Creationists and the Anti-GMO crowd (hereafter referred to as anti’s) crowd share a foundational base; one amusing to explore, no less. Creationism, or Intelligent Design (ID) as it is known in some circles where they pretend to themselves it is a scientific theory, has been notorious at setting up evolutionary straw men that they can then easily knock them down to the delight of other believers. (A straw man argument is where you intentionally misrepresent an argument so that you can take down the ‘straw man’ argument without taking on the actual argument to the benefit of your ego and ignorance of your audience.)
Exhibit A: The crocoduck
Now, some unfamiliar with the debate may think I’m showing a picture that is a caricature of the ID movements beliefs; I’m not, this comes from within their ranks. This is how they think evolution works! Now, I’m not going to bother debunking their childish beliefs, but I just wanted you to know about it for comparison’s sake. Because, the very same images are showing up in the anti crowd, and it is in this that they share in common with our creationist believing brethren.
In all aspects of the debate on the health, benefits, and detriments of genetically modified food, they’ve exhibit the same tactics, manners, fallacies, and in the process of trying (emphasis on trying) to fortify their position use discredited studies, and almost always refuted or outdated to promulgate their belief that GMOs are bad, bad, and badder than organic produce. They resort to catchy one-liners, misleading metaphors, and outright false perceptions (similar to the crocoduck) to caricature and influence those who come across their opinionations. (It goes without saying that I’m only referring to the fundamentalists of either camp, not the rank-and-file and normal people who are calm and measured in their opposition, although even they have no evidence as such in opposition; another thing they share with believers of ancient Middle Eastern fairy tales.)
In this way, the two camps share common philosophical foundations, which are:
(1) the belief that they know more than the experts
(2) that intuitions trump evidence
(3) that reality should conform to our wishes and desires instead of the other way around.
Exhibit B: tomfish
Both camps are big fans of vivid, negative metaphors and imagery that tickle the humanoid amygdala, thus allowing the biased brain to fill in the blanks — almost always badly. Such examples include references to contamination of organic crops by GM crops, instead of the proper term: cross-pollination. Another is the name-calling of conventional farmers as chemical-farmers, as if natural chemicals are different at the molecular (they are not — anything you can see, touch, feel, and taste is a chemical made up of the same basic building blocks as everything else). Yet another is the name-calling of sterile seeds ‘terminator seeds,‘ while on the other hand, condemning and making issues of contamination (cross-pollination). This ignores the fact that sterile seeds are a perfect way of preventing said cross-pollination, and yet, antis’ so heavily criticized the prospect, and upon having won that victory, they then had the ammunition, hysteria, and irony to boot, to complain of potential contamination of organic farms by GM farms, which would not have occurred had Monsanto developed their sterile seeds. With that victory won, they went on to that old tripe that Monsanto doesn’t allow farmers to re-use their seeds! (A practice that preceded Monsanto’s entry into the seed business.) The antis’, or whichever few orchestrated these campaigns, can only be stupid or evil. Either way, a long time ago, this issue became politics instead of fighting for the environment. It became a worldview predicated not on information or evidence, but on defending a viewpoint that long ago ceased to pollinate with reality.
Exhibit C: Elephin
There is only one way to characterize images such as these represented here: propaganda. It is wholly based upon myth and false representation; such as a tomato having fish genes, or any other. As written on MemeScreen: “there is no such thing as a “flounder gene,” because genes are not species-specific.” This is a basic biological fact. If it were not true, and moving a ‘species-specific’ gene from one creature to a creature of another genus was forbidden by a law of nature, then humans would not exist. And, if, having multiple species-specific genes inside your body really were as alien as that tomfish above, then you’d have half a banana tree sprouting out of your body (seeing that humans share between 50-55% of their DNA with banana trees); or 60% chicken, or 98% hairy chimpanzee (without a theory of mind to boot). It doesn’t matter where a gene comes from, only what proteins it codes for, and how it plays with the genes in its new genome home; something which scientists understand extremely well despite activist accusations to the contrary (rDNA was discovered in the 70’s, it’s coming up on 50 years of experimentation; it wasn’t invented yesterday).
It goes without saying that of both camps; creationists have zero understanding of evolution, and antis, a limited understanding of evolution. It is no longer a battle between the right and the left. It is now anti-science and science, and both the right and left are on the wrong side of that divide.
