Recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the current lord of all science as we know it (according to the Internet), received a slew of unhappy comments because of his opinions on GMO foods. Understandably miffed at all the science haters and non-believers out there, Tyson, who’s been putting all kinds of folks in their places since his inception as the Cosmos host, posted that genetically modified foods shouldn’t get so much ire. His reasoning was that people believe it’s a new science and fear it because of a faulty understanding of how it works. From a scientific standpoint, I can dig where he’s coming from, but as many have pointed out, he’s way too high up on his golden science horse.
It’s true that GMO science is pretty poorly understood by the masses, and it’s super easy to say, “psh, I only buy organic,” without knowing what that means either – marketing has seen to the food production veils continued and ridiculous survival. When we advise people to never eat GMO food as a blanket statement, we are blabbing the impossible, according to Tyson. The imaginary spaceship-traveling, mustache-wearing, TV science man, declared that we’ve been genetically altering our foodstuffs and other stuffs for thousands of years, so when a normal dude tells his bros to never slurp the Monsanto Kool-Aid, it’s technically scientific ignorance all over the place.
Again, it’s usually the case that science like GMO business is scary to people who prefer to be freaked out than informed in detail, so Tyson has that going for his argument, but just because it’s science doesn’t make it awesome. There’s some genetic modification in food production that’s permissible I guess, but creating a monoculture of corn (cue maniacal laughter from the Corn Overlord), squirting a whole bunch of lab-created, semi-digestible goop into cheap products, and turning chickens into sedentary meat monsters is some science gone haywire and dystopian.
Tyson went on to say in later comments that if he’d had more than a quick Internet platform, he’d have extended his demand that folks “chill out” to a more in depth argument about the different problems deriving from the whole GMO debacle (well, the present day GMO debacle, to step into his brain arena, and not the entire history of artificial selection). He noted that people objecting to his original video were getting on his ass about labeling, life patenting, and other such scary things, and not his intention of telling folks to relax on the overall scientific subject. However, it’s pretty clear how many points people have against GMOs, each with some verifiable evidence (are lots and lots of fat people part of our thousands and thousands of years on the planet?). Tyson’s defending the overarching scientific study, sure, but he’s also on a television show and tons of viewers see him as the Odin of astrophysics, meaning all science to the huge population who don’t know more than what news and TV tells them about it.
GMOs are part of a sticky debate on what goes into our bodies. I don’t believe any sane person would argue in favor of Twinkies in terms of health, nor do I believe Tyson would choose a McDonald’s double cheese over a free-range beef burger with a near 0km production area. He’s got the money to decide, and the expensively purchased smarts to know the difference, something too many TV potatoes might not have enough of. Him defending GMOs doesn’t immediately erect a solid defense of science, but tells a lot of people, “Hey guys, guess what? The Internet All-Father of Science and Space says GMOs are okay because we’ve rocked them for billions of years!” While that is a caricature, it’s not that far from the brains of a normal dude reading the headlines then giggling about Friends on Buzzfeed.
I believe Tyson has the right to defend the science, especially after what he’s had to deal with from the staunchly non-scientific community, but he’s got to tread lightly here, especially because the GMO stuff being done now is legit worlds different than before, maybe not in the broader scientific sense (how money do I sound right now?), but because of the diabolically sickening, fattening results. People do need to get a bit brainier about science, sure, but it’s the monopolized corporations filled with mad scientists who got us all addicted to ersatz cheese squeezed out of a tube in the first place. Munch on that, Tyson (does anyone else think he’s the secret CEO of the company that produces depressing chickens?).