Recently, Michael Purugganan, a Filipino plant geneticist (not working on GM), and a professor of biology and Dean of Science at New York University, wrote an interesting article about why he supports golden rice.
I was struck by his comment on false claims (a common one being that it can’t have enough vitamin A in it). Purugganan says: “Those who perpetuate these myths are doing a disservice to our country, especially to the malnourished, poorest Filipinos, and I urge everyone to seek out credible scientific evidence (with the stress on being both credible and scientific) to find the truth for themselves.”
Our environment secretary Owen Paterson, however, took a different approach to showing his disapproval, not just of people who perpetuate myths but of anyone who opposes golden rice:
“It’s just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology. I feel really strongly about it. I think what they do is absolutely wicked.”
Unsurprisingly, the word wicked was what the press jumped on. Wicked is a perfect word for west end musicals about witches, but for politicians to be calling people who disagree with them? Is that constructive?
‘Wicked’ has connotations that the person intentionally caused harm, whereas the vast majority of people who oppose golden rice believe they are acting for the good of society. By calling these people wicked, Paterson has shown disregard for their point of view, and an unwillingness to address any valid concerns they have.
If the Government wants to bring this debate back to evidence, and I sincerely hope they do, I don’t think insults are likely to help.
Yes, it is frustrating that some opponents of golden rice spread mis-information, but it’s not appropriate to tar all opponents with the same brush. And even those who deliberately mis-represent the evidence, can we call them wicked?