Sunday, December 22, 2013

Does the Economist read my blog?

Great story in the Economist (actually from last week, but I am a little behind in my reading) that makes exactly the point I made.  The story is about how many environmental groups are conveniently in the "follow the scientific consensus" camp when that fits their gut instinct but in the "better safe than sorry" camp when that one fits better.

The two examples in the Economist article are GMO crops and global climate change.  When it comes to climate change, environmentalists have a strong argument that the scientific consensus has shown that climate change is caused by human activity.  So we need to do something about it.

But then when it comes to GMO crops, the scientific consensus is that there are tremendous benefits (e.g. Golden rice filled with beta carotene, doubled crop productivity in arid regions of Africa) and the only negative evidence was recently retracted because the study was poorly done.  But what is the response from a large set of European and Asian environmental groups (and some in the U.S. too)?  What if the scientific consensus is wrong?

 I was just going to mention this as a comment on the previous post.  But then I read this.  The main conclusion of 60 years of studies?  Human judgment on complicated topics really sucks compared to scientific consensus.  Our heuristics are great for short term, simple, straightforward cause-effect decisions.  But once you get more than a few factors involved or have to make short term sacrifices for long term gains, we really truly suck at it.