« Prayer Fails Again | Main | Negative Energy Research »

August 18, 2008

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Because of the liberal atheist conspiracy. Duh.

This sounds like one of those cases where the free market actually would work, assuming that a monopoly of seeds doesn't form.

I think it's similar to the arguments against bigpharma and their high prices of life saving drugs.

If a farmer in an arid place (the sort of places beseiged by drought and famine) can buy seeds that'll grow and feed his family, he will. But then, is it ethical to sell them to him? And is it ethical to sell them to him every single year, rather than letting him re-planet his own seeds from the crop?

I don't think we're talking about people with large fields of golden corn, who could choose to buy a faster growing, weed-resistant GM variety if they wished. We're talking about people who barely scrape enough from their land for survival, whose use of GM could be the difference between subsistance farming or a small surplus.

...in addition, I think many people have a problem with organisms carrying a patent.

The only possible interpretation would have to be the fact that some of the larger GM companies have sued farmers that have had non-GM crops cross-pollinated by GM strains, or have had GM plants set seed into non GM fields.

Beyond that your contention is right that nobody is forced to use GM seed stock.

@Rick: The anti-GMO crowd turns that into a double-bind. If we don't put terminator genes to prevent reproduction, the GM crop could become an invasive species, but if we put in terminator genes to prevent reproduction we're callously taking advantage of the downtrodden.

Terminator genes are about more than protecting a patent or a business investment. They protect the environment too.

As for an organism carrying a patent- so what? Let's say I invented a true Von Neumann replicator. That's a pretty dazzling invention, and it would meet the basic definitions of being an "organism". In my example, it's an invention from scratch, and would certainly be worthy of a patent. It would also be an organism.

Now, nature has provided us with a massive ecosystem of Von Neumann replicators. Each has unique traits, and through human ingenuity, we can promote or dampen some of those traits to create an organism tailored to our needs. Lucky for us that we're very clever Von Neumann replicators. The organism, or more specifically, the customized genes, are quite clearly a distinct invention created by human effort. That's a pretty clear case for a patent.

@DV82XL : I recall studying one such case in college. As it turned out, the defense was pretty flimsy, and it was actually found that the farmer had been purposefully cross pollinating his crops with GM crops. Basically, software piracy.

GMO Food - The Greatest Threat in the History of Western Civilization

Jeff Smith's book, Seeds of Deception, compiles 20 years of data on the health risks of genetically modified foods from scientists such as Arpad Pusztai and Trudy Netherwood who reported that feeding GMO food to laboratory animals resulted in thousands of sick, sterile and dead laboratory animals. The book also reports on allergic reactions and toxicity in humans from GMO foods.

While American consumers remain oblivious, GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing or even labeling. Already 70% of our US food supply is GMO, affecting corn, soy, cotton seed oil and canola oil.

The following countries have banned GMO Food: Algeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Phillipines, The European Union, Norway, Austria, Germany United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Brazil, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand.

The British Medical Association has asked for a moratorium on GMO foods.


To Read More.....

Genetically Modified GMO Food, the Great Scandal by Jeffrey Dach MD

http://jeffreydach.com/2008/08/14/genetically-modified-gmo-food-the-great-scandal-by-jeffrey-dach-md.aspx

Jeffrey Dach MD
4700 Sheridan Suite T
Hollywood Fl 33021
954 983 1443
http://www.naturalmedicine101.com
http://www.drdach.com

DV82XL wrote:

The only possible interpretation would have to be the fact that some of
the larger GM companies have sued farmers that have had non-GM crops
cross-pollinated by GM strains, or have had GM plants set seed into non
GM fields.

You’re probably thinking of Percy Schmeiser. It wasn’t as simple as that. Schmeiser deliberately separated the GM plants on his property so he could steal the seeds. I wrote about this in More anti-GM squeals.

Good points, but I still have concerns because of the fundamental power imbalance in the relationship between farmers and agribusiness. If a few big companies can set the price of both GM seed and normal seed, or of the fertilisers and pesticides needed to grow crops conventially, then there's a lot of opportunity for exploitation.

The calculations are also more complicated than you suggest - there are the health hazards of some pesticides to consider, or if GM seed is more expensive but, for example, more drought resistant then you have an optimisation problem of how much seed of each sort to get, and that's not always simple to work out. There might also be a possibility with insect-resistant crops that all the insects would move to the fields of any farmer trying to use the non-GM seed?

The 'GM will end poverty' claims are hard to believe in that sort of environment, the cynic in me suspects that a lot of the benefit of the GM crops will be taken in profit by the companies that make them.

jeffrey dach md wrote:

Jeff Smith's book, Seeds of Deception, compiles 20 years of data on the
health risks of genetically modified foods from scientists such as Arpad Pusztai

Pusztai’s work is well known as pseudoscience many years ago and your quoting his name speaks a lot of your ignorance and/or dishonesty on this subject.

jeffrey dach md wrote:

While American consumers remain oblivious, GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing

Bullshit. GMOs have been comprehensively tested, It is crop hybrids before GMOs that were never tested.

jeffrey dach md wrote:

The following countries have banned GMO Food: Algeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Phillipines, The European Union, Norway, Austria, Germany United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Brazil, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, American Samoa,
Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga,
Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand.

So what? The public in all these places has been misled by the sort of dishonest propaganda and fearmongering contained in the book you recommend.

I note you didn’t answer the question – why “must buy GM seeds?" That was the purpose of this thread, not about GM in general. The topic is “why must pay for GM seeds?” Please stay on topic in future.

"Trudy Netherwood who reported that feeding GMO food to laboratory animals resulted in thousands of sick, sterile and dead laboratory animals."

"GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing..."

Is this not contradictory? You say in one paragraph that the food was fed to lab animals, but then say that GM foods have not been tested. What then, was the purpose of feeding these foods to lab animals?

The problem I have with GM more or less revolves around how businesses' are patenting the crops and the way they market the crops. I dislike how patent laws operate in general, but it seems to me especially absurd here:

1. Corporations swear that GM will fight world hunger (even though there is already a surplus of food) by allowing crops to grow more easily in poorer, less hospitable places.

2. But farmers will have to each year buy new GM seeds, thus shutting out the small farms and the poor farmers, and thus not doing much good for the poor regions to begin with, while giving the huge agribusinesses one more step up against their smaller competitors.

spgreenlaw:

You wrote:

But farmers will have to each year buy new GM seeds

I ask again – WHY?

Didn’t you read my actual post?

General note to commenters

This post is not the place to whine about why you dislike GM in general. It is about the specific question I asked in the post. Please stay on the specific topic of this post.

I did read the post. I was under the impression that many GM crops are not fecund. Perhaps I was wrong?

It's a simple answer, Skeptico. The GMO seeds are the only ones the farmers can get to grow in the land they possess with poor soil conditions. The agribusiness corporations didn't just decide one day to switch everything to GMO for the hell of it. They wanted to sell a product to new customers that was at one time unfeasible. Marketing 101.

From an environmental standpoint, the problem isn't GMO, it's monoculture farming. GMO is only the latest in weapon in our arsenal against a potential famine we created ourselves. Evolution in action.

As spgreenlaw notes above, the GMO crops are not fecund. They could save the seeds, but the plants produced would be sterile and never produce fruit. They really do have to buy the seeds again.

I recommend taking a look at the documentary "The Future of Food," which covers this and the Round-Up Ready issue. I do not believe everything I watch, as no thinking person should, but it will explain that argument.

I think I see what Christie and Todd are saying.

Let's say there is a substance farmer who can afford either one season either GM or non-GM seed. If this farmer produces only enough to sustain himself (in terms of food to eat and profits of sold food to live on) and he purchased GM seed, he will not be able to use the seeds from the previous harvest for the next growing season. In this case the farmer must buy *some* kind of seed to plant for the next season, but it does not have to be GM.

Give the limited resources of our hypothetical farmer, it seems to me he would have purchased non-GM seed in the first place. He can sustain himself with the seed produced by the previous harvest of crop and he does not have the resources keep reinvesting in GM seed season after season. If GM crops are the only type that can grow on his land, then he's doomed to starve without external investment regardless of what kind of seed he purchases.

I'm also assuming that enough seed is produced in one growing cycle to create the same amount of crop in the next cycle. This could be completely off since I'm not a farmer. I would imagine some kind of reinvestment needs to be made season over season, but the investment is 100% for GM seeds while non-GM is less.

Just for the record I support GM technology, and understand the issues. I was not just thinking of the Schmeiser case. Since the mid-1990s, Monsanto alone has sued some 150 North American farmers for patent infringement in connection with its GE seed, and these by the sound of it, were in fact cases of software piracy.

However they do investigate about 500 farmers a year for suspected infringement, most of which are found to be the result of accidental contamination.

But one point did come up when I was discussing this today at lunch with some colleagues and one of them pointed out that farmers are not as free to plant what they want on their fields as some urbanites might imagine. Pressure from local co-ops, having your non Roundup Ready crop damaged from exposure to your neighbor's on three sides spraying, your bank not wishing to extend money to your operation, were all mentioned as posible sources of pressure.

Now the bottom line is that farming is a business like anything else, and all of the reasons I gave have their parallels in other types of enterprises, and that is just the way it is; if you don't change with the times, you go out of business. Nobody would cry if a machine shop failed because they were going to be 'forced' to buy CNC equipment, or 'forced to meet RoHS standards, the same applies here.

So yes we can say farmers may find themselves 'forced' to buy GM seeds, but only if they want to stay farming.

It is the cachet of farming as some sort of a green calling, and seeing farmers as some sort of green anchorites, that has allowed anti-GM forces to style this type of 'forced' as a form of coercion.

GDC said:

Is this not contradictory? You say in one paragraph that the food was fed to lab animals, but then say that GM foods have not been tested. What then, was the purpose of feeding these foods to lab animals?

You clearly don't understand the rules of argument used by these people.

Each argument must be considered completely independently. Like statements made by the Bush administration, only the current argument counts. Previous arguments were valid at the time they were made but do not even exist as far as later arguments are concerned.

Skeptico replies

Thanks to the various people who have tried to answer the question so far. I will respond with my own thoughts. Starting with Charlotte:

The calculations are also more complicated than you suggest - there are the health hazards of some pesticides to consider, or if GM seed is more expensive but, for example, more drought resistant then you have an optimisation problem of how much seed of each sort to get, and that's not always simple to work out.

I think you’re saying that the calcs are difficult to make and so the farmer might get it wrong. Of course that could be a problem (it’s a problem with any business), but if the cost mix is that hard to calculate it seems to me there is likely to be only a small difference in costs, and in any case the farmer could still revert to non-GM if the costs don't pan out. I could be wrong, but I find it hard to see this as a major problem with GM.

Sorry if I misinterpreted what you wrote.

There might also be a possibility with insect-resistant crops that all the insects would move to the fields of any farmer trying to use the non-GM seed?

I don’t think that’s how it works. If a crop has, say, an insecticide engineered in, it will kill the insects that attack it, but I don’t see how those insects would know to go elsewhere instead.

spgreenlaw:

I did read the post. I was under the impression that many GM crops are not fecund. Perhaps I was wrong?

also Christie:

As spgreenlaw notes above, the GMO crops are not fecund. They could save the seeds, but the plants produced would be sterile and never produce fruit. They really do have to buy the seeds again.

I’m pretty sure you are wrong, but I’ll have to check to be sure. But regardless, it is irrelevant to my question and misses the point. Look, I accept that if you use GM seeds you are supposed to buy seeds each year not save them – whether this is due to sterility of the seeds (as you suggest) or patent protection is moot. Perhaps I didn’t phrase my question well enough. I’ll try again. I know that if farmers use GM seeds they have to buy seeds each year. My question is, why do farmers have to use GM seeds? If they’re too expensive, why not just use the non-GM seeds they used before? Put it another way. Let’s say the GM seeds increase the farmer’s cost by 25%. Why would he buy these seeds unless his costs elsewhere (eg labor costs / herbicide costs) were at least 25% lower to compensate? Or unless his yields (and therefore his revenue) increased by 25%? He only has to buy the seeds if he decides to use GM seeds.

Why would a farmer use GM seeds and pay the extra costs, unless he was making a better return even after the costs of the GM seeds?

Todd:

It's a simple answer, Skeptico. The GMO seeds are the only ones the farmers can get to grow in the land they possess with poor soil conditions.

I’m not sure that’s true. I think it is a promise of GM (tolerate lower water, higher salt in the soil etc) but it’s not there yet commercially. But even if it were true, all you’re saying is they need to buy GM seeds or not farm at all. Assuming the farmer is making money with these new seeds, he’s still making more than if he doesn’t farm this poor land at all.

