Are genetically modified foods safe? Science says yes but why do so many people still believe otherwise?

Currently, thousands of plants and animals grown and raised in the United States have been genetically modified in some way. Since the beginnings of agriculture and animal husbandry, humans have been manipulating the genetics of plants and animals but what’s different now is that we have the ability to successfully and effectively splice genes from one species into another. Sometimes DNA from a bacterium has a property that is effective when added to the genome of corn. Once this DNA is added, the corn is considered “genetically modified” or a genetically modified organism (GMO). (Click here for more information on what a GMO is)

Rigorous scientific studies have consistently shown that GM foods are as safe to consume as their non GM counterparts however fears about their safety persist. Why is that? To get to the heart of the issue we have to examine the role of language in our acquisition of knowledge, the relationship between emotion and reason when making decisions about our health, and standards of good science.

The Inquiry Podcast: Is the Knowledge Factory Broken?

This podcast examines the nature of scientific knowledge and how it is produced. What is “good science” and how is it undermined by incentives and the process itself?

“Academic research stands accused of turning a blind eye to dodgy data, failing to reconcile contradictory findings and valuing money over knowledge. We examine the criticisms, which go the very heart of our pursuit of knowledge.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvsy8

Why avoiding sunshine could kill you

“Researchers followed 30,000 women for 20 years and found that those who avoided the sunshine were twice as likely to die”

Despite the very sensational title, this is an interesting case to look it when understanding the nature and challenges of science. A simple look at the title might convince people that using sunblock or avoiding sunlight may be bad advice, however a more careful look at the study, its conclusions, and an understanding of the nature of scientific certainty should give us pause.

The study followed women in Sweden and, assuming the study was done properly, should only suggest conclusions dealing with a particular set of people: fair skinned women living in northern latitudes.

There may be a tendency to overextrapolate and think that all sunscreen is bad and all sunlight is good however that would be a premature and possibly detrimental conclusion.

Buried in the article linked below is an interesting sentence: “Women who sunbathed in the summer were also 10 per cent less likely to die from skin cancer although those who sunbathed abroad were twice as likely to die from melanoma.”

This study is not simply a study about sunlight vs. not sunlight but possibly about how much sunlight is appropriate.

Furthermore, the article states:

“The findings from Dr Lindqvist’s team are interesting, but it is possible that the women in the study who had high sun exposure differed from the women who had low sun exposure in ways that may explain their reduced cancer risk.”

Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said striking a balance was important.

“The reasons behind higher death rates in women with lower sun exposure are still unexplained, as unhealthy lifestyle choices could have played a part,” she added.

This adds to the discussion of what it takes to prove something in the natural sciences and shows how challenging it is to build a scientific consensus. This just one study on a very specific group of people and still there are variables that are unknown.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10811734/Why-avoiding-sunshine-could-kill-you.html

“Everything Is Crumbling” The Replication Crisis in the Social Sciences

“An influential psychological theory, borne out in hundreds of experiments, may have just been debunked. How can so many scientists have been so wrong?”

“And yet, it now appears that ego depletion could be completely bogus, that its foundation might be made of rotted-out materials. That means an entire field of study—and significant portions of certain scientists’ careers—could be resting on a false premise. If something this well-established could fall apart, then what’s next? That’s not just worrying. It’s terrifying.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/cover_story/2016/03/ego_depletion_an_influential_theory_in_psychology_may_have_just_been_debunked.html

Podcast: “The Replication Crisis” on You are Not So Smart

“Nosek recently lead a project in which 270 scientists sought to replicate 100 different studies in psychology, all published in 2008 — 97 of which claimed to have found significant results — and in the end, two-thirds failed to replicate. Clearly, some sort of course correction is in order.”

https://youarenotsosmart.com/2017/07/19/yanss-100-the-replication-crisis/