Monsanto’s Toxic Pseudoscience Crank

One of the things I worried about with the anti-GMO movement was the unsubstantiated myth mongering about Monsanto. It wasn’t that I particularly cared for this company, but I feared what they might get away with if people kept raising false alarms. I guess now we’ll find out because this time, it’s real.

Vance Crowe, Monsanto’s “Director of Millennial Engagement” (I kid you not, that’s his title) has officially announced a fireside chat session with crank ideologue Dr. Jordan B. Peterson (JBP) at the 2018 American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention. Who is that? Nobody really knew but oh, I was familiar. I run in science/skeptic activist circles and JBP is a notorious figure. I’ll get back to that.

Note that Crowe, a paid employee of Monsanto, has embedded himself quite snugly into the science/skeptic community. While that in itself may not be evidence of wrongdoing, it is something to be aware of. Influence isn’t limited to financial payouts regardless of how much anti-GMO zealots have parodied it to be.

When I wrote “We Are All #Monsanto” in 2014 I meant it in a way to explain how Monsanto was no different than any other company. Those apologetics would take on new meaning. Monsanto may be just as bad as all the rest but that is not a thought that should comfort. As a science activist who was one of the founders of March Against Myths, our platform started with the principle of science as a justice issue. We came out swinging hard and I’m proud of the work we did. Every year we met anti-GMO in the streets bringing direct action tactics to the defense of science. We carefully crafted our mission and installed a code of conduct in representation of our values. My commitment to justice is not limited to the scope of anti-GMO myth mongers. It extends to junk science injustice anywhere especially as it threatens our own community and allies.

This “chat” Monsanto brings in is an attack on our people and our values. The topic is The Danger of Allowing Ideologies to Grow Unopposed. Kinda ironic that, seeing as JBP espouses his own dangerous ideology. His is a crusade against postmodernism and cultural Marxism which basically amounts to a right wing cartoon boogeyman conspiracy theory. From there he strays outside his field of expertise and exhibits behavior that is not emblematic of an academic. We would never tolerate that from anti-GMO detractors. We call those cranks and peddlers of pseudoscience.

There are many layers to this onion, I’ll try to unpeel a few for you.

Peterson and C-16

JBP got public notice with his big stink over a Canadian government’s Bill C-16 that would add gender identity to the already existing criminal code of hate propaganda. He whipped it up as an attack on free speech by way of compelled speech. He ultimately imagines it to be a viral legal doctrine smuggling in radical Marxism. That’s not what their lawyers think. Basically it’s the equivalent issue to the USA’s Bathroom Bill. It’s transphobic fear mongering, straight up, that’s all.1 JBP considers sex and gender to be binaries when science knows better than that.2

It’s unfathomable that Monsanto would get behind this guy given their recent boasting that are one of the best places to work for LGBTQ equality. This action proves that to be a complete farce. To have an academic like JBP plant his flag on the gender issue the way he has done is exploitative and traumatizing to trans/gender non-conforming people. His debates with trans people broke my heart as they asked “why this issue?“. This is not inclusive behavior. This is not how you foster diversity within the company or around it.


This is JBP’s real fight and where he enters the GMO issue. He caricatures postmodernism as an anti-intellectual endeavor. Like anything else, it can be done poorly. It is most useful though, as a way to give facts context through social science and the humanities, making it more intellectual. 3

For example I might say, in a postmodern way4, that Organic agriculture is justified given the larger context where rampant synthetic chemical application and corporate corruption caused legitimate problems. Organic could be said to be the legacy of our transgressions of the past. It may very well be true, and I believe it to be so, that we can have our Organic philosophy and eat it to with today’s technology. It could also be that there are some bad actors in Organic that have themselves done harm. But to stop this cycle of badness we need to contextualize today’s facts with yesterday’s lessons utilizing all of the tools of science. Social science denial is still science denial.

JBP’s tilting at postmodernism resulted at an attempt to shut down whole swaths of academic study via a website that would target “corrupt” disciplines. He names these to include women’s studies, all the ethnic studies, racial studies, Sociology, Anthropology, and English literature. Luckily he put the plans on hiatus after a backlash from other faculty members. This should alarm people to the fact that he is a real threat to academia.

