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Science, Dogma, and Mark Lynas

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

I suppose it is hard for journalists to resist a good story: Mark Lynas, former green activist, has seen the light. The pronouncements of converted GM critic Lynas have garnered coverage from several respected media sources, despite often being misleading, wrong, or questionable scientifically.

Lynas' main charge is that criticism of genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture is anti-science. His focus is on what he calls "the antis"-activists opposed to genetically engineered crops-but by setting up this straw man, and ignoring complex scientific concerns about GE while making summary judgments about its safety and value, he appears to be attempting to discourage real scientific debate.

What is especially disappointing, though, is the uncritical reception Lynas has received from several journalists like Andrew Revkin and Michael Spector. As University of Michigan ecologist John Vandermeer points out, Lynas' pronouncements are sophomoric-they suggest a young student's simplistic and sometimes incorrect understanding of science-and biased in their selectivity. That they have been received almost as gospel is surprising. The Economist called supportable criticism of Lynas, on GE and pesticide use, tendentious. Really? But dismissing debate is not?

Contrary to Lynas' pronouncements, science does not proceed by fiat. His summary judgment on the debate about GE-that "it's over"-is misinformed at best. One could pass this off as a rhetorical flourish, but the overall context of Lynas' talk shows that he is quite serious. While there is broad consensus on climate science, there is anything but on many aspects of GE science. As anyone who has read my blogs or reports over the past several years knows, I have cited numerous solid peer-reviewed studies that question many aspects of the safety, impact, or sustainability of GE as it has been developed, and will probably continue to be developed.

I guess Lynas can be forgiven to some extent for asserting that the safety of GE for human health and the environment has been settled, since this is a common misconception, as I discussed in previous posts at some length. He seems to be echoing equally mistaken utterances from what should be reliable science sources, like the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


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