Even in 2015, the public doesn’t trust scientists

Published in the Washington Post, 30 January 2015

America risks drifting into a new Age of Ignorance. Even as science makes unparalleled advances in genomics to oceanography, science deniers are on the march — and they’re winning hearts and minds more successfully than the academic experts whose work they deride and undermine.

As issues from evolution to climate change become more contentious and politically polarized, scientists and broader public opinion are drifting farther apart. This worrying trend is evident in new public opinion data released Thursday by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Pew Research Center. The data reveals a huge and growing gulf between what scientists and the public think about vaccines, animal research, genetically modified food, climate change and more.

There is a 18 percentage point gap, for example, over whether parents should be required to vaccinate their children: 86 percent of scientists favor this, as compared to just 68 percent of the general public. There is a much larger gap on climate change: 87 percent of AAAS scientists say it is caused by human activity, compared to 50 percent of the public. Almost all scientists – 98 percent — say humans have evolved over time, while just 65 percent of the public thinks they have.

But for the general public, the strongest anti-science attitudes relate to genetically modified foods. Eighty-eight percent of AAAS scientists say it’s safe to eat genetically modified food, compared to just 37 percent of U.S. adults. Such discrepancies do not happen by accident. In most cases, there are determined lobbies working to undermine public understanding of science: from anti-vaccine campaigners, to creationists, to climate-change deniers.

These activist groups have been especially successful in undermining public understanding of just how united the scientific community is on many of these issues. The polling data shows that two-thirds of the public (67 percent) thinks that “scientists do not have a clear understanding of the health effects of GM crops.” And 37 percent of the public says scientists “do not generally agree that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity.”

This is a grim paradox, because lobbying groups who shout loudest about the need to respect the scientific consensus on climate change also tend to equally aggressively deny the nearly identical level of consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods.

It is also notable that the number of people saying that GM foods are unsafe — 57 percent of those questioned — is the highest it has ever been, if equivalent polls in 2001 and 2003 are accurate.

The greatest gulf between public understanding and scientific consensus therefore has been driven not by the Koch brothers on climate change or Jenny McCarthy on vaccines, but by the likes of Greenpeace, the Center for Food Safety and other similar organizations.

Not surprisingly, many scientists — whether they design climate models or genetically engineer crops — feel they are under assault. In just five years, since the latest survey in 2009, the number of AAAS members who feel that “today is a good time for science” has plummeted from 76 percent to 52 percent. There is increasing skepticism about American global leadership in science and the way science is taught in schools. Scientists are also increasingly dismayed that government regulations — particularly on food safety and environmental management — are influenced more by public sentiment that scientific evidence. It now costs tens of millions of dollars to get a new genetically modified crop variety past cautious government bureaucrats, because of the public’s fears of modified food; whereas new seeds developed using chemical or radiation mutagenesis can go straight to market and even be labeled organic.

There are serious implications for democratic governance when large minorities — or even, in the case of GMOs, majorities — of the general public ignore or disbelieve the scientific consensus. With vaccines the implications can be immediate: witness the recent measles outbreak in California. On climate change, public support for urgent decarbonization measures is being undercut, while food security and agricultural sustainability is under threat by activists aiming to prohibit technological innovation in seeds.

Lobbyists and activists who promote their ideological agendas and financial interests over those of good science and public policy must take much of the blame for this situation. But scientists also have to be better communicators. With social media, everyone has a megaphone, however well- or ill-informed they are. If scientists want the public to understand their research, they have to spend more time sharing and explaining it to the public. This is the goal of the newly launched Cornell Alliance for Science, which aims to bridge the gap between scientists and the rest of society — in particular on genetically modified crops.

Effective governance in a democratic society depends on voters being able to make choices based on accurate information. If the voices of scientific experts continue to be drowned out by those of ideologues, whether from left or right, America risks moving even farther away from the Enlightenment values on which the republic was founded. Such a shift would harm everyone – whether or not they believe the Earth is warming.

