Neil deGrass Tyson is the highly articulate and charming heir to the inspiring science advocacy of the late Carl Sagan. Dr. Tyson's views on genetically modified organisms appear in a recent Daily Kos article. Dr. Tyson may be a hero to those defending evolution, and science education, but he is a staunch neoliberal in his advocacy of the free market ideology that I find biased towards accepting all risks in the realm of science and technology. GMO's are a particular type of product that Tyson defends with great vigor, despite the huge range of scientific uncertainty and the literal government indemnification of these corporations from adverse consequences from risks created by their products. So much for a responsible marketplace and the precautionary principle.
In my opinion, Neil deGrasse Tyson is ignoring the science involved with GMO's. It is true that most of our crops have been modified by hybridization and other techniques. However, cows were not cross-bred with peanuts or salmon! Gene splicing is not the same as hybridization. Sure, it accomplishes similar things, but the vast bulk of hybrids stay within their kingdom (Animal, Plant Bacteria, etc.). How logical is it to conflate genetically splicing outside of the plant kingdom with hybridizing corn? To me, this shows a lack of concern for biological knowledge and/or a zealous pursuit of the right of companies to sell whatever the hell they can dream up, whether or not it is safe in the long-term, whether or not it will create a larger than normal risk of massive crop failures that could endanger the lives of millions.
I believe that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a great man and a great astrophysicist. It is fine that I don't agree with everything he says. With GMO's, I believe that he has stepped into a role as free market advocate supporting "caveat emptor" as a national policy rather than reasonable regulations to protect the public's long-term interests. In Europe, scientists are concerned about GMO's and take the scientific research seriously, rather than dismissing it in favor of hyping the rights of companies to sell whatever other companies are willing to buy.
And then there is the issue of whether Dr. Tyson is qualified to form an opinion about GMO's and their potential risks. He is certainly qualified to promote the party line of the free market establishment, as the star of a vibrant and exciting Fox network television show. But, as a brilliant astrophysicist, what does Neil deGrass Tyson know about the regulation of chemical and agricultural risks in complex ecosystem food chains? It's not quite the same as plotting the movement of a galaxy. In a way, ironically, citing Dr. Tyson as an expert on GMO's is not much different from giving meteorologists the same vote as climatologists as to whether there is climate change and whether it is man-made. To be sure, those favoring climate science would not like that one bit.
So, the Daily Kos article references Dr. Tyson as merely defending the "scientific consensus." Yep, those in line for big profits often stick with the consensus, even when the consensus of the day says the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, black people are an inferior race, women are unfit to be professionals, the cure for serious illnesses is blood letting, doctors don't need to wash their hands between attending childbirths and doing autopsies, human pollution cannot possibly cause global climate change, flame retardants, pesticides, mercury and lead are very unlikely to harm children, there is no proven link between cigarette smoking and cancer, ad infinitum. In my opinion, one rather large problem with uncritically following "scientific consensus" is that it has led us to the point of destroying our planetary life support system. Is this a problem, or perhaps just another great opportunity for entrepreneurs to rake in billions using science? No, I'd say it is a rather large problem. Anyway, seeking to add further random complexity and unintended consequences to our human journey at this time would seem to be unwise.
It is not the task of educated people, I'd say, to defend the corporate funded consensus of scientists, but to challenge it and push it towards valid science and away from assumption and superstition. It is one thing to celebrate science. It is quite another to project it as truth based upon assumptions rather than science, itself. Well, as cool and brilliant as we humans are, I'd say our "scientific consensus" needs a lot less ego, bullying and chest beating and a lot more science. "Consensus" among scientists is often a presumption of scientists, nothing more than an educated guess potentially driven by career self-interest, group think,. the greed of entrepreneurs and the economic interests of the political and economic elites. Not everything scientific or technological is an advancement of the human condition. Some things are better left undone.
And so, to me, the issue is not whether one is pro-science or anti-science. It is whether one uses science to understand the consequences of their actions and to avoid catastrophic risks or merely to justify whatever might pay homage to an unregulated free marketplace where everything "sciency" is given an automatic green light. In the end, this is about ethics and concern for human beings over corporate profits.