James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

December 14, 2009

You Think I’m Evil… What Next?

Filed under: Link Posts — Tags: , , , — James @ 11:18 am

I’m a public sector plant biologist. Your tax dollars at work for better or worse. But even I have had similar encounters to the one Janice so accurately describes in this post I was pointed to on twitter*:

I asked what she does and she says mostly volunteer work now.  She asks me and I reply that I work in the cotton business for a company that improves seeds… its Monsanto & the seeds are called Deltapine.

There was an audible gasp, and her eyes opened so much it startled me. She said “Monsanto is evil.” This is where the stress came in. I have read this before, but the fact that I was hearing it today since I’d been making a lot of effort to stay positive seemed like a test. Really. And to have the person, who I’ve pleasantly visited with for five minutes, looking right at me like I’m evil,having just said that heard I am part of Monsanto. It was certainly a test…a test of the Janice-response system.

Seriously, how often do you call someone evil & mean it? She was dead serious.

But the moral of this post isn’t that it sucks to be a plant biologist, it’s that, as painful as it is to have someone look to in the face, and call you evil, there’s still the chance for engagement. At this point I probably would have either changed the subject or put in my iPhone earbuds and hoped the flight would be over soon, but Janice didn’t get mad, didn’t drop the subject, and it sounds like she actually managed to get the other woman to reconsider her categorical opposition to biotechnology. I highly recommend reading her whole post.

*Thanks @MikeHowie and @cornguy


  1. I appreciate your comments. We all have a very important role in advocating for ag, and that sometimes means facing tough discussion starters like the one I had yesterday. By the way, plant biologists rock!

    Comment by Janice P — December 14, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  2. On behalf of myself and all the other plant biologists I work with: Thanks!

    Comment by James — December 14, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  3. This morning when I got up, my Twitter feed was full of a group of people defending Monsanto from another group of people attacking it. The two groups don’t actually talk to one another and mostly weren’t talking about the same stuff, so the points made by one side don’t generally address the points made by the other, nor am I really in a position to verify any of it. So it was a confusing morning. Making matters worse, one side appears to be (everything else being equal) anti-science (or at least not pro-science), and the other side appears to lean pro-corporate (or at least not anti-corporate), so there’s no side I’m naturally drawn to or feel like I fit in with.

    I have ideas about how to resolve this for myself, but time has so far conspired to keep me from acting on the plans.

    Comment by mr_subjunctive — December 14, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

  4. I think I can at least kind of relate to what you’re saying. Personally I’m much more pro-science than I am anti-corporate, but today and yesterdays twitter debate does seem to be mostly over business practices rather than science (which is why you haven’t seen me weighing in at all).

    I don’t see any contraction between being pro-biotech and admitting Monsanto, as a company, does many things I disagree with (and some of the stuff in the AP report that got the recent debate going definitely falls into the category of things I don’t think companies should be able to get away with). So you’re not entirely alone.

    Best of luck in your attempt to resolve the issue for yourself, I’d be interested to hear more.

    Comment by James — December 14, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

  5. Conversations between two people are manageable. But most of the conversations I’m involved in are on the blogs with groups.

    I’ve tried data, to no avail. I’ve tried education, to no avail. And I’ll admit I do get testy when the same lies are repeated for the 400th time by people that you know have been shown the actual data because you showed them yourself.

    Earlier this year I read the book Vaccine, hoping to learn about the strategies that might have some impact on people uninclined to science and evidence. But I’m afraid that ended on a depressing note: those positions are set in stone.

    Climate. Vaccines. Evolution. Plant biotechnology. I’m seeing the same exact strategies on nanotech now too. I wish I knew what worked on the anti-science adherents. Please. Tell me.

    Comment by Mary — December 14, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  6. Mary, I think part of that might be self selection of who actually engages in debate on the blogs. There are plenty of people, like the woman described in this post, who are dead set in their thinking about biotech, but either never venture into the parts of the internet where the topic is debated or if they do, do so only are lurkers.

    The people you and I actually argue with the the MOST hardened anti-genetic engineering, anti-science in general types and personally I don’t expect to ever with any of them over. I’m willing to call it a victory if, at the end of the night they’ve come off looking worse than I have, because the people I might actually influence are the lurkers reading along.

    Comment by James — December 14, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  7. Yeah, that’s what I tell myself–that I won’t reach the hard-core, but some of the bystanders or later “googlers” might be reachable. And I can’t let those voices be the only version people in my non-science bloggy sphere will hear.

    I’m afraid if I let it go it will persist on the sites unchallenged, like kudzu….And those people gain credibility as “experts” and when they come and ask people to call their Rep/Senator people will.

    Earlier this year it was a funding bill agricultural research in the third world. This woman was ginning up liberals at this site I go to, to oppose this bill on false pretenses. I can’t let that stand unchallenged. If it wasn’t for my explanation of the bill, they would have opposed this. Any other day if you came to this blog and said “oppose science education in Africa” they’d run you out on a pitchfork.


    Comment by Mary — December 14, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  8. Well then you are frighting the good fight, and more actively than I am. There’s a limited number of times per week I can summon the emotional control to deal calmly and rationally with people who’re happy to accuse anyone who disagrees with them of everything from racism to being a payed corporate shill (and I really think that is the sign of the truly lost, that they can’t even imagine a reason anyone might disagree with them other than being payed off.)

    There’s definitely potential in nonscience-y sites, where until recently the only voices that sounded knowledgeable about ag were the organic/local/slow food advocates. There are lots of people whose opinions aren’t set in stone, but are mostly hearing only from one side of the debate (and even the worst pseudo-science can sound quite convincing in the absence of knowledgeable objections).

    Comment by James — December 14, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  9. It really takes time and asbestos pant suits to do this. And that’s part of why I keep doing it–I have both. People have written to me on background to thank me for what I do there. Scientists who can’t do it themselves.

    Of course, I also have had hate mail as a result as well.

    Comment by Mary — December 15, 2009 @ 7:16 am

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