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Humans once opposed coffee and refrigeration: why we often hate new stuff (washingtonpost.com)
308 points by walterbell on July 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 271 comments

This was all said very, very well by Machiavelli hundreds of years ago in chapter 6 of _The Prince_.

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

> Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new


There's a good reason for this: If you gamble on something that can hurt your livelihood, then if you win you only get marginally richer, but if you lose you might not be able to feed yourself or your family.

Or to put it in a cruder way, reproductive success has strongly decreasing return to scale as a function of economic success. Bill Gates has only 3 children, even though his income is around ~300,000x that of the average American.

BG's reproductive success is a bit of an outlier by historical and even contemporary standards across cultures.

Ibn Saud, founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabian, had 45 sons alone. Such large families continue in the House of Saud.


There's the oft-cited case of Ghengis Khan, who by DNA estimates may have as many as 16 million surviving progeny. Estimates of the numbers of his actual children are quite hard to come by, and range from low (he had only one official wife) to many thousands.

Gates, in particular, is aware of several modern challenges, including overpopulation. His "reproductive success" may well be a calculated strategy for long-term advantage. Or simply altrusitic motive.

Birth control and the modern tendency to frown upon mass rape/women as property are probably primary factors to the Ghengis Khan vs Gates example.

There was a reason I provided both ancient and current examples of high-reproductivity in dominant males.

Dowry systems in Saudi Arabia are pretty far along the rapey end of the spectrum as far as consensual sexual relations go.

Genghis Khan died in 1227, meaning ~40 generations since then. If a random person sired two sons in 1227, and each of them had two offspring in each generation who in turn had children, that's 2^40 = 1e12 progeny today.

They mean surviving progeny with his DNA. After 7 generations, most of your descendants are not actually genetically related to you.

By contrast current estimates are that about 0.5% of the world has a y-chromosome descended from a relatively close ancestor of Genghis Khan. (When his horde burst out, both he and his male relatives took advantage of "mating opportunities".)

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descent_from_Genghis_Khan#DNA_... for more.

A side note. His y-chromosome would have benefited more than his other chromosomes since many of his sons, grandsons and other direct male descendants also had good breeding opportunities. Those men had his y-chromosome, but not all of his other chromosomes.

Your very own numbers should immediately tell you that they're useless, since there aren't 1e12 people today. What's the point of comparing Genghis Khan's empirical reproductive record to a hypothetical, known-to-be-impossible, known-to-be-not-even-slightly-related-to-what-could-have-theoretically-happened reproductive record?

Hes not saying that there's not good reason for it...

It's a fact of life that you have to play to win. The richest in history took extraordinary risks to get there, and for every winning risktaker there were 10 losing risktakers.

This also goes hand in hand with why hard work and perseverance are virtues.

> The richest in history took extraordinary risks to get there

Not exactly accurate. Bill Gates may have dropped out of college to pursue Microsoft, but that was hardly an extraordinary risk. His parents were extremely well off, and had that adventure been a failure, he simply would've gone back to school and completed his degree. Same thing with Zuckerberg.

Without 20/20 hindsight it was absolutely a huge risk. What if Microsoft had failed after five or ten years? He would have lost all of the time he could have spent earning a college degree and developing/working his network. Given that his parents were well off and he went to Harvard of all places, that is an insane opportunity risk to the vast majority of people if they didn't know that their efforts would become one of the most valuable companies in the world.

You are missing the forest for the trees.

You are ignoring that Bill Gates had to come from an extraordinarily privileged position to even be able to incur such a large opportunity cost. Most people don't have the opportunity to not to finish a Harvard degree, because most people don't have the opportunity to go to Harvard to begin with.

You are also ignoring that even if Microsoft had failed after a 10 years, the act of founding and running it would likely have afforded him experience that would rival in value a Harvard degree. This makes it doubtful that the opportunity cost was actually very large.

Furthermore, when you talk about how large the risk was, you play fast and loose with relative and absolute sizes. It may be true that Bill Gates took a large risk in absolute terms, but because of his background, the risk was actually not that big in relative terms. Not any larger than the risk of someone else choosing one education instead of another, or one career over another.

Given that he had a multi-million dollar trust-fund, I would imagine he either would've spent his days living off that and doing whatever work interested him most, or just continued on with his career at a roughly 5-year deficit to that of his peers. With a Harvard degree I'm quite confident he would've managed to get by.

Except, you know, he wouldn't have a Harvard degree if he dropped out, he'd have no career, he'd be bleeding money out of his trust fund, he wouldn't continue developing the very valuable network or pedigree during his remaining years at Harvard, and he'd be stuck with knowledge that wasn't as valuable then as it is now. That's how opportunity costs work.

We're not talking about whether he'd "get by," that's irrelevant. We're talking about relative risks assuming that Microsoft didn't succeed.

People want to believe that there's some sacrifice...some payment made for people like Bill Gates to have earned their wealth.

I think Bill Gates is a great businessman and he has worked for his wealth, but let us not be delusional. The son of a well-respected Seattle lawyer from a long-standing Seattle family that could afford to send their kid to the most prestigious school in Seattle was never going to have issues having a comfortable career by going with "Plan B".

An opportunity cost is literally a sacrifice by definition. Bill Gates made a choice to start Microsoft instead of finishing school so there was clearly one opportunity that he rejected and one that he followed. It's not "payment," it's a fact that he chose one path and due to the universal law of causality had to give up one opportunity for another. If Microsoft hadn't succeeded he would have been left empty handed. That's the very definition of risk.

The only delusion in this thread is the idea that Bill Gates took no risk when he decided to drop out of Harvard and start a company with the goal of ushering in the age of personal computing. I'm not comparing him to a starving African child, I'm just pointing out that he took a risk just like every entrepreneur on the planet.

When people say "he's rich, it wasn't a risk for him" they're really saying that the person wasn't risking their well-being. They're not saying that person didn't risk something else, such as employability; but employability is unimportant to someone in that position whilst for another person it's vital.

So yes, technically you're right, but your argument is missing the vital essence of what people mean when they say, eg, "Bill Gates wasnt taking a risk".

I stopped working for N months to build an indie game (which eventually didn't go anywhere). That was a risk and had an associated cost (N months of lost salary, expenses, growth etc).

But because of my skills I had no problem getting back into a normal development job afterward.

That means that my risk was a lot less than someone who would lose everything if their plan didn't work out; the same goes for him. His risk was negligible.

It turns out if you drop out of school, and decide you want to go back, they let you back in.

As for "bleeding money out of his trust fund" - you do realize, short of developing a 6-figure coke habit, he could've lived off the interest for the rest of his life QUITE comfortably, right?

His relative risk was nearly 0. He was going to live, at worst, an upper middle class lifestyle regardless of the success or failure of Microsoft.

>he wouldn't continue developing the very valuable network or pedigree during his remaining years at Harvard, and he'd be stuck with knowledge that wasn't as valuable then as it is now.

Except this is not a black and white matter, nothing is stopping him from going back to college except time and money of which he already had enough. I'm pretty sure his parents had a contingency plan in case his company failed.

Getting in a boat with your two children to escape Syria by crossing the Mediterranean, that's absolutely a huge risk. There's a substantial chance, say 4%, that the boat will sink, and all of you will die, within a few days after you choose to take that risk. Even if you get across, you may be sent back to Syria to die.

By contrast, not getting a Harvard degree and maybe having to spend an extra year or two for a degree from a lesser university, that's absolutely not a huge risk. It's like the ultimate non-huge risk.

> The richest in history took extraordinary risks to get there

First of all, in real terms, no they didn't. In monetary terms maybe, but poor people take bigger risks all the time.

It is true, though, that the richest of the rich take bigger risks than their peers, and bigger risks than are arguably sensible. This is the difference between the "nouveau riche" and old money.

In terms of securing the level of consumption they're used to, and usually in terms of happiness, rich people are better off playing it safe, and most do. But some rich people may just have borderline pathological need to prove themselves, and buy metaphorical "lottery tickets". It makes sense that the richest individuals of the rich come from the group of those who take "dumb" risks that happen to pay off (I'm thinking Steve Jobs, Elon Musk etc.)

only 10?

> Or to put it in a cruder way, reproductive success has strongly decreasing return to scale as a function of economic success. Bill Gates has only 3 children, even though his income is around ~300,000x that of the average American.

This is a recent coincidence. Bill Gates could easily have 300,000 times the reproductive success he's expected to have. It's not a priority for him.

Thanks for providing that quote! I have not finished reading the book but this is very appropriate.

it is also the reason I think this one is appropriate --> Science advances one funeral at a time. (I think this is Max Planck)

All advertising does is basically trying to create the illusion that the stuff has been tested by the rich, the beautiful and successful- you are basically a late adopter.

The multiple aspects of the power of celebrity endorsement.

It works so well, which makes one wonder how gullible human beings are, in a general sense. The thought is depressing.

I wonder if that gullibility could be countered by AI. The moment you click "add it to the basket" on amazon- our little dev.Ail.ment pops-up and starts quoting bad reviews or our past decisions to not buy something- or even sleeker counter manipulation. Add block is basically the brute force version of this.

it is also the reason I think this one is appropriate --> Science advances one funeral at a time. (I think this is Max Planck)

Considering how much things changed in the 20th century, I doubt the quote.

How many scientific revolutions did Einstein live through? Two?

Why doubt the quote? Why not search for it?

The real quote is, Eine neue wissenschaftliche Wahrheit pflegt sich nicht in der Weise durchzusetzen, daß ihre Gegner überzeugt werden und sich als belehrt erklären, sondern vielmehr dadurch, daß ihre Gegner allmählich aussterben und daß die heranwachsende Generation von vornherein mit der Wahrheit vertraut gemacht ist. which is better translated as A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. This was cited in Kuhn's famous book, _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_ which explains why it is so.

"...one funeral at a time" is a pithy condensation of what Max Planck actually did say.

I do not doubt the quote at all. I just doubt if it's really the truth.

Why do you doubt it is true?

Einstein, who you mentioned, is the quintessential example that science progresses one funeral at a time. He was a brilliant scientist who not only single handedly ushered in one of the two pillars of modern physics but sparked a revolution in the other. His own research into the photoelectric effect was one of the earliest hard data that showed that quantum phenomena were not deterministic and yet he fought against the very concept of nondeterminism for decades. He went so far as to popularize the quote "God does not play dice with the universe" and despite a wealth of experiments or effective theories to explain them, he continually rejected the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Even though he still contributed a lot to physics and remained friendly with the rest of the theoretical physics community during that time, he was essentially a social pariah when it came to his thoughts on quantum mechanics. However, he was already a very public and popular figure (think Neil Degrasse Tyson minus the ubiquitous television) so this very very wrong belief led to an untold number of rejected grants and misguided careers.

