Okay, all you Bill Nye fans who have dissed Bill Maher for his “anti-vaxer” views, be prepared to exercise some consistency vis-á-vis Nye. Over at Keith Kloor’s Discover Magazine website “Collide-a-Scape,” you can read how “Bill Nye explains why he is a GMO skeptic.” (GMOs are, of course, genetically modified organisms.
Kloor says this:
So now it’s nearly a a decade later and GMOs are still saddled with a fear factor that activists have worked hard to promote, much to the dismay of the plant science community. Where is Nye in this battle between scientists and those that frequently contest (and muddy) the science of agricultural biotechnology?
You don’t see him stepping into the fray to communicate the known facts about genetically modified crops, much less advising people to “chill out” about GMOs, as Neil deGrasse Tyson did earlier this year. This reluctance appears to stem from Nye’s discomfit with GMO technology, which he expresses in his new book. Appearing on reddit yesterday, Nye had a revealing exchange with one questioner, who poses this question:
Hi! I’ve been a long time fan, and I’d like to ask about something a bit old. I work in plant science, and we have this controversy that is every bit as unscientific, damaging, and irrational as the controversies surrounding evolution, vaccines, and climate change, so I was thrilled to see there was an Eyes of Nye episode on GMOs…right up until I watched it, and saw you talking about fantastical ecological disasters, advocating mandatory fear mongering labels, and spouting loaded platitudes with false implication. You can see my complete response here, if you are interested, and I hope you are, but it was a little disheartening.
When I look up GMOs in the news, I don’t see new innovations or exciting developments being brought to the world. I see hate, and fear, and ignorance, and I’m tired of seeing advances in agricultural science held back, sometimes at the cost of environmental or even human health, over this manufactured controversy. Scientists are called called corporate pawns, accused of poisoning people and the earth, research vandalized or banned, all over complete nonsense. This is science denialism, plain and simple. That Eyes of Nye episode aired 9 years ago, and a lot can change in nearly a decade, so I want to ask, in light of the wealth of evidence demonstrating the safety and utility of agricultural genetic engineering, could you clarify your current stance on the subject, and have you changed the views you expressed then? Because if so, while you work with public education, please don’t forget about us. We could use some help.
Nye’s response is curiously nonresponsive:
We clearly disagree.
I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem.
Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better.
So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.
Well, nothing’s happened to the ecosystem so far, so is Nye saying that we should never use GMOs because there’s always a nonzero chance that some catastrophe can occur? That’s a recipe for doing nothing.
GMOs, of course, aren’t just there to give us “more food”. They’re also there to give us better food and healthier food. One example of this is the case of “golden rice,” a strain of rice genetically engineered to produce the compound beta-carotene, which, in turn, is metabolized by the human body into vitamin A. It turns out that vitamin A deficiency is a serious cause of blindness and death in children; in fact, the Golden Rice Project estimates that 1.5 million children die yearly from vitamin A deficiency and a further 500,000 go blind. While not all of these individuals could be saved or cured by eating golden rice, many of them would. The product is safe, cheap, and the license to grow it is given free to “subsistence farmers” making less than $10,000 per year, so there aren’t many “big agro” issues involved. Farmers can replant seed, too, so (unlike hybrid corn), they don’t have to keep buying it from companies.
Nevertheless, because golden rice is a “GMO,” it’s been opposed by organizations like Greenpeace, field trials have been vandalized, and the grain has yet to be adopted on a widespread scale. Meanwhile, kids continue to go blind and die. Misguided opposition to GMOs is responsible for some of those deaths and illnesses.
The fear of GMOs is like creationism: an unfounded belief based not on facts, but on a form of faith: genetically unmodified food is better. Yes, GMOs vary in their efficacy and in the profits they make for Big Agro, but there’s no doubt that thousands of lives can be saved by adopting a GMO like golden rice. And, after all, breeders have been doing a form of genetic engineering for centuries, by outcrossing plants or animals to others to incorporate desired genes.
Message to Bill Nye: creationism doesn’t kill kids; dissing GMOs, as you have done, can. If you really care about using science to improve human welfare on this planet, then for God’s sake look up the data on GMOs and use your influence in a positive way. Stroking your chin is not helping!