The Biased Views of Hank Green and SciShow

Hank has now taken the episode off-line and I have been told that he is putting together a new one…….its now been well over a year :(

By: Myles Power Edited by: Hannah

It would be fair to say that up until recently, I had a man-crush on Hank Green from the YouTube channel ‘SciShow’. I found Hank’s science videos some of the most entertaining educational videos on the web. They are well researched, well put together and made in such a way that they can be enjoyed by all people, no matter what their scientific background. Hank is also a fellow chemist and has the same love for science and knowledge that I do, which makes him awesome in my book. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that YouTube were going to pay for me to fly to San Francisco to attend the same EDU conference that Hank was attending. On the first day of the conference (and after a few beers) I built up the courage to actually talk to him, but unfortunately came off like a crazy drunken fan boy, who he could not wait to get away from. The next day, feeling a little worse for wear, I apologised, but it turns out he was fine with it and said that I was not so bad. He even let me take a picture with him. This is the point my man-crush was fully fledged and I thought he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, after watching his recent video – ‘The Science of Genetically Modified Food’ – I see that Hank is just human and is capable of projecting his biased views in his videos. I found my opinion of him – and all who work on SciShow – has been lowered after watching.

I first raised an eyebrow in the initial minute of the video, when Hank tells us that “creating GMOs for food is incredibly expensive and time-consuming and their impacts on the environment and on human health are largely unknown”. First of all, the cost and time taken creating GM-food is irrelevant and as the vast majority of this research is performed in the profit-driven private sector, if they thought investing in GM-food was not worth their time and money, they would not be researching it. As for the human health effects, Hank could not be further from the truth. There have been hundreds of studies comparing GM food and non-GM food in multiple species, and almost every study showed no difference in health between animals fed on either. Nearly all of those which show negative health effects have been highly disproven and shown to be for political or financial gain.
Hank also tells us in this first minute that both Peru and Russia have banned GM food imports and their use. This might not seem important but it helps set the negative tone for the video and casts GM food in a negative light. It also shows us that Hank is more than capable of cherry picking to prove his point. He could have easily talked about the thousands and thousands of people in the developing world that owe their life to GM crops or the large number of countries who are currently growing GM food.
Hank later says that “there are very few independent studies on the potential health and environmental effect of them” and then shows us what he and others working at SciShow consider to be credible independent research by inexcusably referencing the highly discredited (and in my opinion unethical) paper, ‘Long-term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize‘. The paper wrongly links GM corn to organ damage and a higher risk of cancer in rodents. I have previously talked about this paper, how the sample size was far too small, that the particular type of rat is known to spontaneously grow tumours, and how it misleads the reader into thinking that the tumours don’t occur in the control group. It should also be mentioned that the lead author of the paper (Gilles-Eric Séralini) is the President of the Scientific Board of Criigen – an anti-GM lobbying group.
Hank then quotes research from Manuela Malatesta, who is (coincidentally) the secondary author in the ‘Long-term Toxicity of a Roundup…’ paper. It’s hard to know exactly which paper Hank is referencing here because Malatesta has spent the better part of a decade trying to prove that GM-soybean is the most heinous thing ever created by man. I believe, however, that it is a mixture of the papers ‘Ultrastructural analysis of pancreatic acinar cells from mice fed on genetically modified soybean‘ and ‘Reversibility of hepatocyte nuclear modifications in mice fed on genetically modified soybean‘. The former paper, as before, has an unusually small sample size, with only 24 female Swiss mice being used for the study (12 fed a standard laboratory chow containing 14% GM soybean and 12 in the parallel control group). Even with such a small sample size, the paper tries to show a link between mice fed on GM-soy and a decrease in digestive enzymes, and gives no mechanism or explanation for their findings. It should be obvious to everyone reading, that with such a small number of mice, no statistical significant evidence can be drawn.
In the second of these papers, Malatesta is trying to show a link between GM-(glyphosate-resistant) soy beans and temporary modifications to the livers of mice. This time we have an even smaller sample size of only 12 mice (6 GM-fed and 6 control) and like all of Malatesta’s ‘research’, it ends by saying that they have no explanation for their so-called results. However, the incompetence of this paper goes one step further when it admits that all results can be explained by glyposate contamination of the GM-soy beans.