45 Comments

  1. Leo Smith

    Of course the public dont trust science, since from the onset of the Cold war and CND through the various left leaning propaganda organisations and the infiltration of every centre of excellence in society by the cultural Marxists whose task is to destroy meaning relevance and order and replace it with confusion argument and random opinion, culminatui9ong in the crystal gazing homoeopathic Vegan New Age Green idiots of FOE, Greenpeace and the rest of it, the whole thrust of those who would be Kings, is to remove the ability to tell truth from lies, right from wrong, and replace it with their own carefully nurtured emotional narrative of political correctness, and thereby destroy most of civilisation.; leaving them holding the ace cards in what is left.

    The problem of the truth is simply solved by discrediting those who are its custodians. Then any lie will do, and the more its repeated the more it its believed.

    Hence the success of Green movements .

    Of course, like any organism that is totally parasitic on a host, it will ultimately be self defeating: An idealistic liberal Green society with its head in Cloud Cuckoo Land wont stand against a ruthless murderous religious one.

    And neither will stand against one that actually understands and has respect for real science.

    Sadly that won’t be Europe or the USA.

    Reply
  2. Mike Haseler (Scottish Sceptic)

    Science is a system based on the scientific method. It is not a group of academics who vaguely do things that sometimes involve maths and sometimes are just raw opinion pieces.

    So, when a group of academics reject the scientific method: tell us their models are right despite failing to be able to predict the climate and then they falsely claim to be “scientists” and what they do “science” …

    THE PUBLIC ARE DAMNED RIGHT TO DISTRUST THEM!

    Reply
  3. Clive Elsworth

    With today’s 7 billion people all wanting a middle class lifestyle,
    if we don’t take seriously the conclusions of top class, rigorous, peer reviewed scientific study, we’re essentially driving a juggernaut with our eyes shut.

    Reply
  4. Len Rosen

    The disconnect between science and the public is exacerbated by the way science talks to the public. Journal articles speak sci-talk, a language barely discernible to most readers. When discoveries are made that scientists need to tell the world they bury them in jargon that the average person cannot comprehend, let alone the average senator or congressman. Science needs to learn “plain speak.” Hypotheses and proofs need to relate to the public in a way that makes the research relevant.

    Then there is the issue of narrowly defined research that when published gets interpreted to apply to a much larger issue. Climate science suffers from this. Too often we get a study on, for example, clouds, that obfuscates the issue of global warming by talking about global cooling. Correctly, the scientists are describing the observed phenomena but they give sceptics the wedge to spread their FUD to the public.

    Immunization, GMO and many other scientific advancements are, as a result, assailed by a poorly informed or propaganda influenced public.

    Alan Alda’s initiative at http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/ is one all scientists should accept as a challenge worth overcoming.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Walther

    In the physical world, it is easier to destroy than it is to build.

    So it seems to be in the world of ideas as well. The information vandals have had a free reign for four decades and are thriving. I don’t know what to do.

    Reply
  6. Wackes Seppi

    « America risks drifting into a new Age of Ignorance. »? It would be a blessing if it were only America.

    The gap between scientists and the general public might be considered worrisome. The fact that there are scientists who hold non-scientific points of view is much more worrisome. Sadly, the most vocal and those who receive the greatest attention from media are among them.

    Reply
  7. ian

    Mark, you should know very well that Greenpeace’s objections to GM are not about effects on human health, but their possible effects on the environment and economy.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/agriculture/problem/genetic-engineering/

    When you so carelessly misrepresent other people’s positions, you have little cause to take umbrage when they accuse you of Bad things like shilling for Monsanto or such.

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      You obviously haven’t read the Greenpeace propaganda, not even the document you have quoted :

      « GMOs should not be released into the environment since there is not an adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health. »

      The last two words read: « human health ».

      And this is the softcore version of Greenpeace’s propaganda.

    2. Scott

      Of course they don’t have a good understanding of the effects GMOs have on the environment and human health. Because of the “substantial equivalence” regulatory stance, very very few long term studies on human health have been done. In fact very very few long term studies on lab animals have been done either. Almost none taking a holistic approach. That means no one even knows what potential unexpected emergent side effects might surface. Maybe none, maybe not. The public is the guinea pig.

      If public health were increasing in Western Nations, we could rest and deal with any emergent side effects that potentially pop up, knowing that at least for now we are safe. Unfortunately public health is deteriorating alarmingly in Western Nations, and there just isn’t any way to know if GMOs are partly to blame or if it is something totally unrelated. Because GMOs entered into the food supply without sufficient testing.

    3. Wackes Seppi

      « Of course they don’t have a good understanding of the effects GMOs have on the environment and human health. »

      You are writing that hundreds if not thousands of scientists have no good understanding… Regulatory agencies which review scientific date produced for the purpose of of the authorization procedure or subsequently to the authorization – in connection with an application for renewal of the authorization or with the review of some Seralini-style junk science – do not know… Growers and users, and of course scientists and regulators, do not know after twenty years of extensive cultivation and use of some GMOs…

      But we ought to go along with the activists, those who produce junk science and those who are content with spreading FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt…

      We also ought to take them by their word when they spread dysinformation, particularly with respect to the « substantial equivalence » principle…

      « …very very few long term studies on human health have been done »? How would you do that? Feed human guinea pigs with a diet containing 33 % – GMO or non-GMO – maize? For how long? How many guine pigs?

      « In fact very very few long term studies on lab animals have been done either »? This is just wrong. But, admittedly, the activists’ position is that the number will never be large enough… And feeding lab rats or cattle for generations is not good enough…

      « …no one even knows what potential unexpected emergent side effects might surface »? How do you know about the potential emergence of something that is unexpected?

      « If public health were increasing in Western Nations… »? Life expectancy is still increasing.

      « …there just isn’t any way to know if GMOs are partly to blame [for an alarming deterioration of public health] »? Let’s assume, for the purpose of analysis that the deterioration of argument is right – which it is not: why should we forego GM technology and its products? Of course when those products are found to be substantially equivalent – and as safe to eat as – their « conventional » counterparts?

    4. Scott

      Wackes Seppi,
      A great example is the Séralini affair.

      You start with a Monsanto experiment http://www.sourcewatch.org/images/8/87/Hammond_Study_NK603.pdf

      But it is a short term study. A few things show up, but not statistically significant. Therefore the Round-up tolerant NK603 corn gets approved.

      Then comes along the first long term study on Round-up tolerant NK603 corn. http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2008/11/full-report-of-austrian-study-on-gm.html
      It does show some concern: “The electron histological investigation of the cell nuclei (Kidneys) revealed differences as to fibrillar centres, dense fibrillar components and the pore density in hepatocytes, and cells from spleen and pancreas. This could point to an effect of the GM crop on metabolic parameters.”
      However, it was inconclusive and called for further long term studies. (That’s how science works. One study is not enough. It needs replication.)

      Then comes along Seralini. He does that further long term study. http://www.enveurope.com/content/26/1/14 Seralini finds serious problems. Granted Seralini et al does have a few minor methodological problems. However, there is significant evidence and no sign of fraud. It is real and does confirm what Velimirov et al found.

      Generally in Science, if something like this should happen, there would be a need to do a 3rd study refining the first two long term studies and falsifying them or not. That’s not what happened though.

      Instead this happened: http://www.enveurope.com/content/26/1/13

      Keep in mind, to date there is still no long term study on Round-up tolerant NK603 corn showing it to be safe. The study simply hasn’t been done.

      This kind of corruption and conflicts of interest are woven all through GMO science. There will not be public trust in the science until the industry cleans up its act and behaves in an ethical manner. Then and only then can the public confidence be restored. Until that happens, expect even more distrust of science by the public. It is a very sad thing.

    5. Harry van Trotsenburg

      “In fact very very few long term studies on lab animals have been done either.”

      I just “met”the dissertation of 17-12-2014:
      “Towards a new, dynamic concept of Health. Its operationalisation and use in public health and healthcare, and in evaluating health effects of food”

      in which two groups of chickens were followed, one eating “mainstream”the other biological products.
      The second generation of the biological fed chickens reacted better when made sick

    6. William Hughes-Games

      Another concern is the way the main companies promoting GM food (read Monsanto) are trying to make themselves the exclusive providers of seed for the world. In the process, they have also caused a severe narrowing of the available genetic diversity of the crops in question as farmers abandoned their long-grown seed-saved varieties and went with the GM versions. The safety if the food produced from GM crops is very important but pales into insignificance when compared with these other concerns.
      Look up Percy Schmeitser (sp?) to see what lengths Monsanto will go to.

    7. Harry van Trotsenburg

      As long as profits are more important then helping the other we will see these kind of things….

      I think but don’t have them at hand and I didn’t search for it that Monsanto sued more farmers..

    8. Harry van Trotsenburg

      sorry to find it you need :

      Promotie Mw.drs. Machteld A.S. Huber
      Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Scienses
      Promotores: prof.dr. J.A. Knottnerus, prof.dr.ir. P. Dagnelie
      Titel: “Towards a new, dynamic concept of health”
      Woensdag 17 december 2014, 10.00 uur

    9. Bas

      Harry,
      Interesting.
      So would like to see the publication / promotion (I’m Dutch, so in Dutch of English or German would do).

      But your link doesn’t operate.

    10. Harry van Trotsenburg

      There are Universities which publicise dissertations on the internet direct, For Maastricht university I could not find this: but you can ask for it by mail here : l.daniels@louisbolk.nl
      :

    11. Bas

      Thanks!

  8. ian

    Sorry about the last comment. Reading it again it comes across quite harsh. I realize it makes me seem like I’m accusing you of shilling. I don’t believe you are. But I wanted to clarify that this is not the position of Greenpeace, as far as I can tell. And I want to ask, why do you repeatedly write as if it were?

    Reply
  9. Harry van Trotsenburg

    Above you speak about minorities which : “disbelieve the scientific consensus”
    So I have to believe in science?
    But I don’t want to believe anything, I want to be able to trust knowledge, working knowledge.
    Alas not all scientific knowledge is to be trusted?
    Sometimes this is because already the starting question is wrong…
    Many problems, GMO products are said to solve, are most of the time also to be solved with another way of farming….
    Furthermore :As far as I know the GMO food is not controlled for consequences over longer periods of time, at best more generations, the necessity of this is not acknowledged.
    So I try to stay away from this food.( It should be labelled!)

    Measles, for normal children( with no other problems) is a relative harmless sickness, so there should be no problem with not vaccinating.

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      « Many problems, GMO products are said to solve, are most of the time also to be solved with another way of farming…. »?

      You are right! For instance, you can uproot the weeds by hand… You can also spray a cotton crop once every week with a nasty insecticide. Small cotton growers love it: a nice and long walk through the field, row by row, with 15 kg or more on their back, usually without protective gear…

      Seriously, if problems can be solved – efficiently of course – through other ways, the odds are that a GMO solution will have a hard time to get established as a new solution.

      « As far as I know the GMO food is not controlled for consequences over longer periods of time… »?

      For one, you do not know, but repeat the propaganda. For another, the issue you raise is one which has no solution because it is prone to moving goalposts. How many generations – of course of humans – would be needed to convince the most skeptical and unwilling? By now, dozens of generations of farm and laboratory animals have been fed GM feed, in fact considerable amounts thereof.

      « Measles, for normal children… »?

      Shocking! Measles, for one, is also deadly to « normal » children. For another, one of the purposes of vaccination is to protect children (and adults) who are not « normal », be it because they have a serious health problem, or just a temporary one.

