You’ve heard about how the Russians have tried to spread fake news. It turns out that they’re also pushing fake science.
Researchers at Iowa State University have uncovered a massive propaganda campaign that seeks to manipulate the American public’s perception of genetically modified organisms—and Moscow is paying for it.
Shawn Dorius and Carolyn Lawrence-Dill, both of ISU, reached their conclusion after studying the contents of a pair of Russian-backed “news” websites: RT (formerly called Russia Today) and Sputnik.
One article, for example, carried this provocative headline: “GMO mosquitoes could be cause of Zika outbreak.”
That’s blatantly false. Although scientists have discussed the possibility of breeding GMO mosquitoes to fight diseases, absolutely nothing links them to the spread of the Zika virus, which causes birth defects.
The purpose of Russia’s dishonesty is to make Americans question GMOs, even though regulatory agencies and scientific bodies all over the world have vouched for their safety.
“Stirring the anti-GMOs pot would serve a great many of Russia’s political, economic, and military objectives,” Dorius told the Des Moines Register, which broke the news about the ISU research.
We’ve actually known for a while that the Russians promote and spread misinformation about GMOs. Last year, Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health documented this deviousness. In 2016, Maria Antonova described in the journal Foreign Policy how “the Kremlin has discovered that pseudoscience fits its present ideological needs.”
It appears to be part of a bigger plan. In January, the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence released a report that accused RT of concocting a scheme “aimed at undermining viewers’ trust of U.S. democratic procedures.” Last month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election—actions that the Russians have dubbed “information warfare.”
Science represents one of the fronts of Russia’s information war. Just as Russian websites have sought to increase political tensions in the United States, they’ve also tried to cause Americans to doubt the value of vaccines and the wisdom of fracking.
GMOs are a favorite target, too. Although they’ve become conventional tools of modern agriculture that help farmers grow more food on less land than ever before, they’re also poorly understood. Three years ago, the Pew Research Center showed that although 88 percent of scientists regard GMOs as safe to eat, only 37 percent of the public agreed. In no other area—global warming, nuclear power, offshore oil drilling—were the views of scientists and ordinary people so divergent.
The Russians’ weapon of choice in their high-tech info war is the old-fashioned lie. In other words, propaganda vs. science.
The objective is simple. Russia wants to disrupt the United States in every way possible, from the faith we put in our political system to the trust we place in the sound science that supports our farmers, our food chain, and our very way of life.
This is the behavior of an enemy, not a friend.
It’s also pathetic. Russia has a proud tradition of scientific achievement, including the physiologist Ivan Pavlov (famous for his dogs) and the nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov (also known for his human-rights activism). How ironic that one of the vehicles for its fake-science lies is a website called “Sputnik,” named for the world’s first artificial satellite.
The launch of the real Sputnik in 1957, during the Cold War, startled Americans—and sparked a campaign to surpass the advanced technologies of what was then the Soviet Union. Thanks in part to a large investment in public education at all levels, the United States hurtled past its rival (if it was ever truly behind). Our most conspicuous success occurred in the Space Race of the 1960s: Americans walked on the moon, but the Soviets never made it there.
Today, the United States continues to lead the world in science and technology as well as in personal and political freedom. Instead of trying to catch up, however, Russia wants to bring us down—and its strategy involves lying about everything from our elections to our food.