This article originally written for 'This Week In Pseudoscience' and published on July 28, 2014
There are few terms in the internet vernacular that quite strike my fancy as 'lolcow'. For the uninitiated, the lolcow, or Laugh Out Loud-cow, is a source of continual tragic comedy after a session of deep agitation and conflict. Traditionally these are people who are so susceptible to being triggered into explosive misbehavior that trolls can not help but incite them. Think of a lolcow as unstable dynamite if it helps.
Earlier this week, Mike Adams, the self-proclaimed 'Health Ranger' and owner of popular woo website Natural News, went full-blown Hiroshima on Godwin's Law, comparing genetically engineered crops, the companies that produce them and those who are in favor of their use to be, effectively, Nazis. No, that is not a typo, this is for real (Adams attempted to cover up his titanic outburst by deleting his post, hence the web archive link). In a time when anti-GMO activism is rampant in the country, one of their loudest voices just de-legitimized their stance by an impressive degree. You see, Godwin's Law ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1") exists for a reason. The point when your argument has gotten so heated that someone has to resort to whipping out the ol' Hitler card? The discussion is over, and that person inevitably looks like a complete idiot.
I'd love to put in my two cents on the article, or how it calls for the deaths of those scientists, lobbyists and journalists (oh that's never backfired on anyone...) but I feel it has been covered quite expertly already by some wonderful and brilliant people. But it doesn't stop with just that madness, oh no. You see, Mike Adams inferred at one point that the website Monsanto Collaborators (a website detailing people who are supporting the supposed unstoppable killing machine that is Monsanto) was set up in a conspiracy to frame him. In reality, there is strong evidence found by This Week in Pseudoscience that he, himself, may be directly behind that website.
Now, this alone makes Adams an incredible lolcow. Bear in mind that it is with some grudging disgust that I and others can laugh at these shenanigans, but the alternative is to weep with how effective the 'Health Ranger' has been in the past with his brilliant ignorant views on GMOs, alternative medicines and more. But he truly takes the cake because as of right now he is being investigated by the Feds for his conspiratorial rabble rousing and call for murder on scientists. Something most people disagree with. And what does he do while being investigated?
At number one, you might think that Mr. Adams might try a more nebulous entry, something hard to disprove or at least subjective. Instead, he goes full-blown tin foil hat. When someone talks about GM corn, they are usually referring to either a crop system that is resistant to a poison (so you can more easily manage pests and weeds) such as RoundUp Ready, or they mean Bt corn. It's fairly common that laypeople don't understand the difference. RoundUp Ready corn, for example, has no poison in it, it is simply resistant to that specific poison. That doesn't put poison in the 'grain' of the corn any more than an organic crop would. Secondly, Bt corn is a crop that has been modified to produce a protein that is toxic to certain insects. Now, I know that sounds scary, but there are two things to remember. Number one, Bt is completely harmless to humans. And lastly, and most importantly, Bt is sprayed on organic crops.
#2) GMOS HAVE NEVER BEEN SAFETY TESTED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION
Ah yes, the tried and true argument that we don't understand a technology (which we completely understand) because we haven't done enough guinea pig testing on human beings. I mean after all, we've tested organic varieties that were forcefully cross bred in labra to- oh wait... no, we haven't. On average, when a researcher uses bacteria or the 'gene gun' to modify an organism by a handful of genes, the affected area is … a handful of genes. When organic researches mash plants together to cross breed them, the genetic drift can be in the tens of thousands (or more!). Are we testing those for 20 years on human beings? No, because the very notion of that is ridiculous. Nathanael Johnson has a great write-up of this on Grist.
As a quick side note, he then links to Seralini's website. Rather than recap everything about Seralini, I'll just leave this here.
#3) GMOS TRANSFORM FARMING FREEDOM INTO FARMING SERVITUDE
#4) GMOS RUN THE VERY REAL RISK OF RUNAWAY SELF-REPLICATING GENETIC POLLUTION AND ECOCIDE
This one is a doozy, so take a deep breath before continuing. Below is a quote to put all this in context:
“Unlike isolated chemicals, GMOs self-replicate. This means there is an automatic risk of a runaway ecological holocaust caused by genetic pollution from GMOs.”
Many years ago, when I was much younger, I was tasked by my father to spraypaint primer on the back wall of my closet to cover up the drawings I had made on the wall. Possibly due to the resulting brain damage from that badly ventilated space; I feel that I can accurately try to decode this for you. Adams is claiming a comparison between GMOs and elemental chemistry. Which is interesting (in the way someone comparing a chunk of coal to a house plant is interesting, and stupid) given isolated chemicals are not alive. GMOs have this neat letter 'O' which means organism. All organisms replicate. It's the biological imperative number one.
Furthermore, Mr. Adams dazzles us with his incredible language choices, using the wildly inappropriate term 'holocaust'. Unless Monsanto has engineered flame throwers into their crops? I'm at a bit of a loss for words as to how this is appropriate. But then, we could expect no less brilliance from the man calling for the death of scientists and journalists that disagree with him.
