The Scientific Method and Political Activism

Buckeye Farm Beat

When a recent experiment on GMO corn raises protests from scientists, it shows the defference between fact and fiction.

Published on: November 15, 2012
 

I have an MS degree or a Masters of Science in entomology. It was one of hardest things I ever had to work at to get. Science was really demanding for me. Math and chemistry and physics, toxicology and biochemistry were tough. Some of my other courses, parasitology, biology and all of the entomology classes were easier because I could see what I was studying. Does that make any sense?

I also have a BA or Bachelors in Art in English. That one really was not all that tough for me. The words stuff came naturally. English was just storytelling and who doesn’t love a good story. Yeah, you had to learn how to structure and classify the words, but it was all party of telling or reading a good tale.

I’m lucky because I have found a way to use both my degrees. As a reporter, I listen a lot to what other people tell me and then I try to tell their story accurately – the whole story – both sides. I certainly use my English degree skills more than my science lessons. But I love the things I learned while pursuing my studies in entomology. I greatly admire the simplicity of the scientific method. Pose a hypothesis and test it in a way that others can retest it. You don’t necessarily get both sides, but you get an honest and accurate provable result.

That’s why I am so intrigued with the recent story of French scientist Gilles Eric Séralini. According to John Entine of Forbes magazine, Seralini is “the notorious French molecular biologist known for his history of anti-biotechnology activism and scientifically disputed research claimed that rats fed a high dose lifetime diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weed killer Roundup suffered tumors and multiple organ damage.”

As Entine says, “The study sparked an immediate furor among independent scientists, including those who support the labeling of GM foods but found Seralini’s research sloppy and poorly documented. Scientists have often responded forcefully after the release of poorly constructed studies. What’s unusual this time is that science journalists, who traditionally have given activist scientists and NGOs a free pass when they circulated questionable science about GM crops and food, are up in arms as well.”

In the end the study has been discredited by the French national academies of sciences, technology, medicine, pharmacy, veterinary studies and agriculture. They all dismissed it as meaningless, and chastised him for spreading fear among the public.

You know the people of California recently defeated a measure that would have required the labeling of foods that contained GMOs. If supporters of such a law are so intent on truth in labeling then perhaps they should also understand that a scientific experiment conducted to prove a specific outcome needs also to be labeled. If it is not good science, it is fiction.