Recantation of a former genetic know-nothing

1 minute read

The text of this lecture by Mark Lynas is remarkable (“Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013”). Lynas gained prominence as a critic of genetically modified crops, and describes in the lecture how his activism developed and how he has come in the last few years to renounce his prior views. This happened as he learned to read the scientific literature in order to write books about climate change.

My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I dont think Id ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

I find that completely jaw-dropping. Here is someone who had never read a scientific study on the subject, purporting to be an advocate in the popular press, and having his ignorant statements printed widely by multimillion-dollar media organizations. I understand that he is an exception only in his newfound candor about his ignorance. But this is the totally unacceptable problem in science communication: Big media uncritically spreads the word of ignoramuses to fit a political agenda.

Should we laud Lynas for his current change of heart? I’m glad to see that he started reading instead of mindlessly parroting ignorant anti-science propaganda. But his current stance even if honest seems transparently opportunistic, as he has found books more profitable than his former advocacy. I would rather see him name names about his former anti-science associates who likewise worked on the basis of complete ignorance.