The GMO Rogues Gallery

9
rogues from The Bothan Spy

Skepti-Forum members Richard Green and Marc Brazeau have brought together prominent critics of genetically engineered crops to quickly highlight how these pillars of the anti-GMO movement all seem to have feet of clay.

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The GMO Rogues Gallery
by Richard Green & Marc Brazeau

When it comes to the topic of genetically engineered crops (GE-crops) there is a lot of misinformation. When sourcing the origins of the most common misconceptions a few names routinely come up. Lets take a brief look at the rogues in our gallery:

Gilles-Éric Séralini: He is active in research and is the author of the infamous rat study that was retracted and recently republished without critical review. His work is often shown to have poor methodology and analysis.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/06/24/profile-of-gilles-eric-seralini-author-of-republished-retracted-gmo-corn-rat-study/

Charles Benbrook: Benbrook is an agricultural economist at Washington State University and science advisor for The Organic Center. He is the author of a widely panned study on pesticide use in GE crops.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2012/10/03/when-bad-news-stories-help-bad-science-go-viral/#.U8gxcajSCux

Judy Carman: Another active researcher and the author of a study on pigs which were fed GE corn. The study was found to be lacking in many areas.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2013/07/17/you-can-put-lipstick-on-a-pig-study-but-it-still-stinks/

Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel: These two are computer specialists that do not conduct research per se, but use algorithms to look for correlations. They typically engage in what we call reverse snake oil. Instead of a magic elixir curing unrelated conditions, they lay the blame for unrelated conditions on a single magical cause, usually glyphosate. They have the distinction of having a paper being used as a model for detecting a bogus scientific journal.
http://www.sci-phy.com/detecting-bogus-scientific-journals/

Vandana Shiva: Shiva is a philosopher who would like you to believe she is a physicist. A frequent claim is her rallying cry against “terminator genes/seeds”. These seeds are more of an idea than reality, as they never made it out of preliminary development. She is also fond of making outrageous claims with no supporting evidence.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/01/29/vandana-shiva-anti-gmo-celebrity-eco-goddess-or-dangerous-fabulist/

David Suzuki: Suzuki was a zoologist/geneticist and retired in 2001. Now he is an environmentalist who accepts the global consensus on global warming but falls short on accepting the global consensus on GE-crops. His vague cautions against unknown risks apply equally to creating new crops from any form of plant breeding. The few times he has been confronted with hard questions have left him flummoxed.
http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/02/04/rob-breakenridge-we-need-a-better-david-suzuki/

Don Huber: Huber is a retired agricultural researcher from Purdue University who was well respected in his day. These days he claims the existence of a mysterious pathogen somehow associated with Roundup that only he can see…
http://www.biofortified.org/2014/01/deconstructing-don-huber-a-tale-of-two-talks/

Theirry Vrain: Vrain was a soil biologist and genetic scientist for the Agriculture department in Canada. As with others in the gallery, he makes poorly sourced claims to elicit fear. Unlike some of the others, he really doesn’t specialize, his is more of an all-purpose type of misinformation.
http://www.comoxvalleyecho.com/real-science-vs-pseudo-science-on-gmo-s-1.971682

Jeffery Smith: Such a gallery would not be complete without Mr. Smith. He has no academic credentials. Not that credentials are needed to understand the science behind GE crops, but Mr. Smith has not made that effort. Like a lot of the rogues, he tours the paid lecture circuit making unfounded claims about the dangers of GE crops. His seminal work is the novel Genetic Roulette, which has been thoroughly debunked.
http://www.biofortified.org/2010/03/academics-reviews-meets-genetic-roulette/

To sum up:

The active scientists in this group seem to start with the end point they want to reach and then try to manipulate enough variables to achieve their goals. That is the exact opposite of how to conduct a good experiment.

The non-scientists and retired scientists seem to be pushing an ideology instead of examining the current research.

View anything these folks have to say on agricultural topics with extreme caution.

Photo Credit: The Bothan Spy

 

  • http://www.knigel.net/ Knigel Holmes

    Hi Richard and Marc. Thank you for sharing this piece. I think it’s useful in informing people who might not have heard of these people and who might get confused by their false authority on science.

