Culture

Published on October 28th, 2009 | by Steve Savage

17

The Bizarre, Modern Coalition of Anti-Science Forces

Self Blinded[social_buttons]

A wise Nebraska farmer I know taught me this saying: “It’s what you know for certain that keeps you from learning.”   This principle is at the core of why certain groups and entities are rejecting good science.

As a scientist, and particularly as a scientist involved in agricultural and environmental issues, I’m increasingly aware of this trend.  In some cases this involves open hostility to science, in others it is just a matter of ignoring the scientific input. What is disturbing is how many different “voices” are in this unlikely “coalition” and the extent to which they are coloring the views of the broader society  (as seen in the recent Pew survey of American attitudes about climate change). 

At acknowledged risk of offending people, I will try to describe factions in the groups that tend to reject things that science would tell them.  I know that what I am talking about does not apply to everyone, or even most people in these groups, but it is still a potent force in our society. 

Fringe “Green” Activists

To some Green Activists, anything associated with large corporations, synthetic chemicals, or genetic engineering is automatically bad and must be opposed vigorously.  Their view is unmoved by the fact that multiple scientific reviews and regulatory systems are in place to insure the safety of these important technologies that actually get people fed.  Because the activists restrict their input to myth-recycling channels, they reinforce their beliefs to the point where evidence no longer matters.  Unfortunately, these groups have succeeded in significantly undermining the broader societal trust in our food system.

Precautionists

Even though the scientists in Europe and Japan assure their citizens that biotechnology is safe, the “precautionary principle” continues to prevail and creates a politicized regulatory system that ignores science.  Many of these countries could be growing more of their own food and doing it in more sustainable ways (e.g. no-till) if they adopted biotechnology improved crops, but instead they continue to be major food importers and even use that leverage to block biotechnology in the countries from which they import and for the poor (particularly former European colonies in Africa).

“Echo Chamber” Republicans

Some of today’s Republicans seem to have become convinced that anything favored by liberal or even moderate politicians has to be wrong.  The evidence from the science around climate change falls into this category.  When people restrict their input of information exclusively to the sources that tell them only what fits their presupposition, the ‘echo chamber’ effect leads to conspiracy theory thinking that becomes impervious to contrary evidence.  The “Drill baby drill” philosophy prevails unquestioned.

Elements in Fundamentalist Islam

There was an interesting article in the British magazine, “The Economist” pointing out the link between poverty in Islamic countries and the very poor status of science education based on hostility to the theory of evolution.  This is not an obligatory feature of Islam.  Muslim cultures were the leaders in science and mathematics up until around 1100 c.e., but the students in many modern, Saudi-funded, madrassas throughout the world are being taught not to trust science.

Elements of the Evangelical Christian Community

There is no obligatory conflict between faith and science.  Enlightenment era Christianity was the birthplace of modern science.  But since that time, some Christians have become so threatened (I would say unnecessarily) by the Theory of Evolution, and the evidence for the age of the universe, that they tend to demonize science and scientists (I say this from personal experience within the Christian community over the years, fortunately not in my current church).  I suspect that this undercurrent of hostility towards science may explain the disproportionate share of Evangelicals who reject climate change evidence. 

Marketers in the Food Industry

Many food companies with valuable consumer brands have pragmatically chosen to avoid potential conflict about technologies, even when they know they are safe. This is all because there could be some controversy that would “harm the brand.” (I’ll be doing a future post of the details about this).  By doing so, these companies effectively use the highly influential power of their brand to reinforce the anti-science agenda of relatively small groups.  This short-term avoidance of trouble compromises the future of the very supply chain on which their products depend and the overall societal trust of what they sell.

Anti-vaccine Activists

One of the most significant contributions of science to humanity has been the development of vaccines against major diseases.  In spite of the overwhelming public health benefits associated with their use, persistent myths continue to be propagated and innocent people are scared away from protecting their children and the population as a whole.  We are now struggling to make enough vaccine to control the H1N1 flu virus because activist-driven lawsuits have driven vaccine production off-shore.  The fact that a small number of activists can undermine a science-based pillar of our “social contract” is a particularly frightening aspect of the general anti-science drift of modern society.