On what personal knowledge do you disagree with the conclusions of scientists and historians of science?

I already pointed you to the actual quote. And a book to look into. I can give you no shortage of examples. For example for famous examples of scientists in the 20th century that rejected new scientific theories, I can offer Fred Hoyle's refusal to accept the Big Bang, Einstein's refusal to accept QM, and Ernst Mach's refusal to accept the existence of atoms.

I would suggest that you at least keep an open mind on the topic.

The scientific establishment of Einstein's day was famously hostile to relativity, and Einstein himself was famously hostile to quantum mechanics.

Today we can ignore history's detractors, but that doesn't mean people at the the time shared our view of things.

Hostile to quantum mechanics is the wrong way to put it. He was key in articulating it.

For instance:


I think it's fair to say he was dissatisfied with it (which drove his work on unification).

His work was foundational for the theory. However his later contributions to it was mostly detailed critiques. The critiques were brilliant and proved critical in shaping our understanding of the theory. (Even though Einstein wound up losing over and over again.)

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr%E2%80%93Einstein_debates for a brief history.

There's really nothing like a determined and intelligent debate opponent for honing your arguments, and Einstein was immensely valuable in that regard.

Similarly, when Scalia died Ginsburg said she would miss his rebuttals to her opinions because they always made her final product better.

Sure, he produced work that was foundational to QM. I still think it's fair to say that he was hostile to the consequences of that work.

I remember this passage!!! But I remember it in Italian (that's my mother tongue). So weird to be able to recognize it in English.

The problem with that approach is the world is full of snake oil salesmen/women, false prophets & those who wield influence would stifle progress/common good to suit their own ends. Self interest allowed our species to persist and it also serves to hinder our progress. Free will & such. A better quote in return for my omission of a massive list of what people opposed for good reasons:

"The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Imagination drew in bold strokes, instantly serving hopes & fears, while knowledge advanced by slow increments and contradictory witnesses."

- Boorstin

The Discoverers

There's another principle you might think of applying: Le Chatlier's principle.

Introduction of technology tends to induce dynamics which resist its influence over the longer term.

That is also applicable, but the line of reasoning to the conclusions is kind of abstract.

See http://bentilly.blogspot.com/2010/05/le-chateliers-principle... for more on my opinions on that principle. :-)

I had your blog post in mind, actually. It crystalises a few similar thoughts of mine.

Interesting how other principles of chemistry seem to be generally systemic. Ilya Prigogine would be another instance.

Funny how few things are new. Also probably sums why social order cannot happen outside violence, you need a reason to rotate everything, either your a peaceful messiah that duplicates bread or you find a cause to fight.

In hindsight, opposition to innovations such as mechanical farm equipment or recorded music may seem ludicrous.

How about if the article talked about the problems with the people who rapidly embraced once "nifty and new" ideas like taking x-rays of feet at shoe stores, using Fen-Phen for weight loss, getting on airplanes in the early days of flying, etc.?

What the article ignores completely is the notion of idea survival bias. The article goes through pains to cast reluctance to adopt new ideas as being a defective mode of thinking by not talking about the risk model for the adoption of new ideas.

That would be helpful. It's not always easy to know which innovation is actually a net benefit.

Leaded gasoline was a superior fuel in many respects but was clearly a fraudulent mistake (it was sold with false assurances of safety).

Even the original Luddites were not wrong in their original critiques - the technological innovations of machined industrialization did indeed replace workers and enrich employers. (That such technological innovation also created wealth was poor consolation for the workers getting the short end of the stick).

Chemical warfare was horrible enough to have military strategists more than willing to agree to ban its usage.

New is not universally a good. In fact, every change has benefits and detriments that will be unequally distributed. History has also shown a tendency for the detriments to be mostly felt by the poor and disenfranchised.

It seems fair to be cautious about the new.

>That such technological innovation also created wealth was poor consolation for the workers getting the short end of the stick

That falls flat when you consider that lower middle class people have access to much greater things than upper middle class people and rich people did 50 years ago.

That falls flat when you consider that lower middle class people have access to much greater things than upper middle class people and rich people did 50 years ago.

To be fair, if you're the guy losing your job today, you probably don't care much about the idea that you might be better off twenty years down the road, or that society in general might be richer in 20 or 50 years. You care about putting food on the table now.

Even if you look at things like re-skilling and the creation of new jobs that results from technology, you're still looking at a potential gap in employment and income where you might starve to death, when you look at this at the individual level. In that regard, it's hard to say that people are wrong to oppose certain kinds of changes.

It doesn't fall flat, it just (potentially) shows a net benefit for most. You've also narrowed the debate to a purely materialistic benefit (.i.e. more things cheaper) while taking a broader view of the whole class of people at a time.

An individual does not have the luxury of evaluating the "good of the many" when they are unemployed by innovation. Equally horrid from the individual's perspective is discovering the skills they've spent a life time accruing are suddenly worthless and make them unhireable.

White-collar workers have only just started feeling this pressure of good jobs disappearing only leaving more menial and lower-paid jobs.

To ignore that some people are harmed by innovation is as silly as pretending that all innovation is a positive.

It's also important to note that you can't just credit changes in living standard to technological innovation. Soft innovations in things like politics and philosophy are AT LEAST as important as technological innovation.

> To ignore that some people are harmed by innovation is as silly as pretending that all innovation is a positive.

You know who really got hammered by innovation? Tobacco companies.

The fact that some people are harmed by innovation doesn't mean we shouldn't ignore them.

Exactly! Poor people have access to clean plentiful water, cheap, nutritious, and tasty food, very affordable housing to own near numerous options for fulfilling income, plentiful education options, medical safety nets, lots of PTO, ethical insurance programs, brain dead simple non-volatile long-term savings programs, and traffic congestion is all but extinct; I mean the list just goes on and on with how much nicer poor people have it these days compared to rich people of 50 years ago.

I hope that this is sarcastic?

It obviously was sarcastic and doesn't deserve the down-votes. If you offered me the deal of exchanging my life today for the life of a "1%er" N years ago, I'd take it for N up to 50, maybe even more, at least back to when penicillin was discovered.

I actually up voted it at the same time as I asked - thinking similarly to yourself...

Again, small consolation for workers getting the short end of the stick (e.g. the 13-year old doing 12 hour shifts with no breaks on a fume-laden factory that made your phone). Sure, you have smartphones and the internet and a greater variety of food items. Did this really improve livelihood though?

You're also ignoring survivor bias. The middle class who survived have it better than the middle class who existed back then. In this one metric.

That benefit wasn't obvious at the time. It still is hard to quantify the future benefits with reasonable certainty.

Along some axes. They still generally aren't taking their summers away.

There used to be such a thing as radioactive toothpaste. On purpose.

And we used to think we can build roads and buildings faster by using atomic bombs to make digging quicker. That didn't work out that well either.

And we used to make cold syrup with morphine, cannabis, and other fun things.

Once upon a time, Freud was convinced that cocaine is a viable drug for treating mental ailments. That didn't go far.

For every long-term successful idea or product, there are dozens dumb products and ideas that never went anywhere. There's value in waiting for a product to prove itself before you adopt its use.

>In hindsight, opposition to innovations such as mechanical farm equipment or recorded music may seem ludicrous.

It's also very possible that these oppositions helped shape and amend the use of these new technologies in ways that made them safer and more palatable.

Agreed. A very strong reason to be wary of new technology is that usually new technology is terrible for the first few generations. It only gets good once it's been around for a while. If you had to re-fuel your refrigerator with kerosene every few hours and there was a non-negligible risk that it would explode, you wouldn't be so eager to have one. When it's a simple matter of plugging it into the wall and paying a few cents a day for electricity, it's a no-brainer.

Especially since for one of the areas he cites, refrigeration, it was an issue that early refrigerators could leak their coolant gases and kill you.

Coating bags of hydrogen with thermite paint to keep it from escaping...

This is a pretty sanctimonious article, again attempting to push the agenda that all new technology is good technology, and all resistors are luddites.

Be cautious of this standpoint, technology suffers from a confirmation bias, we tend not to remember the technology that fails, the technology that lowers quality of life, or the technology that kills people.

Here are some counter-cases for you all: 1. 1920's era radiation craze. Water energizers, xray shoe fitting etc. 2. Communism 3. Airships

There's nothing wrong with scrutiny, and nothing wrong with taking your time exploring an idea, dealing with it's repercussions at a manageable rate. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.

For example, we're only just now starting to see countries start to bring the hammer down on companies that push their employees to be contactable 24/7 without paying them to be on call. Mobile phones have been around for how long? The legislative system has inertia, and sometimes it's worth giving it time to catch up.

> Here are some counter-cases for you all: 1. 1920's era radiation craze. Water energizers, xray shoe fitting etc. 2. Communism 3. Airships

Not sure what communism has in common with the other 2, considering it is:

1. Not a technology. 2. Has never actually been implemented with success due to flaws in human nature. 3. Failed precisely because of lack of technology to support it (a command economy could be viable, given a high enough technological level and sophisticated models to predict the necessary outputs in real-time)

If there ever was something that failed because it threatened the established way of doing things, communism was it.

A fundamental requirement of a command economy is that either everyone is voluntarily on board or you apply coercion as needed to get everyone to comply with your central planners.

It turns out that at scale it's very hard to get everyone on board, so you start having to apply coercion... and then any time your command economy is locally inefficient black markets spring up and you have to apply more coercion. Obviously this is a matter of degree; there's a good bit of coercion in economic matters that happens in today's "capitalist" economies too. But the point is that if you slip too far off what the vast majority of people agree to, you start running into sedition problems.

Now you also need a not-too-corrupt coercive apparatus (something that was sorely lacking in the places that have tried communism, I agree) _and_ you need quite saintly central planners.

The real litmus test here is whether you could combine a command economy with a political system that replaces the central planners when enough of the population loses faith in their general direction. _This_ is the thing no one has really managed to do yet, and I'm not sure how viable it is given that human nature you talk about.

But the the result is that most discussion of communism just ends up with the No True Scotsman fallacy, pretty much.... because every time attempts at it fail people say it wasn't really "communism". Including the people who claimed it was too "communism" at first.

That same coercion is required of a market economy. The primary difference is that both coercion and opposition tend to be distributed. E.g., bosses, management theory, police and sheriffs, courts, collections agencies, renter and homeowner evictions, military force, etc., etc.

Perhaps the success of the market system has to do with spreading the coercive element across more fronts (as it did some of the rewards).

One of the successes of the market system is that you get some amount of choice in who gets to coerce you (e.g. you can sometimes, not always, switch jobs to avoid a boss who is asking for things you don't want to do). So yes, spreading the coercive element is pretty key for that.

