Thursday, July 19, 2012

GMO Myths and Truths: The paper at a glance

This will be my first post on the paper GMO Myths and Truths by Earth Open Source.  This is more about my first impressions on the topic and putting my bias out in the open, and less about the actual contents of the paper, which I will get into in the next post.

My first impressions?  It is fracking huge, like 123 pages huge, so we aren't dealing with concision.  From the table of contents it looks like there are about 34 arguments being presented in this paper, broken up into 7 main sections.  Now as first impressions go, getting the feeling that one is looking up the sheer cliff face of a print version Gish Gallop is not a good one to have.  Why not just pick the best argument, the most damning of GMOs and do a solid paper on that one?  No, we get what appears to be every argument ever made against GMOs.  Just from the "Executive Summary" on page 8...
Genetically modified (GM) crops are promoted on the basis of a range of far-reaching claims from the GM crop industry and its supporters. They say that GM crops:
● Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
● Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
● Are strictly regulated for safety
● Increase crop yields
● Reduce pesticide use
● Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
● Bring economic benefits
● Benefit the environment
● Can help solve problems caused by climate change
● Reduce energy use
● Will help feed the world. 
However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:
● Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops● Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
● Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
● Do not increase yield potential
● Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
● Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops● Have mixed economic effects
● Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
● Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
● Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
● Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
Seriously, just one of those should be enough.  Refuting the point that they "Bring economic benefits" should be enough to stop a corporation like Monsanto from pursuing GMOs at all.  The only reason corporations exist is to make a profit from providing a product or service, so if there is no economic benefit to be had from GMOs, they would have no reason to research or market them; regulatory, technological, and humanitarian arguments be damned.

Instead of that, we have all of these claimed "Myths" and their opposing claimed "Truth" with their own sections delving into them.  Maybe the authors just feel that this is such a huge threat that they needed to blow the lid off of every single problem with it they could find all at once, but deluging the people you are trying to convince serves, not so much to inform them, but to overwhelm them.  The average consumer isn't going to have the expertise or time to go through all of it, and may just take the argument as from authority (two of the authors are listed as geneticists).

Those that actually are informed on the matter often times are not the best communicators of the subject to laypersons.  Genetics is a very complicated field, and putting it into terms those of us not trained in it can understand is work by itself.  You have to make sure you don't lose important information in the translation from technical language to standard English, and also that your explanation isn't easily misunderstood or misrepresented.  Couple that with the fact that it often takes more space to refute an argument than it took to present the argument, and offering rebuttal to 123 pages of arguments becomes a monumental task.

And that is the main reason seen in skeptical circles that someone will unload a scatter-shot of arguments for their point instead of a well developed single argument.  Overload those on the fence with so much that it appears one side has amassed so much data on the subject, they can't possibly be wrong.  Overwhelm your opposing partisans with so many arguments to rebut that they haven't the time to do it.  Then point to the arguments they haven't gotten to and tell the fence sitters "See, they don't have anything to say to that!  Our position stands unchallenged!"

Now, that is my bias as a skeptic, and my initial impression as someone uninformed on the matter at hand.  If I were a bad skeptic (like the climate change skeptic type of skeptic), I'd just plug my ears at this point.  The argument's format looks bad, I don't agree with their side, and I'm not going to read their paper.  Instead a computer scientist who makes software to design printed circuit boards, that would be me, is going to wade into this debate on biology and genetics in the hopes of actually getting a skeptic's eye on this paper.

...and I'm doing this because I'm bored... really, I couldn't just be happy with playing MMOs all night, grinding levels and slaughtering waves of pixels?  No, we have to try our hands at getting informed on the science and economics of GMOs because no one else seems to have taken to doing it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But I do want ALL the arguments. If you don't you shouldn't get involved. Who wants only one myopic point when there are so many to the argument. Do you have a short attention span?