Do Anecdotes Have A Place In Science?

What’s covered in this blog:

  • Anecdotes are not evidence.
  • Anecdotes are valuable to the scientific process, but they are not conclusions.
  • The number of anecdotes does not matter. They can, at most, serve as a basis for forming a hypothesis that can then be tested.

Why I wrote this:

Randi AnecdoteI don’t need to go on very long in this post, since fellow blogger Josh DeWald covered this topic really well last year in his two-part series on the topic of anecdotes and science (Follow these hyperlinks for Part 1 and Part 2). While Josh took a more detailed approach to various ways in which anecdotes are used in science, how they don’t fit into science, and why people still believe their anecdotes over science, I wanted to provide a summary because it seemed after using Josh’s links as an explanation, there were some that didn’t seem to get it.

This came about because of an online discussion I was having with a few people who are against vaccines. Their proof or initial argument was a YouTube video of parents describing their experiences watching, as I will paraphrase here, their children lose the life in their eyes shortly after getting vaccinated and developing autism. In their appeal to pity, the claim is that these hundreds of stories are being ignored and science has chosen to ignore these stories. This is actually the opposite of what happened.

The definition and origin of the word anecdote is interesting. The definition is, “a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.” The origin of the word is Greek, and when roughly translated means “unpublished.” And that’s the problem with an anecdote: no one can check your data because it is unpublished.

The other feature of an anecdote that makes it unreliable is it is a reconstruction of a memory. This leads to several problems. One of those Josh acknowledged, which is the cognitive biases which permeate our memories:

A likely candidate is built into our brains in the form of cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are essentially the evolutionarily wired tendencies in our brain which help us make quick decisions based on patterns and experience. Unfortunately in today’s world, those biases can lead us astray.

I highly recommend you check out the list of cognitive biases available on Wikipedia. You will most certainly identify many biases that you — that we all — do on a daily basis. This makes us human. The problem comes when we are unable to accept that we have been “fooled” by our own bias and insist that the scientific evidence, regardless of how strong, is wrong, a hoax, part of Big Pharma/Food, and so on.

Another problem related to this issue is the way memories are recalled. In essence, each time a memory is recalled, it is passed through our filters of current knowledge, and then needs to be recommitted to memory after it is used. Therefore, each time an anecdote is told, it gets distorted. As Dr. Steven Novella put it:

Memories are updated to bring them into line with our current knowledge. If we are told that the person was wearing a blue jacket, then our memory might change so that it is consistent with what we now believe to be true.

My favorite summary from that same blog post by Dr. Novella is his introduction. Here he states:

When someone looks at me and earnestly says, ‘I know what I saw,’ I am fond of replying, ‘No you don’t.’ You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.

In other words, these parents might know they saw their child suddenly slip into autism after vaccination, but there is no way to judge without unbiased and unaltered data to know for sure if this was the case.

An example of an anti-vaccination meme where the originator doesn't understand the science of vaccines, or is choosing to ignore the science.

An example of an anti-vaccination meme where the originator doesn’t understand the science of vaccines, or is choosing to ignore the science.

I’m not saying I distrust what these parents are saying. In fact some of the basic information can be trusted. Their child was likely vaccinated. They have an autistic child. Where things get more fuzzy is determining the details of the behavior before and after the vaccination. How long was the time frame? Were there signs they missed? If it was indeed a very fast regression of behavior, is it possible there was another cause?

This is where science and anecdote intersect, and the important distinction I tried to make with the anti-vaccination crowd: science is not ignoring the anecdotes. The difference is where these anecdotes fit in the scientific process. It doesn’t matter if there is a single anecdote, or 1,000 anecdotes with the same story — it is never used as scientific data. It can’t be. Those that want to go by anecdotes over science are making the outcome of the anecdotes the conclusion. Science considers them basic observation. They can be valuable in forming a hypothesis to be tested. As Josh DeWald put it, “Anecdotes can be a precursor to evidence.” But they are not evidence.

Related to anecdote is the notion of “doing what feels right for you.” I often see this as a way to sell all sorts of anti-science ideas from diet products to parental advice (including skipping vaccinations — Jenny McCarthy’s mommy instinct). While we all probably make decisions on what feels right many times a day, it should never be used for important decisions such as life changes, health decisions, or anything else where good science exists. The data is much less biased than the mind.

I want to thank Josh DeWald for his awesome two-part blog on this subject. I hope this serves as a good supplement and summary of his material.

About Eric Hall

My day job is teaching physics at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
This entry was posted in Education, Pseudoscience, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Do Anecdotes Have A Place In Science?

  1. Jon Richfield says:

    Science has very little (technically actually NOTHING) in the line of “conclusions”, and the idea of “scientific proof” has very little to do with the concept of logical or mathematical proof. Some of the following statements are nonsense:

    Anecdotes are not evidence.
    Of course they are bloody evidence! What did someone think he was saying? Does he know what evidence is?

    Anecdotes are valuable to the scientific process, but they are not conclusions.
    Data are valuable to the scientific process, but they are not conclusions. (So data are scientifically useless and misleading, hm??? Just like anecdotes? Science has to do with what one does with available information, not whether someone labels it data or anecdote.)

    The number of anecdotes does not matter. They can, at most, serve as a basis for forming a hypothesis that can then be tested.
    Same for data. Someone should work out what that means. And what it implies.

    And don’t even THINK of shouting at me about vaccination (I am a biologist) or fringe science (I even know a little science) and when it comes to scepticism, I am as pathological as anyone here, but those mantras are hooey as they stand, and the only reason for running them up the flagpole is IMO to hang them.

    • Indeed, but sort of a semantically attack I dare say. The statements you mention are nonsensical, I agree, but only out of context.

      Anyways, anecdotes are the spark of all knowledge – sense and nonsense. Elevating them above their rightful value is equally as dumb as shaming them below (a tendency I see amongst tinfoil-hat loonies as well as amongst the sceptics in here).

    • Eric Hall says:

      The major difference, and perhaps I should have highlighted this more explicitly in the post, is that anecdotes are not repeatable. Assuming the process I am using in collecting my data is valid and reasonable, I should be able to do the test again at some other point or have someone else do the test and get the same data. While there might be some variation, the data should come to some point of consensus (for lack of a better word).

      An anecdote or any number of anecdotes is influenced by the previous anecdotes.

