About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

GMOs – Why It’s Not an Argument We Can Solve With Facts

tomato_plant.svg.medI once read that, if two scientists have a disagreement, it’s easy to solve. They get more facts. And if they can’t get more facts, they happily have a beer together – friends until more facts arrive.

We’ve posted a number of commentaries about GMOs (genetically modified Organisms) on this site. There’s a new documentary that tries to address GMOs from a factual, scientific perspective. They even have Neil DeGrasse Tyson as the film’s narrator. (To which I say – why would an astrophysicist know anything about GMOs? I’m not sure that helps.) But as this article explains, they will fail to change anyone’s mind.

Even if you took the time to painstakingly verify all the claims and counter-claims, most people aren’t interested in listening or changing their minds based on the evidence… In reality, it ought to have admitted that what [GMOs are] facing is an ideologically charged debate that, like climate change, is increasingly immune to facts.

What about Monsanto?
For many people, the GMO debate isn’t over science. It’s over big tone-deaf uncaring corporations (bad guys) who send lawyers to public meetings vs friendly boutique farmers and consumers (good guys) who shake hands at farmers’ markets. Monsanto often fell into the stereotype, trying to side-step local concerns and throw their political weight around. It didn’t help than one of the first GMO crops to get publicity was a soybean that could be sprayed with Roundup. Great – allowing more poisons to be used on food. I continue to think that if the first major GMO had been Golden Rice the conversation would be different. Too late now.

GMO opponents can’t be dismissed. They use a piece of heuristic reasoning that often serves well: I listen to people like me who had time to investigate. Given how big the world is and how much effort it takes to research any significant topic, this is inevitable. I use the trick myself. And given the history of Big Tobacco’s assault on science, having the title doctor in front of someone’s name is no guarantee they can be trusted. The battle of the experts has become standard in law and the media.

So what are we going to do? About GMOs? Climate change? Contraception – gun violence – immigration – healthcare? This list is long. It will be a long sad slog back to a place where we can all find someone to trust.

It must start with a renewed dedication to facts. And with so many people rewarded for their BS this won’t be easy. But we’ve got to do it. Some people are trying. What ideas do you have?

We’re technical folk on this site and search for facts, so if you’re interested, more of our GMO posts are here.

Read Between the Lines

To read between the lines is to discern a meaning that isn’t made obvious or explicit.

This expression derives from a simple detective-mdform of cryptography, in which a hidden meaning was conveyed by secreting it between lines of text. It originated in the mid 19th century and soon became used to refer to the deciphering of any coded or unclear form of communication… The first example that I can find of the phrase in print is from The New York Times, August 1862. Phrase Finder

I was reminded of this phrase by a pundit on cable news, so it’s funny that the 1862 citation is also from politics.

The letter assumes a somewhat enigmatical character, and the only resource we have is, as best we may, to ‘read between the lines’ of this puzzling, but important, communication of the British Foreign Secretary.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You – Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Bush

President Bush liked this phrase, too. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee…”

This phrase doesn’t rely on metaphors – it states it’s wisdom outright. A thread on a Quora forum offers further references:

Oxford University Press (2008) is this quote from The Court and Character of King James by Anthony Weldon (1650), page 52:

The Italians having a Proverb, He that deceives me Once, it’s his Fault; but Twice it is my fault.

History for Colonial Williamsburg offers this American citation:

Axioms—read in the Bible, quoted from classical literature, and handed down through families—were a part of everyday life in 1700s America… In 1778, the Pennsylvania Gazette reported: “He who lives in a glass house, says the Spanish proverb, should never begin throwing stones.” A 1786 essay refers to an early, non-English form of the familiar saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Wrote George Horne, an English divine: “When a man deceives me once, says the Italian proverb, it is his fault; when twice, it is mine.”

Inspirationalstories lists a Chinese version: Once bitten by an adder, you will never walk through the high grass again.

I suppose people all over the world often discover the same wisdom.

Time to Find the Better Angels of Our Nature

Politics in America have become too tribal – more like rooting for a sports team that crafting national policies. In sports, if my team fouls but gets away with it, I’m happy. But the other team? They’re evil – and the refs are biased. Go Red. Go Blue. It makes for fun on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not good for our country.

And we are a single country. My fellow citizens are my brothers and sisters (and we all know how annoying siblings can be.)

It’s hard to find eloquent words, so I was pleased to recently run across this site.

Making us what the Constitution calls “a more perfect Union” – won’t happen until thousands and ultimately millions of Americans are willing to take a stand.

lincoln.svg.medAs one article notes

[The site takes] its name from a line from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

This is what I grasp for in my own way – what I’d like to see from my nation’s leadership. But we don’t have to wait for Congress or the State House. We are, after all, The People.

Another article captures me: an angry moderate centrist.

Being moderate is not a political description; it is how one understands the motivations of others and how one solves problems. A moderate is a realist, accepting how people are, not how we would like them to be. A moderate is open to listening to the truths of others. It is a personality trait, not a political ideology.

If we become trapped in echo chambers, we only hear exaggerated caricatures of what “the other side” believes. If we lose the ability to find facts our decisions cannot succeed, because reality has a way of winning despite our best efforts to believe it away. If we cast our political opponents as the enemy, we live in a needless state of war. – metaphorical and sometimes literal.

I’m starting to explore this site and I invite you to help me. Do they have any good ideas? What do you think? We’ve got to talk.

Wrapped Around the Axel

To be wrapped around the axel is to be in a difficult situation from which it’s hard to extract oneself. It seems that anything with an axel, from a horse-drawn wagon to a wheelbarrow, has been considered a possible source.

Phrase Finder had some hypotheses but no citation. But here’s a citation I found in wikipedia:

As The New York Times noted in its obituary of the dancer on 15 September 1927, ‘The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street. She was dragged for several yards before the chauffeur halted, attracted by her cries in the street. Medical aid was summoned, but it was stated that she had been strangled and killed instantly.’

Ug! Certainly dramatic enough to stick in the public mind and perhaps become this phrase.

Balls to the Wall Has Nothing to Do With Anatomy

I always imagined this phrase conjured some violent altercation – not so!

The Explainer on Slate saysX-29_aircraft.svg.med

The expression comes from the world of military aviation. In many planes, control sticks are topped with a ball-shaped grip. One such control is the throttle—to get maximum power you push it all the way forward, to the front of the cockpit, or firewall (so-called because it prevents an engine fire from reaching the rest of the plane). Another control is the joystick—pushing it forward sends a plane into a dive. So, literally pushing the balls to the (fire)wall would put a plane into a maximum-speed dive, and figuratively going balls to the wall is doing something all-out, with maximum effort.

Wordorigins says the earliest written citation is from 1967, appearing in Frank Harvey’s Air War—Vietnam: “You know what happened on that first Doomsday Mission (as the boys call a big balls-to-the-wall raid) against Hanoi oil,” though Slate says Korean War veterans claim they used the phrase earlier.

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going…

… any road will take you there. This phrase is used to point out project’s goals have not been articulated.

It’s often attributed to Lewis Carroll, and while an exchange in Alice in Wonderland may have inspired it, what Carroll wrote was:

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

There is a recent, specific citation: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” are lyrics from the song Any Road, written by George Harrison. aliceiseverywhere.com Wikipedia says the lyrics were written in 1988.

But here’s the thing – I had a boss who used this phrase so often that I remember it, and I’m as sure as I can be that was before 1988. I even dug out an old resume to confirm I left that boss in 1986.

So I have a dilemma – Carroll may well be the inspiration, but -assuming my boss didn’t make it up on his own – if there was an earlier citation (and you’ve only got my faulty memory to go by) it’s been completely overshadowed by George Harrison.