On May 30, the global group March Against Monsanto (see GLP Facts) held its third coordinated protest in hundreds of cities around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people reportedly participated. But what does this group really stand for beyond their obvious disdain for one company, Monsanto, and biotechnology? One student in Madagascar embarked on a mission to find out by setting up a fake “Madagascar Against Monsanto” group and posting outrageous pictures and statements, to see if activists would embrace or reject his bizarre extremism. What happened?
“Sir, I am afraid for my future, afraid because March Against Monsanto has threatened me and my community,” Navid Rakotofala told me amidst a fury of reactions to his unconventional expose prank to explore just how outrageously far “mainstream” anti-GMO activists would go to to spread their message.
Navid is my protege at the University of Toliara in the southwest of Madagascar. He doesn’t attend the university but he has assisted me as a volunteer to translate my courses for over a year now. In exchange, I’ve helped him improve his English by teaching him about the growing field of psychology of science (POS); that is, how our brains create and relate to this thing we call science. There’s no better way to teach POS than to contrast unhealthy and healthy scientific discourse. In my personal opinion, there are few examples of unhealthy science discourse more clear than the extreme vocalists of the anti-biotechnology movement.
Well, Navid took my message to heart, and despite my concerns, he created quite the prank to coincide with the May 30 March Against Monsanto to challenge the way the group’s supporters engage this issue. They often seem more interested in promoting their views regardless of whether the science is behind them or whether people will actually be helped by what they are advocating. He set up an intriguing hoax to evaluate their sincerity. The fall out from this teen’s hijinx are extremely telling, and should serve as a clarion call to those open to reconsidering their scientific and ethical positions on genetic engineering. Navid’s project speaks for itself, let me just share some highlights from how this extremist group responded.
Madagascar is not much involved in this debate. We don’t have any approved genetically modified crops but our impoverished country might benefit greatly if Golden Rice or other enhanced GMO products were approved. For the most part, we are observers to what seems like a loud and often silly debate about GM safety. In the days before the global event, Navid set up a fake blogspot, a fictitious Madagascar branch of the March Against Monsanto.
Navid begins his prank
Over the following days, he started posting anti-GMO and anti-Monsanto manifestoes. Here are his outrageous posts that he put up in the days before the March. Click on a tile to view full-size.
Navid then started posting pictures of his friends whom he had given anti-GMO signs, each more outrageous then the next. “I made the signs and gave them to my friends to see what your group would say,” he would later write to the March Against Monsanto leaders. Click on each tile to view full-size.
Finally, the big day arrived and Navid detailed the fictitious Madagascar March Against Monsanto in lurid detail, making sure to hit all the inflammatory notes that anti-GMO activists strike on their websites.
Dustin Eirdosh is research director for The Positive Education Action-Research (PEAR) Laboratory, Faculty of Life Science