      • Pete A says:

        Of course anecdotes are not repeatable. Hopefully, each unique aircraft disaster is not repeatable. One-off events are highly significant in risk and risk-benefit analysis yet each event should not significantly skew or otherwise distort the probability mass function of the overall data.

        Whether or not a particular anecdote correlates with other anecdotes is a multivariate problem that is frequently impossible to resolve unless one has enough empirical evidence plus established scientific theory to accurately grade the significance of each anecdote.

        Even so, never forget that whenever there is one winner of a lottery, the winner now has a probability of 1 of winning and every other player now has a probability of zero. Rare one-off events are insignificant before the event and they become 100% significant after the event.

        • Eric Hall says:

          Those examples (the plane crash and lotto winnings) are not anecdotes though. Plane crashes generate significant amounts of data that is then analyzed and modeled in order to prevent the event from happening. The anecdotes might come from the survivors “well it felt like it was speeding up” or “it suddenly tipped to the right.” These are valuable piece of information, but it isn’t reliable as it is based on perception. However, video footage, flight recorders and sensors, external sensors such as radar, etc. all form a data set which is then used to determine the cause and propose solutions. The survivors might give a clue as to where to look, but I would sure hope we wouldn’t use their stories to determine the cause and solution of a crash.

          A lotto ticket is also not an anecdote. A large set of random numbers is generated in the form of tickets. Another set of random numbers is generated in the form of a drawing. Mathematics tells us that there will be an occasional intersection of those numbers. There is nothing anecdotal – just mathematical.

          • Pete A says:

            Indeed. The four points I was attempting to make were:
            1) Self-reported evidence is either useful data or just easily dismissible anecdotal evidence depending on the context in which the evidence is being assessed.

            2) A personally experienced event is very important (and of utmost statistical significant) to the person(s) whom experienced it yet that experience is irrelevant (and statistically significant) to most of the other circa 7 billion citizens sharing our planet.

            3) Humans primarily make decisions based on pecking order: family first; friends; colleagues; acquaintances; and lastly, those who seem to be the most remote in terms of physical distance, opinions, or culture.

            4) Well-conducted science avoids making the types of category error that lead to sweeping generalizations. Sadly, there is still far too much poorly-conducted science and poor reporting of science in the mass media.

            To be blunt, nobody apart from you, your family, and possibly your friends, cares if you win the lottery because your win would not affect the rest of us, however, it would have a huge impact on you and your family.

            You wrote: “Mathematics tells us that there will be an occasional intersection of those [lottery] numbers.” True, but this application of mathematics is committing a category error (aka a category mistake). The category you are using is the generation and allocation of the numbers, but the purchasers of lottery tickets belong to the two distinct categories: winners; losers. The purchasers of the tickets are not just numbers, they are real people whose lives will be dramatically changed by winning and very little affected by not winning or by not taking part.

            All mathematical aggregation functions, by definition, remove at least one dimension of the collected data. In statistical summaries, the categories “personal impact” and “personal statistical significance” are both removed from the results.

            At the start of your post you wrote: “Anecdotes are valuable to the scientific process, but they are not conclusions.” Which is true, but it is impossible to map scientific conclusions back to individual outcomes and consequences. Very sadly, the vast majority of people on Earth today have wholly inadequate skills in science, statistics, and critical thinking.

          • Pete A says:

            Apologies for my typo in point 2): “yet that experience is irrelevant (and statistically significant)” — I meant to write “…(and statistically insignificant)”.

  2. Jon Richfield says:

    OK folks, my remarks, though serious, also were partly tongue-in-cheek. Some thoughts (rushed; forgive incoherence)
    Evidence is information that might rationally influence one’s ranking of the strength of rival hypotheses.
    It might do so directly by immediately addressing the relevant question, or it might indirectly suggest lines of conception or association that one had not explored adequately hitherto.
    Anecdotes, like the rest of one’s uncontrolled observations, are evidence; that they might be inadequate, unrepeatable, uncontrolled, implausible and all that, might well be all true, but it is no competent scientist that cannot work without well-defined questions and hard data being handed to him on a plate with his morning coffee.
    And in hard science? Most of the so-called scientific assertions that I find in my textbooks and in primary research documents, I absorb as hearsay, and any scientist who denies that that is true for him, I flatly disbelieve. That author X has performed the research as claimed is hearsay in most cases, true or not, misleading or not. That he has done so competently and on a sound basis is an assumption even more tenuous.
    So panic folks, PANIC! NOTHING IS CERTAIN!!! Shut your eyes and ears to everything that you have not analysed, observed and verified for yourself!
    In THESE shoes? I don’t think so!
    Now, as for actually SWALLOWING an anecdote, or a million anecdotes — that is altogether another matter. I rarely accept or reject a serious hypothesis on the basis of a single observation, even first-hand. Or an anecdote about an observation. Even a million anecdotes. (cf. Yeti, vaccination horror stories, fad diets, human sex pheromones… have I left one out maybe…?)
    And yet many an anecdote has a kernel of substance, possibly with a significance ninety degrees out of phase (pick an angle, any angle…) Pasteur said that fortune favours the prepared mind. I have great respect for his mind.
    For a scientist the relevant question is not whether an anecdote is relevant, accurate, repeatable, controlled and all those nice convenient things, but what one can make of it. Maybe all one can make of it is that the source is no longer to be trusted. Such data too is of value.
    There is plenty where that came from! 😀

  3. Working In A Cop Shop says:

    Anecdotes may be a pointer or a clue: if everybody at work thinks the file room is haunted because they hear what sounds like somebody whistling 24/7 (as in my department) it is not evidence of a ghost even if I hear it too. The fact that the file room used to be the jail cells back when the building was a jail and somebody committed suicide in there in 1953 is interesting to note, but in itself tells you nothing. These are OBSERVATIONS and are SUBJECTIVE. You need facts, and those are generally no fun for those who like ghosts and for whom facts are tedious and boring.

    Of course, the key ingredient for proving anything is to THINK. No fun. Panicking is much more fun. Faster, too That is why we will never run out of Darwin Award Winners.

    Vaccinating the kids is a wonderful example of popular panic. Clearly these people do not read history and the numbers of children who died from these diseases is irrelevant. And of course the concept of asking your pediatrician to find vaccines without mecury or formaldahyde in them (if that is what worries you) is clearly irrational because what if they exist? Then you have nothing to panic about.

    BTW I never did find out what was whistling in the file room and never will: they tore the building down because is was massively infiltrated with toxic molds that cause cancer.

