“There’s a conflict at the heart of science between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis, and collective investigation, and science as a belief system, or a worldview.”
There are food and chemical corporations, technological institutes, and certain sections of the media who would have us believe that the current acrimonious debate about genetically modified organisms is a showdown between, on the one hand, scientific pragmatism represented by those who want to save humanity using “cutting-edge” technology, and on the other, a bunch of raggle-taggle Luddites seeking a retreat back to a nostalgic, mythical past when food was still true and honest and the world was pure. But in fact, when looked at closely this simplistic division is little more than a construct and a transparent trivialization of the issues.
The truth is that science itself is bitterly divided, not only on the issue of the genetic manipulation of foods, animals, and humans but on many of the other crucial choices that will have to be made in the very near future. Take for example the endless debate about global warming, with science bickering and dithering while the time in which something could feasibly have been done about climate change has come and gone. In fact, if one follows the to-and-fro of the debate on GMOs, and sees the fault lines that are coming to the surface it’s not difficult to conclude that science is currently undergoing an identity crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the time of the Renaissance.
In much the same way that a religious dogma is formulated Western science has, over the centuries been picking and choosing, adding and subtracting to shape and develop its own, now rigid, belief system. See for example how in the time of the Crusades, having plundered all it could from Arabic knowledge in the fields of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy, Western science then conveniently chose to forget the enormous debt it owed to Islamic scholars and their advanced culture. How much are we told about this now in our great centres of learning, and how much more inconvenient knowledge has been hidden or obscured? Seen in this light it’s clear that Western science, having long sought to position itself as the incorruptible beacon of truth leading mankind into the future is in fact just as capable of deceit, of being mistaken, corrupted, and manipulated as any other body in human affairs, and we don’t have to go back very far in history to see the truth of that.
If society expects us to believe all that Western science tells us about its own past, in the knowledge that great chunks of “Truth” have been erased, hidden, distorted, or discarded, why should we blindly follow the same dogmatic mentality into the future? It seems that orthodox science generally has too high an opinion of its own ability to act with logic, reason, and impartiality.
Now we’re told that technology has made it possible to grow meat in laboratories, presumably with a side dish of vegetables produced on a 3D printer. They want to splice chicken genes with those of jellyfish to produce eggs that glow in the dark. They want to produce pigs that grow five times faster than the slowpokes we’re currently stuck with. There are even signs that bio-tech science is prepared to jettison a lumbering liability like Monsanto, particularly in Europe, in order to calm the concerned consumer and carry on with the important business of creating “magic meatballs” and programmable colas undisturbed.
Watch out for a subtle shift in terminology in this context. Out goes the term GMO, in comes “cultured meat products”, and “fantasy foods”. Those who reject such unneeded and unwanted fabrications are to be labelled “squeamish”, or even downright ignorant for not facing up to the reality of the times we live in.
Meanwhile those scientists who genuinely know what they’re talking about are making other noises. They’re telling us that the steady flow of published research shows that there is significant concern about GM technology. They’re telling us that the whole foundation of genetic engineering is based on a misunderstanding, a mistake, or as geneticist Dr. David Suzuki calls it: “just lousy science.”
Read what former research scientist for the Canadian government and GM food advocate Thierry Vrain now has to say about the dangers of genetically modified organisms and the recklessness with which they are being produced and marketed: Former Pro-GMO Scientist Cites GM Food Safety Concerns
They’re also telling us about what happens when they don’t toe the party line, how they’re harassed, ostracized, ridiculed, and in some cases given to understand that their physical safety could be compromised for speaking out. Again, this is nothing new but rather it follows a distinct and familiar pattern. In the early years of the Green Movement, scientists such as Rachel Carson, for example, were brought to the brink of ruin for daring to contradict the orthodoxy of the scientific establishment and its paymasters.
Not surprisingly those advocating the mass experiment known as GM technology express exasperation and contempt for those they feel are holding them back. They want the debate to “move on” and to drive their own agenda forward unhindered by the recalcitrant guinea pigs that will have to deal with the consequences in perpetuity.
But this is far from being a simplistic story about science and whether or not new technology should be given free rein to solve the world’s problems, or whether one particular school of thought has more of a handle on “The Truth” than another. This is about the right to freedom of choice, about democracy and who runs it, and about the knowledge of the fundamentals of life and who owns it.
Scientific research in the pay of profit-motivated corporations or dependent upon something as transient as a handout from here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians is in no position to be claiming the moral high-ground, telling us what truth is and what it is not, what we should or should not believe, should or should not be feeding our kids, either now or in the future. Those days are gone. So now who are the Luddites?