Importantly, "all" you need in the market system is to find _someone_ willing to pay you for doing whatever it is you would like to do for pay. I'm not going to claim that's easy (it's not), but it's a lot easier than convincing a small group of bureaucrats to pay you for that thing. This is what allows, for example, writers who cater to niche markets to exist... In theory, the central planners could be enlightened enough to fund (with food or services or whatever, if you want to assume a post-money society) that sort of thing, but in practice, why would they bother?

Rather than markets contra communism, I think we should think of it as property rights contra state ownership (of everything).

It is because people are allowed to own things that they can trade. In this system there's plurality whereas in a system where all is owned by the state, there's a monoculture.

This is why property rights are important to many things including intellectual freedom. However, the "market" can also create monoculture if one player gets too big.

That wasn't what I was arguing, though it speaks to the problem of highly-centralised decisionmaking systems.[1]



1. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354-500-revealed...

I just saw that people seem to be downvoting your comment, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. :( It seems pretty spot on to me: the multipolarity of coercion (and the ability to set the coercive elements against each other) is the key difference between totalitarian and non-totalitarian systems!

No, the apparent success of market systems is just from allowing experimentation without permission from above. A non-market system that allowed that would work fine, and a market system that doesn't allow that (like, say, intellectual-property capitalism) won't work very well.

I think it doesn't fit, but for a different reason. Communism was considered scientifically superior by its proponents. Those who disagreed with it were often labeled luddites and anti-science. Communism absolutely was considered a scientifically provable method of managing societies.

But that's not the reason it shouldn't be grouped with the others. The fact that the others only resulted in a few hundred deaths while communism resulted in hundreds of millions. People still die today from the after effects of communism's heyday, killing more people than anything ever before it besides old age.

>killing more people than anything ever before it besides old age.

Wow talk about hyperbole. Well I guess that's true if you discount malaria, bubonic plague, typhus, AIDS, dozens other diseases, religion, nationalism, fascism, european colonialism...

To put communism in perspective, it killed as many people as were alive in 1 C.E. Or roughly 15% of the population at the time the cultural revolution ended. This is also roughly the number who died from Malaria in the 20th century.

Again, it's an irrelevant comparison from which you can draw no conclusions. If you want to be honest, at least compare with the number of people killed by European colonialism, or US foreign interference, etc.

You ask for a comparison to malaria and then say I'm being dishonest for comparing it to malaria?

FYI, by my rough estimates, Communism was around ~20x more deadly the N. America colonialism.

Of course communism can probably never be implemented successfully, as long as humans are involved, and certainly not on a national scale.

For a small commune, or village scale, perhaps. Perhaps also once technology has advanced far enough for humans to cede leadership to a benevolent AI. Then the humans can be equal, deferring to the AI?

WalMart is a pretty convincing, nation-sized, command economy.

It would collapse if not for trade with other market economies i.e. everyone who doesn't work for Wal-Mart.

That's what destroyed the Soviet Union. It largely only traded with other command economies like Cuba, China, North Korea etc.

As would virtually any advanced country.

Some are virtually entirely based on trade: Singapore. Hong Kong (as an autonomous region of China), etc.

But the comparison was more one of size and scale of operations.

WalMart has an annual income of $482 billion.[1]

That's more than the annual GDP of Poland, as measured by the World Bank, the 25th largest economy in the world, and of Belgium, the Philippines, Thailand, Norway, Iran, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia, ... and 153 other countries (163 total) in the world.[2]

It carries nearly a third of a million distinct products -- 291,000 unique SKUs across all channels, some 100k per store.

It employs 2.2 million people.[4] That's more than Macedonia (#143), but might better be considered as

It has 11,620 stores worldwide. Each is comparable to the business district of a small town, and in many cases is.[5] Wikipedia only lists cities in the US of 100,000 or more population in the United States, there are 304 such.[6] There are a total of 35,000 recognised place names of cities or towns in the US, most quite small.[7]

Of course, that's being a tad unfair to WalMart, perhaps, and the company has all the advantages of modern computers and such which earlier command economies did not have. Clearly, it would be impossible for an early 20th century or earlier command economy to have claimed a significant share of any national economy, let alone the global economy.

Except of course, for the fact that the East India Company which effectively was the corporate state of India, and comprised half the world's trade at the 18th and early 19th centuries.[8] A prime example some Prussian-born economic critic living in England in the 1840s might well have been aware of.



1. Annual Financials for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. https://secure.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/WMT/financial...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28no... WalMart itself claims it would rank 19th, see note 5.

3. https://www.quora.com/How-many-SKUs-does-Walmart-carry

4. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/08/22/ten-...

5. http://www.statisticbrain.com/wal-mart-company-statistics/

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_cities_by_pop...

7. https://www.reference.com/geography/many-cities-united-state...

8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_India_Company

"... might better be considered as" should have been concluded as "the labour force of a nation, usually ~50-60% of the total population, so closer to 3.7 - 4.4 million total.

I'm no expert here, so maybe there's some justification. But it's not obvious to me that comparing a company's income to a country's GDP makes sense.

Why not?

Sincere question.

A firm's revenues are the monies paid it. A nation's GDP is measured largely as money flows, though Adam Smith (and Simon Kuznets, largely) defined it more specifically as "the annual labour and produce of the nation".

So yes, it's not clear to me that a company which is buying at $n and selling at $n+m should be rated on its revenues. But you'll see that number turning up in GDP as I understand it. See:

"Output can be measured in three (theoretically equivalent) ways: by adding up all the money spent each year, by adding up all the money earned each year, or by adding up all the value added each year. Some economies, including Britain, combine all three methods into a single GDP figure, whereas others, like America, produce different statistics for each. (American GDP is estimated via the spending approach; GDI, or gross domestic income, by the income approach.)"


(There's a case to be made on that basis that GDP is mismeasured, but it seems it's awfully close to corporate income as defined.)

You're asking why isn't it obvious to me that the two metrics can be meaningfully compared? If I could answer that, I would know whether or not they could be meaningfully compared.

Your post doesn't convince me. Whether that's because I don't know enough to follow the argument, or because the argument doesn't follow, I couldn't say.

I will say that, as I understand it, GDP depends a lot (mostly?) upon things being bought and sold within a country, while a firm's revenues mostly come from sources outside the firm.

No, I'm asking what your reasons for thinking corporate income and GDP aren't equivalent concepts, because I'd like to see and understand your thinking.

As I'd hoped my comment above made somewhat evident, my thinking can go either way on the concept. Your insights might give me a nudge one way or the other.

My quoting the accepted answer doesn't mean I agree with it.

The interrnal production vs. passthrough disttinction has merits. Though what of a mabufacturing company, say, of automobiles of computers?

Generally selling at $n+$m is compensated by having healthy competition in the market.

Can you think of any possible cases in which that logic wouldn't apply?

It's nothing of the sort.

>* Has never actually been implemented with success due to flaws in human nature.*

A system designed for organizing humans doesn't work because of human nature. And you're blaming the humans. Think that through.

> Has never actually been implemented with success due to flaws in human nature

The flaw is in Communism, not human nature.

The very system you claim could theoretically work - given enough technological development - is fully incapable of ever producing that technology to begin with. That's just another excuse in over a century of endless excuses for why command economies fail and fail so dramatically. That specific excuse regarding technology has existed at least since the 1960s. Fortunately, human nature will always thwart command economies.

My perpetual motion machine works great, except for this flaw in the laws of physics that is keeping it from working.

They have a point, if you can remove the humans from the decision making loop, communism would actually probably work. But I don't think its possible to actually remove the humans.

> "The flaw is in Communism, not human nature.

The very system you claim could theoretically work - given enough technological development - is fully incapable of ever producing that technology to begin with."

If you look at how new technology develops, you'll see a lot of what goes into it is fundamental research carried out without an immediate profit motive. Science progresses through the open sharing of knowledge, take that away and the technologies we'd be left with would be far less advanced.

> "Fortunately, human nature will always thwart command economies."

It is a commonly held misconception that communist societies are dictatorships. A dictatorship is as far from a communist society as you can get. What about those countries under dictators that claim to be communist? I'll give you a hint, they're not.

If you want to know what a communist society looks like...


True communism has a lot more in common with anarchism than the societies that got given the communist label in the 20th century. There are different schools of anarchism, but if you'd like to read more about it, I'd recommend starting with Proudhon...


The Luddites were entirely correct in their analysis - automation did destroy them economically.

Globally a technology shift may be the best option for a society, but there are often casualties.

Last time Luddites mentioned here someone posted a link to read more about them. I can't find it right now but do yourself a favor and look it up. Luddites were a sorts of early workers movement, but we tend to hear mostly the prevailing side's caricature of them. In reality they didn't rebel against mechanization, they were skilled in it.

I suspect you are making the same point I alluded to. They read the situation correctly, further mechanization of textile production was going to destroy their livelihoods and families economic positions, by removing the leverage of the necessity of skilled labor. What use to them that it also generated economic growth they would not take part in, nor would their children?

> This is a pretty sanctimonious article, again attempting to push the agenda that all new technology is good technology, and all resistors are luddites.

Agreed. This is not the best way to argue for acceptance of new tech. I believe it would have the opposite effect.

Innovators should consider themselves teachers. The more unexpected the tech, the more the public will need to be taught. And, open discussion is part of teaching. Teachers can learn too.

>> Uber offers a prime case study. The ride-sharing service exploded in popularity and rapidly expanded to cities around the world, sparking an outcry from taxicab commissions the world over. In most cases, the government’s response was slow and reactionary. “That’s because they think about [innovation] in a slow and linear way. That’s how it’s been in the past; that’s not the case anymore,”

I disagree the government response was reactionary. Constituents are losing their livelihoods. They went to the government and complained. It is understandable that the government would react on their behalf and that the unrolling of some tech would be more gradual. It is the job of the government to represent the people. If they don't do that they are voted out.

To use the example in the article: fridges used to kill people when the refrigerant leaked out. There were fifteen deaths in Chicago in 1929[1,2], so it adds up over multiple years in multiple cities.

The article is (smugly) passing judgement on yesterday's acceptance of technology, forgetting that we are looking though the lens of 80 years of development and safety improvements.

[1] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=XuMuCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA76#v=...

[2] http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/53488057

Another example from current times: E-cigarettes. Nobody knows if they are harmful in the long term.

> Here are some counter-cases for you all: 1. 1920's era radiation craze. Water energizers, xray shoe fitting etc. 2. Communism 3. Airships

#2 depends very much on what you mean by "Communism". If you mean "Marx's prediction of what would naturally evolve to replace capitalism [0], and what flaws in capitalism would produce the discontents that would provoke that change", then so far it hasn't been particularly wrong, though the developed world has only, so far, progressed in that direction so far as a system which implements a limited form of socialism over a property-rights system which follows that of capitalism in broad outlines, with key exceptions with major effects.

