Thursday, July 18, 2013

When McCarthyism Meets Science

Last week I was boycotted because of my scientific opinions.

About 6 weeks ago I was approached by the producers of a radio station in the Bay Area about interviewing me about my book WHAT A PLANT KNOWS. The producers defined their program as "a politically left, investigative, health/science show on the Pacifica station KPFA", I've done many such interviews since my book was published, for a variety of genres, including shows geared for science, current events, kabbala, Christians, and even kids, so I gladly accepted this invitation as well. In no case did the orientation of the station greatly influence the content. The interview was scheduled for July 9th at 11 PM Israel time, 1 PM in California.

Six hours before the scheduled interview I got the following email from my publicist  at FSG/SA books: "So sorry about this, but she has canceled the interview (upon realizing you’re in favor of genetically modified food). I’m so sorry! Now you don’t have to go on air at midnight, at least."

At first I found this amusing, especially as I wasn't even supposed to talk about agriculture and genetic engineering! It was even funny as a stereotype of Northern California.

But upon further consideration, I've realized that this censoring based on scientific opinion is very disturbing with dangerous implications.
Yes, the producers of this private radio show are not obligated to interview me or anyone else. But once having invited me about an issue completely unrelated to genetic engineering, to cancel this invitation based on other opinions, smacks of McCarthysim. Indeed as I did not at all relate to genetically modified food in my book, the producers of this show must have carried out a McCarthy-like background check to uncover my support of genetic engineering in agriculture. Having found a few posts in this blog (e.g. here ), or an interview about the use of GMO technology, decided to ban me (and my book) from their enlightened show.

If my book was interesting enough to warrant an interview with me before this information was revealed, why was it not after they found out that I think the genetic engineering is an essential tool in our arsenal to feed the world?

The answer I must come to is that the producers of this show are no different from other fundamentalists. I am sure the producers would shudder at this comparison, and they would likely be among the first to deride attempts to promote creationism in the public schools, or to silence scientists in the discourse on global warming. But the producers of this show with their anti-GMO agenda are truly no different from those who are anti-evolution or anti-climate change.

Both are based on deeply rooted beliefs. Both delegitimize anyone with an opposing opinion. And most disturbingly for our future, both are anti-science and technology. Both ignore, or dismiss as irrelevant, accumulating experimental scientific evidence that go against their beliefs. Both groups also often use the same types of convoluted thinking that includes argumentum ad ignorantiam.

In a separate blog I'll layout the reasons I happily eat genetically modified foods and feed them to my children. Any I welcome any debate on the matter. I would never boycott anyone who's willing to engage in scientific discourse.

29 comments:

  1. It's great that you are writing about this unfortunate event.

    The boycot will backfire completely, as you made you even more engaged in debating and educating the public.

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  2. Once got a call polling people at our university to see if we would eat anything that was "cloned"? Oooo, cloned! That must be bad. Gad! And these were college students, but thankfully not biology majors.

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    1. Ha! At a vegan restaurant, after noticing that the food was GMO-free, i asked the waitress what it meant, and following her excellent explanation, I asked, "but are there genes in your salads?" to which she replied, "I'll go ask the cook".

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    2. The answer was, "Yes our food has no genes" with a great satisfaction on her face.

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  3. What station and what show? They shouldn't be allowed to remain anonymous. This kind of thing is happening more and more in the progressive community. It's shameful behavior.

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    1. You convinced me. KPFA. I've edited above.

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    2. KPFA. That explains it all.

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  4. Wow you guys must work for Monsanto! GMOs give you cancer, thyroid problems, allergies, holes in your stomach, and more. Have you not heard of the corn that produces its own pesticides inside its kernels? When I stopped eating GMOs in April, my allergies that I've had for years went away and I lost 10 pounds! WAKE UP! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGqQV6ObFCQ

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    1. Sorry - Never worked for Mondanto (though I wouldn't rule it out in the future), nor have I ever been funded by them or any other company. Never considered that I got to my positions based on rational thinking and analysis? I'm happy for you about your regained health though skeptical about the exact cause and effect - these things are very difficult to reduce to a single factor. But that's irrelevant as empirically you have done something that agrees with you physically. But regarding your diatribe against GMOs, I suggest you educate yourself with some real science like in Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food (http://www.bookdepository.com/Tomorrows-Table-Pamela-Ronald/9780195301755), which is written by an organic farmer and his genetic engineer wife.

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  5. Amazing. and they probably think they are very enlightened.

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  6. Kudos for calling them out. Whatever else they may be, the staff at KPFA are not interested in informing their listeners.

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  7. ah yes ... dogmatic liberals, no thinking needed (easier that way). And the station's actions definitely smack of McCarthyism.

    I look forward to your promised GMO post.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I actually thought I was a dogmatic liberal! Guess not. Thanks for the comment and support Hollis.

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    3. I actually thought I was a dogmatic liberal! Guess not. Thanks for the comment and support Hollis.

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  8. So how you proceed with your GMO concept then?

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  9. We like - "The scientific way is to follow the evidence, and change your views if the evidence contradicts what you previously thought. The anti-science way is to form your conclusion, and then twist the evidence to support your conclusion (by for example, designing a study like this one), and to ignore everything else. People who do this are not interested in science and there is no point in trying to engage them in any more debate."

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  10. If the radio station had allowed you to talk, they could have heard a description of how genetic engineering works. An informative discussion could have followed.

    btw, McCarthy destroyed lives. Your comparison is way off base. Your throwing in the concept of fundamentalism makes me think that maybe you really were not the person for the job of explaining genetic modification to we common folks. They decided they didn't want you on their program: their loss, but get over it.

    And bringing in McCarthyism and fundamentalism is over board. Your research is good; but we in the United States have been introduced to GM crops in the bullying manner of top-heavy corporations. They are good at technology, lawyers and marketing. I prefer your approach of science, but enough with self-righteousness. There are many ways to attain justice in people getting quality food. Please play well with others.

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    1. 1st if all - thanks for your thought out comment.
      You are right that much of the GMO debate should be centered on regulatory issues of business and not on science.You are also correct in that McCarthy destroyed careers and even lives and mine is fine and thriving. But McCarthy also instigated ideology background checks on people whose job had nothing to do with ideology or national security. McCarthy and his committee institutionalized the practice of making allegations or investigative techniques to promote a political agenda and to repress dissent and dialogue. He instilled fear that caused people to hide opinions. My parents had many friends who were influenced by these fears. Their careers were not destroyed, but they also learned not to say what they meant. I find similar pressures in the anti-GMO movement, that people in certain circles are afraid to speak out. In my case, the interview was not about GMO, but rather about plant senses. But once a background check had been done, the interview was cancelled.

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    2. The anti-gmo movement is not above destroying careers. See Dr. Kevin Folta's Illumination blog.

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  11. Danny, great post, and this is happening everywhere. I was supposed to go on KGO in San Fran Monday at 11 EST. They also cancelled at the last minute, citing they didn't want to hear from Monsanto. Give me a break. It is cult behavior. Those in a position to control the message must oppress any information that could affect the central tenets of the belief system.

    I have to get you on Talking Biotech to talk about your book. Maybe we can pick a time next week. Watch email!! Kevin

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    1. Thanks Kevin! I'm in China next week talking about food security. So maybe the week after?
      Danny

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  12. Thanks for publishing this and for fighting back against the forces of ignorance. As a pro-science pro-common sense liberal I am horrified by the anti-science anti-GMO left. I hope you can get on the air in that market on another station and make the case against bad science and against censorship.

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    1. Thanks Anon. That would be an interesting discussion!

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