Jul 2, 2009

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Greens reject the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods

In the global warming debate, those of us who are skeptical that catastrophic climate change is just around the corner are repeatedly bludgeoned with the cudgel of "scientific consensus." We're told that thousands of scientists, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have examined all the evidence and made a decision. We're reminded that prestigious scientific bodies endorse the idea of man-made global warming - and that the best scientific journals do, as well.

Don't we understand the debate is over? That science has spoken? That challenging the theory of global warming is on a par with believing that the moon landings were faked?

Over and over again we're advised that this "scientific consensus" trumps all else. Greenpeace tells us this. So do its activist pals, Friends of the Earth.

Except that neither of these groups display one bit of respect for scientific consensus when the topic isn't global warming but is instead genetically modified foods. The consensus that such foods are safe for humans, animals and the environment is extraordinarily broad-based. Indeed, one might argue that the list of scientific bodies that agree on this point is longer than the list of organizations that concur with global warming theory.

On June 28th, scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) joined this consensus. They ruled that there is no reason to forbid the planting of genetically-modified corn in the European Union.

How did Greenpeace respond? It so happens that Greenpeace opposes genetically modified foods for philosophical reasons. It argues that, no matter what humanity might gain from biotechnology (such as drought-resistant crops, blindness-preventing rice and medical discoveries) these aren't sufficient "justification to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment by commercial interests."

So rather than being swayed by "scientific consensus," Greenpeace chose to attack. It says the scientists who made this decision are unqualified. "Allowing EFSA to express opinions on GM crops while it cannot assess long-term environmental impacts is like allowing someone into a Formula 1 race just because they have a driving license," says Marco Contier.

The response by Friends of the Earth was even more disturbing. Its spokesperson, Helen Holder, isn't fazed by the fact most scientists appear to support genetically modified organisms [GMOs]. "It's time to sack the EFSA scientists, to disband its GMO panel, and move GMO risk assessment" into the hands of a different decision-making body she says.

In other words, because they disagree with her, she thinks these scientists should all lose their jobs – and that their organization should not only be restructured, but stripped of its responsibilities. A tad harsh, don't you think?

So it turns out that "scientific consensus" appears to be meaningless to these folks. When it suits them, they'll use it as a club to beat people like me into submission. Otherwise, they're fully prepared to ignore its existence. Which is something worth thinking about.

And here's one more thought. Skeptics are sometimes accused of being conspiracy theorists. Why would so many scientists go along with the idea of global warming if it weren't true, we're asked? Is it really plausible that so many people would sign on if they weren't absolutely convinced it were happening?

Well, if you were a scientist who knew that your honestly-held belief would get you bad-mouthed in the media by aggressive environmental groups, might you not be tempted to go with the flow? If you knew that expressing certain views would result in people loudly attacking your credentials and calling for your dismissal, might you not take the path of least resistance, too?