#5) GMO AGRICULTURE IS BREEDING A NEW GENERATION OF CHEMICAL-RESISTANT SUPERWEEDS
Out of this entire list, this one is the closest to actual reality. While there has been some data to suggest that weeds can develop a resistance to chemicals like RoundUp, that does not make them what Adams calls, 'Frankenweeds'. Nor does this inherently mean we use more of the toxin on the plants. I mean, that doesn't make any sense. If a weed stopped being killed by an herbicide you would try another herbicide, right? Why would you make waste unnecessarily? So while he had a great opportunity to make a valid talking point, he chooses instead to babble incoherently. And to no surprise he fails to mention that conventional and organic herbicides can lead to toxin-resistant strains as well.
#6) GMOS MAY HAVE LONG-TERM UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES ON THE ENVIRONMENT
“The problem in all this is that Mother Nature has a way of bringing about unintended consequences, even from well-meaning scientists”
Well here is another stroke of brilliance from Mike. It appears that Mr. Adams is under the assumption that nature is a static environment. That despite what biologists and the fossil record tell us, evolution is a lie and nothing ever mutates or changes outside of a lab. This is of course completely insane. Plants undergo mutations every day, everywhere. And the scope by which they modify in nature is vastly more messy than what is produced in a lab. Again, he missed his chance to actually talk about something with any validity. He could have taken the conversation towards the ethical dilemma between allowing nature to work unimpeded, which is a philosophical discussion worth debating far more than revealing publicly about how much he doesn't 'get' evolution.
#7) GMOS COLLAPSE BIODIVERSITY
With a lovely infographic I've seen used a million times, Adams next tries to tell us that chemical companies are buying smaller seed companies and shutting them down, something I have yet to see any proof of. He then claims this monopoly (that doesn't exist) somehow translates to the death of biodiversity. He claims that 'genetic conformity' makes crops more susceptible to systemic diseases. Given I highly doubt Mike Adams understands what any of those words mean, I should probably forgive his next lapse in judgement where he claims that GM bananas will have the same issue as non-GM bananas. Making this bold claim with nothing but a loose correlation is ridiculous. So I'll do better and on the opposite. In 1998, the GMO papaya was made available. The reason for this was that the plant was dying out due to the 'ringspot virus'. Without the new variety of papaya, a huge industry that supplied people with livelihoods would have collapsed.
#8) GMOS PUT CONTROL OVER THE FOOD SUPPLY INTO THE HANDS OF PROFIT-DRIVEN CORPORATIONS
This one is just stupid. The organic industry last year made over 35 billion dollars. Our food supply control has always been in the hands of profit-driven corporations and grown by profit-driven farmers.
#9) GMOS MAY BE HARMING POLLINATORS
At some point I need to write a nice long article about the ridiculousness of the honey bee panic. But for now I'll just dole out a few key points: 1. Honey bees are not our only pollinators, nor are they the most important. 2. Nobody will starve if the bees die off. Fun fact: Honeybees are a non-native species to North America. 3. It takes 5 weeks to build a fully functioning hive from a tiny number of bees. 4. We do not know what exactly is killing the bees. Just like Adams says himself, “the evidence on this isn't yet conclusive“. But a good amount of said evidence also points to other factors, so jumping the gun would be irresponsi- Ah wait, this is Mike Adams...
#10) THE KIND OF SCIENTISTS WHO COLLABORATE WITH BIOTECH COMPANIES ARE THE MOST DISHONEST, CORRUPT AND UNETHICAL SCIENTISTS IN OUR WORLD
Ending with a lovely rant about how he perceives science, and how his manufactured reasons of fear outweigh the push for new technologies and improvements to human agricultural infrastructure, Mike begins to unwrap himself for us. He uses the adage 'playing God with nature' (capitalization his) which, I have found, is always at the heart of the anti-GMO protestations. People like Mike can find plenty of reasons to be afraid on the internet, what with pages like his monument to irrationality NaturalNews. There are enough memes passed among Facebook friends to find something shocking enough to take a position on; but ultimately it comes down to dogma versus science.
When you put the question forward whether or not we humans have the right to change nature with science, you tug at the strings of religious indoctrination. That isn't to say any specific religion, nor is it to speak ill of religion at all. But it can be something as simple as a fiercely taught respect for nature, or the way nature was crafted by a creator. The 'Health Ranger' makes his livelihood preying upon these feelings of sacredness while throwing the beauty of our own human intelligence down the drain. I could make an argument that we are just as much a part of nature as anything else and that our actions are therefor natural, but that's for another article at another time.
Much like the rest of the over-hyped bullshit Mike Adams produces on his laughable website, this list is of course nonsense. But what truly amazes me more than anything still remains the title. An 'Agricultural Holocaust', really? I don't want to speak for Jewish people, but that sounds a little insensitive to me. I shouldn't be surprised, though. When a Y2K believing, Sandy Hook denying, Anti-vaccineAIDs denialist takes to a public forum, we can't help but expect some outright idiocy.