If you mean the program that Marx and various others advocated as the best means to facilitate and realize that transition, making it immediately real (or at least, transitioning fully to its socialist phase) in his time, well, while people advocated for that, the program was never adopted in any of the states where it was advocated, so it can hardly be called a "technology" (to the extent that it was a kind of social technology) that failed, so much as one that no one ever bothered to give a trial to.

If, instead of either of those, you mean the radical rejection of many of the key principles (including both in preconditions and mechanisms) of Marx's Communism represented by Leninist vanguardism and its various derivatives (Stalinism, Maoism, etc.), yeah, that failed rather spectacularly.

[0] the "capitalism" for which the term was coined, the economic system of much of the developed world in the 19th Century, which is very different from the system which exists now that sometimes is called "capitalism".

Imagine a world where you could say "Communism is bad" with the same impunity as you can say "Naziism is bad"...

> Imagine a world where you could say "Communism is bad" with the same impunity as you can say "Naziism is bad"...

I can imagine a world where "Communism", like "Naziism", was a label for a single system of government implemented by a single group of people in one time and place in history, with no theoretical model (and prior practical advocacy) that shared the same name but had substantial differences.

OTOH, that world is very much different from the real world, so when one wants to criticize one of the things called Communism, one needs to be careful in identifying which it is, since there are multiple of them, and they have different traits.

What if you believe the tautological kernel at the core of Marxism is what causes communism ("as implemented") to always run off the rails, and become an oppressive authoritarian state?

What I see is the root of Communism; "No True Communist" is simple deflection.

No True Scotsman is a good point here; likewise the motte-and-bailey issue mentioned elsewhere in the thread. There might be some baby somewhere in the bathwater, but I'm not really very interested in sifting through 19th-century hermaneutics in order to figure out whether or not it exists.

Either Communism is an unusually badly-designed system, more than usually volatile and likely to implode by accident; or it was built to implode on purpose, using good intentions as cover for a world-historic power grab. There's no way to prove which of these theories is true -- but that says something pretty unflattering right there -- but either way, it's rather horrifying that there are still people out there who go to bat for it, some of whom aren't even on Vladimir Putin's payroll...

> What if you believe the tautological kernel at the core of Marxism is what causes communism ("as implemented") to always run off the rails, and become an oppressive authoritarian state?

What if I believe the Sun rises in the West and sets in the East?

If you mean to provide a reason that I should believe the thing you suggest, perhaps an argument and/or evidence supporting that proposition would be in order.

What do you need me to clarify?

I marvel at how Lenin (allegedly?) failed to realize that he wasn't implementing Marx, given just how much he studied Marx and how routinely he referred to Marx to justify his policies...

> I marvel at how Lenin (allegedly?) failed to realize that he wasn't implementing Marx

What? Failed to realize? Leninist vanguardism was, viewed optimistically, a deliberate modification of key elements of Marxism to address the fact that Lenin wanted to avoid the mess of actually having to have a mature capitalist society with the features Marx saw the transition from capitalism to communism through socialism requiring, what with Russia not having gotten there yet.

Viewed cynically, it was a modification that allowed using the language of Marxism -- an idea that had quite a bit of appeal internationally at the time -- to implement a centralized authoritarian dictatorship governed by a narrow elite, as well as providing the cover of a superficial theory that provided a veneer of an excuse for how "Marxism" could be applied a country with what was largely, in Marxist economic terms (not traditional political terms), a feudal rather than capitalist system.

I don't think I've ever seen anyone claim that Lenin's divergences from Marx were unintentional.

I'd always heard that Lenin claimed to be implementing Marxism, but that actual Marxism wasn't what he was implementing; this is the first I've heard it said that he deliberately wasn't implementing Marxism.

Communism is an economic system with flaws and virtues you can discuss and argue about. Nazism is about race supremacy and totalitarianism. So yes, thankfully you can't say "Communism is bad" with the same impunity as you can say "Nazism is bad".

Communism as envisioned by Marx is an economic system, sort of.

Communism as anyone has ever tried to implement it, or has talked about implementing it in pratice, is a system of totalitarian social control masquerading as an economic system.

The only difference between Nazism and Communism in practice has been whether "right genes" are defined by race or by your ancestors' professions and social classes. The totalitarianism is pretty similar, really.

(As a side note, "communism" as practiced in the Soviet Union, the version I'm most familiar with, had quite its share of racism as well, both official and just people on the street.)

The terminological confusion is unfortunate on the one hand and great for motte-and-bailey arguments[1] on the other.

[1] As described http://philpapers.org/archive/SHATVO-2.pdf and discussed at a bit more length at http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/07/social-justice-and-word... . Note that such arguments are very common. They are not limited to postmodernism or the fringe elements of the social justice movement by any means; I see them all the time on both the left and the right.

So much revisionism (and bad history) in this whole thread...

No, Stalinism does not represent communism as a whole and Stalin was very controversial even at that time.

"Communism did not work in practice" - by which metric ? The Soviet Union transformed itself into a world superpower from an backward agricultural undeveloped nation in just 40 years while fighting two world wars and losing almost all their male population. That in itself is a pretty amazing feat in itself. Not to take into account the countless inventions we owe to the Soviet Union today, it was a very productive place for scientists.

Ironically, it's the social policy of the Soviet Union which had the most issues since during most of its history, it was a brutal dictatorship sending opponents (and even random people) to Gulags.

Stalinism isn't Communism as a whole, to be sure; but it was Lenin's men who threw prisoners of war into blast furnaces (not on Wikipedia, but I think this was in _The Sword and the Shield_, from the Mitrokhin archive); Lenin who robbed the peasantry at the end of the NEP; and Mao who created the world's largest famine. You can't sacrifice Stalinism to save the rest of actually-existing Communism; Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism (probably, although Trotsky didn't rule for long), Kim Il Sung thought, Enver Hoxha-ism, and all the rest were just as vile. (Castro was less bad, but that hardly means no political prisoners at all, or no torture at all.)

Catch-up industrialization is easy; many societies have done it, dictatorships or not. Staying developed is harder; the USSR, like Argentina and North Korea, first developed and then regressed, which is not a particularly impressive feat. Meanwhile, China's development was stalled for 50 years because their implementation of Communism was more than usually destructive; it wasn't until Deng Xiaopang renounced Maoism and overthrew the Maoist die-hards that China finally began to industrialize.

Nor are impressive feats acceptable when they're built on bones; or was the opium trade justified because of all the money it made for the UK and US?

And the GULAG proper existed until 1961, with forced-labor camps for political prisoners (so, GULAG but on a smaller scale) existing until 1987; likewise, the VChK and its many renamings persisted for the whole history of the USSR, and I think the FSB is descended from them -- although they're evidently much less bad.

> xray shoe fitting

xrays have saved many many millions of lives.

I'm not sure xray shoe fitting even killed anyone.

Because an amazing technology was misused a little while changing the world it scares you?

An amazing technology with a negative effect that wouldn't be seen till years later when the people buying (or selling) shoes show signs of cancer? Yeah, that scares me. The idea that "It's OK until shown that it's not" leads to hideous down-the-road effects that can't be undone.

I know. You'd delay xrays for many years and have killed many people because of fear.

The precautionary principle is a killer.

The question aaron695 proposed was "Because an amazing technology was misused a little while changing the world it scares you?"

My answer is yes. That doesn't mean I'd have delayed x-rays used by medical professionals, or any of the myriad technologies that did harm when they first came out. I would, however, be worried about them myself, and would want to make it painfully clear to anyone looking into it that the tech's long term effects are unknown. We've been bitten on this repeatedly, and almost every time it's been a trivial use of an eventually useful tech.

We also have a happy habit of over-embracing the new. Radium cures, lead in petrol, Heroin, Thalidomide, electropathy (being buzzed by high voltages for the "health" benefits), arsenic pills to increase libido.

It's only some years later we realise whether it was a great idea, a really stupid one or a straight up con. So a little reluctance and wariness, especially in a world where everything is marketed as being a brilliant idea, is probably a very good thing.

Self driving cars are definitely in the don't know yet category for instance.

A firmly one-sided article promoting a new book.

The problem with self driving cars is they aren't. Too many asterisks and fine prints. You cannot jump across pit in two jumps. And that is exactly what they are trying to do now.

The car is self-driving until the moment it isn't. And being aware of your surroundings but not driving is extremely exhausting. And you have just a second or two to react.

The case history of highly trained vehicle operators, assigned at several per vehicle, failing to respond appropriately, over a course of several minutes to a failure of self-driving mechanisms is particularly sobering.


Yup, that air france flight and I would guess many train incidents too.

I'm surprised we do not compare self driving cars to trains more often. Trains are on tracks and still require drivers who have to hold onto deadman switches.

Full automation of cars with no driver are not coming any time soon.

Specific to AF447:

1. Multiple pilots in the cockpit.

2. 3.5 minutes of fully-stalled descent.

3. Exceptionally high degrees of training. These are skilled professional pilots, specifically drilled in mishaps, and independently aware and capable of discussing or diagnosing the situation.

Multiple modes of failure occurred (it's a fascinating case study), starting from bad sensor design (prone to icing) and weather conditions (icing) leading to loss of airspeed indication. Lack of feedback between pilot and copilot controls, and input-averaging, combined with failure of the co-pilot to relinquish control of aircraft to the pilot, led directly to control-and-response failures which ended in impact of aircraft with the sea at over 100 knots each of vertical and horizontal velocity components.

What it wasn't was some distracted inexperienced teenager crusing in daddy's Autopilot Tesla whilst distracted on mobile calls, texts, and showing off to other passengers.

Trains and tracked vehicles are another good case in point.

Automobile autopilots will have to respond to degraded conditions by adapting to safer modes -- lower speeds and recognising that they're operating out of their design parameters. It doesn't seem Tesla are doing this. Google's approach seems more conservative.

> Automobile autopilots will have to respond to degraded conditions by adapting to safer modes -- lower speeds and recognising that they're operating out of their design parameters. It doesn't seem Tesla are doing this. Google's approach seems more conservative.

Yeah. Tesla seems pretty committed to enabling hands off driving for minutes at a time.

A good breakdown of the issues.

The self driving, especially Tesla, is being promoted as being along the lines of "do whatever you like, the car will cope". The public, rightly or wrongly, are forming the impression they can read a book, chat with passengers, do makeup, eat lunch and completely ignore what's happening outside.

What it actually is, of course, is cruise control plus. If it were promoted as such we'd be less likely to have folks making hands off videos trying to find the limits of the system.