Neal Tillery:

Let's say there is a substance farmer who can afford either one season either GM or non-GM seed. If this farmer produces only enough to sustain himself (in terms of food to eat and profits of sold food to live on) and he purchased GM seed, he will not be able to use the seeds from the previous harvest for the next growing season. In this case the farmer must buy *some* kind of seed to plant for the next season, but it does not have to be GM.

That isn’t what Christie or Todd were saying, but I agree you are right in the scenario you describe. Here the farmer has calculated badly and didn’t make enough to pay for the new seeds. But that is true for any decision the farmer makes – make a mistake and you suffer. But he only makes that mistake once (unless he’s really dumb) – so next year he goes back to his original non-GM seeds. He isn’t locked in to GM for ever as Meredith implied.

DV82XL:

However they do investigate about 500 farmers a year for suspected infringement, most of which are found to be the result of accidental contamination.

I doubt if they would be successful suing someone for a purely accidental contamination. Seems unlikely, even for Monsanto. I could be wrong though.

having your non Roundup Ready crop damaged from exposure to your neighbor's on three sides spraying

OK thanks, that’s the first actual reason I’ve seen. I would doubt it’s a major factor though – how much of your land would actually be damaged by your neighbor’s spraying? I don’t see how it could be a lot.

Now the bottom line is that farming is a business like anything else, and all of the reasons I gave have their parallels in other types of enterprises, and that is just the way it is; if you don't change with the times, you go out of business. Nobody would cry if a machine shop failed because they were going to be 'forced' to buy CNC equipment, or 'forced to meet RoHS standards, the same applies here.

But they only buy the CNC eq. if that results in lower overall costs and therefore higher profits after the costs of the CNC eq. This is just like buying a tractor – the farmer will only buy a tractor if his overall profit is higher even after the cost of the tractor. Except that with GM, the difference is that presumably it’s easier to switch next year to non-GM than it would be to get all your money back from the tractor.

RoHS is a safety regulation imposed by government, and so isn’t really comparable.

I replied, surely they only "must" pay for them if they want them, and they must only want them if the return is worth the financial investment? Why would they buy GMO seeds unless they are better off doing so?

People do not make perfectly rational purchasing decisions, for numerous reasons (including effective marketing, information disparities, etc, etc). Farmers are no more rational than anybody else, and lots of businessmen make lousy decisions. Film at 11.

Also, many farmers are just hopeless at basic arithmetic - or rather, they don't even bother to do the arithmetic. There's a terrible tendency to focus on gross yield rather than net profit. And there's a further tendency to believe the yield estimates from the salesmen, which may not be 100% reliable.

And then you've also got to remember that a lot of the time here, we're talking about poorly-educated subsistence farmers - some guy in suit comes along and says "Our new seeds are much better than what you're using right now" (and doesn't even bother to mention that you can't save them - hey, it's in the small print at the back of the product documentation, and it's not my fault you're illiterate, or you don't speak English) then they're not really in a position to fire up a spreadsheet and start running cost-benefit simulations.

But he only makes that mistake once (unless he’s really dumb) – so next year he goes back to his original non-GM seeds.

Except he's quite possibly already had to eat all his old seed, and doesn't have any money left to buy new seed. Many farmers, both in the developing and the developed world, are only one season away from bankruptcy at best or starvation at worst.

If a crop has, say, an insecticide engineered in, it will kill the insects that attack it, but I don’t see how those insects would know to go elsewhere instead.

Unfortunately, that's part of the problem. In the US, farmers who plant transgenic corn are supposed to plant regular corn next to it, because supposedly some bugs will hang out there and not become resistant to the pesticide. But if the bugs don't go elsewhere, we are going to end up with a lot of pesticide resistant bugs. This is actually my biggest problem with GM crops - they're not really meant to be sustainable, and unfortunately I think that approach to farming has gotten us in a lot of trouble over the past century or so.

Why would a farmer use GM seeds and pay the extra costs, unless he was making a better return even after the costs of the GM seeds?

Farmers make stupid decisions like this all the time. As some mentioned already, they tend to focus on higher yield rather than higher profit. When you have hundreds of farmers doing the same thing, it increases supply and pushes prices down to the point where the farmers are not actually making any extra money. Hence, farmers make much less now than they did 100 years ago, even though their productivity has increased significantly. Unfortunately there is a limit to how much food the average person will buy, no matter how cheap it is, so the usual laws of supply and demand don't work as well here.

Assuming the farmer is making money with these new seeds, he’s still making more than if he doesn’t farm this poor land at all.

That's a huge assumption, particularly in the US. Farming here isn't really profitable at all without subsidies, which used to be price supports but are now just cash payments. The recent spike in the price of corn has made a lot of farms profitable that haven't been in years.

In answer to your original question, though, it's not true that farmers have to buy GM seeds at all. In fact, quite a few farmers have gotten burned buying GM seeds and then discovering that they can't sell their crops for export or to certain buyers, like McDonald's. There is a kernel of truth in that statement because farmers who want to plant GM seeds have to buy them every year from the company, which is yet another input they have to pay for. But if they do not want to plant GM crops they do not have to.

Crap, can one of you people with magic edit powers close my blockquotes? I can't believe I screwed that up.


...Fixed - Skeptico

Another important point which occurs to me is that seed stocks don't retain their viability indefinitely, especially if they're stored in less than perfect conditions. So a farmer who experiments for a couple of years with GM seeds (or sterile F1 hybrids for that matter) can find that his open-pollinated seed stocks are useless. Entire varieties (in some cases developed for specific local conditions over hundreds of years) can be lost in just a few years, and once they're gone, they're gone.

However, I think it's important to note that all these criticisms apply to the global seed business, rather than any specific technology. GM just happens to be one tool they have chosen to further and solidify extend their business.

About the wording "MUST", I think that the outrage that some people feel against farmers having to repeatedly pay for GM seeds concerns farmers in poor and developing countries is that these people are not facing a "real" choice, in so far that they have to choose between GM seeds or death.
Let me try to explain how I think they reason when they use the word must:

Take Africa as an example, most African countries do not have soils that are suited for farming, or does not allow it to be done productively.
However, people in these countries do not really have a choice between farming or entering other economic activities (imagine, you are most likely illiterate with at most a couple of years of schooling, living in a village with highly deficient road-network, lack of electricity etc etc). So even if the yields of farming are low this is what you have to do and then just hope that this year's crop will be sufficient to keep your family members alive for now even though chances are slim.

GM-crops could be the difference between life or death. And I suppose that most people do not really think that choosing between likely death in your family or farming with GM crops is not really a choice, thus they use the wording "must". Also because it is a question of life or death for these poor farmers I suspect that it is easy for some to feel that it is morally repugnant to make them pay for it.

Off course, after the initial investment, productivity would increase and thus their incomes, but it is not certain that it will be enough to off-set the costs of renewing the stock of GM seeds annually. Going back to normal seeds means taking a step closer to death.
I think these people find it immoral to charge people to save their lives basically, more or less the way many find it unethical to charge high prices for HIV drugs and fight the production of generic cheaper versions. (We would look down on someone who decided to charge a drowning person for rescuing him/her)

Personally I do think that GM crops are key to creating greater food security, and yes, I do feel a bit uneasy morally, but then again, if they didnt get profits for creating GM seeds then we wouldn't have them in the first place so asking for the seeds to be given out for free is ridiculous (our society does in fact pay doctors, firemen and bay-watchers and we dont find that morally negative).

However, these companies are enjoying a large degree of monopoly so it would be possible to force prices down without eroding all profits, thus leaving the firm with enough incentives to continue the business while making GM crops more accessible to the poorest farmers.

The big problem is that the seeds are too expensive to induce investment in them for poor farmers who need them the most. More than half of Africa's nations have a gdp/capita between 500USD-2000USD, bear in mind this is an average and that farmers represent some of the poorest groups in these countries, so the cost of GM crops is not peanuts to them. It is not something they can just experiment with one year to see what its like. Hence these farmers are greatly risk-averse.
These farmers can't easily go and do a lot of research on these GM seeds, so when they hear it is something they need to re-invest in every year it can be very hard for them to trust that these seeds will actually be the miracle they are promised to be, and it is his family's life that is at stake after all.

I believe that if there was to be an initiative (from for example donors, or even the agribusiness corporations) to give farmers a free or subsidized "start-off year" then more farmers would see the potential in GM seeds and take the step to invest in them.

Mike Huben:

I tried leaving a reply at your blog but you won’t allow me to leave a post without getting a blogger ID and I’m not going to bother to do that just to reply to you. IMO, you need to give up a little of the control you obviously think you need, and just allow comments the way I do, to promote more discussion. Up to you though – it’s your blog. But since I had written a reply to you I’m going to post it here anyway for anyone to read. You can reply here any time you want, but I’m not going to bother to look at your blog to see if you replied there because, well, if you won’t allow free comments, what’s the point? Anyway, here is my reply FWIW.

I read this post and despair at the smug confidence of someone who is thinks he’s making a profound point but who is actually not. For brevity I’ll ignore your image of the cartoonish simple farmer just wanting to grow food any feed his family, and try and unravel what I think you’re saying. It’ll be a bit nerdy, but no one’s perfect.

Yes, they are compelled by the stark choice of GM or bankruptcy. Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM. Unless their productivity can keep up, they will go bankrupt.

[…]

Does that answer your question? Saving seeds would reduce their income because commodity prices drop.

I think you’re saying that GM had made food prices drop. Since all the farmer’s competitors are using GM (therefore they can produce at lower costs), he has to use GM too to remain competitive. It’s hard to believe you make so many errors in so few words. In fact, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll try though. There are multiple errors to expose:

  1. Food prices are lower due to GM? Says who? It can’t be because of higher yields because (as every anti-GM person tells me) GM hasn’t increased yields. In fact, Meredith herself said “not a single GMO is commercially available that is designed to […] increase yield potential, tolerate drought, or manifest other attractive traits touted by the biotech industry”. I’m not sure she’s totally correct, but I’m sure it’s true that GM hasn’t (yet) resulted in significantly higher productivity or lower costs. Unless you can show some evidence otherwise. (In which case I’d be interested to hear it for the next time some anti-GM person tells me GM isn’t doing any good.)

    So GM didn’t cause the low food prices. So what did cause the low food prices? Oh wait, trick question since:

  2. There are no low food prices. Don’t you follow the news – they’re at record highs. For example Wheat prices jump to 10-year high. Farmers must be having a great time then, GM or not.
  3. If GM actually did produce low food prices, most people would view this as a good thing. (Not farmers, maybe. But then we can’t all live just to farm and raise families in the idyllic world of yesteryear.)
  4. If the farmer just wants “freedom to simply farm and raise their families”, why do they even care about commodity prices? They’re not selling food they’re just feeding their families, right? Oh I see – they also want to sell some food to the rest of us. Just as long as it’s at nice high prices and that they don’t have to face the same economic pressures the rest of the world does.
  5. And even If GM did produce low food prices, the farmer will STILL only buy GM if it results in overall higher profits for him even after the cost of the GM seeds. which was my whole point, so thanks for confirming it.

So in summary, your is argument that GM is bad because it forces prices down and forces farmers to adopt GM to be competitive is a superb argument. Except for the fact that GM isn’t forcing prices down. And that food prices are actually at record highs. Made higher by turning cropland to biofuels. And that we actually want lower food prices. And that you haven’t offered a shred of evidence that farmers face the choice of “GM or bankruptcy”. And that farmers will still only adopt GM if there is a net benefit to them. Yeah, you convinced me.

Take Africa as an example, most African countries do not have soils that are suited for farming, or does not allow it to be done productively. [...] GM-crops could be the difference between life or death.

This is rubbish. Many areas have problems with desertification, true. And many areas have soil fertility problems as a result of poor farming practices, also true. But "most African countries do not have soils that are suited for farming" is rubbish. It's a big, diverse continent.

If farming were impossible in these areas without GM, then there would be no farmers there to adopt GM in the first place.

And that food prices are actually at record highs. Made higher by turning cropland to biofuels.

It's true that food prices are at record highs right now, but that's a very recent situation. I think food prices have dropped overall in the last fifty years or so.

On the question of whether or not GM crops increase yield, I'm having a hard time finding anything online from a neutral source. But just because they have not been modified to increase yield right now doesn't mean that isn't possible at some point in the future.

if they didnt get profits for creating GM seeds then we wouldn't have them in the first place so asking for the seeds to be given out for free is ridiculous

I don't think that's entirely true. Governments support scientific research. If we wanted profit-free GM crops we could have them, provided we're willing to invest the tax dollars in it.