  10. William Hughes-Games

    The truth is that it is still too early to draw firm conclusions about the safety of GM food. It may be safe but one characteristic of GM food is worrying. New varieties can be produced very much faster than by older methods. This means that they can get into the market and push out other products faster than it is possible to evaluate them for safety. What seems pretty well beyond question is how companies like Monsanto are doing their level best to monopolize the source of our food for their profit. A massive amount of needed genetic diversity is being lost. This was also the case in the earlier non-gm agricultural revolution that happened in the 60’s.
    http://mtkass.blogspot.co.nz/2009/02/malthus-pyramid-schemes-starvation.html

    Reply
    1. Quentin

      Sure, that makes sense. I think it is becoming rather clear that any attempt to control and dominate Nature very soon proves to create more problems than can be handled. This is proving to be true in all and every area where this is happening. In the short term the apparent illusion of having some control and domination over Nature does show amazing ‘results’. However, there has always been unforeseen consequences that overwhelm the advantages of the original ‘advances’. These are invariably then responded to with more control and domination and a situation where problems on top of problems on top of problems starts to emerge in an ever decreasing spiral of dysfunction.

    2. Wackes Seppi

      The truth is that conclusions can only be drawn on a case-by-case basis. GMOs go, each on its own, through comprehensive tests which, although limited in time, provide enough information as to their safety to take reasonable and appropriate decisions.

      In contrast, there is no testing for plant varieties that result from traditional breeding, e.g. crosses followed by selection. Experience has shown that such procedures are not « waterproof ». One famous example is the Lenape potato.

      Worse even, any charlatan can come along with some novel, exotic produce, claiming extraordinary nutritional properties or health benefits, and market it after minimum testing, if not no testing at all.

      The speed with which varieties can be produced has no bearing on the safety assessment.

      Monsanto trying to monopolize the source of food? BS! It is quite amazing how this piece of dysinformation can be perpetuated, unchecked. If it were true, Monsanto would have made inroads in areas such as wheat and rice breeding, rather than confining itself to a limited number of broadacre crops and vegetables (in the latter case essentially through acquisition of existing companies).

      Monsanto and other plant variety and seed businesses are small fish compared to the mass-market retailers. Wal-Mart’s turnover is some 60 times greater than Monsanto’s seed turnover; Carrefour’s 10 times greater. Monsanto sells to farmers, who have an option to choose some other product; the retailers buy from farmers and the food industry, and have the option to boycott those who displease them.

      Moreover, the fairy tale of Monsanto and others wanting to control food has been told for at least the last 20 years. What progress have they made in this alleged endeavour? Little, if not none. The reason: there is no such conspiracy.

  11. Scott

    The truth is that trust is an issue in science. Just because one can do a thing, doesn’t mean one should do a thing. GMOs are designed to prop up the failing conventional model of agriculture. The question really is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

    It could be either. If it simply fails it is big trouble for all of us. So it could be important from that standpoint that any and every thing must be done to prevent that…including GMOs.

    However, the conventional model of agriculture is hugely destructive to the environment. In fact there is absolutely no single thing we humans do more destructive to the environment than agriculture, by orders of magnitude.

    So there is another option. Let the conventional models fail, but replace them with regenerative models of agriculture. In this case we absolutely are happy to eliminate any attempt to prolong the conventional model, including GMOs. The sooner those destructive models fail the better. Why? Because we are in a man made mass extinction event potentially equivalent to K2. The sooner we end this and begin regenerating the biosphere, the better.

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      This comment is based on the wrong assumption – again the product of activists’ dysinformation – that our agricultural system is failing.

      It is also based on the wrong assumption – bis – that GMOs are designed to rescue our agricultural system. They are not. They provide benefits – if and only if they find customers in a free entrepreneurship system – to one or more segments of the agriculture and subsequent use chain. That includes consumers. And that includes all types of agriculture – except of cause organic which, as per a diktat of some gurus, has foregone GMOs.

      «  If it simply fails it is big trouble for all of us »? For one, the GMOs currently on the market are not failing. For another, if a particular GMO fails, it will simply disappear from the market (and the planet).

    2. Scott

      Sorry Wackes Seppi,
      You are living in denial if you don’t think conventional agriculture is failing. I guess if something happens slow enough, people can pretend it isn’t happening. Doesn’t change the science though.

      http://world.time.com/2012/12/14/what-if-the-worlds-soil-runs-out/

    3. Wackes Seppi

      Sorry Scott,

      I am living in the real world. And I don’t give any credence to doomsday preachers.

      « A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left »? Ludicrous! If this prediction were based upon any shred of evidence, this guy would be illustrious and would not preach in the desert. Such a warning has been given neither by FAO nor by UNEP – two organizations which are keen to attract attention and collect money with announcements of a looming apocalypse.

      The rest of the interview is peppered with equally flabbergasting statements.

      « …a staggering paper was published recently indicating that nearly half of the sea level rise since 1960 is due to irrigation water flowing straight past the crops and washing out to sea ». And this has escaped the attention of the IPCC? And this professor relies on a single paper for an extraordinary claim which would ordinarily require extraordinary evidence?

      But there is some reason for hope. Sanity has not gone altogether: « If the food supply goes down, then obviously, the price goes up ». Congrats, Prof!

      Turning now to your argument – I hope it is not also the professor’s – you jump the gun and attribute the alleged problem of soil erosion and degradation to the sole « conventional agriculture ». Bloody wrong!

      Moreover, you miss the point that some GMOs are an extraordinary tool for sustainable agriculture. Herbicide tolerant crops, for instance, have been a major contributor to no-till in the Americas.

    4. Scott

      http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-09-29/plowing-bedrock-how-bad-is-soil-erosion-in-us-cropland
      Scroll down to the picture with this caption: “Iowa cropland seen from the air after a rain. Light patches are subsoil exposed on hilltops and ridges.”

      Then remember this is Iowa. Center of the best land in the USA breadbasket, once one of the richest regions with regards to soil quality in the world. With many feet of A horizon soil, and over all relatively flat too.

      I would suggest you don’t have the slightest idea about the state of US farmland. But likely you will find out soon enough as more and more acres worldwide are subjected to this particularly destructive agricultural model. 🙁

    5. Wackes Seppi

      Adopters of HT crops practice conservation tillage more than growers of conventional varieties.

      Since the 1980s, the adoption of conservation tillage practices by U.S. farmers has been facilitated by the availability of post-emergent herbicides that can be applied over a crop during the growing season. Post-emergent herbicides are especially beneficial in no-till production systems because these herbicides control weeds without tilling the soil. HT crops have helped spread no-till farming further since they often allow a more effective system than just using other post-emergent herbicides (Fernandez-Cornejo and Caswell, 2006).

      According to USDA survey data, 60 percent of HT soybean planted acres used conservation tillage practices in 1997 versus 40 percent of conventional soybean acres (Fernandez-Cornejo and Caswell, 2006). By 2006, approximately 86 percent of HT soybean planted acres were under conservation tillage compared to only 36 percent of conventional soybean acres (fig. 15).

      Differences in the use of no-till specifically are just as pronounced. While approximately 45 percent of HT soybean acres were cultivated using no-till technologies in 2006, only 5 percent of the acres planted with conventional seeds were cultivated using no-till techniques.27 Cotton and corn data exhibit similar though less pronounced patterns. Thirty-two percent of HT cotton acres were planted using conservation tillage in 2007, compared to 17 percent of conventional cotton acres (fig. 16). Thirty-three percent of HT corn acres were planted using no-till in 2005, versus 19 percent of conventional corn acres (fig. 17).

      These trends suggest that HT crop adoption may encourage soil conservation practices. In addition, a review of several econometric studies point to a two-way causal relationship between the adoption of HT crops and conservation tillage (NRC, 2010). This implies that the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops indirectly benefits the environment.

      « Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States », Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo, Seth Wechsler, Mike Livingston, and Lorraine Mitchell

    6. Scott

      Wackes,
      Since when is less bad equivalent to good? Instead of some convoluted and back handed argument that tries to claim HT crops are “indirectly” beneficial to the environment, why not check out something directly beneficial to the environment? Got an hour?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk

  12. Neven

    Eighty-eight percent of AAAS scientists say it’s safe to eat genetically modified food, compared to just 37 percent of U.S. adults.

