John Stossel

'People who are opposing GMOs…are leading to preventable deaths'

John Stossel asks: Is the left's scientific ignorance more damaging than the right's?


Last month I appeared at the top of a special episode of Stossel on "Science Wars," going over the kinds of arguments he laid out at in "The Left's Bad Ideas About Science Are More Harmful Than the Right's." Here's my segment:

You can watch the full episode here.

Remember: Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey will be gamboling through ideasphere these coming weeks and months talking about his great new book The End of Doom. Also: Tonight at 8 p.m. ET is a brand-spankly new Stossel episode on Fox Business Network, titled "Legal Mess." Finally: You can read Stossel's Reason archive here.

NEXT: The Cruel, Petty Sentencing Practices of Judge Dennis Wiley

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  1. “Is the left’s scientific ignorance more damaging than the right’s?”

    Yes. Believing that the Earth is 6000 years old, or that man lived side by side with dinosaurs, or that evolution is a load of shit doesn’t harm anyone it just makes that person look stupid.

    Opposing GMOs, Fracking, DDTs, Fossil Fuels, etc that hurts a lot of people, and yet they’re the party of science.

    1. “Opposing GMOs, Fracking, DDTs, Fossil Fuels, etc that hurts a lot of people”

      Any of them have names?

      1. I’m sure the millions of Africans that died of Malaria had names. Are you asking for all of them, retard?

        1. Africans have all the means to combat malaria that non Africans have. They don’t need the permission of outsiders to use methods like DDT for example, a pesticide manufactured and used in Africa for decades.

          “Are you asking for all of them, retard?”

          Just one will do, if that’s not too much to ask.

      2. Anyone who wants to eat cheaper food is harmed by opposition to GMOs.
        Anyone who relies on cheap electricity and heat is harmed by anti-fracking efforts.

        1. “Anyone who wants…”

          … something that’s just out of reach can claim the mantle of victimhood. He may not get his wish, but he’ll find solace in the Reason comments, where the victimized are highly respected.

          1. Well, if this thing is “out of reach” due to government regulations based on junk science — or, commonly, on irrational hysteria that does not even rise to the level of junk science — then I would say, yes, it seems reasonable to describe him as a “victim”.

            1. “Well, if this thing is “out of reach” due to government regulations based on junk science”

              That’s not the claim being made. Simply opposing GMO is inflicting harm on those who want to pay less for their food or even just everyone. My advice: if you’ve been truly harmed by a GMO opponent and can prove it, go to court. With a sympathetic jury, you just might win.

              1. Every child which dies or goes blind as a result of Vitamin A deficiency, in a country which bans cultivation of golden rice, has been harmed by irrational anti-GMO hysteria from idiots like you.

                Sadly, these kids live in poor countries, with weak legal systems, and don’t really have the financial resources to sue you for stupidity in an American court.

              2. Every child which dies or goes blind as a result of Vitamin A deficiency, in a country which bans cultivation of golden rice, has been harmed by irrational anti-GMO hysteria from idiots like you.

                Sadly, these kids live in poor countries, with weak legal systems, and don’t really have the financial resources to sue you for stupidity in an American court.

  2. Disclosure: They fracked under me.

      1. Money shot.

  3. The Anti-GMO types believe that genocide is preferable to harming their vision of Gaia.

    1. Mostly black and brown people too, but thats ok they’re also were against that confederate flag in South Carolina, and thats whats more important.

      1. I would like to find an endangered species which had the coloration pattern of the confederate flag.

        I have always wondered what exploding heads look like.

        1. Can’t we GMO one?

    2. “The Anti-GMO types believe that genocide is preferable to harming their vision of Gaia.”
      Put simply, it is a religion.
      Anyone who speaks of ‘mother earth’ is dealing with religious imagery, not science in any way.

    3. It’s not like they’re competing interests. They see humans as a parasite on the planet; the fewer the better.

      1. They see humans as a parasite on the planet

        Which is funny. If you look at it from a wholistic, ecological point of view there is nothing wrong with parasites at all. They have their role to play in the ecosystem just like everything else. Every living thing is a parasite in some sense.

