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.
.
HANKGREEN
.
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.
 .hankgreen2
.
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.
.
 hankgreen7
.
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.
.
hankgreen6
.
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.
 .hankgreen4
.
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 (715 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'.

22 Comments on The Biased Views of Hank Green and SciShow

  1. CloudOfBefuddlement // February 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm // Reply

    Ah, I am saddened by Hank’s scaremongering :( Excellent article nonetheless

    Like

  2. Good, solid response. I’m really surprised that anyone with even a passing appreciation of testing procedures would give credence to the papers that were cited in that video. This, I think, reveals a major issue when it comes to who we consider trusted sources, which most people would think Hank to be. I myself thought so given his previous track record, but after getting things so terribly wrong like this I’m now wondering if I was correct to accept the content of previous videos on subjects with which I am less familiar with.

    Personally I think you should make this post into a video for your channel as it is an important issue and needs to get as much attention as possible.

    Like

  3. Although one thing I would always advise against in instances such as this is to try and infer intent, especially dishonest intent such as

    “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.”

    It’s always possible that someone has spread misinformation because they were themselves misinformed. A good rule of thumb is to never assume malice when ignorance or incompetence are sufficient.

    Again, I hope that you see fit to make a video about this which may give SciShow an opportunity to try and defend their position or admit that they used inadequate sources and addend their video.

    Like

  4. can you alter the links so we can see them without putting our houses over them?
    and really 12 mice…gods i had bigger test group on my school trip to china to see if you could eat some strange eggs we were served

    Like

  5. Russell Ardary // February 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm // Reply

    I think Penn and Teller did an episode of Bull Shit on this subject. They were in favor of GM foods over “natural” foods.

    Like

    • Penn & Teller also did an episode on how climate change was bullshit. They made no effort at all to put in the views of mainstream science. Instead it was present the very few sceptical scientists out there and contrast them to uneducated hippies. Penn & Teller do some great work but there knowledge of science is…

      Like

  6. James Gurney // February 25, 2013 at 9:22 pm // Reply

    I was quite shocked when I saw this video earlier, I know that Hank is quite a ‘green’ minded person but I had thought that was limited to green energies and living and that his views were evidence based. I feel I have to agree with notinmyname in that I find it better to assume that he has been misinformed and is not intent on misinforming others. I could well imagine that hanks researchers are not scientists and therefore not able to be critical of poor experimental design. Hopefully this will not be the end of the matter although nerdfighteria is quite large to get your voice heard.

    Like

  7. Rainer Wessels // February 26, 2013 at 7:43 am // Reply

    Nice article, you do good work thank you for that. I guess we all have our hang-ups.

    Like

  8. Hi Myles,
    I highly recommend Biofortified.org as an excellent resource and great site for actually interacting and getting information from scientists who work in the field of GMO and plant genetics. They are a very friendly group and answer questions really quickly. They really deserve to be highlighted more in the scientific community for the good work they do!!!
    -Justin

    Like

  9. Hello my name is Hank Green, and I cocked this one up. It sucks that it’s taken me so long to realize it, and also that it happened in the first place. This episode came at a very high-pressure time at SciShow and we didn’t do our due diligence and took a lot of what we had been told at face value. We’re going to take the episode off-line and put together a second episode (which we’ll be more careful with.)

    Like

    • James Gurney // March 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm // Reply

      Hank Green showing the world the right way to act when you’ve made a mistake! You’re an inspiration to scientific rigour! Also I’m so happy that this was a mistake and not something that you believed. Everyone makes mistake every so often and I’m also glad my comments were reasonably balanced!

      Like

    • My faith in humanity is restored! I really appreciate that you could admit your mistakes – it certainly struck me as an odd episode considering how evidence-based most of your other views seem to be. I’m really looking forward to your second episode, and again, it takes guts to say you’re wrong, so good on you!

      Like

    • It is Human to have mistakes.I’m happy that you will change video.Also we don’t now how much dangers are their in GMO food stil.But it is for us to see.Also you should post video about DNA and RNA.Ninjaz out

      Like

    • My jaw just dropped. I’ve never seen such an amazing attitude. Most guys would just keep arguing but he just admitted he was wrong, and that they should re-do it. Kudos!

      Like

    • Are we even sure this is the real Hank Green? Just skeptical is all.

      Like

      • Andy Johnson // March 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm //

        He wrote the exact same thing on his Twitter or blog so whether or not it is the real Hank Green here he did say it

        Like

  10. Thinker47 // May 23, 2013 at 5:41 pm // Reply

    “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.”

    Hi, could you please list some of the studies you are talking about here?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s