How has the term “science” become such a flashpoint? This simple word has become the center of rabid debate, the justification for mudslinging and name-calling, and an excuse to marginalize entire population groups. When faced with concerns, disagreement, or conflicting evidence, accusations of being “anti-science” are the first line of defense used by companies like Monsanto to silence the opposition.
Why does this tactic work so well?
One of the most effective tools in silencing the public’s concern is to claim intellectual superiority over those who question the safety (or ethics) of blindly advancing technology that involves genetic manipulation and/or the use of chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment. Making people look stupid for raising legitimate concerns is a powerful deterrent—after all, most people fear appearing unintelligent.
On the flip side, those who don’t bother to take the time to research issues and instead simply follow along with the crowd are happy to associate themselves with what they see as the “intelligent, scientific” group by backing whatever they’re told to back. They get the benefits of claiming intelligence, without the hard work of investigating what they are supporting.
Accusing those who raise questions as to the safety of GMOs of being “Anti-Science” is effective because it feeds the egos of those not interested in looking into the issues themselves, and because it threatens the egos of those who have questions, but are afraid to speak up because they might look “unscientific.”
But there’s nothing un-scientific about questioning bad science. And the world of GMOs is full of decidedly bad science.
The Definition of Science, and Why it Matters
Before we go accusing people of being “pro-science” or “anti-science,” it’s important to define the word itself. The Oxford English Dictionary defines science as:
The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.‘the world of science and technology’
A particular area of science.
count noun ‘the agricultural sciences’
A systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.
‘the science of criminology’
archaic Knowledge of any kind.
‘his rare science and his practical skill’
Science is methodical, structured, and based on observation and experimentation. Nowhere in the definition of “science” does it say that science is “innovative” or “enterprising.” There is no mention of “business” in the definition of science, nor is there mention of scientific “discoveries” that create new products, pharmaceuticals, or patented plants and animals.
GMOs have been championed as exciting new scientific discoveries—yet, they don’t fit this category either. The word “scientific” means “of, relating to, or exhibiting the methods or principles of science” (Merriam -Webster Dictionary). GMO products are not created to discover new truths, they are designed to create a product that will profit the company funding the “research” that leads to the product’s creation.
In fact, research isn’t a strong point when it comes to GMOs. The “science” that is happening is simply recycling existing scientific techniques for the purpose of manufacturing products that can be used to make money.
Science has very little to do with the creation and production of GMOs—in fact, this field does not fall into the category of science at all. It is better described as technology, which is defined as:
The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.
The application of this knowledge for practical ends.
The terminology of an art, science, etc.; technical nomenclature.
A scientific or industrial process, invention, method, or the like.
The sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization. (Dictionary.com)
It matters how we define “science.” Science is observation-based, can be backed with multiple experiments that show the same results no matter who is funding the research, and stands true over time.
Science is not technology.
Those Who Question the Safety, Effectiveness, and Reasonability of GMOs are not “Anti-Science.” They are Pro-Safe, Responsible Technology.
How to Respond to “Anti-Science” Accusations
If you’re accused of being “anti-science” because of your concerns over the detrimental effects of GMOs on our health, society, and environment, how can you respond?
Explain that you are very supportive of the scientific process and that your stance on GMOs is not a “belief” issue. In fact, you are a strong supporter of good science—science that follows rigorous, non-biased experimentation and reporting.
However, as a person who understands the way that research works and the sway that funding has on research that is not provided by an unbiased, third party, you are skeptical about “science” that comes from companies who have a vested financial interest in their findings. In fact, very little information about the safety of GMOs has been produced by those who are not benefiting financially from their creation.
In addition, when it comes to GMOs it’s not the science that is in question—it’s clear that you can manipulate plants and animals genetically using the principles of science. It’s the technology you are concerned with. Is it reasonable to trust corporations that are making huge amounts of money on new technology to have our bests interests in mind? Is it responsible to blindly accept new inventions, without thoroughly researching the possible negative effects that technology might have on health and the environment?
If that doesn’t make your accuser stop and think, you can always ask them how much research they have done on the subject. Have they looked for non-biased research on GMOs? Have they investigated where the funding for GMO research comes from? Have they looked carefully at the research that is out there?
If not, why?
It might be easier to blindly follow the crowd and be identified with the “pro-science” majority who are claiming to be more intelligent (despite doing less personal investigation). But if you haven’t employed any actual scientific inquiry in your decision to do so, you’re not doing anyone any favors—except, maybe, for the companies who are cranking out poorly researched, unsafe technology and benefitting from the fact that people will buy into it without taking the time to think about its safety, ethical implications, or value.
– GMOs Revealed