An open letter to a fallen hero
We think you’ll enjoy the refreshingly direct challenge below to Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”, over his Netflix show propagandising for GMOs.
The challenge comes from Robert Schooler, the Cornell student who is countering his university’s propagandising for GMOs by creating an alternative course on GMOs, with lectures given by experts independent of the industry.
Check out the videos of the Cornell lectures here.
We’ve taken the liberty of starring out the fruitier language of Robert’s article.
Dear Bill Nye: Are you indeed a corporate Monsanto whore? An open letter to my fallen hero
GMOWTF, May 1, 2017
[links to sources at the URL above]
* “People will take to the internet and call you a corporate whore!” - Bill Nye in his latest episode on GMOs
Challenge accepted, Bill! Let’s examine whether your latest Netflix show does indeed make you a "corporate whore", to use your own terminology. More importantly, let’s figure out together how you can avoid such harsh criticisms in the future, and save your tarnished reputation.
Dear Bill Nye,
My name is Robert. I’m a student at your alma mater, Cornell University. I recently watched episode four of your new Netflix show, “Bill Nye Saves the World”, in which you addressed the topic of GMOs.
Bill, let’s be honest: your new episode on GMOs is absolute f***ing poppycock - and it has significantly damaged your reputation. The entire series feels like cheap propaganda, and I literally feel stupider after wasting my time watching it. I'm not alone in feeling this way. Read the reviews of your latest work, which is pulling in an impressive 3.6/10 rating on IMBd.
If you continue to make similar content, you will completely sacrifice your credibility as a science communicator. Truth be told, many feel that your credibility to speak on GMOs, agriculture, and other subjects is already gone.
Don’t take this the wrong way, Bill ... I’m trying to help you out. Please read on.
You seem to have embraced several of the most popular scientific myths regarding GMOs (and agriculture in general): that they are no riskier to eat than other foods, that they pose negligible risk to the ecosystem, that there is a scientific consensus on their safety, that genetic engineering is “precise”, and that we "need" to produce more food.
I call them “myths” because that’s exactly what they are: fantasies, often rabidly promoted by the biotech industry, in favor of actual scientific truth. More on this in a moment. First, I’d like to talk about how much you mean to my generation, as a science educator and communicator.
Before your latest show, I was a huge fan of yours - all throughout my pre-university years, in fact! Primarily because your actually fantastic show, “Bill Nye The Science Guy”, offered a much-desired and entertaining reprieve to regular schoolwork. On those cherished days of the semester, our teacher would roll out the TV system or projector, and the entire classroom would burst with joy the moment it became clear that some “Bill Nye” was in store! I'm not making this up ... before you lost credibility with your latest Netflix blunder, you truly were the most memorable and important science educator for millions of young science enthusiasts worldwide! You are indeed partly responsible for my dream of studying science at an elite university, which for me turned out to be your alma mater! Oh what joy.
In my freshman year at Cornell, I took an entry-level astronomy course taught in Uris Hall, one of the largest auditoriums on campus. If I recall correctly, attendance regularly clocked in at just 25 percent of total enrollment. I was of course present at every lecture ;)
Then, word spread that you were coming in to give a guest lecture! That fateful day, not a single seat was empty, and there were students literally crammed in the aisles. We certainly broke the fire code, and many of us would have surely perished in the event of a freak blaze ... all to merely be graced by your presence, Bill!
My point: you sure are one loved, respected, and incredibly popular science guy. I would hope that you would use your great power with great responsibility (à la Spiderman) and only choose to express the truth, to the best of your ability, on all subjects …
… except, on your new show, you defend and promote the corporate GMO agriculture paradigm, complete with hip-hop trap beats, famous social media icons, and Monsanto executives. For good measure, you sprinkled in some obvious logical fallacies, self-contradictions, and scientific mistruths. You also marginalize any authentic concerns about Monsanto’s frightening behavior with some cheesy jokes. Great job!
You see Bill, I’m well aware of the classic biotech industry lies regarding GMOs and agriculture, and have been for some years now. They aren’t hard to debunk. In fact, I hosted an independent lecture series at Cornell, all about GMOs and agriculture, in direct response to the blatant corporate GMO propaganda I experienced on campus, in the classroom, and beyond. I’m hoping you will take the time to go through the lectures yourself, as you seem rather confused on the science of genetic modification.
For the rest of this open letter, however, I’ve taken some of your more brazenly false GMO claims and countered them with evidence presented during my independent GMO lecture project. All quoted passages are directly lifted from your own show, by the way. Onward!
