Leigh Phillips over at his website [via Doug Henwood] (illustration by Cressida Knapp):
At last year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – the 125,000-strong professional association of US scientists – president Nina Fedoroff said she was now “scared to death” by what she described as an anti-science movement. “We are sliding back into a dark era,” she said. “And there seems little we can do about it.”
She spoke about academics and government researchers being stalked and intimidated over their research into climate change; email hacking, Facebook campaigns calling for them to be fired; expensive PR efforts by oil companies and think-tanks working to discredit the concept of anthropogenic global warming; and toe-curlingly shameless displays of scientific illiteracy by prominent Republican politicians.
We’re familiar with these sort of attacks on science from the right, of blimpish Tory climate denialism and Louisiana textbooks telling children that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster is proof that evolution is wrong. But Fedoroff was just as frightened of the vandalism, intimidation and violence directed towards biotechnology researchers from the green left. “I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms,” she continued.
Have Monsanto and Syngenta managed to bribe the entire French and American scientific establishments? Well, if you read GMWatch, you probably think so. The leading anti-GM website actually believes the AAAS to be “captured from the top down”. This is as absurd and poorly argued as right-wing accusations from denialist bloggers like Watts Up With That’s Anthony Watts that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been captured by Greenpeace.
It should be a deep embarrassment to progressives, but the truth is that anti-GM activists are as guilty of anti-scientific thinking with regard to their pet subject as the Koch Brothers or the American Enterprise Institute are on global warming.
I am the first to acknowledge that many of the arguments made by anti-GM campaigners are problematic, in particular the coupling of the idea of ‘nature as right’ with concepts of genetic purity, pollution and contamination. These phrases are thick with resonance that extends well beyond the particular argumentative field in which they are planted. As the feminist theorist Donna Haraway observes, ‘I cannot help but hear in the biotechnology debates the unintended tones of fear of the alien and suspicion of the mixed.’
In addition, anti-GM campaigners have suggested consumer choice is the main way people can resist the introduction of these products. This offers few options to those who can’t afford to be picky about which carrots they eat and suggests the way to achieve social change is simply to buy different things – but that’s hardly a problem that’s exclusive to the GM debate.