Sunday, March 02, 2014

Indre, Chris, Steven, and Ed are acting like Keith

Delving into others' motives is tricky, especially when you're annoyed with them, but sometimes it's worth doing. For example, Keith Kloor pretty clearly is motivated to punch hippies, metaphorically. He used to do it over climate change. IRRC, he was a somewhat-late convert to mainstream climate science, and still took a lot of shots at climate activists. In the last year or two he's switched his hippie-punching mostly to GMO issues, and that's an improvement, because this time it can be occasionally accurate and it's a less important issue, anyway.

So what's up with Indre Viskontas, Chris Mooney, Steven Novella, and Ed Yong? The link between them and Kloor is glossing over the real environmental concerns about GMOs, particularly genetic contamination of wild and escaped relatives of GM plants, most recently for Indre, Chris and Steven here. They appropriately describe the lack of health impacts from GMOs but then jump to conclusions that GMOs aren't a problem.

I'm simplifying and being somewhat unfair. Ed's more of a straightforward journalist than the others, conveying news moreso than his opinion, and occasionally links to contrary views (including once to this blog). Steven acknowledges the complexity of some environmental issues (while making simplistic arguments himself regarding biodiversity impacts).

Still, the motivational link I see between all of them is a kind of progressive hipster science nerd vibe that I think wants to push away from the earlier environmental generation in some ways, the Earth Mother hippie types. They demonstrate their independent "skepticism" by showing their willingness to take potshots at something often described as a liberal myth. While it's nowhere nearly as bad as Kloor, it's still behavior that looks for a chance to take potshots at those ignorant hippies. For three of them it might also fit into a generational thing (Steven's around my age).

I assume all four of them would be unimpressed with my thoughts about their motivations, so I'd rather focus on Steven's muddying the waters in describing the naturalistic fallacy. I think it's better to think of the appeal to nature as a fallacious ethical argument, but moving from ethics to policy makes it not so innately fallacious. The big advantage that organic farming and conventional breeding techniques have is that they've been done for a long time, so we're more likely to know the consequences.

What the four of them might consider wrestling with is a non-insane application of the precautionary principle. Doing something that's a little more natural in the sense that its been done for a while is less likely to have unforeseen consequences.

The vast majority of what the four do is great, and I'm doing my usual thing of highlighting only the part I don't like, but they could all do better.


Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

"MO issues, and that's an improvement, because this time it can be occasionally accurate and it's a less important issue, anyway."

In some ways it's the same thing: the problem is not the science, but the politics (the humans in the chain).

The complaints are about the politics getting in the way of GMO utopia, and pro-GMO concentrates on the science in vacuuo, whilst AGW denial is deliberately pushing bad science in the place of bad politics.

What makes it completely different is that pro/anti-GMO is actually a valid description of "both sides", whereas there is no such ability to label pro or anti in AGW.

Joshua said...

It is also completely different in that pro- and anti-GMO orientation is not near as polarized and politicized as is orientation on the influence of ACO2 on the environment. Which is why, IMO, it is not helpful that Keith keeps trying to superimpose a faux political frame onto the GMO debate. Doing so threatens to raise the extent to which scientific disagreement about GMOs becomes a political football like the science related to climate change.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

I think that Keith does it for much the same reason as shock jocks and political pundits use "liberal econazi" to describe the actions proposed as necessary to mitigate AGW: lack of anything other than emotive labelling as "other" the ideas and proposals with a dogwhistle term.

I.e. indication that, for these people at least, they have little actual evidence to go on, therefore have to "rally the partisans" for their side.

Jim Eager said...

Monarch butterflies are about to become the first indrect GMO-caused extinction.

True, monarchs have been in decline for a long time due to land use changes in the U.S. and winter habitat destruction in Mexico, but it is the elimination of milkweed caused by the wholesale use of Roundup that GMOs allows that will bring the monarchs to extinction.

Meah, their only an insect, after all.

Indirect because it is the

Anonymous said...

A major problem that GMO apologists seem to keep ignoring is that the "GM" in GMO is not a "thing" - it is entirely possible for Company A to use GM to create a GMO that is perfectly harmless and beneficial and for Company B to use GM to create a GMO that poses very real hazards of one sort or another (thought the hazards may not come to light immediately). So it is ludicrous to GMO proponents to say "GMO's are perfectly safe" - in ANY given case a GMO may or may not be safe; it depends on the specific organism and what the GM did to it! (Of course the converse argument that "all GMOs are always horrible and dangerous" is also fallacious, but seems less reckless and naive.) Anon 2

badger badger badger said...

I thought it was funny how Keith switched to GMOs right around Sandy. IIRC he started chiding media sources for making a climate connection, and then there was that Bloomberg cover.

Hank Roberts said...

Monarchs are threatened but we haven't given up on them; don't be hopeless.

Hank Roberts said...

The argument against GMOs is that the industry is rushing into existence without understanding what 'organism' means. Not that that will stop them; it's another for the Cassandra file.

"... most organisms are in fact chimeras containing genes from many different sources—eukaryotic, prokaryotic, and viral alike—leading us to rethink evolution, especially the extent of gene flow between the visible and microscopic worlds. Genomic analysis has, for example, suggested that eukaryotes are the result of ancient interactions between bacteria and archaea. In this context, viruses are becoming more widely recognized as shuttles of genetic material, with metagenomic studies suggesting that the billions of viruses on Earth harbor more genetic information than the rest of the living world combined...."

Put it this way -- would you let your child take apart the alarm clock, if you knew there was a likelihood that some of the parts would migrate to your microwave oven or automobile and change how they work?

“Only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot!”

fishing rod case said...

Thanks your great post.It is also completely different in that pro- and anti-GMO orientation is not near as polarized and politicized as is orientation on the influence of ACO2 on the is important post for man.

Anonymous said...

Anon-101a here:

Hank, the problems could be solved by doing as we've done for centuries before agribusiness (and is done in nature with "GMO"s): roll out a GMO in a tiny location and just see if it survives.

This, however, means decades before any profit could be seen, possibly centuries, therefore won't be done.

Rolling out a billion hectares of a GMO bypasses the natural competition and means you get 100% of the problem 100% too late to do anything about it.

"Space wheat" GMOs that are built to grow in "generation ships" would be a different problem, and probably a damn good use of the technology. It's when it gets out of the lab and fed to a billion creatures that we will have no control of the unforseen consequences.

Russell Seitz said...

Hank's linked tale needs retelling with a advertising man and a pack of Adderall spiked Chiclets.