwU — Tom Philpott (@tomphilpott) July 24, 2014
But then I ask myself: What has he--and other "rigorous critics of GMOs"-- done to keep the rhetoric from boiling over? Has he ever fact-checked the claims made by Vandana Shiva, which feed the feverish rants of Mike Adams?