Flat White

But science! Greens, GMO and ‘alternative facts’

3 March 2017

2:01 PM

3 March 2017

2:01 PM

Last Sunday a post on The Greens (WA) Facebook page took umbrage at Gary Adshead’s article in the Sunday Times that railed against the Greens policy of decriminalisation of illicit drugs. As a libertarian I don’t agree with Gary’s point of view, in fact this is the one Greens policy I actually agree with. What caught my eye about the post though, was the Greens having a go at Gary for elevating his opinion above science. ‘Nothing like using your opinion to dodge science, Gary’ they crowed as they advised him to learn about ‘facts, not feels’ .

But the Greens are in no position to accuse others of dodging science. When it comes to GMOs and fracking the Greens are only too happy to stick their fingers in their ears and tune out the overwhelming scientific evidence on the safety of both. Feels, not facts reign supreme. The Greens policy on GMOs is to ‘call for a moratorium on the release of GMOs into the environment until there is an adequate scientific understanding of their long term impact on the environment, human and animal health.’

This sounds reasonable until you realise that this stance reverses the onus of proof; they are saying that ‘if you can’t prove to my satisfaction that GMOs are safe, then that means they must be unsafe’ instead of supplying any evidence or proof that they are. But a meta-analysis, the highest level of scientific evidence available, that collated and analysed GMO research over a period of ten years, found that GMOs have no adverse impacts on human health, the environment and biodiversity. In fact it was found that GMOs have less impact on biodiversity than non-GMO crops do.

But this level of evidence isn’t enough for the Greens. They call on ‘alternative facts’ to assert that GMOs ‘may pose significant risks to natural and agricultural ecosystems’ and that ‘GMOs have not been proven safe to human health.’ They also claim that this is what ‘independent science tells us’. The words ‘independent science’ are telling. They reveal a belief of conspiracy theory proportions, that the majority of scientists working the in field of GMO research have such low levels of personal integrity, that they have been bought by Big Ag and are willing to poison ecosystems and put the lives of their future grandchildren at risk for the sake of making a quick buck.

It’s understandable though that the Greens would take such an unscientific stance. According to Stephaan Blancke writing in the Scientific American, it’s quite common for people to do so when it comes to GMOs, and that negative opinions on GMOs are intuitively appealing:

‘One may take issue with the involvement of multinationals or be concerned about herbicide resistance, but these issues have to do with how GM technology is sometimes applied and certainly do not warrant resistance to the technology and to GMOs in general. The emotional and intuitive basis of anti-GMO sentiments however prevents people from making these distinctions.’ These sentiments spring from ‘secular environments [that] lead people to regard nature as a beneficial process or entity that secures our well-being and that humans shouldn’t meddle with.’

Which kind of makes sense when we’re talking about the Greens. There is a religiosity about the way they regard nature as not just something we should (rightly) respect and protect, but as a kind of benevolent deity upon whose altar they are only too willing to sacrifice modernity, human flourishing and well being.

I do agree somewhat that leaning too heavily on scientific ‘consensus’ can be a problem. Science and the peer review process are in trouble, and there is a growing realisation that science is in crisis. The scientific method however, remains the best tool we have for learning about our reality, but we need to realise it’s a process that unveils a piece of the mystery bit by bit. Holding up ‘the science’ or ‘the facts’ as irrefutable truths becomes a problem when those facts are superseded by new knowledge. The Greens are not completely beyond the pale when they are reluctant to embrace the totality of evidence on the safety of GMOs. There is a case for remaining sceptical enough to realise that there are no guarantees of 100 per cent safety of GMOs or indeed any modern technology.

If the Greens applied this same level of scientific scepticism to all policy areas they would at least be consistent. But they don’t. When it comes to climate change and energy policy, the Greens suddenly become the champions of science. They dogmatically bludgeon us over the head with ‘scientific consensus’, dismissing scientists who don’t agree as ‘deniers’, while at the same time holding up discredited and fringe GMO scientists as a superior form of ‘independent science’.

It’s a glaring inconsistency in the Greens platform that they pick and choose when ‘scientific consensus’ can be wielded as a blunt tool, when discussing climate change and energy policy for example; and dismiss it as compromised when it conflicts with their dogmatic, anti-progress agenda. With their misguided attempts to slow economic growth, and to put the brakes on progress in the agricultural and mining sectors, it’s the Greens that are guilty of using ‘alternative facts’, and basing their policy decisions on ‘feels’ alone.

Nicola Wright is a writer with LibertyWorks

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