Cognitive Dissonance, or: Why I write about GMOs
I’m not a biologist. Or a geneticist. Or even a chemist. Heck, I don’t have any formal training in agriculture, biology or farming.
So why am I so pro GMO?
I’m not actually. I don’t have a dog in this fight when it comes to GMO or Organics. If irrefutable proof that GMOs were harmful were to come out tomorrow it wouldn’t change my life in any significant way, except now I’d have to spend more money on my food. I’m not necessarily pro GMO. What I am, is pro science.
Which is why I write about GMOs. Because I’m interested in psychology and cognitive biases in general. You see, I live in Southern California. Although we’re not at the hipster factor of Berkeley and San Francisco, we’re still a hotbed of anti-science advocates, mostly situated in Orange County and certain parts of the city of Los Angeles.
What I find interesting is, where the anti-GMO and anti-vax, pro Organic crowd in Northern California tends to skew liberal1)Lieu, T. A., Ray, G. T., Klein, N. P., Chung, C., & Kulldorff, M. (2015). Geographic Clusters in Underimmunization and Vaccine Refusal. PEDIATRICS, 135(2), 280–289. http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2715, the same crowd down here happens to skew moderate to conservative in Orange County, and liberal in Los Angeles.
And here’s the thing about GMOs. The science is out. GMOs are safe. Organics are not healthier than standard food. Vaccines reduce disease and do not cause autism. And climate change is real. These opinions represent the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.
In Northern California it seems that the relatively well educated, upper-middle class individuals, those I should note can afford to spend more money on Organic foods, tend to accept climate change as being real. They point to the overwhelming scientific consensus. But when it comes to GMOs, Organics and Vaccines (to a lesser extent) they suggest that the science is the product of a scientific cabal funded by Big Agro and Big Pharma to hide the truth.
At least their OC counterparts are consistent. Orange County tends to skew conservative and thus, they reject the science of GMOs, Organics, Vaccines and Climate Change. Consistency is sometimes a virtue but only if you’re consistently right.
So here’s the reason why I write about GMOs and Organics, and even Vaccines and Climate Change even though my technical expertise is Psychology:
Cognitive Dissonance is the ability of a person to hold two contradictory, and often mutually exclusive ideas, in their heads.
I’ve just finished recording the first episode of what I hope will be a fruitful and educational podcast. It was about Confirmation Bias. Confirmation Bias plays into Cognitive Dissonance in an important way.
You see, you can’t accept the scientific community’s consensus when it comes to one aspect of science, but then reject it when it comes to another. You can reject a single study, sure. Science works by repetition and verification.
But when the overwhelming scientific evidence states that they’re no evidence that something is harmful, then we must accept such a claim until evidence is provided.
For my friends that believe in Climate Change but fear GMOs I’ve witnessed an interesting cognitive dissonance. When arguing about climate change they’ll point to the overwhelming scientific consensus. But when arguing (with me) about GMOs and Organics, I point to the overwhelming scientific consensus.
What’s the response?
These scientists just work for Monsanto/Big Pharma. Well some do, but some don’t. What about the ones that don’t, and still find the same results?
It’s a conspiracy. The people who study GMOs/vaccines also make them so they don’t want to go out of business. Okay, that might be so, but if that were true the meta-analyses performed by impartial parties would show something.
The data is being faked. That’s certainly possible, but not likely. People have been searching for evidence of fakery for decades and haven’t found any (they have found it on the anti-GMO side, however).
The science hasn’t proved that GMOs are safe. Well you’re asking someone to prove a negative. You can’t do that. You can either find evidence of harm, or fail to find evidence of harm. You can never prove that something is not harmful.
You’re a paid Shill. No I’m not. I wish I were, I could quit my day job.
You see what happens with Cognitive Dissonance is that a person holds to conflicting views in their head: Science can be trusted, but GMOS/Vaccines are dangerous. What results is an interesting act of confirmation bias. An individual searches for, and remembers, all the evidence that supports their claims while simultaneously ignoring or forgetting the evidence that disputes it, even though that evidence is far greater.
It would be fascinating if it weren’t so scary.
I don’t have a dog in any of these fights. And if evidence, scientific evidence, were to be presented tomorrow showing that GMO’s and Vaccines were unsafe, or that Organics actually were more healthy, or that Climate Change was an illusion, I’d change my mind (at least I hope I would). But it hasn’t. And luckily, even though I’m not a biologist or a climatologist, I have a very deep statistics background. And statistics is the stuff that science lives on. Without statistics, you can’t know anything.
So I may not know exactly what the significance of enzyme a being present in a new GMO crop might be, but I can tell that the study ran their ANOVA properly, or that their regression models accurately accounted for variable X or variable Y, etc.
So the real reason why I write about GMOs even though my training is in Psychology and Statistics is this: it’s science. It’s logically inconsistent to fear these things until science shows that they are harmful. And the process that allows us to fear these things and not realize how illogical it is is Cognitive Dissonance. Psychology, at work.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Lieu, T. A., Ray, G. T., Klein, N. P., Chung, C., & Kulldorff, M. (2015). Geographic Clusters in Underimmunization and Vaccine Refusal. PEDIATRICS, 135(2), 280–289. http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2715|