When Bill Nye the Science Guy speaks, people listen. Children especially.
That’s why it mattered when, earlier this year, Nye changed his stance on genetically modified (GMO) food.
While the longtime TV personality and science advocate has never outright condemned GMOs, Nye has always struck a suspicious tone about them. His concerns stood in sharp contrast with his peers, reflected by the fact that 88 percent of American Association for the Advancement of Science members endorsed GMO safety in a 2014 Pew Research survey.
“I went to Monsanto and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook and I am very excited about telling the world,” Nye said in a televised interview. “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”
But Nye pledged to go one step further. He promised to revise a chapter in his book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation,” published in November 2014, to reflect his change of heart on the issue of GMOs.
GMOs are one of those hot-button issues that really aren’t an issue at all.
Despite late night comedy jabs mocking them as “Frankenfood,” genetically modified food production has been directly responsible for reduced dependence on pesticides, increased crop yields and saving billions of people living in challenging farm climates.
In 2013 alone, according to “The Economist” magazine, the number of children under the age of 5 who died of malnutrition was 5 million globally. By comparison, the number of children who died of GMO consumption was zero.
“A recent analysis of the scientific literature also found that GMO crops haven’t been worse for the environment than their non-GMO counterparts and, in some cases, have been better, for instance by reducing pesticide use,” The Washington Post reported in March. “That finding echoes a 2010 NAS report that said GMO crops, generally speaking, ‘have had fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-genetically engineered crops produced conventionally.’”
The article continues, “Nothing in science is ever 100 percent certain, however. For instance, we can’t be sure that our conventional and even organic crops are 100 percent safe, either.”
It’s nice that Nye lived up to his nickname and — having weighed measurable scientific research and substantiated facts — moved publicly and forcefully into the mainstream with his pro-GMO stance. But it’s beneficial only inasmuch as it offers a public relations coup. The science, the facts, the lives saved — all those things that really matter — have always been behind the GMOs. They were there before Nye and will remain there after his endorsement as well. The fundamental truth hasn’t changed.
Nonetheless, we applaud Mr. Nye’s public change of heart … and hope it may motivate other skeptics to take a second, closer look at the safety, science and substance of GMOs.