Union of Concerned Scientists

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A buncha tree-huggers
Save the rainforests!
Watch that carbon footprint!
You gotta spin it to win it
Icon media.svg
Stop the presses!
We want pictures
of Spider-Man!
Extra! Extra!
They've been wonderful advocates on climate change for decades; they are media savvy, they train scientists to be media savvy, and they push the media and policy makers alike to understand the scientific consensus. When it comes to climate change, I trust them over just about any other source. Which is why it's so disappointing that they are so wrong on genetically modified organisms.
— Kevin Bonham[1]

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an American environmental organization founded in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which claims 400,000 members.[2] The organization claims to focus on seven primary causes:

Promotion of agroecology[edit]

Most frustrating to me, is when agroecology is used in this context: “We don’t need [insert technology here], because we have agroecology! In the agroecology program at the University of Wyoming, we teach that proper use of technology is an indispensable part of achieving sustainability. After all, if technology in crop production was shunned, we’d have succumbed to the Malthusian catastrophe many generations ago.
—Andrew Kniss[3]

Gurian-Sherman and UCS are perhaps best known in the GMO debate for a controversial 2009 report titled “Failure to Yield”, which claimed that crop biotechnology had not lived up to its promise to increase yields.[4] The report, and subsequent coverage by UCS, favored organics and agroecology as a superior production method. The piece was not peer reviewed and has been contradicted by dozens of studies. Per-acre yields of organic crops are significantly lower than those for conventional, with estimates ranging from 10-35%, and even higher among some grains and vegetables. These gaps have been established both by meta-analysis of published research and by USDA surveys.[5] In the most comprehensive study to date on the GMO yield gap question, PLOS ONE published A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops in 2014, crunching data from 147 studies and finding that GM crops increased yields by an average of 22 percent.[6] A 2017 research led by Jayson Lusk, professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, suggests that the UCS analysis showing no difference in yields between GE and non-GE corn was wrong because it did not control for weather. “Once temperature and precipitation controls are added, GE adoption has significant effects on corn yields,” the study found.[7]

The study received many more criticisms for its limitations and flawed methodology.[8][9][10][11][12]


Back-and-forth with Mark Lynas[edit]

UCS criticized Mark Lynas over his recent speech in support of genetically engineered crops.[13] Doug Gurian-Sherman, a member of UCS, claimed on the organization's blog that Lynas is "attempting to discourage real scientific debate" and complained that Lynas' speech received "uncritical reception" by the media.[14] In response, Lynas called UCS "one of the most ideological of all the green groups" and took particular issue with the organization's casual dismissal of the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on GMOs, saying that UCS "has no respect for scientific consensus in areas where real scientists conflict with its biases".[15]

Genetic Literacy Project[edit]

Due to the obvious stance of the UCS on GMOs, The Genetic Literacy Project has compiled a number of scientific documentation refuting many of the claims made by the UCS.[16]

Media Bias/Fact Check[edit]

UCS’s rating went from pro-science to being just high to mostly factual. Now, their rating conclusion states:

Overall, we rate the Union of Concerned Scientists Left-Center Biased based on political advocacy that aligns with liberal policy. We also rate them Mostly Factual in reporting rather than High due to occasionally publishing misleading information regarding GMOs. (D. Van Zandt 11/19/2016) Updated (08/14/2020)


  1. Ostensibly, UCS does not have a position, but they have participated in anti-nuclear fundraising and their pages on nuclear power are exclusively negative. Their pages on global warming do not contain any mention of nuclear power.