“Hi, I’m Bill Nye. I’m Here to Save the World! ... and the world needs more food, and less hyperbole, less hype. That’s why I want to talk to you about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs!”
Wow, what a statement. I had to laugh out loud when I heard you open your show with this remark.
Why? Because the entire GMO agriculture industry is built on hype and hyperbole: Golden rice! Nitrogen-fixing crops! Glowing plants! Synthetically improved photosynthesis! Vaccine crops!
The only thing that would have made this quote real and contextual is if you followed it with an episode that actually criticized GMOs as they deserve, and documented the severe GMO hyperbole rampant everywhere: in industry, in media, in universities, et cetera.
Instead, you had the Monsanto CTO (Robb Fraley) on your guest panel, who you described as your acquaintance. This is absolutely disturbing in the context of your quote referenced above: few entities have relied on more hype, hyperbole, and indeed scientific obfuscation and corruption, than f***ing Monsanto, Bill.
Apparently this is no concern to you, as a defender of science and reason. More on Monsanto and Robb Fraley (!) in just a moment.
The fact that you actually named your episode “More Food, Less Hype”, in which you uncritically defend GMO crops, saddens me deeply. You make only passing references to the failures of GM crops. These failures (golden rice, superweeds, yield drag/lag, genetic contamination, scientific deceit, unfulfilled promises) should have been the main focus of your show. Instead, you went the propaganda route. Before I hear you moan about my use of the word "propaganda", let's define it:
“information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular cause or point of view”
Are we on the same page still? I'll stand by my claim that your show is propaganda.
By the way, strictly speaking, we don’t need more food. We produce enough to feed even a peak population on Earth. Instead, we collectively waste much of our food resources. We fail to distribute it to those in need. In fact, MOST GMO foods directly feed factory farmed animals (#1 climate change GHG contributor, BILL) instead of, you know, actual people. We certainly don’t "need" GMO crops, as your own episode self-admits in a bizarre display of cognitive dissonance.
“It happens in nature by the way!”
You claim that sweet potatoes are an example of a “natural” transgenic crop, one with DNA from multiple species. While strictly true, you make a clear false equivalence fallacy in comparing this to man-made genetic engineering techniques.
I’m very familiar with this sweet potato claim. We should start calling it the “sweet potato fallacy” due to its recent ubiquity. The professors in Cornell’s scientifically bogus and deeply biased “GMO Debate” course used it as justification for why we don’t need GMO labeling, along with dozens of other dubious claims. This horrendous excuse for an academic course was actually the main inspiration behind my independent course on the same subject at Cornell.
In his portion of the course, Michael Hansen PhD (a global expert in GMO science and policy for over 30 years) clearly explains how the scientists behind the sweet potato claim are both flat-out wrong and intentionally deceitful. It’s your lucky day, Bill. You can watch Michael explain all of this here, and update your perspective so you can stop misleading you viewers! Yay!
Long story short, sweet potatoes don’t justify or rationalize the safety or sanity of man-made GMOs. In fact, the actual science behind sweet potatoes, and other naturally transgenic crops, sheds light onto why man-made GMO crops are still so risky and unscientific. With GMOs, we artificially introduce an entire gene cassette with aggressive viral promoters in ways which would never occur in nature, period. The reason genetic engineers do this is because transgenic DNA is almost always silenced by the target organism (crop), as is the case with the humble sweet potato. These “engineering” techniques come with unique risks, again marginalized and dismissed by the biotech industry. Please resist being led astray by anti-scientific claims about GMO safety, Bill. Please. Bill?
“BTW about that Bt … We have been spraying Bt liquids and powders on ‘organic’ crops for years!”
Oh Bill. Really? Another false equivalence? Trying to set a record? Nice “air quotes” in reference to organic agriculture, by the way. What were you attempting to imply with that, exactly?
But I digress. Back to the Bt. You lead your viewers to believe that because Bt toxin is manually applied to so-called “organic” crops (air quotes!), GMO Bt insecticidal crops pose no additional safety or ecological risks. This is a terribly constructed scientific argument that falls apart rather quickly when the actual facts about Bt crops are revealed.
In fact, you’re in luck once again! Jonathan Latham, a virologist, recorded an entire lecture on the unique risks of Bt GMOs for my independent GMO course at Cornell! Please watch it so you can stop the flow of scientific misinformation from you to your fans. Here's the Q/A session for the lecture, by the way. Please Bill, just watch it! I’ll sum up the main points for you:
The Bt toxin genetically engineered into crops is substantially different, scientifically, from organic Bt toxin, both in physical composition and real-world effect. In fact, engineered Bt toxin is often designed, by Monsanto and others, to be substantially different (read: more toxic) than natural Bt. However, some of the differences appear to be unintended and accidental.
