Glenn Garvin: The left's science deniers are at it again
If this column appeared under the headline, "Massive defeat for the anti-science forces," you would naturally assume I'm talking about some kind of setback for conservative Republicans, right? And you would be completely wrong.
The losers in this case are the luddite shock troops of progressivism like Greenpeace. And the winners are the children of the Philippines, thousands of whom will not go blind or die because the anti-science wing of modern liberalism finally is getting some pushback.
The Filipino government has finally approved the planting of genetically modified rice that contains vitamin A. "Golden rice," as the stuff is called, probably won't make a splash in the United States, but in the Third World, it will be a godsend. Between a quarter-million and a half-million children go blind each year from vitamin A deficiency, the United Nations says, and half of them die within 12 months. Some studies put the figure even higher.
As many as 300 million of the people at high risk for vitamin A deficiency live in countries where the staple food is rice. For them, golden rice will provide a quick, easy and cheap fix: eating just two ounces a day will provide 60 percent of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin A.
But that hasn't stopped Greenpeace and other luddite-left activists from fighting a scorched-earth war to stop golden rice. For more than a dozen years — or, if you prefer to keep score in the lives of children, 8 million dead — they've kept golden rice off the market by calling it Frankenfood and insisting that it will wreck the environment and spread dependence on Western capitalism.
What role does science play in the left-wing opposition to golden rice and other genetically modified crops? None. Study after study has shown no detectable deleterious effects on human health from genetically altered foods. And two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have shown that golden rice is an even better vehicle for delivery of vitamin A than spinach, the wonder vegetable.
Every time some lone Republican nut from Hooterville makes a jackass statement about rape or evolution, it's immediately ascribed as a doctrinal belief of the entire GOP and conservatives in general. But liberal resistance to science is far more organized, far more destructive and far less covered in the media:
• Millions of American parents refused to have their children vaccinated for diseases like whooping cough and measles after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published an error-ridden tirade in Rolling Stone and the left-wing website Salon in 2005 linking vaccines to autism and other neurological disturbances.
Six years later, Salon retracted the article, yet many parents remain convinced of the linkage to this day — one of whom now sits in the White House. "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," Barack Obama said during his 2008 campaign. "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included." Obama's spurious worries about vaccines led to manufacturing changes that caused a shortage of flu vaccine in the winter of 2009.
• Virtually no nuclear power plants have been built in the United States during the past four decades, the result of continuous left-wing scare stories. Australian physician Helen Caldicott has become a folk hero — 21 honorary degrees and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize — for her anti-nuke campaign, the centerpiece of which is that the explosion at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear reactor led to nearly a billion deaths and countless hideous birth defects.
Actual death toll, according the UN's scientific committee on nuclear radiation: less than 100. Actual birth defects: zero. The US National Academy of Sciences says that the chances of radiation-induced changes in human sperm and eggs are so low that it has never been detected in human beings, "even in thoroughly studied irradiated populations such as those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." There may be good reasons for opposing nuclear power — mainly, that the industry is a bloated corporate welfare tick that cannot survive without massive government subsidy — but science isn't one of them, which is why a 2009 Pew Research Center survey showed 70 percent of scientists support it.
But scientific consensus, invoked like clockwork whenever lefty activists and their journalist friends talk about global warming, is mysteriously irrelevant when they're discussing nuclear power or genetically enhanced crops. In 2005, the International Council for Science — a coalition of 140 scientific organizations — reviewed more than 50 studies and declared flatly: "Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat."
There are a few million dead Third World kids who wish that somebody had listened.
Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him at email@example.com.