    • Clearly, you were dealing with the little-known Whistling Toxic Cancer Mold. It can be a problem in ex-prison buildings where suicides took place.

    • Jon Richfield says:

      You nonplus me.
      Do you have any examples of observations that are NOT subjective?
      Please give an example of a demonstrable and definitive fact that contrasts with an “observation” or an “anecdote” in this context?
      For you this experience may be an observation or even a fact, but how does it differ from an anecdote from the point(s) of view of your audience(s)?
      Please note that the foregoing thoughts or questions are completely independent of the truth, correctness or general soundness or otherwise of your remarks.

  4. Steve Erdmann says:

    A comment made in the past: “The scientific method is doing one’s damnest with one’s mind, no holds barred.” I guess that also includes anecdotes.

    • Jon Richfield says:

      I resonate with that one, though I would prefer to say something like “one’s mind plus the available information”. And what one does with one’s mind plus the information, could include searching both for information and for hypotheses, in the attempt to identify working hypotheses.
      After all, one of the points on which Popper and his groupies fell down is the fact that none of the hypotheses being considered for falsification, including the null hypothesis, need be correct or even meaningful in terms of the empirical world. Which is why I insist on my definition of science, in which one does not regard all the candidate hypotheses as necessarily including one that is substantially correct.

      One of the most significant SF stories I ever read was “Ask a foolish question” by Robert Sheckley.

  5. Steve Erdmann says:

    Looking for the Holy Grail of ‘pure thought,’ as Skeptoid seems to be doing, may be misleading and hopeless – and going on a campaign to point out and purge ‘evil thought’ – may be foolish. With the discoveries of quantum physicists and paranormal activity, human inquiry has been found to be a Black Hole: perhaps why some of the science-“fiction” coming true, that you mention, seems to happen time and again.

    • Depends on the standards I would imagine as we already have this grail in form of the scientific method, and the humble acceptance of not to conclude above what data and observations permit.

      What the article here scratches is how to use this grail properly and how to avoid the black void of blind and arrogant ambition. If human inquiry is a black void or not I shall not discuss except perhaps to stress that it is all we have, and that it has proven itself remarkably resilient and productive. So for the sake of all humans – blind or seeing – it is this inquiry we must protect the right to indulge wholeheartedly.

  6. Depends on the standards I would imagine as we already have this grail in form of the scientific method, and the humble acceptance of not to conclude above what data and observations permit.

    What the article here scratches is how to use this grail properly and how to avoid the black void of blind and arrogant ambition. If human inquiry is a black void or not I shall not discuss except perhaps to stress that it is all we have, and that it has proven itself remarkably resilient and productive. So for the sake of all humans – blind or seeing – it is this inquiry we must protect the right to indulge wholeheartedly.

  7. Pete A says:

    “While we all probably make decisions on what feels right many times a day, it [anecdotal evidence] should never be used for important decisions such as life changes, health decisions, or anything else where good science exists. The data is much less biased than the mind.”

    I sincerely hope for your sake that family physicians and medical specialists never end up adopting your stance that your particular N=1 anecdotal symptom(s) does not match their data.

    • Jon Richfield says:

      Bless you in your innocence Pete A!

      Good reasoning and good sense applied on a basis of anecdotal evidence beat poor reasoning and poor sense applied even on a basis of hypothetically perfect data.

      But data in real life are practically by definition imperfect, imprecise and subject to arbitrary interpretation and even gross negligence. Heaven save me from a doctor who in an emergency or a life-threatening situation, insists on waiting for perfect data before commencing treatment on my by then decaying carcase or my permanently disabled body.

      “Doctor come quickly; my child has pneumonia.”
      “Good heavens,” thinks the doctor “that silly parent is no doctor; this amounts to pure anecdotal evidence. It would be unscientific to go charging off to treat a case that might equally easily be shock or poisoning or the parent’s imagination. Let her take two aspirins and call me in the morning and I’ll see whether she can supply sufficient scientific details with statistical analyses and appropriate fiducial limits, for me to know what the problem, if any, definitely must be. THEN I can justify sending an ambulance. Or a hearse.”

      Isn’t science wonderful? Only working on true facts? And true data?

      • Pete A says:

        Sorry for my delay in replying to you, Jon Richfield.

        I’m very pleased that you managed to illustrate my point using a practical example. Health & Safety relies heavily on anecdotal evidence — even one-off anecdotes and/or events.

        It takes only one accident in a million successes to bring about a life-saving redesign of a system, especially in medicine and transportation.

        In the UK, Health & Safety comes under criminal law: everyone is responsible and accountable for upholding the legislation and for reporting each and every violation. One-off anecdotes are taken very seriously and they can usefully lead to vital decisions and changes.

        The author of this article implied that anecdotal evidence should never be used for important decisions such as life changes, health decisions, or anything else where good science exists. This is totally incorrect: science is self-correcting simply because it takes only ONE instance of verified failure to disprove an existing hypothesis/theory.

        Fortunately, my “innocence” served me and my clients very well during my engineering endeavours 🙂

        • Jon Richfield says:

          No problem Pete; anecdotal evidence suggested that you don’t spend your life hovering over the keyboard awaiting something from me that you might respond to.

          Your points are sound and practical.

          Again, I like Steve Erdman’s quote: “…scientific method is doing one’s damnedest with one’s mind, no holds barred.” That applies to what your “innocence” meant to you and your clients on the one hand, and on the other, the problem of the improbability that your candidate hypotheses include the correct interpretation of reality, or even meaningful incorrect hypotheses.
          Hypotheses non-meaningful in context trip up entire research programmes in terms of Pauli’s version of GIGO: “Das is nicht wahr; Es ist nicht einmal falsch!”
          And I suspect that that sort of thing led to Scheckley’s “Ask a foolish question”.

        • Jon Richfield says:

          And even if an anecdote is incorrect and meaningless, it may inspire a line of investigation that otherwise would never have occurred to anyone. This may be bad,indifferent, or very, very good. Examples of investigations that everyone should read include Flixborough, Three mile island (the brilliant Kemeny report should be required reading), and the Challenger disaster. All of them persuasive and all full of anecdotes. There are plenty more of course, Bhopal, the Italian plant in Seveso that scattered dioxin over the countryside, Chernobyl… As one sits and reminisces, the examples come blubbing out.

