Author Archives: klassettml

Conceptual Spaces Encompassing Vectors of Thought 2015-10-20 03:23:50

I discovered David Freedman’s Scientific American piece while searching through the most credible sources I could find. It begins by presenting two opposing, seemingly credible opinions by two different scientists and the same university. With genetic modification existing peacefully for decades, is it skepticism or is it ignorance?

GM foods have lowered the price of foods and the use of pesticides in agriculture. It has eased hunger around the world. The UN projects that we will need to increase our food growth capacity by 70% by 2050 to keep everyone fed. Genetic modification can create plants that can

Although all of the US’s soybeans and corn are GMO, eight European nations have banned genetically modified foods, along with several Asian and African nations. Ten percent of the world’s crops are genetically modified, and nearly all are grown in the US, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. In the 90s, Greenpeace, Ralph Nader, and Prince Charles came out against GM foods.

Nothing can really be proven safe. More basic forms of genetic alteration have been used in creating foods for 60 years.  Scientists are now able to alter single genes and monitor for unexpected changes in the genetic structure, making today’s techniques arguably safer. Genes cross the species barrier in nature through viruses. No food disaster has been caused by GM foods, while scores of people have died from eating infected organic foods.


“Skeptics would argue that this contentiousness is a good thing—that we cannot be too cautious when tinkering with the genetic basis of the world’s food supply. To researchers such as Goldberg, however, the persistence of fears about GM foods is nothing short of exasperating. “In spite of hundreds of millions of genetic experiments involving every type of organism on earth,” he says, “and people eating billions of meals without a problem, we’ve gone back to being ignorant.””

This specific scientist seems to feel strongly on the subject. There is a great deal of logic to his claim. Genetically modified foods have arguably proven their safety through their successful and safe use over a long period of time. This means the real question is can problems arise in the future? The technology that creates these modifications can also monitor changes in the genetic code that could cause problems.


“Despite such promise, much of the world has been busy banning, restricting and otherwise shunning GM foods. Nearly all the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, but only two GM crops, Monsanto’s MON810 maize and BASF’s Amflora potato, are accepted in the European Union. Eight E.U. nations have banned GM crops outright. Throughout Asia, including in India and China, governments have yet to approve most GM crops, including an insect-resistant rice that produces higher yields with less pesticide. In Africa, where millions go hungry, several nations have refused to import GM foods in spite of their lower costs (the result of higher yields and a reduced need for water and pesticides). Kenya has banned them altogether amid widespread malnutrition. No country has definite plans to grow Golden Rice, a crop engineered to deliver more vitamin A than spinach (rice normally has no vitamin A), even though vitamin A deficiency causes more than one million deaths annually and half a million cases of irreversible blindness in the developing world.”

Nothing I have read in my research can justify banning technology that could feed hungry people. The places that ban GM foods are also places where people die of starvation. Nowhere in my research have I read of a person being killed by a genetically modified organism. I just tried to google it, and while I could find a million scary articles about tumors and allergies caused by GMO foods, I could not find a single credible source that I found trustworthy. What I have found is that organic foods are the ones that kill people, but mostly and most importantly, people die from eating no food at all.

From my understanding, European scientists are just as sure of the safety of GM foods as US scientists. I can’t help but think that I’m missing something, because it doesn’t seem to fit together. Is the US a puppet of Monsanto and Big Agriculture and I’m a brainwashed pawn? What reason do countries with starving citizens have to be picky about food that has been proven safe?


Getting Facts on GM Foods

The second article of my deep search is this Washington Post piece by Tamar Haspel. The article studies the online debate over the safety of GM foods. The debate, like most internet arguments, is rife with misinformation and hostility. The general public is not qualified to decipher the evidence of scientific research on the topic. Because of this, we must trust someone who can. The issue is that people tend to listen to people that they agree with. I truly wonder if this happens to me on this subject and other subjects.

It isn’t easy figuring out who to trust. It is worth noting that the American Medical Association and the World Health organization both agree that they are safe, but warn that we should continue to monitor their safety. Haspel claims that a source can be trusted when they acknowledge the legitimacy of both arguments. This concern over the continuing safety of GM foods is evidence of that.


“To figure out how we all might make better decisions about charged issues, I talked with James Hammitt, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and a professor of economics and decision sciences. “Risks that are uncertain and dreaded tend to be more feared,” he said. GMOs are relatively new, poorly understood by many consumers, and in violation of our sense that food should be natural. Not only are those risks uncertain and dreaded, they’re visited on people trying to feed their families healthfully and safely while the benefits accrue to farmers and biotech companies. All of that adds up to an atmosphere that makes a reasoned debate difficult.”

The line about uncertain risks being worse really struck me. Can it really be worse that they might be bad? To continue on that, just how unsure are we???

The basis of the issue seems to be that the average person is unable to understand the science that goes into genetically modified food. People tend to fear what they don’t understand. Food affects everyone, so there is no one who is impartial to this debate. It hits home because it questions the safety of something that is everywhere and that we need to live. I’ve always felt that people have a strong emotional attachment to food.

Its part of the reason that I think I’m emotionally incapable of going vegan. With this insight, it is easy to see how people could behave irrationally. People behave irrationally all the time.


“NYU psychology professor Jonathan Haidt might be able to help. His recent book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” describes the two ways we humans look at issues: “We effortlessly and intuitively ‘see that’ something is true, and then we work to find justifications, or ‘reasons why,’ which we can give to others.” His metaphor is that our intuitive understanding is an elephant, and our reasoning is the rider. The GMO debates features riders sparring about research methodology, gene insertion techniques and mutagenicity while our elephants, responding instead to a gut-level moral sense, go placidly along their chosen route.”


Once someone makes up their mind, it is quite the undertaking to change it. The complexity of the issue rides on this. I am beginning to understand why I am having a hard time settling on either side. I have large amounts of trust for scientists and doctors because my dad is a doctor. Adversely, I fall on the left end of the political spectrum, which is generally distrustful of industry. I have watched many documentaries about how evil Monsanto is. I have determined that although I do not like some things the company does, I can’t assume that everything they do is evil. According to Haspel, my initial inclinations are impartial.

GMO Foods Proven Safe Yet Again

The first article of my deep diving search is this Forbes article by Jon Entine.

The article analyzes research done on the topic of GMO foods and their effect if consumed by humans. Despite the fact that genetically modified foods have been proven safe multiple times, there is still a rampant community of those who swear it will give us all cancer. Online forums of these communities rely on disproven studies as evidence of their claims, along with claims of other like minded individuals, even if they are not qualified to make such claims.

Genetically modified foods are already consumed widely and have been for over a decade. Entine argues that if GM foods were able to cause these sorts of issues, someone would have noticed by now.


“The American Academy of Environmental Medicine—an alternative medicine group that rejects GMOs and believes that vaccines are dangerous—claims, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.”

The sorts of groups who are making these claims are cut from the same cloth as the anti-vaxxer movement. I can really understand distrusting industries. I’m as liberal as they come. What I really don’t understand is how people can distrust scientists. I think a lot of it is because of how easy it is to control people with fear. All of these ailments that are supposedly caused by genetically modified foods are serious and worth having concern over. People are taken by these claims and are unable to discern the truth.

“Estimates of the numbers of meals consumed by feed animals since the introduction of GM crops 18 years ago would number well into the trillions. By common sense alone, if GE feed were causing unusual problems among livestock, farmers would have noticed. Dead and sick animals would literally litter farms around the world. Yet there are no anecdotal reports of such mass health problems.”

I assume the sorts of people who chose to ignore scientists and people who are much smarter than them are not the sorts to have this much common sense.  To again relate this to the anti-vaxxer movement, if vaccines were really evil, then they would kill more people than they save. And yet, they do not.

IP Call For Response

I am studying genetically modified organisms as food because I want to find out if they pose a public health risk in order to inform my readers on a relevant food issue that will have consequences in the future.

Research Question: What are the risks to GMO foods and why do people think they are bad?

Because this is a subject of hot debate, I was especially wary to find credible sources that I knew to be trusted. The internet is rife with misinformation. I knew there was a National Geographic article on the subject, who I trust to be a fair and credible source. I found that genetically modified foods are in 60% of the products on the shelves at grocery stores and have been around since the ’90s. If there are risks, they can;’t be immediately noticeable, because the majority of the grocery store  contains products made with this method. GMOs are monitored by the USDA, the FDA, and the EPA, although safety assessments are not mandatory. I’m not sure why everything made in for human consumption isn’t mandatorily tested for safety.  I had not previously considered how allergies might come into play when taking genes from one plant and splicing them into another. Tests have shown humans reacting to other foods modified with genes from their allergens. Scientists hope to use GMO technology to remove allergens from foods. In a world with exponential population growth and dwindling resources, this food technology will be relevant in our future.  An article from the Society of Toxicologists states that GMO foods do not hold higher health risks than food made with traditional breeding methods. Humans altering the genetics of plants and animals around them is nothing new.


How do you feel about GMO foods?

Do you pick items in the store because of their non-GMO label?

Have you encountered anti-GMO information?



Interest Inventory

While working on this assignment, I found a pattern in my responses. The ideas that kept popping in my head where ones that I think about on a regular basis. I’ve found a special interest in how misinformation travels around the internet. The topics of GMOs and vaccinations both fall under this umbrella and are both topics that I think about in my interpretation of the world. Both are things created by scientists to solve a problem and improve the lives of humans, and both have been rejected by a sect of people because of safety concerns.

My Conceptual Network

Computers are meticulous and have been programmed to function a certain way. Present day computers are designed primarily to solve reformulated problems or to process data according to predetermined procedures. The course of the computation may be conditional upon results obtained during the computation, but all the alternatives must be foreseen in advance. We no longer need humans to communicate directly but instead we can communicate through the internet. This is quite the obvious statement. able to send multiple people the same message at the same time does nothing but quicken the process of sending the message. This lost time represents a shortening of the distance between the human brain and the computer. If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not go far in our understanding of the world.

People who would have otherwise no access to education are able to log into class anywhere at any time. As someone who is very new to online courses, it is evident to me that learning over the internet is a skill that will be helpful to me in the future.The accounts I follow reflect my interests, and the vast majority of the users are people I have never met. As an art student, I can really see the value in making money by creating something that you care about. This is another situation that was drastically altered by the emergence of the internet. The individual is given a platform to tell the world what he or she has to say, and that might be lovingly written prose about what exploration goes on late at night in the dorms at a boarding school of witchcraft and wizardry. I think each person is uniquely capable of making these associations based on their interests.These associations seem just as challenging to recreate, if not more.

When thinking about the future and how much more everything could potentially continue to change, it can be scary to think about our great grandkids or even grandkids growing up in a completely different technological world than we did. If society has changed so much  today than in recent years, what do we have coming in future years in regards to technology and the media?

I’ve always found it very interesting that a thought cannot be measured. Thoughts do not feel made, but discovered. It seemed like a road well traveled.Of course this was a dead end but it was too intriguing to not click on. I think this another one of those black holes that is both interesting and not what I’m looking for.

How I Live Online

Of the millions of apps that exist in the app universe, Instagram is the only one I use every day religiously. I’m studying illustration at the School of Art, so I am very visual, and imagery is the most important element in the app. I do not post content nearly as much as I just browse and scroll, scroll, scroll. The accounts I follow reflect my interests, and the vast majority of the users are people I have never met. I do not often comment on posts by people I don’t know, unless it is entirely positive and unable to be misconstrued. Getting in arguments with people you don’t know on the internet is frustrating and upsetting and I have chosen to completely avoid the situation.

My sisters are only a few years younger than me, but I can see a difference in how we interact with social media. The term “digital native” comes to my mind, and I think they are somehow more native than I am. It is most noticeable to me on Instagram because it is the social media app I use most often. Both of them have accounts that are much more successful and active than mine

A family friend of mine who is about 15 years old now is one of those die hard Walt Disney fans. She really knows her trivia.  She turned this fandom into her first job by creating an Instagram account where she curated outfits based on different Disney characters. Sponsorships from businesses looking to market to niches of young people are how social media can become a source of income. As an art student, I can really see the value in making money by creating something that you care about.

“Augmenting Human Intellect” Nugget

“If it were so very easy to look things up, how would our vocabulary develop, how would our habits of exploring the intellectual domains of others shift, how might the sophistication of practical organization mature (if each person can so quickly and easily look up applicable rules), how would our education system change to take advantage of this new external symbol-manipulation capability of students and teachers (and administrators)?”


I’m currently taking a class in which the professor does not allow computers. This is especially strange for a lecture class, but hand writing notes is proven to be more effective. Her main reasoning for this was the potential for a laptop to be incredibly distracting from class.

“Augmenting Human Intellect” Nugget

Online courses have made education cheaper and easier to access from anywhere in the world. This is the great miracle of technology in education. People who would have otherwise no access to education are able to log into class anywhere at any time. As someone who is very new to online courses, it is evident to me that learning over the internet is a skill that will be helpful to me in the future. Courses have adapted themselves for the contemporary world due to their medium.

Analyzing the Obvious

We all know that the sky is blue. This is quite the obvious statement. Asking why the sky is blue brings up questions about the atmosphere, color theory, and the nature of light. The fact that this obvious statement is somewhat of a cliche really helped me find quality, diverse information about the subject. At the same time, it seemed almost too easy, and I found it quite boring to spend 50 minutes on this topic. It seemed like a road well traveled.

Based on this, I think there is a sweet spot in research topics that are  neither overdone nor rare. My computer showed me this through spoon-feeding me why the sky is blue, but then having absolutely no clue when my favorite local band is playing at my favorite local venue. There was a severe lack of information there, and it became very obvious very quickly that I needed to move on.

Man-Computer Symbiosis

“2) Comiputer-Posted TWalt Display: In some technological systemus, several men slhare responsibility for controlling vehicles wlhose behaviors interact. Some information Imlust be presented simultaneously to all the men, preferably on a commiion grid, to coordinate their actions. Other infor-mation is of relevance only to one or two operators. There would be only a confusion of uninterpretable clutter if all the information were presented on one display to all of them. The information must be posted by a computer, since manual plotting is too slow to keep it up to date.”

Although Licklider’s thoughts seem to refer to messages sent for a technical use, this paragraph immediately reminded me of the subtleties of the group chat. I personally have several different ongoing group chats at any point that contain different combinations of friends and family, each serving a different purpose. The concept has roots in the private chat rooms of AOL, and has grown and evolved to fit in the tiny computers we carry around on our pockets. GroupMe is the most popular group messaging app among my peers. The app aspect allows for one center of communication to be used across different devices. 

Being able to send multiple people the same message at the same time does nothing but quicken the process of sending the message. This lost time represents a shortening of the distance between the human brain and the computer.