GMO corn

Pseudoscience and Popular Media

GMO cornTo make day-to-day life easier, we rely on intuitive reasoning. Our minds use mental shortcuts called heuristics to make snap judgements. It saves time.

And at one time, it may have saved lives by making the quick decision that avoided a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, this reasoning leaves us vulnerable.

Reasoning and GMOs

A team of Belgian philosophers and plant biotechnologists conducted a study on to investigate how our reasoning works when it comes to the hot button issue of GMOs. Opposition to them is absurd, given the strong science supporting their use. To oppose GMOs is not unlike denying climate change. It flies in the face of facts and reason.

The researchers found that the anti-GMO messages play on our collective consciousness and intuitions to promote negative—and false—talking points about GMOs. They identified three common approaches to steer the dialogue down the wrong path.

 Essentialism and DNA

One mechanism involves the concept of essentialism. It is the concept that the identity of a being is defined by certain attributes, namely, DNA in this case. If you alter them, you are in essence changing its very nature. Our intuition tells us that this is wrong. Thus, the message about GMOs being wrong plays out.

Teleological Arguments and God

The teleological argument or the argument from design, is a familiar one. It is easily exploited in a country like the USA with a large percentage of people who believe in God. The message says that to alter an organism is to play God. And that is certainly wrong in some people’s eyes. The message works, even if it is a bit hypocritical.

Contaminating the Goods

The last mechanism that the researchers uncovered concerns contamination. The anti-GMO crowds bills genetic modification as a means to contaminate an organism. The fact that the so-called contamination occurs with foods like wheat—aka, the bread of life—so much the better.

The problem, of course, is that each of these approaches is dead-wrong and are blatant examples of treading in the garden of pseudoscience. And it’s dirty to use an individual’s beliefs and ideology against them in such an exploitative fashion. But that’s exactly the message we get with the anti-GMO crowd with messages like Franken-fish and the like.

I’m reminded on an excellent piece written by Julia Belluz of She questioned whether journalists should cover quacks like Dr. Oz or the Food Babe? After discussing the issue of misinformation and pseudoscience being peddled by these hacks, her conclusion was to hold the media accountable for its role in fomenting crap.

So, here you go, Chipotles, Whole Foods, and the Food Babe: you mislead the public with pseudoscience and misinformation.

Hmm. I have a taste for some yummy Monsanto corn. Chris DR
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flight response

A Point Worth Addressing

flight responseI am an avid reader of the Discover blogs. The writers produce well-researched articles that I for one, appreciate. However, I had to take some exception to one post today from the ImaGeo blog.

The writer, Tom Yulsman, wrote about Rush Limbaugh’s radio show where he criticized a study that suggested that the Santa Catalina Island near Los Angeles is sinking. Limbaugh questioned the study as well as its 3-million year timeline.

I don’t have an opinion on Rush Limbaugh. I can understand though why he may not be everyone’s particular cup of tea. There are two points in rebuttal to this article that I wish to make.

Point 1: Skip the Snark

On the onset, let me state emphatically that I accept climate change and anthropogenic climate change. You only have to summon simple logic to understand that having 7 billion people on the planet is going to have an impact. Okay, that’s understood.

The first point I want to raise concerns the tone. The writer mentions the clown Al Franken calling Limbaugh “a fat idiot.” (I can say that about Franken, seeing as I live in Minnesota and have a stake in it.) The language is unnecessary, like a lot of the rhetoric that liberals use in the climate change debate.

Call for rappers to get involved in the message or publishing articles with headlines like, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” take the debate to the elementary school playground. That’s not the way to present an argument.

Writers like Yulsman should realize this, since their writing for the most part is professional. This is what falls under the categories of snark, trolling, thuggery, bullying, and the like. You will never convince anyone of any worthy—or unworthy—subject by descending into an ad hominem fallacy. Saying someone doesn’t understand everything is a classic example.

Point 2: Let’s Deal with the Elephant in the Living Room

As I stated earlier, I have no opinion about Limbaugh and in no way am I defending him. However, he raises a good point, namely, the 3-million year timeline of the Santa Catalina evidence. And it is one that underlies the majority of the evidence of climate change.