        1. Every human is a part of nature. *polishes monocle* Thus every human action, and every consequence thereof, is natural. Nuclear waste is as natural as the fart of a new born baby deer. *inspects monocle for blemishes* Furthermore, the claim that it is within the realm of human action to “harm the earth” or somesuch is the most outrageous form of poppycock. *lights pipe* In the timeframe of the planet earth’s ‘lifecycle’ forgiving for a mo’ that such a notion is an absurdity, it was just a fortnight ago that the oceans were liquid methane, and the plains were molten lead. What followed from that spectacle? Every form of human life today. *puffs pipe* The earth needs no defense from humanity; and indeed if it did there would be no members of humanity suitable for the job. My favorite “environmentalists” are those employed by the state, who use their sanction to murder millions of animals whrn some such species is deemed “invasive” or some league of birdwatchers determines that some habitat must remain as it is for all time. Nature being always a chaotic, whirling dynamo, it is those who would slow its passage in the name of “preservation” that deserve the epithet of “Un-natural”. *exhales pipe smoke* Its all quite similar to those groups of insufferable old suffragettes who decide that some or other building must be preserved, and being elderly, like themselves, deserves an exemption from those Market Forces that would put the tract to a more Valued Use.

  4. While I think it’s dumb to try to prevent schools from teaching evolution, they have a challenging enough job teaching kids about science in general. It seems the general public understands little about scientists and the way science is done, and that is just as much the left’s fault with their talk of consensus and “settled” science as it is the fault of the religious right.

    It is not just crap about GMOS and fracking, either. Most of the environmental left is scared to death by atomic power, for reasons that have nothing to do with science and everything to do with misinformation and rumors about how many deaths occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima (millions, they think) vs the reality. The sad thing is that, if they were really serious about carbon emissions as they claim to be, nuclear power represents the BEST solution available with our current technology. Yet, just like the dummies who read every line of the bible literally, they believe a problem at a nuclear plant can result in a nuclear blast with mushroom cloud and fallout.

    1. This is why, if global warming/climate change really is a serious threat, the last people I would want devising solutions would be the socialists pushing it. They’re great at achieving the opposite of their intentions.

      1. Well it really reveals that their true agenda has nothing to do with climate change, they’re just using that as a hook to hang all sorts of economic controls and central planning on.
        If they REALLY just wanted to prevent climate change they would be jumpng up and down demanding more nuke plants be built as soon a possible.
        Instead they’re out there demanding that people radically restructure their economic activity along suspiciously familiar lines.

  5. Is the left’s scientific ignorance more damaging than the right’s?

    When the right’s scientific ignorance is in full swing, they say dumb things and look stupid. When left’s scientific ignorance is in full swing, they say dumb things and look smart, then they enlist armed government agents to expropriate property and erect prosperity destroying regulation.

  6. This is crap. GMO’s are making our food system more brittle. Not so much on their own – but they are yet one more reinforcement of the whole hybridized (read sterile) seeds and big plantation monoculture system. Not to mention that the tactics of seed companies (which it is VERY clear no stupid city fuck even knows about) out in farm country go WAY beyond simply selling their product and amount to forcible imposition of their seeds on those who don’t even want them and who view those seeds as akin to pollution.

    Has NOTHING to do with ‘science’. Has everything to do with selling ‘science’ to idiots in furtherance of a corporate agenda.

    1. Sounds like your problem is with IP law and the regulatory agencies that impose undue hardship on consumers.

      1. I keep trying to explain to people that there were patents on specific cultivars before GMOs were a thing and that farmers being forbidden from saving seeds has nothing to do with GM at all. It doesn’t seem to help much.

        1. You’re not going to reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.

      2. No. My problem is mainly with the business tactics that seed corporations use. Now maybe the patent/regulatory system enables them to abuse the power of the patent – maybe – and maybe not. But the FACT is that it is not govt – but those corporations themselves – that CHOOSE to abuse the power. And until libertarians stop fellating the very companies that are abusing those powers; then there is ZERO chance that anyone will listen to some abstract anti-govt bullshit about IP.

    2. I think you are ignoring complementary trends in agriculture that tend to counterbalance the type of farm monoculture you mention. As someone who enjoys cooking, I also watch a fair amount of cooking shows. The trend is for chefs to work with farmers to push for MORE diversity in what farms produce. This encompasses heritage varities of vegetables and grains and even free-range animals.

      1. That stuff is all fine and good but it amounts to nothing. Hell, we don’t even have many truck farm-acres around the country for in-season supply to cities. Diversified agriculture is only for gentrified foodies now. Which is fine – until those huge swathes of monoculture get obliterated by some unpredictable weather/pest/etc problem. And then we will actually understand how much we have screwed up our food system.

    3. How do they force their seeds on people who don’t want them? If that is actually happening, then that is wrong. And has nothing to do with GMOs or a scientific approach to farming.

      I agree that big Ag does some unsavory things, but those things are mostly enabled by unreasonable IP law and other regulation that favors very large companies.

