Genetically modified foods will kill you!

If you eat so much of them that you become obese and develop really bad cardiovascular health.  Otherwise, you’re probably okay.

So, we’ll stick with a food misconception theme here this morning.  I doubt anybody’s done any good work on diet soda misconceptions (hey, maybe that should be me!), but some very good work on GMO misconceptions and I kind of love the findings (via Jesse Singal).  The headline pretty much nails it:

People Who Are Most Fearful Of Genetically Modified Foods Think They Know The Most About Them, But Actually Know The Least

And some of the details:

There are few subjects where a larger gap exists between public opinion and expert opinion than people’s views on foods, like corn or wheat, that have been genetically manipulated to, for example, increase crop yields or bolster pest-resistance. Experts generally view so-called GM foods as totally safe to consume, while the public is suspicious of them — and this divide is massive. One Pew Research Center survey found that just 37 per cent of the American public believed GM foods are safe to eat, compared with 88 per cent of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [emphases mine] (public attitudes are similarly negative in the UK, with a 2014 poll finding that 40 per cent of adults felt the government should not promote GM foods, compared with 22 per cent in favour, and the rest unsure).

Unlike some subjects where this divide between layperson and expert opinion is heavily mediated by politics, such as climate change caused by human activity — in the U.S. and elsewhere, conservatives are far less likely to believe in it than are liberals and climate scientists — the GM-food divide doesn’t really have a political dimension: Liberals, centrists, and conservatives are all about equally likely to have what are, from the point of view of experts, unfounded fears about the safety of GM foods…

This can be seen as a subject-specific version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, or people’s tendency to be ignorant about their own ignorance. The finding held across the samples in different countries…

This can be seen as a subject-specific version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, or people’s tendency to be ignorant about their own ignorance. The finding held across the samples in different countries…

As Fernbach and his colleagues note at the end of their paper, even for less-politicised issues like GM foods, their findings suggest that improving public awareness of basic scientific consequences might be more complex than previously realised, since those holding onto the most severe forms of misinformation are also least likely to seek out more facts or be open to hearing the other side. “This suggests that a prerequisite to changing people’s views through education may be getting them to first appreciate the gaps in their knowledge.” Which is a whole other task — and a very important one.

So, eat up those GM foods while consuming your diet soda :-).

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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