First, let’s remember that our brain’s hardwiring is one that deals with immediate threats to our own survival. Our brains have not evolved a great deal over the last 10,000 years. We operate on a fight-or-flight type of survival instinct for the moment.

The whole discussion about climate change revolves around concepts foreign to us. Instead of thinking about your own survival, now it’s a dialogue about the planet and about the other 7 billion people. Dare I say that it’s a topic that many would find hard to get their head around. And it is.

Second, there is the time factor. And this is where I think Limbaugh’s point is well taken. We live day-to-day. The further into the future we go, the muddier the waters become. It’s especially hard to conceptualize times when we know we won’t be around.

Think about a lot of the data that speaks to trends toward 2100. I hate to even conceive of a time beyond my lifetime. As far as I’m concerned, I’m living forever; time stops when I pass. The idea then of considering long-term objectives in this time frame is daunting, to say the least, let alone 3 million years.

Pointing the Way Toward a Better Dialogue

Instead of the snark from the left, how about addressing the bigger questions? How about considering a dialogue that doesn’t focus on attacks on people with different points of view? How about realizing that something vital isn’t being communicated and is creating an obstacle toward accepting climate change?

How about leaving the playground and name-calling behind and begin thinking and acting like adults? As soon as you attack the person, you have initiated the fight response. And remember that the solution hinges on cooperation. You don’t foster cooperation with rock-throwing. Think about it. Chris DR
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GMO chocolate

GMOs, the Fun Side

GMO chocolateI think Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, said it best when he penned,

“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

And that is exactly what the anti-GMO crowd has done. But the stakes are about to get higher. GMO technology, after all, is not just staying in the corn field.

We All Eat GMOs Every Day—And We Love It!

To read the rhetoric, you could easily be deceived about the scope and availability of GMO products. The truth remains that it ubiquitous. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to avoid it. According to the US Department of Agriculture, about 88 percent of corn and 94 percent of soy grown in the United States are GMO products.

You can surmise that it shows up in most all processed foods. But it’s not limited to pasta and cookies. If you eat cheese, you are eating GMO products most likely. And we all love cheese, don’t we?

If you’re not familiar with the cheese making process, it goes something like this. Milk needs to coagulate so the yummy bits and whey separate. Producers use rennet, or specifically, the enzyme, chymosin, to move things along. This enzyme is found in the bovine stomachs.

Despite the fact that upwards of 33 million cattle are slaughtered each year, we needed other ways to produce chymosin to keep up with cheese demand. We now have chymosin or rennin to fulfill our needs, with a little help from our GM-organism friends.

Oh, But You Do Love It

Recent technology is taking GMOs into a new realm that even the most staunch anti-GMO activist may be hard pressed to deny. Apparently, we are in the midst of a looming chocolate shortage. Demand and the unpredictability of the crop itself are stacking the cards against free-flowing chocolate. GMO chocolate to the rescue!

The process of developing a GMO is complex. The complexity fuels some of the angst individuals may experience. But complexity doesn’t make it bad or evil. Trying putting together a cell phone with its raw materials.

The process has begun with DNA sequencing of the cacao plant. This is the first step toward finding solutions. From there, researchers test and test and test. That’s where we’re at now. One day, your chocolate chip cookie may contain GMO chips—and that would be a good thing, especially if you love chocolate.

The alternative is to let the market play out the sequence of events. Expect chocolate prices to skyrocket in return. Chocolate may not be as essential to life on the planet as corn or soybeans. However, it speaks to an important point.

Embracing Technology

Technology is our friend. It helps us solve problems. The stigma heaped onto GMO foods is only a political ideology with no basis in science or facts. It is a living-breathing example of the confirmation bias and appeal to ignorance fallacy at work. The bogeyman isn’t hiding here.

The most perplexing thing to me about this whole drama about GMOs is the disturbing déjà vu going on here. I mean, haven’t we seen many cases of ignorance and fear of the unknown behind several sad events in our collective past? It’s time we let go of the make-believe demons interfering with ways to feed people nutritious food. Chris DR
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GMO broccoli

GMOs and Feeding People

GMO broccoliYou’d think this would be a no-brainer. We have technology that can help us solve one of the most heartbreaking and devastating things known to mankind. Yet, the anti-GMO crowd turns its collective back on a means to fight starvation and nutritional deficiencies.