Actually, almost all farmers buy old-fashion hybrid seed each year anyway (first hybrid seed company founded by Henry A. Wallace), because the yields are far higher than seed farmers save from their harvest. Many farmers specialize in growing crops for seed (such as seed peanuts, remember Jimmy Carter) rather than for consumption.

In Africa, a privately-funded food program allows people the choice between hybrid seed and seed they can save and plant year after year (I don't know if the hybrid seed is GM or not). Most farmers choose the hybrid seed because the yields are both higher and the plants are more stress resistant.

I just found my source for the information in my post concerning "The African Green Revolution", it was from a seminar by Dr. Pedro A. Sanchez from Columbia University.

Natalie wrote:

But just because [GM crops] have not been modified to increase yield right now doesn't mean that isn't possible at some point in the future.

LOL I’ve been saying that in response to anti-GM criticisms, for years.

wysage wrote:

Actually, almost all farmers buy old-fashion hybrid seed each year anyway (first hybrid seed company founded by Henry A. Wallace), because the yields are far higher than seed farmers save from their harvest.

Interesting. Do you have a source for that?

F1 hybrids have been the most popular seed varieties for many, many years. In fact, most of the big seed companies don't carry much in the way of open-pollinated seed. According to Wikipedia, "In 1960, 99 percent of all corn planted in the United States, 95 percent of sugar beet, 80 percent of spinach, 80 percent of sunflowers, 62 percent of broccoli, and 60 percent of onions were hybrid. Such figures are probably higher today."

I'm not sure I'd call F1 hybrids "old-fashioned" though - to me, "old-fashioned" or "traditional plant breeding" refers to open-pollinated varieties. Hybrids were introduced at the start of the "Green Revolution" (beginning with maize in the 1920s), and as such I regard them as a recent innovation ("recent" in terms of the history of agriculture).

I do find it worrying that so many people are taking sides in this debate without knowing the basics of non-GM agriculture. Not knowing the difference between open-pollinated and F1 hybrid varieties is like not knowing the difference between voltage and current - it's one of the most basic facts involved in the topic.

F1 hybrids generally have better yield, better disease resistance, and greater uniformity. However, they don't breed true, and are frequently sterile, so you can't save seed from them. There are also far fewer varieties available, because producing them requires serious investment - whereas just about anybody with a potting shed can breed new open-pollinated varieties, given time. At one time there were thousands of varieties of most crops, each with their own characteristics and preferences, some highly specialised for particular conditions. In the last eighty years, the position has changed to one where there are only a handful of major varieties produced commercially - and rather than picking a variety suited to your conditions, you use synthetic fertilisers and irrigation in an attempt to modify your conditions to suit a variety. This loss of intra-species biodiversity is very worrying, to my mind.

The basic question here is whether the gains from these new plant breeding techniques justify the loss of thousands of crop varieties and handing the very foundations of human civilisation over to a handful of multinational corporations. In an ideal world, we'd be able to figure out a way to get the best of both. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world...

But to get back to your original question, there is no real difference (that I know off) between GM varieties and F1 hybrid varieties when it comes to seed saving.

Skeptico,
My source is a scientist at the National Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. What Dunc said is correct (thanks for the better explanation). I referred to hybrid seed as old-fashioned to contrast it with GM seed.

Crop breeders have stored most of the germplasm from earlier varieties in seed banks, so the genetic diversity is saved. Most of this work is done at land-grant universities and the Agricultural Research Service to develop breeds that will be resistant to the next big disease outbreak. Many farmers in Iowa will plant several varieties to spread out risk (high yield but sensitive to drought versus moderate yield but resistant to drought). But I think Dunc's point is that the loss of biodiversity in the fields during any one year creates the potential for a disease to spread further and do more damage.

You see it a lot in skeptics, convinced that their opponents are idiots, they get lazy and sloppy and start to use the same bullshit tactics as the creationists and woomeisters. They spend the majority of their argument on criticism of posters and pretending to authority and expertise they don't have, using third grade tactics. That doesn't work so well when confronted by another skeptic (myself.)

Skeptico obviously has little expertise in this field: he doesn't even know the basics of hybrid seed as Dunc points out. I was an undergraduate plant breeding major at Cornell, and I'm a hobby plant breeder even now 35 years later.

Look at Skeptico's response to me: he starts with whining that he's not going to the extreme length of signing up for a free blogger account. Sounds like a professional victim to me.

Next he attempts the "no you are" third grade tactic of responding with a paraphrase: "I read this post and despair..."

He calls my point that farmers want to continue in their business and raise their families "cartoonish": what does he think ordinary people want to do? Does he perhaps think farmers instead are bent on universal domination?

Skeptico then relies on rewriting my sentences that he quotes to make strawmen that he can knock down. I wrote "Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM." He rewrites this as "I think you’re saying that GM had made food prices drop." For gosh sake, if you must adopt creationist tactics, at least have the sense not to put your rewrite next to the actual quote! Even creationists know that strawmen are more convincing that way.

Then, like any good creationist refuting evolution, he makes a litany (list) of purported errors. And like most such creationist lists, he's hoping one will stick.
1) Strawman based on his rewrite except for "I’m sure it’s true that GM hasn’t (yet) resulted in significantly higher productivity or lower costs." Yet lower costs (especially in reduced petroleum usage) are precisely the sales pitch used in Roundup-Ready crops. So tell us how you're so sure, Mr. Skeptico: quote your source. Or were you just making things up?
2) Low food prices: yes, we are in the middle of a price spike, probably due to the near-doubling of petroleum costs. However, I found a graph of soybean prices over the past 25 years that shows prices rather constant (when you look past the normal variation) BEFORE you take inflation into account. Take inflation into account, and the price has dropped significantly over 25 years. So where did you get your information, Mr. Skeptico? Or did you really expect us to be fooled by a price spike?
3) Sure, people would view low food prices as nice. But there are other things people view as nice also, and confining your view to only one set of benefits is stupid.
4) Farmers care about commodity prices because they MUST sell in the market: we have set up our economy to force this. Other nations, such as EU nations and Japan have elaborate relief systems to protect their farmers from those pressures. Maybe free-market uber alles ideologues demand farmers deal the way other businesses do, but farming is an exceptional sort of business.
5) Misses the point entirely: farmers are opposed to GM because the introduction of a monopolistic chokepoint in the chain of sales means that the farmer's profits will be siphoned off at that chokepoint. This has happened historically over and over to farmers with railroads, grain elevators, milk wholesalers, etc. Farmers would not be opposed to GM if it was non-monopolistic in nature.

So Skeptico, perhaps you should develop a little humility and do the work to learn the subject before you spout off. Oh, and take care to actually answer what's been written, rather than create strawmen.

Mike Huben responds with a lot of angry drivel, trying even to compare me to a creationist. Wow – pretty desperate tactics. I’ll ignore most of your idiocy Mike, your various ad hominems, your appeals to authority, and get to your so-called arguments”

Mike Huben wrote:

Skeptico then relies on rewriting my sentences that he quotes to make strawmen that he can knock down. I wrote "Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM." He rewrites this as "I think you’re saying that GM had made food prices drop."

Then what the hell did you mean? Because if that’s not what you meant, I honestly have no idea what you are babbling on about.

1) Strawman based on his rewrite except for "I’m sure it’s true that GM hasn’t (yet) resulted in significantly higher productivity or lower costs." Yet lower costs (especially in reduced petroleum usage) are precisely the sales pitch used in Roundup-Ready crops. So tell us how you're so sure, Mr. Skeptico: quote your source. Or were you just making things up?

It may be the sales pitch. The point is though, is it true? If you’re claiming it is then it’s your job to show it is true, not mine to show it isn’t. although as I said, if GM really has increased yields significantly, I’d love to see a source.

2) Low food prices: yes, we are in the middle of a price spike, probably due to the near-doubling of petroleum costs. However, I found a graph of soybean prices over the past 25 years that shows prices rather constant (when you look past the normal variation) BEFORE you take inflation into account. Take inflation into account, and the price has dropped significantly over 25 years. So where did you get your information, Mr. Skeptico? Or did you really expect us to be fooled by a price spike?

- “and the price has dropped significantly over 25 years”. Funny, because GM has only been planted for ten. Kind of ruins your complete argument, doesn’t it?

3) Sure, people would view low food prices as nice. But there are other things people view as nice also, and confining your view to only one set of benefits is stupid.

Good job I never confined myself “to only one set of benefits” then, isn’t it? And you accuse me of using strawmen. Although yes, I do view lower food prices as overall good.

4) Farmers care about commodity prices because they MUST sell in the market: we have set up our economy to force this. Other nations, such as EU nations and Japan have elaborate relief systems to protect their farmers from those pressures. Maybe free-market uber alles ideologues demand farmers deal the way other businesses do, but farming is an exceptional sort of business.

Oh give me a break. US farmers are not protected by subsidies? Where have you been?

"free-market uber alles ideologues"? - you do know you're becoming a parody of yourself?

5) Misses the point entirely: farmers are opposed to GM because the introduction of a monopolistic chokepoint in the chain of sales means that the farmer's profits will be siphoned off at that chokepoint. This has happened historically over and over to farmers with railroads, grain elevators, milk wholesalers, etc. Farmers would not be opposed to GM if it was non-monopolistic in nature.

Which misses my point entirely. And gives NO REASON why farmers would continue to plant GM if they weren’t overall better off.

So Skeptico, perhaps you should develop a little humility and do the work to learn the subject before you spout off. Oh, and take care to actually answer what's been written, rather than create strawmen.

You’re one to lecture about humility. You come across as an arrogant, angry jerk. And if you want me to answer “what’s been written”, you should perhaps first examine what you wrote and see if it is comprehensible. I made no strawmen. If I misunderstood something you wrote, that would be your fault for being a crappy writer. Perhaps if you calmed down a bit before you pushed post… But in any case, you still didn’t explain what you really meant, and the rest of your response (food prices are falling, low prices aren’t necessarily good, etc) is consistent with my interpretation of what you wrote.

You need to learn not only the humility that you hilariously think I need, you also need to develop a coherent argument and learn how to write it down. Because you haven’t even come close to making your case so far.

A little bit of knowledge can be laughable. We're all familiar with the newbie who, having learned of informal fallacies of argument, denies true claims because they are backed by arguments that could be incorrect due to their form. If I say that I see the sky is blue, the newbie squeals "argument from authority!" And then there's the guy who's taken freshman microeconomics who knows that the world runs by markets, and the whole world should be understood by perfect market assumptions. A close relation is the victim of "Atlas Shrugged". And most laughable of all, the religious/creationist zealot who has discovered the power of parroting arguments to bamboozle the unprepared. These people all get drunk on the "power" these learnings give them to argue with others less prepared.

The secular counterpart to the religious/creationist zealot is the dogmatic skeptic. (See Denialism for corporate-sponsored examples.) Armed with some preferred extreme position, having out-argued a few particularly stupid opponents by reciting arguments (which are sometimes good, unlike religious/creationist arguments), this sort of skeptic seems to think he is infallible in his pronouncements. The problem is when this sort of skeptic stumbles upon an argument he's not familiar with and attempts to respond.

The syndrome is a familiar one to those who argue with the religious. Some common responses are to:

(1) misconstrue the argument as one he can parrot a response to
(2) attribute strong emotions to the opponent while displaying them himself (psychological projection)
(3) attempt some combination of stand on dignity/sneering
(4) blame his mistakes on the other person's poor writing
(5) conveniently ignore clear refutations and throw out random factoids as if they adequately responded to a point
(6) deny clear misbehavior
(7) attempt to shift the burden of proof
(8) stubbornly insist on false dichotomies when presented with third options
(9) and proclaim himself the winner.

All these are ways of dealing with the harsh, ego-deflating failure to make a good argument, a form of self-delusion. Spaghetti forbid that the dogmatic skeptic should actually question whether his argument was competent, whether he really knows enough to make a good response, whether he has taken a correct position. He is righteous! The opponent must be wrong! He must be infallible!

Let's look at how Skeptico has responded to me for an example. These correspond to the 9 points above.

(1) Skeptico rewrote my clear statement, and now claims that he didn't understand it: how could he rewrite it accurately if he didn't understand it? He should make up his mind. I wrote "Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM." Perhaps it is too difficult for him to understand that other technological improvements have been reducing commodity prices since the inventions of the horse collar, steam engine, reaper, hybrid seed, etc. Having rewritten it, he made a specific (partly wrong) claim for GM seed, which did not address my more general statement.

(2) Skeptico writes: "angry drivel", "idiocy", "so-called arguments", "what the hell did you mean", "babbling", "Oh give me a break", "an arrogant, angry jerk". Who's displaying angry emotions here? Nor is this the first interchange where he's done this. "Perhaps if you calmed down a bit before you pushed post…" I notice that I thought on my response for 5 days, whereas his went up in two hours or less. Who's not calm?

