Addressing the ‘Monsanto Shill Syndrome’

MONSANTO! MONSANTO! MONSANTO!

The name alone strikes fear into the hearts of kale enthusiasts everywhere.

The anti-GMO movement (we’ll call it the anti-science movement, because that’s what it is) is certainly the minority, but they’re a loud minority. Anti-science’s official arch-enemy is Monsanto, but if you want to see how quickly they can do a Google search, ask anti-sciencers to name at least one other biotech company.

Sure, we could discuss the leaders of the anti-science movement- Food Babe, Mike Adams, or the litany of other anti-GMO entities– But hasn’t that been done enough?

To me, the answer is an emphatic no. Admittedly, they make it easy for those that are scientifically literate to challenge their claims. They are a seemingly constant stream of nonsense that is easily picked apart, largely due to the lack of any sort of factual evidence to support their positions.

I think that if we’re totally honest with ourselves, we need to look at those that subscribe to these (flawed) philosophies if we’re going to increase scientific literacy rather than the “leaders” of the anti-science movement. Vani/Mike/et al. are the symptoms of the problem in my opinion, not the cause.

It may be possible to get these individuals to reconsider their positions. I still have hope!

First, a bit of a personal story.

It’s 2012. I was incredibly overweight (pushing 280 pounds), and completely sedentary. In the summer/fall of 2012, I started counseling and started a medication for a mental health diagnosis (which is nothing to be ashamed of). I’d been encouraged to start exercising, but never fully committed until January 2013. As of this post, I’m down about 70 pounds, mostly due to learning to love running (trail running!). I did a road marathon and a 50k trail ultramarathon last year.

I’m sharing part of my ongoing fitness story because I myself fell victim to the “Organic Movement” (I know, I’m awful). My thought process at the time was “This person looks healthy, why don’t I do what they’re doing?!” I even allowed it to spread to my kids, feeding them “organic” spaghetti-o’s (yeah, that’s a real thing) and other “organic” foods. My wife even said she “felt better” about giving them the organic spaghetti-o’s.

But then I had a moment of clarity. I’m not sure what prompted it. It may have been during my quasi-weekly Taco Bell run, or it may have been when I started seeing critique of people like Dr. Oz and Food Babe.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my deep-rooted and passionate feelings for pizza, cheeseburgers, and Taco Bell, I track calories (sometimes), and eat a (mostly) balanced diet. But it’s all about finding balance. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

But I digress…

My change was caused by reflection, critical thinking, and realizing that there’s multiple communities for skeptics. I had a question – “What mechanism is involved that makes GM food dangerous, but ‘Organics’ safe?” There are studies that have shown damage by GM food, however they have been dismissed/withdrawn/debunked.

I’ve not yet seen any (intelligent) responses to the fact that sweet potatoes naturally became transgenic either… I’m interested to see how the anti-science crowd justifies that.

The fact is we’re not going to change the views of Vani Hari, Mike Adams, or others who make a living spreading fear. Period. Even if they acknowledge that they’re wrong privately, their very livelihoods rely on their position through endorsements.

Part of me doesn’t want to blame them for refusing to acknowledge that they’re wrong- their number one priority is to look out for their own well being. Also, it hurts our ego to be wrong, and it’s easy to delude yourself when you have thousands of people telling you how great you are and you eliminate any dissenting opinions. So without the money from Big Organic, they’d be broke. But the other, rational part of me thinks they’re just assholes.

So how does Monsanto fit in?

Let’s take Joe as case study here. Joe is claiming that for five generations (one generation is 25 years I guess), Monsanto has been making poisons that they sell to the government, and Paula believes that this has lead to an increase in neurological disorders. What Paula may not realize is that nearly half of adults meet criteria for a mental health disorder during their life. So even if Paula had facts to support this claim, it is far more likely that the spread of evidence-based medicine and the higher availability of quality mental health services (thanks, Obama) has lead to a (perceived) increased prevalence of neurological disorders. It also does little to help eliminate the negative stigma for mental health disorders (a topic of another post).

Additionally, I’m always confused when I see anti-GMO individuals that insist Monsanto’s goal is to poison/kill the human population. The same individuals also claim that Monsanto is consumed with greed with an impetuous thirst for money (I’m citing my own anecdotal experience on this one). This just doesn’t make any sense. While I have no formal training in economics, I do understand that without bodies to put food into, biotech companies would have nobody to sell their product to. It’s about market share. If you’re slowly killing off your market, then Big Organic will take your market share, meaning you make less money. It simply doesn’t make sense to kill your consumers. Unless you think that Monsanto is secretly ran by the Reptilian Army, or otherwise guided by the shadow Reptilians that attach using the two lower chakras (yes, people seriously believe this).

I’d address the “50% cancer rate,” comment but that which is asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. (Reptilians fall under this category as well, but at least they made fun drawings for them).

We could also discuss the fact that by creating tougher regulations to enter the field of biotechnology, anti-GMO groups have made it easier for companies like Monsanto and Syngenta as it essentially eliminates many would-be competitors. They’ve basically created their own Lex Luthor.

I’m not pro-Monsanto or defending Monsanto. I’m pro-science and against fear mongering. I’m defending rationality and critical thinking.

Why do people believe this nonsense then?

Good question! I think a likely explanation is that people love easy answers to complicated questions. We live in a world where people want shortcuts to everything (I blame this for starting it all: ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A Start) and the leaders of the anti-science movement are able to provide that for them. There are people that want to be told how/what to think, and in seeking confirmation for their personal beliefs, find confirmation in people like Vani and Mike Adams. Thinking takes effort and time. So when you’re presented with a pseudoscientific claim that appears to make sense, it’s not difficult to accept it. The problem then becomes once people accept these beliefs, it’s difficult to change them (you know, sort of like religious beliefs). Once they receive the confirmation bias they’re so desperately seeking, they turn into a giant echo chamber for their “leader.”

Review:

  1. We know that the problem is a select few that disseminate bad science to encourage fear.
  2. They share this information to those that want easy answers.
  3. Those that want easy answers are often desperate to believe anything that “feels right.”
  4. I like making lists.

So we’re left with the question… How do we address the “Monsanto Shill Syndrome” then?

Keep fighting the good fight.

When you’re right, you’re right. Keep at it. In the words of the great philosopher Taylor Swift, haters gonna hate.  If something sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true. Just because you read something on the internet doesn’t make it true. Check for multiple credible sources that support your point.

Remember to stay on point.

Stick to facts. They’re the darnedest thing; they don’t care what you believe, so use them! Hopefully you collected multiple credible sources, so use the data you have to construct a logical argument. Don’t make assumptions or entertain hypothetical situations.

If nothing else, kill them with kindness (figuratively! We don’t want to go all Mike Adams-esque here).

Basically, don’t be a dick. You may want to be a dick, but it serves no purpose, and often will bring you down to the same level as your antagonist. Stick to facts and remember you’re arguing for the fence sitters: the people reading, but not commenting, whose minds are not yet made up.

Comments