    However, I would like to examine the use of “rogue” in the article.

    I’m not sure if this was explained enough to separate it from mere name calling or a personal attack. Given that our goal is science communication, is this usage effective? Will such a word appeal to those people who do not already agree with the content of the post? I’m concerned that such a word might alienate some audience members away from the overall message.

    I’m sharing this thought to open up discussion on science communication and to perhaps encourage a deeper explanation of the term.

    Overall, great article. Dealing with misinformation put out by people such as Seralini is immensely frustrating.

    • Beth Henggeler

      I agree that this is interesting and useful, especially to have all this information in one place. I understand your concern about name calling Knigel, but I think that Rogue is to nice of a term. When I think of a rogue I think of Captain Sparrow or Robin Hood, someone just outside the rules but with some charm and flair that makes people cheer for them. So I think Richard and Marc are being kind, possibly because they don’t want to alienate people. My knee jerk reaction is to call the Rogues flat out liars, so I think Marc and Richard are doing a great job of using a bit of humor to bring attention to these people while still being mostly nice about it, and not alienating people.

    • Richard Green

      Hi Knigel,
      In this case the usage of the word rogue is to denote separation from the mainstream (he says with a roguish grin).
      In a lot of cases the term rogue has a positive spin, it has been co-opted with pride by current and former politicians in the U.S. like Senator John McCain and former Governor Sarah Palin. I think it is arguably less offensive than a title boldly calling them purveyors of misinformation. After all, as Beth points out, a lot of rogues are quite charming and from what I’ve heard many of the individuals in our article are quite compelling in their speaking engagements.
      Whether this band of rogues is composed of outsiders fighting for the truth, or people pushing misinformation largely depends on your knowledge of the science surrounding genetic engineering.
      I’d say our use of the word is quite benign.

    • Richard Green

      In the larger context of science communication, not every piece is designed to persuade the people that really disagree with you. I see the target audience of this article as three fold:
      -To provide a quick summary link for someone already familiar with these people
      -Those folks on the fence or those who have recently started to doubt the quality of the information they have been hearing
      -As a potential tool to use during on-line discussions when you think the silent audience might benefit (I’m not fond of the term lurker).
      Anyway that was my hope when I was putting this together with Marc.

    • marcbrazeau

      This grew out of another project. The goal there was to inoculate minds rather than change minds.

      It’s a very fine line when calling out charlatans to make the case and avoid mere name calling, but it can be powerful to properly label. There is power in naming.

    • http://www.isitorganic.ca/ Mischa Popoff

      Holy smokes man! Why are you so worried about what people might think of the use of a term like “rogue”?

      These organic rogues have no trouble referring to pro-GMO people as mass-murderers. “Rogue” is a pretty soft term if you asked me.

      The only thing we need to be mindful of is the fact that the overwhelming majority of organic farmers are not worried in the least by GMOs. It’s URBAN organic activists like the ones listed above that are driving all the fear mongering.

  • http://ultimateglutenfree.com/ Peter Olins

    A useful list. My only quibble is the inclusion of Charles Benbrook. While he seems to have a blind-spot with regard to organic agriculture (which he seems to view from an ideological, faith-based, rather than scientific perspective) at least he does support many of his ideas with evidence and logic.

    A few more names to consider would be Mike Adams, Carey Gillam, Dr. Mercola, and Sayer Ji.

    BTW There is an irony in this list coming out almost simultaneously with the infamous monsantocollaborators.org website (https://web.archive.org/web/20140724153953/http://www.monsantocollaborators.org)

    • http://www.isitorganic.ca/ Mischa Popoff

      Yes, useful for sure.

      But sadly, and as usual, the organic connection is barely mentioned.
      The organic movement is now 100% synonymous with the anti-GMO movement. And proof of that comes in the fact that 43% of all organic food sold in America tests positive for prohibited pesticides… that’s right, the very same prohibited pesticides that organic activists USED to tell us we had to be worried about.
      Ironically, GE crops reduce pesticide use, but that’s of little consequence to these organic rogues.

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