Thursday, October 15, 2015

Moms4GMOs: The Movie

As you may know, a month or two ago, a group of scientists, farmers, and science-communicators, including myself, wrote a letter to a group of celebrities who were fighting against the SAFE act: a bill which would establish a voluntary labeling system for GMOs (I've written about the SAFE act here). All the celebrities, as well as the authors of the letter were moms.

Our letter explained why labeling GMOs doesn't make sense from a scientific perspective: that transgenesis or the method used to make GMOs is just one of many methods used by plant breeders to create new crop varieties. It explained that for highly processed ingredients, such as sugar or oil, there's no DNA or protein left so there's no way to tell it apart from a non-GMO ingredient, so there's no reason why it should be labeled. It outlined that most of the arguments against GMOs, such as patents, herbicide use, etc apply to crops derived from other methods as well. It concluded with a request, asking celebrities to talk with farmers and scientist, and to base their advocacy work on facts, not fears.

I'll be honest: I'm not a fan of the whole "mommy" movement. Many of the "mommy blogger" websites make a mountain out of a molehill. Of course, this is not always the case. But many of the articles on the websites remind me of Mrs Lovejoy from "The Simpsons" who goes around crying "Please, won't someone think of the children!" As we mention in the letter, being a mom doesn't make people right about whatever thing it is that they're concerned about. Undoubtedly, celebrity moms, mommy bloggers, and all moms have the very best of intentions: we're concerned about our children's welfare and well-being, but again, these concern could be misguided if not completely misinformed.

But another reason why the "mommy" movement bothers me is the tacit message that dads, or people without children, care less. I know I would have never let any harm come to my nephew before I was a mom, so should my word have carried less weight before I had my son? And in our family, my husband is the primary caregiver, so does that mean I don't #MomHarder? (That awesome phrase is from The Chowbabe). Kavin Senapathy recently described her encounter with the founder of Moms Across America, who refused to talk to an expert scientist saying: "You don’t have children. You don’t know what it’s like. You haven’t had a child come from your body." That's exactly what I do at work: before I sit down at a data review, I ask the presenter to outline his or her family planning efforts. I use this information to gauge the individual's ethical standards which I use to decide whether I should scrutinize the data more carefully.

 Given my sentiments on the topic, I find it highly ironic that a recent study found that scientists, who are also moms, are effective communicators. The Center for Food Integrity examined how to make the "public become comfortable with science and technical information." They conducted a survey and the general conclusion is that technical details and a plethora of information don't build confidence. Interestingly, they found that there were specific categories of individuals who were more effective at building trust, and that the most trusted source of information is the "Mommy Scientist".

The spouse says that I should embrace the title: that for once, the deck is stacked in my favor and towards my gender, rather than against it. I guess I'd better make the most of it, but I can't help but feel a bit miffed.

At the same time, I appreciate that perhaps the reason why our letter has resonated with so many people is the fact that many of the authors ARE "Mommy Scientists". When we wrote the letter, it didn't occur to me that seldom, if ever, had any group of moms done this: that we stood up and said, "Excuse me, but here's what the science has to say. And guess what? We're moms too, so that should balance out the mommy-factor [not that it should have mattered in the first place, in my opinion]. And quit scaring people into believing something that's not true!".

So it is perhaps because of the unique aspects of our letter that a couple has been inspired to make a documentary about "Science Moms". They have a Facebook page up right now, and they're asking anyone to share stories and anecdotes: "We would love to hear from you about your experiences as science-minded parents and science-lovers, through posts to our FaceBook page, or through messages to us on FB. Tell us why you vaccinate your children. Tell us why you support biotechnology. Tell us about some rad science experiments that you did with your kids. We want to hear it!" If you're interested in participating, head over to their page and share a blurb with them.

Who would have thunk that our shattering disillusion over Buffy's awesomeness would someday lead to a movie?

Also, I'm working on a few longer, multi-post series, which are taking some time. So I'm taking requests for posts in the interim: any articles/papers you'd like me to review? Any topics that you want me to cover? Any specific interviews for "Better Know a Scientist" or "Better Know a Farmer"? Comment below or send me an email.

6 comments:

  1. Dear Biochica,
    with reference to your suggestion in the last paragraph, allow me a bit of shameless self-promotion: pls see www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v33/n9/full/nbt.3333.html and a shorter, different, more "journalistic" article on the same subject at www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/10/07/nassim-talebs-precautionary-principle-nonsense-and-warped-gmo-pseudo-category/
    The Nature B. article was read online by almost 1,000 people, and I received quite a few emails from many who approved, even praised my views. To my knowledge, no negative reactions so far. Do you have any opinion about that issue?
    Best regards from Lombardy!

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    1. Hi Giovanni,
      I got a copy of the paper and I'll read it this weekend. Thanks! And congratulations on the publication.

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  2. It is the same situation with the agriculture industry. My voice as a young (ok maybe not that young) mother of 2 holds more weight than my husband who has lived and breathed this industry his whole life. He can speak to the chemical application rates, why we use certain tillage methods some years and not others, and many other details that I still am learning about. But it seems his opinion often doesn't matter because he's not a MOM. Glad to see some grassroots initiatives happening like the above mentioned movie. I would pay to see it!

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    1. It is strange isn't it? I think that it has a lot of implications and repercussions: if moms are regarded as superior parents for some unknown reason, what incentive would dads have to become primary care givers if they constantly have to "prove" themselves? Do I have to preface all my work by stating that I'm a mother, so that it carries more weight? All very strange...
      I hope the movie gets made too! Thanks for commenting!

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  3. "It explained that for highly processed ingredients, such as sugar or oil, there's no DNA or protein left so there's no way to tell it apart from a non-GMO ingredient, so there's no reason why it should be labeled.". BS! 100% purity is seldom achieved nor demanded by industrial standards. Do a bit of research!

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    1. I'm interested in learning more about this, so please provide me with a reference.

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