Neil deGrasse Tyson: “GMO” Follow Up

Misunderstood scientist of the people or semantic sorcerer bought and Paid For? Recently I posted a video of  Tyson’s word on selective breeding. Well here is his follow up that he posted on Facebook. What is your input disinfonauts?

English: A warning sign with an exclamation markvia Facebook:

In fact — apart from my “chill out” quip in the video, which clearly deserved further explanation — I didn’t really vote one way or another on GMOs. You want to distinguish how genes are modified? Okay, then label everything, and create two subcategories of GMO. One that indicates laboratory and one that indicates agriculture. I said this explicitly in my Facebook post.

Furthermore, I never said GMOs were safer or more dangerous. I implied that if you think GMO-laboratory is **inherently** more dangerous to human life than GMO-agriculture you are simply wrong. They both can be bad for the environment. They both can be less healthy. They both can disrupt the local flora and fauna. But both methods wield an awesome power to improve food in every way that matters to humans: yields, appearance, vitamin content, sweetness, resistance to insects, resistance to weather extremes, and so forth.

As in all new foods, transgenic or otherwise, they should be tested for safety. [how many times do I need to say that?] And they should be tested for their effect on the environment. If the regulatory system is failing at this then it should be modified. And if the tests indicate a risk to the health of some humans and a benefit to others, then this should appear on the labeling. By the way, we already do this for peanuts, to protect people from peanut allergies. But there’s no talk of banning them.

I note, of course, that we don’t do this for wheat – a fully domesticated, genetically modified food. Yet many people suffer from wheat (gluten) allergies. Meanwhile foods that contain gluten display no explicit warnings at all. You just know that you’re not supposed to buy and eat that baguette if you suffer from this condition.

Imagine if today, scientists showed you the Aurochs Wild Ox, and said — “Give us time. In just a few years, we will genetically modify this wild animal, turning it into a different sub species whose sole purpose is to provide vast quantities of milk for humans to drink. They will produce 10x as much milk as did the original animal. But they will require vast grasslands to sustain. And some of you will get sick because you won’t be able to digest the lactose. But no need to label this fact. People will just figure this out on their own. The rest of you will be fine. We’ll call the result a Holstein Milk Cow.”

What would anti GMO-laboratory people say this story? Would they embrace it or reject it? Of course, over the past 10,000 years, this is exactly what we’ve done to that Ox – or whatever is the agreed-upon origin of the domesticated Cow. Call it GMO-agriculture. If you reject GMOs you fundamentally reject it all.

Finally, I found it odd that people presumed I was taking sides. As an educator, my priority is to make sure people are informed — accurately and honestly. For the purposes of general enlightenment, but especially before drawing policy or legislation that could affect us all.

I have nothing more to add. Or to subtract. On to other topics for me.

-Neil deGrasse Tyson



  • Anarchy Pony

    Semantics. Weaselly cop out.

    • InfvoCuernos

      Are you anti-semantic?

    • Alex Amitrano

      Anti-semantisizm is a crime against vocabulary

  • Chaorder Gradient

    again… conflating the two…

  • swabby429

    Come on. Admit the gaffe. We’ll love you even more. OK?

  • HCE

    My issue with GMO’s is confined to their impact on human health. Show me a food crop that has been selectively breed by cross pollination that is, aside from over eating or other mis-use, bad for human health.

    As to bad for the environment, well, human understanding is too limited in scope to really understand how invasive species actually work out over time. Invasive species are only “bad” according to human definition, and according to what meets our demands.

    It’s like the horticultural definition of a weed; a plant out of place. But ‘weeds’ aren’t out of place. They serve a specific and necessary function according to the natural systems that gave rise to them.

    • Thomas G. Pattetson

      Do you eat…Indian corn?

    • Jin The Ninja

      but gmo crops are not ‘weeds,’ they become ‘invasive species’ which is wholly different.

      • HCE

        You completely misunderstood my point. And as to invasive species, we have no idea how things will develop and evolve in the next thousand, or 10 thousand years. So human concern about invasive species is purely self centered and self serving. Nature worked just fine before H. sapiens, and will work just fine after we’ve gone.