      1. How do they force their seeds on people who don’t want them?

        This is possible and, as you said, completely enabled by our IP laws and industry-captured regulators. It’s why there is not much diversity left in our corn production.

        1. Really? HOW?
          IP laws *prevent* people from using certain seeds without a license, they don’t force them to use the desired seeds.

          1. Well it works like this:

            1. Make better corn seeds.
            2. Sell it at a premium.
            3. Farmers who do buy it are more competitive than those who don’t.
            4. Therefore, everyone is FORCED to buy these seeds.


            1. You missed the bit where overregulation of GMOs has acted as a massive barrier to new entrants in the market and concentrated power in the hands of a single company.

              Naturally, the people complaining about the power of this company, and the people advocating for more regulation of GMOs are … the exact same people.

      2. Seeds tend to distribute themselves. That’s the way nature works. Early on, those seed companies sent lawyers to every farmer downwind of their customers threatening to sue them for property theft and patent infringement and have their crop confiscated if their crop showed signs of having any of the ‘new’ features. Or they could become a paying customer – and the lawyers would head further downwind. Nowadays, they prob don’t need to do that any more. But the pervasiveness now of ‘polluted’ monoculture means that it is no longer even POSSIBLE for a farmer in corn/soy/cotton country to grow heirloom (or organic) varieties of those crops because they can’t guarantee anything to their customers.

        1. I live in the middle of soy country. All the rich kids are the kids of farmers and everyone has worked on a soy or poultry farm at some point, and I’ve never heard of anything like this. Basically, you either use the most efficient seeds (read GMO) or you go out of business. Using heirloom seeds on a real farm would be like using a steam tractor. Why would they need to hire lawyers to gallivant around and bully farmers when they make a better product anyway? Seems like an internet rumor to me.

          1. You can’t even use non-GMO corn hybrids anymore. Not every farmer out there is simply interested in growing bulk crap commodity corn that qualifies for futures contracts, livestock feed, and ethanol. That doesn’t mean a farmer has to want to go all the way to heirloom or organic. Once GMO corn is overwhelming in your area; that non-commodity production option is GONE. You have to produce what everyone else produces. And have no doubt, the increased yield did little more than reduce prices – which then created pressure to use up the surplus with all the govt ethanol crap.

        2. This is total horseshit. Nobody has ever been sued for accidental cross-pollination. The only cases involve people deliberately saving GMO seed and replanting it. Also no modern farmer normally saves and replants their own seed anyway, because it’s not going to be of the same quality as the high-yielding hybrid seed you buy from a commercial producer.

          There are two cases I know of, in one, the farmer deliberately used Roundup to select in favor of roundup-ready genes in crops that had been cross-pollinated by his neighbors.
          In the other, the farmer purchased some GMO soy from a silo for a second season crop that he didn’t want to have to pay the fee for. (He paid for the first crop but didn’t want to pay for two crops , because of the low yield in late season crops).

          1. There is NO ONE who saves GMO (or any purchased seed nowadays) and replants it. All those seeds are hybridized – ie sterile. They will grow a crop one time but the seed from that plant will not grow a crop.

            And second, the ‘lawsuit’ is not the purpose here. The purpose was to THREATEN a lawsuit. To use the power of injunction/etc and the complete power mismatch between the two parties (once a crop is in the ground, a farmer is VERY vulnerable to even the hint of ‘delay’ to harvesting it) to force compliance of the weaker to the will of the stronger. And yes – that works in the real world.

    4. the tactics of seed companies out in farm country go WAY beyond simply selling their product and amount to forcible imposition of their seeds on those who don’t even want them and who view those seeds as akin to pollution.

      How exactly are they doing that? Do you think they have death squads running around putting guns to people’s heads?
      Nobody is forced to buy their products. If farmers are buying them it is because they have distinct economic advantages they aren’t willing to forgo.

  7. I’m not really sure what to say about the anti-GMO stuff anymore. Sure, if you don’t want to eat the stuff for whatever reason, seek out companies that claim they don’t include GMO ingredients (there are plenty out there because, apparently, it’s a big market). I mean, I’ll probably never eat an Arctic apple because an apple that doesn’t brown is just too odd for my fuddy-duddy brain (that said, create an apple without a core and I’ll buy bags of the things).

    But this is officially anti-vaxxer level hysteria…

  8. That’s all nonsense, Matt, with the exception of nuclear and climate change. One poll by Pew asked party affiliation on those issues and there is no difference between R and D in vaccinations, GMOs, and even evolution.…

    The big difference is climate change. And Stossel should know because he doesn’t listen to science on climate. And he gives a weak excuse that he wants more proof, and science says its proved. And every person opposed to GMOs could give the same lame excuse… More proof is needed that it’s safe.

