Respect Scientific Consensus

Published 20180712

In the world of agriculture Mark Lynas is probably best known for his high-profile change of mind on the issue of GMO’s. Originally an anti-GMO activist, some say he was even the global founder of the anti-GMO movement, Mark is now an advocate for genetic engineering, promoting the potential for the technology in addressing a range of environmental and food security issues.  

His latest book, Seeds of Science, details his journey from anti to advocate and addresses why so many in the environmental movement, in his opinion, got it completely wrong on GMO’s. Mark’s road to Damascus moment came when he applied the same scientific rigour that he had been applying to climate science to GMO’s. At a NSW Farm Writers event in Sydney on Tuesday, Mark explained the process that led to his change of mind. To paraphrase – ‘By becoming a campaigner for action on climate change I had essentially become a science writer and a believer in the primacy of scientific consensus. When I turned my attention to the GMO issue and applied the same scientific scrutiny that I had for climate issues it became obvious that the science did not support my previous position’.

Grabbing hold of evidence that supports something you believe in and rejecting evidence that doesn’t is probably something that we all do from time to time. To be completely even handed in applying facts and forming opinions frankly would lead to a pretty boring world. Dissent and scepticism is how new ideas supersede old ones, how we have progress and innovate.

But the rule of law and the regulations that set how society and business operate cannot be based on the opinions of activists and sceptics. To have certainty and predictability, weight of evidence must be the prerequisite for good policy.

In the spirit of applying scientific consensus evenly and without prejudice it is encouraging to see that agricultural groups who continue to reject the science of climate change are rapidly diminishing and are now very much in the minority. Just as Mark Lynas realised that if he was going to use science to support his campaign for climate change action he could not then reject science to oppose GMO’s; agriculture cannot use science to support farm practices while rejecting scientific consensus that might be more challenging on issues such as climate change or environmental degradation.

Responsible agricultural advocacy must always embrace overwhelming scientific consensus. Agricultural practice is built on scientific advancement, and it is hypocritical in the extreme to use that science when it helps and reject it when it doesn’t suit our needs.

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