People like to debate. Lately, there have been many debates and public discussions about genetically engineered crops, particularly as several states are considering legislation or ballot measures that address the question of mandatory GMO labeling. New Hampshire, which is no stranger to the National spotlight each election season, is also weighing the pros and cons of such laws, along with its neighboring states. Naturally, as the public considers laws about GMOs, they want to understand the science behind these crops, so why not set up a debate between scientists?
I can think of a few reasons. Debates tend to entrench views, rather than educate. They can also perpetuate an adversarial approach to comparing opposing views rather than an open search for knowledge. Debates can also be difficult for audience members when debaters bring up many claims without adequate time to address them, which can give the perception that their opponent is unable to respond to them – a strategy called the Gish Gallop. Sometimes, certain personalities can contribute to the problems with debates, while people interested in other, more congenial approaches can make good use of the format. So what happens when you one of each kind of person in a debate on GMOs? Our own co-Director Anastasia Bodnar, was invited to engage Michael Hansen from the Consumer’s Union at the Grafton County Farm Bureau Meeting on October 19 in New Hampshire, and I daresay she held her own. Why don’t you watch their panel discussion and see for yourself?
(Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes. It runs twice in this YouTube video, the second time without sound.)
In the discussion, a few interesting things happened that I wanted to note. Michael Hansen revealed that he believes that the companies and/or regulators are hiding something – which is conspiratorial thinking. He also brought up unsubstantiated claims of hair growing out of the mouths of GMO-fed hamsters (there are zero studies showing this), while also clearly criticizing documentaries and activists who try to link every illness under the sun with GMOs. He emphatically agreed with Anastasia Bodnar that correlation is not causation. What other things did you notice in this discussion? Let us know in the comments!
Definitely do not miss what happened at 46:10 in the video! Start watching from about 41:00 if you want to see the full context.
You can also see photos of New Hampshire farms and countryside in the photo album here. Kudos for Michael being brave anough to get his photo taken with a GMO corn And give Anastasia some props for taking part in this debate and doing so well to help people understand the science and the issues involved! Let’s hope we see more of this.