Chad White: Anti-GMO tribal conformity and mythology, part 2

While many anti-GMO folk support the scientific consensus on climate change, they belittle these same science institutions by denying the consensus on genetic engineering (GE).

The oil companies have not been able to overturn the consensus on climate change, so how could Monsanto have more power than they do?

I don’t want readers to “believe” anything I am saying, I want them to be intellectually honest and employ rational inquiry into the claims I make and those made by opponents of biotechnology.

Chad badgeSadly, when I talk to people about biotechnology, it is often the first time they have heard someone in favor of the technology. They had only heard from anti-GMO activists, yet take a staunch stand.

I’m a hippie who  is falsely accused of shilling for Monsanto at least weekly. Anger often fills the space between certainty and lack of evidence.

False information about biotechnology has increased organic sales, but it’s not helpful towards our planet’s sustainability efforts.

I find it somewhat ironic that the very people who seem to be most concerned about climate change seem to be against one of the major tools we can use to actually combat some of the deleterious effects of current farming practices.

Stories can make opinions intractable in face of fact, regardless how fictional the story is. Our brains evolved an us-against-them mentality because it was not only advantageous, it was tantamount to survival. We have taken that tribal stance and applied it to issues like vaccinations, gluten consumption and eating organic, says Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine:

Religions and ideologies play into the hero plot since they match up well with the individual’s moral hunches and provide external justification. They validate emotional instincts, provide purpose and a common enemy. They can be useful but can also be dangerous; people have died for false beliefs... Some people accept a belief only if it can be shown to correspond to reality; others accept beliefs just because they are part of a coherent system.

Like most people, I have an affinity for like-minded people. We have built our own ideological tribes, echo chambers for our own thoughts, thoughts that perpetuate themselves every time we hear them reverberated back to us.

We are neurochemically confirmation-bias addicts.

Like most people, I defaulted to the position of my own in-group, which is the anti-GMO movement of the left.

I believe in the idea that profits should not be a greater priority than the health of people and the planet. And I value reason and evidence because I want my beliefs to accord to reality as best as can be.

While I know that I am quite capable of making mistakes, by supporting my beliefs with evidence, I enable a self-correcting mechanism with which I can revise a false belief. I remain willing to change my mind if provided with sufficient evidence.

I value reason and evidence and consider belief revision to be an undervalued virtue.

The evidence will say otherwise, but some facts will never be considered by people moved by fear, misinformation, and the constant barraging of the same message over and over.

A particularly vile lie the anti-GMO continue to repeat like a mantra is that GMOs cause Indian farmers to commit suicide.

This is one of the easiest myths to debunk when you apply a small amount of doubt and look for the evidence. This emotionally riveting and manipulative accusation is no minor claim!

While opponents of biotechnology have little concern about withholding lifesaving technology from malnourished children going blind, they shamelessly repeat such lies as this.

This is only one claim among hundreds; I have yet to see a single opponent of this technology retract their claim after being shown it’s false. They just skip along to the next knowledge claim to which they themselves have never applied doubt.

In fact, the trend on farmer suicides in India is stable, and even dropped a little after the widespread adoption of genetically-engineered Bt cotton in 2002.

While some farmers are still tragically committing suicide, there is no evidence of a correlation between the two trends.

GM cotton, because it expresses its own pesticide within its tissue, does not need to be sprayed as often.

Farmers benefit twice over – they have to spend less on pesticides, and they are less exposed to toxins in the field.

The IFPRI paper confirms both that pesticide use has dropped and that yields have risen thanks to Bt cotton.

This has led to substantial income gains for farmers, and benefits overall to rural societies.

End of part 2. Next week: The ludicrous anti-GMO narrative, and why the entrenched espousers just can’t quit it.

Chad White is a local hippie, skeptic and science fan.

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  1. Brent BT said:

    Fantastic piece. I love to see your perspective expressed, particularly because throwing biotechnology under the bus just because we hate this company or that crowd is such a crazy waste. The Golden Rice story is the best example of this. An incredibly simple but life-changing application of biotechnology offered by non profit good will efforts, needlessly trashed by mostly well intentioned activism (I say “mostly” because I think the “tribal chieftains” promoting this activism know there is no harm in the Golden Rice project but can’t let anyone outside the radical green tribe win for fear of losing absolute power).

  2. agliterate said:

    Chad, great article! Thanks for your insights about your own culture-bias struggle and mindset change.

  3. agliterate said:

    Marc, I think you’ve nailed it. Otherwise, we continue to fight a culture war (bias against GE no matter what the facts; tribal mindset) with logic, rationality, and science, and I don’t know if that affects or influences or sways people who are locked into that tribal mindset.

  4. agliterate said:

    Jesta, it takes a lot of courage for you — and others — to mindfully challenge their own mindset with openness and curiosity. Kudos for you for recogniing this and courageously stepping out of the tribal mindset!

  5. Da Bright said:

    you friggin shill! just joking ! good article bro.

  6. Jesta Nuff said:

    I am so glad to see this. Chad is a good friend and we have seen each other go from self confirming beliefs to looking at the world objectively as possible. I my self am a skeptical hippie with roots in all kinds of woo. And it took Chad challenging me about gmos before I even looked into it. I was taken by the tribal mindset. This led me too be more honest with reality than I was. It also lost me more friends than when I started letting friends know I don’t believe in God. Great work man.

  7. marcbrazeau said:

    Nice job.

    I think helping people understand confirmation bias, motivated reasoning and the way our tribal affiliations shape our thinking, is even more important that understanding biotech crops. Of course the second is much easier after you have a handle on the first.

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