When, as will undoubtedly happen, we get true self-driving we're going to have to accept new failure modes and deaths as a result. People will die as a result of AIs going out of known parameters. Perhaps innocent pedestrians, perhaps we'll find they're especially bad with children or cyclists. We may require legislation that in certain weather, road or other conditions self-driving must be disabled.

It took an awful lot of years, miles and deaths to get to the exceptionally safety conscious aviation we now have. If we're just passengers will we start to expect a similar level of safety with self-driving?

Sitting in the back of the magic car with iPad whilst it takes you from any door to any door is, sensibly, still a good way away.

We are seeing that still today: plenty of irrational opposition to GMOs. Eventually years from now they'll replace the old stuff, and people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Irrational? The problem isn't replacing "engineered via slow selection" corn vs "efficiently GMO'ed corn".

The problem is replacing over 300 unique varieties of corn, and over 40,000 unique varieties of rice with 3 or 4 patented, flavourless, often less nutritious varieties.

Stop pretending all opponents of GMO food are scientifically illiterate new-age types. I owe my life to GMO (cancer immune therapy)... hell, I am GMO. But there is nothing inherently good about progress. Nuclear technology can be used to provide clean, cheap energy to entire cities... or it can be used to eradicate an entire town in a matter of seconds and bring decades of unimaginable human suffering.

Using GMO to help third world countries grow foods they otherwise couldn't? Great. But that's not the full story, is it.

Where is the great progress in getting the same bland, flavourless, overly-sweet two or three varieties of rice, corn, and potatoes in every friggen store? Is driving Indian farmers to suicide and suing small farmers who accidentally grow your crop because the wind blew progress? Is destroying thousands of years of man-driven biodiversity progress?

Coming from a country where real vegetables are sold, it's depressing. Everything tastes the same in North America. Every salad, every sauce. Same shit.

People don't oppose Monsanto because they hate science, they oppose monsanto because it's the Enola Gay of GMO.

Your comment is a pretty accurate depiction of the irrational opposition to GMOs.

Monocultures have been an agricultural practice since the 1800s, long before GMOs and Monsanto. It's for sure a risky practice, but even if you removed Monsanto or even GMO technology from the agricultural industry, you would still have farmers monocropping hybrids.

It seems you're more upset at what agriculture has become under capitalism and economies of scale, because the majority of consumers select for food based on lowest price, and not flavor or variety like you prefer.

Because monocultures have been around for over a century, opposing them is irrational? That doesn't make sense. If your goal is to increase biodiversity, it would (at least on the surface of it) seem entirely rational to boycott GMO products. Would you care to elaborate why this is not the case?

See this sentence:

>[Monoculture's] for sure a risky practice, but even if you removed Monsanto or even GMO technology from the agricultural industry, you would still have farmers monocropping hybrids.

Attributing monocultures to GMO is irrational.

> It seems you're more upset at what agriculture has become under capitalism and economies of scale

And even then, it has to be pointed out that it is specifically the economy of scale that is irking the grandparent, not capitalism. The USSR was certainly not capitalist, but its vast centrally planned agriculture was optimized towards efficiency, not towards feel-good/organic qualities, and exhibited all the problems (except perhaps GMOs because they were not developed at the time) that people who rail against contemporary capitalism tend to complain about.

You're right that monocultures are a dangerous way of producing food, but I almost never see that criticism made in forums for non-technical audiences. The popular discourse is absolutely focused on GMOs-as-carcinogen.

Also, I've never entirely understood all the venom directed specifically toward Monsanto. There are a handful of other companies doing basically the same thing. Where's the hate for Cargill?

Cargill and ADM are just as bad. Monsanto gets most of the public vitriol for its vile lawsuits against small farmers for unwillingly growing their genetically modified shit. Kind of like having someone who infected your computer with malware then suing you for patent infringement.

I'm pretty sure Cargill has filed similar suits, but I'm not sure about ADM.

My guess would be that Monsanto has show itself to be a overly litigious, generally "evil" corporation. While it does not pertain to GMO crops, look at what they did in Anniston, AL. The effects are still quite visible even today. Disclaimer: I live in Anniston

Then the problem isn't GM technology itself--it's an economic system that considers taste to be worth little and diversity nothing.

>"...suing small farmers who accidentally grow your crop..."

The Wikipedia page seems to paint a much different picture regarding Monsanto's legal cases. Everything that I'm reading seems to indicate willful infringement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto_legal_cases

"...Monsanto has stated it will not 'exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seed or traits are present in farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means.' The Federal Circuit found that this assurance is binding on Monsanto, so that farmers who do not harvest more than a trace amount of Monsanto's patented crops 'lack an essential element of standing' to challenge Monsanto's patents." ... "The court record shows, however, that it was not just a few seeds from a passing truck, but that Mr Schmeiser was growing a crop of 95–98% pure Roundup Ready plants, a commercial level of purity far higher than one would expect from inadvertent or accidental presence. The judge could not account for how a few wayward seeds or pollen grains could come to dominate hundreds of acres without Mr Schmeiser’s active participation, saying ‘...none of the suggested sources could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality evident from the results of tests on Schmeiser’s crop’" – in other words, the original presence of Monsanto seed on his land in 1997 was indeed inadvertent, but the crop in 1998 was entirely purposeful."

That's not to say that they haven't pulled any jerk moves: "In 2002, Monsanto mistakenly sued Gary Rinehart of Eagleville, Missouri for patent violation. Rinehart was not a farmer or seed dealer, but sharecropped land with his brother and nephew, who were violating the patent. Monsanto dropped the lawsuit against him when it discovered the mistake. It did not apologize for the mistake or offer to pay Rinehart's attorney fees."

If it's patent law that we find outrageous, then we should be directing our rage at patent law.

Edit: I hadn't heard of the Indian farmer suicide problem before reading your comment, but to lay it at the feet of Monsanto ignores many other potential contributing factors: "Activists and scholars have offered a number of conflicting reasons for farmer suicides, such as monsoon failure, high debt burdens, government policies, public mental health, personal issues and family problems."


> The problem is replacing over 300 unique varieties of corn, and over 40,000 unique varieties of rice with 3 or 4 patented, flavourless, often less nutritious varieties.

Huh? If monoculture is the concern, should the solution be encouraging more varieties of GMO? I mean, creating more varieties of corn with genetic modification seems so easy.

>The difference between teosinte and maize is about 5 genes. We've been genetically modifying corn for nearly 10,000 years, but we've just done so really inefficiently.

Given that the food industry has a long history of using whatever crap they can find if they can get away with it, and producing all kinds of addictive or harmful monstrosities if they can help them make a bigger buck (not very unlike the tobacco industry making their cigarettes more addictive with all kinds of crap), yeah, I'm suspicious. Very suspicious.

If it weren't for laws and regulations, they'd be adding lead in children's milk if it was cheaper to produce.

The Chinese had a problem with almost exactly that - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal they added melamine to milk to raise the apparent protein levels, so they could water down the milk.

Which is why we (thankfully) have the FDA to help weigh in on the situation in the U.S.:

>Credible evidence has demonstrated that foods from the [genetically engineered] plant varieties marketed to date are as safe as comparable, non-GE foods.


Well, given that government agencies have been overlooking things for ages too, I would still remain suspicious.

There is people that oppose GMOs business model.

"...Monsanto originally sold the soybeans to farmers under a limited use license that prohibited the farmer-buyer from using the seeds for more than a single season or from saving any seed produced from the crop for replanting..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowman_v._Monsanto_Co.

Global farming should not depend on patented seeds that can be made scarce as an economic strategy. It is, at least, extremely risky from an economic point of view. But it gets worse from a legal point of view.

I'm all for developing new ways of farming. But if patents are so bad for software, they can be worse if we allow to patent gens.

Seed licensing is an agricultural practice that was adopted before GMO technology was available, and isn't unique to it either.

I'm all for a healthy skepticism of technology, but layman critics of GMOs routinely confuse standard industry practices (such as licensing and monocultures) with the GMO technology itself.

When was it adopted? By whom? How widely was it practiced? Were any objections raised?

Licensing? 1970's, farmers, quite widely because of the usefulness of new private hybrid species, none.

Somehow I get the impression farmers weren't the ones who were pushing for seed licensing.

They don't care, because of how useful the privately-owned and developed hybrids are. Layman such as yourself care more than they do.

You're curiously evasive in answering questions. And curiously eager to pick personal battles.

Just sayin'.

I agree with you, but have in mind that patents are not limited to GMOs and affect 95% of seeds in commercial use, including the "organic" ones.

There is a popular perception that only GMO seeds are patented but that's not the case.

irrational is fairly dismissive of the great swathes of perfectly rational suspicion. We have a terrible track record at introducing entire animals into eco systems. And the argument about eventually they will replace the old stuff is amusing because once something is gone and you wait a generation then by defintion you cannot remember what the fuss was about. When your plants no longer seed themselves and have small amounts of genetic variation itl just be a memory that this is only beneficial to a small group of people.

The question is, do we really have that much more actionable data about recently (geologically/evolutionarily speaking) domesticated plant and animal food sources than we do about even more recently introduced GMO food sources?

It's not like most food staples are really more "natural" or "wild" than GMO food courses.

Yes it is more natural than GMOs. GMOs take genes from another creature, and inject it into the plant. We take known poison producers and inject them into our food because those poisons are helpful in combating some pest.

The actionable data for traditional food (even that which is selectively bred) is that the majority of the population is fine with it. They've been fine with it for hundreds to thousands of years.

Now if the question is would I have eaten a tomato when it was brought back from the New World? Maybe. I would said, especially since I wouldn't have any other point of reference, "Others have eaten it. They're ok. And it's one of God's creations."

With GMOs, I have to ask the questions, "Do I think this is food? Do I think this is safe because I know that CEOs are rushing out things they know are bad for me." So we have evidence that GMOs are bad [0]. We know that CEOs put a low premium on safety and following the law [1]. Given that as a context, is it really irrational to pause and say, "Scientifically, do I trust this stuff? Should we require more research to see how hybridized plant-imals work?" I don't think so.

0 - http://www.hangthebankers.com/10-scientific-studies-that-pro... 1 - http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/business/internation...

> The actionable data for traditional food (even that which is selectively bred) is that the majority of the population is fine with it.

That seems like a pretty fallacious argument, unless your end goal for food is merely that "the population is fine with it." Human history is full of death and disease due to malnutrition. It's not exactly a solved problem, and "the way it's always been" is almost certainly not the best we can achieve.

Organic farming is a scientific field of study. It can meet the demands of the present population as well as future growth [0]. It is a viable option against GMO. Rather than having the scorched earth policy of GMO, organic seeks to balance an ecosystem to reduce the impacts of weeds and pests. It's not just smelly, hairy hippies dancing around a tomato while smoking a joint.

