Can we leave the GMO discussion Clown Car behind?


Over the weekend I had the misfortune of getting sucked into the discussion thread of an AlterNet article on the Jackson County GMO ban lawsuit.

Most of the conversation read like an Anti-GMO blooper reel. Predictably, the accusations of shilling and trolling were immediate and uncommonly nasty. And as usual, disagreement was grounds for shill suspicions and providing evidence to support your claims was considered trolling.

It was just as depressing how little the supposedly pro-science people bothered to source any claims and just engaged in name calling and endless 2 cent comments.


Though addictive, once engaged, these discussions are incredibly tiresome and seldom productive. I really don’t understand people who will get into an endless loop of “Yes it is”, “No it isn’t”, “Yahuh”, “Nu-aw” when they could simply link and excerpt the answer. It’s crazy making.

Here are a few ways to avoid an endless negative feedback loop. I know they work, because of how quickly people stop arguing with me and from people who have contacted me to let me (and friend’s of mine who use the same approach) to let me know they work.

Two simple rules of thumb. No name calling. TRY not to be insulting. I say try, because it’s really hard to tell someone that they are wrong in print without insulting them. Just do your best. Changing your mind is hard enough as it is. It pretty much impossible once you become defensive and the adrenaline and cortisol start coursing through your veins (or whatever they course through). And even though you will probably not change the mind of the person that you are debating (at least not today), the chances of persuading someone in the silent majority who is following along at home is greatly increased if you aren’t the asshole in the conversation.

Ask for evidence and sources for assertions that you know or suspect are incorrect. Provide your sources pro-actively, without being asked. Don’t just drop a link into the thread. Add an excerpt, the key graf. Serve your evidence up on a silver platter, because you can’t expect people to click on your links and read them.

Never tell someone to do their own research or “Google it yourself”. Understand that the burden of proof may be on the person making the claim in a formal debate, in this context, the burden of proof is on the person who wants to be persuasive.

Make your comments readable. Include paragraph breaks. To break up a wall of text, add paragraph breaks to any excerpts you paste. Make the distinction between your words and your excerpts clear.  The person who is most helpful and whose writing is most easily read is going to be the most persuasive to silent majority. That’s especially true when you have the facts on your side.

The image below shows an example of how to use *‘s and >‘s to set off titles and quotes from sources. Notice that I’ve added paragraph breaks that aren’t in the actual abstract and added the year of publication. When I’m really on my game, I rewrite the titles of papers in caps to the set them off. You have very little formatting available to you, get creative to make your writing easy to read and your point as plain as day.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 5.20.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-01 at 5.22.55 PM

A few more of those, and I suddenly stopped getting notifications from that thread. Very satisfying. You should try it some time.

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1 Comment

  1. Definitely will have a go. I find I tend to overdo the information and nobody reads it, or underdo it (“stay off google, try google scholar etc”) but that’s being condescending.

    One question – was the thread quiet because they were reading your info, or because they were dazed and confused by it!?

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