        • Jin The Ninja

          invasive species, whether flora or fauna, that are introduced into non-native environments, that displace and destroy indigenous species and ecosystems is demonstrably and unequivocally detrimental to the environment.

          • misinformation

            ‘demonstrably and unequivocally detrimental to the environment.’

            I wouldn’t be so definitive on this. Despite the orthodoxy on ‘invasive’ species, I don’t believe the science is anywhere near complete. If you can get a hold of a copy of ‘Invasion Biology: A Critique of a Pseudoscience’ by David Theodoropoulos (it’s not cheap but maybe you can get it from the library) you may find yourself looking at this from a different perspective.

            I dig BPC, so I’ll throw the book description from their website up here:


            If you know permaculture, which I believe you have an interest in, here is David Holmgren’s review (appeal to authority 😉 I tend to think Holmgren has a sound outlook on the subject:


        • Echar Lailoken

          Homosapiens are nature…

          What you essentially said is : Nature natured before nature natured, and will continue to nature long after nature natures.

  • emperorreagan

    Red and black is a good color scheme.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Black goes well with any single other color. Red and black, green and black, blue and black.

      • emperorreagan

        Just not yellow and black!

        • Anarchy Pony

          Sure they do, hornets have a spiffy color scheme.

          • Echar Lailoken

            Red light will set off black much like a blacklight (cobalt traditionally) will with white.

            Notice the effect in this picture.

          • emperorreagan

            Anarcho-capitalists ruined it forever for me.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Fair enough.

  • Stu Pendisdick

    This asshole deGrasse is the worst sort of shill, playing on people’s basic lack of understanding.

    He is trying to get people to believe that intra-species selective breeding is the same as inter-species forced genetic modification.

    Sadly, because he is a charismatic charlatan, he has managed to deceive many, and will likely continue to do so because the average person has neither the desire nor the time to devote to understanding the serious issues at hand.

    There are two groups of people on the planet.

    Those who gaze in awe and wonder at the Emperor’s New Clothes, and those who can see his fat, naked arse and are disgusted by it *AND* the idiots who can’t see.

    • Andrew

      There are more than two groups of people on this planet.

    • Thomas G. Pattetson

      Stu where do you get your information from….I very interested in reading it becomimg more infomed ty

      • Dreg Life

        i second that

    • Simon Valentine

      he’s an idea

      no members have changed group

  • draeger

    “Yet many people suffer from wheat (gluten) allergies. Meanwhile foods that contain gluten display no explicit warnings at all. ”

    not sure who does Mr Tyson’s food shopping but it seems he is out of touch about gluten labeling…


    • Jin The Ninja

      from someone who doesn’t eat wheat, it’s really not all that great.

  • draeger

    keep in mind this was written in 1998 but very interesting nonetheless:

  • Craig Bickford

    His point were not factually based first of all. Cross breeding is not the same as certain GM modifications that are done in the food industry, so he is either ignorant of the fact or he is engaging in straw man arguments where he is neglecting some very important aspects. Crossing pig genes with coli flower (or fill in the blank with your best franken food example) is not something that occurs in nature, no matter how hard our Kantian infused brains wish it were so. That is just a bull shit argument he is presenting. never mind the fact that all this scary appeasement and conspiracy ad hominem attacking, or what ever is diverting everyone’s attention from some other more pressing issues, mainly do we really want corporations owning patents on food that may take over the market in the future? Or do we really think it is a good idea to let a central bank oriented and regulatory nightmare economy like the one we have in the US dictating what and where we will be eating? This is madness.

    • Simon Valentine

      didn’t watch and TLDR

      whose fact?

      predicate calculus prz

  • Nickname

    I miss the 80’s…..”he’s a commie bastard”….end of discussion

  • InfvoCuernos

    Ya, but Soylent Green is STILL people. period.

  • Oginikwe

    Misinformation addressed this bs on the other thread:
    “Repeat after me: Transgenic modification. Transgenic modification.
    Transgenic modification. That way, cults of personality can’t ‘deftly’
    avoid the actual discussion around the issue of transgenic modification.