(3) Let's see: for sneering we have "Wow – pretty desperate tactics. I’ll ignore most of your idiocy...". For stand on dignity, we have "You’re one to lecture about humility. You come across as an arrogant, angry jerk." Somebody needs to tell him the little secret that when you use these in combination, they add up to unconvincing.

(4) "If I misunderstood something you wrote, that would be your fault for being a crappy writer." Could there be a better example of how Skeptico cannot be at fault, because he must be infallible?

(5) When I was pointing out that soybean prices had been falling for roughly the last 25 years (in response to his irrelevant point that they were up this year), he responds that "GM has only been planted for ten. Kind of ruins your complete argument, doesn’t it?" This too is irrelevant.

(6) "I made no strawmen." A clear denial of his rewriting what I posted.

(7) Skeptico wrote "I’m sure it’s true that GM hasn’t (yet) resulted in significantly higher productivity or lower costs." When I pointed out a specific sales pitch that contradicted him and asked him for his source, he turns around and asks me for mine. No response to the request for his own source.

(8) Skeptico seem incapable of realizing more than a dichotomy when discussing why farmers oppose GM. He states the choices as (a) buy or (b) don't buy. But it is obvious that there are at least 3: (a) buy from a monopolist or (b) don't buy from a monopolist or (c) don't allow a monopolistic entry into the market.

(9) And here's the funniest one of all. Skeptico proclaims himself the winner of the debate! "You need to learn not only the humility that you hilariously think I need, you also need to develop a coherent argument and learn how to write it down. Because you haven’t even come close to making your case so far." Ooo, he's qualified to judge me and my argument, despite the fact that he has no visible qualifications at all. And he expects us to believe him. Because he's got to be infallible, no doubt.

We skeptics are not infallible, and when we argue with each other, we cannot make the presumptions we make when arguing with the dogmatic. Dogmatic responses of our own are adequate for run-of-the-mill purposes so frequently that some skeptics seem to feel they must be infallible, and forget the critical reading and thinking skills that are essential to creating new, customized arguments.

Oh, and I left out one of Skeptico's most egregious blunders. He writes: "Oh give me a break. US farmers are not protected by subsidies? Where have you been?"

Perhaps Skeptico is unaware of the greatly diminishing number of family-owned farms over the past century. Which is still continuing in the US, but not nearly as much in Europe of Japan where farmers have real protection.

Perhaps Skeptico is also unaware that subsidies are primarily corporate welfare, and not particularly aimed at family farmers.

Maybe it would help Skeptico argue if he actually knew something about the subject.

(4) "If I misunderstood something you wrote, that would be your fault for being a crappy writer." Could there be a better example of how Skeptico cannot be at fault, because he must be infallible?
Then you really do need to be a better writer, because I understood it the same way he did. The only other interpretation I could come up with is that seed saving is bad because all commodities drop in price, which only makes sense if you don't even know the definition of commodity, which is, quoting Wikipedia, "A commodity is anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market." This is a very broad definition, leading to varied things such as copper and rice and crude oil being considered commodities. Are all of them dropping in price?
2) Skeptico writes: "angry drivel", "idiocy", "so-called arguments", "what the hell did you mean", "babbling", "Oh give me a break", "an arrogant, angry jerk". Who's displaying angry emotions here? Nor is this the first interchange where he's done this. "Perhaps if you calmed down a bit before you pushed post…" I notice that I thought on my response for 5 days, whereas his went up in two hours or less. Who's not calm?

You're ridiculing him for making fun of the other guy, when you did the same over at your blog? Or need I remind you, at the very beginning of the post, "I read this post and despair at the smug confidence of nerds who probably never worked on a farm or studied agricultural economics." Or perhaps, "We're all familiar with the newbie who, having learned of informal fallacies of argument, denies true claims because they are backed by arguments that could be incorrect due to their form. If I say that I see the sky is blue, the newbie squeals "argument from authority!" And then there's the guy who's taken freshman microeconomics who knows that the world runs by markets, and the whole world should be understood by perfect market assumptions. A close relation is the victim of "Atlas Shrugged". And most laughable of all, the religious/creationist zealot who has discovered the power of parroting arguments to bamboozle the unprepared. These people all get drunk on the "power" these learnings give them to argue with others less prepared.

I have to go for the moment, but I'll address some of his other points later.

KoF, there's a difference between being a "crappy writer" and writing that is over the heads of an unqualified audience who do not understand the basics of the subject. By Skeptico's standard, Nobel laureates in literature who've written in languages he doesn't understand are "crappy writers".

As for ridicule, that is part of the standard arsenal of skepticism: Skeptico is a big boy and knows that. But you are attempting to move the goalposts: he was complaining about my "angry emotions": doubtless he divined them with his infallible, otherworldly skepticism senses which could not be expressed in words. I instead, had to rely on simple quotations of his writing to infer his emotions.

Well mike, if those Nobel laureates (appeal to authority much?), were in a discussion and deliberatly used a language which they knew other participants were not familiar, and then refused to clarify themselves later upon request, then yes, they would be a crappy writer.

So... ridicule is okay for you, but is moving the goalposts when Skeptico does it? Seriously, I'm not following you here. First, calling someone angry and emotional isn't moving the goalposts. Second, you complain about him infering your emotional state and then immediately infer that Skeptico believes himself to be infallible.

Without wishing to get involved in what appears to be an increasingly acrimonious flame-fest, I would just like to remark that as long as we're discussing seed saving, commercial agriculture in the US and Europe is completely irrelevant - because they don't do it (at least, not at the individual level). And they've been not doing it for much longer than GM seeds have been around... Even for those crops and varieties which are still open-pollinated, the job is done by specialist breeders.

If we're talking about individual seed saving, we're mainly talking about subsistence agriculture in the developing world. While there has been a push to re-introduce the practice in the US and Europe in recent years, it's almost entirely confined to small-scale organic producers and hobbyists.

Without wishing to get involved in what appears to be an increasingly acrimonious flame-fest, I would just like to remark that as long as we're discussing seed saving, commercial agriculture in the US and Europe is completely irrelevant - because they don't do it (at least, not at the individual level). And they've been not doing it for much longer than GM seeds have been around... Even for those crops and varieties which are still open-pollinated, the job is done by specialist breeders.

If we're talking about individual seed saving, we're mainly talking about subsistence agriculture in the developing world. While there has been a push to re-introduce the practice in the US and Europe in recent years, it's almost entirely confined to small-scale organic producers and hobbyists.

Oops, apologies for the double-post.

Wikinite, you are pathetic. There is no appeal to authority, merely an obvious example of how good writers (they don't have to be Nobel laureates) could be condemned by Skeptico's stupid standard.

Then you conflate some sort of treatment of would-be readers with judging the quality of writing.

And finally, you can't even follow the argument well enough to observe that I was accusing KoF of moving the goalposts, not Skeptico.

Really, Skeptico, you ought to get a better quality claque. Don't you find Wikinite and KoF embarassing in their attempts to defend you?

Wikinite, you are pathetic. There is no appeal to authority, merely an obvious example of how good writers (they don't have to be Nobel laureates) could be condemned by Skeptico's stupid standard.

Then you conflate some sort of treatment of would-be readers with judging the quality of writing.

And finally, you can't even follow the argument well enough to observe that I was accusing KoF of moving the goalposts, not Skeptico.

Really, Skeptico, you ought to get a better quality claque. Don't you find Wikinite and KoF embarassing in their attempts to defend you?

Mike: One thing good writers know: You have to make your writing so that it can be read by the target audience. If your target audience can't read your work, then your work sucks ass. In this case, your target audience is the people on this blog. Nobel laureate writers probably would adjust their speech based on the other person's ability to comprehend it. You, on the other hand, just act like an arrogant hypocritical (not entirely related to your idiotic writing style, but true) ass and say that we can't understand because we are inferior.

I'll give you an example of what I mean. The current topic I'm debating at tournaments is whether or not it's moral to kill one innocent person to save more innocent people. I have an argument for the negative criticizing the topic itself, saying that both choices result in killing and killing is wrong, and therefore the topic is bad. I won't, when emphasizing the wrongness of killing, say that it ends the person and there is nothing after, because I'm trying to talk to people that are mostly religious without provoking them on an unrelated issue. While I might not be that great a writer, at least this makes me better than you.

Wikinite, you are confusing behavior with good writing. And I'm not appealing to authority, I'm pointing out that Skeptico's absurd criterion (which he probably made up on his own authority) would lead to characterization of admittedly good writing as "crappy".

And it would help if you paid enough attention to follow the argument before you hopped in. Skeptico didn't complain of ridicule: KoF did.

KoF, which words were you and Skeptico unable to read? If neither of you is willing to do the work to comprehend something that you've been writing about, that's my intention. I'm trying to show my target audience that Skeptico is bullshitting here because he doesn't understand the subject and isn't willing to do the homework.

It's no more arrogant or hypocritical than Skeptico (or you) pissing verbally on some woomeister who doesn't understand scientific basics.

If you can't take it, maybe you shouldn't dish it out. Or even better, you should learn enough that you don't have to take it.

KoF, which words were you and Skeptico unable to read?

Uhhh, you made a big issue of a supposed strawmen Skeptico made. So you make a giant argument about how we suck because we couldn't understand your crappy writing in one are, then you say "hey, what was it you didn't understand?" If you meant something besides what we read into it, by the way, we honestly didn't understand; explain it more clearly!

If neither of you is willing to do the work to comprehend something that you've been writing about, that's my intention.

So you're purposely making things overly complicated so that it confuses the other side? Personally, I really don't understand the issue at hand; I haven't addressed the actual issue of GM directly, therefore it isn't actually something I'm writing about. I've only addressed the logic, which is something I understand quite well. Even though I don't understand it, I did do the work you claim I didn't, by the way, and just by looking up the definition of commodity I realized what you wrote was a giant pile of bullshit. Seriously, if you meant something else, please explain. I'll keep asking till you do. (Hey Skeptico, if he refuses, I'll be stopping trying to refute him; I suggest you start ignoring him too if this comes to pass.)

It's no more arrogant or hypocritical than Skeptico (or you) pissing verbally on some woomeister who doesn't understand scientific basics.

Your insults definitely are more arrogant; instead of just calling someone and asshole and explaining why we're wrong, like we usually do, you go into detail with your idiotic blatherings claiming superiority over us "newbies" who supposedly only know a tiny bit of logic and just parrot retorts we've learned. Interestingly, there's only one argument on that list that we regularly use against woos; the parroting of arguments. My head is currently full of political debates with my father, so I can't really remember why I called you hypocritical; I'll address it when I remember.

If you can't take it, maybe you shouldn't dish it out. Or even better, you should learn enough that you don't have to take it.

Can't? I can. I've managed to persist to post more than once against your arrogant idiocy without smashing my keyboard in disgust; I consider that an accomplishment.

Oh; I figured out one reason you're hypocritical. You said earlier that since Skeptico replied quickly and you took a long time to respond, and therefore his criticism that you were angry was actually projection. (Of course, that's still bullshit.) Now you're responding even quicker than Skeptico did. That makes you a fucking idiot and hypocrite.

Mike, you say you've been educated in plant breeding at a prestigious establishment and then say "If I say that I see the sky is blue, the newbie squeals "argument from authority!"... of course, it isn't.

I'm afraid that if the main drive of your argument is I was an undergraduate plant breeding major at Cornell with no technical info or logical argument to back it up, then that is a classic Argument from Authority.

Apart from a quick Google search on soybean prices (which it doesn't take a Cornell-educated person to obtain - I've just done it too), I see no technical insight or logical cleverness in your position, just an Ad Hom flame war between you and Skeptico.

I am not qualified in agriculture, but I am not stupid either. I can handle logic and mathematics if you wish to employ them to explain your position.

You seem to be saying (forgive me if I'm wrong) that you're better qualified in the relevant disciplines than Skeptico, more dignified and more logical.

I, with absolutely no axe to grind, haven't seen any evidence of this. To be quite honest, my friend, you've been pretty incoherent at times (why would anyone ever claim you were committing a logical fallacy for saying you'd seen a blue sky?) And your argument about subsidies being for the benefit exclusively of Big Ag completely bypasses me.

I've read everything you've posted in this thread, and I don't see any kind of rational argument that would lead me to adopt your position.

So, in clear, logical argument that we can all understand (or at least technical content whose bona fides we can verify), can you please represent your case again?

Yet another one claiming he's not an idiot, but at least confessing he doesn't know enough about the subject.