          And anecdote (or “war story”) also is the magic ingredient where professionals get together over coffee or beer and exchange inaccurate second or twenty-second had stories that confuse and enrich each other and the novices that follow in their footsteps. That is where you get the stuff that doesn’t appear in the reliable columns of the Sun.

          • Pete A says:

            Engineering is the practical application of science. During the design phase, one makes the assumption that the prior plausibility of each well-established scientific theory used is close enough to 1.0 for the task at hand.

            During the prototype testing phase, one makes the assumption that the prior plausibility of the prototype actually working is zero and that it just happens to work due to luck (a false positive result)! If the prototype passes every test thrown at it then whoever’s testing it lacks sufficient child-like curiosity and creativity to perform this vital role 🙂

            Documenting failure modes is essential because this defines the contexts in which the design/model/product/system is useful and those in which it is woefully inadequate. Examples: the theory of evolution does not apply to grains of sand on the beach; the second law of thermodynamics does not apply to life on Earth while the Sun is radiating energy.

            I totally agree with your addition to Steve Erdmann’s quote “…scientific method is doing one’s damnedest with one’s mind, no holds barred.”, which was: “one’s mind plus the available information”.

            One of the most frequent logical errors that I’ve observed over the decades is the failure to properly take into account the context(s). Asking the wrong questions being a typical result of this failure. Edward de Bono illustrated this in his book Water Logic — critical thinking relies heavily on “rock logic” (based on “is” and “if” statements) and this mode of restricted thinking can easily prevent us from even thinking to ask far more pertinent questions, such as: “What will this lead to?”

            Contextual errors are frequently committed by the mass media, which is obsessed with serving us with only pop-versions of science because most people are not the slightest bit interested in science or facts. Examples include: pop-psychology; pop-neuroscience; pseudoscience; and statistics deliberately misconstrued for the purpose of pleasing its audience.

            My conclusion to Eric Hall’s blog post…
            “The plural form of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’.” does indeed form one essential part of the scientific method under certain sets of conditions [within very specific contexts] and we are fully justified in stating that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But, this is only one part of the full scientific method, which includes robust methods for performing risk-benefit and cost-benefit analyses.

            Many thanks, Jon, for all your insightful and encouraging comments.

          • Jon Richfield says:

            You are too kind by far sir, but I appreciate it anyway! 🙂

            In appropriate contexts I find your remarks and attitudes very strongly in line with mine. (A refreshing novelty I must say! )

            In particular your remarks on pop science etc are nauseatingly accurate. I could weep every time I hear the old bromides about how scientists should talk and explain themselves more clearly if they want the public to make rational choices on scientific issues.
            Usually the pontificater either is a scientist who thinks that everyone else with half a brain thinks as he does and would agree with and at least appreciate his views if only they were given a chance, or a media person who doesn’t understand either the mind of the public, or the true and relevant intricacies of the subject matter.

            If the non-scientifically-trained public really were equipped to understand, they still would need to do the homework, just as the scientists had to throughout their years of training and research, and most of them aren’t even nearly equipped, and most of the remainder aren’t even slightly willing to go beyond the sound-bite level of analogy, and then only in misleading dramatised, context-free versions.

            Don’t get me started … 🙁

  8. Steve Erdmann says:

    Speaking of the “scientific method” as a “thing” doesn’t seem correct, as if it were a “wand” one can carry about and use majestically by smiting people (usually done in a laboratory). From some of my readings of topics on scientific discovery – the not cleansed, behind the scenes stories – are often brutal, sometimes savage ‘battles’ with all kinds of twists and delirium of the human condition.
    Such realization can be found in the conundrum: life is stranger than fiction.

  9. Wim Debruyne says:

    As stated under the meme “An example of an anti-vaccination meme where the originator doesn’t understand the science of vaccines, or is choosing to ignore the science.”.

    I sincerly hope to get some clarification as a reaction, since this is an old post, but I am wondering about the flaw in case. This might be simplistic, but I don’t see it.
    If herd immunity really is a thing and vaccines really cause immunization, where is the threat for vaccinated people by means of unvaccinated people?

    If the vaccine is with a highly mutated disease -such as the flu, where multiple stems go into one shot- the vaccine itself may be inadequate as the outbreak was for other than expected stems. So to say the ‘educated guess’ was off, leaving the vaccine powerless to begin with.

    On the other hand, the disease is quite stable. The likes of the series of vaccins a new born to grade schooler receives. In this case -if the vaccin is effective- I seem to be overlooking the problem. The vaccinated doesn’t receive any threats for the unvaccinated (while, if I recall properly, the vaccinated can still safely become a carrier).

    Either way, I do hope to get some clarification as to why the ‘meme’ statement is off.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      I’m not sure I understand all of your comment, but here are some things to think about:
      1. Vaccinated people aren’t typically threatened by unvaccinated people, but there are lots of people who cannot be vaccinated—those who are too young or too old or who have compromised immune systems. My grandmother was very old and was unable to get vaccinations because of a compromised immune system. She caught the flu from my cousin’s kids and died from it. She had lived a very long life, but some people are immunocompromised from a very young age, have cancer, or have other illnesses that make vaccination very dicey. Herd immunity protects them.

      2. Some viruses mutate much more quickly than others. Flu virus can mutate quickly and there’s usually a new strain every year. Virologists are often pretty good at predicting what the year’s strain will be, but not always. However, that inaccurate vaccine can still confer some benefits, possibly in future years, or possibly less (but not zero) benefit for a particular year’s flu. And you can’t know in advance that the flu will be different, and I think there’s not a high likelihood that it will be.

      3. Since there are few health concerns for most people getting vaccinated, there’s not really a very good reason to skip it. It has enormous benefits to you and those around you. The less people sick with the flu or other disease, the less likely a disease is to spread. Even if vaccinated people can still be asymptomatic carriers, the likelihood of them spreading a disease is much lower. If a disease spreads most through the air, having people who don’t cough or sneeze is going to lessen the likelihood of its spread.

