Addressing the Fear-Based Narrative Around GMOs with Natalie Newell

Susan Gerbic

Natalie Newell is the director and producer of the Science Moms documentary that will be shown at CSICon on Saturday, October 28 at 11:00 a.m. She is also one of the hosts of the Science Enthusiast Podcast.

Susan Gerbic: Hello Natalie! Thank you so much for giving me a bit of your time today. Can you please give readers a bit of an introduction to yourself?

Natalie Newell: Glad to “meet” you! To think of things that are relevant to why you’re talking to me today… I’m the creator and director of the “Science Moms” documentary, which I’m so excited to have premiere at CSICon! This was my first big undertaking in the world of science and skepticism, after being more of a casual observer since my college years. My professional background is in the field of Montessori education, and my work with fellow parents in the school setting was one of the inspirations for making my film.

Gerbic: You are one of the cohosts of The Science Enthusiast Podcast with Dan Broadbent. Scrolling through your past episodes, I see names of several of my favorite skeptics. I’ve just subscribed to the show and now I’m wondering if I should just start at the beginning and try and catch up. What are some of your favorite interviews?

Newell: You could start at the beginning and listen to the slightly more rambling versions of me and Dan from a year ago, or you could skip around to some of my favorite episodes. I think we started finding our footing a few episodes in, when we interviewed Grant Ritchey about dental woo but ended up getting into an interesting discussion about effective science communication. It’s tough to pick “favorite” guests, because we’ve been fortunate enough to talk to so many brilliant people, but I’d recommend checking out our episodes with Shaun Sellars, David Gorski, Eli Bosnick, Cara Santa Maria, Callie Wright, Michael Marshall, and Vance Crowe.

Gerbic: I’m really curious about why you call yourselves “The Science Enthusiast Podcast” but on your about page you say you are “Just the right amount of not-a-science-podcast! … skepticism, religion, and politics as they relate to science, medicine, and rational thought.” Most skeptic and science podcasts veer away from politics and religion. How are you making this work for you?

Newell: Dan and I are open about our atheism, and decided, especially in the wake of Trump’s election, that we wanted to tackle the way that politics, religion, and science can impact each other. These are topics that we’ve always discussed with each other, so it felt natural to make our podcast reflect who we are. Our audience has come to expect this level of honest discussion from us, so we’re continuing to move forward in this direction.

Gerbic: I also want to know about the logo with the cat wearing glasses. Aren’t you getting a lot of hate mail from the “equal rights for dogs” world?

Newell: The Internet loves cats, so we went for a nerdy cat for the podcast logo. I’m pretty sure that Dan is ignoring all of the hate mail from the dog lovers out there. (Full disclosure: I have a pug and don’t consider myself a cat person.)

Gerbic: You will be speaking at CSICon Saturday, October 28 at 11:00 a.m. with Kavin Senapathy. The topic is called “Science Moms” Apparently you will be showing us a movie that interviews mothers who are science-minded. Very clever; I haven’t heard of someone doing this before. Can you please tell us about this movie, and how it came about?

Newell: A couple years ago, I stumbled upon a letter written by a group of science-minded moms, addressing the fear-based narrative around GMOs. They challenged celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Michelle Gellar to rethink their vocal stance against GMOs. As a parent myself, I was so excited to see a group of intelligent, reasonable women taking a stand for science and evidence. Literally the next day, I wrote a short proposal for a documentary film and sent it off to Jenny Splitter and Kavin Senapathy to see if they’d be interested. They were, and then we got Alison Bernstein, Layla Katiraee, and Anastasia Bodnar on board, and “Science Moms” was born.

Gerbic: What is the ultimate goal of the movie? Who is it aimed at? Is this something to be shown in a classroom?

Newell: The goal of the movie is to provide a counter-narrative to the anti-GMO, anti-vax, pro-alternative medicine culture that has popped up in the world of parenting. There’s so much misinformation out there that I think it’s important to have a group of intelligent, personable, badass women bust some of the common myths people are encountering. I’d love to see this film screened at conferences, universities, parenting groups, local libraries—anywhere, really. I think that critical thinking is so important, and if this film could be a springboard for that, I think we will have succeeded.

Gerbic: You just came back from NECSS and interacted with some amazing speakers. CSICon will be equally fun, even more so because most of us are all staying in the same location, the Excalibur Hotel and Casino. What are you looking forward to at CSICon? What lectures are you really looking forward to?

Newell: This will be my first CSICon, and I feel so excited and grateful to be part of this line-up of amazing speakers. I’m especially looking forward to the talks by Britt Hermes, Harriet Hall, and David Gorski and am also looking forward to the time spent meeting and hanging out with fellow speakers and conference attendees. I think one of the best parts of these conferences is the time spent getting to know people that maybe you’ve only interacted with in the space of social media.

Gerbic: There will be a zombie disco party on Saturday night. Are you working on your costume already?

Newell: Kavin and I have already been talking about potential costume ideas!

Gerbic: I look forward to seeing what you two come up with. Thank you, Natalie, for your time. Really looking forward to meeting you in person and watching “Bad Ass Women” kick some pseudoscience around the stage.

Readers, if you haven’t got your tickets to CSICon yet, you need to get on it; this will sell-out. In 2016, the venue was almost filled, and this year the numbers are showing to be higher than normal. So, register soon. Follow the CSICon Facebook group page to be able to meet other attendees and learn where people are hanging out.

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Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.