The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
War on Science Gray Lady Spotlights Anti-GMO Idiocy in Hawaii

A feature in yesterday’s New York Times on a debate over GMOs in Hawaii casts the idiocy and hypocrisy of the modern green movement on the issue in stark relief. The piece follows the “lonely quest” of Hawaii County councilman Greggor Ilagan to winnow out the truth from the emotionally charged distortions surrounding the debate.

The NYT piece chronicles Ilagan’s attempt to make an educated decision on a bill introduced last May that would ban GMOs on the island. For anyone curious about the GMO debate, it’s worth reading the whole thing. But here’s the quick and dirty summary: our best scientific understanding of genetically modified crops suggests that they’re just as safe as their non-modified counterparts.

This is a point we’ve seen plenty of evidence for recently, with one prominent anti-GMO study being retracted for poor methodology, while another meta-study largely exonerated the technology that, oh, by the way, can better feed our world’s growing masses than many non-genetically modified crops.

But in Hawaii, the emotional convictions of the left—those who typically arm themselves with scientific research to push their policies, especially when it comes to climate change—trumped the facts of the case, and the ban was passed last month (though our intrepid councilman Ilagan voted against it). The NYT reports on the schism between greens and the scientific community:

Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones.

“These are my people, they’re lefties, I’m with them on almost everything,” said Michael Shintaku, a plant pathologist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who testified several times against the bill. “It hurts.”

The anti-GMO crowd, which has been coined the “climate deniers of the left,” is maybe the best example of how poorly conceived the modern environmental movement really is. Not only is it dead set on pushing forward idealistic (and as we’ve seen time and time again, unworkable) policies, it’s also incapable of grounding such pie-in-the-sky dreams in any kind of consistent reasoning. Scientific consensus is a mantle to be worn when it’s time to fearmonger about climate change (though consensus on that issue is fragmenting of late) and discarded when the facts don’t align with internal biases.

It’s a sham, it’s a shame, and the earth deserves better.

Published on January 6, 2014 4:00 pm
  • Fat_Man

    Instead of repeating my entire long comment from the last GMO article, I sahll just give the link:

    http://www.the-american-interest.com/blog/2014/01/04/gmo-fight-exposes-green-hypocrisy/#comment-1187083502

  • TommyTwo

    The paragraph immediately following your excerpt is also a gem:

    But, supporters of the ban warned, scientists had not always correctly
    assessed the health and environmental risks of new technology. “Remember
    DDT?” one proponent demanded.

    • Jim__L

      Remember Global Cooling, and the imminent new ice age?

      • TommyTwo

        It’s here! It’s here! We were right all along! :-)

    • Kavanna

      But the DDT case is a myth. The harmful effects of DDT were already known in the 1940s. By the 1950s, the scope and concentration of DDT use were already being reduced, because it was clear that the first years of DDT use, in the 1930s, involved serious overuse. By the time of Rachel Carson’s book, in 1962, people were already searching for alternatives to DDT. Unfortunately, a media myth, once started, never dies. Carson’s book was published around the time of the nuclear test ban treaty and marked the beginning of the degeneration of environmental warnings into exaggeration at best and crude hysterics and fakery at worst: “limits to growth,” the “new ice age,” ozone depletion, “global warming,” apples with Alar, faked exploding cars, etc.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I object to being called a “Climate Denier”, I don’t deny that there is a climate, I deny that there is Manmade “Global Warming”, and I point out that I didn’t change the name from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change”, the leftists did that when there wasn’t any Global Warming.

    • Kavanna

      No one sensible denies that there’s a climate :) Or … really? What is climate, anyway? It’s not a simple average, as the system is chaotic. But, whatever it is, it is and always has been constantly changing, on all scales of time and space. The climate hysteria is based on a chain of fallacies, starting with the wrong postulate of some stable, “average” climate that human activity then “tampers” with. There’s no reason to believe this at all.

      The climate “deniers” are the ones who deny the evidence: there’s no manmade “global warming.” They also deny the fallacious nature of the “reasoning” and models used to validate the hysteria.

  • free_agent

    You write, “[The environmental movement is] also incapable of grounding such pie-in-the-sky dreams in any kind of consistent reasoning.”

    I’ve started suspecting that the underlying motivation is a certain conception of “naturalness” and a moral sentiment of impurity attached to anything perceived as unnatural. Of course, the perception of unnaturalness is strongly correlated to what was ubiquitous when that person grew up. But this does seem to be consistent as a basis of the environmental movement’s observed policies.

    • Kavanna

      This is an example of what philosophers call the “naturalistic fallacy” — assuming something that seems familiar is “natural” and thus “good.” There’s no reason this has to be the case, and no scientific approach to any question can truck in such superstitions.

