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It never ceases to amaze me how low people will go in order to push a political agenda.  Brian John, of GM-Free Cymru, did just that in his open letter to Mark Lynas dated February 10, 2013.  You may recall Mark Lynas’ powerful address to the Oxford Farming Conference in early January where he apologized for assisting in the demonization of GM, a technology that can be used to benefit the environment. It is a technology that Lynas now defends:

“What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.” M. Lynas

As a social scientist, much of my work revolves around the qualitative analysis of interview data and text-based analysis.  Words and language and how they are used to communicate are revealing about people, their circumstances or their position on a given social issue.

Out of curiosity, I took the liberty of using “Wordle” to generate some word clouds to contrast and compare the text in Mark Lynas’ speech (January 3, 2013) with the text of John’s ‘open letter’ to Lynas (posted February 10th). Here are the results:

Wordle ‘word cloud’ of the text of Mark Lynas’ lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference:

Bjohn vs Lynas 2

text of Mark Lynas’ lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference – Jan 3, 2013

Wordle ‘word cloud’ of the text of Brian John’s open letter to Mark Lynas: “Beware the Rise of the Science Stalinist”:

bJohn vs Lynas

Text of B. John’s open letter to Mark Lynas, Feb 10, 2013

Mark’s speech starts with “I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops.”

John’s letter to Mark begins with the ‘Stalinist’ reference and then goes to… “I want to address just one issue arising from your recent high-profile conversion into a GM evangelist.” (From there on, John ‘ties’ into the collective effort of independent reputable scientists to ask for the retraction of a poorly executed study by Séralini and his team; a study that has since been discredited by several food safety organizations worldwide (including but not limited to: Health Canada, European Food Safety Authority, French National Institute for Agriculture Research, CNRS, Inserm, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, National Centre for Scientific Review… check out my previous blog entry)).

So, how about those terms of reference? In his address, Mark uses words like: hope, world, growth, innovation, farmers, think, better.  B. John uses words like (well, once you get past the lists of ‘villains’ and ‘victims’): attacks, zealots, beware, vilification, witches, burning, Rottweilers.

What a marked difference.

Words are powerful.  They are a form of action; they can influence change. As we try to elevate the discourse around the GM debate, the kind of language we use matters. It is a reflection of our intent and our willingness to engage in a thought-provoking and proactive manner. Brian John’s text not only inaccurately represents the facts, but the tone and his choice of words suggest that he is less interested in engaging in constructive dialogue and more interested in purveying rhetoric.

We need to use better words; we need to find a better way.