  10. Alan says:

    The problem is that science often has a lag in being able to reach substantiated conclusions about complex systems, a lag that can grow into decades or more in proportion to the level of complexity and our fundamental knowledge about the topic. While facts are being gathered, anecdotes are what we have to consider. A few examples are tobacco and cancer, asbestos, DDT, and genetics.
    For all the attempts of science to show a causal link between tobacco and cancer, it took decades before the research was robust enough to sway public opinion and national policy. Asbestos followed a similar trajectory. And DDT, once considered harmless and miraculous (you can go to youtube and watch the promotional videos where they sprayed it directly on children because science “proved” it was safe), was seriously toxic, but because of the lag, was embraced and used ubiquitously. It is so persistent, that despite being discontinued in the 70’s, every child conceived to this day has it in their umbilical blood.
    Just because science didn’t reflect the anecdotal evidence for decades after the research began on these (and hundreds of other products and processes), it eventually proved the anecdotal evidence right, and all the while people were getting sick and dying.
    None of this means we should stop letting science guide us, or be careless lack skepticism with the anecdotal evidence, it just means we can’t just assume that a measly two decades of research on the safety of GMO foods, for instance- most of it done by the companies who hope to profit from the technology and therefore have a vested interest in a specific outcome- allows us to say with any certainty that GMO’s are safe. We are far too ignorant of how genetics works to be claiming any concrete conclusions based on our efforts to date. The evidence of that ignorance is the ever-changing information about how genetics work, and how often we are forced to revise what we thought we knew. Until such time that we have fewer questions than answers, we should abide by the precautionary principle and pay careful attention to the anecdotal evidence. History shows it can be right.
    I’d go so far as to say, the more alien to our ecosystem a synthetic substance or process is, the longer it will take to prove safety. The more complex the system we are attempting to understand or or manipulate, the longer it will take to prove our actions safe. For-profit entities that create these mostly-unnecessary products, will continue to push for lax safety laws so they can bring products to market ASAP, and therefore cannot be trusted to have the public’s interest as their central concern.

    • One of the items in the article, and to some extent in the discussion, that irked me, was that anecdotes commonly deal inappropriately with ill-defined data and ill-defined, commonly misunderstood concepts.
      Example: the safety of GMO (whether foods, fibres, timber, or tech) is a meaningless concept.
      We don’t HAVE non-GMO foods and never did.
      We don’t have coherent, never mind non-anecdotal, evidence for any mechanism of hazard that arises from an attribute established by genetic engineering, that differs from the same attribute arising spontaneously, whether by mutation, recombination, multiplication or hyper-expression, by selection, by inheritance, or by horizontal genetic transfer, all of which occur in nature.

      For the love of Mike, WILL you guys work out what you are talking about, THEN come back and complain.

      There is enough to complain about, goodness knows, but the current whining is not about that.

      • Alan Powell says:

        That is the problem with anecdotes, no disagreement there, but when you have no conclusive data and and may not for decades longer, we have the choice to throw caution to the wind and hope we were right- our standard practice- or we can err on the side of caution, an admission of our limitations and the seriousness of changing DNA without really understanding the implications of our actions. When the choose based on money and profit, we make bad decisions and make them for the wrong reasons, and those who insist we must unleash this tech, who are lobbying our representatives and infiltrating government to gain regulatory favor, are ALL motivated by profit.
        I know exactly what I’m talking about, and you just tried to dismiss my statements by stating a logical fallacy. Direct gene manipulation is a very new process that that is NOT equivalent to the types of millennia-old processes humans have been using to enhance plants- cross pollination, selective breeding, and grafting. In the age-old approach, the species barrier prevents the mixing of genes from incompatible species, these new methods can cross that barrier, and we have no idea how that may impact either the species we intended to change, or the connected species that interact with those untested gene combos. When I say “untested”, we begin the process of testing, sure, but we are too ignorant of how genetics work to make informed choices that inform us on the differences between what we can do, and what we should do. How many times do humans have to be wrong and do bad things to the world, the animals, and each other, before we admit our limitations and get past our arrogance? Need another example?
        For decades, what science called “junk DNA” was thought to be, well, useless junk. The best and brightest scientific minds concluded that some 97% of our genes were useless information, a “heavily padded text”, simply because science was not advanced enough to illuminate the truth. Almost 40 years later, we finally began to see how that “junk” worked. We not only realized how wrong we were, how important this DNA is, but we have no clue how long it might take us to acquire enough knowledge to speak with authority, and have our assumptions proven right over the long term. Here is how the addition of this knowledge is described, “the ENCODE group has produced a stunning inventory of previously hidden switches, signals and sign posts embedded like runes throughout the entire length of human DNA. In the process, the ENCODE project is reinventing the vocabulary with which biologists study, discuss and understand human inheritance and disease.”
        “Reinventing the vocabulary” that our scientists got 100% wrong for four decades. That’s the gap I am speaking of, and in this case the gap was immense, and humans were shown to be wanting. Yet, despite all that, here you are arguing that we were and are informed enough to be toying around with the building blocks of life as you disingenuously and dishonestly try to equate direct gene manipulation with selective breeding. I didn’t say I had concluded GMO’s were dangerous to consume, I said we can’t know at this point, just as no one can know how directly manipulating genes and crossing the species barrier will pan out in the long term. Seems to me you need to work out what you are talking about.
        Read up!

        • Noah Dillon says:

          DNA crosses species barriers all the time. Literally. GMO is a catchall term that’s too broad to say “is this safe or not?” It would be like asking “are all people safe,” or “is all food safe?” So far, the genetically modified breeds that have been brought to market have been extensively tested and found safe and effective, when used properly. Genetic modification is a powerful tool and it could be used improperly to produce unsafe organisms, so testing is definitely warranted.

          • Alan Powell says:

