Neil deGrasse Tyson became one of the most popular figures in recent American scientific history in large part because of the way he spoke so eloquently, and concisely, about complex topics in the realms of science and astrophysics.
His TV special “COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey’ became a landmark program, somehow finding its way into a time slot usually reserved for less sophisticated fare like ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons (the modern version of the show, anyway),’ Fox’s prime time Sunday slot, and helped Tyson build an even bigger following and reputation.
Tyson has become one of the most widely-respected American thinkers of his generation, but his infamous rant against GMOs in summer 2014, and people who question them, has many wondering what had gotten into him.
Tyson Lashes Out at “Complainers” Who Question GMOs
Over the course of a short video that has been widely viewed online, Tyson responds to a question posed by a French journalist on what he thinks about GMOs.
Tyson is known for his straight-talk approach but in this case, he took even more of a defiant and authoritative tone as he lashed out at people who question the safety of GMOs.
“We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and the animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them,” Tyson said, continuing to describe how different seedless watermelons, long stem roses, modern apples and other produce is compared to the original wild versions.
In this case, Tyson was referring to traditional breeding and hybridization techniques, however, a common mistake many people make that is eerily similar to one of the Biotech industry go-to “talking points.”
He also called people who question the safety of GMOs “complainers” while also admitting that the modern process of genetic modification of crops like corn, soy, canola and others is fundamentally different.
“It’s called artificial selection and that’s how we genetically modified them,” he said in regards to the previous foods.
“So now we can do it in a lab and all of a sudden you’re going to complain? If you’re the complainer type, go back and eat wild apples…” he said, noting their lack of flavor.
“So we are creating and modifying the biology of the world to serve our needs, I don’t have a problem with that because we’ve been doing it for tens of thousands of years, so chill out,” he concluded, once again conflating traditional breeding with an entirely new technology that brings an entirely new set of risks to the table.
Following the original video Tyson responded via Twitter in a post that can be read here. In it, he clarifies his position but also asserts yet again that there is “no inherent risk” unique to GMOs compared to traditional agriculture even though plenty of studies have shown otherwise.
He also completely misses the point that GMOs can cross-contaminate traditional crops and are causing massive superweed outbreaks necessitating more dangerous chemicals, just two of the reasons they are far riskier than many believe, which underscores the time-sensitive need for long-term, independent testing.
Jeffrey Smith Responds to Tyson’s Rant
In response to Tyson’s rant, Jeffrey M. Smith, a researcher, author and filmmaker who produced ‘Genetic Roulette,’ has come out with the following video.
Smith acknowledges that Tyson is a “great scientist in his field,” and points out evidence from former FDA compliance officer Dr. Linda Khal that sheds an awful lot of truth the flawed basis of Tyson’s argument. This is what you need to show anyone who still believes in Tyson’s false premise that GMOs and hybrid crops are the same:
You can watch a longer version of Smith’s response here.
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