Controversial crusades

October 2014
Vandana Shiva
A recent, lengthy, article in the New Yorker Magazine described Vandana Shiva's “controversial crusade against GM crops”.

Vandava Shiva is, indeed, well known for her articulate and “fiery opposition to globalization and the use of genetically modified crops”.

Responding to the New Yorker article, Seeds of Doubt, Dr. Shiva has posted how own article, Seeds of Truth, on the Institute of Science in Society website. In it, she calls the New Yorker piece simply “poor journalism” and wonders why the author “a journalist who has been Bureau Chief in Moscow for The New York Times, and bureau Chief in New York for the Washington Post, and clearly an experienced reporter, would submit such a misleading piece. Or why The New Yorker would allow it to be published as honest reporting, with so many fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality.”

Anyone interested can read Seeds of Doubt for themselves. It repeats all the well-known pro-GM mis-information, such as the confusion between conventional breeding and direct artificial manipulation of DNA, and the discredited propaganda that Mark Lynas was a major anti-GM campaigner before he became enlightened [1], and that GM safety has been proved by the trillions of GM meals which have been eaten without a single documented case of anyone becoming ill [2], and that the “prohibition” of GM golden rice everywhere is due to a decade of opposition [3], etc., etc., etc.

However one novel piece of propaganda stood out.

The author, Michael Specter, casts doubt on Vandana Shiva's credentials, hinting that she has no real experience as a scientist and lacks the qualifications to speak on the GM issue.

Vandana Shiva has an MSc. Honors in physics and a PhD in quantum theory. Quantum theory explores the nature of everything in existence, including ecosystems and communities. As she explains:
“Quantum theory taught me the four principles that have guided my work: everything is interconnected, everything is potential, everything is indeterminate, and there is no excluded Middle.
GM has no safe slot in our totally interconnected and ever-changing world. Armed with this knowledge, she “consciously made a decision to dedicate (her) life to protect the Earth, its ecosystems and communities.”

Specter's innuendo on Shiva's credentials isn't matched by any journalistic evaluation of his other sources.

He reports Mark Lynas' views as gospel and mentions that “Lynas currently advises the Bangladeshi government on trials it is conducting of Bt brinjal (eggplant), a crop that , despite several peer-reviewed approvals, was rejected by the environmental minister in India.” Specter seems to hint that the Indian minister is irrationally rejecting good advice on GM; but Mark Lynas has a degree in history.

Specter's quotes from the European Commission's Chief Scientific Advisor (whose expertise is in GM bacteria and their commercialisation), and from Monsanto's Chairman (who is eminently well-qualified but obviously a company man) both focus on PR aspects of GM business, not on safety issues.

Specter's own qualifications seem to be that he's a graduate of Vassar College, a 'liberal arts' college.

OUR COMMENT

The moral of the story is: be sceptical about your sources of information on GM; learn the propaganda sound-bytes, and beware of PR-stunts dressed up as science even in the most respectable publications. Remember that sensational articles sell copy (even in science journals).



Perhaps you could remind the new DEFRA boss, Liz Truss, to check her sources too, lest she take 'advice' on GM of the same caliber as the Bangladeshi government seems to be getting.

[2] WHEN NON-NEWS IS BAD NEWS - April 2013
[3] THE GOLDEN RICE BLAME GAME - November 2013

SOURCES:
  • Michael Specter, Seeds of Doubtwww.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt, 25.08.14
  • Vandana Shiva, Seeds of Truth, Institute of Science in Society Report 01.09.14
  • Mark Lynas, Wikipedia, www.marklynas.org/about/, www.spannerfilms.net/people/mark_lynas 
  • Hugh Grant, Wikipedia
  • Vandana Shiva, Wikipedia
  • Michael Specter, Wikipedia
Photo credit: "Vandana shiva 20070610" by Elke Wetzig (Elya) - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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