    Come on, Matt…I don’t expect more from Stossel, but I do you.

    1. I don’t think they were talking (only?) about voters here. They were also thinking of professional politicians and activists. I think it’s clear that if you’re looking for hostility to GMOs among politicians and activist groups, you’ll find it almost exclusively on the left side of the fence. And if you’re looking for skepticism of evolution, you’ll find that mainly on the right.

      But I agree it’s really stretching it to try and pin anti-vaccination hysteria on the left. I don’t see any convincing evidence supporting that.

      Oh and P.S. climate skepticism is fundamentally a debate about the strength of the empirical evidence, between two sides who are both utterly committed to empiricism and the scientific method. On the skeptical side you’ll find folks with more of a Popperian view of the philosophy of science, along with statisticians, and it seems, along with geologists. The point being that leading climate skeptics are actual scientists. Climate skepticism simply shouldn’t be lumped in with the other things in this list.

      1. Bull. The whole issue as raised by Matt and Stossel is who listens to science. Read the title. “Ignorance” of science. 90% of climate scientists say man is changing the climate. And only 30% of the GOP agrees. End of discussion.

        1. Ah, OK, if that’s the End of discussion, you *must* be right.

          1. Give me any numbers that say I am wrong. You have none.

            1. Numbers relating to what, precisely?

              1. Yikes. 90% of climate scientists, 100 % of science organizations, and 30% of Reps.

                1. I don’t see why I’m obligated to dispute those numbers. I didn’t say anything which contradicts them.

  9. By the way, in a recent poll, 71% of Dems favored GMOS labeling, and 64% of Reps. Hardly much of a difference. What a canard you are trying to foist.…..-labeling/

    1. Oh, and that’s in contrast to climate change, where 64% of Dems believe humans are causing it, and only 30% of Reps do. And Over 90% of climate scientists do. Of course, science expert extrodinaire Stossel is waiting for more proof. What a joke. Thanks for proving some don’t listen to science, and it’s libertarians and Reps on the climate.

      1. Now define constitutes “belief in climate change” means?

        Does it mean:

        – The Earth’s climate changes? This is a fact, known from the geological record, believed by all skeptics.
        – That the Earth’s climate has warmed in recent times? This is an observational fact, and most skeptics accept it.
        – Human activity has an impact on the climate? It’s almost impossible to imagine that this is not the case, and almost all skeptics accept it.
        – That rising CO2 concentrations, all else being equal, will result in a warmer climate? This is a result from fairly basic physics, and almost all skeptics accept it.
        – That feedback effects from other geophysical processes will amplify the effects of this warming by a large positive factor, amplifying a 1-2 C temperature rise over a century to something dangerous that we actually need to be concerned about? This is a result obtained from some extremely questionable modeling that would have Popper turning in his grave. Most skeptics deny that this evidence is strong, and point to the fact that the observed change in the actual climate has not agreed with the projections of these models. This is not an anti-scientific belief; it is a belief based in the scientific method.
        – That climate change mitigation is more cost effective than adaptation? Most skeptics view this as absurd. They might be wrong — but that’s an issue for economists, not for scientists.

        1. Simple. Like every major science organization in the country says, the earth is warming, it causes changes to climate, and it is occurring primarily due to the CO2 emissions from man. And it’s a problem. That is what the all say. None disagree. OK?

          1. Interesting, is *that* how science works? I have a degree in science. I must have missed all the lectures where they taught us how general relativity is correct because “every major science organization” says so.

            1. Oh, really? So let’s go back to the title, ignorance of science. I take it you disagree with 90% of climate scientists, and 100% of the major science organizations ( I challenge you to find one who disagrees). OK. But you then take umbrage with those who disagree on the safety of GMOS? They are ignorant of science? You too.

              1. I have a degree in science. I dropped out of a PhD in applied mathematics to go and make money in a related field. I have actual hands on experience using using numerical techniques to solve the Navier-Stokes equations. I’m not an expert in climate science specifically. But I certainly have enough knowledge of numerical modeling to be able to form an independent view on the robustness of the computer models that global warming alarmism is based on. And it seems to me that they’re indeed not especially robust, and that’s borne out be their inability to predict the actual climate over the past 15+ years.

                So yeah, I could be wrong, but between me and you, son, I’m not the one who is ignorant if science.