Validating Corporate Cynicism

This move by Monsanto has the community that rallies around this biotech scrambling. Their Director of Millennial Enragement (sorry, not sorry) Engagement  dropped that shit-bomb of an announcement right before many would be off to celebrate the holidays. A brouhaha developed on social media leaving most people asking “Who is this guy Peterson and why is this bad?”. In order to find out they had to steal time away to try to untangle this mess.

There is no good excuse for bringing this guy into the conversation. Even if we were to say “He has bad ideas but good ones too…”5 we still must recognize the socio-political implications. Surely the smallest amount of vetting would reveal this so it can’t come from ignorance. It is in the very least a tactless act especially given the sensitivity Monsanto should have gleaned from years and years of a PR nightmare. Not to mention the climate we’re in with the country divided in half and marginalized groups struggling against a resurgence of hate. This is pouring gas on that fire. It is the absolutely wrong direction.

Hosting an event dismissing people’s anxieties as “dangerous ideologies” reveals bad faith and a callous disregard. It’s an insult to the years of hard work many of us have done in the defense of biotech and science. BTW this includes Monsanto’s own employees, many of which are smart and good people. The rest of us dodged years of Monsanto shill accusations knowing they were completely unfounded. We assured people that we would certainly call out any wrong-doing Monsanto might actually be up to. Now, to remain credible, we must acknowledge “Yes, Monsanto is bad, if even not for the same reasons you may think“. To walk our talk of science in the name of justice we must speak up against this irresponsible act.

I can only guess as to the anxiety Monsanto and their employees feel every day with so much misinformation about their company out there. Misinformation that activists have projected the worst ills of society upon them casting them as nazis, literally. Still, if Monsanto is going to summon up such a polarizing poltergeist they will substantiate their own cynical reputation. Peterson is the wrong person for the wrong time.

Speaking if which, there has been radio silence from Monsanto or any employees. This is not an issue to stay silent on and let fester. Monsanto is responsible for the timing of this announcement and they are responsible for cleaning up for swiftly cleaning up this mess. This is NOT a call to remove JBP as speaker, at all. The message has already been sent about their intent and priorities. I don’t care what Monsanto does but I do expect others to recognize it for the problem that it is..

Biotech, when cast as a justice issue, often focuses on those in the developed world who desperately need better solutions. This is a hollow platitude when we can’t even address ones on our own doorstep.

*This blog post was quickly written to offer links that could best summarize the issue and rewritten for clarity and tone. I’ll admit the preamble was ranty and emotionally charged but justified. It’s only until almost a week later I was able to clear my head a bit and cobble together enough minutes of my time to approach this more methodically. I hope it serves well to describe the issue and I will update this post for reasonable corrections and citations below for this unfamiliar to catch up. For more Peterson articles see the ongoing #eatingCrowe hashtag on Twitter.

A Field Guide to Jordan Peterson’s Political Arguments
(1.29.2018) Aaron Huertas

For people in positions of privilege and power, it takes far more courage to confront their own biases and stand in solidarity with people who are being discriminated against than it does to complain about people who disagree with them being mean on the Internet.

Application for Director of Millennial Engagement following Bayer merger
(1.16.2018) Rebecca A. Harrison

By dismissing gender, race, class, and privilege, Jordan Peterson’s work fundamentally counters this understanding of power. It literally counters Monsanto’s own Diversity & Inclusion statement. It is unproductive, and makes genuine science communication and engagement efforts by other scientists all the more difficult; it makes engagement with more progressive millennial thinkers impossible; it dismisses the truly important role of the university in the knowledge economy. This is not a free-speech issue, as Peterson would want you to believe; this is also not a matter of diversifying views, as Monsanto probably wants us to believe. This is an issue of whether this platform could have been better used in some other, more inclusive way.


