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
photo credit: Not Actual Size via photopin (license)

Posted in Lessons Learned.