Science has a tendency to tell us some things we don’t want to hear at times – something that challenges our core pre-suppositions. Sometimes what science tells us really matters, so just rejecting it or ignoring it can have serious consequences.  I’m not saying that scientists are never wrong or never influenced by their own presuppositions.  I’m not saying science can’t be questioned – that process is at the very heart of the scientific method. 

But overall, science has served humanity very well.  We need to build a broader scientific literacy in our population so that we can intelligently consider complex issues.  We need to separate the science from the politics.  We need to take a serious look at the “coalition” described above and stand against the broader, anti-science drift that it is encouraging in modern society.   Remember, “its what you know for certain that keeps you from learning.”

 Monkey statue image by robertpaulyoung

You are welcome to comment on this post or to email me at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com

 



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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



  • Janet

    There are many reasons that “green activists” are anti biotechnology/GMOs only one of which is whether GMO foods are safe to eat. The fact that GMOs are patented seeds, the fact that they encourage overuse of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, the fact that the farmers are prohibited from saving seeds are all important factors. “Green activists” believe it is the right of people to know what they are eating. If GMO foods are so wonderful, why are their manufacturers so adamantly opposed to labeling them as such? In the United States at least there have been no government funded studies into the safety of GMO foods. How is it possible to farm GMO crops sustainably when chemicals are used in farming them and poor farmers in the third world would have to purchase seeds every time they plant a crop because they cannot save seeds?

  • John Ellis

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the invite to peruse your blog. I am not sure I really ‘fit’ into the scientific community. but none the less I do have opinions about some of this stuff. (Stuff=hot topics like the tropics)

    At present I am visiting my daughter and son-in-law who live on and manage an organically certified cherry orchard. The motivation of the owner to raise his cherries organically is environmental in spirit. He looks to utilize a non herbicide/pesticide and non petrochemical based fertilizer system so as to minimize the perceived environmental impact. I say perceived because he has not performed a study on what his orchards impact would be if he were to grow his cherries otherwise. One would expect it to be an intensive way to manage but it is not, and his yields are equal to his neighbors, avian predation seems to be his primary issue which, ironically, he has chosen buckshot as his primary form of deterrent. Quality is high and when he is able to find the right market profits are higher than conventional management. For him it is a profitable enterprise.

    There is much discussion about genetic modified organisms (GMO) in the community. Mostly this has centered around the development of genetic use restriction technology, or GURT. V-GURT and T-GURT are the big topics because of the cross pollination with non GMO food crops. There have been legal issues as well as environmental concerns. One of those concerns has been the loss of traditional farming practices of crop rotation, and holding back seed from the previous year to plant for the next, as well as the elimination of the family farm in favor of the factory model. Our friend, who is a dry land wheat farmer with four thousand acres, is considering shutting down operations due to government intrusion and restrictions on production. Global warming has not been a big factor because precipitation has remained consistent within the region of his farm. Severe change could be and issue, but it would need to be severe in his case. He has a experienced a fairly wide range of tolerance with winter wheat. His family homesteaded their original farm almost 150 years ago.

    The Anti-Virus League is alive and well in central Washington mostly due to mistrust of the government, and media. There have also been the reports circulating on the internet about AIDS origins, and big business/CDC collusion, and culpability which may or may not be founded on fact. Radical religious leaders do not help the issue when they make public statements about the motives behind anti-virus inoculation. Politicians on the other hand do not help the situation when they misspeak and suggest that seasonal anti-viral administration will be mandatory. Recent concerns about the high rate of a disorder related to a common anti-virus is rampant and frequently litigated. People in this society do not like to be forced into anything. We have come a long way from noticing that milkmaids did not get smallpox and everyone else seemed to be prone to infection. Politics and perception is everything. Which brings us to the global warming issue.

