I was recently interviewed by the people at Food for Though on my views regarding GMOs. Here is what I had to say.
1. How did you become interested in debunking scientific myths within the area of food and agriculture? Why are you outspoken about these issues?
I started my YouTube channel after watching a video of a man urging his 4,000+ subscribers not to get their children vaccinated. I felt compelled to respond as I believed what he was saying had potential to cause a great deal of harm and suffering. Unbelievably, I managed to change his mind and he later went on to remove the video and implied that he got his children vaccinated. Ever since then, I have continued producing YouTube videos covering other misunderstood topics that I believe to be critical to the health and quality of human life. Naturally, I gravitated towards what some consider to be a controversial topic – genetically modified food.
The internet, especially YouTube, is saturated with bogus claims and flat-out lies regarding the subject from people who believe that true organic farming and all the advances we have achieved over the past hundred years is something to be scoffed at and mistrusted. This would not be so catastrophic here in the west, but they have spread their distrust to the developing world where not only can this technology be used to vastly improve quality of life, but also may be the difference between life and death. This is why I am so outspoken – because I believe these people are not only hurting others, but also slowing down the progression of humanity – whether they know it or not.
2. What kind of training or experience do you have to be a credible debunker of pseudo-science or quackery?
Food production will always be of massive importance to people as, obviously, everybody needs to eat. With our growing population and the consumer wanting more for less and better quality, big corporations have naturally stepped in to what was once a small, family-run industry. As with many things, people have a habit of viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses and agriculture is no exception – especially with people who don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from. As a result, there are many who are not only profiting from this manufactured nostalgia, but who also fan the hatred and general mistrust of big industry, and are leeching off the fallacy that ‘natural’ is better for you.
I think having a scientific background helps people to see through pseudo-science, but it’s not really essential. What it really takes is the patience to sit down and begin the time-consuming task of fact checking everything that is being discussed and getting a hold of the subject in general. I have published a lot of science-based content online but there are only two videos covering topics where I am somewhat of an authority. Everything else has taken me a great amount of time to unravel the facts from the spin; and to produce something that is not only accessible for the average YouTuber, but also well-researched with credible sources containing water tight arguments.
3. In regards to agriculture and food in Europe what should the public be most concerned or educate themselves about?
There are many things that I believe the public should be particularly concerned about when it comes to agriculture and food in Europe – including how much food European countries waste, the amount of meat in our diets and what effect that has on the environment. Regarding GMOs, I think the public really needs to have a long, hard look at organisations that have the veneer of good intentions and environmentalism but, in reality, still hold outdated dogmatic anti-science views on certain technologies. I think if the public really knew how outdated their views were, their funding would significantly decrease overnight, forcing them to change their views.
4. How can people with no formal training be proactive against scientific quackery purporting to be scientific-based evidence?
As I said before, a science background does help, but the most important thing is having the patience and commitment to research a certain subject. I don’t think anyone will become an expert overnight but they can certainly contact people who are able to help them better understand and see through scientific quackery. In this day and age, thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to be able to find and contact a whole range of people who might be experts in their fields. This includes scientists, companies, and individuals who may well be able to answer your questions. You would be surprised how many people will take the time to help others better understand a subject that they know about – often they are more than happy to share their passion. However, if you are going to contact these people, always remember to be polite and courteous as you may not get a response if not.
5. Do you think reports, such as the IARC report on glyphosate, which are badly cited and reveal numerous incorrect observations and conclusions, throw doubt on other research being conducted by the WHO?
When any major organisation – even one as vitally important as the WHO – publishes reports which have demonstrably incorrect conclusions, it is inevitable that this will have a major impact on how any future research of theirs is perceived, as well as damaging the reputation of the organisation in general. This is why it’s so important that they re-evaluate the data cited in this study, because the WHO does fantastic work.
6. You say in your analysis of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) findings on glyphosate that it is on par with Andrew Wakefield’s level of science. Why do you think the public do not scrutinise sweeping claims and statements. Why hasn’t there been a movement like there was for the false MMR vaccine and autism link? What can be done to combat this?
I think that the public have probably grown a little bit numbed to sweeping claims and statements thrown at them in headlines – with the sheer volume of these, I don’t think you could ever really expect anyone to fact check them all. That’s why it’s important that when these statements are fact-checked and found to be inaccurate, this is drawn attention to and publicised as much as possible.
I also think that it hasn’t helped that some people take advantage of these sensationalist headlines and capitalise on them, further fueling the woo. I honestly think that the backlash and disappointment regarding the IARC findings is building and that, in time, it will be a blotch on the WHO’s history.
7. Is it possible to make organisations such as the WHO recant? If so, how?
I believe it is possible to make organisations like the WHO recant by continuing to draw attention to the facts surrounding the subject.
I think that if people are very vocal and public about drawing attention to the facts, organisations will find it hard to continue supporting points-of-view that are shown to be incorrect.