            “DNA crosses species barriers all the time.”
            No it doesn’t. That’s why a human can’t breed with a dog, and why cows don;t produce human breast milk naturally. There’s no conceivable way a fish gene could end up in a tomato through natural means. Or that a goat would “pick up” a spider gene and produce spider silk. It requires the type of genetic modification I am speaking of.
            Yes, GMO is a catchall phrase, but I specified that what I was referring to was direct gene manipulation, the cutting and splicing of genes that could otherwise never find themselves in the same organism. Our natural world has been evolving for millions of years, and has placed those barriers there for a reason. We don’t know the reason. For us to think that at our early stage of development, we can predict the long term implications of screwing around with DNA that way, is arrogant and dangerous. If we do something bad, can we take it back? Can we undo what we do if we discover we need to? None of us knows, which is why it’s irresponsible to act as if we do. Our arrogance proves how immature we are as a species.
            No matter how much testing has been done (not as extensive as you suggest), and even if I agree it has all been conducted with the utmost professionalism and objectivity (which I don’t), we can’t account for the variable of time. Does anyone know how long it would take to prove that no genetic drift will occur? How quickly will any future problems manifest? Would we even recognize if we did something dangerous that is simply beyond our current understanding? We’ve already seen nature adapting to this technology and in so doing, coming worse pests than before. Unintended consequences. If we know so much, how come we didn’t predict that?
            All your certainty presupposes that we have superior knowledge of how DNA works, and as I pointed out, overwhelming amounts of evidence shows we have but a parochial understanding of genetics at this time. Couple that with our inflated sense of species-self, and you have a two year old with an uzi.
            Since there is no actual reason to genetically modify crops in this way, why take the risk?
            The planet already produces enough food for everyone on it, the problem we have is one of distribution.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            It does: our DNA is riddled with fragments of virus. Species such as fruits, bears, large cats, etc., mate across species boundaries. Some are unsuccessful, but many work. One of the concerns that opponents of genetically modified organisms raise is that horizontal gene transfer can (although unlikely) start spreading modified genes around willy-nilly. You yourself have raised the concern of genetic drift! Here are several naturally occurring varieties of horizontal gene transfer listed on Wikipedia’s page on the subject:
            Bacteria to fungi
            Endosymbiont to insects AND nematodes
            Fungi to insects
            Human to protazoan
            Bacteria to insects
            Viruses to plants
            Bacteria to animals
            Plants to animals
            Plant to fungi!

            Sexual reproduction isn’t the only method of gene transfer that nature has come up with!

            You also seem to have misunderstood what I meant by “catchall phrase.” Gene manipulation by humans is a powerful tool. Like, a few years ago, this collective in San Francisco started work on manipulating yeast genes to produce cow milk, so that they could make a vegan cheese with real milk, but without the animal abuse. They raised something like less than $50,000 for the project and have put up a wiki that tracks their progress. That’s *peanuts* to do gene manipulation, and they’re doing something really, to my thinking, amazing and innovative with it. A corporation or ISIS or a small government could produce a very dangerous genetically modified organism for a very small price. It is a powerful tool. But so far, the products on the market made with that tool have been rigorously tested and found safe and effective. Things that are genetically modified aren’t de facto safe or dangerous because they are genetically modified, but because of the particular modifications, some of which are safe, and some of which would be dangerous. And our ability to test, to gather and analyze a lot of data, is, while imperfect, stupendously more powerful today than it was 40, 30, 20, 10, five years ago. I mean… computers.

            We don’t have superior knowledge, but we have pretty good data and governments have worked to put controls into place. Some of your questions have answers; the Genetic Literacy Project is a pretty good resource, and Wikipedia, and Skeptoid. Some of them are fallacious: if we know so much about climate change, why can’t we predict all the effects with exceptional precision? And if we can’t, does that mean we’re off the hook about studying or combatting climate change? Science is an imperfect method for learning more and adjusting as we learn. If you have a technology that could potentially save lives and reduce carbon expenses for growing food, why would you stop at “I don’t know much about this”? It seems to me that the better alternative would be, which we’ve pursued, “here’s what we know; now let’s learn more.”

            I used to think that distribution is an issue. I think that that’s a little true, still. But look: a distribution network sets up fossil fuels as a substitute for local production.

          • Alan Powell says:

            I started and run a Food Hub, a local food distribution network, about 5 years ago. I work with over 100 farmers covering the whole of food production in my region. I have been studying direct gene manipulation for over a decade, and also studying the long history of bad products unleashed upon the world longer than that. I’ve learned about corporate tactics, how they change laws to alleviate them from their responsibilities. I’ve studies the infiltration of our government by people loyal to those who profit off of these technologies, many of them having been employees of these companies. NONE of their claims have been born out, not one, over the long term. They have been caught rigging the game on multiple occasions. And the most basic arguments for their patents are based on unique technologies that they turn and and claim are “substantially equivalent” to the food that’s been grown for millennia. A patent requires something new and unique, and yet the avoid regulation by claiming they are nothing new.
            I’m not against science, I just see where it’s limitations lie. You say these products are “rigorously tested”, but not by my definition of rigorous. You can’t test something rigorously unless you are sure you can account for all the variables. As I stated, they can’t do that, especially because no one knows the required amount of time needed to assure safety when you are messing with genes and their potential impact on an ecosystem we are still trying to understand. If you can’t see how the constant stream of new data and new interpretations of past data provide ample evidence that we are not smart enough to draw conclusions about certain subjects, then you are not helping the advancement of science, you are only helping the manipulation of information to create profit for a small group of people to whom we are nothing more than guinea pigs and ATM machines.
            GMO companies say their products are safe, you believe them, while I am reserving judgement for a while longer. Their behavior is not that of an honest industry. The companies sound proud of their creations, they even have you guys defending them, so why try to hide them? Their unwillingness to label GMO products so that consumers can make informed decisions about what they eat should raise a red flag. That’s not how someone who is proud of their excellent product should act. They and you may insist consumers have nothing to fear, but when it comes to my rights as a consumer, that’s besides the point. As a consumer I should have the right to make choices for myself whether you or they agree with my reasoning or not. I should not be forced to consume genetically manipulated crops, sprayed with poisons that are harming our environment, and which are hurting the mall farmers I work with, because you by into their narrative. Why are these supposedly upstanding companies trying to hide the provenance of their products? That takes away my rights. You want me to ignore all the red flags and their odd and dubious behavior and give them the benefit of the doubt. Sorry. No can do.

          • Anecdotal, all anecdotal.

            And you want us to accept blanket condemnation on your personal say-so?

            Even if we have done our homework on GM?

            And have mode no statements, positive or negative, on the standards of the ethics and competence of every single company that produces GM-derived commercial strains?

            Or am I missing something beyond the general evil of GM, commercially, ecologically, physiologically, scientifically, religiously?