    Climate changes, who knew? So much of the controversy surrounds Al Gore and the observation that he has not made that much of a change in his own lifestyle. If you want someone to believe something then credibility is far more important than raising awareness. Also, there is the constant battle over the cause and effect of this change; “is CO2 a cause or a result of global warming?” Grapes were grown in southern England in the 15th century and now those vineyards are being planted again in anticipation of a ‘new’ potential industry. One persons crisis is another persons opportunity. The response of our government would be better believed if they did something like allowing a sustainable crop like hemp to be grown for it’s fiber and alternative fuel potential, which, I understand, could be grown on marginal farmland, and protect forest resources presently being harvested for paper products, as well as providing a reduction in one’s personal carbon footprint. Pharmaceutical issues aside.

    Once again it comes down to politics and perception. Someone needs to get the story straight and then allow people to see things clearly. If there is no immediate benefit,(read that, instant gratification) all the altruism in the world will not be enough to have a significant affect. It goes against Human Nature, which is self preserving at best, and to heck with the rest. Case in point; much of the food sent for famine relief in Africa during the 80′s and 90′s was traded to ‘other countries’ for guns to fuel the revolutions which were the underlying cause of the famine in that region rather than climate change. Much in the same vein we saw a prominent leader in the middle east become rich (estimated 1.5 billion at the time of his death) due to conflict and foreign aid while the people he was to lead went hungry. He got “Fat” upon the unrest of his marginalized people, who provide us with a constant stream of suicide bombers in the most disputed land in history. The climate may change, but people, for the most part, do not.

    Sign Me,
    Mr. Cynical

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Janet,

    Thanks for providing a good list of what I believe to be misunderstandings about GMO that have been circulating in the green activist community for more than 10 years. I’ll try to provide quick answers here, but you or anyone else can email me for more detail

    ( feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com ).

    a)Patent law in the seed business serves the same purpose it does in any other technology business – it rewards investment and innovation while simultaneously requiring that the applicant “teach” which enhances further innovation. The crops that have the strongest proprietary seed industries are the ones that have become more productive at a faster pace reducing the pressure to farm more of the remaining natural lands.

    b)GMO does not “encourage overuse of chemical pesticides” at all and in many cases replaces them. What encourages the appropriate use of pesticides is their ability to protect the crop from pest losses which otherwise mean that the land, water, fertilizer and fuel inputs are used but give less harvestable crop. This is why Organic farmers also apply pesticides. It is just that their restricted list often means that significant yield is lost to pests. Pesticides differ dramatically in terms of safety profile and many of the safest and most widely used pesticides are synthetic. Some “natural” pesticides, particularly copper compounds, are qualitatively less safe.

    c)For hybrid crops like corn (which have been around since the 1930s) the farmer needs to buy new seed each year which they do happily because the yield potential is so much higher than with “open pollinated” crops. For a company to invest in intense breeding of a GMO soybean crop, a way needed to be found for that “saved seed” market to pay for the technology. That is where the requirement to buy rather than save seed came from – specifically for market where that made sense. If you look at the level of adoption of GMO soybeans, it is obviously working well for the farmers. When GMO traits are developed for poor farmers in places where a commercial seed industry is impractical, they are simply offered for free by groups like the Danforth Center or the Gates Foundation and they are offered in versions that the grower can save. The main reason they can’t get these traits is that they have been blocked by the influence of mainly European green activists leaving poor farmers GMO free and just as poor as before.

    d)The reason that GMO labeling was not instituted is that for commodity grain crops it would add enormous costs to try to meaningfully track GMO content. It was much more efficient (and thus less costly for consumers) to track the tiny, non-GMO segment, thus giving concerned people the option of that choice. I favored a “may contain…” statement on all normal food products which wouldn’t have been very useful information, but at least we wouldn’t still be revisiting this issue 13 years later.

    e) The reason that there are no “government funded” safety studies is that this is not the way that our regulatory system works for chemicals, drugs or GMO crops. The government requires the applicant to conduct the very expensive testing (be glad its not your tax dollars) but to do it under a rigorous, audit-able system called GLP which makes it a crime to hide any unfavorable results. The pesticides that are used in Organic go through exactly the same, applicant-funded system of safety testing.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    “Mr Cynical” otherwise known as “John” I’m glad you weighed in. I appreciate your perspective.

