One major political debate raging on your Facebook right now is over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. And recently, Neil DeGrasse Tyson made an effort to steer it onto a logical track. Here’s what he said, and why both sides of the GMO debate are angry at him.
So, what’d the Internet’s favorite scientist do to piss everyone off?
He posted this video:
Ew! It’s shot in portrait! I won’t watch this! Give me a thumbnail summary!
OK. DeGrasse Tyson’s argument breaks out to two very simple points: One, that there’s little difference between GMOs created in a laboratory and GMOs created using current agricultural techniques, and that both can be equally beneficial or dangerous. So we should approach it from a scientific perspective and measure the impact of each organism on the whole ecosystem, and not just randomly ban swaths of organisms or treat GMOs like they’re all cancerAIDS. He also told people to just “chill out” about it.
So he made a well-reasoned and intelligent argument that accommodates both sides and offers a logical strategy to retain the benefits of the science while limiting or eradicating the drawbacks?
Yep, in a nutshell.
So idiots on Facebook were going to go ballistic no matter what.
Pretty much, and it got so intense that DeGrasse Tyson offered up a lengthier explanation laying out his points in more detail, and noting his perspective was apolitical.
Just how political is this debate?
A rather telling summary of just how stupid the GMO debate has gotten is this rather telling quote from Mother Jones:
The post is still pretty pro-GMO, in the end. But it certainly has many more shades of gray.
But doesn’t changing an organism using agricultural techniques take thousands of years?
Not particularly, actually, and certainly not on any unrealistic timeline for the overall human race. We managed to screw up dogs something fierce in less than a century, for example, and if you want a plant example, it took less than a decade for marijuana growers to create a far more potent bud by crossbreeding… and can go the other direction in less than a year. It does depend on the organism and what techniques can be ethically used, but scientifically speaking, the only essential difference is time.
And realistically, much of what you hear about GMOs created in a lab, and the laws that apply to them, is based on ignorance and misinformation. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, just that the problem is very different and has far different contours than the dumb-ass political debate people on both sides are trying to drag DeGrasse Tyson into.
In short, being concerned about GMOs makes sense. There are very real scientific and ethical questions that the rational pro- and anti- segments of the GMO debate agree have not been adequately addressed.
But ask yourself this. Who do you trust more to have a balanced view on a matter of scientific ethics: an actual scientist, or the guy typing about Monsanto in all-caps?