Saturday, July 8, 2017

Serious Ethical Fail of the Berkeley 45

Last week I seriously questioned those that were writing off a new food/farming/science documentary as "agrichemical industry propaganda".  It seemed like a bad move to refer to proven and effective science as propaganda, and I was especially surprised that a group of 45 scientists would write a letter stating that conclusion.

When I approached them and asked them to help me understand their interpretation, I was shot down and told that I have no credibility.  No discussion, no words. My request for collegial scholarly discourse was denied. 

That's really low. But it gets lower. 

Let me remind you of the title of the article in Munchies that projected the claims of the Berkeley 45. 

And this is on Alex Swerdloff.  He either failed to do due diligence on who these "experts" were, or realized they were ideologically entrenched anti-biotech interests and did it anyway.  He certainly didn't reach out to level-headed, strengths/weaknesses, actual experts.  The National Academies of Science is full of them, and that phone didn't ring. FAIL.

Now let's take on the Berkeley 45 a bit more. 

1.  Most of them did not see the film before calling it "propaganda".  Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a prominent figure in the film, a renowned scholar herself, and the true expert Swerdloff should have contacted, was somehow copied in on a discussion where the Berkeley 45 formulated the letter.  The original draft said that "Full disclosure: most of us have yet to see the film in full."

These are academics lending their titles, authority, reputations, and expertise to review a scientific work-- that the majority didn't see.

And great that this full disclosure didn't make it into the Munchies article.  Again on Swerdloff. 

I hope they never get my grant proposals to review.  Why a scientist would endorse a conclusion they did not carefully formulate from evidence is a real mystery. 

2.  Their cited evidence is a published opinion piece rather than actual evidence.  They provide a link to a paper in Environmental Sciences Europe that supports their claim of no scientific consensus.  However, the paper they cite is authored by people that make a living (some paid handsomely) to deny science, serve as merchants of doubt, and present the patina of a scientific argument that just is not scientific. Few publish in scientific journals and when they do the work is of low impact and fringe interest. 

This is the conclusion the Berkeley 45 accept. It shows remarkable inability to critically evaluate the scientific literature and recognize the synthesis of the scientific community. The dissonance is stunning. 

There is consensus on crop genetic engineering, and it has been well told by the National Academies of Science after a grueling evaluation of evidence. The conclusions?  Safe to eat at this point, environmental impacts to address, and need for better regulatory rules going forward. 

That is a scientific consensus that the cited document denies exists.  

So why do 45 scholars choose a document written by a combination of fanatics, entrenched interests, and folks employed in the anti-biotech industry?  Beats me. Again a serious fail on their behalf, ignoring the consensus, and then showing that they have zero understanding of the literature, and are willing to sign their names on a document that places an activist rag over the synthesis of an esteemed scientific body. 

Why this matters. 

I'm a university administrator and spend a lot of time counseling young faculty and graduate students.  I do not understand how ideologically compelled these people must be to commit career suicide in the name of their cause. 

I'm particularly concerned because a number of the signatories are graduate students.  If they were compelled by faculty to sign on, this would be a serious problem.  If they want to reach out to me privately I will help them, and if faculty motivated students and young faculty to flush their credibility and trust down the toilet to dissuade the public from seeing a film-- it will be very ugly. 

And finally, I've received many emails saying that this is "just Berkeley".  I understand that sentiment. This is the place that screams of tolerance until you have a point to discuss that they can't tolerate. There clearly are people there that have created an ideological hive that projects claims based on their credibility and authority as scholars-- yet they hide from defending those claims.

Here a bad situation got worse for the Berkeley 45. Here 45 science minds show a strong lack of ethics and judgment.  They are willing to fall on a career sword because a new film tells and inconvenient truth. 

Think before you sign.  The internet lasts a long time.

A Response to Carey Gillam