BTW about that Bt, Bill, there seems to be some key scientific differences in spraying highly degradable Bt toxin directly on plants, versus engineering a substantially different (more toxic) version to be expressed in every cell of the plant. Of course, a middle school science student could have predicted that pest organisms would evolve resistance to such blatant overuse of Bt technology … and they would have been correct. Indeed, more correct than some historic industry lies on Bt GMOs.
There’s a lot more to say about Bt crops. Too bad you didn’t make any of this clear to your viewers. Next time, I guess.
“It’s clear that GMOs are not so cut and dry. Even some really smart people have concerns! So to talk about this, we have yet another panel of experts!”
After a few light-hearted jabs at the low intellectual capacity of farmers market patrons, you claim that some “really smart” people have concerns about genetically engineered crops. You then proceed to invite three distinctly pro-GMO guests for a panel discussion on your show.
One of these guests is the CTO of f***ing Monsanto, Robb Fraley.
During the course of the panel, he erroneously claims that we’ve been “genetically modifying” our food from the beginning of time, with an actual reference to the (!) “early cavemen”. He also uses what I've dubbed the “insulin fallacy”, which basically goes: “we have GE insulin, so we need GM crops too”. He then commits the all-too-common “precision fallacy”, claiming that we can genetically engineer crops “very, very precisely”, which is of course the opposite of the current scientific reality, as Allison Wilson eloquently explains for my independent GMO course. Q/A found here. Just f***ing watch it, Bill.
That’s three scientific fallacies, from one Monsanto executive, in under 60 seconds. Anti-Science.
Then, when you ask him “why does everybody hate Monsanto so much?!” (LOL) he responds with “we’re a good company!” … Good Lord, Bill. Why does everyone hate Monsanto? Maybe because they are the prime example of a corporation obfuscating scientific truth and integrity in order to gain power and economic benefit? But hey, what the f*** do I know?
Robb then claims that the image problems associated with Monsanto can be blamed on the corporation’s “lack of outreach” to the general public about GMO food. You know, by fighting the labeling of said crops, tooth and nail, every step of the way, from the beginning of GMO food commercialization?
What a joke. What a f***ing joke, Bill. The real question you should be asking is:
"Why aren't I, Bill Nye, defender of science and supposed environmentalist, diametrically opposed to everything Monsanto represents, given their obvious anti-science tendencies and continued participation in blatant environmentally destructive practices? Why can't I seem to speak out against such atrocities? Who am I? What is life?" - The questions Bill Nye should be asking himself, instead of hanging with Monsanto executives. Not a real Bill Nye quote. Yet.
I've been asking similar questions, Bill, when you cross my mind these days. C'mon bro.
“You guys used to make Agent Orange, right?”
Are you trying to look ridiculous, by inviting a guest with such obvious conflicts of interest? Or do you actually take all of this seriously? Bill? Earth to Bill?
Yes, Monsanto did invent Agent Orange. Furthermore, the biotech industry (namely Dow) is trying to pass crops engineered with 2,4-D (1/2 of the Agent Orange formula) resistance onto the market ... WHY? Because glyphosate herbicide tolerance is failing! This is called a pesticide treadmill, my friend. You glossed over this almost entirely on your show.
“Mexico is another one, They’re corn is sort of sacred to them …. They don’t want us messing with their corn!”
Fred Gould of the NAS report unleashed this gem of a quote about Mexican corn on your panel. I guess corn is “sort of” sacred to Mexicans. You know, maybe because it’s the geographical and cultural center of origin for all corn on the entire planet?!
Hey Bill, maybe you should have had Ignacio Chapela on to talk about his research into Monsanto’s genetic contamination of heirloom corn in Mexico ... the peer-reviewed and replicated science that triggered a massive backlash of ridicule from Monsanto and other biotech players? How anti-scientific of Monsanto to suppress and marginalize such research, right Bill? Bill!