Exhibit D: Banfin
There are, of course, other falsehoods. I’d like to go through a few:
Here the assumption is that because pesticides are poisonous (true), that the minuscule (parts per billion) amounts of pesticide left on the produce by the time it hits your plate is also poisonous and, therefore deleterious to your health. I don’t see how anyone can hold such a belief—and that’s all it is, a belief—without also holding a belief in homeopathy. But, if homeopathy were true, we’d have bigger problems than pesticides on our food; science writer Kyle Hill hits the nail on the head in his piece The Miracle of Molecular Medicine in which he takes the premise of homeopathy to the extreme:
“The dark side of homeopathic potency is that any dangerous chemical, any particle of poison, is grim death. Ultra-filtered gas masks would become part of the national uniform, because inhaling even a few atoms of lead would lead to a neurotoxic demise in a world where homeopathic principles are true. The old medical adage that pretty much everything is carcinogenic at some level would dominate new information campaigns about safe breathing habits. Would-be poisoners would become the most devious of murderers when a lethal dose of arsenic is measured in yottagrams.
Drunkards would have the time of their lives in a world where homeopathy worked. Ethanol diluted in water in any amount makes the drink a spirit. The lower the alcoholic content the better [FJ – LOL]. You would need a microscope to find a drunkard’s flask.“
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Luckily, homeopathy doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work, it can’t work. For if it did would require overturning everything we know about physics, chemistry, and biology and starting from scratch. You know, those pesky laws with billions of pieces of evidence in their favour that have taken us centuries to accumulate constantly contending against the darkness of ignorance. Notwithstanding those minor inconveniences, it is also inconsistent with, what Einstein said was likely to be the only law that would never be overturned by future discoveries, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and is in yet further in opposition to probability theory and the statistical nature of information decay.
The concept of dose is the only thing that matters with everything; from pesticides, to oxygen, to water. Both of the just mentioned three chemicals can be, in the right amount, dangerous. Inhale too much oxygen and you’ll die of oxygen toxicity, drink too much water and you’ll die of water intoxication, and ingest too much pesticide, and you’ll die of poisoning. The former two don’t frighten us, why should the third? The dose makes the poison. The pesticide applicator in the picture above is handling large doses of concentrated pesticides, hence, the protective gear, but in the transference of the pesticides to the produce we eat, where only parts per billion remain, is not relevant to our biology.
And lastly, the last note this meme evokes is that what is going on inside the picture equates only with conventional agriculture. False, again. Worldwide, poisoning from organic pesticides are proportional to conventional pesticides, and of worldwide pesticide poisonings, only 1% occur in the developed world where we have safety regulations (such as what he’s wearing), the majority occur in developing countries where no information, education, or safety regulations exist for their proper application. Would activists really be impressed by poor Indonesian farmers spraying organic — which are just as poisonous — pesticides in shorts and flip-flops? The fact that their natural has no bearing on their toxicity, for better or worse. The person in the above photo is just as likely to be a pesticide applicator on an organic farm as a conventional or GM farm. But you can’t know that from the way it is presented, it’s meant to misinform you, in a fear-based way no less. You’re either with them (organic advocates), or against them, and how ironic that they have borrowed that euphemism from their favourite villain, George. W—at least now the war on GMOs starts to make a little more sense: a preemptive strike based on faulty intelligence.
Here’s another meme that I plucked some months ago from what appears, from a cursory glance, to be a website full of pseudoscience. Apparently, your body has magical detection instruments that can confirm, deny, accept, or reject certain ingredients; it can even spell basic ingredients and can’t spell difficult ingredients! Who knew?!
Of course, it’s hogwash. Everything you eat, regardless of its origin, is broken down into the same basic substances: amino acids (from proteins), monosaccharides (from carbohydrates), vitamins, minerals, water, and everything else is waste that passes right through.
“All foods consist of these same basic bits, just in different proportions” ~ Brian Dunning (Science writer)
What your body doesn’t recognize are apples, tomatoes, or carrots; it recognizes the building blocks that make them up, which it quickly breaks them into down into useful chemicals to supply, feed, and/or repair the disparately arranged parts of your organism.
Simpleton statements about biology, physiology, and chemical pathology that a kindergartener could understand are quite likely to be false. Be wary of them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when it comes to agriculture, GMOs, or any other such complicated subjects; if it fits on a Facebook photo, it’s probably wrong.