Yet he claims he understands argument, and doesn't do the simplest thing to address his own question: "why would anyone ever claim you were committing a logical fallacy for saying you'd seen a blue sky?"

Well, "Big Al", here's Skeptico doing just that:
"Mike Huben responds with a lot of angry drivel, trying even to compare me to a creationist. Wow – pretty desperate tactics. I’ll ignore most of your idiocy Mike, your various ad hominems, your appeals to authority, and get to your so-called arguments"
Pointing out that I have professional qualifications to discuss something is not an appeal to authority. Look it up. I would have to assert that I was infallible because I was an authority.

I've provided plenty of logical arguments, showing that Skeptico was using a false dichotomy, that he misunderstands the positions of farmers and why they oppose GM, and that there are working alternatives to unregulated capitalism that have been used here and abroad. If you're too lazy or biased to re-read and spot them, I don't care what you demand. (By the way, we've all been aggravated by the request for unreasonable explanation tactic in creationist arguments. I'm not surprised to see it used here as well.)

If you want to understand why Skeptico is wrong on this subject, I recommend The">http://www.indymedia.org/print.php3?article_id=3159">The Crisis of Public Reason. It is shocking how well this criticism fits his style of argument.

The false dichotomy Skeptico used; would that be where he forgot to include farmers somehow getting rid of monopolization in the GM industry? Because I have no fucking clue how they're supposed to do that.

One last chance by the way; explain how Skeptico uses a strawman in clear terms that explain what exactly you meant by it. If you don't, I'll consider the debate over and you the loser; if you don't ever clarify points when asked, you would lose a debate round unless the opponent was even worse than you were.

Mike,I have happily admitted to my ignorance of agriculture. However, that doesn't give you the right to imply that I'm lazy and biased.

I asked for clear information, and you replied by bashing Skeptico and then getting at me. Well, all I can say is that the weblink you posted seems to fit you pretty well, Mike.

Well, maybe my skin isn't as thin as yours, so I'll hold off on the foaming invective, just to add that that is not the most stunning logical rebuttal I have ever seen.

3/10, must try harder

So let's see: KoF uses the argument from personal incredulity: "Because I have no fucking clue how they're supposed to do that." Read some history about the progressive movement and learn.

And "Big Al" admits his ignorance (not a bad thing), but doesn't do any work to even reread and spot my arguments, and complains that this implies he's "lazy and biased". But he doesn't have any qualms about asking ME to do work. To top it off, he uses the tactic creationist Jonathan Wells uses in "Icons Of Evolution": bogus scoring. Except he doesn't do it even as well as Wells does, because he doesn't even list his criteria.

Look, guys, if you don't even know enough about a subject that you need to be spoon-fed, maybe you should just shut up and attempt to learn the beginnings of the subject. I'm not your pet monkey, to do whatever tricks you demand and be criticized if I don't jump high enough to please you. I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school), and my students work a hell of a lot harder than you do. You're not paying me, nor do you even make the effort to seem deserving.

Oh, and let Skeptico defend his own self. He won't be helped by you two. A claque just makes him resemble a cult leader.

I have a much longer post responding to Mr Huben that is waiting for Skeptico to approve (a lot of links in it) so for now I'll just leave it nice and simple:

I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school)

Good grief you are a pompous ass. You claim that you don't make any appeal to authority and yet at every chance you jump on other peoples credentials or lack of, and imply the superiority of your own.

Well, I know someone who teaches physics at one of the most prestigious private schools in England, and he is a house master as well. He got a third in his physics degree, and that only just. Where and who you teach may impress you and your buddies Mr Huben. The rest of us don't give a fuck because it doesn't add anything to what you say.

History of the progressive movement? Do you mean protest? I have a feeling that the company wouldn't care; there will still be some people giving them money, so the farmers will give up eventually. By the way, I think most protests were against the government's policies, not companies. The government and companies are rather different. (By the way, look up the antivaccine movement; they've not accomplished much from what I understand, and they have a lot more support than a few farmers due.)

You still haven't explained how Skeptico used a strawman. In any reasonable debate tournament, you would probably be disqualified if you refuse to elaborate your points to the opponent when asked repeatedly. As I said before, your lack of response means I'm quitting this thread. Bye, hope you die in a fire for being an arrogant asshole.

I have seen this so many times - someone comes on with some bizarre and hard-to-follow "logic" and then refuses to back it up, saying he's repeated his cogent and convincing arguments a thousand times and can't be bothered to rehash them for the benefit of a bunch of closed-minded bigots.

The trouble is, the first time, I searched through nearly two hundred posts someone had put on the JREF site - and, lo and behold, even the very first post he made didn't have any stunning proof in it.

What work did I ask from you? To present your arguments in clear, invective-free language? I can see that was a little too hard for you. How much longer did it take to spew out yet another torrent of vitriol than it would have done to answer my polite question?

You're so full of shit, I bet your eyes are brown.

Since you seem to like French (or at least the noun "claque", all I wish to add is "Allez-vous faire foutre, salope."

See you around, troll.

Mike Huben wrote "I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school), and my students work a hell of a lot harder than you do."

I bet your students work a hell of a lot harder than we do. They are required by law to sit there and listen to your conceited blithering.

Jimmy Blue:

I just released your comment. Apparently the spam filter held it, and unless someone emails me to tell me they have a comment held, I don't usually know about it. (I don't check the spam holding section very often.) Sorry about that - I can't alter the Typepad spam settings.

Unfortunately the system posts it on the original time you actually posted it, so it's a few posts up. Please scroll up to read it.

btw, I'll have a reply to Mike Huben in due course. In the meantime, his increasingly absurd responses are at least providing me with some amusement.

Thanks Skeptico, I was in no rush and so was going to e-mail you tonight if it didn't show up, I realise that your entire life isn't this blog! Serves me right for actually linking to some sources like the true dogmatic skeptic I am.

The post is here although I don't think that Typepad lets you link directly to a post once you go over to a second page, so for those interested it was posted on the 28th at 1:52pm and is sandwiched between aKing of Ferrets post and one from Big Al (nice to see you back Al by the way). I assure you that you can't miss it due to my customary brevity!

Mr Huben is certainly amusing though, I'll give him that.

So far we have assertions backed up with no citations or references (in fact, I provided more references that support his argument than he did), a refusal to back up those facts, the insistence that we are all obviously lazy or too stupid to understand him, the flaunting of his credentials and job whilst claiming he is not appealing to authority and various insults, sneering attempts at putdowns and a large dose of patronising smugness.

But we are the ones apparently resembling creationists.

As for him being a teacher, is this how he teaches? Pupils ask him for an explanation and his response is to deride their intelligence, call them lazy, refuse to answer it and then tell them to go look it up themselves. If by some miracle he did decide to answer, if they don't get it first time does he simply begin the cycle again?

What a noble example of the educator you have shown yourself to be Mr Huben. It only counts if you're paid, right?

I guess that saying may be true after all. Those who can do. Those who can't, teach.

I've been thinking some more about Mr Huben's actual argument rather than his invective, and I have to retract my earlier statements that it is a reasonable and valid answer to Skeptico's question.

Examine the claim that advances in agricultural technology drive down commodity prices. This is apparently born out in the case of the railroad, the tractor etc because they enabled cheaper farming costs through (as I understand it) reduction in labour and production costs, and higher farming yields (amongst others).

In the case of GM seeds though, this does not seem to apply. GM seeds have apparently not been shown to produce higher yields than alternatives, and Mr Huben himself states that through monopolisation GM seeds could have prices that are artificially high.

If farming costs remain the same or increase, then why do commodity prices necessarily fall if there is no extra yield?

If the cost of farming GM seeds remains the same or increases, then why must farmers buy it? Why would they not continue to use alternatives like hybrid seed, especially given the tight financial margins of small farms?

If farmers can maintain higher or equivalent yields through alternative seeds, why must they use GM seed, regardless of whether competitors are or are not?

Add to this the consumer demand for organic or non-GM crops, and demand for the produce of farms which do not use GM seed would increase if GM crops became more prevelant on the market; with the subsequent possibility arising that farms using non-GM crops could become more profitable.

Mr Huben provides no evidence or references that seem to answer these questions.

Leading from this point is a further thought on Mr Huben's conduct. He accuses people here of acting like creationists/woos. Go to any skeptical or athiest blog and see if you recognise this:

The creationist/woo writes a post that asserts an argument, but does not provide any evidence or references that support the argument. They are asked to explain it. They refuse, stating that either the argument has been made elsewhere and the skeptic/athiest needs to research it themselves; that the skeptic/athiest is to lazy/ignorant/stupid or unqualified to understand it; or that the creationist/woo does not have the time to explain it. The arguments upon investigation by the skeptic/athiest seem to simply parrot arguments made elsewhere on the internet, and no extra depth is added to them.

Sound familiar?

Mr Huben, I contend that you don't explain your position because you can't.

Prove me wrong.

Very few arguments are explicitly syllogistic: it is seldom that assumptions. inferences, and conclusions are all stated together in plain view. Consequently, most arguments rely heavily on background information and assumptions (facts, history, models, biases, etc.) that are not likely to be made explicit.

If one party to a discussion about some field is lacking the necessary background information and assumptions, they are unlikely to be able to make correct arguments. They will have omitted or incorrect assumptions. No matter how explicitly syllogistic such an argument seems to be, it is fallacious if an assumption (present or omitted) is incorrect. This is why expertise and authority is considered important to an argument. Without expertise, like a stopped clock you might sometimes be right, but much of the time you will be wrong.

So what does it mean when one person professes subject expertise in an argument and the other has no such expertise? Is that an invalid argument from authority? It could mean several things. It could mean "my analysis is based on better background information, so check the other guy's more carefully". No fallacy there. It could mean "if you need a heuristic clue as to who might be right, this is a defeasible shortcut." This is an informal fallacy of logic, but a very practical heuristic method of reasoning with non-monotonic logic. (See my Distrust in logic article.) Or it could mean I am right because I am an authority", in which case it is the informal fallacy argument from authority. Perhaps it could mean other things as well. Only that third option is the argument from authority, IMHO. The other two are USEFUL, perhaps more useful than classical logic as I explain in my article.

While arguing with Skeptico, I pointed out the differences between our expertise, and a number of his supporters have accused me of the argument from authority. To logically make their case, they would need to exclude the other possibilities. But what they really are doing is applying a weak form of defeasible logic: "he has sinned (never mind that we all are sinners, and don't you dare measure how egregiously or frequently we sin.)"

Jimmy_Blue, to his credit, found an excellent set of links that provide substantial background for this debate. Background that I assumed from long experience, which Skeptico plainly lacked. Background that confirms pretty much all the points I made in my initial response to Skeptico: Response to Skeptico: Must Pay for GM Seeds? I'll add one more reference, On the adoption of genetically modified seeds in developing countries... which confirms my claims about farm productivity increases and GM seed monopoly. "...these technologies can bring about major cost savings in pest control and reduce negative environmental externalities through reductions in the use of toxic pesticides. Studies by Qaim and Zilberman (2003) and Thirtle et al. (2003) reveal that GM crops can also increase yields in situations where pesticides are underused."

Jimmy_Blue writes:

Mike Huben I think makes a relevant point that does appear to be a fairly reasonable answer to Skeptico's question - that farmers must buy GM seed in order to remain competitve because of the various pressures on farmers resulting in particular from technological advances reducing commodity prices. Combine this with the possibility of monopolistic supply of GM seed, and economic pressures could result in a stark choice - buy GM seed or don't farm anymore.

The must comes from the fact that if a farmer wanted to stay a farmer, they would have to buy GM seed to remain competitive with other farmers - particularly the large corporate ones. Almost a compulsion by choice if you will.

Correct me if I am wrong in this summation.

Spot on. In my book, Jimmy_Blue is an excellent life-long student: not because he agreed with me, but because he constructively resolved a controversy with his own directed research, and shared the results. He avoided the mistake of confirmation bias (if he started with Skeptico's position), which often afflicts us skeptics just like ordinary people. I can get really pompous here and declare that was one of my motives, to goad people into learning for themselves, but it's obvious to me that Jimmy_Blue doesn't need to be taught by me. My hat's off to you!

Jimmy_Blue also spends a lot of his response fisking my style of argument, rather than the content. I can live with that. I've adopted an "afflict the comfortable" style, which I find handy for ridiculing pompous bullshitters (and Skeptico is one in this political subject. He's merely pompous in more scientific subjects.) Jimmy_Blue concludes "your argument does come across as probably valid but expressed by a total tosser" Probably valid: that's a much better judgement than I expected from any of Skeptico's supporters -- thank you Jimmy_Blue. Am I a "total tosser"? Well, since Jimmy_Blue spends his response showing how I do the same obnoxious things Skeptico does, shall I infer that he also thinks Skeptico is a "total tosser"? I can live with that: that's one of the things I set out to demonstrate.

