Feed on

Allow me to ask a sort of stupid (series of?) question:

(1) What does the peer-reviewed science conclude about the safety of vaccines?

(2) What does the peer-reviewed science conclude about the efficacy of vaccines in preventing disease?


(3) What does the peer-reviewed science conclude about the safety of GMO foods?

(4) What does the peer-reviewed science conclude about the efficacy of GMO foods (e.g. toward conserving water, land, etc.)?


It would be trite to point out the obvious inconsistency in that if you are going to invoke scientific consensus and the public well-being as reasons for supporting the use of vaccines, then you surely should be in favor of the use of GMO foods. Of course, we don’t see people line up this way. What I find most interesting is not the internal inconsistency, we have long showed that people hold all kinds of inconsistent beliefs. Why? Because they are not choosing their beliefs with “public health” or “reduced water consumption” or “best outcome” as the goal, rather they are choosing beliefs because that is what “people like us” are supposed to believe while they do not choose beliefs that “people like them” are supposed to believe.

Fine. But in this case, I find the contradictions even more compelling. The folks who are in favor of vaccines (again that’s a stupid question, what does it mean to be “in favor of” vaccines?) accede the point that we ought to give up our liberty to choose not to be vaccinated because of the overwhelming evidence that widespread vaccination is a wonderkind for public health. On the other hand, I see more vitriolic opposition to the use of  GMOs than perhaps even by the anti-vaccine crowd. And this is a bit weird. Why? At least in the case of vaccines, folks can be (somewhat) reasonably opposed to being forced to have something done to them and injected into their bodies. When it comes to GMOs, no one is forcing food down your throat in the name of public or environmental health. And the more free and prosperous our world is, the less likely that consumers would find themselves “forced” to have no choice BUT to eat GMO foods.

As I suggested above, the science on vaccines and GMOs seems quite clear. Vaccines are safe and effective (we can get into the nitty gritty, but not on this blog). GMOs are safe, cheap and effective. In one case folks support forcing people to ingest vaccines. On the other hand the same folks tend to be opposed to allow the voluntary expansion of growing GMO foods.

Now, should the government mandate vaccine use? Should it mandate that GMO crops be grown? Are these similar questions? Can appeals to self-ownership or individual liberty resolve these questions in any way? I won’t answer.


7 Responses to “Vaccines, GMO’s, “Our Side”, “Your Side”, Science and Freedom”

  1. Clark Kent says:

    What I find rather fascinating is that 48% of americans things GMO food is harmful. Compare that to 41% of under 30 Americans that think parents should be able to choose vaccinations and 20% of older Americans who think the same. It seems likely that the older americans, who actually remember the scourge of diseases since eradicated, are taking that experience into account. I wonder if Americans that have truly experienced hunger are also much less opposed to the GMO revolution.

  2. Harry says:

    I know this does not answer your question directly, WC, but to understand opposition to GMO’s all one has to do is read the press releases of the Natural Resources Defense Councll, who are quoted regularly in the WSJ and, I assume, the NYT. These guys (a sex neutral word) are a bunch of lawyers. They think like lawyers. If you want to find somebody to defend the indefensible, get a good lawyer. If you are sick, find a good medical doctor, not a lawyer.

    These guys do not care about science, unless there is a tidbit of evidence that will make their case, especially if they have nothing else. Or in the alternative they will argue tautologically–e.g. that the climate is changing.

    Having had GMO soybeans all around me, I have pondered whether new strains of weeds will give rise to unresistant weeds. I do not want not to rotate crops, an old practice that works. I sure do not want it all to go fallow and have to wake up every day looking at weeds.

    Does this mean that I need help from someone in DC to manage things better?

  3. Bradley Calder says:

    How do you think about Nassim Taleb’s arguments that GMO safety could have fat tails?

    • Harry says:

      Bradley, please explain. What does it mean for GMO safety to have fat tails?

    • Scott says:


      Great to see a new guest to tuw,

      I think by fat tails you are suggesting the probability of danger resulting from GMO foods doesn’t follow a normal distribution – and the likelihood of a major catastrophe – for example, I’ve heard concerns that “super weeds”, pests or diseases will evolve as a result of GMOs, and will take out the worlds food supply, assuming humans will be unable to combat these new evolve diseases and weeds, and we will all starve – certainly an unhappy thought (a condition replicated in the recent blockbuster “interstellar”)

      The problem is, once we begin forming policies to control for hypothetical fat tails, where does it end? How much can we really afford to sacrifice in wealth and scienctific advancement for the fear of fat tails? Should we stop cancer research in case it launches a worldwide zombie outbreak?

      Additionally, if we were to eliminate or decrease GMO food production, there will be a CERTAIN INCREASE in food prices and less access to healthy foods, conditions that will hurt the worlds poorest most of all. And, most importantly, there is a scientific consensus that GMO foods are safe – if we can’t base policy on science, what should we base policy on?

      • Harry says:

        Thank you for making sense out of a nonsensical, meaningless sentence, Scott.

        I have read much about the possibility of super weeds that in one’s imagination might take over everything, but have discounted that possibility as remote, given, as you say, the skills of the producers of agricultural herbicides.

        Nature on its own has provided scourges — pythons and Kudzu in South Florida, fire ants, killer bees, Dutch Elm Disease, Ebola, hantavirus, brown recluse spiders, smallpox, and measles, to name a few — all without help from genetic engineering or the more conventional selective breeding. Some time ago WC posted news of a genetically-engineered chestnut tree resistant to disease, a prospect that I welcome, along with the polio shot I got way back then. This May, I expect Roundup Ready soybeans to be planted all around me, and that is better than looking at Canadian thistle, ragweed, and mustard weed.

        I wish Brad had responded directly to the many ideas WC raised. I sure as hell want to learn more, but I tired long ago of being given homework.

Leave a Reply