    “We” haven’t been splicing genes of different species together for
    10s-of-thousands of years so Tyson is either being intellectually
    dishonest or lazy. Either way, the strawman argument of selective
    breeding is tiresome.”

    Thanks, misinformation, you said it best.

    • misinformation

      Aw, shucks…

      Almost came here to copy and paste, as well. He feigns at separating selective breeding and transgenic mod but then goes right back to the same ol’ tired fallacy…all while pretending that gov’t regulation is an antidote to this.

  • comment

    I believe the problem with this piece is his inability to understand a correct experimental design accounting for a “proper” field of variables. A laboratory is not a natural system. Gradually altering species over extensive reproductive cycles in the organism’s natural setting (or at least some natural setting) already accounts for the potential effects of the changing organism to that environment since it includes the nearly countless variables contained in that system. Laboratory GMOs do not do that. He should be clear. Via statistical methods a laboratory can simulate a laboratory GMO’s effects on the environment, though even here, the data would be immeasurable even with modern technology. More on a philosophical stance, science is not an ideology nor should it be “defended” as seems to be the current trend amongst pop scientist. It speaks for itself. Once we begin defending it it becomes ideology, and here is where the problems arise as we lose the original purpose of science, rigorous, replicable thought that accounts for ALL potential variables, implicitly or explicitly.

  • Chris H.

    Monsanto has done some extremely terrible stuff as a company. Big agribusiness corporations have massive amounts of power and influence, they hurt smaller farmers, and they get insane subsidies to produce unhealthy food. The ethical question of whether or not genes or species should be patentable, or copyrightable by giant corporations has never even been addressed in any meaningful way by the public…just by lobbyists. Increasing the availability of corn and meat products is probably not ideal for the overall health of society, for the environment, or for animal welfare.

    You can argue against GMO corporations and big agribusiness on every single one of those points, and make a powerful and convincing case for them being gross, unethical companies that should be held accountable and scrutinized. But the research to date shows that ‘lab’ GMOs, as a whole, are not inherently more dangerous than selectively-bred GMOs – but by focusing on that as the issue, you’re actually putting the spotlight on the one aspect of these businesses that isn’t actively harming people.

    • Adam’s Shadow

      I see something similar happening in regards to Big Ag with where I live in central California: these huge ag. conglomerate companies are pumping groundwater out at record levels to water their crops, and it’s not only hurting the environment, it’s exacerbating an already devastating drought. Private and small farm wells are going dry all over the place while local water districts sell their “surplus” groundwater to these companies. rBGH use is now the least of people’s worries.

  • scottmercer

    This is the argument always brought up by the anti-GMO arguer. There can’t possibly be no difference between foods achieved by simple cross breeding that has been going on since Gregor Mendel, and manipulation of genes at the molecular level in the deeply proprietary laboratories of Monsanto, especially when you stick pieces of DNA from animals into living plants. That’s too far! Natural selection just doesn’t DO that! This seems to make “common sense”, but is true? Where are the studies? Tyson makes a good point. Both types of manipulation, plain old cross breeding and DNA manipulation, BOTH have the ability to cause harm; blowback which we will only find out about later. The way to respond is to be on the lookout for it, because Monsanto sure as hell isn’t going to stop what they’re doing. And even if GMOs are outlawed fully, we still have the negative consequences of plain old cross breeding to worry about. Check out Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D. He makes a good case that interbreeding of wheat since 1950 to increase yields is to a large degree culpable for the vast obesity problems facing the Western world today.

  • polfilmblog

    He had nothing to add in the first place. Idiot doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He repeatedly tries to conflate selective breeding with gene transplantation, as if they are the same thing. That’s Monsanto propaganda for the rubes.

    Why are people posting this tool’s ramblings?

    • Echar Lailoken

      To expose his ramblings to the internet global brain?

  • jasonpaulhayes

    I’ve often wondered if the father of GMOs (Norman Borlaug) would agree with gene splicing as a method for creation of food crops. His work was limited to selective breeding and he’s responsible for saving the lives of over 1 billion human beings.