A last couple of points about Skeptico's apparent ignorance of the subject that it would be good to clarify.

First, Skeptico and I have not been as clear (in our terminology) as we should have been about productivity of GM crops. Skeptico is correct that GM crops generally do not increase YIELD PER ACRE, which is one measure of productivity. But that measure is too narrow for this discussion, as anybody with a background in agricultural economics should know. The normal meaning of the word productivity in agricultural economics is yield divided by total costs of production, which include land, labor, and capital. GM crops have been designed to increase that latter form of productivity, and there is substantial evidence that they do (as documented in my additional reference.) That latter form of technologically-driven productivity is why farmers MUST buy GM seed or go bankrupt.

Skeptico's statement "There are no low food prices. Don’t you follow the news – they’re at record highs." is just wrong. As anybody at all familiar with agriculture knows, the prices of agricultural commodities have (long term) been declining for many decades. Jimmy_Blue's sources affirm that. Skeptico said something very stupid, based on short-term price information and his own ignorance. Unless you want to believe that he was intending to mislead us.

Skeptico,

You're right.

What's more, Grist is not exactly a place to go for reliable information. See
http://www.gmobelus.com/news.php?viewStory=143

Mr Huben:

So what does it mean when one person professes subject expertise in an argument and the other has no such expertise? Is that an invalid argument from authority?

No. However, you're implication was quite clear. Skeptico and the rest of us are not qualified to speak on this matter. You are. Therefore your argument holds more weight. This is summed up by you as:

This is why expertise and authority is considered important to an argument. Without expertise, like a stopped clock you might sometimes be right, but much of the time you will be wrong.

Which omits one very important fact. Even if you have expertise, you can still be wrong just as often as those with none.

Initially I thought you were actually making more of an ad hominem argument, not simply with the name calling, but with the attacks on qualifications rather than arguments. However, the way you presented things and one statement in particular swayed me more to the fact that you are, perhaps not even realising it, making an appeal to authority.

It could mean "my analysis is based on better background information, so check the other guy's more carefully". No fallacy there.

Agreed.

It could mean "if you need a heuristic clue as to who might be right, this is a defeasible shortcut." This is an informal fallacy of logic, but a very practical heuristic method of reasoning with non-monotonic logic.

If this means, as I think it does, that you are saying expertise can act as a guide to the 'viewer' of an argument as to which side is more likely to be correct (like assigning a likely truth value), then yes I agree. This is also central to the appeal to authoriy fallacy as it is used in practical terms.

You have consistently committed this 'informal fallacy' as you call it. You have no knowledge of the qualifications of the others involved in this debate, but you have consistently claimed that they have none whilst you do, with the implication therefore that this makes your arguments the more likely correct ones. By appealing to your qualifications over those of others rather than the strength of your argument over those of others, you commit the appeal to authority. You are claiming your arguments hold more weight regardless of whether you have provided any evidence, references or citations to support them.

Or it could mean I am right because I am an authority", in which case it is the informal fallacy argument from authority.

Agreed.

While arguing with Skeptico, I pointed out the differences between our expertise, and a number of his supporters have accused me of the argument from authority. To logically make their case, they would need to exclude the other possibilities. But what they really are doing is applying a weak form of defeasible logic: "he has sinned (never mind that we all are sinners, and don't you dare measure how egregiously or frequently we sin.)"

This is, in point of fact, wrong. There is no need to disprove the first two to show that you are claiming your argument holds weight simply because of your qualification. You rely on a false dilemma here. This is not an either/or case since all three possibilities could be true. None of them are exclusive.

With your initial comments about your qualifications and other commenters lack of them (for which you have no proof and have simply made an invalid assumption incidentally) you were at the very least committing your 'informal heuristic' fallacy. However, when you wrote this:

I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school)

[my emphasis]

It became more than that.

The fact that you teach at 'an elite public high school' is irrelevant. It means nothing to the argument and as I have shown, establishes nothing about the authority of your qualifications. As a statement though it is quite obviously intended to establish authority through status and position, not through relevant qualification. Coupled with all your other statements on peoples' expertise or lack of, I think this adds up very neatly to all three of your possible positions.

An arrogant boast that merely confirmed what we had thought and you had denied.

Now to the limited defence of your argument.

Did you actually read the paper you linked to? Or did you read up until the quotes you cropped and forget the rest?

Firstly, there appear to be studies that show GM crops can increase yield. So what then are we to make of this?

Money quotes:

Industry claims that genetically-modified cotton (Bt cotton) has boosted cotton yields and increased small farmers' income. However, close examination reveals that cotton yield gains are attributable more to favorable weather conditions (India, the U.S) and a shift to irrigation (South Africa) than to the biotech trait.

...

Not a single GM crop on the market is engineered for enhanced nutrition, increased yield potential, drought-tolerance, or other attractive traits touted by the biotech industry.

...

Roundup Ready soybeans, the world's most widely planted GM crop, have 6% lower yield than conventional soy, according to University of Nebraska researchers

...

Even the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture admits that no GM crop on the market has been modified to increase yield. The main factors influencing crop yield are weather, irrigation, soil fertility, and conventional (non-biotech) breeding for increased yield.

Or this?

The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties.

...

According to Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, “GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures. As oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, we need to move away from oil dependent GM crops to producing food sustainably, using renewable energy, as is the case with organic farming.”

...

First generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are in no way intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.

...

An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that “currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. […] In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars”.

...

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004).

...

A 2003 report published in Science stated that “in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative”. (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003). This was despite the authors being strong supporters of GM crops.

...

Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya
Studies from 1999 - 2007 consistently show RR GM soya to yield 4 – 12% lower than conventional varieties.

...

A 2007 study by Kansas State University agronomist Dr. Barney Gordon suggests that Roundup Ready soya continues to suffer from a yield drag: RR soya yielded 9% less than a close conventional relative.

...

A rigorous, independent study conducted in the U.S. under controlled conditions demonstrated that Bt maize yields anywhere from 12% less to the same as near-isoline (highly similar) conventional varieties (Ma & Subedi, 2005).

...

Outbreaks of the secondary pests that are not killed by the Bt insecticide have rendered Bt cotton ineffective in China (Connor, S., July 27, 2006), and are also becoming a problem in North Carolina (Caldwell, D. 2002) and Georgia (Hollis, P.L., 2006).

Note that in the paper you cited, Qaim and Zilberman are quoted as saying yield is increased, and here as saying that yield did not increase. So what are we to make of that?

Furthermore, in regards to monopoly supply your cited paper says:

The Argentine authorities did not grant a patent on GM soybeans when Monsanto filed their application in the mid 1990s, because the technology had already been available in the country. Accordingly, prices for legal GM soybean seeds are relatively low in Argentina, coverage is widespread, and local farmers benefit significantly (Qaim and Traxler 2005). In contrast, Bt cotton is patented in Argentina and, as mentioned above, the monopoly price for GM seeds is such that smallholder farmers hardly use this technology.

[My emphasis]

The paper actually argues that the price of conventional seed and the price of GM seed are linked, and the lower the price of conventional seed, the lower the price of GM seed. The introduction of GM seed could actually force the lowering of both the price of conventional and that of patented GM seed.

Given that possibility, why must a farmer buy GM seed?

Spot on. In my book, Jimmy_Blue is an excellent life-long student: not because he agreed with me...

You must not be paying attention. Thanks to an interesting chat with my wife, I re-evaluated my position and think you are wrong, as I have previously said.

Jimmy_Blue also spends a lot of his response fisking my style of argument, rather than the content.

You are clearly not paying attention. I specifically dealt with the content of your arguments concerning the behaviour of yourself and other commenters.

Am I a "total tosser"? Well, since Jimmy_Blue spends his response showing how I do the same obnoxious things Skeptico does, shall I infer that he also thinks Skeptico is a "total tosser"?

No, because on more than one occasion I clearly state that I do not agree that Skeptico has done what you accuse him of, and I clearly state that much of why I think you are a tosser comes across in your presentation and language. Again, not something I have a problem with in regards to Skeptico. Try reading and understanding what I write, I'm not going to go back and explain it to you.

Skeptico is correct that GM crops generally do not increase YIELD PER ACRE, which is one measure of productivity.

Apparently the standard one in typical usage across much of the literature on the subject from what I have seen. Let me guess, you are now going to play semantics, redefine terms so you win, or claim you were talking about something different to Skeptico.

The normal meaning of the word productivity in agricultural economics is yield divided by total costs of production, which include land, labor, and capital. GM crops have been designed to increase that latter form of productivity, and there is substantial evidence that they do (as documented in my additional reference.)

What a surprise. Skeptico was talking about yield, not productivity, and I don't remember you referring to productivity and not yield. Incidentally, I also found a paper arguing that yield (not productivity) should be measured in the way you describe with the addition of factoring in externalities like environmental impact.

That latter form of technologically-driven productivity is why farmers MUST buy GM seed or go bankrupt.

And yet the paper you reference states quite clearly that farmers in Argentina did not take up pest resistant cotton in large numbers, and mentions no subsequent increase in farm bankruptcies. Are you sure you read it?

To top it all off, this paper argues that the increased productivity of GM crops could help the developing world, and that cost savings are pretty impressive. Yet you insist increased production is bad because some poor oppressed guy in Iowa might go bankrupt even though there's little evidence for this and even though his savings may be considerable.

I'm confused. Is better productivity good or bad? I guess it depends on whether you have the luxury to argue the point rather than scraping a living in barren soil.

I'm still confused. If farmers are saving money by using GM crops, how do they go bankrupt?

You have still failed to answer these questions:

If the cost of farming with GM seeds remains the same as with non-GM, or increases (through monopolisation of supply); then why do commodity prices necessarily fall if there is no extra yield? (The article you reference even shows that the high cost of GM seeds could at least partially offset reduced pesticide costs).

If the cost of farming with GM seeds remains the same (higher priced seeds but reduced expenditure on labour, pesticide etc) as for non-GM, or increases (monopolisation of supply); then why must farmers buy it? Why would they not continue to use alternatives like hybrid seed, especially given the tight financial margins of small farms? For example, as the article you reference shows, farmers without a significant pest problem are not willing to pay for pest resistant GM crops. Indeed doing so could reduce their yield (whichever way you want to define it).

If farmers can maintain higher or equivalent yields through alternative seeds, why must they use GM seed, regardless of whether competitors are or are not?

Add to this the consumer demand for organic or non-GM crops, and demand for the produce of farms which do not use GM seed would increase if GM crops became more prevelant on the market; with the subsequent possibility arising that farms using non-GM crops could become more profitable.

So far, your qualifications aren't impressing.

Skeptico replies to Mike Huben

Note: in the following I have indented the pieces of Mike's post that I am replying to.  Where I have additionally quoted Mike in my argument, I have bolded his words and included them in quotation marks.  I hope that makes it clear, because this will be a long post and it would be confusing without some form of formatting to show who is saying what.  Here goes:

A little bit of knowledge can be laughable. We're all familiar with the newbie who, having learned of informal fallacies of argument, denies true claims because they are backed by arguments that could be incorrect due to their form. If I say that I see the sky is blue, the newbie squeals "argument from authority!" And then there's the guy who's taken freshman microeconomics who knows that the world runs by markets, and the whole world should be understood by perfect market assumptions. A close relation is the victim of "Atlas Shrugged". And most laughable of all, the religious/creationist zealot who has discovered the power of parroting arguments to bamboozle the unprepared. These people all get drunk on the "power" these learnings give them to argue with others less prepared. The secular counterpart to the religious/creationist zealot is the dogmatic skeptic. (See Denialism for corporate-sponsored examples.) Armed with some preferred extreme position, having out-argued a few particularly stupid opponents by reciting arguments (which are sometimes good, unlike religious/creationist arguments), this sort of skeptic seems to think he is infallible in his pronouncements. The problem is when this sort of skeptic stumbles upon an argument he's not familiar with and attempts to respond.

That has to be the longest, most self-serving, smug, convoluted poisoning the well logical fallacy I’ve ever read. Followed closely by the poisoning the well logical fallacy Mike started his original blog post with, and the poisoning the well logical fallacy that started his first reply here. Funny thing though Mike – not one shred of evidence in there that you are right and I am wrong about anything, nor any answer to my question, “why would farmers continue to pay for GM seeds if doing so reduced their overall profits and/or increases their debt?” 

Let’s see what other flawed patterns Mike’s arguments follow.  Fortunately Mike has given us a handy list of bad arguments we should avoid.  I wonder if Mike uses any of them?

