Over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA”

Now here is an article I quite enjoyed, the Washington Post reports

recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.” Oklahoma State economist Jayson Lusk has some additional details on the survey.

And here you go, the official warning …


The point is well made, people can indeed be truly blinded by sciency sounding stuff and so it is perhaps understandable that many might express concern about a product that contains the scary sounding name “deoxyribonucleic acid” if they did not know what that was.

Now comes the interesting bit, as explained by the author, this is not about people being stupid …

For many people, there is little benefit to understanding much about genetics or DNA. Most Americans can even go about their daily business perfectly well without knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun. Even the smartest people are inevitably ignorant of the vast majority of information out there. We all have to focus our time and energy on learning that information which is most likely to be instrumentally useful, or at least provide entertainment value. For large numbers of people, much basic political and scientific information doesn’t make the cut.

We might indeed be tempted to laugh at those who did not know, but it really is not just “them”, it is actually quite easy for anybody to be fooled when presented with technical jargon they are not familiar with. It was not too long ago that I attended a talk being given by Matt Parker to a group of skeptics. He gave us two samples of text

  • One came from one of the most highly acclaimed scientific papers of the 20th Century
  • The other who pure bullshit churned out by a crank trying to present sciency sounding stuff to explain some woo

Within this room of hardened skeptics, only half got it right, and so his point was well made, we can all be fooled, nobody is immune. That is not only why critical thinking matters of course, but is also perhaps a pointer that indicates that we should express empathy and sympathy for those that have been fooled and reserve our mockery for the charlatans who know the claim is fraudulent and yet still choose to leverage this ever so human susceptibility to being fooled, for they are making a deliberate choice to deceive us.

Sometimes of course it just might not be that simple and it can be hard to discern those who deliberately deceive from those who truly believe. Take for example the psychic who deploys cold reading – do they actually know it is fraudulent or do they believe that they have a “gift”? If they try a cold reading and are faced with people who come up to them after each session afterwards telling them how accurate they were and how they have been helped, it instills and reenforces a belief in the mind of the cold reader that they do have a “gift” and that it really words, so they have not just fooled a lot of people, but have also, because of this positive feedback, successfully managed to completely fool themselves as well.

Perhaps the victim we should also reserve some sympathy for is the one persistent victim of the fraudster – the fraudster themselves. How can you install a meaningful intervention in the life of such fraudsters? If they do truly believe and are deeply invested in it all, then you have no hope of ever reaching them with pure facts, but human empathy can help to break through that.

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