Hank then begins to talk about BT-corn and BT-cotton, which are GM-crops that express the protein Bt delta endotoxin. The Bt delta endotoxin is a highly selective pore-forming toxin that binds to the gut epithelium of the insect, causing cell lysis by the formation of cation-selective channels. This leads to death from septicaemia as normal gut bacteria invade the body cavity. The protein was first used as an insecticide in the 1920s when it was harvested from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis and sprayed on crops. It is not surprising that, after using an insecticide for such a long period of time, some insects have evolved immunity to it. My problem here is that Hank seems to be blaming the cabbage caterpillars immunity solely on the Bt delta endotoxin producing crops. Even though there has been evolutionary pressure on the caterpillars three decades before we even knew the structure of DNA, let alone having the capability of producing GMOs.
Next, Hank brings up the environmental aspect of the controversy. He says that “there is no way of controlling a crop once it has become planted; seeds were designed to travel” and gives the example of GM-canola, found thriving in the wild in North Dakota. It is true that scientists have found two varieties of GM-canola in the wild; one modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup and the other resistant to Bayer’s gluphosinate. It should be mentioned though, that this is the first time in American history that a GMO has been found in the wild. When you consider that 95% of sugar beets, 88% of corn and 90% of soybeans grown in America are GM (as stated by Hank earlier in the video), then you realise how effective the containment procedures are. After all, the last thing Monsanto and Bayer want is for their product to become weeds that are immune to their own weedkillers.
There was some confusion among the scientists regarding the location of ‘feral’ GM-canola, as they were found along roads, near petrol stations and grocery stores, often at large distances from areas of agricultural production. This has led most scientists into thinking that GM-canola seeds could have escaped during transportation and not when planted. As for the environmental impact, you can’t lump all GMO into one pot. They must be – and all are – evaluated to see if their benefits outweigh their potential dangers. In the case of GM-canola, it is already readily found on roadsides; the only difference now is that some have immunity to specific weed killers. If we really wanted to, we could destroy all feral GM-canola simply by using a weedkiller that is not Roundup or gluphosinate.
In conclusion, I think it is obvious that Hank and the people at SciShow are guilty of cherry picking evidence to back up their own predetermined biased views on GM food. They concentrate so hard on highly discredited and potentially fraudulent papers to try and fool the viewer into thinking that GM food poses a real threat. They ignore the mountain of data that shows GM crop approved for animal or human consumption has no negative medical effects. They ignore the potential benefits of GM food including the capability of helping to feed Earth’s ever-growing population. This video is nothing more than a fear piece and is not a fair representation of the scientific community’s views on GM food.
About Myles Power (447 Articles)
My name is Myles Power, and I run the educational YouTube channel, powerm1985. I spend what little free time I have sharing my love of SCIENCE! through home experiments, visiting sites of scientific interest, and angrily ranting at pseudoscience proponents. I am also one of the founding members of the podcast 'The League of Nerds' - which I co-host with James from 'The History of Infection'.

42 Comments on The Biased Views of Hank Green and SciShow

  1. Really now, nobody is perfect. Don’t give the lovely man such a hard time. It’s good that you can think objectively and for yourself, but we’re all guilty of cherrypicking now and again.


  2. Really, people… There wasn’t a negative tone to the video. I thought it was pretty neutral. He’s saying GM crops are more common that most people assume. You said that the mention of Russia and Peru started the video off on a negative footing, but since when have they been the bellwethers of US agricultural policy. That example only shows that those countries are ignorant of the effects of GM crops and unwilling to trust them yet.

    You said that the time and cost of developing GM crops is “irrelevant”. Right? Well, big companies are the ones most likely developing GMOs. So to them, the cost probably IS irrelevant. But when you invest that much time and money into something, you want it to work. Is it inconceivable that a company could produce something (with as yet unknown side effects) and release it early just to start making money? I personally like GMOs and I hope that they become much more prevalent than they are today, but I also want the researchers to do it right, and for their work to be checked and checked again.