Many of the modern farming techniques that have caused famine are a result of people importing ideas, without first checking to see they would work with in the context of the local ecology. GMOs often do this. We tell African farmers to grown mid-west corn because that's what we know. We want to grow wheat in Saudi Arabia because we eat white bread.

There are other products indigenous to those localities that could support that population when paired with modern water management and soil improvement processes. One such technology is hydroponics. The proper system can use the limited water resources in a semi-arid landscape to produce stable food supplies. Weed management reduces the impact of this further. You can use elevated gardening to improve vine plant yields.

Holding up GMOs are the only source of life for the population around the globe is fallacious prima facie. Time honored agriculture, plus modern takes on improvement of the support system can provide the same outcome without the need to introduce animal/plant hybrids. As a result, the risk of introducing a carcinogenic into an otherwise safe plant is limited to environmental factors like careless fuel storage rather than the agent being the food itself.

0 - https://www.organic-center.org/news/response-to-can-organic-...

You'll be dead in a few decades whether you trust that food or not.

True? There isn't much point to this statement. Many people will be dead within a few decades presuming that few is any number between 3 - 6. That doesn't mean I or they shouldn't plan on achieving a comfortable life between now and dead.

I'm not patently opposed to GMOs, but without reasonable disclosure on what's been spliced into your food and limitations on patentability of these organisms we could be heading into a disaster zone.

Today corn is corn. What if in the future it's more fish than corn? What if you can't grow it without a license from the "manufacturer"? What if it cross-breeds with traditional corn and you can't even grow that because of patent implications?

That's the fuss.

Here's what wild corn looks like:


The difference between teosinte and maize is about 5 genes. We've been genetically modifying corn for nearly 10,000 years, but we've just done so really inefficiently. If you want to eat raw, non-GMO corn, here's what's for dinner:


If you want to eat this, it took a few thousand years of hybridization, selective breeding, and culling:


(Patents expire after 17 years, anyway; it's likely that 17 years after the first teosinte plants were cross-bred to make maize, the breeder had a complete monopoly on them anyway.)

> We've been genetically modifying corn for nearly 10,000 years, but we've just done so really inefficiently.

We've also been doing it massively distributed which means it can adapt and change independent of a single/couple organizations. Yes, it's inefficient but that's also somewhat of a feature in that we don't have a single point of failure.

If the history of both tech and biotech is any indication, GMOs will be massively distributed on timescales much shorter than 10,000 years. Patents last for 17 years, and if drugs like penicillin or acetaminophen are any indication, generic competition springs up almost as soon as the patent is expired.

It's pretty unlikely that the original development of agriculture was decentralized. In fact, we have pretty good evidence that it was intensely centralized in a few places, and that tribes that had this technology then outcompeted, conquered, and killed all the hunter/gatherer bands that resisted using it.

>The difference between teosinte and maize is about 5 genes. We've been genetically modifying corn for nearly 10,000 years, but we've just done so really inefficiently.

I'm all for inefficiency when too much efficiency can cause a problem.

Decentralization is inherently inefficient because redundancy is inefficient. Sometimes inefficient is not really a problem because you have bigger priorities, like genetic diversity and avoiding a single point of failure.

And primitive peoples managed to breed corn from teosinte in a few hundred years -- roughly from 9,000 ya to 8,700 ya for the teosinte to modern maize forms.


I'm looking for sources on early 18th and 19th century maize farming and cultivars, haven't turned up any yet.

If you realise that all three major grains on which humans are overwhelmingly dependent, maize, rice, and wheat, did not exist only ~10,000 years ago, the power of simple selective breeding becomes apparent.

Look to dogs, horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry for similar trends in selective breeding over only a few thousand years, though in many cases a few centuries.

We've been traveling from point A to point B for more than 10,000 years, but we've just done so really inefficiently compared to planes and automobiles. People have a right to be wary of newer technologies; more powerful generally means more dangerous.

Yes, for a lot of people it's not GMOs which are the issue but the way companies that use GMOs behave.

As a consumer I want to the right to patronize companies that don't purchase seeds from these companies, however under the current state of things there's no way to distinguish which produce/companies these are.

Its the classic "I'm not opposed to the tech, just opposed to the management".

Likewise I'm pretty chill with nuclear power. From a tech side its a total win.

Nuclear power plants managed by mega corporations, oh not so happy about that idea.

But nuke plants in general, without American style management, sure, they're cool.

Today, corn is corn

That's because many see domesticated crops as a different thing than GMO crops... and of course, use the assumed bad behavior of one company, as a detriment to the science behind crop enhancement.

Just make the entity that plants the IP responsible for replacing any seed it contaminates.

That doesn't protect against global seed contamination, but we aren't teetering on that precipice.

The problem with the "teetering" moment is these things have a way of sneaking up on you. Exponential growth in GMO crops would push this from an "in fifty years" thing to "in ten years" which is basically tomorrow.

I also doubt Monsanto and other big GMO organizations are going to give away anything ever unless they're forced to. Their answer to everything is "sue me" because they know they'll bury you.

I'm basically proposing a principle that could be cast into law. Plant a crop with IP attached to it, then you better clean up after yourself. Monsanto would probably lobby against such a law, but so what, screw them and pass it anyway.

I'm pretty sanguine about the teetering. Among other things, companies like Monsanto (and thus their competitors) like to do things like maintain big seed banks. So do academics and hobbyists.

That's two different fusses.

One is a legal issue. The other is... piscaphobia?

There is also rational opposition to GMOs, or at least to aspects of how they are used. It is disingenuous but surprisingly common for people to pretend otherwise.

> There is also rational opposition to GMOs, or at least to aspects of how they are used.

No, there is rational opposition to certain aspects of the use of particular crops, some of which happen to be GMOs. Since, to the extent that opposition is rational, it has nothing to do with the mechanism by which the traits that are problematically exploited were generated, it is completely irrational to generalize that rational opposition to "GMOs", or even attach it to GMOs.

That is at best an oversimplification. You cannot so easily separate the trait selection mechanism from the industrial practice and economics made possible by it in a meaningful way. It's not just particular crops, after all, it's also particular techniques. Sure you can object to the blanket label "GMOs" being insufficiently precise - but that's not terribly interesting.

Personally, I don't find "All GMOs are bad" and "All GMO resistance is irrational" stances to be very distinguishable in their intellectual laziness. Your mileage may vary.

The entire field of ecology has a fairly strong anti-GMO stance which you'll find baked into textbooks. See Odum & Barrett (2009)


There's an entire chapter on the topic of GMO.

Dismissing objections as antiintellectual is simply false.

Given that one of those traits is "unable to reproduce", it's got everything to do with the mechanism by which they were generated.

Even if we assume that GMOs have no downsides and they solve world hunger. The problem is actually far simpler than you might think: Solving world hunger is impossible by increasing supply since demand will rise accordingly. The only solution is to decrease demand especially for meat since most plants are fed to animals. If we didn't "refine" our plants into meat then we could have instead fed the entire world population already without GMO. World hunger is largely a political problem and often it's solved by simply freeing up the markets and allowing global trade.

The disadvantages include things such as vendor lock-in into expensive proprietary seeds that you can only obtain from a single supplier with compulsory proprietary herbicide/pesticide and you might become a target of lawsuits because cross pollination cannot be prevented.

> plenty of irrational opposition to GMOs.

If GMOs are actually safe, then why goes the government need to pass laws making planting non-GMO crops illegal? (C.f. Order 81 in the Iraq constitution, written by the U.S. government.) The whole argument that GMOs are inherently safe doesn't even make sense; it's like saying all drugs are safe or all food is safe. It's just corporate propaganda that's marketed to the ignorant pro-science crowd. I can't believe that people here consistently fall for it, given that it's basically on the same level as what Idiocracy is making fun of with Brawndo.

...irrational opposition to GMOs...

My opposition is to the corporate entities behind GMOs. There is no way that I will trust any part of my food supply to corporate entities that can trivially raise an army of attorneys and specialists to silence even legitimate critics with valid evidence through legal, regulatory, political, and professional channels. The same entities that push for a carb-laden diet when there is plenty of evidence for decades it is actively harmful advice, are now behind the push for GMOs; I won't trust their offerings based upon what they are actively already doing today.

> The same entities that push for a carb-laden diet when there is plenty of evidence for decades it is actively harmful advice, are now behind the push for GMOs

No, they aren't. First of all, because there is no "push for GMOs". There are a number of companies, small and large, investing in various crop technologies (and usually the same firms do both GMO and non-GMO work), and those that actually have products are selling -- and thus, "pushing for" -- those products, whether GMO or otherwise. But there is no generalized "push for GMOs".

Also, many big agribusiness firms are cooperating the propaganda against GMOs, and actively promoting non-GMO and Organic products. If you aren't going to trust agricultural megabusinesses, that really restricts your food options, but it weighs on both sides of the GMO issue.

Irrational? California is adding glyphosate to its list of known carcinogens.

California's list of known carcinogens includes just about anything, even if the dose needed to cause cancer is far larger than the dose needed to kill you in some other way.

With reference to other stuff that gets sprayed on crops glyphosate is amazingly safe. (Herbicide is a significant cause of death by suicide world wide, and glyphosate reduces that because it's safer than others). If you're spraying it on crops you want to be careful.

But if you're just eating the crops: you're not going to get cancer from glyphosate.

To the downvoters: You likely don't understand how out of control the California list of known carcinogens is. I recently went to a Fry's Electronics store, and on the path to registers were non-ironic signs reading "All items on this aisle may contain substances known to the State of California to cause Cancer, or Birth Defects, or other Reproductive Harm."

It has been pointed out that if in the State of California one were to sell the coins handed back as change after the sale, they too would require legally require a safety warning about the cancer risk. My favorite warning is that of Dharma Trading Post, a silk importer:

  "To conform to state laws, our labels make everything sound   
  like a deadly poison, even simple things like sawdust and 
  seaweed. The law says you have to warn everyone about 
  everything, regardless of how obvious, stupid or remote the 
  possibility. Anyway, we are now labeled to the "max". Please 
  don't hold it against us."

There are many reasons why you can legitimately be afraid of glyphosate. It's presence on California's list of chemicals requiring a Prop 65 warning should not be one of them.

Since it was added in 2015, it was disproven that glyphosate alone causes cancer. The original study used glyphosate with GBFs, the latter of which are likely to cause cancer.

And plenty of it rational. I am against having my nation's food security tied to a monopolist. I am against monocrops which single blight could eradicate with a single supplier of seeds.

These issues are orthogonal to GMO's.

Monopolies should be handled like any other: by anti-trust authorities. Banning a specific type of technology is a poor substitute.