    I’m glad when any farmer is profitable like the organic cherry farmer you know. It isn’t his responsibility to prove that what he does is better for the environment or for us (which would actually be hard). He is making a living and I’m glad for that.

    The discussions you mention about GURT are interesting. I don’t think that most people know that most plants can’t cross pollinate most other plants. Unless there are very closely related species, no “out-crossing” can occur. There was one of the real, dumb things that happened up in the Northwest to do with biotech. They were growing GMO bent-grass seed (for golf greens) in an area were there actually were some wild relatives in the genus Agrostis. There was a big “wind event” and it was found that the pollen traveled to trap crops a long ways away. There was no environmental disaster here, but a big embarrassment for the EPA.

    The issue of “holding back seed” is sort of a red herring. Any crop that isn’t hybrid has that potential for “saved seed.”. I think a lot of folks confuse hybrids with GMO on this issue. Hybrid crops have been common since the 1930s and they are planted because they yield so much more than non-hybrid crops. In a non-hybrid crop like soybeans, GMO came with a restriction on saving seed because otherwise there was no way to pay for the benefits of the technology. Most industries would not survive if they simply gave away their products. Ag is no different. We can do that for the developing world, but we need to reward innovation in the first world.

    I can’t really speak to the government restrictions on your grain farmer friend. I don’t know what they are.

    As for Al Gore and his personal “carbon footprint” and the other absurd things you mention about the Middle East – none of this means squat if poor people around the world starve. Al Gore is not the “ideal” spokesperson for this issue because he is so easy to target from a hyper-partisan point of view. But who else was going to raise the issue? Scientists suck at communication – yes, I mean that. We don’t do a good job even within our own community (I’ve read hundreds of peer reviewed articles over the last few years for my work – it is really hard to extract what is being said because of the style of writing.)

    John, I really like your insight, “the climate may change, but people won’t.”
    Hey, we can talk about this when you come back down south.

  • Don Smith

    Steve – interesting article, but I think your focus may be off the mark. The unifying theme of the groups you describe is not an aversion to science or the scientific method per se, but a distrust of power structures.

    The fringe “green” activist, as you describe him, is probably motivated by his distrust of the “pharmochemical complex” that he sees as living in symbiotic relationship with agencies and organizations charged with regulating and/or reviewing it. He views the multiple scientific reviews you reference with skepticism as being beholden to the industry that sponsors them. He is informed by the well documented examples of scientific malfeasance practiced upon the trusting public of the twentieth century. And in many cases he is scientifically astute enough to recognize that our understanding of the complex interactions of chemical, biological and ecological systems is imperfect at best, and so, even if he does not disparage the conclusions of scientific reviews as biased, he may view them as inherently untrustworthy.

    And largely the same analysis applies to the precautionists and anti-vaccine activists in your coalition. For the religious and political members of your cabal, the motivations derive from their distrust of social and political forces instead of economic ones. And this distrust shades their view of the science brought to bear by those power structures they discredit.

    One would like to view science as an impartial arbiter of truth. In practice, people of all stripes clothe their agenda in the lingua franca of the age, and in this age that means the language of science or pseudo science. For many of the complex problems of modernity, teasing out the difference between the two requires more than just “scientific literacy”. Indeed, highly educated well intentioned experts may still have violent disagreements over complex issues.

