Saturday, March 7, 2015

One Sentence Tells Us About Truthiness

Recently the Organic Consumers Association has gone ballistic, even more unhinged than usual.  GMO provided a proposal to convene a panel in Austin at the SxSW Festival this month. Cathy Enright was going to represent the scientific side that transgenic crops pose no special risk over traditional breeding, and offer more rapid means to genetically improve food.  A representative from Ben and Jerry's with a less favorable view on the technology will also serve on the panel. 

Apparently OCA felt that they were invited, and then un-invited. Only two people know the actual conversation, the two that were on the phone together.  Both have published accounts of the discussion. How do we know what to believe?

For me it is relatively simple, as we can we learn from the meta-information about truthiness. What can we learn from manipulative language to gauge trustworthiness?

It is important to pay close attention to words that are used and their intent to mislead.  Once we understand those instances, it provides significant weight to Enright's argument that there was no OCA invitation, and there is no resistance to debating them in other opportunities.

When we understand the science, we can see how OCA attempts to manipulate its supporters. The following comes from their website.  Here are some good examples of the spin:

How many falsehoods can you find in this blurb?

1. "The sole purpose"    Transgenic technologies have many applications.  The introduction of the virus resistance genes to papaya does not increase "selling toxic chemicals".  In fact, it decreases ag inputs.  Bt corn and cotton use significantly less insecticide than conventional counterparts.  The BS2 tomato cuts chemical use. Golden Rice increases a vitamin that does not necessitate chemical inputs. 

For OCA to state that "the sole purpose" is to sell chemicals is an outright misinterpretation of what the technology does and can do. 

2.  "Toxic chemicals" ?  The only chemicals that are implemented in transgenic crop production currently are glyphosate and glufosinate.  Neither are especially toxic, with glyphosate having the toxicity of table salt.  

Again, OCA uses inflammatory language to misinform its readers. 

3.  "to spray on food".   Again, they want their readership to think that something is being sprayed on food items.  It is important for them to maintain this myth, because if people know the truth it makes the OCA cause so much weaker.

The fact is that glyphosate is sprayed reasonably close to emergence, long before there are flowers, and long before any of the edible parts of the plant have developed.  It is not "sprayed on food".

4. "BIO does not want to debate the health and safety of GM foods"-  I can't speak for BIO, but I know I have a hard time recruiting folks to debate the issue.  On last November's biotech panel in North Carolina, I was one of the scientists that demanded we ask those that do not support transgenic technologies, requesting Michael Hanson and Scott Faber to the discussion.

I also submitted a workshop last year to Seeds of Justice, an anti-GM event.  I was told it was a good idea, took the time to do it, offered to pay my own way, and they never even had the decency to call me back to tell me they would not do it.  

So let's not talk about fairness and willingness to debate. 

The bottom line is that from one sentence we can extract four discrete manipulatory statements, blatant lies that show the trustworthiness of OCA.  This is one sentence in a tsunami of manipulative words that appeal to the biases of their unquestioning followers. They are a rabid activist organization.  They are not about science, and they would not know good science if it hit them in the head.  They are about controlling a losing conversation, holding fast to donation-grabbing philosophies that run counter to the scientific consensus and published literature.

If you contribute to OCA, or support their mission, how do you justify subscription to such bogus information?  Please comment below.  Thanks!