What happens when Monsanto brings the “belle of the alt-right” to a farm convention?
(1.8.2018) The New Food Economy H. Claire Brown

Dr. Jordan Peterson was supposed to talk about anti-science sentiment. That didn’t happen

Leaked Audio on Youtube
(1.9.2018) Tamar Haspel

Postmodernism Did Not Take Place: On Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life
(1.23.2018) Shuja Haider, Viewpoint Magazine

In spite of his failed attempt to give his politics intellectual heft, it should be obvious to any reasonable person that his worldview is unfounded on its face. Consigning the right to determine someone’s gender to the eye of the beholder places excessive faith in the immediacy of perception and the universal equivalence of cultural norms, besides being obviously unkind. His blustery objection to the gender-neutral singular “they” puts Peterson himself in opposition to “Western civilization,” given that the construction appears throughout canonical English literature, including the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Peterson’s fixation on the chemical foundations of biological sex and measurements of cognitive intelligence is not pragmatic, but metaphysical, attempting to extract essential qualities from social behavior.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson — back to basics
(1.19.2018) Julian Baggini, Financial Times

Peterson peddles a kind of academic populism in which the philosophies of Heidegger and Kierkegaard are drafted in to support the will of the people and the wisdom of tradition. No one trying to understand how to live should read this book. Anyone interested in the growing assault on liberal values, however, should study it with fear and trembling.

Why Is Monsanto Inviting This Alt-Right Hero to a Fireside Chat on Farming?
(1.4.2018) Kavin Senapathy, Slate

Peterson is a clinical psychologist studying social, abnormal, and personality psychology. But he is best known for the YouTube channel that has made him a “belle of the alt-right,” as described in a November 2017 profile in Canada’s Maclean’s magazine. His “lectures about profound psychological ideas” became hugely popular following his swift rise to notoriety in the fall of 2016, when he refused to comply with university policy on addressing students with preferred gender pronouns. Missing from these videos—which net him more than $50,000 a month on Patreon according to a July report from the Toronto Star—is any commentary on agriculture. Rather, Peterson’s oratory cloaks bigotry in pseudointellectual arguments, revealing a chillingly detached dismissal of civil rights.

Non-Binary Students React to the U of T Prof Who Won’t Acknowledge Their Pronouns
(9.30.2016) Spoiler: non-binary people are real! Torontoist, Al Donato

The professor claims non-binary identities aren’t valid because there’s no scientific justification for them. Understandable, since most studies only ask for male and female respondents. The few times they are sought for, like in a study published by Harvard University (where Peterson once taught), the quantified population was found to faces high rates of suicide and unemployment.

No, the Trans Rights Bill Doesn’t Criminalize Free Speech
(10.24.2016) U of T Prof Jordan Peterson has made C-16 a rallying point for free speech advocates. But experts say he has it all wrong. Vice, Tamara Khandaker

A controversial University of Toronto professor has railed against a piece of legislation designed to enshrine human rights protections for transgender Canadians, arguing it will criminalize his right to free speech. But he has it all wrong, say experts.

When Transphobia Trumps Statistics
A new bill reveals, yet again, how swiftly politicians and academics choose to ignore the cold hard facts of discrimination.
(2.16.2017) The Establishment, Siobhan O’leary

In the big picture, Plett and Peterson are both just another pair of names we can add to a long list of trans rights detractors whose discourse attempts to veil itself in the legitimacy of something else — academia, safety, or the ever painfully ironic banner of “common sense” — because they recognize that a legacy of being anti-rights lands them in blurry black-and-white photographs displayed in a, “Wow, look at these assholes” gallery.

Drawing Criticism, Jordan Peterson Lectures at ‘Free Speech’ Initiative
(4.11.2017) The Harvard Crimson, Graham W. Bishai

Speaking to an audience overwhelmingly comprised of white men, Peterson said he thought college campuses were “overrun, in large part, with disciplines that have, in my estimation, no valid reason to exist.”

“I think disciplines like women’s studies should be defunded,” he said. “We’re causing full time, destructive employment for people who are causing nothing but trouble. What they promote has zero intellectual credibility.”

Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia – A Marathon of Academic Incompetence
(10.26.2017) MetamodernaHanzi Freinacht

If you’re one of the many people who have been unable to see through the thin veneer, unable to see these people for what they are – standard conservatives, misogynists, hysterical anti-feminists – this means that your critical thinking has also been curtailed.

