Ideological Bias & Social Survival: don’t get voted off the island!

My colleague, Bill, popped his head into my office one day with two words: “Ideological bias”. Then a few more: “What do you know?”

I shared some info with him. And I thought that I would share it with you, my reader.

ideological bias

Ideological bias is less of a ‘thing’ than it is a family of things. It is defined as a collection of ideas, or beliefs, held by an individual, or a group of people. Ideology and bias – together – are built upon commitments to and consistency of ideas usually in the form of promise, effort, money, beliefs, relationships.

Ideological bias is a part of a broader family of interconnected behaviors and biases.

  • There’s confirmation bias where humans like to seek out information that affirms their world views. If faced with (accurate) information that shakes the ground beneath ‘sacred cows’ (beliefs), one is more likely to retreat and follow information that supports a personal world view. And if that accurate information is delivered in a such a way that is received as a ‘personal affront’ (so, poorly communicated), we are left with a backfire effect that can push people even deeper into ideological spaces.
  • There is also identity protective motivated reasoning which reinforces personal standing in social groups. What dominates people’s fears today is social alienation. This kind of motivated reasoning protects people from this.
  • We also become solution averse (which is linked closely to both identity protective motivated reasoning and confirmation bias) where we just avoid workable solutions (like GE crops) because they do not resonate with our ideological bias or world view.
  • Biased assimilation might sometimes be involved (or appear to be involved) when identity protective motivated reasoning is at work. But because sticking to what one believes doesn’t always promote one’s status in one’s group, people will often be motivated to construe information in ways that have no relation to what they already believe. (Kahan looks at this / see his quote below).
  • Further complicating (polluting?) the environment is media bias wherein decisions by editorial staff and journalists shape news stories to suit political opinions. We see this in play out currently in ‘fake news’ or through ‘alternative facts’ (not to mention, our interconnected, social media-driven world just adds to all of this).

There are others: intellectual and emotional bias, political bias, sensory bias, social bias, and content bias. The list is endless. But a key underlying element to all of this is how personal networks become a very important ‘enforcement’ factors for and key outputs of ideological bias. Yale’s Dan Kahan says it best:

“People acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand…The trouble starts when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings — ones that effectively announce that ‘if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we’ll know you are one of them’. In that situation, ordinary individuals’ lives will go better if their perceptions of societal risk conform with those of their group.”

struggle is real

Social networks are important to the human animal; for status, personal identity, and for survival. In our outreach efforts, we must seek ways to communicate the good news about science and modern agriculture in ways that won’t alienate people from their close personal networks – and compromise their identities.

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The Wizardry of ‘Oz’ – a peek behind the curtain of the anti-GM movement

UPDATE (October 17, 2012): Dr. Oz aired yet another episode warning of the dangers of GM foods on October 16, 2012.  I am not a fan of Dr. Oz.  And I haven’t been for years.  The airing of this episode is not a random event.  It comes on the heels of the Séralini study (more here), the publication of Séralini’s book, the release of Jeffrey Smith’s latest video (coincidentally, it is narrated by Lisa Oz) and the forthcoming food labeling referendum in California, Prop 37. Dr. Don Huber has been ‘on the road’, too, spinning his pathogenic tale in the EU.

Dr. Oz Show: Ratings + Bias = YEP.

“This episode of the Dr. Oz Show is brought to you by Séralini, Smith and the Say YES to Prop 37 initiative.”

ORIGINAL POST December 10, 2010: Last year when the whole Triffid (flax) issue came to light, I did some research on Genetic ID, the lab/firm behind the discovery of Triffid in the EU food supply chain. The main question that I had was – what’s the incentive for this particular lab to sniff out a de-registered, never commercially produced transgenic flax cultivar? (when the potential for rents would be limited (one would think, anyway))

Earlier this year, I took the initiative to mine some publicly available information on the internet and uncovered some interesting linkages amongst Genetic ID, the Maharishi Institute, the Natural Law Party and other anti-GM/GE individuals, organizations and firms.  See the network below.  The connections illustrated within the network represent a variety of linkages from board positions, organizational memberships, funding connections, fiscal interests in firms/companies, attendance at common events or like-sponsorship activiti
es.  This data set, and the network, is – by no means – complete.  But the graph certainly sheds an interesting light on the interconnectedness amongst actors in this anti-GM/GE context.

Genetic ID and its questionable connections...

