One thing I have observed in life is that common sense isn’t very common. Most people have no sense of proportion or how things generally work. They have no feel for statistics. They are unable to generalize principles they learn in one subject to apply to another subject. Call yourself an authority, and they will believe everything you say uncritically. This is extremely dangerous in a democracy, where the people at large are ultimately in control. When the majority can be so easily manipulated into voting for bad candidates that will enact bad policies, we are all in danger.
Of course, I’m not the first to point this out; there are others who are quick to tell us that everything we have been taught is wrong and that they can be trusted to tell the truth. As often as not, these teachers are as deluded as everyone else. Below I give three examples of common beliefs that do not pass my “common sense test.” I know you have no reason to believe me. I can’t even be absolutely sure I’m right myself, since common sense is often wrong. I only ask that you read this post through, think things over, and accept that my opinions are genuine.
The Great GMO Horror: There are people that have somehow picked up the idea that eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) might make them sick, but if they had passed high school biology they would know better. Some people go so far as to claim that the modified genes in the GMO food will somehow get into our cells and give us drastic mutations. This is impossible. Food is broken down in the stomach and intestines. Starch is broken down into individual sugar molecules. Protein is broken down into individual amino acid molecules. DNA is broken down into individual nucleotides. Anything not broken down small enough to be absorbed by the intestine walls simply ends up in the toilet. It is these basic building blocks that our body’s DNA uses to make its own protein and DNA. With the genetic code of the food DNA broken down in the stomach into individual “letters,” the message is lost. There is no way to tell whether the DNA came from a GMO or a natural organism. Since natural DNA does not get into our cells, GMO DNA should not either.
Thinking that eating GMOs will make you sick is no different than thinking that your paper shredder might jam on a document with a few misspelled words.
Just as your paper shredder does not care what shape the ink stains are we call letters, your stomach does not care what genes your food had when it was swallowed. It is true that genes can alter a cell in which they are actually inserted – this is in fact why they are inserted, making a cow produce more milk or a cornstalk more resistant to locusts – but this should not affect the final food product in any way that might cause disease. A GMO animal is still made of protein, water, and fat like any other animal. A GMO plant is still made of protein, water, cellulose, and starch like any other plant. The DNA is made of the same four nitrogen bases. The only difference is in the sequence.
Of course, genetics is very complex and sometimes a gene can cause different effects in different parts of the body. It is theoretically possible that a gene to increase milk production might also change the proportions of sugars and peptides in the milk, but a farm that wants to stay in business has an incentive to please the customer and will not sell milk that is fundamentally different. Even if the milk is a little different it is highly unlikely that it will be so different that it could make anyone sick. Given that humans are capable of digesting milk from different breeds of cattle, milk from goats, milk from sheep, fruit juice, wine, rice, eggs, lime jello, lobsters, calamari, escargot, haggis, and many other organic substances including their own boogers, there is no reason to worry. This is only common sense.
If a cow with so many genes different that it is no longer a cow but a goat can still produce digestible milk, obviously a cow with only one gene different could. Because there is already a lot of natural genetic variation within species, and because humans are capable of digesting and absorbing so many different types of foods, there should be nothing so different about GMO foods that would make anyone sick.
Another concern is environmental. What if fast-growing wheat escaped the farm and crowded out all other plants? This is the only arena that I see some legitimate concern, but we need to keep it all in perspective. Nature changes all the time. The idea that everything is balanced is mostly a myth. One natural plant will dominate for one decade and then another the next decade. A few GMOs escaping will be unlikely to be any worse. We also have to remember the alternative. In order to keep prices down for the consumer, farms have to use fertilizer and pesticides. Unnatural pesticides made up of artificial compounds that have never existed before in nature can have nasty environmental side effects and fertilizers can runoff during rainstorms and build up downstream. By slightly altering the nature of the plants through genetic manipulation, plants now naturally need less of either.
Instead of fighting nature with artificial chemicals, we have harnessed nature to fight nature. GMOs are the natural alternative.
All of this would be obvious to anyone with a basic high school education and a little bit of common sense, yet millions of people freak out whenever they suspect their food might have been genetically altered. Worse still, they vote. Responsible voters educate themselves before making conclusions on issues such as global warming, fracking, or gay conversion therapy, but most voters are far from responsible and are easily fooled by propaganda.
Positive Ions: People keep telling me how modern technology creates positive ions that get into our bodies and make us sick, which is why they buy products that will produce negative ions to counter them. Or is it the other way around? Not even they can keep it straight. I ask them what type of ions they are talking about (Hydrogen? Oxygen? Zinc?) and they do not know.
Having watched children’s educational programming on PBS when I was in elementary school, I know enough about ions to suspect that the issue is complete nonsense. For one thing, positive and negative ions are always created together. You can’t have one without the other. Often, they are produced by rubbing two different materials together. Which material ends up with a positive charge and which ends up with a negative charge depends on the materials used. Once created, the ions cannot be easily separated. Electromagnetism is a very strong force and it only takes a very few charged particles separated by a small distance before they will rush back together in the form of an electric discharge. Since electrons weigh roughly 1/2000th as much as protons, and protons are often bound to equally heavy neutrons, it is the electrons that move rather than the ions themselves. This is called static electricity. You don’t need to buy those silly ion bracelets because you can create ions just by walking on a carpet!
Cell Phones: Cancer is known to be caused by a great many things. One of these is ionizing radiation. Alpha particles, beta particles, or electromagnetic energy of wavelengths shorter than that of visible light (i.e. ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays) can damage biological molecules, breaking them apart and altering their chemistry. Electromagnetic radiation of longer wavelengths such as radio and microwaves (what cell phones use) is not known to break molecules apart, nor is it known to cause cancer. What they can do in large amounts is produce heat, and people have suggested that cell phones heat nearby tissue thereby causing cancer.
This is silly. Do you know what else can heat tissue? Wearing a hat, drinking soup, sitting next to the fireplace, or sitting in a hot tub can heat tissue. Why don’t we all have cancer? Those suggesting that mere heat can cause cancer seem to have lost all sense of proportion and perspective. Thinking that cell phones can cause cancer this way defies common sense.
Conclusion: I’m far from perfect, but I find that I generally maintain a feeling for the overall system whenever I approach a new issue. This inoculates me from some of the more ridiculous conspiracy theories. When I saw a video of the trade towers collapsing that purported to show proof that they were brought down by explosives, my immediate thought was that the windows were blowing outwards because of compressed air. I understand that buildings are full of air and that when the upper floors fall, that air has to go somewhere. To me, everything went exactly as expected, no explosives necessary. Likewise, I understand that the act of planting the flag on the moon requires jerking it around and making it swing. This is not evidence of wind and therefore that the scene was actually staged on Earth. Rather, it is exactly what is to be expected. In fact, the presence of air would have the tendency to dampen any swings. That people are so quick to fall for these obvious tricks makes me think that they grew up in a world without air and only arrived on Earth yesterday. What happened to their life experience? Where is their common sense?
Beware of propaganda.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.