Friday, June 5, 2015

Bill Nye and the Science Lie

In an interview with HuffPost last month, the Science Guy revealed how Monsanto changed his mind about GMOs.  In so doing, he showed within a few minutes of conversation the shallowness in his scientific understanding of the issues involved.

LIE #1
“We are able to feed 7.2 billion people, which a century and a half ago you could barely feed 1 and a half billion people and [it's] largely because of the success of modern farming."

There are so many things wrong with this.  In the first place, what’s Bill’s data base for assuming that a century and a half ago, the world could hardly feed itself?  Zero, to the best of my knowledge.  To the contrary, folk over most of the world fed themselves as well as or probably better than now until European colonialism screwed up their economies.

In the second place, who exactly is meant by the "we" and the "you" hereAm I alone in seeing  gross arrogance in this remark?  Not "The world is able to feed itself" or "The  world as a whole is able to feed 7.2 billion", but “WE” are able to feed the world, the way “we” want to feed it.  Naturally, the last thing we want is for the world to feed itself, because people in the rest of the world are so stupid and ignorant they wouldn’t have a clue how to feed themselves unless we "advanced nations" kindly either showed them how or did it for them.  Bill probably doesn’t realize that’s what he’s saying.  But it is.

In the third place, pretty well everyone who’s seriously studied the world economy is agreed that shortage of food is not and seldom if ever has been the problem.  Shortage of money, shortage of infrastructure, exploitative governments, these are the kinds of factor that make for shortage of food.  Not to mention the use of vast areas of land for cattle, the use of vast quantities of food fed to cattle, the use of agricultural products to produce ethanol, and on and on.  If you don’t do something about these kinds of thing, you can improve agriculture as much as you want and you will still get hunger and wider malnutrition in a large part of the world.  It’s inexcusable for a supposedly primo science communicator not to know all of this.

LIE #2
“GMO crops put the herbicides and pesticide inside the plant, rather than spraying it on them and having it run down into streams.” 

Come on, Bill!  This is a real “Duh!” moment.  How COULD you get a functional herbicide inside a plant?  How would it work, would the plant go out and fight other plants?  Surely even Monsanto didn’t try to pass off this whopper?  Of course, what really happens is probably the worst aspect of genetic engineering.   The whole point of making Roundup-resistant plants is so that you CAN “spray it on them”, just as much as it takes—the weeds wilt and wither, but your crop still stands tall.  Because the herbicide not only still “runs down into streams”--with the aid of the adjuvants (themselves untested, btw) that are added  to all pesticides, it spreads all over and is thoroughly absorbed by every part of the plant,  so eventually by you and your nearest and dearest.

And what effect might this have?  Don’t go there, Bill, it’s more than your career’s worth.  If any serious science communicator starts to even look at the accumulating scientific evidence that chemicals in general and herbicides in particular may be responsible for the otherwise inexplicable rise in chronic degenerative diseases that has pushed America down to forty-somethingth place in world longevity rankings, those nice people at Monsanto who were so generous with their time and trouble will demonize that communicator, will hound and harass him (or her) and try to discredit her (or him) in any way they can.

Your choice, Science Guys in general.  You can save your jobs while you go on betraying the public you are supposed, like the police, to serve and protect.  Or you can do the right thing, which is to alert that same public to the risks that are being imposed on them in the name of corporate greed.  Of course, if enough of you did this, there would be too many of you to demonize. 
It’s the old problem of the mice belling the cat.   Who’s on first?  Who will dare?


  1. I also saw the herbicides in the plant quote and wondered if it was misattributed at first, it is, as you state, getting things completely wrong.

    As wrong, in fact, as the following gem -

    "The whole point of making Roundup-resistant plants is so that you CAN “spray it on them”, just as much as it takes—the weeds wilt and wither, but your crop still stands tall, ready for the Last Roundup when it’s sprayed again to dry it out ready for market and your unsuspecting stomachs."

    RR crops aren't sprayed with roundup for drydown. Roundup wouldn't work on a RR crop for drydown at all (as the mode of action is that in killing the plant you force drydown, and roundup doesn't kill RR plants (the other common method of speeding up drydown is swathing, which kills the plant by far more obvious means))

    Roundup for drydown is done on wheat. There is no commercially available RR wheat.

    A wise man once misquoted a biblical passage on motes to me, I think this message applies herein, or thusly.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. Sheer carelessness on my part. I have corrected it accordingly.

    You admit, then, that the plant absorbs the herbicide and (if you stick to your guns and actually eat the stuff) so does your stomach. Bon appetit! as the French say.

  3. If plants didn't absorb the herbicide then the herbicide wouldn't work. So yes, I have no issue whatsoever stating the fact that glyphosate is absorbed by plants.

    I'd be pretty unlikely to admit that my stomach absorbs it though, the stomach really isn't a site of absorbtion of anything much at all, I'd assume that most glyphosate absorbtion would occur in the small intestine (I'd guess relatively quickly too, given the small size and structural similarity to amino acids)

  4. Stomach, intestine, one way or the other it gets into your system. And, Ewan, I know what you're going to say. A lot gets excreted, one way or the other. Sure. But it doesn't ALL get excreted. And I know what you're going to say about that--the residue is so tiny it couldn't possibly hurt you--way below the FDA minimum, etc. etc.

    This is where our old friend Paracelsus come in--or rather, goes out. Or do you want a fight with the Endocrine Society, America's oldest scientific organization? If so, be my guest. Otherwise you'll have to admit that doses as low as a few parts PER BILLION can have damaging effects on processes vital to human health. And I'm sure you've read that scientists have just discovered connections between the lymphatic system and the brain (something two centuries of dissection failed to find--Real Science always has a surprise up its sleeve), which gives anything that enters your body access to the brain (autism, Alzheimer's, anyone?)

    More than one aspect of GMOs is problematic, but by far the worst is herbicide-resistant plants.

  5. Once the endocrine society has more information than a one liner (plus a row in a table)(neither of which reference any citation)in a far larger scope paper I'm sure we can spend more time examining their claim and less time appealing to authority.

    1. The EPA has weighed in.

      the weight of evidence from their 11-part screening has led to to declare that there is no convincing reason to believe that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor, and they won't be taking it to Tier 2 testing.

      I'd like to see the endocrine's society review the methodology and findings. It seems they have an uphill battle if they want to get past their one-line blurb.