    Hence, while I think your observations of the actions of these “coalition members” are both accurate and disturbing, your suggested solutions do not appear to address the root of the problem. As I read your article, you offer three suggestions:

    1. We need to build a broader scientific literacy in our population so that we can intelligently consider complex issues.
    2. We need to separate the science from the politics.
    3. We need to take a serious look at the “coalition” described above and stand against the broader, anti-science drift that it is encouraging in modern society.

    Let’s take them one at a time.

    1. Scientific Literacy. I think scientific literacy has value for both the individual and society, but do not believe its broader distribution would materially alter the philosophical predispositions that people bring to the debates of modern society. And in these debates, these predispositions have greater influence than the scientific evidences that are brought to bear. I think a more effective characteristic to instill in our populace would be a greater willingness to impartially examine both our own beliefs and those of others, but this argues for training in philosophy as a higher value than scientific literacy.

    2. Separating Science From Politics. I think you might as well strive to separate language from politics. The “echo chamber” effect has more to do with one’s distrust of the opposition than with one’s disparagement of science. And some “echo chamber” republicans might suggest that the same dynamic of self-reinforcing feedback is at play in the halls of scientific academia.

    3. Opposing Anti-Scientific Drift. Is that the same as promoting a respect for the scientific method, or a broader distribution of scientific literacy? As I argued above, I think the problem lies deeper than simply our view of science. Do we believe in the value of a pluralistic society? How do we regain our trust in society’s institutions, in corporations, in religious organizations? Should we even try? If we are committed to a system of perpetual mutual distrust, no amount of scientific literacy will ever heal our breach.

    Well, now I’ve spent so much time in deconstruction I’m not able to put down any thoughts about solutions. I’m not even sure I have any, but if I do I’ll have to find out another day. Thanks for listening!

  • Derek

    Thought provoking piece Steve.

    As a research biologist (read scientist) and arguably a “fringe green activist”, i will try to make my stance crystal clear so as to show other comment readers how your starting position maybe what leads to the conflict you encounter with (at least) this fringe group.

    Firstly you need to identify your own ‘certain knowledge’ which is standing between you and seeing this ‘fringe’ position.

    You are an agro/environmental scientist. You are firstly concerned with feeding people, regardless of the means; this is an ethical position you have taken. This decision puts you …at the on-set…into conflict with many within the entire branch of ‘deep greens’ who would argue that the means of ‘how to feed people’ is as important a deliberation as the outcome; ‘that they are fed’.

    If you can not see this, or feel it is ethically wrong to ‘limit food production when tech. can deliver increased yield’ than that is probably a good starting point for self examination.

    It is interesting that you bring up ‘trust’; and that the voice of ‘green activists’ is undermining this trust by positing questions (arguably a little research by the greens would bring up every point you list in GMO/Biotech/etc’s defense). The question this should lead you to then, is why have these green’s personally lost trust for the corporations behind these Biotech advances?

    I would argue that the lost trust comes from some greens realizing that a corporation has no moral position from which to base trust on. A corporation must do one thing; provide profit to investors. It has been revealed over and over again that when a corporation sees any possible means of extracting profit it will take it, regardless of any moral imperative a researcher, such as yourself, harbors.

    The dis-trust then, is much more deeply rooted than what you see focused at Biotech. and probably could not be rooted out without questioning the motives of capitalism and greed.

    If you are interested in continuing this discussion, i suggest actually talking to some of these green activists and ask them about their philosophical foundations to see why they say what they say. Or make another post like this one, Ill be around to try to show you (at least my own) angle.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Don, thanks for a very thoughtful comment. I believe that you are right that all of these groups have a trust problem as much as a lack of information problem. If people think the source of the science is suspect they won’t accept the data. This discussion and some of the emails I’ve gotten have convinced me that I need to do two follow-up posts. One will be “Scientists Behaving Badly” and talk about some actually poor science that compromises the “brand.” The other needs to be about the question, “Is Corporate Science Inherently Suspect?”

