Getting people to sign up to ban diHydrogen Monoxide (aka water) is an old joke that comes up now and then, But, wait! there’s a new one! Wapo reports: New study confirms that 80 percent of Americans support labeling of foods containing DNA
Nearly all food contains DNA, and there is no good reason to warn consumers about its presence. As McFadden and Lusk and explain, the survey answers on this subject are an indication of widespread scientific ignorance, proving that many of the respondents “have little knowledge of basic genetics.” Other data from the study also support this conclusion, including the fact that 33 percent of respondents believe that non-GMO tomatoes do not contain any genes, and 32 percent think that vegetables have no DNA. Our vegetables would be blissfully free of DNA if not for the nefarious corporations who maliciously insert it into the food supply!
More generally, the problem of public ignorance about genetics is just one part of a broader pattern of widespread ignorance about numerous public policy issues, both scientific and otherwise. The problem is not that voters are too stupid to learn basic facts about scientific and political issues, but that they have too little incentive to do so.
Sadly, there is no easy solution to widespread scientific and political ignorance. In my work on the subject, I have argued that the most promising approach is to limit and decentralize the power of government, which would enable us to make more of our decisions in settings where we have stronger incentives to become well-informed. At the very least, we should recognize that we have a serious problem with voter ignorance, and that majority public opinion is often a very poor guide to policy.
It isn’t only science. Consider the problem WBCCI Trustees have when it comes to understanding their organization’s tax exempt status. It takes work to demolish ignorance and even more work to actually make effective decisions. It is just much easier to put a label on things warning about fears whether they are well founded or not.