The National Academy would (I hope) never solicit testimony from creationists about the findings of evolutionary science. But when it comes to biotech crops, the National Academy has succumbed to the moral equivalent of listening to creationists. How? By inviting numerous neoluddite charlatans testify before a National Research Council (NRC) panel that is working on a new report evaluating the safety of modern biotech crops this week. The anti-technology activist groups that appeared before the NAS panel include the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, ETC Group, Institute for Responsible Technology, Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union.
Jon Entine, who heads up the invaluable Genetic Literacy Project, also testified and warned the NAS panel about how inviting the claque of anti-biotechnology quacks to appear before them will backfire.
From Entine's testimony:
I don't question the sincerity of the concerns of those invited about the future of food and farming any more than I would question the fervent belief of a Young Earth Christian that the earth is 6,000 years old. And I appreciate the bind that you faced in organizing this project. While not respected in the broader science community, some of those invited are part of the public conversation, just as creationists are part of the debate over evolution.
You face pressure to demonstrate to skeptics of GE that the NRC and by proxy the American people are listening to their concerns. Perhaps it made sense to invite science's harshest critics. But panel members, don't assume that those who will have spoken will ultimately embrace this process. Emboldened by the implicit endorsement that an appearance at the Academy confers, they will resume their campaigns to scare the public about a safe technology. Don't be shocked that for years to come, they will make hay that they have been "consulted" by the National Academy of Sciences about GMOs. Don't be surprised that when you issue your report in 2016, you will be ridiculed for holding what they will then characterize as a "rigged NRC process".
That's even more of a reason that if your goal is to demonstrate your leadership, it's critical that you speak out about what the consensus science shows—no wavering or hedging to appease critics that fail to use good science. You may have to take a forceful and uncomfortable stand in the face of vocal criticism. Science is not a democracy. We don't get to vote on whether a whale is a fish or a mammal…
The scientific consensus does not mean the public embraces sound science on GMOs anymore than the certainty of natural selection closes the public debate over evolution. Polls indicate half of Americans believe in creationism or God-guided evolution…
You, this panel have an opportunity to end this charade, this faux debate over GMO safety: There are simply no credible studies in top flight journals—and none that has been repeated—that suggest serious likely safety issues that would not also apply to conventional or organic foods.
Entine's whole testimony is well worth reading. Let's hope that the NRC panel takes it to heart.
For more background, see my article, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops."
Addendum: H&R commenter J. Browne sent me this relevant email which I asked to post:
I was on a National Research Center evaluation team a while ago as an external data analyst. We held three hearings on the topic and one of them was specifically to include viewpoints that were very much outside the norm in the field. Those individuals play their same tune years later, but the noise would have been much louder had they been excluded. This is something the NRC knows from experience.
So it doesn't seem odd to me that they would invite anti-biotech activists to a hearing on the topic. Now, if they give their views many pages in their report, then you have an argument. Entine's will have a point.
Good points. We will see how the NRC treats the charlatans in its report. Still, I think that Entine's point stands:
Don't be shocked that for years to come, they will make hay that they have been "consulted" by the National Academy of Sciences about GMOs. Don't be surprised that when you issue your report in 2016, you will be ridiculed for holding what they will then characterize as a "rigged NRC process".Don't be surprised that when you issue your report in 2016, you will be ridiculed for holding what they will then characterize as a "rigged NRC process".