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Derek,
    I do care a lot about feeding people, but not at all without concern about how. My current project with a major global player is how to get past the barriers that are keeping farmers from farming in the way that would be best for the environment in terms of erosion control, avoiding water contamination, reducing nitrous oxide emissions, reducing fuel use…and how this could be done on tens to hundreds of million acres

    Whether people or organizations of people have moral standards is independent of whether there is money involved. I would argue that a public corporation is under more scrutiny than one that is privately held. Yes they are there to make money, but who do you know that does not do something to make money? I assume you are paid for what you do. You’ve inspired me to do a blog about this. I’ve been inside of virtually all the major ag companies over the years. I’ve seen dumb stuff done. I’ve seen lack of vision. I’ve seen short-term emergencies trumping long-term strategy. But I have not seen immoral behavior. When a company sells things to farmers, it is a business-to-business transaction. You can’t sell things that are not needed or just cool as you can in consumer marketing. If your technology does not help a farmer’s bottom line, you are certainly not going to sell it to him/her the next year.

    I fully understand the problem of greed – that is a well established problem and certainly not limited to corporations. That is why capitalism needs checks and balances like a regulatory framework, disclosure laws, contract law, criminal law, and competition. Even so, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with making money on something you sell as long as the customer is getting value for it. If an ag chem company sells a farmer a seed or a chemical that increases the farmer’s ultimate crop income by $100/acre, the “rule of thumb” in the industry is that the product can sell for about $33/acre. It is a win/win deal. No one makes the farmer buy the product and he might not do it because there is a risk that a hail storm will come and he will have nothing so he will accept the low yield with less financial exposure. Either way, this is a civilized business transaction with one company offering a valuable tool and one farmer choosing whether or not to use it

  • http://www.yahoo.com Bobby B.

    Fringe “Green” Activists
    “Green” Activists practice “myth-recycling” because their environmental “beliefs” have become their religion.

    Precautionists
    Maybe the precautionists are simply reacting to the watered-down version of the message being preached by those vocal “Green” Activists who dominate the news.

    “Echo Chamber” Republicans
    You are talking about Rush Limbaugh, his successors, and his fan base. While it is true that many individuals (both Republican and Democrat) blindly follow magnanimous leaders, Rush generally challenges his listeners to check his sources. I read “Trashing the Planet: How Science Can Help Us Deal With Acid Rain, Depletion of the Ozone, and Nuclear Waste (Among Other Things)” by Dixie Lee Ray on Rush’s recommendation in the early 1990’s. The book was a bit one sided, but Dixie provided sound evidence to support many of her ideas. She was later called every name in the book by those pleasant “Green” Activists mentioned above. You are also talking about alternative news outlets (Fox, WorldNetDaily, The Hill, etc.) that do not adhere to the mainstream media’s policy of rebranding whatever briefs it receives from the left side of the aisle as news. When the alternative media interviews scientists with global warming views contrary to the views of the IPCC, Al Gore, Henry Waxman and the Democrat Party, they are accused of distorting the issue and the interviewee gets branded a “shill” or worse a “denier.”

    Elements in Fundamentalist Islam
    After the publicity surrounding Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”, most remain cautious when criticizing Islam. As a non-Muslim, I cannot comprehend their decision to move from being the leaders in math and science to returning to the dark ages. However, if Islam dictates the culture of a sovereign nation, should the enlightened, prosperous nations supply them with aid to feed their hungry or condemn them with isolation to live as they have chosen. It may seem callous to even consider the second option, but how many failed attempts to westernize and bring prosperity to the Middle East are necessary before the West just gives up? Is it misguided or sustainable to continue trying?

    Elements of the Evangelical Christian Community
    The Christian era enlightenment was founded upon applying the scientific method to develop hypotheses to test theories to establish facts (i.e. indisputable truths). Christians may base their eternities on faith, but prefer facts for the science that touches their everyday lives. Climate change evidence has yet to produce a model that cannot be disputed, even after decades of data manipulation. Why would the average, middle-class Christian want to sacrifice his livelihood and his freedom for debatable science?