    Is it safe to eat all GMO food? Was that the question? And what about the environment? Are all GMO crops good for the environment? Or is it, like Scott correctly points out, all about ‘propping up the failing conventional model of agriculture’ to enable ever growing populations and consumption?

    Is GMO always good and safe in the hands of multinational companies whose primary goal is to increase shareholder value? Can all their scientists be trusted, like we could trust scientists employed by the tobacco industry?

    Is it good that said companies have a patent on seeds and genomes? Can they be trusted to always do the good thing for the public at large (and not just their shareholders and managers), just like we can trust the NSA – now and in the future – to increase their surveillance of ordinary citizens?

    I believe that there’s a chance that AGW becomes a very big problem, whereas huge industries will do everything to keep their profits going. And I also believe that there’s a chance that GMO isn’t 100% safe for the environment and/or public health (besides the propping up of a failed model), whereas huge industries will do everything to push it through and increase their profits.

    So, you see, I’m being consistent here, whereas you, Mark Lynas, are concern trolling and turning this into a black-and-white proposition, drawing false analogies.

    I’m not against GMO, on the contrary, but I’m not unconditionally in favour either. First replace the failing model, and then GMO could be of great use. Now it’s only meant to fight symptoms and increase profits at all costs.

    Reply
  13. Bas

    The strongest example that scientists are often wrong, are nuclear reactors.

    Scientists calculated that the chance those would “explode” into disaster was smaller than once in a million years.

    The world has gathered experience with ~4000 reactors running ~35years each which is ~14,000 reactor years. 4 reactors exploded: 3 at Fukushima, 1 at Chernobyl.
    That is once in 3,500 reactor years or >300times less reliable than the responsible nuclear scientists calculated.

    How far can scientist be off reality??

    So how far are those climate scientists off? Thousand times?
    Especially since the nuclear scientists all said they were sure, and climate scientists still debate a lot and find many previous unknown factors…

    Same with genetics scientists. They even do not understand the functioning DNA fully….

    Reply
    1. Clive Elsworth

      Still, nuclear has proved to be the safest power, with probably less than 50 deaths ever from radiation exposure, all from Chernobyl. No one died from radiation at Fukushima, albeit around 1600 died from the stress of the largely unneccesary evacuation.

      Even gas-fired power has killed more per TwHr, and of course coal kills thousands every year in mining accidents and millions die prematurely from its pollution.

    2. Bas

      Nuclear is only he safest power in the eyes of pro-nuclear people such as James Hansen.

      The estimated death due to Chernobyl (most still have to come) are up to a million (read e.g. the New York Academy of Sciences book).

      WHO report estimates up to 7% more cancer in children from Fukushima, which implies up to ~700 extra death due to low level extra radiation despite the speedy evacuation… Adding those to your 1600 delivers a total of 2,300 death.

      Gas and coal are passé (just as nuclear).
      The future is to renewable. So you should compare with renewable.

    3. quokka

      Every time I see the phrase “scientists told us”, I am instantly sceptical that what follows is in any way a reasonable representation of what the science actually did tell us.

      Your claim that there are, or were, formal safety assessments of, for example, the RBMK rectors at Chernobyl that put the risk of large radiation release at one in a million years of reactor operation is just unbelievable. I have managed to find a safety assessment of the RBMK and you can see some numbers on page 38. Those numbers are way, way worse than one in a million. They are also for RBMKs that had significant safety modifications and improvements following the Chernobyl accident.

      http://www.stuk.fi/julkaisut/tr/stuk-yto-tr168.pdf

      If you you have any evidence for your claims of “what scientists said” then lets see it.

      By the way, modern Generation III+ designs do have safety assessments of better than a probability of large radiation release once in one million reactor years – by around an order of magnitude.

    4. Bas

      quokka,
      Three of the exploded reactors were up-to-date ‘Western’ reactors in Fukushima. Only one was the Russian RMBK.

      Your claim:”… Generation III+ …better … large radiation release once in one million reactor years” is ~ identical to the claim in the seventies for then Gen2 designs…

      I do belief that Gen3+ is substantial safer, but less than a factor 5.
      Which implies one such disaster in ~20,000years for Gen3+..

