Agriculture

Guest Post: The Union of Concerned Trolls

On March 27th, the MIT Technology Review—an otherwise great resource on science and technology—published a bizarre diatribe on GMOs: Are GMOs Worth the Trouble by Doug Gurian-Sherman. I encourage you to read it before coming to the meat of this post. I call it bizarre for the many non-sequiturs, misrepresentations, and statements so easily falsifiable that one wonders how it got past the editors; yet it did. As I was considering writing a response to it, Mary Mangan and I exchanged a few puzzled tweets, and I decided the response would be far better received from an actual scientist such as she is, instead of from a two-bit nitwit like myself.

She graciously agreed to my proposal for a reply to the article to be posted here. You’ll find her insightful rebuttal below.


The Union of Concerned Trolls

If you have spent any time around the series of tubes in the last decade, you will have come across many personality types. One of these is the “concern troll.” A definition of this term from Wikitionary offers a glimpse at the behavior of this type of individual:

Someone who posts to an internet forum or newsgroup, claiming to share its goals while deliberately working against those goals, typically, by claiming “concern” about group plans to engage in productive activity, urging members instead to attempt some activity that would damage the group’s credibility, or alternatively to give up on group projects entirely.

In comment threads around the internet, there’s probably not much harm to come from random concern trolls. Unfortunately, though, there is a more insidious variety of concern troll that has wider influence, or a larger megaphone, and these behaviors can then really become barriers to progress. In science and science policy, this can mean undermining support and funding, and for some research areas: losing time on breakthroughs that could provide benefits in many arenas of health and environmental sustainability.

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Steve Savage

The Lowdown on Pesticides with a Plant Pathologist

As I delve further into the depths of agriculture, particularly in respect to GMOs which has become my pet project, I am consistently astounded by how much I don’t know. Granted, that hasn’t stopped me from forming, having, and propagating opinions, but always, in the recesses of my mind, preparing myself for the possibility that what I take for granted and believe in may be wrong.

I was once wrong about GMOs, and then I was wrong again on pesticides. Continuing on in the same vein as my Lowdown on GMOs series, I’ve reached out to plant pathologist Steve Savage to pick his brain on pesticides as it is perhaps just as big an issue as the use of GMOs today. Enjoy.


0 – Lots of folks are increasingly having concerns over pesticides. In that regard, before we begin, I think it will pay dividends to define a few things

i – Could you give a brief bio of yourself, your experiences, competencies, and why people should trust your judgment? (more…)

Further Ruminations on the Appeal to Nature

Sometime back, I wrote a post about the Appeal to Nature fallacy. It is a fallacy that bothers me quite significantly; the main reason is because its assumptions and consequences are unspoken or, in most cases, never addressed.

For those who don’t know the Appeal to Nature (ATN) usually involves a dietary and medicinal claim that natural products are, directly or otherwise, better than artificial (read: man-made) products. Anytime you read the words “Natural”, “All Natural,” “Organic,” you are reading an Appeal to Nature; specifically, to nature’s goodness–I’ve never seen arsenic used in an ATN. Notably, it tends to rear its head in relation to conditions and diseases that our current medical knowledge is unable to address—Alzheimer’s and cancer being two examples among many. (In that light, the ATN might be considered the exploitation of severe emotional distress among those at the least rational stage of their life as they face daunting, perhaps hopeless, odds to make money, but that’s just the pessimist in me talking.) The selling of natural supplements is often marked as a way to give back power and certainty that psychological wellbeing demands; subsequently relieving cognitive discomfort, albeit at exorbitant costs (in relation to their benefit that is—except for a few, genuinely exorbitant price tags such as Stanley Burzynski’s supposed cancer cure which rings in at several hundred thousand dollars). From multivitamins to gingko bilboa, the ATN is a powerful train of thought.

However, despite its popularity, it is so full of holes, contradictions and—what really gets me—unspoken assumptions and conclusions. I’m not going to bother debunking it; that has been done many times; once here on this blog, and many other—far better—denunciations on the Internet (my favourite being Kyle Hill’s Does Mother Nature Always Know What’s Best). Rather, I plan on taking the ATN through to its logical conclusion.

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GMOs

What Would It Take?

A few weeks ago Ken Ham ‘the creationist’ and Bill Nye ‘the science guy’ had a debate. The subject of the debate was ‘is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?’ During the Q&A session afterward, they were both asked a question asking them what it would take to change their mind. This made me think of people on opposing sides on the subject of GMOs; pro, con, or on the fence. It was a brilliant question, and one that should be asked in every debate.

Following the vein of the question, I’d like to ask to you, my readers, whichever side of the GMO fence you sit on: what would it take to change your mind that the opposing side is correct?

To be more specific:

If you are against GMO use: what would it take to convince you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the currently approved GMOs are safe?

If you are for GMO use: what would it take to convince you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the currently approved GMOs are dangerous?

Let me know in the comments below…

From Anti-GMO to pro-science: A Layman’s Guide to GMOs

My latest article on biotechnology has been featured on The Genetic Literacy Project website. It is now featured on the home page. The opening paragraphs are below, but be sure to head over to the GLP the rest. Enjoy!


From Anti-GMO to pro-science: A Layman’s Guide to GMOs

Knowing whom to trust on the touchy issue of GMOs (biotechnology) is a thorny issue—especially on the Internet, where tensions flare to a 100 with an absence of nuance and body language. Leaning on an authority is, of course, a shortcut. Who has the time these days to understand a field as diverse and comprehensive as biotechnology? Very few of us; in that light, it is a perfectly reasonable shortcut—provided one seeks out the correct authorities, that is.

That is why appeals to authority are the main weapon on both sides of the e-divide on GMOs. However, in many ways, many such arguments fall flat on their face as they exhibit fallacious reasoning (often called the argument from authority fallacy). The trick, of course, is finding an authority one can trust and that is right—no easy task.

What happens if one picks the wrong authority and psychologically ties oneself to a person expressing an argument, rather than to the evidence—doing just that is a quirky trait of human psychology. Over the past few years, this is the dilemma that I faced. The authorities I trusted in were wrong. Thus began the project that led to my book.

Read more…


And don’t forget my latest project: The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science has been released as a free eBook featuring contributions from molecular biologists, plant pathologists, farmers, journalists, and authors on the what the evidence concerning GMO actually says. Go grab it.

You can read reviews of the Lowdown here, here, and here.

Frankencorn

Frankentalk…

This article originally appeared on Outside The Hype. I am posting it here in full with several updates and corrections I’ve made that total an additional 900 words, with a tribute at the end. Enjoy.


Frankentalk…

The term frankenfood was invented—in so much that you can invent a word—to influence the GM food fight, just like the term crocoduck is used by creationists to disparage evolution. It is used to invoke disgust into the hearts and minds of those who hear it. The natural human tendency to link disparate thoughts coupled with the amgydala-generated sheen negativity the human mind is overly fond of does the work of the activist for them. In short, the frankenterm is a fear-meme.

Frankenstein, frankenfood, frankencorn, frankensalmon etc., are all terms I’m sure most who follow this debate have heard before—possibly many times. And, being that much of the GM debate is mired in ignorance (not in the negative sense: ignorance simply means lacking in knowledge), I’d like to point out that the term itself (franken-whatever) is further proof of that ignorance.

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