    Marketers in the Food Industry
    I cannot say know much about this topic, except that I suspect you are referring to organic farming and to the localvore movement. I look forward to your elaborating on this topic.

    Anti-vaccine Activists
    Follow the money to the myth drivers and the activists to find the sources of this problem. You might be surprised by what other policies they support.

    You closed by saying. “I’m not saying science can’t be questioned”. However, there are countless examples where those who questioned the sanctioned global warming consensus have been called names and have had their livelihoods threatened. Since when do scientists resort to such measures?

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Bobby B,
    A couple of responses. Rush/Fox et al seem to be winning on the climate change debate if you look at my last post about the Pew survey. Pretty soon they will move from the victimized dissenters to the folks who will need to take responsibility for what happens. If they are right, no problem. If they are wrong do you think they will accept responsibility?

    As for Islam and do we supply aid, I say if its starving kids we do. We could feed all of the poor for what we pay to rich Moslem despots for oil.

    I’m not asking my fellow Christians to sacrifice their livelihood or freedom, just to use the minds God gave them to come up with creative solutions

    I don’t think there are “countless examples” of folks who have been called names or had their livelihood threatened, but you will possibly appreciate my next post about “Scientists Behaving Badly.”

  • http://www.yahoo.com Bobby B.

    Steve,
    Will Rush et al take responsibility if they win the global warming debate and are someday proven wrong? Probably not. Why should they? Their counterparts on the other side of the aisle have never taken responsibility for any of their failed programs. Is not the beauty of politics never having to say, “I am sorry.”?

    How many pointless reforms in our own country have been instituted under the guise of “it’s for the children” in our short lifetimes? “It’s for the children” has become the playbook standard tactic to garnish public support for bad legislation. The problem with giving food to starving children in disenchanted economies is that the food has to pass through the despots’ hands before reaching the needy; if it ever reaches them.

    I support the creative solutions angle, but we must all understand that the underlying politics of the issue at large involves the transference of wealth. That purpose is even being reported by non-right-wing outlets:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/27/europe-climate-change-deal-pledge

    The problem with reading too much internet news is that even with the search engines it is time consuming to relocate those “countless examples” and attach as hyperlinks, but I am looking forward to the next post.

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  • Alex

    Great post, and is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I think there are also other groups that you don’t mention (some are associated with other groups above), such as the Alt Med crowd (homeopathy etc), Postmodernism (see the Science Wars), and even things like drug policy (which is incidentally a big political issue in the UK right now). And if you know anything about the furore surrounding the decision to make Pluto a “dwarf planet” rather than a planet, then there were similar emotions from the public in reaction there.

    I also think that while a lot of this stuff is usually related to one side of the political spectrum (e.g. those who disbelieve in global warming are usually on the right and those who favour alternative medicine are usually on the left), there are sometimes exceptions. For instance, if you’ve ever heard of the UK tabloid newspaper “The Daily Mail”, you’ll probably know that papers like that are more likely to oppose GM foods (“Frankenfood”), be against vaccines (the press supportive of Andrew Wakefield over MMR and autism were led by the Daily Mail), and more favourable of alt med, despite the fact that it is a right-wing conservative newspaper with all the usual bigotry that entails.

    Anyway, I also wanted to say that having had a little look around, this looks like a fairly decent blog, and I’ll be adding it to my RSS reader.

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Alex,
    Thanks for some perspective from “across the pond.” You have some different dynamics over there, but your point is well taken. Conservative Christians over here who are statistically more likely to doubt global warming are also huge buyers of essentially untested “natural” medicines and supplements along with other groups with which they have no other connections.

    Its late, but your comment is putting me on a line of thinking – we live in a society that is used to paying more to buy things that don’t contain something (fat, hormones, caffeine, sugar..). Even when we buy some products we do because they have “anti-oxidants”. We live in a society that is made up of groups that are against some particular thing. What are we “FOR?”

