I'm thrilled to announce a new project I'm working on with my friend, Dr. Chad Hayes. Together we're creating the Parenthetical Science Podcast, which aims to be the podcast where parenting myths and mommy wars go to die. Have a listen to our teaser, check out our website, follow us on social media... and stay tuned, because our first episode will drop next week.
Each episode of The Science Enthusiast Podcast, Dan and I would highlight a reason “Why We Love the Internet.” If I was choosing a reason to love the internet right now, I’d choose the outpouring of reason and critical thinking directed at Stonyfield’s recent marketing malfunction.
A lot of great pieces have been written about Stonyfield, their scientifically illiterate take on GMOs, and the deserved backlash they received, so I wanted to archive them here, as a one-stop shop for anyone who wants the occasional reminder of what it looks like when we put our voices together and stand up for science.
And if these articles aren’t a rad enough reminder of just how many people advocate for science, reason, and critical thinking, go join the Banned by Stonyfield Facebook group.
I spend enough time on the internet to see my share of truly bizarre things (which, sometimes I save in the meme folder on my phone). But today I saw something that made me literally say, “WTF” out loud. (Note: of course I didn’t say “WTF,” but said the actual words in this acronym.)
While scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad from Stonyfield. In this ad, Stonyfield posed a question. The ad asks, “What are GMOs?” To whom did they pose this question, you might be wondering. Did they ask scientists? Did they ask farmers? Did they ask someone whose age at least allows them to operate a motor vehicle? Nah. Instead, Stonyfield asked… children. Young girls, to be more precise.
“That sounds monstrous,” the first girl says. And then we proceed to hear about fish genes and tomatoes, and then I throw my phone across the room… (I didn’t, but I wanted to, because I had reached a maximum level of cringey anger.) “Are you kidding me,” a third girl says. And I wish they were kidding. I wish that Stonyfield was just trolling us here, because the final comment in the video (again, spoken by a young girl) just brings it all home: “I think it’s better if we, like, get informed of it, before we, like, eat it.” Oh, Stonyfield, I couldn't agree more with the idea of "getting informed," but I think we clearly disagree on what "informed" means.
Stonyfield asked what GMOs are. But I’ve got some questions for Stonyfield, namely, “how did this ad manage to get made” and “do you actually feel good about using children as part of a fear-based marketing campaign?” If you want to talk about GMOs, awesome. Find experts (and there’s no shortage of folks who can talk on genetic modification and biotechnology) to define the term. But do not use children. Don’t use children to perpetuate these myths and further demonize biotechnology, all in the name of selling your yogurt pouches.
If anyone from Stonyfield stumbles upon this post, please take a minute and reflect on your marketing tactics. I’m not going to pull the whole “you lost a customer from this” thing, because I wasn’t buying your products as it is. This ad was just the kind of thing that made me become a momentary keyboard warrior, because it’s simply beyond the pale.
And to anyone who’s reading this who chimed in on Stonyfield’s Facebook share of the video: you are the internet heroes we need. Thanks for standing for science and reason.
Sometimes the internet is a dumpster fire. And sometimes… well, sometimes it makes me laugh to the point of tears.
It’s Friday morning, and I’m drinking coffee, reading about how Monsanto maybe mind-controlled me or something (I’m paraphrasing here), and thought I’d let y’all in on what it can be like when you decide to make a pro-biotech film.
You see, the film must’ve been “preshadowed,” because why would I stumble upon a letter about GMOs and decide to make a film about the women who wrote the letter?
There's a conspiratorial mindset around biotechnology, and I understand the instinct to conflate corporate interest with this scientific tool. But, once more for the people in the back... Science Moms isn't an industry-produced film.
Or has the Shilluminati just been confirmed?*
*This is a joke. And I find it hilarious and sad (sadly hilarious?) that I feel the need to make this disclaimer.
Over the past year, I've appeared on a number of podcasts (and, of course, The Science Enthusiast Podcast every week!), talking Science Moms and skeptical parenting. This blog post will be updated with more appearances as they happen, and will be expanded to include appearances by the stars of the film!
Science Mom Appearances:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 6th, 2017) – The internet age has ushered in an era of fear-based marketing and rhetoric targeted to parents, and especially moms, and one group of women is fighting back. “Science Moms,” the 29-minute crowdfunded documentary enjoyed a well-received world premiere at the QED conference in Manchester, UK in mid October, followed by the U.S. premiere at CSIcon in Las Vegas, NV on October 28, 2017. The film is available starting today for download (www.sciencemomsdoc.com).
“As an educator by profession, I encountered way too much evidence-scarce, frightening misinformation about GMOs, vaccines, homeopathy, food, chemicals, the list goes on and on,” says filmmaker Natalie Newell. “When I came across these smart women communicating about fact-based parenting, I realized that this was my chance to tell a different story.”