U of T prof’s proposed website would target professors teaching women’s and ethnic studies 
(11.10.2017) University of Toronto faculty members have expressed concern about a website proposed by controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson, saying it would constitute “harassment.” The Star, Samantha Beattie

University of Toronto faculty members have spoken out against a proposed website that would list women’s studies and other “postmodern neo-Marxist” professors, saying it has created a climate of fear and intimidation.

The proposed website is spearheaded by controversial U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who made headlines a year ago for publicly refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns.

Wilful blindness to Peterson’s antics verges on impunity
(11.11.2017) The erratic professor has incited harassment, threatened students, and vilified faculty — all while the university stands idle
The Varsity, The Varsity Editorial Board

Exposing the Facebook profiles of two student activists is, especially for a tenured professor earning a six-figure salary, a sad display of bullying and anti-intellectual behaviour. But it’s not the professor’s first endorsement of online harassment. More recently, Peterson announced his plans to launch a website that would allow students to identify left-leaning faculty members and “postmodern” course material, what U of T’s faculty association says has “created a climate of fear and intimidation” at the university.

Jordan Peterson turns his “free speech” crusade into an assault on academic freedom
(11.13.2017) University of Toronto professor’s proposed website targeting “post-modern neo-Marxist” opponents takes his war of words against academic detractors to an entirely different level Now Toronto, Richard Silverstein

The very terms Peterson uses to describe his detractors are reminiscent of the tactics of academic blacklisting of the far-right Israeli NGO, Im Tirtzu (IT). It too funded a purported academic project cataloguing courses taught at Israeli universities. In this case, academic courses offering what IT called “post-Zionist” content.

Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?
(11. 17.2017) Tabatha Southey delves into University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s work and finds his secret sauce—and what makes his work unnerving
Macleans, Tabatha Southey

To be clear, Jordan Peterson is not a neo-Nazi, but there’s a reason he’s as popular as he is on the alt-right. You’ll never hear him use the phrase “We must secure a future for our white children”; what you will hear him say is that, while there does appear to be a causal relationship between empowering women and economic growth, we have to consider whether this is good for society, “‘’cause the birth rate is plummeting.” He doesn’t call for a “white ethnostate,” but he does retweet Daily Caller articles with opening lines like: “Yet again an American city is being torn apart by black rioters.” He has dedicated two-and-a-half-hour-long YouTube videos to “identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.”

The Professor of Piffle
(11. 27.2017) The dangerous underside of Jordan Peterson’s crusade against the humanities
The WalrusIra Wells

In fan-edited YouTube videos—including “Jordan Peterson destroys Islam with facts” and “‘They’re only two Genders!’ Jordan Peterson destroy Transgender pundit”—Peterson blows all of the familiar Breitbart- and Rebel-endorsed dog whistles. “Islamophobia,” he has also tweeted, is “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.” The real cause of the recent wave of sexual assault allegations, he believes, is due to sex no longer being “enshrined in marriage.” In a conversation with Camille Paglia, he lamented that men can’t exert control over “crazy women” by physically beating them. He echoes Donald Trump on fake news, telling followers they can’t trust the media, and makes a point of admiring Trump’s intelligence and accomplishments. Few in the media who have lauded Peterson as being “right” on free speech in universities have bothered to qualify that he is dangerously wrong about everything else, thus bringing him new followers and burnishing his brand.

Blog Posts:

The theme for the day seems to be…
(9/29/2016) Freethought Blogs, Pharyngula PZ Meyers

Demanding that individuals conform to one of only two gender roles is the totalitarian/authoritarian position.

A Response to Jordan Peterson
(10.04.2016) Skepchick, Will Robertson

A bigot who hides behind the authority of academia, espousing views that are unsupported both by his own words and in the literature he clearly has never even dipped a toe into.

Alt right rallies behind U of T prof who refutes his own argument
(10.22.2016) Freethought Blogs, Against the Grain Siobhan O’Leary

Jordan Peterson’s protracted doubling down (by now I’m sure it would qualify as “power to 16”) has produced a number of consequences, the first of which is a fury of anti-political correctness conservative writers who want to install their own version of political correctness in which being a dick to trans people is politically correct.

Some Thoughts on Gender, Free Speech and the Ethics of Public Discourse
(11.17.2016) Medium, Sean Smith

If Peterson were interested in rigour and precision, he would write a paper and listen to the feedback he gets from his colleagues. He would offer arguments and evidence for his views. He would cite sources and explain why his interpretation of those sources ought to be believed. He would listen to experts from their respective fields. That is how a responsible Professor or student carries themselves in a rigorous intellectual community like a university. Peterson has done none of these things and that is why I think he is being irresponsible and negligent.

God Sent Jordan Peterson to the Alt Right
(11.27.2016) Medium, Evan Murphy

Peterson is quick becoming one of the alt-right’s most cherished darlings, not just because he is in line with their views on this particular topic and is articulate in his defense of them, but because he’s a kind of role model: because his videos are, again, inspirational videos at heart. A lot of the alt-righters like to think of themselves as the gadflys of and rebels against what they think is a leftist conspiracy, and so conjure up for themselves images of them shouting against the storm, taking a stand, using the ultimately invincible tool of logic to defend what’s right. Except whatever storms they face take the form of Youtube comments and response videos; their principled stand tends to be delivered as a blog post; and their wielding of the tools of logic usually reduces to misplaced smugness.

Quoting Jordan Peterson is “muckraking” now
(12.14.2016) Freethought Blogs, Against the Grain Siobhan O’Leary

I henceforth declare Jordan Peterson beyond parody
(10.21.2017) Freethought Blogs, Against the Grain Siobhan O’Leary

Bill C-16 came and passed, and now that Jordan Peterson has no steam for his conspiratorial ramblings about trans people, he’s taken a totally and completely unexpected turn to advocating for domestic violence.

Post-modern neo-Marxist cultural Marxists are coming to get you!
(11.13.2017) Freethought Blogs, Pharyngula PZ Meyers

Jordan Peterson is a colossal ass — an ignoramus who has become a professor of psychology and uses his tiny sliver of specific knowledge to grant him the authority to pontificate on every other field, about which he knows nothing. He’s putting together a website that will tell you how wrong, as determined by him, your college classes are.

Jordan Peterson is peddling IQ myths and fallacies
(11.29.2017) Freethought Blogs, Pharyngula PZ Meyers

In addition to his intolerance and failure to understand modern literary criticism, it turns out that he, a professor of psychology, doesn’t understand how the brain works.


SIO10: Jordan B. Peterson is Just Wrong (or lying…or both)
(1.26.2017) Serious Inquiries Only, Thomas Smith

This week we listened to Waking Up with Sam Harris and as big fans we were very disappointed in how he handled his interview with Jordan B. Peterson. So in this episode Thomas goes over exactly why that is, in the hopes that this message reaches Sam.

Jordan Peterson does not understand evolution, nervous systems, or logic
(1.29.2018) PZ Myers

Twitter Threads:

Professor Garrett Broad
Organic ally Rob Wallbridge

  1. SIO10: Jordan B. Peterson is Just Wrong (or lying…or both) | Serious Inquiries Only Podcast
  2. Google Scholar results on: “evidence+of+non-binary+gender+identities”
  3. See: SIO53: What Is Postmodernism? With Aaron Rabi | Serious Inquiries Only Podcast
  4. …and i’ve had a post in draft about Organic for months now
  5. Which surely he does! He is actually quite smart and clever I admit that.

2 comments to Monsanto’s Toxic Pseudoscience Crank

  • eb

    If there is a sliver-lining to any of this, it is how much JBP brought people together. We can argue GMO and Roundup till the end of times, but this, this man and his controversial statements on gender and violence, this is something more powerful than any agricultural argument. Thanks to you and Kavin Senapathy for speaking up, knowing this could bring controversy among your ag peers. It took courage to speak this harsh truth. This is both commendable and admirable.

  • eb, thank you so much for your public supportive comments at a time many feel like they’re being hung out to dry. We remain steadfast knowing we did the right thing but it’s still consoling to receive sentiments such as yours. ❤️

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