Science writer Kyle Hill coins the new term argumentum ad monsantum on his blog. Among other things, he argues:
If Monsanto has anything to do with it, it must be evil. That seems to be the prevailing opinion on the monolithic biotech company.
Making the leap from Monsanto’s business practices—whatever you may think of them—to the “dangers” of GM foods is a mistake in logical reasoning. It is akin to saying landscape paintings are potentially evil because the painter was a serial killer. The conclusion does not follow from the premise. And giving some product or process the attributes of its user is the logical fallacy that currently leads typically pro-science liberals like [Bill] Maher astray on questions of nuclear power, vaccination, and especially GMOs. Whether genetically modified foods are safe is a scientific, not a political, question. To intertwine views of Monsanto with GM foods is therefore an argumentum ad monsantum, a disturbingly popular logical fallacy, and Bill Maher is the classic example.
The first component to the liberal opposition to genetically modified food appears to be a genuine misunderstanding of how it works. The genetic modification of food is a much more exact science than many opponents realize. As this fantastic explainer outlines, genetic modification is typically about inserting a single gene—whose effects we test for toxicity and allergenic properties—into a crop. It is not a haphazard Frankenstein process of sowing and suturing animal and plant parts together. In fact, a Frankenstein-style process is exactly what was done before genetic modification.
Even when we are taking genes from animals and inserting them into plants or vice-versa, the results are still safe, reduce pesticide use, and dramatically increase crop yields. In fact, this year, a review of over 1,700 papers [PDF] concerning the safety of GM food in the journal Critical Reviews in Biotechnology concluded, “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”
It’s fashionable to think that the conservative parties in America are the science deniers. You certainly wouldn’t have trouble supporting that claim. But liberals are not exempt. Though the denial of evolution, climate change, and stem cell research tends to find a home on the right of the aisle, the denial of vaccine, nuclear power, and genetic modification safety have found a home on the left (though the extent to which each side denies the science is debatable). It makes one wonder: Why do liberals like Maher—psychologically considered open to new ideas—deny the science of GM food while accepting the science in other fields?
He provides his opinion on this question, but why do you believe it is happening?
Needless to say, i agree with what he says.
The only thing i could comment on is on the cause of science denial on the left. My argument has always been that it comes from the idea the nature is somehow perfect and messing with it will lead to horrible consequences.
I agree, it is without a doubt a subspecies of the appeal to nature fallacy.
The explanation from the first link is very good. I met some people last week who had just finished an “anti-gm food” march. One person said it was not right to put chemicals into food. I asked him what non-chemical ingredients were in food……..
One interesting point made was that they believed Monsanto would force farmers into buying their seeds every year because they would be engineered not to reproduce like “natural” seeds.
Changing the DNA of a seed to make it disease resistant or make it grow better without water is somehow “playing god” according to some of them. However when I asked what they thought about changing human DNA to prevent (say) Parkinson’s disease I was told that was a good thing.
It is mainly driven by fear of the unknown and ignorance from lack of knowledge about Science.
Re the "playing God" argument. Is it just me that get a cringe when atheists make it?
I was only quoting what was said to me....bless them :-)
Technically, is not playing God. God doesn't alter single (or multiple) gene sequences that could lead to changes in a species between generations.
Yeah because that would look like evolution or something. Can't have that.
Even before me being an atheist i cringed every time someone mentioned god, bible, prayer, church. I'm lucky i never heard anyone mentioning all of them in a single sentence.
Uh.... you just did so yourself. :D Time to go acquaint yourself with the taste of soap.
I always love it when people refer to the big complicated chemical names of food additives. I generally ask them if they've seen the names of some of the natural chemical compounds.
What I find even more fascinating is the ones who oppose irradiating produce to help it last longer. Despite science telling them that irradiation does not make food radioactive, they insist on playing Chicken Little over it.
The neanderthal hippy-dippy end of environmental leftism.
At their core, they don't realize it, but they are anti-intellectual despite being smart.
We use potassium ferrocyanide (E 536) as an anti-caking agent in the salt we sell and have to deal with people freaking out of there being cyanide in their food when they hear it.
People's understanding of chemistry is abysmal. I always thought it interesting that we use a compound of flammable/explosive chemicals, hydrogen and oxygen, to put out fires.