Unexamined Assumption: GMOs are Always Risky or Always Safe

This meme is clearly trying for an analogy between injectable Insulin, cheese enzymes, and modified soy bean oil. When it comes to evaluating the GMO technology in general, that is legitimate. Genetic engineering is not inherently dangerous. However, in the specific case of soy, some of the modifications really are dangerous.

Thanks to Fred Geisler to the information.


Correlation vs. Causation: Hunger and GMOs

First, notice the terminology shift. The claim is about hunger, an absolute lack of food. But the facts are about malnutrition and food insecurity,  terms which mean either not enough food, or food that doesn’t include all the necessary nutrients. In rural Iowa corn is probably cheap, so carbs are plentiful and the malnutrition is from a high-carb, low-fat, and low-protein diet.

Second, did food insecurity in the US increase by 57% because of GMOs? One of the first lessons in statistics is that correlation does not imply causation. Did the higher yields caused by GMOs cause an increase in food insecurity? Or would it have been even higher without them?

h/t Aaron Streich

Bad Comparison / Assuming the Conclusion

Another guest post from David Preston.

Here’s a rather amateurish meme that employs at the logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.” I retrieved it from the FB page of “GMO Free USA.”
The meme counterposes a short quote from an obscure horticulturist in Florida (“Probably a Monsanto stooge, right?”) against a longer quote from well-known Canadian academic and author, David Suzuki. There are several problems with this meme, but I want to focus only the appeal to authority.
The payload of the meme is contained in the label atop each speaker. The obscure horticulturist is labeled as anti-[GMO]labeling/anti-science, while Suzuki is labeled as pro-labeling/pro-science. The memester recognizes that the argument will go to whoever can be draped with the mantle of “science.” Conversely, the side that can be tarred with the “anti-science” moniker will automatically lose.
[Note: In terms of audience appeal, it is better for your side to “pro” something rather than “anti” something. Everyone knows that anti’s are downers.]
The only effort the memester puts into establishing who is “pro-science” is the label. Suzuki’s argument (i.e., that the long-term effects of GMOs are unknown) is true on its face. But it is also irrelevant, since the long-term effects of any new technology are, by definition, unknown. For the same reason, the horticulturalist’s out-of-context claim that GMOs are safe is unproven, because to make that claim, he’d have to have not-yet-created data at his disposal. The argument about safe vs unsafe is really a wash. But even if one side had won the argument on the merits, it doesn’t follow that the winning side would “for science” and the other side would against science. Science is not like some book of established truth. Rather, it is a methodology to arrive at truth. And that methodology incorporates many variables–both known and unknown. Scientists disagree all the time while remaining scientists. Disagreement WITHIN the scientific community is essential, in fact, in order to move science forward.
Finally, note that the memester uses slashes to denote a logical equivalence. (“Pro-labeling/pro-science” reads as “for labeling = for science.”) And for the coup de grâce, he places a cap n’ bells on the anti-labeling guy’s head to reinforce what a dunce he is, simultaneously implying that anyone who agrees with him is similarly foolish! I’m sorry Mr. Memester, but we’re not THAT dumb.
Disclaimer notice: David Preston is pro-GMO labeling.