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HuckleB's Journal
HuckleB's Journal
October 1, 2012

Antivaccine versus anti-GMO: Different goals, same methods



There’s a lot in common between anti-GMO activists and antivaccine activists. Perhaps the most prominent similarity is philosophical. Both groups fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, otherwise known as the belief that if it’s “natural” it must be good (or at least better than anything man-made or “artificial”). In the case of antivaccine activists, the immune response caused by vaccines is somehow “unnatural” and therefore harmful and evil, even though the mechanisms by which the immune system responds to vaccines are the same or similar to how it responds to “natural” antigens. That’s the whole idea, to stimulate the immune system to think that you’ve had the disease without actually giving you the disease, thus stimulating long term immunity to the actual disease! In the case of anti-GMO activists, the same idea appears to prevail, namely that, because GMOS are somehow “unnatural,” they must be harmful and evil. That’s not to say that they might not have problems and issues that need to be dealt with, but the apocalyptic language used by many of the anti-GMO activists like Mike Adams and Joe Mercola is so far over-the-top that it is very much like the language of the antivaccine movement. In fact, not surprisingly, antivaccinationists are often anti-GMO as well, and vice-versa, an example of crank magnetism in action. Indeed, Joe Mercola himself is one of the biggest backers of California Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of GMO-based food, having donated $1.1 million so far.

The particular study that has been reverberating through out the anti-GMO community over the last couple of weeks was done by a group in France led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen with a history of opposition to GMOs. Also, as Steve pointed out, Séralini et al did not allow reporters to seek outside comment on their paper before its publication. If there’s a red flag that a study is ideologically motivated crap and that the authors know it’s ideologically motivated crap, I can’t think of one. Even if Séralini et al didn’t know their study was weak and were somehow afraid that the nefarious Monsanto scientists would plant negative sound bites into news stories about the study, I’m sorry, but trying to control initial news reports like this is just not how scientific results should be announced, period. It’s cowardice and an unseemly attempt at spin.


So why should we care? As I said before, I detest ideologically-motivated pseudoscience and bad science. It’s the same reason I come down so hard on antivaccine “researchers” like Andrew Wakefield, Mark and David Geier, and various other “researchers” who pump out bad studies that support the long-discredited hypothesis that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines cause a whole host of problems. This bad science has real implications, both politically and in policy. Already, Séralini’s risibly bad study has motivated the French government to order a probe into the results of the study, which could result in the suspension of this strain of genetically modified corn. Moreover, one can’t help but wonder a little bit about the timing of the release of this study, given that Proposal 37, which would require the labeling of GMO-based food, is a big issue in California right now, and a study like this might just influence the election.

When it comes to GMO, I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, but brain dead studies like this one certainly prod me towards the view that much of the “science” behind anti-GMO activism just doesn’t hold water, and the easy acceptance of such nonsensical results as valid by those who should know better but apparently don’t is just plain depressing. There might be valid reasons to be wary of the proliferation of GMO-based foods, such as concern over the control that large multinational corporations like Monsanto might exercise over the food supply, but the studies purporting to find horrific dangers of GMO-based food strike me as having the methodological rigor of a typical Andrew Wakefield or Mark Geier study—or an acupuncture study. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t too surprised when one of my readers pointed out that one of the authors of the study is also a homeopath and acupuncturist; so maybe the better comparison to make to this paper would be papers by homeopaths trying to show that homeopathy works. Either way, this is bad, bad science, and it’s sad to see how many people who should know better (but apparently do not) lap it up so credulously while applying much greater skepticism to science that doesn’t damn GMOs as pure poison.


The "problems" with the latest GMO rat study are so numerous it would be laughable if the propaganda pushing it as legitimate wasn't so loud. Science needs to be the way this is evaluated and discussed, not bad hyperbole "about the end of the world."


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