Bananas are a monoculture due to the way they are propagated: they've been this way for over a century (and a single blight is currently wiping out the Cavendish variety that is ubiquitous in the USA).

What you are asking for is to make a system of polyculture profitable: this is a worthwhile endeavor but an entirely different challenge than fighting the use of gene splicing techniques.

It's not in the slightest irrational.

Until you test it, you don't actually know it's safe, you just assume it is.

If years from now everyone eats, that just means they've done enough involuntary human testing that people feel it's safe.

It's the "involuntary" part of the testing that is bothering people right now. You might say "it's safe", but he might reply "you don't know that".

The post-Bezos Post's stories are terrible, but their headlines are worse. There is absolutely no support given in this article for the premise that "humans" in general opposed coffee and refrigeration; so unless they were going for the weakest form of that ambiguous sentence ("at least two humans once opposed coffee and refrigeration"), using this premise as a springboard to diagnose all people against GM foods, AI, and the "gig economy" as falling into a historically predictable cognitive bias is just pop science garbage.

How about this as a headline: Some humans welcomed coffee and refrigeration, some didn't, and during their respective introductions to any particular culture, most people were unaware of the existence of either product or didn't feel like they knew enough about either of them to have an opinion: why all humans don't unanimously agree on everything immediately, or ever.

I'm reminded of a section of Edward Bernays' "Crystallizing Public Opinion," where he argued that people are inherently tribal and assume identities for themselves, which, by necessity, requires that they also view their identity as being not a part of the other side.

It's like the Dr Seuss story where one guy gets a star tattoo, then everyone wants stars, then one person wants to be different so they remove their tattoo, then everyone wants to be different so they remove theirs, and it continues back and forth.

I think the perspective to keep in mind about this piece is not that people are afraid of new things, but rather, different things. When I lived in the city, I couldn't imagine life without walkable access and being in the middle of the action. When I moved to the suburbs, I couldn't imagine life without abundant space and tranquility. Now I'm back in the city. Technological advancement had nothing to do with those perceptions, but my resistance was still there, on both sides.

I am sure there were also people who opposed asbestos for home construction. We don't sit here with our hindsight telescopes and call them fearful simpletons . This article suffers from a survivor and confirmation bias.

This reminds me of a 'better' New Yorker article from a while back: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/29/slow-ideas.

It talks about how anesthesia was quickly adopted, but scrubbing in before surgery to reduce infection was not.

Interesting mixture of cultural issues and how people behave.

There is a great book "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" that talks about how coffee and other drinks were discovered and spread around the world. Fascinating to read.

> The same theme is playing out today as some lawmakers and consumers question the safety of driverless cars, the economic impact of automation or the security of mobile banking

Am i the only who has serious reservations about mobile banking? It completely undoes 2FA (I hear banks in the US don't use 2FA, but it is mandatory for all online transactions in India).

I mean if you lose your phone you lose your bank a/c. Your android phone is highly insecure. Microsoft got flak for dropping XP support after a decade. Your typical android phone stops recieving updates after 2-3 years. And since in the mobile security paradigm, the user is just another security threat to be mitigated, there is nothing you can do about it (short of doing a risky root of your phone, which btw would stop many banking apps from working ). Already there are viruses in the wild which are rooting millions (yes, millions) of unpatched phones. http://www.cmcm.com/blog/en/security/2015-09-18/799.html

Right now these malware are only looking for low-level fruit like steam, credit cards, and pushing ads. Its only a matter of time before they go after your bank a/c.

I find a recent video by Veritasium [0] very much relevant here. As stated, cognitive ease makes us wary of new or unknown things. It is not simply fear of the unknown, we literally takes the shortest path to something we know, hindering ourselves from new discoveries.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cebFWOlx848

Not true. Some humans did, some did not.

There is always enthusiast as well as critics with any new tech.

I have in my house big ads of commercial products With cocaine!! and Heroine! along with nuclear stuff when it was all the rage and we did not understand secondary effects of those things.

For me this is a PR propaganda article in a Washington newspaper(the politics center of US) in order to discredit those that oppose for example GMO, or paint those that want control in any new tech as lunatics.

If you read it carefully you can identify the tone "look, those changes improved the lives of those that opposed them, so governments have to do what we tell them is better for them and favor the new changes"(that will make richer the people who paid for this bluff article).

Extending the list,

9) New technology can be very expensive. For example, a colleague's father purchased a DVD player in 1998 that cost $3,000 in today's dollar.

10) New technology often has bugs. After Microsoft releases updates, I always wait a few days to see if there are any reports of problems before updating Windows (I run Windows 7 so I can still do that).

Coffee caused a lot of harm to health right through maybe the late sixties, because people tended to use it in the evening and even right before bed, not realizing how that might be messing them up. My parent's habits at that time were typical and the later it got, the more likely they were to have a cup of coffee in their hand.

Sounds interesting, and I kinda want to read the book. But... this also sounds a little bit rehashed, as it seems to cover similar ground to what Geoffrey Moore covered in Crossing the Chasm[1], or what Everett Rogers discussed in Diffusion of Innovations.[2]

Nonetheless, I think I'll buy this book and read it, just to see if there's any kernel of novel insight there. After all, for an innovator / entrepreneur, this is one of the most crucial issues out there.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-Marketing-High-Tech-Ma...

[2]: https://www.amazon.com/Diffusion-Innovations-5th-Everett-Rog...

Drones for commerce/shipping, information and fun definitely fall into this category. So many benefits yet so many people against it. Probably same with self-driving cars yet we get on planes that are largely auto-pilot.

In the end, humans as a whole, change very slowly until you get to 50-60% support/usage.

I wished for beta villages more common. People could look; experience and appreciate things for what they are. A technological form of tourism.

Parmentier convinced a suspicious French public of the benefits of potatoes by surrounding them by armed guards.


The author has an awful lot of faith in government--with added expertise it may just move from being slow and reactionary to being fast and reactionary. Government is as much at risk of losing power and influence because of innovation as incumbent businesses.

> 8) Innovation is not slow, linear or incremental — but the government doesn’t realize that.

The government knows tech moves fast. The issue is mostly #7,

> 7) Technologists often don’t think about the impact their inventions have on society.

Public support for new tech sometimes moves slowly.

Politicians' heads are on the chopping block for anything the public feels they do wrong. One result of that can be slower support of new technology.

There is a societal discussion happening about self driving cars, as car companies have mentioned [1]

[1] https://youtu.be/a7mxrlDHv2E?t=1m2s

I don't care what you say. I want a damned gigabit ethernet port on my Macbook Pro. There is simply _not enough wireless spectrum available_ in an urban environment for us all to have full gigabit connections without dropped packets and retransmissions.

And there is nothing wrong with the standard headphone j ack.

Apple's new Dongle Driven Development™ methodology sucks.

You can buy ethernet-thunderport adapter, it works. I don't need ethernet port and I'm happy that I don't have to "pay" for it (with money or size or weight).

What does this have to do with the article?

> But coffee took much longer — centuries longer — to catch on in Germany, France or England, where people were hooked on beer, wine and tea, respectively.

From what I understood, coffee was common in England before tea was, and tea was first introduced as another option within established coffeehouses.

Articles like this and frankly even the statistics on the safety of autonomous vehicles are a red herring distracting us from where the focus needs to be on the development of this technology. Consider that if the same life saving autopilot technology Elon Musk is pushing was rolled out as a backup, rather than a primary control and turned on by default on every Tesla, far, far more lives would be saved beyond just allowing full-time autopilot or a full-time human in control.

That's right, keep the driver engaged because we know the outcome of the EULA whereby people swear they'll pay attention when autopilot is enabled, they won't, they can't, it's not how the human brain works. Rather, autopilot should function as a backup to the human driver in the near term as the technology is developed. If it senses a pending collision, kick in. Simple, simple. A computer won't disengage because it's not in control, it will always be vigilant as a backup to the human, but a human will never be a backup to a computer, we aren't built that way.

But you might say: "Oh, Mr. Smarty Pants, if the driver knows there's an autopilot backup wouldn't the driver just let it take over?" Well, there's an easy solution to that. Just like a computer can be taught to drive a car, it can also be taught to sense when the driver isn't paying attention. It can kick off the radio, turn off the AC, sound an alarm, or even just pull the car safely to the side of the road. The little experiment we are currently playing with everyone's lives must be better managed. As a security researcher who's uncovered thousands of bugs over the course of the last two decades, without question, the code that Tesla or anyone else in this space is producing is not of sufficient quality for a life critical system. Where are the independent lab certifications? Where's the university research? It's not there, it's too early in the game and that's why people need to set their ego's aside and do the right thing. Computers at this stage of the game are for backup, not primary.

Why not just do as you suggest ("kick off the radio, turn off the AC, sound and alarm, or even just pull the car safely to the side of the road") if the driver isn't paying attention?

You can still do all that you suggest while providing semi-autonomous driving capabilities.

"Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won." -Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

That's a nice tid-bit of libertarian drivel, but it fails to mention that for innovation to be possible, the thinking class needs to be liberated from the toils of manual and physical labor and be endowed with a surplus of time and costly education at the expense of the (then farmer) worker class.

They didn't stand alone most of the time and were heavily sponsored or subsidized by governments to gain a competitive advantage in warfare or any other area.

Not to mention the obvious survivorship bias.

That's a nice tid-bit of libertarian drivel, but it fails to mention that for innovation to be possible, the thinking class needs to be liberated from the toils of manual and physical labor and be endowed with a surplus of time and costly education at the expense of the (then farmer) worker class.

Meh. I don't buy the idea that there's a special "thinking class" who are solely imbued with the magical power of "innovation", or the idea that education is something that is gained at the expense of the "working class."

Education is something that's attainable by pretty much everyone who at least gets over the bar of being literate, and who has some work ethic and access to a library. Not all education means going off to a small, private, (expensive) liberal arts college for four years. Sometimes it's somebody reading books by candlelight after spending their day plowing fields.

    > I don't buy the idea that there's a special "thinking class"
What he means isn't about genetics but about opportunity. And the opportunity to get even a basic education was severely lacking until the 20th century, while on the other hand the need to work work work starting from a very young age for the working class didn't exactly leave room to study, even if you knew what that is.

    > Education is something that's attainable by pretty much everyone
Only in recent times. The original quote starts with "Throughout the centuries...", so this is about a longer period, and throughout most of it that opportunity you speak of did not exist for the majority of the population.

The statement is about a time when productivity was just high enough to free some (few) people from the toils of daily live. It's not like there was no progress at all, that class was getting larger over the millenia, but the explosion (in productivity) happened only in the (late) 19th century.

What he means isn't about genetics but about opportunity.

Who said anything about genetics?

Only in recent times. The original quote starts with "Throughout the centuries...", so this is about a longer period, and throughout most of it that opportunity you speak of did not exist for the majority of the population.

That's all relative and not really relevant to the overall point. There have always been people who managed to innovate relative to their peers, and they haven't always come from a special "thinking class".

    >  There have always been people
That "argument" is on the level of "my grandfather smoked and died cancer-free at 96" (so don't tell me smoking causes cancer).

In other words, we were not talking about extremely rare individual cases - the rarer the farther back in time you go. The science for and during the industrial revolution wasn't driven by poor farmers and workers. That statement remains true even if you should manage to find some poor fellow who did manage it. Even today we still have the problem of way too low upward mobility from the working class, even though they could do it without nearly as much trouble as in the past!

Even today we still have the problem of way too low upward mobility from the working class, even though they could do it without nearly as much trouble as in the past!

Sure, there are a lot of things we should do to promote upward mobility. But we've gotten away from the point of the quote that kickstarted this particular branch of conversation.

    > But they won.
Actually, the majority of their new ideas didn't win and we are better for it. Survivorship combined with it sibling selection bias at work here - only counting the successes with the help of hindsight.

Coffee, sure. Some still oppose it. But refrigerators? I doubt it, unless you were an ice man. I can think of nothing less controversial then keep your food from spoiling.

My mother in law, a traditional Chinese brought on a small village farm in Malaysia, to this day only begrudgingly accepts refrigeration, as a necessary evil that makes food less healthy.

Refrigeration (and later economical freezers) are the only reason stomach cancer is not the leading cause of cancer in humans. Pre-refrigeration, mostly everything was preserved by fermentation, and lots of people got stomach cancer [1], [2] (BTW, fermented foods are another area people are currently anti-science with respect to food) as a result. Food that is flash-frozen immediately after harvest (whatever that means for the food in question) is the most nutritious. If it is GMO food (likely to be either less expensive or more nutritious than the non-GMO equivalent, else why modify it?) cooked in a way that preserves the superior nutrition, even better! [1]: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/1/181.full and [2]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22499775

A lot of food these days is bred to be more attractive (because it sells better), often at the expense of flavor and with no regard to nutrition and little to cost. If you look around, there are plenty of articles out there on how this has changed foods like apples and tomatoes.

> fermented foods are another area people are currently anti-science with respect to food

I think people eat it because they heard it's good for you and it tastes amazing. They're not necessarily 'anti-science'.

My impression is that main reasons to gmo are higher yields, greater resistance to pests and weather conditions, less need of fertilizer, etc.

So more for economics than nutrition per se, outside of a few niche markets.

I'm curious - what is the thinking behind "...makes food less healthy"?

Is the thought that fridges give off some kind of chemical that affects the food? Is it the act of making the food cold itself that makes it less healthy? Is she opposed to electric refrigeration, or would something like an old school icebox[0] be objectionable too?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icebox

The coding term would be "FUD". I'm sure you've noticed the trend for older people in all cultures to believe every email that gets forwarded to them, and forward it on. In Chinese culture, a large chunk of that is FUD related to health stuff. Remember Chinese medicine goes back millennia, so there's a lot of confusion about what to believe among that generation too, so they feel like they better follow everything just to be safe.

To this issue specifically, I think it's more of a shelf-life concern, that you can't artificially lengthen the shelf life of a food without corrupting it somehow. In that regard, I can't say she doesn't have a point. That the movie "Better Life Through Chemistry" is a satire is somewhat telling.

The word healthy means almost nothing. Its an arbitrary term that we use to create a general idea of what we 'should" be eating and what we "shouldn't" be eating.

It's why the debate about whether or not milk/eggs/bread are healthy rages on and on. There is no definition of the word healthy so anyone can make their own interpretations of what makes those foods healthy or unhealthy.

Not to answer for dax's mother in law, but it could possibly be due to the fact that refrigerated food can be kept longer, and thus is less fresh.

The word "healthy" is often a too-vague description of the benefits. It's become a catch-all phrase to describe numerous attributes. Some foods, like bread, are simultaneously healthy and unhealthy.

Yup. Totally agree. I have a lot of relatives (in India ) who try their best not to eat food that is refrigerated.

While it's laughable to us, I don't think its that far off from what people believe about other things.

COLLEGE EDUCATED people believe that vaccines cause autism. GMOs are considered less healthy than normally grown foods Organic foods are considered "healthier" than normally grown foods even though studies have shown that there isn't a statistically significant difference in nutrients that matter. People believe microwaving foods causes cancer in humans and also makes food less nutritious in a significant manner.

These are people who have every single resource in the world to educate themselves on the science of things, and yet believe dumb shit.

Compared to that, some farmers in a small village not completely trusting something that they don't understand or really have any ability to properly understand seems much less crazy.

To flip this on its head, just because something is new doesn't mean we have to use it all the time.

Americans refrigerate more than we need to. Butter, eggs, certain vegetables (like tomatoes). Tomatoes have healthy compounds in them that break down under refrigeration. I'm sure you've noticed certain things taste different after they've been refrigerated?

In this particular arena, we often don't know what we don't know. Instinct can lead us astray, but it can also be nagging at us for a very good reason.

> Tomatoes have healthy compounds in them that break down under refrigeration.

Such as? It's true that refrigeration can impact the taste/texture of tomatoes. That doesn't mean it necessarily makes them less healthy. Also, if you're buying store-bought tomatoes, they're shipped in refrigerated trucks anyway.

Depending on how long you have tomatoes on hand, you might be better off refrigerating them even for taste and texture.


I read (on here) about eggs not too long ago. In Europe (UK?) where eggs are not refrigerated, farmers are required to give their chickens antibiotics to reduce salmonella in the eggs. That's why it's safe to keep them on the counter. In the US there's less antibiotics use in the chickens; instead the eggs are washed and kept cold.

I was surprised that the antibiotics are mandated in Europe, given the problems we're seeing with antibiotic-resistance in bacteria that's largely due to overuse in farming. I would've expected that the US farmers were using antibiotics and Europeans were not, rather than the other way around.

Here's a link: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/09/11/336330502/why...

Antibiotics seem to be a part of it, but not the most important factor. The egg naturally has a thin film around it which protects it from contamination by microbes. In the US, the eggs are washed, which removes this film, rendering the egg susceptible to contamination. The eggs then have to be refrigerated to slow bacterial growth. In the rest of the world, the eggs are left unwashed, so the film prevents the egg from being contaminated and no refrigeration is required.

Aha, thanks for that link. I knew there was something else at play with the eggs, but I couldn't remember what it was.

In the UK, farmers are not required to give antibiotics to reduce salmonella. However, most buyers require "Lion Mark" certified eggs, which requires vaccination (not antibiotics!) against salmonella. Because of this program British eggs are widely considered the safest in the world. I will happily eat Lion Mark eggs raw.

I'm surprised that free market enthusiasts rarely talk about the Lion Mark, because it's great example of entirely private business (except for the government trademark enforcement) improving standards for consumers.

See: https://www.egginfo.co.uk/british-lion-eggs/about/british-li...

Ah, thank you for that info. Vaccination sounds a lot safer.

Where are you getting your information? As far as I know, the EU has banned most antibiotics for livestock since 2006. I don't know about the UK.

A little bit of n=1: I eat eggs directly from the local Mennonite community. They don't use antibiotics in their chickens. I keep the eggs in a bucket in the pantry (cool, but not refrigerated). I wash my eggs before using them. I haven't had an issue with Salmonella yet. I imagine there's a very big difference between free range, naturally raised chickens and eggs and factory farmed chicken and eggs, but I'm not up to date on the details.

In the UK chickens are vaccinated against salmonella. My understanding is that this is not legally mandated but a compromise by the egg industry to avoid regulation after some major salmonella outbreak a few decades ago.

Mandating antibiotic use would be a great way to breed resistant salmonella.

Tomatoes that are eaten as they have just been taken out of the refrigerator certainly taste different, at least for me. Just had a recent contradictory discussion with my gf about this, as I choose to always keep the vegetables out of the refrigerator. The same goes for fruits. Butter is different, if you keep it for more than an hour at room temperature (20-21 Celsius) it will most certainly start to melt, I personally do not like that.

The melting point of butter is 90-95°F (32-35°C)[0]. My family always kept it out on the counter, even in the summer. It never gets that hot inside thanks to the insulation required to keep the house warm in the winter.

I agree with you about the Tomatoes though. That one is backed by science, but what else is impacted by refrigeration that hasn't been discovered by science yet? There's no danger in leaving produce on the counter so long as you eat it within 2-3 days. It varies, of course. I keep bananas on the counter for a full week.

[0]: http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/oil-melting-points-d_1088....

> Butter is different, if you keep it for more than an hour at room temperature (20-21 Celsius) it will most certainly start to melt

It will not. It remains on my kitchen counter in a ceramic or glass container and keeps its shape. Lots of people do this, look up "butter bell" or "butter keeper" For example: http://goo.gl/fLIotj

Butter melts above 32 C.

"Butter is different, if you keep it for more than an hour at room temperature (20-21 Celsius) it will most certainly start to melt, I personally do not like that."

That's what butter keepers are for.

Different vegetables respond differently to refrigeration. Few people refrigerate tomatoes or avocados. Almost everyone refrigerates lettuce.

But is she worried that her neighbor's refrigerator is going to poison her food? If somebody has a self-driving car and it runs me over, that's obviously a personal concern for me. How somebody keeps their food (unless I'm eating it) is not my concern.

> ...refrigerators? I doubt it, unless you were an ice man.

Perceived threat to vested/commercial interest? Spot on.

Out here in India, until the early 1980s, there were only two types of (largely indigenous and engineering-wise inferior) cars available in the market. Then, the then prime minister allowed a domestic company to manufacture (more) sophisticate cars in collaboration with Suzuki. The model they started with was far superior as compared to the two ancient mechanical atrocities.

Since the car mechanics at large here had never even seen any piece of engineering like that, leave alone the matter of repairing it, they all generally used to say: Yes, this car is a marvel of technology blah blah... BUT... it won't work on our roads!!

As a kid growing up in India. Refrigeration was considered a expensive unhealthy luxury. In fact chilled water was synonymous with falling sick.

I've seen similar trends with Microwave ovens as well. For some reason people have all sorts of weird notions about new stuff.

One more thing I can think of is TV. Kids growing up in a home with a TV were considered will end up being bad students.

As a point of comparison, use of air conditioners seems to get much more argument and rationalization than use of heaters. (E.g., consider: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1995_Chicago_heat_wave)

I assume this has partly to do with the relative novelty of AC.

There was nothing about refrigeration in the article... :|

Classic click-bait.

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