Controversy is a strange phenomenon …
We’ve had speakers from big corporations before: Sharon Moore from IBM talking tech innovation in transport … no-one batted an eyelid. We’ve had speakers talk about GMOs before: Most notably Myles Power telling us why GMOs Will Kill Us All (spoiler alert – they won’t) … that event came and went without comment or criticism.
So why is it that the mere mention of Monsanto sends the Internet into overdrive? It’s relatively rare that our events get shared or commented on by anyone outside our group, but when we announced that we were to be hosting Monsanto’s Director of Millenial Engagement, Vance Crowe, it wasn’t long before the rumblings began:
- A torrent of Twitter tirades
- Numerous negative comments on the Facebook event: “He’s not even a scientist“, “He’s going to get DESTROYED“, “I’ll give the BRAINWASHING a miss“ to name but a few.
- Some regular attendees expressed dismay at us hosting someone from Monsanto, and posted various articles which were critical of (a) GMOs, (b) Monsanto, or (c) Both
- A nice write up we got in Scottish Farmer was repurposed to form the basis of a scathing article from a blogger … featuring claims of a lack of objectivity and other such pleasantries
- The culmination … an article in Natural News – arguably the epicentre of pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s worth noting that the Glasgow Skeptics team were delighted with this dubious accolade. High fives all round!
We at Glasgow Skeptics are no strangers to controversy, so our response to all this criticism was “Come along. Listen to what is said, and then let’s have a rigorous Q&A session”.
The Q&A itself certainly didn’t disappoint. It read like a compilation of Monsanto’s ‘Greatest Hits’:
- Lawsuits against Farmers
- Terminator Seeds
- Suicides of Indian Farmers
- Toxicity of Roundup vs Organic Pesticides (yes, organic farmers DO use pesticides)
- Superweeds (not super weed)
- Scotland’s Ban on Growing GMO Crops
- Is Glyphosate a Carcinogen?
- The Monarch Butterfly
- Roundup Resistance
… and much much more!
But let’s rewind a little ….
Expectations before the event were of verbal fireworks. A flame war of opposing opinions. Fact vs counter fact. Allegation versus defence. Placards and protesters. Heckling and harassment.
We had contacted Scotland Against Monsanto, The Scottish Green Party, and even the SNP (the primary decision makers in Scotland’s GMO ban) about the event, but to the best of our knowledge no representatives from any of those organizations showed up. Perhaps that’s why Vance had an ‘easier’ time of it than we might have initially predicted. That being said, we did manage to get ourselves an actual farmer in the audience – a strangely neglected group when it comes to discussions about farming.
As you’d expect, Vance is a very polished presenter, and communicator in general. He’s a likable guy and is very easy on the eye (although we don’t expect the hashtag #monsantohunk to go viral). He kicked off his presentation with a lengthy explanation of his slightly unusual job title, how he came to get the job, and more importantly, why the job is necessary in the first place:
“If I discover that this company is as evil as everyone thinks that it is, then I’m going to get to leave this company and go write the greatest tell-all book of all time. And if it’s not, well then you’ve discovered an enormous problem: A company and technology that is being deeply misrepresented”
Following this he covered how he got stuck into the job. A nice tip of the hat to Myles Power’s coverage of the Roundup toxicity allegations, and his interactions with March Against Monsanto protesters. The rest of the presentation talked about the development of modern agriculture as we know it today, some of the many challenges faced by farmers (particularly in developing countries), and what solutions are being worked on to tackle them – including the hot topics of genetic modification and Roundup. Vance ended the talk by saying he was happy to talk about ANYTHING during the Q&A . The questions came thick and fast – probably the longest Q&A session we’ve ever had at a Glasgow Skeptics event
How did he respond to these questions? Well, why not check out the audio for yourself (see below), and make an informed judgment.
We at Glasgow Skeptics were happy to run this event despite the accusation of us being shills, or some kind of second-hand PR arm for Monsanto.
We value facts and evidence, but also acknowledge that things are frequently much more complex and nuanced than you would ever imagine if you only ever read one side of the argument. We gave plenty of opportunity for dissenting voices to bring their arguments to the table to avoid accusations of being one-sided … but many of those internet warriors simply failed to show up.
Finally – we’d like to give some kudos to those regular attendees who had expressed concern about the event: They came along, they listened, they asked excellent questions … and then we went upstairs to the bar and had some great follow-on conversations over a few pints. That’s pretty much exactly what we hope to achieve with our events. Job done!