Genetic ID is at the centre of the network but I would like to draw your attentionto another node: Jeffrey Smith.  You will recall that Smith got the lion’s share of airtime and the accolades (relative to Dr. Pam Ronald*) on the Dr. Oz episode earlier this week on Genetic Engineering and GM Food (- to view the episode, follow this link: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-pt-1).  Jeffrey Smith is the VP of Communications for Genetic ID.  He also has close connections to the Natural Law Party and, although I was unable to find a documented or direct connection to it, the Maharishi Institute.  The Maharishi – a Transcendental Meditation “TM” yogi – and his legacy of affiliated interests and institutions are also central. Most of the organizations and several of the individuals are from Fairfield, Iowa where the Maharishi University is centered.  The Maharishi (1914-2008) was a proponent of Vedic Science (look it up, weird stuff) who established the Natural Law Party.  The NLP’s platform revolves around the Vedic Science and TM (Jeffrey Smith ran for US senate in 1998 in Iowa for the NLP). The Natural Law Party has branches in both the US and in New Zealand. (check out Smith practicing ‘yogic flying’ on: http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/)

Now, if that wasn’t peculiar enough, here’s the real kicker. I decided to check into celebrity links with the Maharishi Institute (why not?).  There are numerous celebrities connected to the Maharishi Institute through fundraising events and sponsorship.  These include Ringo Starr, Clint Eastwood, Russell Brand, Katy Perry…the list goes on and on.  David Lynch is also one of them.  He established the David Lynch Foundation to support the teaching of TM (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/). For more on celebrities affiliated with TM see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/fashion/20TM.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1328559372-/uV9YAjo1xkWg8IvtMe83g. Even Obama has “wowed” the TM-ers from Iowa by positioning himself in alignment with the rotation of the earth, in accordance with the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he spoke to a crowd in Fairfield in 2007.

But, interestingly enough, guess who is also part of this celebrity network?  Yep – Dr Oz. Apparently, Lynch, Oz and some other celebrities, including Clint Eastwood and George Lucas, got together for a fundraiser in late November in an effort to bring Transcendental Meditation to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see http://maharishi.posterous.com/).  And if you happen to be in NYC on Monday night, you might even want to take in The David Lynch Foundation Benefit Evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/emailing/2010_09_met.html).  Dr. Oz will be there.

This is the crux of the problem.  Bias. This convoluted network that appears to begin with ‘TM’ and end with ‘OZ’ shows how good science and good science communication can be high-jacked and manipulated in entertainment media. 

I think that it is safe to say that our GE advocate, Dr. Pam Ronald, was screwed from the get-go on Dr. Oz’s Show.  In my opinion, the Show had no intention of representing the real, verifiable, documented side of this debate.  How could it?

Dr. Ronald recently blogged her ‘Oz’ experience:

“I  had a chance to plug some great science-based, academic, non-profit sites (bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org) but all of my case-specific examples (reduced insecticide use in GE cotton fieldsenhanced biodiversitydisease resistant papaya, Golden rice) were cut from the TV version. I guess the producers did not want to mix too much scientific evidence in there with the fantastical stuff.” (http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/2010/12/dr_oz_prescribes_non-gmo_diets.php)

At least Dr. Ronald still has her sense of humour.

Someone is going to ‘get all up in my grill’ if I say that the Dr. Oz Show is responsible for intentionally spreading false information.  So, I won’t say that.  But based upon the network that I outline here – one which Oz appears to be strongly embedded in and linked to – I think that it is fair to say that the “good” Doctor (I use this term loosely) represents the interests of the anti-GM/GE movement. He has certainly demonstrated an anti-science bias against GM crops and food.

Check out my blog entry on the Genetic ID network that I posted earlier this year.

Here are two other related blog entries that I wrote earlier this week in follow up to the Dr. Oz Show. One is an article by Wager and McHughen addressing some of the misconceptions around GM and the other shines a light on the lack of accountability by some extremists in the anti-GE movement.

*Dr Ronald is Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, where she studies the role that genes play in a plant’s response to its environment. She is the co-author of Tomorrow’s Table. And by the way, Dr. Ronald’s husband (and co-author of the book) – Raoul Adamchuk – is the Market Garden Coordinator at the UC Davis Student Farm and has expertise in organics/production). Check out my blog entry on their book.

EPILOGUE (January 2011):  This blog generated quite a bit of interest and, subsequently, an interesting dialogue on the Biofortified website.  David Tribe initiated the discourse around “Vedic businesses” and “Natural Law” Check out the over 60 comments at: “http://www.biofortified.org/2010/12/vedic-businesses-use-clever-advertising/  Additionally, Why Evolution is True posted another interesting piece on on the campaign “Rock Stars of Science” and Dr. Oz’s involvement in it (posted December 17, 2010): http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/rock-star-of-science-hurts-science/.