Beyond the lunatic fringe: Vandana Shiva

Protecting our freedoms is hard. Consider freedom of speech, where we must defend the right-to-say-nonsense of charlatans like Vandana Shiva. Here's Mark Lynas:

Speaking of the lunatic fringe, someone else who claims scientific credentials is Vandana Shiva, probably the most prominent Indian anti-biotechnology activist, who incidentally draws much larger audiences than this one to her fiery speeches about the evils of Monsanto and all things new in agriculture. Shiva tweeted after my Oxford speech that me saying that farmers should be free to use GMO crops was like giving rapists the freedom to rape.

That is obscene and offensive, but actually is not the half of it. Let me give you my all-time favourite Vandana Shiva quote, regarding the so-called terminator technology, on which she launches constant blistering attacks without once acknowledging the salient fact that it was never actually developed.

“The danger that the terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or the natural environment is a serious one. The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet”.

Now, I’ve said and done some pretty stupid things in my time, but this one takes some beating. You don’t need the intelligence of a Richard Dawkins or indeed a Charles Darwin to understand that sterility is not a great selective advantage when it comes to reproduction, hence the regular observed failure of sterile couples to breed large numbers of children.

As Shiva’s case so clearly shows, if we reject data-driven empiricism and evidence as the basis for identifying and solving problems, we have nothing left but vacuous ideology and self-referential myth-making. Indeed in many related areas, like nuclear power, the environmental movement has already done great harm to the planet, even as it has rightly helped raise awareness in other areas such as deforestation, pollution and biodiversity loss.