  • Keith McElveen

    Dear Sir,
    As a forensic scientist, I would like to point out that the truth of the science is not necessarily found in studies conducted or interpreted to prove one side’s opinion or the other. Likewise, meta studies are minefields

    • Kavanna

      Definitively, one needs controlled laboratory experiments, in addition to non-laboratory studies. They all say the same thing about GMO food: there’s nothing special about its effects, positive or negative, compared to non-GMO food. It’s a will-o-the-wisp you and others are now chasing.

  • Keith McElveen

    Dear Sir, to continue my post which was abbreviated by faulty website code by all appearances,

  • Keith McElveen

    Dear sir, i find my self frustrated by your commenting system but will attempt once more … Meta studies are notorious for many things when analyzing data and none of them are good. Might I suggest that you not align yourself with one side or the other of a scientific debate before the science is a actually performed? DDT and PCB have useful properties, but their negative properties were not defined for many years. Likewise with cocaine and nicotine. Some or all GM “inventions” may end up having more beneficial or

  • Keith McElveen

    I made it further this last time.

  • Keith McElveen

    Detrimental effects. If one throws in with one side or the other, one is not a scientist, but a partisan politician – perhaps?

  • Keith McElveen

    Better to stop your repeated attempts to portray GM as a positive for society and ecolgy and wait for true, unbiased science to be conducted if one wants to be a serious intellectual….
    Kind regards,
    J K McElveen

    • El Gringo

      And what, pray tell, would you, as a “serious intellectual” consider to be sufficient “unbiased science” to prove the safety of GM products?

      On the one hand, we have been using GM products for decades now with no compelling evidence of harmful effects. On the other hand, we have a rapidly growing global population and very few new options to feed it. If you personally choose not to consume GM products that is an understandable choice and I respect that. But I do take umbrage with the fact that you and others like you are trying to take that choice away from millions of people who simply don’t have enough food to eat.

      • Keith McElveen

        Dear El Gringo,
        I do not feel competent to design proper experiments to prove the safety but do have enough analytical background to recognize some of the flaws in prior work. I also feel comfortable with making a few top level observations about what might be included in the goals of such experiments – a comprehensive approach that takes into account lifecycle impacts of introduced chemicals or organisms, including but not limited to how they are absorbed by other organisms, interact with the soil/water/air either directly or after being affected by the ecology, etc, etc. Testing and measurement on a single field does not seem comprehensive enough. If such an approach had been applied to PCBs or DDT before mass adoption, then much trouble may have been avoided.

        Regarding your claim that I am trying to take choice away, that is not an accurate description of my beliefs, intentions, or actions. If something I wrote gave you that impression, I apologize for my poor wording.
        Kind Regards,
        JK McElveen

  • Jim__L

    I think Medea wove the “mantle of scientific consensus”…. relying on consensus is an appeal to Authority, and science cannot stand without the primacy of Evidence.

    • Kavanna

      Science is a mode of inquiry, not a source of authority. Many people — especially the supposedly educated “Progressive” types who wrongly think that their politics is based on “reality” and “science” — don’t understand this.

      The anti-GMO hysteria, like the climate hysteria, relies on mix of appeals to authority, fear, and ignorance. Unlike the case of climate, it is fortunate for humanity that GMOs can be subject to controlled laboratory experiments and their nature systematically and definitively probed. There’s no evidence that GMO foods are any less or more harmful than non-GMO foods. A GMO apple is just as good for you as a non-GMO apple; GMO tobacco is just as harmful as the other kind.

      But that’s not the whole story. There have been two decades of pseudo-scientific claims about the harmfulness of GMO foods that took a great deal of effort to lay to rest. The case of autism and vaccines was even more of a scandal. Some day — soon, I hope — the climate hysteria will join these exploded myths in history’s junk heap.

  • TommyTwo

    Having made my way through Keith McElveen’s comments, I wish to join him in rebuking the Meadians: Never forget, the science is not settled until Al Gore says it is!

    (By the way, since this post didn’t say it, I will: “Read the whole [NYT] article.”)

    • Keith McElveen

      Dear TommyTwo,
      to clarify, it was not my intention to rebuke, but instead to politely remind Via Media of the dangers of being one sided – particularly in matters involving unsettled scientific debates – and of the promise inherent in the name Via Media (latin for the middle road).
      Kind Regards,
      JK McElveen

  • michaelj68

    Everything humans eat has been genetically modified from the time humans abandoned being hunters and gathers. Do you think the staple grains have been the same for the past 10,000+ plus years? Humans took weeds, grasses, roots, etc. and genetically modified them to become the staples the world eats today.

  • RonRonDoRon

    If Hawaii is concerned about “unnatural” crops, it needs to ban the growing of pineapple and sugar cane, neither of which are native to HI.