The syndrome is a familiar one to those who argue with the religious. Some common responses are to: (1) misconstrue the argument as one he can parrot a response to

CHECK – for example, Mike uses this strawman: ”Sure, people would view low food prices as nice. But there are other things people view as nice also, and confining your view to only one set of benefits is stupid.”

Mike certainly misconstrued my argument - I never said GM is desirable because of one set of benefits.  In fact, I don't think I've ever mentioned low food prices before, although I could be wrong. 

(2) attribute strong emotions to the opponent while displaying them himself (psychological projection)

I guess it's debatable whether you were displaying emotions or just arrogance and smugness, so I'll give you a pass on this one.

(3) attempt some combination of stand on dignity/sneering

CHECK. Numerous times.  From Mike's opening sentence of his blog post: ”I read this post and despair at the smug confidence of nerds who probably never worked on a farm or studied agricultural economics.

Or how about this from above:

”You see it a lot in skeptics, convinced that their opponents are idiots, they get lazy and sloppy and start to use the same bullshit tactics as the creationists and woomeisters. They spend the majority of their argument on criticism of posters and pretending to authority and expertise they don't have, using third grade tactics. That doesn't work so well when confronted by another skeptic (myself.)

Or:

”So Skeptico, perhaps you should develop a little humility and do the work to learn the subject before you spout off.”

Or:

"Look, guys, if you don't even know enough about a subject that you need to be spoon-fed, maybe you should just shut up and attempt to learn the beginnings of the subject."

Stand on dignity/sneering, did you say?   You didn't just do that, did you Mike? 

(4) blame his mistakes on the other person's poor writing
OK, Mike didn't use this one. But then I try to make my writing pretty clear, so it would be hard for even Mike to misunderstand something I wrote.
(5) conveniently ignore clear refutations and throw out random factoids as if they adequately responded to a point

CHECK - ”Maybe free-market uber alles ideologues demand farmers deal the way other businesses do, but farming is an exceptional sort of business.” 

Random factoid (of debatable veracity), also a straw man and I believe even a Reductio ad Hitlerum logical fallacy.  (And don't deny that - what other context of  the German phrase "uber alles" is there but "Deutschland uber alles" and Hitler?)

(6) deny clear misbehavior

CHECK: - "Pointing out that I have professional qualifications to discuss something is not an appeal to authority".  Well yes, it frequently is.  Especially when your "qualifications" are as laughable as the ones you quoted, and when they are offered purely as a technique to appear superior and shut down debate, the way you did.  And doubly fallacious when offered on the Internet, where no one knows who you are anyway.  I've explained this before but I'm happy to do so again.  Here's the thing Mike.  You are on the Internet, using what may be your real name or what may be an alias, conversing with others who may or may not be using aliases. You don't know who they are even if they tell you. We don't know who you are even if you tell us.

For the sake of argument, I'll say I accept you're using your real name.  But how would we check your claim to have studied agriculture (35 years ago)?  Most universities do not publish such information on their graduates. And how would we know you were a good student, that you actually learned anything?  And how would we know you really are that person anyway?

Suppose a person (not Mike - just a hypothetical to explain the point further) claimed to have a PhD and gave citations, and somehow we managed, despite the above, to verify this.  We checked those citations. We see if they are from peer-reviewed journals. We see if others cite them as well. We read the discourse in those journals and see how other researchers responded to the work.

Lets suppose the person wasn't really who he claimed (someone else wrote those papers), but he still gave us the citations. We do the same checking as before.

So here is what we accomplished by:

  1. listening to somebody we don't know
  2. whose name we don't actually know
  3. and can't check
  4. about a qualifications whose authenticity we can't check

- nothing.

The evidence matters. No matter what you said, that is where we would end up looking, anyway. Argument from authority is usually insufficient, and on the Internet it is completely worthless.  And really - a hobby seed breeder who studied agriculture 35 years ago.  Really?  Clearly therefore an expert on genetic engineering.  Everyone is surely in awe.

CHECK - Following being called on this false analogy: "If I say that I see the sky is blue, the newbie squeals "argument from authority!" - you deny that this argument makes no sense.

deny (7) attempt to shift the burden of proof

CHECK - Mike wrote:

Yes, [farmers] are compelled by the stark choice of GM or bankruptcy. Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM. Unless their productivity can keep up, they will go bankrupt.

Mike responds to requests for evidence to support this with demands I support my claim that I doubt GM has resulted in much of a drop in prices.  Despite the fact that I had already quoted my source and despite the fact that Mike made his claim first, he still thinks my asking for evidence is shifting the burden.  And yet Mike still (even now) has presented no evidence that the choice is GM or bankruptcy.  Also, no evidence that commodity prices have dropped due to technological improvements such as GM.  (And showing prices have dropped is not showing causation - that would be the post hoc fallacy.)

Also, Mike is insisting on a false dichotomy - GM or bankruptcy - and he still stubbornly sticks to it although presented with third options (buy non-GM seeds) - see bad argument type # 8 below, and despite clear evidence that non-GM does not equal bankruptcy (see Jimmy Blue's post just above and my comments below).

Also we have this fine piece of burden shifting:

"I'm not your pet monkey, to do whatever tricks you demand and be criticized if I don't jump high enough to please you. I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school), and my students work a hell of a lot harder than you do. You're not paying me, nor do you even make the effort to seem deserving."

That's a good one Mike.  I'll remember that the next time I don't want to be bothered to provide evidence to back up my claims - I'll just say "you're not paying me to do it."   Sure, that'll work.  The thing is, Mike, no one here is getting paid for any of this, and no one asked you to come over here with your opinions - it was your choice.  So you are just whining.  While not backing up your claims.

(8) stubbornly insist on false dichotomies when presented with third options

CHECK - "...the choice [farmers have to make] is GM or bankruptcy."  Clearly ignoring the third choice I offered - go back to non-GM seeds.  And this is a valid option, unlike Mike's incorrect false dichotomy.  We know this is a valid option because, guess what, as Meredith wrote, "many farmers are no longer planting GM cotton".  (btw, you'll notice I gave my source there, even though I wasn't being paid to do so.)  (Again, also see Jimmy Blue's comment and your own cited paper that I comment on below.)  So we know there is a viable third option Mike is ignoring.

In addition to insisting on a false dichotomy, Mike also incorrectly called a false dichotomy that he said I was making (I discuss this in more detail below).  I think I'll add a #10 to the list - falsely calling logical fallacies.  (If Mike can make up lists, so can I.)

(9) and proclaim himself the winner.

CHECK - "I've provided plenty of logical arguments, showing that Skeptico was using a false dichotomy, that he misunderstands the positions of farmers and why they oppose GM, and that there are working alternatives to unregulated capitalism that have been used here and abroad. If you're too lazy or biased to re-read and spot them, I don't care what you demand." 

Also, I'll add #11 - falsely claiming your opponent is using all the flawed argumentation techniques that in actuality you, yourself, and utilizing.  This #11 is actually one of Mike's favorite techniques, and it is particularly irritating.

I'll also add a logical fallacy Mike used in replying to someone else - the false analogy:

"By Skeptico's standard, Nobel laureates in literature who've written in languages he doesn't understand are "crappy writers"."

False analogy because Mike was writing in English.  Clearly, if someone wrote in in a language you don't speak, you wouldn't understand, although the writing could be good.  But I do understand English and I understood Mike's words.  I also, now, can see what he means (I think - can't be sure though with Mike).  The writing though was ambiguous and in my view deceptive.  Completely different from Mike's silly false analogy about foreign languages.

All these are ways of dealing with the harsh, ego-deflating failure to make a good argument, a form of self-delusion.

Well you should know - you used most of them.  9 out of 11, to be precise.

Spaghetti forbid that the dogmatic skeptic should actually question whether his argument was competent, whether he really knows enough to make a good response, whether he has taken a correct position. He is righteous! The opponent must be wrong! He must be infallible!

Yes, that does appear to be how you view yourself.

Let's look at how Skeptico has responded to me for an example. These correspond to the 9 points above. (1) Skeptico rewrote my clear statement, and now claims that he didn't understand it: how could he rewrite it accurately if he didn't understand it? He should make up his mind.

This doesn't even make sense.  If I "[rewrote] it accurately" then it couldn't have been a strawman as Mike claims.  Alternatively, if I misunderstood it and (therefore) rewrote it inaccurately, then Mike's question ("how could he rewrite it accurately... ?") doesn't make sense.  So was my rewrite accurate or not?  Because Mike, clearly you are the one here who needs to make up his mind.  (Unless this is just another example of your confused and crappy writing.)

I wrote "Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM." Perhaps it is too difficult for him to understand that other technological improvements have been reducing commodity prices since the inventions of the horse collar, steam engine, reaper, hybrid seed, etc.

No, I'm fully aware of other improvements.  But my post was about GM and its (supposedly bad) effects, and you wrote "technological improvements such as GM".  Now remember, I started my reply with "I think you're saying..." - which any rational and mentally stable individual would have taken as a person's honest attempt to understand your point. If I misinterpreted what you said it was clearly an honest mistake and one that could have been dealt with by saying something like, "no, what I meant was...".  That is how reasonable people do these things, if they're interested in honest debate, rather than just belittling everyone else they come across.  But instead you made a big issue of crying straw man, but - and this really tells us what you are actually interested in - you made no attempt to explain what you had actually meant.  You can't claim a straw man unless you also explain what it was you really meant.  But you didn't want to do that did you?  You prefer just to create a lot of noise instead.  For you it's more important to "win" rather than have a discussion.

In addition, the "such as GM" wording means your answer was irrelevant to my question - which would make your response a non sequitur.  If you had read the post in Grist that started this off, you would note the context was the bad effects GM is responsible for.  So your reply was (to coin a phrase) throwing out a random factoid as if it adequately responded to a point (your # 5 above).

Having rewritten it, he made a specific (partly wrong) claim for GM seed, which did not address my more general statement.

And your "more general statement" did not address my question, so your general statement was (what's the phrase) "throw[ing] out random factoids as if they adequately responded to a point. 

(2) Skeptico writes: "angry drivel", "idiocy", "so-called arguments", "what the hell did you mean", "babbling", "Oh give me a break", "an arrogant, angry jerk". Who's displaying angry emotions here? Nor is this the first interchange where he's done this. "Perhaps if you calmed down a bit before you pushed post…" I notice that I thought on my response for 5 days, whereas his went up in two hours or less. Who's not calm?

Well it didn't take long to deconstruct that drivel.  Still, I decided to take your advice and be slow to reply this time.  Unfortunately for you, your arguments don't get any better with re-reading.  In fact, they appear more ridiculous the more I examine them, and the more I see you you struggle to justify yourself to others.

And yes, I followed your link and I agree this is not the first time you've brought irrelevant items into a discussion, obfuscated over the differences between what you want to discuss and what the actual subject was, refused to answer questions arising from what you wrote, acted smug and arrogant, and (and this is the kicker), displayed every fault that you then confidently and arrogantly accused me of displaying.  That's just what you do.  Nor is this the only time you have started a discussion by belittling someone else with your trademark smug arrogance and sarcasm, ratcheting the debate into some quite nasty arguments in very short order for no real reason other than you wanted to be seen to "win" rather than have an honest debate.  I suggest anyone interested in seeing Mike's style of debate with someone else (other than me) click the link and see Mike's response to the commenter Jason.  The important thing to consider from that link is not who was right (I happened to disagree with Jason and agree with Mike in that discussion), but rather how Mike responded to to Jason's remarks - straight into the aggression, sarcasm and arrogance, thus ending any possibility of a reasoned exchange of ideas.  Does that sound familiar to anyone?  Look at the (for the most part) reasonable discussion we were having here before Mike came along with his oh so superior "I read this post and despair at the smug confidence of nerds..." opening.  Look at the reasonable debate I have had on this very subject over at Grist with Meredith Niles and compare that with what Mike brought to the discussion. 

But you're right Mike, I shouldn't have accused you of being angry.  Reading your posts again I realize you don't show anger, and that I was perhaps projecting my own anger at your style of debating.  (It does make me angry when I get accused of doing the very things you, yourself, and not me, are in fact doing.  But that's no excuse for my posting in anger.)  I apologize for  calling what you wrote "angry drivel".  I was wrong saying that.  I should have called it unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive, loud mouthed, smug arrogance.  I now realize that would have been more accurate, having reflected on the issue for a couple of days, and now being able to post calmly and without any personal anger.  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to correct myself.

(3) Let's see: for sneering we have "Wow – pretty desperate tactics. I’ll ignore most of your idiocy...". For stand on dignity, we have "You’re one to lecture about humility. You come across as an arrogant, angry jerk."

