One of These Things . . .

…is not like the others. —Sesame Street

The March 2015 issue of National Geographic is striking with its list of “anti-science” mantras:

  • Climate Change…Does Not Exist
  • Evolution…Never Happened
  • The Moon Landing…Was Fake
  • Vaccinations…Can Lead To Autism
  • Genetically Modified Food…Is Evil

And many of my friends online, who either work in the sciences or have a reasonable amount of education, lament that so much of the American public adheres to these sentiments. In frustration, these friends either lampoon or shame such people.

At the risk of becoming a target myself, I’d like to suggest that perhaps this list isn’t entirely above question.

Let’s take them one at a time:

  • Climate Change: On the one hand, we have a generally universal consensus of scientists around the world stating unequivocally that climate change is happening, and that humans are largely responsible. On the other, we have some conservative American politicians and pollution-creating corporations resorting to the same sort of denial we saw from the tobacco industry 50 years ago. If there’s a conspiracy here, it’s clearly motivated by profit. Yes, climate change is real.
  • Evolution: On the one hand, we again have generally universal consensus of scientists around the world saying evolution is real. On the other, we have a few vocal evangelical creationists trying to say the world is literally 6,000 years old, because they counted the generations from Genesis to Jesus. We saw the same denial in the face of Galileo. Yes, evolution is real.
  • The Moon Landing: The conspiracy theory suggesting the moon landing was faked is pretty much a litmus test for borderline lunacy. I’m not sure why we’re even mentioning it. Yes, the moon landing was real.
  • Vaccinations: On the one hand, we have a solid century of seeing disease after disease pretty much eradicated by Jonas Salk’s humanitarian idea. On the other, we have some patently ignorant people ignoring the bulk of medical knowledge to follow a very few conspiracy-minded celebrities. Yes, vaccinations are good.
  • Genetically Modified Food: If we measure by the same yardsticks as we used for the items above, I have to wonder who put this one on the list.

Let me explain my reluctance to swallow GMOs quite yet. I’m not flat-out saying No, just asking not to have this shoved down my throat.

Climate change, evolution, the moon landing, and vaccinations have global consensus. Last I checked, however, GMOs were still under intense scrutiny in Europe, accepted only on a case-by-case basis.

The main proponent for GMOs seems to be Monsanto. Forgive me for raising the spectre of profit motivation again. I still remember those falsified cigarette studies. Just like I remember friends who came back from Vietnam suffering cancers from the Agent Orange that DOW Chemical insisted was safe. And I remember Love Canal. Nor have I forgotten (or forgiven) BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. And just this week, the oil industry’s arguments that fracking is safe came under question again, this time from geologists suggesting a connection with increased earthquake activity in Oklahoma.

Look, I grew up in Central Illinois, where corn cross-pollination gave young people summer jobs. And I’m familiar with the plight of the banana, having lived through the fungal apocalypse that wiped out the Big Mike.

I get it. Hybridization is legit. But when you inject human growth hormone into pigs, that gives me pause. I’m not inclined to eat it. Nor am I enthused about replacing our bee populations with robots, just because our toxic cocktail of pesticides made organic bees too weak to survive. Chemistry is marvelous—I majored in it for two years in college, before switching to writing—but it can also be dangerous.

All of which is to say, give me some global consensus. I’ve read too many psychology studies over the past few decades, explaining how corporate culture suppresses individual ethics. I’ve seen too much tragedy from unchecked corporate ambition. I don’t trust Monsanto with my food—especially if they want to patent it and control its production.