“Science Moms” features plant geneticist Anastasia Bodnar, PhD, neuroscientist Alison Bernstein, PhD, human molecular geneticist Layla Katiraee, PhD, and science communicators Kavin Senapathy and Jenny Splitter. All are moms of young kids, and all of them are tired of the bad science and ideology so prevalent in the parenting world today.
“We all want what’s best for our kids,” says Bodnar. “We have the facts on our side, but we have to find a common ground to get our message across.”
“Most people don’t realize that the anti-GMO movement isn’t only scientifically unsound, but that it leads unconscionable injustice,” adds Senapathy. “But underlying the negative perceptions of GMOs are justified socio-economic anxieties. We get that.”
The hope is that this film will open a national and even international dialogue around raising kids with facts, rather than fear and hype. “The internet is a vast trove of information. How do we sift through it for what’s credible?”, asks Bernstein. “That’s a conversation that needed to begin yesterday.”
“My daughter has food allergies,” Splitter explains. “It’s incredibly scary, and it’s easy for marketers to prey on that fear.”
“Celebrities are beautiful, with aspirational lifestyles,” Katiraee notes. “But we shouldn’t take their parenting advice without scrutiny. Giving birth doesn’t mean our mommy instinct is correct. That requires evidence.”
Contact Natalie Newell (firstname.lastname@example.org) for screening information, and any of the Science Moms for media inquiries.
It’s become customary to write a post-conference wrap-up blog. So we’ll consider this one the “I’m still tired from CSIcon, but want to say some stuff because it was amazing” blog post.
I sat in the Vegas airport Sunday afternoon, and wrote some thoughts in my notebook (because I’m old-school, and carry a notebook with me). The first thought came to me while texting with Alison and Kavin, lamenting the end of an incredible weekend, but also sharing our hope for this film. I feel like sometimes I’m still trying to define what this film is, or what it can become. Because, as I noted at CSIcon, when I first had this idea two years ago, I believed that Science Moms would be a little passion project that my parents and friends would watch, and then I’d put it somewhere on the internet for whatever eyes might find it. But as I said to Alison and Kavin, I now see this film as a catalyst to help people feel empowered to have conversations about topics they’ve been silent about. The hope is that people will realize that they’re not alone in not wanting to give into the fear and hype around things like vaccines, GMOs, and other pseudoscience that’s invaded the culture of parenting.
The CSIcon experience of the film screening and panel was kind of beyond words. To be in a room full of skeptics, including most of the Science Moms, plus other people who have become my friends over the past couple years, and show and talk about this project... it’s difficult to even explain how that felt. But it was rad, and I savored every moment of it.
So what’s next? That’s a question that I’ve been asked a lot lately, and it’s one that I’ve been asking myself just as much. Of course, I want to get as many eyes on this film as possible, but on a larger scale, I’d love to see the Science Moms narrative to make its way out of the skeptic and scicomm communities and into the mainstream. In his CSIcon talk, Kevin Folta noted that we have facts and evidence on our side. I think it’s our job to continue to humanize the facts and evidence - to tell our stories, to connect with people’s hearts, in the hope of changing minds. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s going to take a village to change this narrative, but I believe it could be done. Who's with me?
Interested in hosting a screening of Science Moms? Click here for more information.
A couple weeks ago, I boarded a plane, headed to Manchester, UK for the QED conference, ready to enjoy a weekend of skepticism (and socializing*) with some of my favorite people. I attended QED for the first time last year, and knew that I wanted to return every year, if possible. And so I returned, but this time brought something special with me. After two years of work, it was time to bring Science Moms to an audience.
Sat between Kavin Senapathy and Myles Power, I watched this passion project of mine with a room full of people for the first time. I’m not going to try to play it cool and say that I didn’t feel some feelings watching it, even though I can’t really count the number of times I’d seen it prior to that morning at QED. It was that feeling of pride in seeing an idea grow and become reality, and the hope that this little film could grow wings and contribute to a movement of critical thinking and rational thought.
I’m writing this the day before I head to CSICon in Vegas for the US premiere of Science Moms. Again, I’ll have the privilege of watching the film with several of its stars (Jenny! Kavin! Layla! Alison!), as well as many people who have supported this project from its inception. My hope is that this is the beginning of the next phase of Science Moms - that the ideas put forth in the film could transcend the screen and contribute to a new parenting narrative.
Many of you who are reading this have likely followed this project for a while, and to all of you, I want to say thank you. Contrary to what Twitter trolls might say, projects like this one, and others in the realm of scicomm and skepticism, are fueled not by industry shillbucks, but by the passion and support of people like you. So, again, thank you.
*To anyone who has never been to QED, the socializing aspect is reason enough to attend. Because sometimes you need to end up spending hours of quality time with a group of awesome weirdos, eating samosas and chips on the streets of Manchester at an ungodly time of night.
