I like both Volairina and your takes on the non-rational world. I was having a lot of trouble working something out.
That said, while Voltairina's world is a bit more horrifyingly extreme than yours, it seems to me more probably that cause and effect simply did not exist. I can envision a structure of elementary physics that simply change--functionally randomly--far more easily than that causality does exist, but operates in the inverse. I have more trouble envisioning the elementary physics that bring that into existence without a observational intellect directly upsetting motivated plans.
All that is to say, might not your case be the more extreme one?
This comment is going on a decade old, and if you still access this account, I would be curious about your stance on your above statements now.
I completely agree that breeding methods have their own flaws, which we certainly have seen come to dangerous fruition (pun definitely intended).
I also concede that breeding is quite slow in improving a plant, where direct modification would be much faster.
I furthermore agree that direct genetic modification is the future of crop improvement. Given that we better master the techniques and better understand the genomes in play every year, eventually direct gene modification will lack any of the uncertainty that I invoke right now.
But I likewise think it is not unreasonable to say that it is more likely that we would stumble upon a sudden unfortunate side-effect of our modifications by direct modification, because we would lack the evolutionary "safeguards" that have kept biological life going so far.
In any case: I'm clearly not expressing my ideas cogently enough to be productive in this venue, and it's taken on the whiff of partisan politics. Especially awkward since I am on the same "side" as you: I think there is insufficient evidence to mandate GMO labeling, but I don't like it when "my side" refuses to engage in what I see as reasonable concerns from the "enemy." Once again: not productive.
I would agree with you that the quoted statement is not terribly persuasive. I was simply encapsulating the actual argument at hand, instead of the straw-man argument of "method versus outcome." And while the vagueness diminishes the magnitude of the evidence, I don't believe it makes it non-zero.
To your second point:
in the context of "it's been fine for 20 years but we're not sure about the really long term", I don't see how the "rapid and intricate" quality is relevant.
I would add to ChristianKI's apt reply that while conventional modifications via breeding can eventually have monumental effects, direct genetic modification can rapidly--over the course of a single generation--have monumental effects that may have unintended side effects attached to them due to a lack of understanding of the intricacies of genetic interactions.
You will note that I said that they have the same "objectives" not necessarily the same "outcomes."
Granted, I agree that if we have two genetically and biologically identical organisms, one created by traditional methods and one created by direct genetic modification, then no, I would not care at all.
The argument is that--despite sharing the same objective of improving food production for humanity--traditional methods have a lower likelihood of unforeseen negative outcomes due to the rapid and intricate methods by which GMO are altered.
We care about differences of method because of potential differences of outcome.
I think you're drawing two specious conclusions:
First, "traditional food engineering" and GMO do refer to various practices, but there is a very clear distinction of method drawn by those terms. The "traditional" method short circuits natural reproductive process to cultivate desired traits, where as GMO methods entail the direct modification of genes by means external to the reproductive process. To say that repeatedly selecting the largest head of wheat and breeding from that stock is "the same" as injecting new DNA into an organism with a gene gun is absurd in the extreme. They share the same objective, of course, but the method is wholly different.
Second, the Green Revolution was the adoption and expansion of many agricultural practices of which high-yield varieties were one important feature. Obviously, "traditional" methods can have enormous effects. For instance, turning what amounted to an edible grass into a freakish calorie battery. That said, these slow and incremental processes have at least some evolutionary safeguards built into them simply from the time it takes and the holistic, less targeted changes. Once again, we are talking about a difference of method not of objective. The fact that there was a boom of food production prior to GMO does not mean that it is the same as GMO.
I agree: there is no "forever guarantee," especially as our life spans increase to experience new problems and our ability to detect problems improves, we discover new things that may be killing us or may have been harming us in the past.
That said: I'm unclear on the double standard you were pointing out. Was it something that I said indirectly? If that is the case, the point of my statement is that we have a longer body of evidence for traditional food engineering (selection, cross-breeding, etc) than we do for direct genetic modification by several orders of magnitude--conservatively: 50 years compared to ~5,000 years. That is A) not to say we haven't borked up a few times with traditional engineering and B) not to say that GMO are definitively less safe because they are new. It is just to say that we have definitively less evidence on the matter, and 10-20 years--less than half of a lifetime--is not a resounding endorsement.
All that said: I don't think this is even a particularly significant piece of evidence in the discussion--compared to say: reliable testing standards, risk analysis based upon the changes being introduced rather than the method of introduction, etc--as long as we can agree that 20 years of evident safety does not in itself prove that anything is certainly safe.
Thanks, Ishaan. That was a lot of good directions to come at this from.
I especially found a few of them novel ways to eke out more confidence from an insulated problem:
If it's a political issue, try to find out what people who might plausibly be expertish in the area yet don't seem to be invested in debating the issue think about it.
check what known superforecasters in the field think (people who have a track record of successful predictions in that area). Superforecasters need not actually be loudly engaging with the issue, just ask.
check if people who have different types of knowledge tend to say different things (e.g. economists vs. sociologists)
I'll try to remember those for questions like this in the future.
Furthermore, notion that you raise struck me:
Most things for which it is important for you to personally understand have measurable consequences to you. Why do you need the right answer to the GMO question, what would you even do with the right answer?
I suppose I've never really considered why I wanted the right answer to a question, I suppose I ascribe a relatively high weight to "understand things" in my utility function. That said, thinking about it from the angle of "What would I do with the right answer": In this case, I would do is embrace/avoid GMO foods for my personal health and safety, vote to label/not-label/ban/regulate GMO, and argue for others to do the same.
Isn't that the ideal of a democratic system: an informed populace vigorously contesting in the marketplace of ideas?
Not the best place to put this comment, but there's a confusing mistake on the PLACE FAQ where the pie candidate shows a voting option for "Other Ice Cream Candidate" instead of "Other Pie Candidate."
Does anyone have an electorama account to remedy that?