Here is another. No natural website is respected without tea-bagging the dreaded glyphosate, which, apparently, has been linked to everything and it’s dog in pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Depending on which sites you visit, you’ll hear nothing but scare stories about this fairly benign pesticide that will make you want to leave the planet Earth.
Now, of course, glyphosate is a pesticide; being a pesticide, it’s a poison when taken in large enough quantity, but so is everything else when taken in large enough quantities! I digress, you should still avoid contact with it in condensed form, as with all pesticides. But, when it comes to the parts per billion you’ll find on your food, give it a wash and you’ll be fine. The hysteria surrounding residual pesticides on food is entirely unwarranted. They bring us far more benefits than risk. As Dr. Schwarz said: “The presence of a chemical is not the same as presence of risk.” He goes on to say the following:
“The problem may not be the “potentially” toxic chemicals that are in products we buy and use every day as much as the zeal with which some individuals and activist groups attempt to convert an association into causation to fit an ideological agenda. If we were to remove all “potentially” toxic products from the shelves of the stores we shop at—there would be nothing left for us to buy.“
Notwithstanding that the quote in the picture to the left comes from a discredited, refuted, and entirely bizarre study that had no data or facts to speak of and looked at no new issues; all it did was invent new science-y terms, conjectured fear and links out of apparent thin air, and referenced multiple discredited studies multiple times (such as Seralini’s discredited rat study on GM corn, and Wakefield’s discredit vaccine-autism link), it’s still paraded around as if it were the Bible. It predicates itself on the basis that as several diseases have increased in the last several decades, and so has glyphosate, therefore they are linked; otherwise known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy(after this, therefore because of this). But many other things have also risen in that same time frame, just like organic food sales; by that logic, organic food sales are also responsible. (See below graph. Look at that P-Value, there’s no way its a coincidence!)
As Paul Raeburn wrote on a MIT science journalism website: “When claims are made that a particular substance can cause so many unrelated diseases, we might begin to suspect that it doesn’t cause any of them.” I agree. The study from which this quote is taken from linked glyphosate to, well, everything from Autism Spectral Disorder to irritable bowl syndrome to Alzheimer’s. That simple, eh? Is it any wonder that the pseudo-scientific wanderings of ill-trained ideologues always have such simple solutions and completely lack the nuance of the real world. I wonder how every single scientific institution and food regulatory agency on the planet missed it. What are the odds of that? Spectacularly low, if I had to proffer a guess.
An extensive study by Stephen O. Duke and Stephen B. Powles leads credence to the safety of glyphosate over the more toxic pesticides it replaces (such as Atrazine, which is 200 times more toxic). Their section on toxicology should calm the nerves of anyone on the fence with an open mind: “Glyphosate is not a carcinogen or a reproductive toxin, nor does it have any sub-acute chronic toxicity. In a lengthy review, Williams et al. conclude that, when used according to instructions, there should be no human health safety issues with glyphosate.” Key point: when used according to instruction. The same goes for something as benign as water, which when used in accordance with your bodies’ (unwritten) safety instructions, nourishes you. When you exceed that limit, your brain starts to malfunction, and you suffer the risk (dilutional hyponatremia).
James Cooper, writing for The Examiner wrote this in debunking the faux documentary Genetic Roulette: “It is one of the least toxic pesticides to animals, being less toxic than salt or aspirin. It is environmentally benign since it binds tightly to the soil and does not move in soil groundwater. It also has a short environmental half-life since it breaks down by microbial degradation in the soil. It does not cause mutations.”
In other words, keep calm and carry on.
I could go on and on and on and on and on, and you get the picture, for some time with images such as these (such as images of produce with syringes imitating genetic modification, despite no genetic modification ever having taken place in this manner…ever), but it’s all rather obvious: The far right and the far left—anti-evolution creationists and anti-gmo organicos—share a lot in common; they are both wrong.
With that, I’d like to conclude with a quote from Mark Lynas’ recent speech, Time to Call Out The Anti-GMO Conspiracy Theory:
“History surely offers us, from witch trials to eugenics, numerous examples of how when public misunderstanding and superstition becomes widespread on an issue, irrational policymaking is the inevitable consequence, and great damage is done to peoples’lives as a result.”