The Curse of Frankenstein

by | Apr 20, 2000

Ever since Mary Shelley wrote the original Frankenstein story in 1818, it has stood as the symbol of a false and destructive idea: the idea that science and technology will inevitably produce monsters. The story of Frankenstein has come to be used, not as a criticism of any particular discovery or invention, but as a […]

Ever since Mary Shelley wrote the original Frankenstein story in 1818, it has stood as the symbol of a false and destructive idea: the idea that science and technology will inevitably produce monsters. The story of Frankenstein has come to be used, not as a criticism of any particular discovery or invention, but as a smear against reason, science, and technology as such.

The latest victims of the Frankenstein myth are the growers and developers of genetically modified foods–dubbed “Frankenfood” by environmentalists. In response to the Frankenfood smear campaign, a group of farmers has sued Monsanto, a leading maker of genetically modified seeds, and two major producers of baby food, Heinz and Gerber, have declared that they will not allow these foods in their products. Genetically modified foods are being treated like some rampaging Frankenstein monster, against which the public must be protected.

In reality, however, these foods represent a tremendous advance. Farmers and scientists have long modified the genetic makeup of their crops and livestock by selective breeding and hybridization. The result has been hardier crops, tastier food, ever-higher yields–and an ever-growing abundance of food. Genetically-modified foods are just the next step in this process. Genetic engineering allows scientists to take advantages possessed by one species, such as disease resistance or drought tolerance, and splice them into the genes of another species. This new technology promises to provide farmers with faster and better improvements in the crops they grow–a new “green revolution.”

But as with any revolutionary scientific advance, the use of genetically modified foods is being opposed by those who fear technology–the believers in the Frankenstein myth. The latest health scare was started by English environmentalists (who coined the term “Frankenfood”) and resulted in an effective ban on these foods by the European Union.

What is the basis of these attacks? The best summary was provided by a recent article in US News & World Report: “Though no scientifically valid study has shown that altered foods are toxic, some researchers believe it’s possible that genetic manipulation could enhance natural plant toxins in unexpected ways.” This claim is designed to be impossible to refute, no matter what the evidence. How could you refute the claim that it is “possible” you have committed a murder in some “unknown” way? The only purpose served by such a claim is to excuse the accuser from having to provide any evidence to back up his charges. It is a smokescreen to hide the fact that there is not a shred of scientific fact behind the whole Frankenfood campaign–just a blind, irrational fear of technology.

Longtime luddite Jeremy Rifkin has now taken this “Frankenfood” fraud to its logical conclusion by orchestrating a lawsuit by a small handful of farmers against Monsanto and other developers of genetically modified seeds. The suit blames the manufacturers for failing to ensure that their product gained “consumer acceptance.” Notice that Rifkin does not base his case on the claim that genetically modified foods are actually harmful–a claim that wouldn’t hold up in court. Instead, he claims only that people believe these foods are bad–a public hysteria that he has worked hard to promote. If farmers are going to sue anyone, it should be Rifkin himself.

Unfortunately, few major companies are standing up to expose this transparent con game. The overwhelming reaction is typified by Gerber and Heinz–as well as grain distributor ADM–who have caved in at the first sign of resistance and demanded that farmers separate out their genetically modified foods, which will likely sell at lower prices. In a grotesque inversion of justice, those farmers who most readily embraced the latest technological advance–and should have been rewarded for pursuing progress–are now going to be punished.

But this whole campaign is just one part of an even bigger inversion. In the nearly 200 years since the Frankenstein myth was created, the facts have thoroughly refuted it. Science and technology, rather than creating monsters, have vastly improved our lives, bring us thousands of beneficial advances in every field. In agriculture alone, technology has replaced back-breaking labor by humans with machine power; it has led to the discovery of crop rotation, the invention of fertilizers and pesticides, and every other technique of modern farming. All of these advances, far from leading to disaster, have made it possible for the first time in history to banish hunger for most of the world’s population.

In the name of the billions of people who have benefited from these advances–and the heroes of science who have made it possible–it is time to kill the Frankenstein monster. It is time to put and end to the irrational fear and hatred of technology.

— Visit the website for The Campaign in Defense of Industry and Technology

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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