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Vox Off to a Good Start on GMOs

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Vox.com is a new news site that aims to do things a bit differently. Led by Ezra Klein, formerly of the Washington Post “Wonk Blog,” news stories at Vox are supposed to rely more on data, and actually provide the data behind stories so that readers can judge for themselves. Klein made a name for himself as a master explainer of complicated topics (hence the name of his WaPo blog), and has hired a group of writers that he believes will be able to do the same.

Klein is undoubtably a liberal voice, but seems to value data above ideology, and policy above politics:

The silver lining is that politics doesn’t just take place in Washington. The point of politics is policy. And most people don’t experience policy as a political argument. They experience it as a tax bill, or a health insurance card, or a deployment. And, ultimately, there’s no spin effective enough to persuade Americans to ignore a cratering economy, or skyrocketing health-care costs, or a failing war. A political movement that fools itself into crafting national policy based on bad evidence is a political movement that will, sooner or later, face a reckoning at the polls.

Peanut plants fed to lesser cornstalk borer larvae. The bottom plant was genetically engineered to express Bt Cry proteins. Source: Wikimedia commons

As a scientist, this approach warms my heart, but from the beginning, I suspected that the biggest test of this position would be the debate around genetically modified organisms. It’s easy for liberals to take principled stands about data when it comes to global warming, since the science is on the side of the liberal position. But GMOs are a hot-button issue for liberals, with many on the left skeptical or downright hostile to GMO, taking stands and believing facts in clear contradiction of scientific evidence. I was a bit worried about how Klein’s outfit would treat the issue.

Happily, they’ve stood up to the test, rightly declaring that GMOs currently on the market are safe, but spelling out dissenting opinions and providing nuanced analysis about potential problems. They acknowledge legitimate concerns without scaremongering, and don’t overhype potential benefits. Basically, they’ve distilled Nathanael Johnson‘s phenomenal reporting at Grist into a series of easily digestible bits of concentrated opinion (I don’t know if they actually consulted Johnson’s stuff, but if you need any of Vox’s stuff flushed out, be sure to check out that series).

I think I’ll be keeping those Vox “cards” bookmarked right alongside Johnson’s posts – they’ve got the data right, they’re skeptical where it’s warranted but categorical about the things that are facts. I can’t find any fault with this reporting, and as a guy that cares about data-driven policy, it makes me very happy to have this news outlet reporting in a way that values the same thing that I do: science.

Kevin Bonham About the Author: Kevin Bonham is a Curriculum Fellow in the Microbiology and Immunobiology department at Harvard Medical school. He received his PhD from Harvard, where he studied how the cells of the immune system detect the presence of infectious microbes. Find him on Google+, Reddit. Follow on Twitter @Kevbonham.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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