    Yes, I think you’re right that Hank Green may have used some bad sources, but his larger point is that GM crops are very common, and that more research needs to be done. Basically that we DON’T KNOW everything about GMOs, but we should learn more, especially since they are so widespread. He’s not demonizing GMOs.

    If you’re so heated about this topic, talk to Hank Green about it. Given new evidence, I’m sure he or SciShow would make a new video–possibly “GMOs: Revisited”? Or (instead) try to convince the scientific community of your opinion by publishing a paper, since you seem so knowledgeable on the subject. I think your rant is biased against your erstwhile man-crush, and that (as other readers have noted) you’ve done cherry-picking of your own.


  3. I am not a scientist. I am not a mathematician. I am not an entrepreneur. I am an artist, a teacher, a parent, a gardener and an environmentalist. I cannot prove that what I feel to be true IS true with tests and studies but, there are some things that will never, ever be able to be quantified in this world no matter how much we know or how smart we get. There is something wrong at the most basic level with multi national corporations owning or having control over some basic human needs to me. Not because they can’t “do good” but because “doing good” is really not the main goal of any gigantic machine. I don’t have a problem with GMO’s because I have been told they are not safe for human consumption, I have a problem with them because no matter how many studies are done on their safety for humans, they will NEVER do enough studies to show the entire picture of GMO effects on our entire system of life. I believe that even at it’s worst, nature knows much better than we do what should happen…what NEEDS to happen and, the longer we turn a blind eye to the way things really work together and are totally connected the closer we will get to tipping the balance beyond a place of no return. GMO’s may have been developed to combat hunger or increase crop yields or perhaps just to see if we could do it…but somewhere along the way they have morphed into power, money and control. When I think about shooting genetic material into other genetic material I think…wow, that’s pretty amazing that we are capable of doing that and, wow, that’s pretty scary that there are people who are capable of doing that. I don’t need any study to tell me that these things – water, air, food are sacred and we are simply not advanced enough yet to really understand the true scope of what we are doing. It is no different than all the other things we have done that have had an impact on our planet. Our track record for protecting what we need to live is not really great.

    By the way – yes, I do use one insecticide, carefully and barely ever and NEVER near blossoms….. Japanese beetles don’t taste good to anything! I eat protein, thoughtfully. I recycle, drive a hybrid…..ya, I know…perhaps it doesn’t matter but, for me, I want to think I am doing my small part for an ever growing “emergent purpose” – of a humanity that is finally starting to grow up. A humanity that loves and the respects the magic of our planet.


    • Eric Chiah // May 11, 2015 at 10:51 pm // Reply

      I do think your argument has some sense to it, like you, I am not a science person, and I also am a gardener, a father to my siblings ( family issues) and an environmentalist. However, please do consider the effect that GMO produced food may have on our society and the lives that we can save. I would like to go back to the perhaps overused question of the rightness of killing for food (P.S I eat meat too, thou I am not proud of it ). DFTBA


  4. Why not do some research of your own in areas where corn is farmed and the relation to the increased numbers of patients with cancer in those areas. Or has anyone considered that the runoff of the roundup and other pesticides goes into our water supply. This might explain why many Amish are afflicted with cancer too.


  5. Don’t know how much you follow the Vlogbrother’s ‘franchise’, but you might be pleased to know another one of their channels argued on your side this time:


  6. D Woolston // July 15, 2015 at 10:37 pm // Reply

    As of July 10 Hank and SciShow have followed up on their old GMO video. Not taking into account how long it took, has your opinion on Hank and SciShow changed?


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7 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. What the hell is Hank Green’s problem with genetic engineering?!?! – part 1 | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  2. Drinking Roundup herbicide makes men live longer | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  3. Bad science in the paper ‘Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM maize’ | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  4. The Biased Views of Hank Green and SciShow | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  5. The Biased Views of Hank Green and SciShow (Part 2) | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  6. SciShow – How Even the best Science Communicators can still be wrong | Myles Power (powerm1985)
  7. SciShow – How Even the Best Science Communicators Can Still Be Wrong | Myles Power (powerm1985)

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