In the spring, I found myself anthropomorphizing a meal delivery service, out of disappointment for their “non-GMO commitment.” Every time I go to the grocery store, I find myself lamenting the placement of a certain sanctimonious butterfly on my favorite products (Cape Cod Chips, I’m looking at you). But then, the other day on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post that delighted me.
A visitor post on Mann’s Fresh Vegetables Facebook page read: “As a busy mother I love your products, I really do. Your snap peas and single cut romaine are staples in our daily lunches. But I thought I should pop in and let you know how disappointed I am to see the NON GMO label on your products. As a supporter of science and sustainability in agriculture I refuse to purchase any product with this label, or that uses fear of other safe products in the marketing. I will be watching for packaging that is absent of this label so I can once again be a faithful customer.”
If you’re like me, you’d probably expect a response similar to many other companies; something like, “we’re giving our customers what they want by labeling our products as non-GMO.” But Mann’s is different, because they responded with: “Hi Angela! Thank you for the feedback. This is definitely a topic of concern for us as well and in the near future we will not have NON-GMO on products for this very reason. So keep an eye out for the changes soon!”
(Cue the delight of science Facebook and Twitter.)
A few of the stars of Science Moms have messages for Mann's. Dr. Alison Bernstein says, "I love to see a company standing with science. Consumers are demanding increased transparency about their food. But companies who slap Non-GMOs labels on their products are only providing false transparency since the Non-GMO label is largely meaningless for the issues that consumers care about. I would love to see more companies stand with science. This is an opportunity to move the public conversations about food beyond false dichotomies and misinformation about breeding techniques."
Jenny Splitter notes, "It's great to see a company make the switch away from fear-based marketing! Hopefully, as more customers learn just how meaningless the non-GMO label is, we'll see more companies and farmers ditching the "non-GMO" label in favor of facts.
And Kavin Senapapthy adds, "Mann's has gained respect and admiration for standing up for what's right, and for changing their minds based on overwhelming evidence. We always say that genetic engineering isn't only about science, it's about justice - for farmers, the environment, and the people. Let Mann's set an example for other companies, showing that it's commendable to remove labeling that promotes misinformation and injustice."
Finally, I want to say a big “thank you” to Mann’s. On behalf of all the “science moms and dads” out there, thank you for desiring to take an evidence-based approach to marketing your products. If I see your veggies in a store near me in Maryland, I know what I’ll be buying for my family.
To the readers of this post: How about heading over to Mann’s Facebook page and giving them some love?
*Know any other companies that choose facts over fear? Leave a note in the comments, and we'll be sure to highlight them in future posts!
On Monday, I anthropomorphized a meal delivery service, and wrote them a break-up letter, which 30,000 people have now read (yeah, that's significantly more people than have read any other post on this site).
Yesterday, Blue Apron responded:
Upon reading this response, I felt a bit "meh." I know the folks at Blue Apron are doing their best PR thing in order to hopefully get me out of their hair, but I think there's a bigger discussion to be had here, regarding who companies are deciding to market their products to, and that often these marketing choices are based on misinformation.
So, of course, I responded:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, and for providing some insight into your decision regarding GMOs.
It seems that this idea of the right to know what's in our food is something that companies understandably take seriously, but the idea of labeling "GMOs" is a bit misinformed. Labeling "GMO" or "non-GMO" doesn't really tell a consumer what is in their food; rather, it's a label for the way an ingredient is bred. Labeling a breeding process tells us nothing about what's in our food. (I find this article pretty helpful.)
You mentioned that you're monitoring some research, and I'd love it if you could point me in the direction of that research. This is of particular interest to me, as I'm currently completing my Science Moms documentary, which pays particular attention to demystifying some of the concerns about biotechnology. The film was actually inspired by a group of scientists and science communicators who wrote a letter addressing some GMO concerns.
Like you, I also find it important to inform my decisions with evidence, and I feel fortunate to be connected to a number of experts in the fields of agriculture and science. I would be happy to put you in touch with individuals from these fields, in the event that you'd like to continue this conversation and further investigate your position.
Again, I know that you want to best respond to customer concerns, and market your products in a way which meets those concerns. I just wonder if perhaps right now you have the opportunity to move a bit more towards what the science actually says about this issue.
I know that I speak for myself and many others when I say you'd have lots of support if you decide to stand with science.
All the best,
If I ask you to think for a moment about what companies are vocally pro-GMO, I bet you'll say "Soylent! Simplot! Arctic Apples!" And then you'll stop, think, and have a tough time thinking of more to add to the list. This is why I believe that this conversation with Blue Apron could be something important. It's a chance for a company to take a moment to reflect and listen to another pool of consumers - the consumers who would love to see a company adjust their views according to evidence.
I hope to hear back from Blue Apron, in order to continue this dialogue. And I'll keep you posted about where it goes next.