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« What can we *really* conclude from the GSS's 2010 item on the risk of GM/GE crops? An expert weighs in | Main | More GSS "science attitudes" measures & their effect on perception of GM crop risks »

More GM food risk data to chew on--compliments of GSS

Okay, then. 

Here are some simple data analyses that reflect how a wider range of GSS science-attitude variables relate to perceptions that GM crops harm the environment, and how that relationship is affected by partisanship.

I’d say they tell basically the same story as my initial analysis of CONSCI, the item that measures “confidence” in “those running” the “scientific community”: basically, that higher, pro-science scores on these measures is associated with less concern with GM crops. This is so particularly among right-leaning respondents; indeed, left-leaning ones don't really move at all when one looks at risk perceptions in relation to the composite "proscience" scale.

There is also a small zero-order correlation (r (1189) -0.12, p < 0.01) between GENEGEN—the GSS’s 2010 GM risk perception item—and the composite left-right scale that I constructed and that is coded so that higher scores denote greater conervatism.

All of this is out of keeping with the usual finding of a lack of partisan influence on GM food risks. I have reported many times that there is no partisan effect when GM food risks are measured with the Industrial Strength Risk Perception measure.  Surveys conducted by other opinion analysts using different measures have shown the same thing.

So what’s going on?

One possibility, suggested by loyal listener @Joshua, is that the GSS’s GM-concern item looks at people’s anxiety about the impact of GM crops on “the environment” as opposed to the safety of consuming GM foods.  The “environmental risk” cue is enough information for the public—which is otherwise pretty clueless (“cueless”?) about GM risks—to recognize how the issue ought to cohere with their political outlooks.

Seems persuasive to me . . . but what do you—the 14 billion daily readers of this blog—think?!

Oh, one more thing: I did a quick search and found only one paper that addresses partisanship and the GSS’s “GENEGEN” item. If others know of additional ones, please let me & all the readers know.

Oh, one more "one more" thing. Here are the raw data:


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Reader Comments (4)

In fact, the thing that leaped out at me the most when I look at the graphs, is how little influence either conservative-progressive or pro-science/anti-science attitudes have on the probability of being worried about GM. That is, in and of itself, interesting, and I believe more significant than any minor differences across those two axes. If a person considers themselves to be, for example, pro-science and progressive, they don't know what they are supposed to think about GM, and the same is true if they consider themselves pro-science and conservative, and etc. etc.

This suggests that, until a prominent scientist, anti-science public figure, conservative, or progressive makes their stance on GM a major issue, you won't see much predictive power in these labels. This shows what happens in the absence of tribal identity. We saw something similar with high-stakes tests, which was something the left opposed more than the right, but neither side thought about much, until Common Core became associated with Obama, at which point conservatives became opponents and progressives decided they were good.

It will be interesting to see how these attitudes shift once someone very public (e.g. President Trump) states an opinion one way or the other.

March 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRoss Hartshorn

@Ross-- I agree that the high levels of perceived risk are worth noting. One sees high perceptions of risk, too, when the survey question asks "safe to eat?" That's one reason to view the results as survey artifacts-- people's behavior (prodigious consumption of GM foods, which make up 75% of supermarket food products) suggests they don't really have a clue/cue.

But it's interesting & making me wonder why these results have a partisan dimension that has evaded other surveys.

The trust items, too, rarely tell an interesting story b/c there is so little variance in them; respondents come out as super high science lovers regardless of cultural or political outlooks

March 19, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I think that there are layers and layers of conflated designations here.

The first, as I've brought up before is that our political landscape is not well described by a scale from "liberal Democrat" to "conservative Republican".

And "science", research into new areas, is not the same thing as "scientific progress", how a society decides to use the information provided by science.

But also, when it comes to actual metrics of food safety, or risks in general for that matter, science is very important, but scientists, as a profession aren't the deciders.

Corporations have proposed GMO crops that have been rejected by the FDA as unsafe, because, for example, they were deemed too likely to cause allergies. Corporations act with some restraint because they are not out to kill people in direct traceable manners. But are prone to cover-ups, especially of worker safety issues, as numerous bad examples demonstrate. And of course in foods, the long term confusion about high fat vs high sugar diets, and strong resistance to detailed nutritional labeling, can be attributed to such entities as the sugar lobby.

So when it comes to crops such as corn, there are things directly related to monocultures that tie to consumption patterns, environmental harm and economic structures. Support of policies that reject GMO crops, offen have to do with the fact that rejecting GMOs keeps out these particular crops and thus enables the perpetuation of smaller, more diversified farming. It is thus a policy tool that has very little to do with acceptance or rejection of the science of genomics.

So when the public is not worried about products that do make it to market, they are demonstrating some degree of confidence in the established order. Except, of course, Trump, in his budget proposals. is now in the process of trying to do away with much of the governmental end of that regulatory and scientific developmental research support structure. So what linkage does that have with confidence?

Simply saying that "GMOs are safe" is scientifically ignorant unless done so in some greater context in which the respondent is answering the question within a greater assumed context. Successful (high test scoring) students do this all the time, answering the question the way that the professor meant it to be answered.

The fact that genetic modification can be used in various nefarious ways becomes more important going forward, as the newly emerging technologies such as CRISPR will be much easier to implement. This means that for safety, new regulatory and testing mechanisms will be needed to protect the public.

The science of science communication could inform us as to the best strategies to communicate the complexity of these issues to the public in a manner in which the public can be expected to respond intelligently with support for good developmental and regulatory programs.

A lot of our problem now stems from complacency, given an up to this point system that is providing us with relatively safe foodstuffs and drugs, cleaner air and water than in the past, and near elimination of many once common diseases thanks to high vaccination levels. This complacency leads to a vulnerability to being derailed by special interest groups unless we are able to communicate to the public how these structures work. Which, in my opinion is going to take evaluation mechanisms with more complexity than that reflected in the questions above.

March 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Off topic but still in the same information ecosystem: One of the odder bits of farm life, corporate information restrictions and who are you going to trust:

March 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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