When [Anti-Science] Zealots change their minds.
In our first episode of Cogito (which will hopefully be released soon) we talk about how Bill Nye had changed his opinion on GMOs. He had been opposed to them before examining the evidence and coming out publicly for Genetically Modified Organisms.
I recently read an article about Mark Lynas in the Guardian. It was written in 2013 actually and if I had remembered it I would have used Lynas as an example in our episode about Confirmation Bias rather than Bill Nye, only because he had been a far more outspoken critic of GMOs.
I won’t reproduce the article here, but a few things are interesting to note.
By 1997 his anger had turned to action, and the first “decontamination actions” to destroy experimental GM crops took place. “We’d head out in a van with gardening tools, dark clothes, some cash and no ID.” Arriving at around 2am, between 20 and 30 of them would work until dawn, “just going along the line”, destroying the plants.
He began as an anti-GMO activist, terrorist really, destroying a product that he believed was harmful to the world. However, his beliefs were not based on science.
As an aside I’m not necessarily an advocate for GMOs. It’s not a subject about which I feel strongly; I’m not a biologist, I don’t know the science. So I must rely on the scientific consensus which states that, among other things, GMOs are not known to have any harmful effect on human health nor the environment. 1)American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2012). Statement by the AAAS board of directors on labeling of genetically modified foods (Position Statement). This is the scientific consensus. People are free to disagree with this, but unless someone can provide any evidence that refutes these claims they are just expressing an opinion.
Which is what Lynas was doing.
Lynas’s metamorphosis gathered real pace when he started work on his 2004 book High Tide. It concerned the consequences of manmade climate change… “I didn’t want my book to be just a series of anecdotes,” he explains, “so I began researching the science. And I fell in love with it. I realised that science offers a window into truth that nothing else can.”
His embrace of evidence-based knowledge caused a problem. Many of his beliefs about GMOs were predicated on an extravagant dismissal of the scientific consensus. “The whole GM thing had been about criticising scientists, saying they were corrupt, corporate shills,” he says. “And we definitely believed all those things. But I realised everything we were doing was deeply reductionist, basically saying: ‘Scientists should shut down their labs and go and work in Tesco.’ It was a kind of counter-enlightenment. People against a process.”
He decided to chose evidence over his beliefs. To chose logic over opinion. The perfect example of an individual dismissing their cognitive biases in favor of logical thought.
Do read the full article, it’s a good example of how sometimes people do change their minds.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2012). Statement by the AAAS board of directors on labeling of genetically modified foods (Position Statement).|