                1. You aren’t listening to science, son. It’s not 60% of climate scientists, it’s nearly 100%. No problem. Don’t listen. But don’t complain that others are ignorant on other issues. Check the mote in you own eye.

                  Models don’t say the earth is warming, facts do. This year is already on track to blow away the previous record in global temperatures. Models don’t tell you that, facts do.

                  1. I’m trying to understand if you’re ignorant or just lying. It’s really well known that the models have diverged from the temperature record over the last 15 years, and nobody serious even disputes that. The argument now is over what is the cause of that divergence, and how likely it is that the divergence will continue.

                    Here is the satellite temperature record for the past 35 years:


                    It shows at most about 0.3 degrees of warming, with a very high level of noise. i.e. perhaps 0.1 degree per decade. That is simply not a dangerous amount of warming.

                    Could the warming trend accelerate over the next three decades? Sure. It could. Anything’s possible. But treating that as a fact established by the observational data is absurd. It’s dangerous enough to extrapolate a constant trend. To extrapolate an accelerating trend is simply crazy.

        2. Oh. Only 30% of Republicans agree. And I have discussed this here often…about 10% of the commenters here agree. If they represent libertarians, they’re worse than the GOP.

    2. Now do a survey of professional politicians, and of activist groups.

    3. Now do a survey of professional politicians, and of activist groups.

      1. I’ll put it this way, U, it’s pretty silly to chastise those who don’t liten to science when you yourself dont (Stossel), and then try to assert the other side is just as bad when there isn’t any clear evidence that the left is worse than the right on GMOS or vaccines. This whole article is garbage. I’m surprised at Matt, not Stossel.

        1. Out of curiosity, since you seem to have such very strong views on science: are you actually a scientist yourself, or is your knowledge of science derived from reading political blogs?

          1. Not a scientist, although I do have a Master of Science degree. But I’m smart enough to listen to what science says, particularly when the facts say they are right. And that is climate science.

            1. In what field?

              1. Are you checking my credentials?

                1. I’m trying to gauge if you actually have technical knowledge in any field of science related to climate science.

                  Since all your arguments are lame appeals-to-authority, I’m assuming not. But before dismissing your opinion, I should verify that.

  10. Opposition to GMOs is not “left”. Plenty of right-wing Christians have signed on to this particular fear-fad.

    1. Absolutely. I have members in my family, right wing conservative Christians, who believe GMOs are evil.

      1. Well as long as you acknowledge it’s a fear-fad, I’m happy.

  11. We throw away 1/3 of our food. How is wanting GMO labeling going to kill lots of people? What deaths are going to be prevented? That is what the headline asserts. I see no defense, argument, or other of the point. How are those people going to die and how many?

    I’m skeptical of GMOs. It depends on the nature of the modification. The GMO might benefit crony agribusiness, but are the fruits and vegetables as nutritious or healthy?

    Any vaccine will have a percentage of bad side-effects including death. They are not 100% save. And the disease is not 100% fatal. Over 100 died from side-effects of the Measles vaccine. One death from actual measles.

    Break a CFL light-bulb and they tell you to evacuate your house for hours because of the mercury, but it is OK to inject it directly into your newborn’s bloodstream? Is Mercury toxic or not?

    Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, so maybe we shouldn’t give them to (non-infected) livestock to create more disease resistance. Neither you nor Stossel mention that.

    Science is neutral. Crony capitalist apologists are as bad as the fear-mongers. Science can only say what is, and even that with uncertainty. It is up to individuals – it’s called “liberty” – to make decisions based on information – and weigh the risks on both sides and freely make a decision. Not have the decision made by Pfizer, Monsanto, or Obama.

    1. “We” == Americans? I doubt that Indians throw away 1/3 of their food. And yet India, egged on my western activists has had a moratorium on GM crops at least until quite recently.

      If you want to see how bans on GM crops are actually resulting in preventable deaths right now, just google “golden rice”. Only the most callous ignorant idiot could possibly oppose its cultivation.

    2. That 1/3 number accounts for the entire production chain including losses during harvesting and processing, and spoilage at grocery stores. It’s not like consumers are throwing away 1/.3 of what they purchase. Each of the steps in the chain losses may be 5-10%, and it just adds up.

      Doesn’t mean things couldn’t be more efficient though. Just saying the food waste is mostly unintentional losses not deliberate waste.

  12. Side effects of vaccines, like anti-biotics and other medications can kill you.

    The fact is in much of the world the diseases that vaccines prevent hardly exist any more. So the question becomes what are the risks and side effects of any particular vaccine and what are the prevalence of those risks vs what are the chances of you/your child getting said disease.

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