      Such disaster can still be created by a terrorist using a 200ton airliner, or freight plane or up-to-date armor penetrating rockets which they can buy in the market nowadays (IS may even give it to them).

    5. quokka

      Bas, you are just making up stuff.

      The WASH-1400, ‘The Reactor Safety Study’ was a landmark study on nuclear accident risk and consequences prepared for the US NRC in 1975. You can find it here:

      http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/7134131-wKhXcG/

      On page 8 the probabilistic risk of core melt accident is given as one in 20,000 reactor years for the US light water reactor technology current at the time.

      This is completely at odds with your claims of “what scientists told us”. You should retract your claims.

    6. Bas

      The story was:
      – Chance on core melt accident; one in 100,000 reactor years.

      – Chance that such accident result in large radiation releases; one in a miljon reactor years.

      Btw.
      That was when it was decided to construct the first (and only) Dutch NPP (Borssele); around 1970.

  14. peterc

    Those not alrady familiar with Bas’ standards of integrity should look at
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl:_Consequences_of_the_Catastrophe_for_People_and_the_Environment
    to see the worht of his allegations.

    Reply
  15. Len Rosen

    Hi Mark,
    I don’t know if you have been studying marker-assisted selective breeding. I just wrote about it on my 21stcentech.com blog site. Here is the link. http://www.21stcentech.com/heard-marker-assisted-breeding/.

    Reply
  16. Marc

    GMO is an experiment in an attempt to control nature by modifying living matter at the genetic level to conform to our will. Besides the fact that that motivation in itself is for many people is suspect, isn’t it obvious that the driving force behind GMO is so that corporations can gain control of the food supply and make huge amounts of profits? Just look at how they are behaving. And as we know, trust has everything to do with motivation. So isn’t it understandable that anyone using scientific knowledge and learning to use technology for that reason is untrustworthy? Isn’t the motivation (in general) behind climate science to bring attention to the environmental crisis we have created so that we can make decisions to mitigate the damage and change our ways. So there is a motivation there that is (in general) to do with concern that is not for self interest at the expense of others; in this case, a more trustworthy situation. Being a scientist doesn’t make anyone inherently trust-worthy. Well-developed cognitive capacity is no guarantee of any level of ethical and moral development. So unfortunately, as with many things, it just takes one or two bad examples to put people off. And in this case, any areas of science, such as GMO, that ‘put people off’ trusting scientists in general, has a detrimental effect in the way it affects trust around climate change science and other important areas where it’s critically important we take scientific findings extremely seriously.

    Reply
  17. Nella

    There are many folks in the U.S. which say that climate change is only a fairy tale produced by scientists to get funded.
    Due to the prolonged cold weather in some parts of the U.S. they now found the way to attack environmentalists by saying, you see? there is plenty of snow, so where is your global warming?

    They don’t understand that any change in the weather course (even if we talk about the prolonged cold weather in areas where winters were not that harsh before), are a sign of climate change.

    If we have now a prolonged cold winter, we could face prolonged heat waves during the summer of this year.

    http://www.alternative-energies.net/some-people-think-that-extreme-low-temperatures-in-the-u-s-are-a-sign-that-global-warming-is-just-a-joke/

    Reply
  18. Hans Erren

    mark,
    Anti-science is an interesing way of framing, I think it’s growing awareness of the public that is the issue here. The phenomenon is more aptly labeled as NATME: Not Acccording To My Expert, that goes at least for wind energy and nuclear and also the climate critics I am familiar with are not anti-science per se, just anti-oligarchy, like eg Pielke Sr.

    Reply
  19. Harry van Trotsenburg

    There is another good reason to distrust a lot of scientific results. .

    And that is that scientist often are very narrow sighted.

    I just received George Monbiot ‘s “Ploughing On Regardless :”
    http://www.monbiot.com/2015/03/25/3703/
    in which he again shows how to avoid this.

    Reply

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