    Not sure this is a profitable thought – I’ll think about it again in the morning.

  • dan

    Aquaponics. Grow hemp. Stop gluttony. We don’t need to grow huge fields of food to feed the meat machine. Aquaponics is the solution, instead of taco bell and macs and mcdonalds, gut those buildings and run aquaponic ops inside. We don’t NEED to put spider dna in corn, or pathogens from gmo alfalfa, or to eject sulphur aerosols in the sky, or make sterile seeds, or any of the other insane things we’re doing. The more food we make the more our population will spiral out of control. Ever see at restaurants, back of supermarkets, catering events, peoples homes, just how much food gets WASTED??
    Not to sound to hippy green or cliche, but a more down to earth, grassroots, spiritual approach is what we need for growing food. Everyone must be involved in growing food at some point. People are bothered by GE because it is regarded by many as meddling in forces with variables humans cannot fully take into account. Of course the danger is there that in our smugness or arrogance we do it anyway and create more problems, to which our solutions aren’t really solutions as they create more problems.

  • dan

    What Don said:

    The unifying theme of the groups you describe is not an aversion to science or the scientific method per se, but a distrust of power structures.
    The fringe “green” activist, as you describe him, is probably motivated by his distrust of the “pharmochemical complex” that he sees as living in symbiotic relationship with agencies and organizations charged with regulating and/or reviewing it. He views the multiple scientific reviews you reference with skepticism as being beholden to the industry that sponsors them. He is informed by the well documented examples of scientific malfeasance practiced upon the trusting public of the twentieth century. And in many cases he is scientifically astute enough to recognize that our understanding of the complex interactions of chemical, biological and ecological systems is imperfect at best, and so, even if he does not disparage the conclusions of scientific reviews as biased, he may view them as inherently untrustworthy.
    And largely the same analysis applies to the precautionists and anti-vaccine activists in your coalition. For the religious and political members of your cabal, the motivations derive from their distrust of social and political forces instead of economic ones. And this distrust shades their view of the science brought to bear by those power structures they discredit.
    One would like to view science as an impartial arbiter of truth. In practice, people of all stripes clothe their agenda in the lingua franca of the age, and in this age that means the language of science or pseudo science. For many of the complex problems of modernity, teasing out the difference between the two requires more than just “scientific literacy”. Indeed, highly educated well intentioned experts may still have violent disagreements over complex issues.
    Source: sustainablog (http://s.tt/13tW8)
    ====
    This is it, what reason is there to trust the same groups that used chemicals for war now cloaked as pharma/agri groups using them for food? Science isn’t always science. It’s not always correct. There is corruption everywhere, and bias, and a misunderstanding of the science involved.

  • Brendan Trainor

    I am in favor of GMO foods. What I object to in this article is the equivalence to be opposed to GMO foods and to the “science” of global warming.
    When you test GM foods, you are working with controls. There are no controls in the global warming science. Obviously, you cannot have another planet to act as a control.
    Global Warming “Science” is entirely about computer models. As with any computer program, garbage in, garbage out. Furthermore, the variables in the programs consist of many real unknowns. We don’t know that much about clouds. We don’t know that much about the oceans. We don’t know that much about the sun, come to think of it.
    There is a much more vigorous science opposed to global warming than to GMO. Thousands of scientists have criticized AGW theory, while the number of scientists who have opposed GMO foods is composed of a handful of outliers.
    Climate change can occur for many reasons. We are just two centuries from a mini ice age that lasted four centuries.
    Finally, the Global Warming Debate has been politicized from the LEFT as well as from the RIGHT. Many scientists who are in favor of AGW theory are adamant that the only response to climate change is massive government intervention. Why? Why not the natural way, which is adaption through more science and wealth creation, rather than massive government interventions of dubious merit?

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