Hardly a day goes by without someone accusing me of being a “shill.” You see, I have the audacity to say that we should be getting scientific information from reputable scientific sources (i.e., the peer-reviewed literature), rather than trusting blogs, conspiracy theorist websites, etc. In the minds of science deniers, however, that can only mean one thing: I have sold my soul to Monsatan/Big Pharma and am now a hired gun who roams the internet spreading propaganda. Even those who don’t go quite to that extreme often claim that I am “in love with Monsanto” or am a big supporter of pharmaceutical companies, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have never received any money from a corporation, nor do I particularly like big business. In fact, I am pretty left-leaning on most economic issues.
So if I don’t like big business, why would I spend so much time and effort promoting GMOs, vaccines, etc.? It’s really quite simple: a veritable mountain of evidence says that GMOs are safe, vaccines don’t cause autism, vaccines save lives, etc. I support the science not the companies who benefit from the science. It is entirely possible to loath a company’s business policies and still think that their scientific claims are correct.
If, for example, it was announced that Monsanto had gone bankrupt and was shutting down, I wouldn’t care (provided that their research would be picked up and carried forward by other parties). That stipulation is, however, extremely important. You will, at times, see me “defend” Monsanto/Big Pharma, but that’s not because of any particular love that I have for those companies. Rather, it is because they research, design, and produce marvelous technological and medical wonders. Whether you like it or not, it is a fact that vaccines save lives, GMOs increase crop yields (especially in developing countries), some GMOs provide vitamins that aren’t in traditional crops, etc. So, I become irritated when people attack these companies, because they invariably use their assaults on the companies as arguments against the companies’ products, and that’s not logically valid. I don’t necessarily support the business models of major companies, but I do stand by the science, and I refuse to allow economic ideology to interfere with scientific advances.
Now, at this point, someone will inevitably start dredging up examples of companies behaving unethically, and they will use those examples as evidence that we can’t trust the companies. More often than not, the examples are inaccurate or downright lies, but a handful of them will actually be true, to which I say, “so what?” Again, I support the science not the companies. Big corporations are undeniably concerned primarily with their own bottom line, and they will behave unethically to protect it. I’m not denying that, but that fact doesn’t automatically make their products dangerous. For example, Toyota is primarily concerned with its profits (as are all major companies), and if you do some digging, I’m sure that you can find evidence of situations where its CEOs behaved unethically, but that doesn’t mean that they falsified their safety tests or that Toyotas are actually death traps. Even so, the fact that pharmaceutical companies are primarily concerned with profits and at times behave unethically does not automatically mean that their products are dangerous. That’s a simple application of consistent reasoning.
It’s also important to note that there are numerous independent scientists, institutions, non-profits, and small private companies involved in the research and testing of GMOs, vaccines, etc. Anti-scientists often pretend that those people/organizations don’t exist, and they have a tendency to assume that all studies are biased (just as they assume that I am a shill), but that’s not reality. For example, in this post, I discussed several vaccine safety trials that were not in anyway affiliated with pharmaceutical companies.
Finally, let’s not forget that the anti-science position is also often associated with major companies. As I have previously pointed out, Whole Foods (a massive organic food chain) makes almost as much money as Monsanto. In fact, the Organic Trade Association reported that in 2014, people spent over 39 billion dollars on organic products in the US alone! So if supporting GMOs makes me a shill for Monsanto, why doesn’t supporting organic food make you a shill for Whole Foods? Please explain to me how that isn’t a big bushiness. Similarly, Americans spend 34 billion dollars annually on “natural treatments” and “alternatives” to pharmaceuticals. So don’t accuse me of supporting big business while you defend extremely profitable nonsense like acupuncture, natural remedies, and magic water (i.e., homeopathy).
In conclusion, supporting science and supporting big business aren’t the same thing, though at times they do overlap. If you don’t trust major companies, that’s fine, neither do I, but I do trust the scientific method, and I stand by results that have been constantly replicated by numerous scientists from around the world. I agree that companies should be tightly regulated, and I agree that we should demand transparency and independent verification of their claims, but once that verification has been achieved, we should accept their results, and we absolutely cannot misconstrue attacks against a company as arguments against their science. In short, I support science, regardless of whether or not it agrees with the positions of major companies (you’ll notice that I don’t side with oil companies, which are, btw, among the largest corporations on the plant).
Literature cited (none of which had ties to corporations, btw)
- Adegbola et al. 2005. Elimination of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) disease from The Gambia after the introduction of routine immunisation with a Hib conjugate vaccine: a prospective study. Lancet 366:144–150.
- Clemens et al. 1988. Measles vaccination and childhood mortality in rural Bangladesh. American Journal of Epidemiology 128:1330–1339.
- Klumper and Qaim. 2014. A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops. PloS ONE 9:e111629.
- Nicolia et al. 2014. An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology 34:77-88.
- Qaim and Zilberman. 2003. Yield effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries. Science 299:900–902.
- Richardson et al. 2010. Effect of Rotovirus vaccination on death from childhood diarrhea in Mexico. New England Journal of Medicine 362:299–305.
- Taylor et al. 2014. Vaccines are not associated with autism: and evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Elsevier 32:3623-3629.
- Yonekura-Sakakibara and Saito. 2006. Review: genetically modified plants for the promotion of human health. Biotechnology Letters 28:1983–1991.