Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#2492: Alexis Baden-Mayer

Alexis Baden-Mayer is an anti-GMO activist and Political Director fo the Organic Consumers Association, an anti-GMO organization. Baden-Meyer is sufficiently influential in the movement to be considered a person to interview about policy suggestions and measures related to organic food and GMOs by mainstream media, i.e. as someone to be taken seriously. Alexis Baden-Mayer is not a person to take seriously, however. Alexis Baden-Mayer is a loon.


In addition to promoting anti-GMO conspiracy theories, Baden-Mayer promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and has in fact become a rather influential figure in the anti-vaccine movement – she was a speaker at the 2017 Washington anti-vaccine rally Revolution for Truth, for instance (and yes: that would be Badger’s Law at work).


Now, it’s hardly surprising that someone from the Organic Consumers Association is an anti-vaccine activist – after all, the OCA is a pseudoscience and conspiracy-theory group through and through, and frequently promotes everything from NaturalNews, Joseph Mercola and Alex Jones articles to anti-fluoridation nonsense, food irradiation conspiracies, homeopathy and even 9/11-truther nonsense (as well as antivaccine misinformation). They also tend to label their opponents as paid shills (Baden-Mayer is particularly fond of the popular Argumentum ad Monsantum gambit); they are at least open about their role being to represent and protect the interests of “several thousand businesses in the natural foods and organic marketplace” and that they themselves are funded by Big Organic corporations. 


Baden-Mayer’s blog (no link) consists mostly of posts accusing people of being paid shills for Monsanto and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and – in particular – Bill Gates; in fact, Baden-Mayer even suggests that Gates may be behind the pandemic, and in cahoots with Anthony Fauci, in order to profiteer on vaccines. It’s precisely as breathless, incoherent and paranoid as you’d imagine.


Diagnosis: Wild-eyed, intense and paranoid conspiracy theorist who seems hell-bent on trying to believe more or less every conspiracy theory she comes across. And she does have followers. Frightening stuff.


Addendum: The recipe for Baden-Mayer’s rants – and, indeed, most of the stuff coming out of OCA – is actually rather instructive, and illustrates the central position of ad hominem fallacies in much conspiracy reasoning. If there is a claim they don’t like, there is little engagement with the claim; rather, the go-to gambit is to try to question the integrity of the person or group presenting the claim. If Anthony Fauci says something about the coronavirus? Let’s dig up all the stuff we can about him, and see if we can find, however tenuous, some connection that, if you squint a lot, could be used to question whether his position is entirely and completely neutral and with no possible connection, at any degree of removal, to some industry. Then reject the claim in question without even bothering to address it.


Of course, in reality, most people wouldn’t dismiss, say, claims about whether a computer program works as intended made by someone who is employed by the developers of the program. And most people would presumably agree that in order to dismiss a mathematical result, you sort of have to find an error – that the person publishing the proof has a stake in the proof being correct isn’t really a good reason to reject it on its own. In order to legitimately dismiss a claim, you have to engage with in and find an error; it’s not enough to find some flaw with the person making it.


There is some apparent complexity to be added to this obvious point, however: We generally should dismiss claims made by non-experts about a field if the claim is in disagreement with what the experts on that field say, and the fact that the person is a non-expert is, on its own, relevant. Doing so may superficially look like the kind of ad hominem-fallacy mongering Baden-Mayer tends to engage in. But it isn’t – there is a crucial difference: In the case where you dismiss the non-expert’s claim, you aren’t dismissing it because the person is a non-expert: You are dismissing it because you do have independent reason to think the claim is wrong, namely that the people who know a lot about it says that it is wrong. You may not be able to spell out what the mistake is, but the fact that experts say that it is mistaken means that you have good, independent, reason for thinking that there is one.


In general, a good rule of good thinking is the following (we do not know from where we have it – if anyone has a reference, please tell us):


You are not allowed to try to explain why someone is wrong before you have shown that they are, in fact, wrong.


You are (rationally) allowed to speculate about why someone is wrong. You are even allowed to wonder whether there is foul play at work. But you can’t start with those speculations: first you have to do the work of determining whether there is actually anything there that merits an explanation. Starting by looking for foul play, however, before addressing any relevant claim, is one of the hallmark of conspiracy thinking.


  1. Very well said. And seeing how several major pharmaceutical companies have in times past been convicted and fined for fraud, lying, and spreading misinformation, I have a hard time believing anything they now say about anything. And that ain't no conspiracy!!

    1. And you probably should be very skeptical of what pharmaceutical companies say; they are, after all, commercial enterprises.

      Fortunately, no one is asking you to trust them. The majority of experts do after all not work for them, and the scientific journals and most research institutions are independent of the pharmaceutical companies. As are, in fact, most government organizations regulating and advising on medical issues (not only the CDC and the FDA, but internationally).

      (But of course, the main point in this post is that Baden-Mayer is untrustworthy, not that anyone else is particularly trustworthy.)