          • Alan Powell says:

            I didn’t make a “blanket condemnation” of anything, I simply said there is no way to conclude these technologies are safe (or unsafe) at this time and stage of human development. Yours was the typical arrogant response that starts with the assumption that humans are smart enough to handle the responsibility of altering the building blocks of life, despite all evidence to the contrary. The faith here has been placed by you and Noah in a technology we have no real proof is safe, or that we can handle the task responsibly. Somehow, despite the endless list of human screw-ups when it comes to our foray into complex systems, our track record of harming people and the environment in the process, and the exhaustive list of for-profit companies that have risked human health and safety to increase the bottom line, you manage to maintain total faith in companies whose primary purpose in the world is to earn profit. You place a lot of trust in people who’ve demonstrated no concern for me or you.
            Noah’s list changes nothing, we’re still recombining genes in ways that would never occur naturally, and never have, as evidenced by exactly none of the modifications Monsanto/Bayer/Syngenta has made ever showing up without human intervention. I suppose you have an explanation for that, one which vindicates the industry and maintains your presumptions. What is your issue with admitting there are things we simply can’t know?
            And your attack on my mention of Newsweek is quite revealing, I didn’t place any faith in them, they printed industry propaganda, written by the Monsanto but released dishonestly as one man’s independent opinion. And they’ve since retracted it because they realize they were played by an unscrupulous industry, and there are plenty of other examples going back decades. Honest industries and people don’t resort to underhanded tactics to win a debate you claim they’ve already won. Their character is revealed in this act and in dozens of other like it. You place total faith in the GMO industry’s ability to remain objective in conducting research that, unless it shows what they want it to, could end up shutting them down and losing billions in investment money. That’s who you trust? And you call my stance “ignorance”! That’s hysterical!
            Here’s an article that just came out. Just one of the hundreds of surprising things scientists will discover about DNA this year that we didn’t know before. The discovery both answers old and raises new questions about our knowledge, but clearly shows we still have much to learn. And what has this new discovery taught us? No one knows because we don’t understand DNA enough to say. Yet somehow you and Monsanto are certain in the safety of gene-manipulated foods. Are we seeing the problem yet?
            Or this discovery that allows a skin cell to turn into a stem cell. The scientists described it as “surprising” to learn that “targeting a single location on the genome was enough to trigger the natural chain reaction that led to reprogramming the cell”. The fact that scientists, who know far more about it than you or me about genetics, are surprised at what they learn about DNA in this case, and frankly all the time, is the basis for my conclusion that we are not capable of truly understanding the implications of what we’re doing when we play with DNA. The real question is why you have such a hard time admitting what honest scientists will tell you outright. Are you financially tied to GMO companies?

          • Noah Dillon says:

            I can’t respond to this essay you’ve written. Suffice to say it contains some pretty significant misinformation and misunderstandings. I’ve presented you with information that contradicts claims you’ve made, and you dismiss it. So there’s really no point in continuing. You’re rationalizing a lot of this stuff, using or rejecting information based on its source in a totally capricious manner. I’m not going to argue facts against beliefs.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Hey man, that’s cool. I am also a worker-member of a co-op. It ostensibly doesn’t stock GMO products, etc., which is a policy I disagree with, but most other members support.

            I agree: businesses by and large should not have special carve-out protections from government oversight or legal remedies. They shouldn’t have lobbyists and shouldn’t contribute to political campaigns. And several seed companies have used really questionable or reprehensible tactics. Those are issues apart from the safety and efficacy of their products. We don’t typically judge, say, the deadliness of guns based on whether their manufacturer supports after-school programs. Neither should we judge the safety of seeds by the legal shadiness of a given company. I also never said such companies are “upstanding.”

            I disagree that none of their benefits have borne out. That’s simply not at all true.

            I would also point out that conventionally bred seeds by other companies or university researchers, organic seeds included, are also patented and trademarked: The US Plant Patent Act became law in 1930, before we even knew what DNA looked like, let alone how to modify it. Seed companies are also not claiming to be doing nothing new. Their whole sales pitch is that what they produce is a new and useful product. They are claiming that their new product is also safe and effective to use.

            What testing would satisfy you? I really earnestly would like to know. What variable do you think is unaccounted for? And why? And again, why is perfect knowledge necessary to proceed? If we needed perfect knowledge to act against global warming then we will all broil to death or drown.

            Also: who is forcing you to consume anything? I support them and no one forces me to eat or wear anything. Most of them are used for feed or for, say, corn used to make other products. I don’t eat meat or processed foods. Who exactly is taking away your rights as a consumer?

            Finally, I would also point out that organic food production does allow certain other forms of genetic modification, such as by exposing seeds to certain chemicals or radiation, which seems to me a lot more unpredictable than precision insertion of selected gene sequences:

          • Alan Powell says:

