GM Free Cymru

Why has Lynas not retracted his Oxford speech on GMOs?

It's interesting to see that following Mark Lynas's speech in Oxford, and a flurry of rather aggressive tweeting and twittering from him and his friends in the days that followed his five minutes of fame, he has gone remarkably quiet. What is most noticeable is that one scientist after another has gone on the record to point out the deficiencies in his "science" and his basic misunderstanding of many of the issues surrounding GM. I have personally pointed out a whole string of lies in his speech, and others have accused him (at worst) of deliberate misrepresentation or (at best) of simply not knowing what he was talking about. One commentator said that Lynas's understanding of GM was no greater than that of the average man in the street -- and wondered why we should all be taking his pronouncements so seriously. Well, it's not that we take Lynas himself very seriously -- but that we have to address the fact that there has been a huge media campaign devoted to flagging up his past "leadership" of the anti-GMO movement, his "conversion" into GM evangelist, and his pontification on matters that he pretends to know something about.

Back to the science. So far as I can see, Lynas has issued one grudging apology -- to the Soil Association -- but he has not sought to correct any of the other wildly unreliable statements made during his speech. That's rather ironic, given the fact that he is taking part in the cynical and despicable campaign from assorted GM technologists (I won't call them scientists) who want the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology" to withdraw or revoke the famous paper published by Seralini et al in September 2012. Their argument is underpinned by assorted spurious pseudo-scientific points that have all been addressed by the French research team -- but essentially it boils down to this: "because we don't like its conclusions, the article should never have been published in the first place." Many of the specifically "scientific" points made by Lynas in Oxford were so far wide of the mark as to be embarrassing, and they have been countered by one scientist after another, with the use of hard data and full citation. It's intriguing, to say the least, that neither Lynas nor his GM friends have engaged in any debate on these scientific issues -- so they are effectively unchallenged. That being the case, it seems that we have a tacit agreement from both Lynas and the GM industry spokesmen that he made a whole string of fundamental errors in his speech, and allowed these errors to be misrepresented as 'the truth" by a very gullible media.

Will Mark Lynas now please hold his hand up, admit that his speech was full of half-truths, misrepresentations and full-blown lies, and revoke or retract most of the things that he said? At the very least, he should issue a statement aimed at his gigantic army of fans, and remove all records of his speech from the web, insofar as he has the capacity to do that. He is, by all accounts, a man of total integrity -- so these small gestures are the least that we have a right to expect.

Below, courtesy of GM Watch, we reproduce links to some of the considered responses to the Lynas version of "GM science".

+ MARK LYNAS: THE REPENTANT ENVIRONMENTALIST The author Mark Lynas, who used to oppose GM crops, made global headlines with a speech supporting them at the Oxford Farming Conference. Lynas apologized for helping to found the anti-GM movement and helping to demonize GM crops. Lynas claimed his conversion to GM was down to his discovering science.

But none of these claims stand up to scrutiny. First, Lynas was not remotely a founder, or a main mover, of the anti-GM movement. Indeed, one long time observer of the GM debate described him as "More like a johnny-come-lately carpetbagger". Second, Lynas has become notorious for his apparent ignorance or disregard of much of the scientific and on-the-ground evidence on GM crops. And third, Lynas's conversion is not new; it dates from 2010.

An article by Jonathan Matthews of GMWatch suggests Lynas's speech is best understood as a PR narrative:

+ SCIENTISTS AND EXPERTS RESPOND TO LYNAS A number of scientists and expert commentators challenged Lynas arguments - on the basis of evidence. Dr Pushpa M. Bhargava, known as the father of biotechnology in India, noted that "in science, we go by evidence" - and Lynas wasn't offering any. Dr Bhargava added, "To the community of scientists, he (Lynas) is a completely unknown entity and no different from somebody one might pick up on the street randomly."

More responses from scientists and experts:

Doug Gurian-Sherman

John Vandermeer

Suman Sahai

Tom Philpott

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

Brian John

Eric Holt-Gimenez

Latha Jishnu

Prasanna Mohanty

Raj Patel

Jason Mark

Bob Phelps

And don't miss a relevant article by science writer Colin Tudge, whose conversion went in the opposite direction to Lynas's. Tudge used to be a GM enthusiast but, after years of studying the evidence, came to the conclusion that GM isn't the best answer to our problems: