Want to have Better Memory? Marry More People!

“So let me get this straight,” I said to one of the mothers in my son’s preschool. “You want to have a parent meeting, where we’ll demand that all the kids in the preschool will only receive vegan organic food cooked in the school perimeter?”

She nodded in affirmation.

“Well, this sounds like a meeting I just can’t miss.” I decided. “Give me a second to check my cellphone number. I just don’t remember it anymore.”

Her mouth twisted as I took out my smartphone and opened my contact book. “You really must rid yourself of this device.” She sniffed. “It’s ruining everyone’s memories.”

“Oh, certainly.” I smiled back at her. “First, just get a divorce from your husband. Then I’ll divorce my smartphone.”

“Excuse me?” Her eyes widened.

“It’s pretty simple.” I explained. “The smartphone is a piece of technology. It’s a tool that serves us and aids our memory. You could easily say that marriage is a similar technology – a social tool that evolved to augment and enhance our cognitive functions. This is what psychologist Daniel Wagner and his colleagues discovered in the 80s, when they noticed that married couples tend to share the burden of memories between each other. The husband, for example, remembered when they should take the cat to the vet, while the wife remembered her mother in law’s date of birth. You remember the date of your mother in law’s birthday, don’t you?”

“No, and I have no intention to.” She chillingly said. “Now, I would ask you to – “

“Maybe you should have better communication with your husband.” I tried to offer advice. “Wagner found out that memory sharing between couples happens naturally when the live and communicate with each other. Instead of opening an encyclopedia to find the answers to certain questions, the husband can just ask his wife. Wagner called this phenomenon transactive memory, since both husband and wife share memories because they are so accessible to each other. Together, they are smarter than each of them. And who knows? This may be one reason for the durability of the marriage institution in human culture – it has served us throughout history and enabled couples to make better and more efficient choices. For example, you and your husband probably discussed with each other about the best ways to take a mortgage on your house, didn’t you?”

“We didn’t need any mortgage.” She let me know in no uncertain terms. “And I must say that I’m shocked by your – “

“ – by my knowledge?” I completed the sentence for her. “I am too. All this information, and much more, appears in Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, which I’m currently reading. Highly recommended, by the way. Do you want me to loan it to you when I finish?”

“I would not.” She shot back. “What I want is for you to – “

“ – to give you more advice. I would love to!” I smiled. “Well, for starters, if you want an even better memory then you should probably add a few more partners to marry. Research has shown that transactive memory works extremely well in large groups. For example, when people learned complicated tasks like putting together a radio, and were later tested to see what they’ve learned, the results were clear: if you learned in a group and were tested as part of a group, then you had better success than those who learned alone. Students can also use transactive memory: they divide memory tasks between the members of the learning group, and as a result they can analyze the subject in a deeper and more meaningful manner. So maybe you should find a few more husbands. Or wives. Whatever you like. We don’t judge others, here in America.”

“Or maybe – “ And here I paused for a second, as her face rapidly changed colors. “Maybe I can keep my smartphone with me. Which would you prefer?”

She opened her mouth, thought better of it, turned around and got out of the door.

“You forgot to take my number!” I called after her. When she failed to reply, I crouched down to my kid.

“I’ve got a lot to tell her about organic food, too.” I told him. “Please ask her son for their phone number, and tell it to me tomorrow, OK?”

He promised to do so, and I stroked his hair affectionately. Transactive memory really is a wonderful thing to have.

 

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Can Social Networks stop Ignorance (and Stupidity)?

Two days ago, the picture above was posted on Facebook by Tom Martindale –

Two things are immediately obvious:

  1. The ‘planet’ to the right is actually the moon with the United States stretched all over it;
  2. About two thousand people thought it was important enough to share this obvious hoax to their friends.

So – are there indeed two thousand people ignorant enough to share this message without realizing just how ridiculous it is? Isn’t that a reason to be worried about the state of the nation, about people’s education, and also to bemoan the tendency of social media to spread rumors far and wide without any criticism?

Not necessarily.

About two days ago, when the image was still fresh on Facebook and only gathered 500 shares, I took the liberty of going through all the “shares” of the picture that Facebook felt fit to show me. Altogether, I browsed through 86 “shares” – barely a fifth of the full number of people who shared the picture, but still a significant amount. I divided the shares into three categories-

  1. Identified the hoax: Shares by people who recognized the hoax, or that their friends explained to them about the hoax in their replies.
  2. Fooled by the hoax: Shares by people who explicitly mentioned that we were destroying the Earth, which I’m assuming means they thought the picture is authentic.
  3. Unknown: Shares by people who didn’t write anything about the picture, and whose friends did not reply either. We can’t know whether they shared the picture because they believe it is authentic, or because they wanted to have a good laugh about the hoax with their friends.

Care to guess how many people fell for the hoax?

The results are pretty clear. Out of the 86 shares, only one treated the picture explicitly as if it symbolized the destruction of the Earth. Of the other 85 shares, 40 dismissed the picture outright or had it dismissed for them by their friends, while the rest are unknown – they didn’t write anything about the picture in their share.

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That’s actually very impressive. If we assume that the “shares” I counted reflect the overall distribution of shares, it means that for every person who fell victim to the hoax, we have forty people who identified it outright as a hoax, or had it explained to them immediately by their friends.

What can we learn from this (admittedly small) piece of data?

First, just because a certain image gets shared around the social networks, it doesn’t automatically mean that the sharers actually believe it is true or even worth reading. Many may be sharing it simply to ridicule others. I know this isn’t really a newsflash for all of you reading this post, but with everyone being so gloomy about the state of the nation’s ignorance and gullibility, it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

Second, while social networks are often rightly accused of spreading rumors, lies and misperceptions, it’s impossible to ignore their positive effects. Ignorant people can be found in every crowd, but they often don’t even know how ignorant they actually are. In the social network, it can be difficult to remain ignorant unless you’re doing so by choice. Whatever you share is open to debate, to criticism, to ridicule and to corrections by people who often know more and care more for the subject than you do.

Obviously, that’s not the end of the issue by far. Social networks can also be used to spread untruths of many kinds. In many issues, the loudest and most rabid voices are the most heard. If an alien from outer space would’ve logged into Facebook today, he would’ve figured that GMOs are hazardous to your health, vaccines cause autism, and marijuana cures cancer. At least two of the above are clearly and demonstrably false, and yet each conspiracy theory has gathered a large crowd of believers who will defend it online to their dying breath from any rational argument.

So: social networks – are they good or bad for public knowledge and understanding? That’s obviously a false dichotomy. Social networks work just like the agora – the gathering place where all the Greek citizens came together to discuss matters. They bring the agora to us, which means we’re going to get approached by many charlatans peddling their wares and beliefs, and also by the skeptics who are trying to warn us off. Social networks take away the loneliness of the individual, and turn us into a crowd – for good AND for bad at the same time.

A Town in North Carolina has Banned Solar Energy – and You Can Thank Greenpeace for That

 

Recently, a town council in North Carolina rejected plans to open a solar farm in its area, after the town people expressed their fears about the new solar technology. As reported in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, retired science teacher Jane Mann, complained that no one could assure her that solar panels did not cause cancer. Her husband, Bobby Mann, chimed in and warned the council that solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun. Needless to say, neither of these arguments has any base in reality. The council, however, heard their warnings and voted against establishing a solar farm in the area. Later, the same town council also voted for a moratorium on future solar farms.

This is probably an isolated incident. In fact, the case has been covered widely in the last day, and the couple’s remarks have been met with worldwide ridicule, so some would say that it’s not likely to repeat itself. All the same, I believe similar arguments are bound to arise in other potential locations for solar farms. People will read about the claims associating between solar panels and deaths from cancer, and conspiracy theories will be created out of the blue. In some places, like that North Carolina town, fear will keep the new and clean technology from being deployed and used.

And if that happens, I can’t help but think that Greenpeace will be the ones to blame.

 

Greenpeace’s Feud with Science

A few years ago, I did a podcast episode about genetic engineering in plants. I wanted people to understand the science behind the technique, so I invited two distinguished professors from the academy who were experts in the field. I also invited a professor who was an expert in bioethics, to highlight the dilemmas surrounding genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Finally, I asked a senior member in Greenpeace to come to the show and provide their take on GMOs. I still remember her words, and this is a direct quote –

“If you’re inviting doctors to the show, I’m not coming.”

To say that her words blew me away is an understatement. I used to donate monthly to Greenpeace under the presumption that they’re striving to change the world to the better – but how can they know in which area they should invest their political and public influence, if they’re not guided by science and by experts? And can’t they actually do more harm than good, by supporting the wrong causes?

Since that time, I started following Greenpeace’s agenda and actions and scrutinizing them closely. It was immediately clear that the ‘green’ organization was acting more on blind faith and belief in the healing and wholesome power of nature, than on scientific findings.

Oh, you want examples? Here’s the most famous one, that we experience up to this date: the campaign against Golden Rice in particular, and genetically modified organisms in general.

Greenpeace’s campaign against the Golden Rice, for one, has succeeded in delaying the deliverance of genetically modified rice to farmers in poor countries. “Golden Rice” is golden indeed since it had been genetically altered to produce a precursor of vitamin A, which is a vital nutrient for human consumption. Sadly, vitamin A is lacking in many areas in the developing world. In fact, half a million children who suffer from severe vitamin A deficiency go blind every year, and half of them die soon after. The Golden Rice has been ready for use since the beginning of the 21st century, and yet Greenpeace’s campaign against GMOs in general and Golden Rice in particular has kept it off the market. At the same time, study after study show that GMOs are safe for eating, and in many cases are safer for the environment than ordinary crops.

Unfortunately, the scientific evidence on the issue of GMOs does not matter much to Greenpeace, which keeps on fighting against GMOs and utilizing bad science, funding extremely shoddy studies, and scaremongering all over the world. No wonder that Stephen Tindale, ex-director of Greenpeace, has recently denounced anti-GM food campaigns of the kind Greenpeace is leading still. William Saletan, who has studied the issue extensively, published his results in Slate –

“…the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.”

 

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Greenpeace scaremongering. Image originally from the Genetic Literacy Project.

 

I don’t want this post to become a defense poster for GMOs. You can find solid reviews of the scientific evidence in some of the links above. What’s important to realize, though, is that Greenpeace have deliberately led a tactic that relies on people’s lack of scientific knowledge and their automatic fears of every new technology. This tactic is harmful in two ways: first, it can actually bring harm to environment since our choices do not rely on solid science but on scare tactics; second, it poisons people’s minds against science and scientific evidence, so that they are unwilling to look at new technologies in a calm and rational manner – even if those technologies are much safer for the environment than anything that came before them.

Which is exactly what happened at North Carolina this week, when the public rejected solar energy partly because of irrational and unfounded fears. Ironically, Greenpeace has put a lot of emphasis on solar energy as the preferred direction to solve the world’s energy problems, and their efforts are commendable. However, when they’ve spent the last few decades teaching people to be afraid of conspiracy theories by evil scientists, industry and government, why did they think people would stop there? Why shouldn’t people question the scientific base against solar panels’ safety, when Greenpeace has never bothered to encourage and promote scientific literacy and rational thinking among their followers?

Today, Greenpeace should feel proud of itself – it has primed people precisely for this kind of a response: a knee-jerk rejection of anything that is new and unfamiliar. With Greenpeace’s generous assistance, fear now overrides rational thinking.

 

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I don’t like scare tactics, but when one of them is as beautiful as this one, I just can’t resist the urge to show it here. Image originally from the Inspiration Room, and the campaign was developed by BBDO Moscow.

 

Conclusion

For the last few decades, concerned scientists have watched with consternation as the environmentalist movement – with Greenpeace at its head – took an ugly turn and dived headlong into pseudo-science, mysticism and fear-mongering, while leaving solid science behind. This is particularly troubling since we need a strong environmentalist movement to help save the Earth, but it has to build its demands and strategies on a solid scientific base. Anything less than that, and the environmentalists could actually cause more harm to the environment – and to humanity – than the worst moneygrubbing industry leaders.

Even worse than that, in order to obtain public support for unscientific strategies, Greenpeace and other environmentalist movements have essentially “poisoned the wells” and have turned people’s minds against scientists and scientific studies. Instead of promoting rational thinking, they turned to scaremongering tactics that might actually backfire on them now, as they try to promote solar power technology that’s actually evidence-based.

How can we rectify this situation? The answer is simple: promote scientific literacy and rational thinking. I dare to hope that in the near future, Greenpeace will finally realize that science is not an enemy, but a way to better understand the world, and that its demands must be based on solid science. Anything less than that will lead to eventual harm to the planet.

 

Conspiracy Theories – Past, Present and Future

A few years ago I gave a short lecture about conspiracy theories, in which I described the HAARP: High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. I explained about some of the purposes and goals of the project, most of which dealt with influencing the ionosphere to aid radio wave transmission. The lecture was recorded and uploaded to Youtube (in Hebrew, so I’m not going to link to it here), and apparently was picked up by some conspiracy theorists – particularly chemtrails activists – as proof that I support and endorse their ideas.

The said conspiracy theories are long and convoluted, but most activists seem to agree on one point: a shadow organization is controlling all governments, and is using climate and weather engineering technologies to spread toxic materials throughout the environment. These toxic materials infect people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and occasionally also assert some form of mind control to calm the distraught and dying population. Why are shadowy government / the Illuminati / the Free Masons doing all that? The most detailed version of the tale I’ve found was that they want to eliminate most of the human population on Earth, in order to return us to the olden days of sustainability. And that, in an incredibly minimalized nutshell, is the conspiracy theory behind chemtrails.

 

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Chemtrails: are ‘they’ poisoning us all?

 

Needless to say, these ideas are very far away from my own. And yet, my own reading about conspiracies in the past and present has led me to raise some uncomfortable questions of my own. How can we know, for one, when a conspiracy theory has a grain of truth in it, or when it’s completely false?

Real Conspiracies – Past and Present

The truth is that there is some basis to believing in conspiracy theories. Governments can act maliciously against the common citizen, or against a group of citizens – and even hide evidence of their wrongdoings. Some conspiracy theories from the past that turned right include –

  • The government is spying on us: the belief that the U.S. government is on after us all was confirmed when Snowden released highly classified documents that proved once and for all that several large software and hardware companies secretly provided the government with access to their data. Using this data, the government could essentially read every e-mail sent by targeted individuals, and follow their every move online. As it turns out, this spying program is still taking place today.
  • The government infects us with diseases: during the 1940s, Guatemalan physicians had deliberately infected healthy Guatemalan citizens with syphilis, under the guidance and funded assistance of the United States. The documentation of the experiments was only discovered in 2005, but there is no doubt today that this “dark chapter in the history of medicine”, as the NIH director called them, actually occurred. In fact, the U.S. has submitted a formal apology for these incidents.
  • The government is controlling our minds: this one is trickier than the rest, since one has to define ‘mind control’ before trying to figure out how the government is actually doing that. It’s pretty obvious that even democratic governments certainly influence our paradigms and belief systems, and are constantly trying to shape us into becoming more productive and respectful of each other, since that serves the greater good of both the government and the citizens themselves. That is why governments are funding public schools, after all, and I see very few people complaining about that form of mind control.

A more delicate form of ‘mind control’, more accurately described as “subtle persuasion”, is beginning to be utilized mainly by political candidates. By making use of big data collected about citizens, Obama’s team of data scientists have pinpointed the “highly persuadable” voters during the 2012 elections campaign, and targeted them specifically during the campaign. As Sasha Issenberg describes in her article in MIT Technology Review, the data scientists have even figured out how best to approach individuals and persuade them according to dozens of different parameters. This is a form of persuasion that should be viewed with much suspicion, since the data scientists are in effect finding the best ‘keys’ to use for every person’s locked cognition – and who among us does not have such keys? So yes – in a way, politicians do try to control our minds, but in very delicate and subtle ways.

Obviously, this is a very short list of past and present conspiracy theories that turned out real after all, or have never been denied, in the case of the third one. There are many others, and I would encourage you to read Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies, if you want to know more about them. For now, it is enough for us to understand that yes – occasionally, conspiracy theories can turn out very real indeed.

That said, there are differences between the popular conspiracy theories, and the ones that have turned out real. We can identify those differences in order to figure out which conspiracy theories should be considered carefully, and which we can ignore.

Real vs. Spurious Conspiracy Theories

There are four claims or assumptions that are exceedingly common in conspiracy theories, and should raise alarm bells in our minds when we hear them. The presence of any one of the following in a conspiracy theory should make us doubt its authenticity. These are –

  • Claims unsubstantiated by science: we’re talking here about the more spurious claims – witchcraft and ion-waves controlling people’s minds, for example, or claims about the government engineering the global climate, when environmental scientists are still scratching their heads and trying to understand just how we can negate global warming.

 

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Science: not a liberal conspiracy. Taken from Pinterest. Originally attribted to Carl Sagan.
  • Claims requiring extremely unlikely collaborations: is there truly a ‘shadow government’ striving for a single goal? It would have to include sets of sworn enemies like Iran and Israel, North Korea and South Korea, India and Pakistan. Do you believe that none of the politicians from more than a hundred nations, their assistants, and all of those involved in international relations, have never exposed this kind of an overarching government to the media? I almost wish for the existence of such a shadow government, since it’ll show that nations can get along after all for a single purpose.
  • Claims that require the people in charge to put themselves and their families in danger: one of the top claims of the chemtrails conspiracy theories is that the government is trying to poison us all from above. Such an approach would obviously also injure the people in charge and their families, who are breathing the same air as we are. It really takes suspense of disbelief to the maximum to believe that people would deliberately cause harm to themselves and their families.
  • Extreme and inexplicable clumsiness in execution: why does the ‘shadow government’ want to spread Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and infections all around? Why is the government “dropping pathogens and other, more threatening materials, aimed at making us sick” in Edward Group’s words? One of the more popular explanations is that ‘they’ want to minimize world’s population. But if that’s the case, why use Alzheimer’s disease, which mainly disables the elderly? Why cancer – a disease correlated with old age? And why use diseases that make people ill for a very long time until they die, while forcing their relatives to take care of them – thus damaging the world’s economy? It’s difficult to believe any organization sophisticated and efficient enough to keep the original plot secret would flounder so badly when it comes to execution in such inefficient ways.

You can see that in all three real conspiracies I detailed above, none of these three assumptions takes place. In all three cases there is a valid scientific basis behind the conspiracy theory, the collaborations between the ‘plotters’ and the executioners are plausible, and when somebody gets harmed (as in the case of the syphilis experiment), it’s never the perpetrators of the conspiracy. Last but not least, the methods for execution of the conspiracy largely make sense and are as efficient as can be considering the scientific and technological limitations.

 

The Chemtrails Test

How does the chemtrails theory stand when tested for these three warning signs? Not well at all. The idea that governments mind-control or infect the population with diseases using volatile compounds spread from above does not stand up to scientific scrutiny (1st warning sign). Even if the government could do that, it seems like an extremely clumsy execution (4th warning sign): why should the government repeatedly spread toxic materials in the air, in the most noticeable way possible, instead of doing it just a few times at low altitude where such materials would have more effect? Why not spread the materials in drinking water, or in foodstuff?

These claims seem even more bizarre when one realizes that transmission of pathogens and/or mind altering drugs through the air will definitely cause injury to the families of decision makers, as they breathe the same air everybody does (3rd warning sign). And last but not least: execution of such a plan would require collaboration between a large number of entities (2nd warning sign): scientists, airplane pilots, and even diplomats, politicians and heads of states from all over the globe. It seems extremely unlikely that such a collaboration could occur, or be kept under shrouds for long.

 

Conclusion

It’s important to understand that conspiracy theories occasionally do turn out real, at least partially. The ‘weirdness factor’ of the theory does not necessarily exclude it from rigorous deliberation, since the future always seems weird to us from our viewpoint in the present (see Failure of the Paradigm for more on that). However, we can differentiate between certain, more plausible, conspiracy theories, and others that are much less plausible – and therefore require more evidence before we can consider them seriously.

In this post I highlighted four warning signs that could help us steer clear of certain conspiracy theories, unless their advocates provide us with much more significant evidence than they currently have. These warning signs apply to conspiracy theories about aliens and alien abductions, to anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, and yes – to the chemtrails theories as well.

Twenty or thirty years from today, we will likely look back at some of the conspiracy theories of the past, and recognize in hindsight that a small number of them had some merit. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be the theory about chemtrails.

 

The Merchants of Doubt Strike Again

A few days ago I wrote a post about the WHO’s declaration that processed meat can cause cancer in human beings. Since posts from this blog also appear on my Facebook page, and many people comment there, I noticed a curious phenomenon: the knee-jerk response of many commenters was to cast doubt on the results of the committee who reached these decisions. Some of the doubters hinted that the committee members had ulterior motives. Others contended that the studies the committee relied upon to reach a decision, could not distinguish between meat eating and many other lifestyle choices that could heighten the risk of cancer.

Many indeed were those who doubted the results, for many wide-ranging reasons. And yet, from reading the comments it’s quite clear that none of them knows who exactly are the committee members, or which 800 papers they relied upon to make a decision. The main objective of the comments was to disparage the results that stand in contrast with the commenters’ current way of life.

Now, I’ll say straight ahead that the transparency of the evaluation process is definitely at fault. I haven’t yet had any success in finding the names of the experts on the committee, nor details about the “800 different studies on cancer in humans” they examined, or how much weight each study carried for them. In a world of information and transparency, it seems almost ridiculous that a body such as the WHO does not provide easy access to these details to the public, so that independent researchers and thinkers can make their own evaluations.

All the same, the first wave of doubters that we face now are probably a sign for the near future of the meat arena. In fact, if we learn anything from the way other industry giants have dealt with uncomfortable scientific evidence in the past, it’s that the spreaders of doubt will soon become prevalent in social media and on radio and TV.

Doubt, Tobacco and Climate Change

In the middle of the 20th century, the tobacco industry found itself facing a difficult challenge. An increasingly large number of scientific studies revealed a connection between smoking and cancer. The tobacco companies turned to one of the leading PR firms of the day, Hill & Knowlton, which reframed the situation: the dilemma was not whether or not smoking causes cancer, but what the public thinks on the matter. A key memo emphasizes the real issue from their point of view –

“There is only one problem—confidence and how to establish it; public assurance, and how to create it.”

In other words, the tobacco industry realized that it needed to create doubt about the scientific evidence. To that end, the industry founded ‘independent’ organizations that ‘studied’ the subject and reached conclusions that had almost no relation with the scientific reality or consensus. The industry also supported and promoted scientists who were willing to talk on behalf of tobacco and to publish studies (shaky as they were) against the connection between smoking and cancer.

I’ll admit this accusation would’ve seemed much like a conspiracy theory, if not for the fact that the internal communications in the tobacco companies was eventually made public. The industry could not challenge the scientific evidence for more than a few decades. Eventually, at the end of the 1990s, forty six states filed a collective lawsuit against the four largest tobacco companies. The companies agreed to pay a large fine, to shut down their funded ‘independent’ research organizations like the Center for Indoor Air Research, and to make all the related documents available to the public. This is how we know today how the history of tobacco in America really looks like: a grim mix of propaganda and greed, which was spilled on the public by the big companies. Overall, the tobacco industry had worked actively to plant and promote disinformation which has significantly damaged the public’s capabilities to act in a legal and enlightened way against smoking. Since a billion people are smoking today worldwide, and as the life expectancy of smokers is ten years shorter than that of their friends, it can be said that the tobacco companies have cost humanity ten billions years of living.

That is a pretty hefty fee to pay.

We see the same strategy of doubt casting being used today by ExxonMobil to counter scientific evidence for global warming and climate change, with some of the scientists who spoke against the relation between tobacco and cancer also speaking against the relation between human activity and climate change.

And quite soon, we’ll probably see it in use by the meat industry as well.

Meat and Doubt

Already, the meat industry starts casting doubt on the committee’s conclusions. Shalene McNeill, director of Human Nutrition Research at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, had this to say on the WHO’s declaration –

“These are studies that draw correlation, not causation. So these are studies that cannot be used to determine cause and effect.”

Her point is well-known to all scientists who review these studies, so I can’t imagine any of them falling for this old trick in interpretation.

another statements made by the meat industry about the WHO’s ruling included “Dramatic and alarmist overreach”, which seems strange in light of the fact that similar conclusions about the connection between meat and cancer have already been reached by the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund. So nothing dramatic or overreaching here. If anything, the WHO is just falling into the ranks of the current scientific understanding of the issue.

Nathan Gray, science editor in the popular FoodNavigator site, has reported that he has received a large number of responses from trade associations and PR agencies representing the meat industry last week. Most of these responses, according to Gray, claim that the committee’s findings are biased, and that “the science is undecided or misrepresented”.

In short, they’re all casting doubt. We’ve seen this strategy being used before. We’re seeing it again right now.

Conclusion and Forecast

You want a final forecast, don’t you? Well, here’s an easy one: unless some kind of a miracle happens, we’re going to see a lot of doubt mongering coming from the meat industry in the next few years. Get ready for it. It’s coming, and it’s also going to rely a lot on social media. Social media is the new communications arena, where anyone can level baseless accusations, spread rumors and thrive on attention. If ever there was a place almost designed for disinformation, this is it.

Get ready. The doubt industry is marshalling its forces once more.