            Let’ s talk about the supposed benefits of GMO foods. What benefits do you think they have? They did increase yields, but then organic yields have since caught up in some instances, even surpassed GMO yields in others.
            Have they succeeded in making either drought tolerant or wet tolerant plants? Everything I’ve read shows that near-perfect conditions have to be maintained for these plants to work as promised. If you have a drought tolerant plant and it rains a lot, the plant dies, and vice versa.
            Have they cut down on the need for herbicides/pesticides? No! Plants and insects we consider pests have gained immunity to agricultural chemicals, and are now harder to kill as a result, meaning their chemicals are less effective. That has led to the need to spray more or spray even more toxic chemicals to try and overcome nature’s ability to adapt. That has led to superbugs and superweeds, not part of their plan! Of course there are
            So again, I ask, what benefits are you talking about?
            Then you have to add the other negative impacts, runoff from all those chemicals have created dead zones in large bodies of water. The safety of the ag chemicals we use is in question, especially the newer, stronger chemicals being sold to compensate for the learned resistance of crops.
            We haven’t even begun to talk about the possible negative effects of chemical companies owning all our seeds. Or the problems associated with monocultures. Or forcing millions of poor subsistence farmers to grow commodity crops for the first world, leaving them no food in their fields with which to feed themselves. Clearly the touted benefits are dubious and the gains minimal for the risk.
            Their promise is great IF the benefits they claim turn out to be accurate. So far, their track record has not been very good. Nature continues to surprise GMO scientists with its ability to challenge their changes in unexpected ways.
            The patenting of life was illegal until GMO seed companies convinced a judge to allow it. So yes, now various companies own seed patents, but ethically, the question of whether anyone should be able to patient life is not a settled one, even though legally we allow it.
            When I say people are being “forced to consume” GMO products, obviously I don’t mean physically, I mean if, as a consumer, people can’t tell a food has genetically modified components, how can they choose not to eat what they don’t want? One has to be aware of what’s in a food to make informed choices about what they put in their body. That’s like saying no one is forcing you to breathe particulate matter from internal combustion engines, or to have exposures to ag chemicals. Those choices are taken from us the moment someone is allowed to hide the provenance of the foods we eat. I asked before, if this technology is so miraculous and totally safe, if those who produce the seeds are so proud of their accomplishments, why all the cloak and dagger crap? Why hide that foods are GM? And please, don’t try and spout their official answer, which is that “mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s health” That is a b******t answer! Why? Because my right to choose, my freedom, is not contingent on or limited to aligning with scientifically proven conclusions. Freedom means having the information one needs to make the choices one desires. If you hide the truth, or make it impossible to make an informed choice, no matter how you spin it, you are forcing people to consume things they didn’t want.
            You say “organic food production does allow certain other forms of genetic modification, such as by exposing seeds to certain chemicals or radiation,” to which I respond, the small farmers who care about the health and quality of soil and the integrity of clean food did not ask for these allowances, and aren’t the ones creating or using them. These irradiated or chemically altered seeds are created by and for big industrial food production. Industrial ag are the ones who pushed for these things, not small family farmers. Most purist farmers want nothing to do with these technologies, and would never have chosen to allow for such things. Again, this is what big business wants.
            My initial premise has not changed, humans don’t know enough about genetics to say anything certain about the implications of playing around with genes. Not enough time has gone by, and not enough independent science has been done to adequately assure people these technologies are safe. “Safe so far” is not good enough.
            You mentioned in a previous post that some genes are, in fact, able to jump the species barrier naturally. First, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to ignore the species barrier as if the existence of a small number of jumping genes means the barrier is superfluous, or that we’re masters of genetics and will be dealt no more surprises. So the question is, is human knowledge of genetics advanced enough to say which genes will jump the species barrier and which won’t? At what point in time? For what reason? What will happen to other species as a result of introducing new genes that can jump? Until scientists can accurately predict the answers to these kinds of questions, we have no business claiming GMO tech is safe. And that is my whole and only point in these conversations. No one can say whether this tech is safe or not, not yet at least, it is simply too soon to judge a tech based on a subject that we still no so little about.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Again: a lot of misinformation and plainly wrong stuff in here, some of which I’ve already pointed out and I guess you’re not interested in acknowledging, such as that patenting organisms has been explicitly allowed by law since 1930. So I’m not going to keep having this conversation. It’s a waste of time. If you want to write long, ranty blog posts, stop doing it in comment threads and go start your own site.

          • Alan Powell says:

            You keep saying I am misinformed, but refuse to say how. If I am so “plainly wrong”, that should be easy. I am not misinformed, I just have a notably higher threshold of proof required to win me over.
            When the norm is that geneticists are no longer surprised by what they learn every year, when we don’t learn new things that cause us to reassess old theories all the time, when they can predict all the manifestations gene manipulation will have, then perhaps you can convince me that this tech is safe. Until then, you are suggesting we follow the path we’ve taken so many times, which has left us with more problems despite the claims of fewer. I’d prefer to be able to know what foods contain GMO’s so I can avoid them. I am supposed to be free to do that, except for the lack of labelling. Any business that attempts to hide what it does and take away my ability to make informed choices should be viewed with suspicion. That you don’t find that suspicious surprises and concerns me. (I’m guessing you are with Bezos and not Musk on AI as well)
            Explain something to me. You choose to eat clean food, but you disagree with your coop’s policies that assure its member they will get clean food? Seems a little dubious to me that someone who is sitting here praising and defending GMO’s would be choosing to eat from a source that filters them out of your diet. You could be out there supporting GMO foods with your dollars, yet you aren’t. Why the double standard?

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Like I said, man, I’ve pointed some of this stuff out and you dismiss it. You’re asking, too, for a level of certainty that no science has. There are people pondering math problems that have been head scratchers for a few hundred years. You think we don’t know how numbers work? You’re asking for a level of certainty beyond what climate scientists now have, and yet I think we both agree that global warming is a serious problem that needs to be urgently addressed.

            I have no idea what you mean about AI. I don’t know Jeff Bezos’s position. I think we’re probably too late in figuring out what the guardrails and ethics barriers should be with regard to AI.

            I don’t know what you mean by “clean food.” I like to cook and I don’t want to eat a bunch of sugar. I disagree with one policy, but there’s a lot of other stuff I like about my co-op. And the quality of the food (its freshness, flavor, variety, etc.) has nothing to do with GMOs and is superior to most of the other grocery stores around. And, because it’s worker-owned, it’s cheaper and is more in line with my idea about how companies should operate. None of this has anything to do with GMOs, most of which go to farm feed because people are so irrationally freaked out about eating them. I don’t eat meat. If my co-op stocked GMOs, I would not care and would buy them based on price and flavor. That’s it.

            So, as far as I can see, you’re not open to hearing this conversation or acknowledging contrary evidence. So so long.

          • What appallingly ignorant garbage!
            I was about to give you a list, but I see Noah Dillon beat me to it.


            Now here is a little exercise for you; it comes with training wheels.
            See if you can work out the implications, and whether as a result of what we tell you, you could produce a foal with fingers by having sex with an ass, or by GM; your means of verification I leave to your imagination.

            Don’t bother to thank me, just send money.

          • Alan Powell says:

            “appallingly ignorant garbage”. That’s exactly what I’d expect as a response from someone who has taken the notion of science’s perfection too far. You can’t even admit the glaring flaws inherent to certain areas of study, and then have the audacity to ridicule others. You can’t trust any information about GMO’s because the people behind them are manipulating the information you see. Most recently, they had someone publish a letter in Newsweek under his own name, but which Monsanto provided him, to foster misinformation on the topic. You are so blindly supportive of the theoretical concept of science, you can’t see how it can and has been used by large corporations to get them what they want at our expense.
            I will thank you, for reminding me what an ass people can be and why there is mistrust of science. You don;t even realize you are shooting yourself in the foot, but at least your dedication to defending the infallibility of science is intact.

          • My apologies for my wording; I was in a rush and discovered too late what I had said and that the bolt was shot and not retrievable.
            However, note that none of us said a word about the in fallibility of science.

  11. Oh, and BTW, you have not addressed the problem of your ignorance of GMO, which appears to be functionally total. Check out Noah’s list and see how many of his examples you both know and can recognise the relevance of. Then see whether you can extend the list and how it is relevant to GMOs and big business.

    Tangentially, it is touching to see your faith in Newsweek and your interpretation of what gets printed in it. You really must tell us more about these unscientific and corresponding reliable sources and the harm that GMOs do that infallible non-scientists recognise and scientists don’t.

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