Public opinion on GMO

Pew recently published a report about the American public’s views on food and science.  Not surprisingly, I was particularly interested in the part dealing with GMO food.  On the bright side, a plurlality of the public recognizes that GMO foods are not inherently better or worse for health.  On the downside, a disturbingly large minority (and surely a more intense one) believes GMO food is bad for you:

And as the chart shows, not just unhealthy, but most see “high” risks.

Meanwhile, I find this chart concerning as young people are the most misinformed, and of course, young people are the future of politics:

And the demographics/politics chart is interesting, as it shows how modest the divisions are– especially politically.  The biggest gap is gender– which I hope to have something to say about in print before too long.

And, I guess, on the bright side, those with high science knowledge are more likely to see the real potential benefits:

Of course, it’s not like Americans are known for their high science knowledge.

It’s getting better

So, this is really cool, an Economics professor with a look at all the ways the world has been dramatically improving in terms of health, freedom, literacy, etc.  There’s lots of cool interactive charts, but here’s the nickel summary in chart form:

He concludes with a powerful argument for understanding this data and the case for optimism:

The successful transformation of our living conditions was possible only because of collaboration. Such a transformation would be impossible for a single person to accomplish.
It is our collective brains and our collaborative effort that are needed for such an improvement.

There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.

It is far from certain that we will make progress against these problems – there is no iron law that would ensure that the world continues this trend of improving living conditions. But what is clear from the long-term perspective is that the last 200 years brought us to a better position than ever before to solve these problems. Solving problems – big problems – is always a collaborative undertaking. And the group of people that is able to work together today is a much, much stronger group than there ever was on this planet. We have just seen the change over time; the world today is healthier, richer, and better educated.

For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow men area are a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.

Freedom is impossible without faith in free people. And if we are not aware of our history and falsely believe the opposite of what is true we risk losing faith in each other.

NC democracy = Cuba democracy?

A UNC Political Science professor who studies democracy, Andrew Reynolds, has written (an already viral in my world Op-Ed) arguing that on key metrics North Carolina is hardly a democracy:

When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.

First, legislative power does not depend on the votes of the people. One party wins just half the votes but 100 percent of the power. The GOP has a huge legislative majority giving it absolute veto-proof control with that tiny advantage in the popular vote. The other party wins just a handful of votes less and 0 percent of the legislative power. This is above and beyond the way in which state legislators are detached from democratic accountability as a result of the rigged district boundaries. They are beholden to their party bosses, not the voters. Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.

Second, democracies do not limit their citizens’ rights on the basis of their born identities. However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens.

Third, government in North Carolina has become arbitrary and detached from popular will. When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy. When a wounded legislative leadership,  and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon…

Respect for democracy is not a partisan issue. In America true Republicans are as loyal to democratic principles as are Democrats.

1) Whoa– in that case, there are perilously few “true Republicans” as the response to Trump has made eminently clear.

2) Lots of good points here, but honestly, any metric that places North Carolina’s democracy ranked alongside Cuba and Indonesia is a seriously flawed metric.  We did just manage to elect a governor from the out-party while having all sorts of election administration questions settled in a fair manner.  Yeah, I’m not big fan of the guys running the legislature, but we are far from being an authoritarian state or pseudo democracy.  That said, Reynolds is right that we can and should do a hell of a lot better.

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