Biotech advocates just need to do a better job of explaining the technology and its benefits. The headline for the piece read:
It’s not too late to change the conversation on GMOs
While I admire this optimism and agree that we should continue to engage in conversations about GMOs, there are certain present-day realities that constrain our efforts to find common ground on this very controversial topic.
At the top of this list is the sheer amount of information we are inundated with every day. Many of us are tapped into mobile technology. We are referred to as ‘just in time’ users (Rainie and Fox 2012). We account for 62% of the entire adult population who often look to online sources and online social networks for information. Anti-GMO interest groups have successfully leveraged these networks to disseminate misinformation and influence public opinion. Using carefully crafted words (frankenfoods!) and images (syringes in tomatoes), they create myths–GM corn causes cancer, fish genes have beenforced into tomatoes or GM corn kills the larvae of monarch butterflies–that tap into people’s fears about genetic engineering.
When you combine these myths with our cognitive habits, things become even more complex:
People are conspiratorial thinkers: Public Policy Polling (2013) conducted a survey earlier this year where (among other things) it found that 20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism while another 14% of voters believe in Bigfoot. As Maggie Koerth-Baker reported in her article in the NY Times last week: “Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness” where the human brain jumps into “analytical overdrive … in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative.”