When the crusade against evolution emerged, scientists and educators and the skeptic movement rose to the battle. When the crusade against vaccines was in full throttle, scientists and the skeptic movement confronted the fear-mongering campaign, (while the media fed it). When the crusade against climate science got ugly, scientists fought back and when political action on climate change stalled, greens rallied to the issue. Today, the hostile forces arrayed against evolution, vaccines and climate science are marginalized. They are not tolerated in the least by the scientific community and their pseudoscience does not go unchallenged in the media or science blogosphere. True, these unscientific forces still have have a hold on some segments of the public, but that's always going to be the case. After all, 28% of American voters still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and 13% of voters think that President Obama is the anti-Christ. There's never going to be a 100% rational-minded populace. The best we can do is keep the crazy in check and not let it infect the mainstream. Which brings me to the insanity of the GMO debate. Why is it so unhinged? There's a convergence of forces, of which these are representative: We have popular environmental media websites that play up asinine frankenfood tropes; we have popular food writers and scholars that wink at the anti-GMO movement's distortion of science; we have a big environmental group that vandalizes research and whips up anti-GMO hysteria around the world; we have fringe types legitimized by a popular talk show host; we have a Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist (who has written a best-selling book on food) who says of GMOs: "People are realizing, this is really scary stuff." So who are these people, by and large? Well, as numerous skeptic bloggers have started noting, including PZ Myers recently:
This strange unfounded fear of GMOs is unfortunately most strongly expressed in the political left. It’s embarrassing that political progressives are being made to look bad by raging superstition and unscientific claims.
It's more than embarrassing. It's downright hypocritical of progressives and enviros to call out others for "anti-science" behavior--be it denial of climate change or evolution--when they are the ones leading the crusade against biotech research and GMOs. It's like Newt Gingrich preaching family values. If progressives want to remain a credible voice on science, they're going to have marginalize the growing forces in their midst that have strayed into the world of biotech pseudoscience and fear-mongering.
[Activists ripping up a genetically modified crop. Photo via the Telegraph]