Technology Solving Health Problems

Gluten-Free Wheat

Despite the anti-GMO rhetoric, research continues with GMO foods. Some exciting developments are in the offing. I have a personal stake in what may come of research by the Kansas Wheat Commission.

The commission is providing funding to identify the DNA sequence of wheat, i.e., gluten, that triggers gluten intolerance in celiac disease patients and those with food sensitivities.

Celiac disease causes the body to produce antibodies specific to gluten. Once ingested, the body attacks the small intestine where most food is absorbed. This condition leads to a myriad of nutritional deficiencies—and their associated consequences—as damage impairs nutritional uptake.

If researchers can identify the specific protein fragments involved, it is the first step toward improving health outcomes in these individuals. Imagine having to vet every single thing you eat or drink for gluten. You can’t just pick up anything at the grocery store, the gas station, any restaurant, or even any friends/family’s home. Welcome to my world.

Reducing Cholesterol

On another front, imagine buying a product that could reduce LDL or bad cholesterol levels. You can if you live in England. There, you can buy enriched broccoli under the name Beneforte.

Human trials with the product showed a 6 percent reduction in LDL. It does this by increasing levels of a naturally-occurring chemical (Ooo-ooo, chemicals!) called glucoraphanin in the broccoli. High LDL levels are a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Nutritional Deficiencies

There are other examples of research that has led to significant discoveries. Scientists have developed potatoes and apples with reduced bruising and browning. There is also rice with higher levels of vitamin A to combat these nutritional deficiencies.

Science is providing the solutions to fundamental health problems. Yet, the anti-GMO crowd continues its baseless crusade. Instead, we have the likes of the Food Babe calling out chemicals as bad. Hey, sweetheart, we’re all made of chemicals.

A Modern-Day Solution

It’s important to take GMOs in the proper context. It is not witchcraft. It is not disgusting or unnatural. It’s science evolving and finding solutions. It’s the 21st century means of solving our problems.

And the problems we face in the future are not all about the sobering issues of our day. They also involve ones that touch our hearts. Next time, I’ll discuss the GMO solution that may be the Achilles heal for the anti-GMO movement. Chris DR
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GMO corn

GMOs and Food Waste

GMO cornWhether or not you accept anthropogenic-caused climate change, you probably realize that we face tough issues in the years ahead. Food security and sustainability in the light of a rising global population are weighty matters. And one of the tools we have to manage it is GMOs.

GMOs and Technology

It’s important to keep a basic principle in mind when discussing GMOs; we have to look at is as a technology rather than a cause. The reason you can go to the grocery store and buy just about anything you want is because of technology. Technology makes food processing possible.

Take livestock management, for example. Through technology and science, effective and efficient management is possible. Farmers have selectively bred cattle to produce a leaner animal. The average beef roast has 30 percent less fat than it did just 10 years ago. With over 33 million beef cattle slaughtered each year, you know that there is some heavy-duty technology behind the industry.

GMOs and Crops

California’s drought has acted as a huge wake-up call. It is costing the state billions of dollars—if just in drought relief. This is why technology such as the DroughtGard corn is imperative. It is the only commercially available GMO corn that is drought resistant.

And other eco-friendly GMOs exist. To offset heavy pesticide use, scientists from the Max-Planck Institute in Germany have gone straight to the problem with an anti-pest potato plant. The plants are able to withstand attacks by the international superpest, the Colorado potato beetle.

These two products make a strong case for the environmentally-friendly options that GMOs have to offer. Plants that require less water? Plants that negate the use of pesticides? To can development of such products based solely on principle (the science that says otherwise doesn’t exist) take foolishness to a whole new level. That, my friends, is food waste.

GMOs and Food Waste

GMOs offer one solution to the growing problem of food waste. Consider these numbers gathered by the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) in Great Britain. The United States alone wastes 60 million metric tons of food each year. Technology, specifically GMOs, offer a means to reduce the waste.

But improved efficiency is not the only benefit from using GMOs. Next time, I’ll look at the emerging technology to make healthier foods. Chris DR
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