Maybe that’s another reason why everybody hates Monsanto? Again, what do I know. Have a tasty quote from Ignacio:
“I am living proof of what happens when biotech buys a university. The first thing that goes is independent research. The university is a delicate organism. When its mission and orientation are compromised, it dies. Corporate biotechnology is killing this university.” -Ignacio Chapela
By the way, that NAS report on GMOs, hawked by your guest Fred, is suspect as well … but I’ll let you do your own research to keep this letter somewhat short. Also, if you still think GMOs are magically and scientifically safe, please watch lecture ten from my independent GMO series. Claire Robinson shreds yet another biotech industry myth.
“People will take to the internet and call you a corporate whore!”
And we come to the closing of your episode. You give GMOs a facelift by converting the acronym to “OMG”. Then the trap beat starts up again (“Bill! Bill! Bill!”) and you dance the remaining bits of your GMO episode (and credibility) away. Off into the sunset.
You say people will call you a corporate whore for your GMO ideology. I wonder why, Bill? Maybe it’s because all your concerns about GMOs were completely resolved with one visit to Monsanto HQ? Maybe it has something to do with your ridiculous show on GMOs, which looks to me and everyone else like blatant propaganda? Maybe some other elusive, yet to be discovered reason?
I want to help you, Bill Nye.
I hope I haven’t terribly offended you in this open letter, by using and refuting direct quotes from your own show, with, you know, science. You see, I’m passionate about correcting the classic biotech industry lies about GMOs and genetic modification, particularly at your alma mater, Cornell. I apologize if my emotions got the better of me. I’m just tired of everyone at my university being lied to and propagandized, year in and year out.
There is a way out of your self-inflicted hell, Bill. All you need to do is make an episode correcting the mistruths you (unintentionally, or otherwise) spread on your new show, “Bill Nye Saves the World”.
It’s not necessarily your fault that you believe what you believe about GMOs. There has never been a more aggressive campaign to dismiss the less-than-rosy science, policy, and regulation behind GM foods. Fortunately for you, Bill, you’re reading this letter, and can begin the process of your scientific redemption immediately. I guarantee if you take my advice, people will immediately stop calling you a corporate whore and start celebrating your sanity, honesty, and intellectual courage.
Here’s what you have to do:
First, put out a statement apologizing for misleading your fans and viewers.
It needn’t be long-winded like my letter to you ;) Just make clear that you made some mistakes with your understanding of the science of genetic engineering, and failed to honestly cover all sides of the issue.
Second, record a second episode going over the actual science of GMOs, as I outlined in this letter.
Based on my recent work, I’m fortunate enough to be in touch with dozens of scientists who would be more than happy to set the record straight on GMOs and agriculture. Just give them a voice, Bill. That’s all you need to do. Bonus points if you can record a follow-up episode for season two of “Saves The World” … but if you are indeed a corporate whore, I doubt your Monsanto overlords would be pleased with such a development. Not to worry, just post the damned follow-up episode to Youtube, for all to see.
Third, avoid associating with ecologically destructive anti-science corporations for the rest of your life.
You do know that Monsanto is a distinctly anti-science organization, right? I mean, they’ve ghost-written regulatory papers about their own products, to give but one minor example. They refuse to take responsibility for all the ecological damage they have done and continue to do. They are perhaps the least-qualified entity on the planet to be allowed to use the tools of genetic engineering. The solution is simple: stop associating with them! Stop interviewing their executives. Stop going to their HQ in St. Louis. Start criticizing them as they deserve.
You seem to have doubled down on the worst aspects of the biotech industry. This is a bad career move in this day and age, Bill. It’s going to get harder and harder to defend Monsanto, as more and more evidence of their sheer insanity comes to light.
It’s not too late to turn back. You say you want to “Save the World”, yet associate with those destroying it. Please Bill, for the love of all things science: don’t be a so-called "corporate whore". Come to the light. It’s much more fun over here.
You inspired me to study science, back when you were reasonably cool. Don't turn others away from science by telling them they have to uncritically embrace GMO food.
By the way, thanks for not totally dismissing veganism as a solution to climate change, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson does. I appreciate you going "increasingly vegetarian", as you put it. But since you believe that we should actually imprison those that refuse to believe in climate change, don't you think it's time to have your actions reflect as boldly as your words do? Especially considering methane is more potent than CO2, and mitigating methane is faster and more direct route toward solving climate change?
GMOWTF is an independent project, created by me, Robert Schooler. If you want to see more articles like this, and more Youtube videos, lectures, interviews, and continued educational activism, please consider donating or supporting me on Patreon. Or, pre-order my documentary! Thanks for helping me set the record straight at Cornell University and beyond. Someone needs to un-brainwash these students, I guess I'm the best shot this place has (lol). Cheers! - Robert Schooler