Bill Nye the Science Guy has long been an ambassador for science to the television-watching masses both young and old, but most of the time it’s him doing the talking and the audience at home the listening.
On Nov. 5, a vast audience of Reddit users had the opportunity to participate in a “Ask Me Anything” segment with Nye (who released a new book last week), and once again the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food came up.
Nye has become well known as an advocate for further, long-term testing of GMOs and clear labeling so that consumers can make an educated decision on whether or not to purchase foods containing them, as his widely-viewed video segment from 2005 at the bottom of the page shows.
During the AMA segment, Nye was asked by a pro-GMO commenter to explain his position 9 years later.
The commenter was hoping for a change of heart from Nye, but what he got was something entirely different.
Nye Holds Firm on GMO Stance
The question to Nye about GMOs is as follows:
Hi! I’ve been a long time fan, and I’d like to ask about something a bit old. I work in plant science, and we have this controversy that is every bit as unscientific, damaging, and irrational as the controversies surrounding evolution, vaccines, and climate change, so I was thrilled to see there was an Eyes of Nye episode on GMOs…right up until I watched it, and saw you talking about fantastical ecological disasters, advocating mandatory fear mongering labels, and spouting loaded platitudes with false implication. You can see my complete response here, if you are interested, and I hope you are, but it was a little disheartening.
The commenter continues:
When I look up GMOs in the news, I don’t see new innovations or exciting developments being brought to the world. I see hate, and fear, and ignorance, and I’m tired of seeing advances in agricultural science held back, sometimes at the cost of environmental or even human health, over this manufactured controversy. Scientists are called called corporate pawns, accused of poisoning people and the earth, research vandalized or banned, all over complete nonsense. This is science denialism, plain and simple. That Eyes of Nye episode aired 9 years ago, and a lot can change in nearly a decade, so I want to ask, in light of the wealth of evidence demonstrating the safety and utility of agricultural genetic engineering, could you clarify your current stance on the subject, and have you changed the views you expressed then? Because if so, while you work with public education, please don’t forget about us. We could use some help (editor’s note: most mainstream media on GMOs is actually very pro-GMO and ignores key issues like rampant cross contamination, organic farmers footing the bill for problems caused by GMOs and much more).
Nye’s response is below (you can view the full ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread by clicking here; be warned that it’s a long one), and he’s holding strong to his original opinion that GMOs are still understudied and highly capable of producing unknown effects, and that we still don’t know what the many unintended consequences may be:
Nye: I stand by my assertions that although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem.
Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat (editor’s note: he could have put that a little more eloquently) people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better.
So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin.
Bill Nye vs. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
While all Nye is saying (and has said) is that GMOs have not been adequately tested for both long-term environmental and health risks and that cautioned should be exercised, his viewpoints have led to attacks against him from the pro-GMO crowd.
Pro-GMO organizations have used “science” as a rallying cry for why people should “chill out” on GMOs as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson put it.
But Tyson’s comments were far more “anti-science” than Nye’s, despite Tyson’s sterling reputation: he actually said that humans have been genetically modifying food for “tens of thousands of years,” a clear attempt to confuse the masses who haven’t been properly educated by the media that traditional plant breeding is a far cry from modern GMO crops.
Genetically modified crops have been genetically engineered in a lab to withstand large doses of synthetic pesticides, or to produce their own toxins within the plant, and are clearly far different from plants bred in the field by humans over many decades.
If you’re looking for more information on the GMO controversy and why Nye believes we should be much more cautious, you can check out his original, full (and more precautionary and responsible) stance on GMOs below: