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Strongest opponents of GM foods know the least but think they know the most (theguardian.com)
89 points by ozdave 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



Not to detract from the main take-away of "GM food extremists have poor and poorly calibrated knowledge" which seems reasonably robust, but the questions themselves are interesting and knowledge is harder than they give credit.

One of the questions was "the oxygen we breathe comes from plants" (true). This one gave me pause and sent me down a google rabbit hole. I know a huge amount (most?) of the oxygen we breathe comes from the oceans and algae, but I don't know if those are considered plants. Googling around, it's still unclear. Some sources group it all under the term "marine plants," but those sources mostly seem to group cyanobacteria under the term "plants" which is stretching it, so they aren't quite trustworthy. What about green algae? Well they aren't part of Plantae either, but sources seem even more conflicted there.

I feel like I'm more likely to get this question "wrong" the more I know, or the more precisely and scientifically I treat the statement. Elementary school me would think I'm sure of the answer they're looking for, and I'd probably get it marked right. Current me? I know the answer they're probably looking for, but don't know the right answer.

Knowledge is weird.


The big question surrounding GM food, I would argue, is in fact the most interesting of all questions facing human civilization, drilling down to our core identity: is intelligent design a long term sustainable strategy? Is the nature of the universe even capable of supporting life intelligent enough not to wipe itself out shortly after discovering a technology like fossil fuels or is the nature of biological life such that all intelligent species will be destroyed by an insatiable hunger for growth? Hell, is the universe capable of producing life intelligent enough to even grasp a fraction of the knowledge required for long term (approaching heat death of the universe) survival?

It's unfortunate that the interesting debate/study of whether or not we should play god and whether we are capable of dealing with the long term consequences is subsumed by pseudoscience.


Plant is a vague polysemic word. In this context I would take ti to mean as not animal or mineral, as it's not uncommon to divide things into those three categories.


Here's wikipedia's take from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant:

> Historically, plants were treated as one of two kingdoms including all living things that were not animals, and all algae and fungi were treated as plants. However, all current definitions of Plantae exclude the fungi and some algae, as well as the prokaryotes (the archaea and bacteria).

I totally agree that it's often used as you describe, but on a test of scientific knowledge, yours is probably not the relevant definition, especially one with questions about bacteria and viruses. In this case, it was though!


I don't think scientific definition strictly matters, in this context.

We're not meticulously trying to catalogue life on Earth.

You know... It's a case of is tomato a fruit or a vegetable.


I also paused. I was thinking that oxygen is coming from previous stars exploding.


there's oxygen atoms, and there's O_2, which is a gas also called oxygen.

the atoms came from stars (hand wave). those atoms have probably been recently recombined to form the diatomic gas, by plants.


Do you have a pointer to the questions? I've wondered how I would fare but none of the articles I've read seem to link to them.


Yup. For the record, after writing this comment, I read the rest of the questions and either they're more clear cut, or I'm ignorant of the ways they may not be.

Here's the paper, which isn't linked from most journalists reporting on it: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0520-3

Google "sci-hub" if you want open access to it, using it's doi https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0520-3

Here's one of the surveys they used. It appears they all had the same science questions. https://osf.io/9gztf/ (Study1 Survey.pdf)

Here are the questions:

The center of the earth is very hot: True

The oxygen we breathe comes from plants: True

Antibiotics kills viruses as well as bacteria: False

All radioactivity is man made: False

Almost all food energy for living organisms comes originally from sunlight: True

All insects have eight legs: False

The earth orbits the sun: True

Men and women normally have the same number of chromosomes: True

The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move: True

Lasers work by focusing sound waves: False

Electrons are smaller than atoms: True

All plants and animals have DNA: True

Humans share a majority of their genes with chimpanzees: True

It is the father’s genes that decide whether the baby is a boy or a girl: True


Electrons are smaller than atoms: True

This depends on what exactly you mean by "smaller than". My first thought is to consider the delocalized particle cloud, in which case this is false in the case of valence electrons.


"It is the father’s genes that decide whether the baby is a boy or a girl: True" that one seems a bit inaccurate as a father can have both daughters and sons while his DNA does not change. I know what they actually mean and how it works but their wording is a bit strange.


Earth orbits the sun is not true. They orbit each other around the barycenter of the system.

Energy “originally” from sunlight even more “orginally” comes from the strong force.

The antibiotic neomycin has been shown to have therapeutic effect against multiple viruses.

It’s the father’s genes that decide whether the baby is a boy or a girl is not true if you are talking about “boy” and “girl” as self-determined gender identity rather than biological sex. Might have been clearer to frame this as male or female baby.


This type of pedantry is what gets you posted to /r/iamverysmart

Yeah, we all know what's ACKCHYUALLY [0] true, but given the context and elementary wording of the questions, you know the correct answer.

[0] https://i.imgur.com/jDBr2RI.png


I thought it was understood in this subthread we're playing a game. Yes, we all know what the intended correct answers are.


Well, let's see: One could argue that, compared to the solar system average, the center of the earth is quite cold, since nearly all the mass is in the sun. The energy didn't originally come from the sun, it originally came from the big bang. Since wings are appendages of propulsion rather than manipulation, they should count as legs. Yeah, sure, that brings the total to 10 since they have 2 pairs of wings, but the question doesn't say exactly 8 legs, and something with 10 legs also has 8 legs. Earth only has the appearance of great age but it was actually created just 6000 years ago. If a single change in a gene makes it count as a different gene, it is not true that humans share a majority of genes with chimps. Chromosomes don't determine gender, self-identification does. Since in general is just a tool of patriarchal oppression.


Maybe I'm the exception then; I don't really care /if/ something is GM, but I do care /why/ it's GM.

GM something so that LESS pesticides are required or that it has higher nutritional content? Sounds good. GM something so that megadeath chemicals weed killer product doesn't affect it? That's a problem.


In general, GM is just another tool for the organism designer. It gives the designer more flexibility and speed than traditional techniques, but whether its use is safe or dangerous, good or evil is not a science question. It's a business question.

This is why I have no inherent objection to GM, but I do want such foods labeled so that I can avoid such foods from companies whose balancing between their business needs and my health and nutrition needs I do not trust with the increased power that GM gives them.


That only makes sense if we label foods with every step of their production and the labels would become large documents. There is nothing special about GM which warrants a special label.

GM is probably much safer than mutation via massive radiation - but nobody is asking to label that.


Why is "whether its use is safe or dangerous" not a science question?


I think GP's view is this: science is about expanding the space of possible choices. Business is about making the choices. "Safe" and "dangerous" are adjectives referring to concrete choices in context of their application, therefore a business question.

I believe this view is correct, and I share it, but with a caveat that labels are flexible and context-dependent. People believing GM is itself dangerous and bad are just victims of ideology. But other people saying GM is dangerous actually mean concrete instances of applying GM methods - i.e. they're really criticizing a bunch of business decisions, but doing it in an ambiguous way. Therefore, for the cases where you actually care about other person's opinions, it's worth to dig deeper into what they actually mean and why.


This raises an important issue. The megadeath weed killer that you are likely referring to is in most cases round-up, also called glyphosate. Glyphosate is considerably less toxic [0] than other pesticides used in the past, such as paraquat. In general, I agree with your statement, but I believe that it needs some fleshing out Food Evolution [1] touches on the topic of pesticide use and relative safety issues. I find the idea of BT crops more compelling than round-up ready crops as well, however my reasoning here is more on a feel good basis and the desire to avoid breeding resistance. The topic of resistance I have not fully explored and am not sure where the field stands on since it rather distant from my expertise.

[0] https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/does-glyphosat... (popsci with links) [1] https://www.foodevolutionmovie.com/


Another understated problem is the intellectual property issue. Saving seeds is usually prohibited (and those seeds might not be viable anyway), farmers have been successfully sued.

More and more staple crops are being hybridized (hyrbids whose offspring are sterile/nonviable), we're losing biodiversity in our crops, and large corporations are providing 'seeds as service' instead of agriculture being self sustaining.


That's more an issue with Monsanto though than GMO's as a concept. It's like being against fairytale cartoons because Disney occupies most of the market and is shitty with their copyright.


This. It also lets other hugely abusive agrocompanies off the hook because people fixate on Monsanto.


No, it's not an issue with any one particular company. If there are patent protections on genomes (such as seeds) whether GMO or otherwise, that is unethical IMO.


This is a perfect example of the original article's conclusion: you simply don't know what you're talking about.

You might be vaguely aware of hybrid vigor, which is of crucial importance for many crops, especially cereal crops, and is a major part of the 'green revolution'. Hybrid crops have driven much of the yield increases we've seen over the past several decades. This is due to a very specific phenomenon called heterosis, and is still fairly poorly understood but is known to be mediated by epigenetic mechanisms. That is, it's not a magic combination of traits or more heterozygous loci, but a genome-wide phenomenon that affects gene expression in ways that are generally favorable to growth.

But! You're confusing this with sterile or semi-sterile inter-species hybrids like mules, or perhaps sterile triploids like banana. These are completely different phenomena that have nothing to do with 'hybrid corn'.

Corn of all kinds that see significant cultivation is perfectly fertile, Monsanto products included. What you don't get is any hybrid vigor in the F2 generation, only the F1. There's nothing about the IP or companies that make this the case, it's fucking biology. You can seed-save all you like, you won't run a farm like that because you won't make any money. Even if you aren't using transgenes (i.e. 'GMOs'), you'll still use seed made from directed crosses from parental lines known to produce hybrid vigor when crossed. Seed saving ended because of this, not some loony conspiracy about 'evil' seed companies.

One confounder: Terminator seed. This is a technology that does make F1 seed sterile. Oddly enough, this was done for reasons of environmental responsibility; if you make your transgene products terminate, the transgenes can't spread into the environment. Unfortunately this technology was never commercialized because of reactionaries like yourself.

As for genetic diversity, your impression has no basis in reality. Breeders have only become more zealous about gathering wild accessions to use in breeding programs, namely for disease resistance traits. These programs would be wildly more effective if, instead of back-crossing for many generations over many years, you could simply pop in the relevant loci in a transgene. But that's another foolish pipe dream due to the reactionaries.

Final point; you're aware traditional crops have just as much IP protection as transgene crops, right? Plant variety protections last in the 15-20 year range, are respected by most international treaties, and are ubiquitous in crop breeding, ornamental flower breeding, etc. Utility patents provide slightly different protections for transgene crops, but it's not much different. Those trendy apples or 'Sunshine raspberries' at the grocery store? 100% patented. Why is your trendy beer so expensive? Patented hops. It fucking boogles the mind that anyone thinks transgenes have a thing to do with this.


> What you don't get is any hybrid vigor in the F2 generation, only the F1. There's nothing about the IP or companies that make this the case, it's fucking biology.

While that's true, it also happens to be economically convenient for the companies producing hybrid seeds, because they get recurring sales. So there's a lot of incentive to focus on finding new combinations to hybridize, while neglecting research on other options. After all, there's no guarantee that "hybrid vigor" actually improves the metrics humans care about (such as yield), rather than causing some other traits (such as leaf size) to be expressed stronger. So hybridization is just a different way to generate variants for selective breeding and a lot of its popularity is just due to the built-in DRM.


> After all, there's no guarantee that "hybrid vigor" actually improves the metrics humans care about (such as yield), rather than causing some other traits (such as leaf size) to be expressed stronger.

I can assure you in strongest terms that, yes, hybrid vigor is unique in this regard. 'Solving' hybrid vigor in a way that you can capture the benefits in a stable inbred is a multi-billion dollar innovation.

The most innovation in breeding is happening in maize. It's responsible for the most high-throughput sequencing, the most automated greenhouse metrology, the most funding in general (esp. in China). About 10-15 years ago any plant biologist was basically guaranteed funding if they put the words 'epigenetics' and 'heterosis' in their grants. Everyone figured that the recent understanding in DICER, the plant RNA Pols, DNA methylation and histone modifications, etc. would lead to a solid working model of heterosis.

It didn't happen.

Every conceivable growth and yield trait in maize has been analyzed. The qTLS have been found, the regulatory elements mapped, the chromatin environment understood, etc. It's very difficult to explain how well maize has been studied; in many ways the field is vastly ahead of any other model despite the absurd difficulty of doing genomics in such a repetitive and large genome.

The notion that leaf width/area hasn't been analyzed to death with regard to yield is laughable. Sidenote: the plant breeders have been wiping the floor with animal breeders because they naturally perform group selection in crop rows. Things like broad leaves are bad bad bad because they cost a lot and just end up shaded by their neighbors and higher leaves on the same plant. Animal breeders fail here and have been selecting for hyper-aggressive animals that fight and stress everything to all hell, much to their detriment.

The fact is that heterosis matters, and any high-performance inbred will be beat by even a moderate-performing hybrid by any reasonable metric.


Thanks for the details, but you're kind of being a dick.


> This is a perfect example of the original article's conclusion: you simply don't know what you're talking about.

I do know what I'm talking about. If you think you can talk a hybrid seed and plant a viable crop for the next year, you are mistaken.

> But! You're confusing this with sterile or semi-sterile inter-species hybrids like mules, or perhaps sterile triploids like banana. These are completely different phenomena that have nothing to do with 'hybrid corn'.

Have you ever purchased a seedless watermelon? How are you going to replant that?

> if you make your transgene products terminate, the transgenes can't spread into the environment. Unfortunately this technology was never commercialized because of reactionaries like yourself.

You use the term 'reactionary' obviously to denigrate me. Should there be genes that contaminate other's crops that would potentially lead to nonviable seeds? Of course not, that's got to be even worse for the planet.

> Final point; you're aware traditional crops have just as much IP protection as transgene crops, right? Plant variety protections last in the 15-20 year range, are respected by most international treaties, and are ubiquitous in crop breeding, ornamental flower breeding, etc. Utility patents provide slightly different protections for transgene crops, but it's not much different. Those trendy apples or 'Sunshine raspberries' at the grocery store? 100% patented. Why is your trendy beer so expensive? Patented hops. It fucking boogles the mind that anyone thinks transgenes have a thing to do with this.

Just because other aspects of agriculture fall under patent law doesn't take away from my argument against GMOs being patentable. In fact, GMOs are even worse a specific gene might be easily identified and used as a patent enforcement tool. Current law allows patent holders to come after end users. EG, if you receive seed from your supplier, and it was at some point (even unknowingly) contaminated with a specific gene through cross contamination, you could be held liable. Especially if you are a farmer and you are considered 'producing' and 'distributing' their patented works (such as selling seed stock or the actual produce).

You fail to see the other side of the issue because you are an apparent GMO zealot.


> Another understated problem is the intellectual property issue. Saving seeds is usually prohibited (and those seeds might not be viable anyway), farmers have been successfully sued.

Those lawsuits are heavily misunderstood.

Monsanto was not suing farmers for saving seeds from their own crops and planting. They were suing for farmers selling the seeds from their crops grown from Monsanto seeds. It's like agricultural version of software piracy.


What you're saying is entirely untrue [1]

1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/farmers-use-of-genet...


What he is saying is not that far off. When Monsanto sells those seeds, they include a contractual obligation not to resell the offspring seeds for planting. Whatever you feel about the validity of this contract, that's the current state of affairs. Monsanto also has patents on those seeds of the classical variety. That is, irrespective of their being genetically engineered.

The work around was to sell those seeds as animal feed, purchase the feed in bulk, which is a mixture of seeds and then spray a large amount of herbicide on the crop until only the Monsanto seeds are left effectively creating copies. The offspring seeds of that crop are then sold as feed and the process is repeated.

Monsanto argues that this is in effect making illegal copies of their patented seed even though the letter of the contract was not violated and that the feed sellers were infringing on their patents by selling the seed to be reused in plantings. It says all of this in the article you linked as well.


That does not refute what I claimed, even in the loosest of interpretations.


Could you explain why you feel that genetically modifying crops to be pesticide resistant is a problem?


I'm not going to comment on the article for reasons, but one issue is that it encourages heavier use of pesticides which then do things like mix with nitrogen runoff and have major macro-effects on the ecosystem, but many of these residual, long term side effects are downplayed by the industry because the players have interest in selling not just the gmo but the fertilizers and pesticides.

Source; worked at a bigag company doing gmo and selling fertilizer and pesticides and later worked at a genetics company. I quit the bigag company the minute I realized they were essentially a Monsanto front.

I think dang and hn should watch threads on this subject carefully, it's one of the most astroturfed subjects on the Internet, and it saddens me how many people here immediately agree with such easily identified strawman arguments.

(see poster conflating racists and creationists with conspiracy theorists and by association anyone who dislikes GMOs)


"If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is."

- John von Neumann


Because humans haven't been engineered to be pesticide resistant. I don't think we should increase our intake of pesticides.


Excellent point - a disclosure of the why of GMO would be really useful. Agreed re: weedkiller.


Why is that a problem?


That's the big lie about GMO. I always heard that they would use less(!) pesticides because the plant was more resistant but when you look at Roundup it's exactly the opposite.


An even bigger lie is "we need them to feed the poor" -- when it's merely to control IP and increase profit margins.


Um. No one would farm GM plants if the returns on cost weren't there. Clearly, for the farmer, and therefore the consumer, they are net less expensive, even with that fat profit margin for Roundup. So-called organic farming is more expensive and it shows in consumer prices. The people who are impacted most by higher grocery store prices are the poor.


It's easy to do, just follow the Walmart (or other large corporation) business model: Maintain artificially low prices long enough to destroy the rest of the local market, create captive customers, raise prices.

In the case of a seed supply company, this could be done either via buying up competing farms and selling the end product for much less than your competitors; alternatively, supplying your seeds so cheaply that farmers would be stupid to use the alternative. Once the traditional seed supplies are gone, enjoy your monopoly.


The process you've just described is illegal in general:

https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-a...

Walmart's case is complicated.


They don't account for the pollution Roundup causes.


That's sort of a handwavy dismissal ins't it? What exactly is the pollution Roundup causes and is it worse than, say, petroleum based mulch, potassium chloride, and copper sulfate?


Yeah. I don't have any real numbers on pollution metrics either way, but it is a fact that so-called organic farming requires more land than traditional ag to produce the same output, and thus more tractor fuel burned per food, a direct source of pollution. As far as I know, (atmospheric) pollution isn't a slam dunk argument against roundup.


There are quite a few studies claiming that glyphosate is toxic. I bet this will turn out like cigarettes. Companies will fight to death until the evidence is absolutely overwhelming.


This headline slightly overgeneralizes. From ArsTechnica’s coverage[0]:

To replicate this finding and expand its scope, the researchers performed a similar survey in the US, Germany, and France. The results in the US were the same, and the researchers also saw genetic literacy go down as the vehemence of GMO opposition went up. But there was a subtle difference. In the two European countries, the gap between actual knowledge and self-assessed knowledge no longer correlated with the strength of opposition. In other words, the strongest GMO opponents in Germany and France may not have known much about genetics, but they were at least a bit more realistic about their lack of knowledge.

0: (https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/01/on-gmo-safety-the-fi...)


> Among the statements the participants had to wrestle with were: “Ordinary tomatoes do not have genes, whereas genetically modified tomatoes do”

Yikes.


Devang Mehta had a great essay on why he had trouble being a researcher in GMO - not due to GMO but the negative perceptions of culture/people around him about it: https://massivesci.com/articles/gmo-gm-plants-safe/


I am very skeptical of any study about "how only dumb people don't trust GMO's"

Monsanto very infamously sponsored studies all over the world and with prestigious universities and professors that "found solid proof" that GMO's plus RoundUp was "non-toxic", but now we know that RoundUp in large quantities clearly causes cancer.

It's too bad because now, I am honestly can't tell if any study on GMO's is valid or sponsored by these large corporations.


> but now we know that RoundUp in large quantities clearly causes cancer.

I don’t think we do know that. Unless Wikipedia editors and European regulatory agencies are Monsanto shills. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate


>Unless Wikipedia editors and European regulatory agencies are Monsanto shills.

If you saw how far Monsanto's reach was, you would know that Wikipedia is child's play. And they infiltrated other governments, so the European regulatory agencies are clearly within their wheelhouse.

Here is one example of when they corrupted a Harvard professor.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/10/01/harvard-profess...


Ironically one section of the article refers to an article by Guardian which states that one of these regulatory agencies copy-paste Monsanto's texts. It reminded me of one of Richard Feynman's stories where he was part of the commission for reviewing new school books which were according to him complete garbage, but other members of the commission approved them. Turned out their reviews were in fact written by the publishing houses and they just published what they were given. It wasn't a case of corruption, rather, people were lazy to even open the books.


Yup, basically, Monsanto does the study, writes the report, then give the Professor thousands of dollars to put his name on it.

He doesn't have to lift a finger and gets credit for a study plus thousands of dollars.

Corruption at it's most efficient.


People like creationists, conspiracy nuts, or racists consistently know nothing about their pet topics, or if they know a lot, they suffer from incredible flaws in reasoning.

It's always surprising to me how consistent this is, but then I remember that those positions pretty much by definition can only exist if you have a glaring defect in knowledge or reasoning. You've already found an ignorant person when you've found someone who thinks crazy stuff.


Except that at one point in time, creationism and racism were considered official truth and people who thought otherwise were attacked as the conspiracy nuts. Between two of the smartest men to have ever lived, Isaac Newton was a creationist and Albert Einstein was a racist. Neither are what I'd call "ignorant persons".

In my opinion, it's the politically motivated who eschew discussion, logic and reason.


That's pretty irrelevant. It's a good heuristic for finding an idiot right now, not in the Bronze Age.


Criticizing creationists and racists in the same sentence... you clearly haven't thought this through. Only a creationist could believe that there are no differences between human populations that have been separated for tens of thousands of years living in vastly different environments.


Oh boy


I don't think it's unreasonable to want to eat real food, the same we've eaten for thousands of years, or to think it's the healthiest option for us. It's common sense, which doesn't require years of indoctrination in high school and university.

On the other side of the coin, it's also not surprising that people who do not know much about something might feel threatened by it -- not exactly a groundbreaking discovery. That said, I have a strong scientific background and still find the idea of genetically modified food to be inhumane and abhorrent.

Anecdotally, it's kind of funny that many of the scientifically "ignorant" people I've met have better values and ethics than many scientists.


> I don't think it's unreasonable to want to eat real food, the same we've eaten for thousands of years, or to think it's the healthiest option for us. It's common sense, which doesn't require years of indoctrination in high school and university.

I think people need to be taught in school that there is no such thing as eating "the same we've eaten for thousands of years". Ever since people first started doing agriculture those thousands of years ago, the food we grow has been constantly changing on genetic level. Wheat today isn't the same wheat it was 500 years ago, and wheat 500 years ago wasn't the same as it was 1000 years ago, all because farming applies a new set of selection pressures.

The difference between "real food" and GMOs is that genetic engineering is a scalpel, where our age-old farming practices are a combination of sledgehammer genetic engineering, and throwing shit at a wall to see what sticks.


>I don't think it's unreasonable to want to eat real food, the same we've eaten for thousands of years, or to think it's the healthiest option for us.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_fallacy


I would argue its a bad logical technique but a good heuristic if you didn't want to invest a lot of time diving deep into the science.


"The strongest opponents of Astrology know the least but think they know the most.."


It's not a coincidence that in a war, most people come to the conclusion that their side has the moral high ground. If you speak to most of them, you will get detailed rationalisations, facts and such supporting their position. You, and they, will pretend that these reasons determined their opinion.

Obviously though, the opinion precedes the "reasons" for the opinion. IE, they are "rationalising".

In war, this is obvious to us but it applies pretty widely. People's opinions/conclusions are based on identity and group membership. The "reasons" for opinions are applied retroactively in a lawyerly, best-available-agrument fashion.

This probably applies to you too. What you believe about Brexit, border walls, Chinese political reforms, the free market, #metoo, agile... the reasons for your opinions are probably not your reasons, and your social sense probably plays an uncomfortably large role in determining them.


What's also interesting is how a casus belli can evolve after a war, when the facts finally become clear.

Consider America's entry into World War II. Ask a modern American, or anyone really, what the justification for entering the war was and they'd probably say to stop Hitler. Asked why they'd care about stopping Hitler, and the answer might be that Hitler killed several million Jews. A pretty good reason.

But Americans in 1941 had no idea about the Holocaust. Yes, there had been reporting on persecution of Jews under the Nazis, and there's still controversy over who knew what, when, and how, but in general they didn't know. So why did the USA still go in? Well, no doubt there were still good reasons. But they become a lot less cut and dried when we take into account what was known at the time. The real reasons at the time were geopolitical. Only later did the moral case become obvious, and retroactively applied.

I sometimes wonder what might have gone differently if the Nazis were not quite so cartoonishly and stupidly evil, confining themselves to "just" taking over Western Europe and not trying their hand at genocide quite so enthusiastically, or if Japan had not been so foolish and arrogant as to attack Pearl Harbour. Would the USA have stirred in this alternate universe, if Hitler had one less screw loose and Tojo had one fewer bottles of sake? If not, history could have easily turned out very differently.


> Ask a modern American, or anyone really, what the justification for entering the war was and they'd probably say to stop Hitler.

I'm pretty sure this is false and that most people know the US entered WWII because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


GP's point may be rescued by changing this to: Americans may have entered the war because of Pearl Harbor, but the reason why the Allies were the "good guys" is that they "fought the nazis". The reason why nazis needed to be fought is genocide and concentration camps. But, in 1941, most people didn't know (or believe; reports were coming out since 1930s, but fell on deaf ears) in all the atrocities the nazis committed. Back in 1941, for most countries involved this was just a regular war; the extra moral significance was added post-war.


Strongest opponents of [insert hot/controversial topic] know the least but think they know the most


Of course, like guns, torture, war, ...


this tag line is about people, not the GMO issue itself; the Precautionary Principle[0] holds with or without "proof"

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


I read that headline and wondered if it's generalizeable to just about anything, and not just GM foods...

“This is often used to explain why many Americans refuse to believe in evolution and why so many Americans feel that vaccination is harmful to children,” O’Dwyer said. “It also figures into the debates on global warming and makes correcting erroneous beliefs highly challenging.”

Apparently it is.


That's exactly what I thought. Conspiracy theorists like moon-landing deniers, flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, etc. have endless "research" to quote, but zero real knowledge on the subject. Obviously if they knew better they wouldn't hold that belief, but the bubble that they live in contains enough "data" for them to think they are informed.


Actually it doesn't apply to global warming. From the abstract:

> Similar results were obtained in a parallel study with representative samples from the United States, France and Germany, and in a study testing attitudes about a medical application of genetic engineering technology (gene therapy). This pattern did not emerge, however, for attitudes and beliefs about climate change.


At the same time I'm sure the following statements would also be true:

"Those who know the least about the intricacies of lizard people conspiracy theories are most likely to deny it" or "Those who know the least about Bible-based curing methods or most likely to reject it"

I am pro-GMO and don't go out of my way to eat GMO free, but at the same time I think it misses a greater point that those who are against something for larger meta or ethical reasons of course are not going to know the exact mechanics of it (because for them that would be missing the point).


I thought it was interesting that the UK-based professor restricted the scope of these statements to refer to Americans. It seems that anti-vax sentiment may be the strongest in France,[1] and that it is also quite active in Italy.[2] The professor teachers US and UK politics, so I can see why he'd want to stick to his area of expertise. At the same time, his statements seem to imply that Americans are unique in these beliefs.

1: https://www.acsh.org/news/2016/09/09/france-leads-world-anti...

2: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anti-vaxxers...


Keep in mind that there are a near-infinite number of ways that crops can be genetically modified. I'm personally against each of these:

* Roundup Ready - studies are finding that glyphosate causes endocrine disruption, yet farmers saturate their fields with the stuff: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19539684

* Splicing pesticide genes into crops - there are the unintended consequences of having no long-term epidemiological studies. In this case, they put a gene into peas to act as a pesticide, which of course triggers an immune response in other animals (like us): https://responsibletechnology.org/genetically-modified-peas-...

* Splicing animal genes into plants - they are putting animal and custom-tailored genes into plants that produce compounds that humans have never eaten, so our gut doesn't recognize them, which can trigger autoimmune diseases: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070817/

Each of these should scare the crap out of anyone who knows anything about science and evolution. These genes will likely spread into neighboring crops (which is why GMOs are starting to be banned in many countries).

What worries me the most about this is that staples (all grains, many legumes and nightshades) are being hit hard with GMO tinkering because they make up such a large part of our diet. Which means that to save a few pennies on the dollar, the food industrial complex is willing to offload the externality of the cost of these health impacts onto all of us. Forcing us to buy organic, which cost 2-4 times more.

I feel that this was all by design. It started sometime around the late Clinton or early George W Bush years, and ended up transferring wealth from the masses to a few patent-holding firms in big agribusiness.

We've started seeing increases in allergies, asthma, autism, and other sensitivities to things like gluten (which may have been triggered by GMO compounds and increased use of pesticides, though this is still being researched).

Food was already cheap by the 1950s. I just can't believe that we're still exploring dangerous cost-cutting measures like GMO, while ignoring the fundamental causes of world hunger like wealth inequality. That's why I think that the article is propaganda.


So much of the focus is on science, and so little on how GMO further expands the domain of businesses whose interests do not align with consumers'.

Perhaps we should fix the incentives first, otherwise we will see the equivalents of perpetual copyright, DRM, and food stuffed full of salt and sugar, replicated in life itself.


I suppose this headline is meant to imply the opposite is true too

well, rest assured that corporations care deeply about your nutritional needs and safety, and would never compromise for profit or make mistakes in production


> corporations ... would never ... make mistakes in production

it is reasonable to assume you're sarcastically suggesting that corporations make mistakes during production?

if so, what method of organizing human labor ensures that mistakes are _not_ made?


I'm suggesting for evolution to control the production of plants and animals, as usual


"The most vocal proponents of NoSQL know the least about SQL"


I'm pro science and evidence. But anti GMO

bad website, but these anti-GMO scientists / academics have compiled a meta review of scientific literature (free pdf and book to buy): http://gmomythsandtruths.earthopensource.org/

there's a short news article that has some of the arguments here https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/genetically-modified-fo...


You could generalize this to "Strongest and especially loudest opponents/proponents of anything often know the least or have a hidden agenda"


I'm sure this is true but let's not let this strawman detract from the fact that none of us really know that much about GM foods


Technically has no bearing whether being opposed to GM foods is the correct stance


You don't need to know a lot about something in order to reject it. If a Finance PhD calls you with a super complex investment strategy you have no obligation to put all your money into it. In fact, it's probably prudent to reject it out of hand.


>You don't need to know a lot about something in order to reject it

Ok, but in that case you also shouldn't hold an opinion as to whether or not it's a sound investment. The discussion here is concerned with people who hold strong opinions based on poor understanding and reasoning.

I could use your logic for anything really. How about vaccines? "I don't understand medical science or chemistry and the ingredients sound super scary. No vaccines for my kid!"


You can hold an opinion as to whether it's a sound investment for yourself. E.g. Warren Buffett was, for a long time, notoriously reluctant to invest in tech.

I'm not sure I understand the counter-argument about vaccines. The crucial point there is herd immunity, which doesn't apply to many other fields.


>You can hold an opinion as to whether it's a sound investment for yourself. E.g. Warren Buffett was, for a long time, notoriously reluctant to invest in tech.

You're only reasoning would be "I don't understand this thing, so I'm staying away." You can reasonbly hold an opinion as to how the investment will perform if you don't understand it to begin with.

That is not the view of the people described in the article. These people throw around falshoods and severley misunderstand the subject they claim to be well informed on. That's the entire point.


From the article:

"Fernbach and others analysed surveys completed by nationally representative samples..."

From Fernbach's directory profile:

"Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., he worked with consumer goods companies as a strategy consultant for two boutique firms in Boston."[1]

Don't want to cry "astroturfing" here, but if the shoe fits...

[1] https://www.colorado.edu/business/philip-fernbach


Thanks for pointing this out! Very informative and I would have missed it otherwise.


Anything that starts out with "public surveys" is up to no good.




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