Somebody needs to tell him the little secret that when you use these in combination, they add up to unconvincing.

Yes I agree.  As I wrote above, I should have added you are unnecessarily aggressive, smug, arrogant, self righteous, self serving...  That would have been more accurate.  Regardless, none of this made my arguments wrong or yours right.

(4) "If I misunderstood something you wrote, that would be your fault for being a crappy writer." Could there be a better example of how Skeptico cannot be at fault, because he must be infallible?

A better example of someone who cannot be at fault, because he must be infallible?  Um... Ooh I know this one...  no, no, don't tell me, don't tell me... there must be someone... it's on the top of my tongue... er, oh yes, here's one:

"KoF, there's a difference between being a "crappy writer" and writing that is over the heads of an unqualified audience who do not understand the basics of the subject.

and

"And finally, you can't even follow the argument well enough to observe that I was accusing KoF of moving the goalposts, not Skeptico.

and

"If you're too lazy or biased to re-read and spot them, I don't care what you demand."

and

'So Skeptico, perhaps you should develop a little humility and do the work to learn the subject before you spout off.'

and the hilariously absurd appeal to authority of:

"I was an undergraduate plant breeding major at Cornell, and I'm a hobby plant breeder even now 35 years later."

And this, which is little more that Mike being a parody of himself, but was in fact what he wrote in all seriousness as if it were a valid argument:

"I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school)"

LMAO.  Oh you don't think you're infallible, noooo.

You need to write to express not to impress and certainly not to obfuscate.  We were discussing GM and you decided you would muddy the waters by slipping in the words "such as" so that you would appear to be writing about GM but could later claim you weren't.  That's a logical fallacy called equivocation. 

(5) When I was pointing out that soybean prices had been falling for roughly the last 25 years (in response to his irrelevant point that they were up this year), he responds that "GM has only been planted for ten. Kind of ruins your complete argument, doesn’t it?" This too is irrelevant.

No - totally relevant.  We were talking about whether or not GM had caused problems for farmers.  Although I realize you still want to equivocate, because that's the only way you can pretend your argument made any sense.

(6) "I made no strawmen." A clear denial of his rewriting what I posted.

As I wrote above, if I misinterpreted what you wrote it was just an honest mistake - as evidenced by the phrase "I think you are saying...".  "I think" shows I wasn't sure, and I deliberately used that wording so that if I was wrong you could say, "no, that's not what I meant..."   An honest mistake, especially if expressed with some doubt (as I did), is not a straw man.  Of course, that only works if the other person (you) is a reasonable person and is actually interested in debating honestly.

(7) Skeptico wrote "I’m sure it’s true that GM hasn’t (yet) resulted in significantly higher productivity or lower costs." When I pointed out a specific sales pitch that contradicted him and asked him for his source, he turns around and asks me for mine. No response to the request for his own source.

1) I gave you my source – it was the person whose post inspired mine - Meredith Niles, who wrote: “not a single GMO is commercially available that is designed to enhance nutrition, increase yield potential, tolerate drought, or manifest other attractive traits touted by the biotech industry”. I think she may be right for commercially available seed. Of course, if you prefer to believe Monsanto’s sales pitch, that’s up to you.  Not very skeptical of you though.  You really want to stick with Monsanto as your source?  Really?

2) I didn't "turn around and ask" you for your source.  On the contrary, you are, in fact, the one who "turned around" and asked me for my source, while not providing a source for your claim that you made first.  You made this claim first:

Yes, they are compelled by the stark choice of GM or bankruptcy. And Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM.

That was your claim.  One that you have still not substantiated.   Compelled by the stark choice of GM or bankruptcy?  Really?  Source please.  And Commodity prices drop due to technological improvements such as GM?  Source please.  And not just a graph of prices going down.  A source that shows prices are going down due to technological improvements.  Correlation is not causation.  Source please.  Your claim.  You made it first.  And to make it relevant to this discussion, explain what GM has to do with it.  Yes, you were, in fact, clearly the one who "turned around" and asked me for my source, although you made your claim first.  Again, as always, you accuse your opponents of doing exactly what you are in fact doing yourself. 

(8) Skeptico seem incapable of realizing more than a dichotomy when discussing why farmers oppose GM. He states the choices as (a) buy or (b) don't buy. But it is obvious that there are at least 3: (a) buy from a monopolist or (b) don't buy from a monopolist or (c) don't allow a monopolistic entry into the market.

To call a false dichotomy you have first to demonstrate that there is a viable third alternative.  Your option (c) exists only in your fanciful imagination.  Meredith was writing about the current situation where a monopolist (Monsanto) is already in place.  That was the premise of the question, and so it was not a false dichotomy at all.  In addition, I am well aware that there are other strategies that can be employed for people who oppose GM, and/or who specifically oppose monopolists such as Monsanto.  For example, the Center for Food Safety's Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers Report has a section (it starts on page 49) of how to achieve just that.  But these are technical legal strategies, certainly not a viable choice an individual farmer can make when he's deciding what seeds to buy this year as you are laughably implying.  Sorry, but your false dichotomy claim is just ridiculous.

What was that you wrote about newbies and logical fallacies, again?

But please, feel free to get into your time machine and go back to a date before Monsanto gained its monopoly and then don't allow their monopolistic entry into the market.  Good luck with that.  Come back and tell us how it went.

(9) And here's the funniest one of all. Skeptico proclaims himself the winner of the debate! "You need to learn not only the humility that you hilariously think I need, you also need to develop a coherent argument and learn how to write it down.

And I I've demonstrated the truth in that, in my arguments above.

Because you haven’t even come close to making your case so far." Ooo, he's qualified to judge me and my argument, despite the fact that he has no visible qualifications at all.

Which is ad hominem.  Of course, we should all honor Mike's status as a hobby plant breeder and elite public high school teacher.  Clearly that makes him the expert on genetic engineering.

And he expects us to believe him. Because he's got to be infallible, no doubt.

No, because of the arguments.  But nice straw man.  Which you will no doubt deny (your point 6 above, I believe).

We skeptics are not infallible, and when we argue with each other, we cannot make the presumptions we make when arguing with the dogmatic. Dogmatic responses of our own are adequate for run-of-the-mill purposes so frequently that some skeptics seem to feel they must be infallible, and forget the critical reading and thinking skills that are essential to creating new, customized arguments.

Advice you would do well to take yourself.

Oh, and I left out one of Skeptico's most egregious blunders. He writes: "Oh give me a break. US farmers are not protected by subsidies? Where have you been?" Perhaps Skeptico is unaware of the greatly diminishing number of family-owned farms over the past century. Which is still continuing in the US, but not nearly as much in Europe of Japan where farmers have real protection.

I am aware of diminishing family owned farms.  Pray tell - how does this show there are not subsidies?  And please show your work.

Perhaps Skeptico is also unaware that subsidies are primarily corporate welfare, and not particularly aimed at family farmers.

And this is the best one of the lot.  According to Mike, corporate farmers are not real Scotsmen, er… real farmers.  Because, you see, I was replying to this point of Mike's: ”Farming here isn't really profitable at all without subsidies”  (Note - "at all".)  And, here's a funny thing Mike, I’ve read and re-read your piece, and I'll swear it says “Farming here” and not “Farming by family farmers here”.  In fact, I can't find the phrase "family farmers" anywhere in the words I was replying to.  What, you didn't think I'd notice you pulled a bait and switch?  Sorry Mike, corporate farmers are real Scotsmen, er I mean real farmers, your attempt to move the goalposts notwithstanding.

btw, to anyone not familiar, the no true Scotsman is the name given to the logical fallacy that is the sneaky bit of goalpost shifting that Mike tried there. 

Maybe it would help Skeptico argue if he actually knew something about the subject.

And we should accept I don't just because Mike says so?  Why should we accept Mike's judgment?  We've just analyzed the quality of Mike's arguments, and found them severely wanting. 

From the list of 11 bad arguments you're not supposed to use, Mike uses nine out of the eleven - some of them multiple times.  (I copped to two.)

Mike also relies on the following logical fallacies:

  1. Poisoning the well
  2. Straw Man
  3. Reductio ad Hitlerum
  4. False Dichotomy
  5. Reversing burden of proof
  6. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
  7. Non Sequitur
  8. Ad Hominem
  9. Appeal to Authority
  10. No True Scotsman

While the dozens of people who read your blog may be impressed with these rhetorical skills of yours, that doesn't work so well when confronted by another skeptic (myself.)   (And no Mike, that's not a "third grade" tactic.  That's quoting your own words back at you to show how vacuous they were.  You're welcome.)

After all your bluster, I am really not sure any more what your answer to my question actually was.  In fact, I'm not sure you ever really meant to answer it, since by your own words  you started this discussion to show that: "...Skeptico is a "total tosser"? [...]: that's one of the things I set out to demonstrate."  Your own words.  Yes - that's really what's behind this isn't it?  That's what you "set out" to do.  Thanks for admitting you were never even interested in honest debate or in making a positive contribution to the discussion.  Actually it increasingly just looks like you really don't know much about this subject, and that you're just using bluster and aggression to hide this fact.  But still, Jimmy Blue made a stab at interpreting your position, which was "farmers must buy GM seed in order to remain competitive because of the various pressures on farmers resulting in particular from technological advances reducing commodity prices".  Assuming that is what you meant (and if not, that does not make this a straw man), it does not answer my original question which was:

Why would farmers continue to pay for GM seeds if doing so reduced their overall profits and/or increases their debt?

If GM makes them more competitive then they must be better off (ie not reduced profits) even after the cost of the GM seeds.  Remember, reducing profits and increasing debt was one of the bad things GM is supposed to be responsible for.  And I still see no reason to blame GM for this.  In fact, if other technological advances have reduced commodity prices (which is a reasonable assumption, even if you can't actually back it up), then according to this argument GM has helped farmers.  Alternatively, if GM seeds are too expensive, then farmers will not buy them, as reported in your own recent link: "the demand for GM seeds is price responsive and showed that the high price set by the monopolist supplier is the major constraint to wider adoption".  Translation - if they cost too much, farmers don't (have to) buy them.  And yet, as Jimmy Blue wrote, the paper (your cited paper), "mentions no subsequent increase in farm bankruptcies".  So where do you get the idea that not using GM results in bankruptcy?  You didn't just make that up did you?

Now, if you want to try to actually answer my question and contribute to the debate, you still have the opportunity.  Or you could continue your customary attempts with rhetorical tricks and fallacious reasoning to "win" what you think is an argument with me.  Up to you, but I'm not holding my breath for the former. 

 

I just had to comment on just one more thing:

Mike Huben wrote:

Oh, and let Skeptico defend his own self. He won't be helped by you two. A claque just makes him resemble a cult leader.

1) I find this very telling about how Mike views this discussion – a contest with attackers and defenders, winners and losers, rather than a discussion in an attempt to increase the sum of knowledge. I could be wrong here (I can’t read minds), but I don’t think anyone is posting to “defend” me; they post when they see flawed or absurd arguments that they want to skewer. But Mike’s idea of “defenders” again shows us where he is really coming from – not from a position of wanting to get to the truth, or to add to the sum of knowledge, but to “win” an argument. You should note that my original post was a question, not a firm position that I felt I had to hold. Only you, Mike, saw this as a battle to be won.

2) What a nerve telling people they shouldn’t respond if they want. Newsflash – this isn’t your blog Mike and anyone can reply. In fact, I encourage discussion. The real trouble here Mike, is that you just can’t bear to have anyone disagree with you. Well Mike, to quote someone we’re all familiar with (you), if you can't take it, maybe you shouldn't dish it out.

3) “claque”? If you really meant “an organized body of professional applauders” (as Wikipedia defines it), this is just absurd. Professional? Applauders? No. Unfortunately for KoF, Wikinite, Jimmy Blue and the others, no one will be getting paid for commenting here. Sorry guys.

And sorry Mike – if people disagree with you it is because they have seen through your bluster the way I have, not because of any cultish following that you fondly imagine I possess.

Skeptico wrote:

And really - a hobby seed breeder who studied agriculture 35 years ago. Really? Clearly therefore an expert on genetic engineering.

You know, I hadn't thought about that.

This further adds weight, I think, to the position that Mr Huben was arguing from authority and not, as he implied, making a case for his expertise adding more potential 'truth value' to his argument.

35 years ago means a lot of change. It means your experience is at best of limited relevance, in particular because of the speed of change in technology. It means your experience really adds little to your position. It means that you were trying simply to use a qualification as authority and evidence for the validity of your argument.

I mean, should we add more weight to the argument of someone who studied software engineering 35 years ago?

As for bringing up your hobby breeding, that is like me trying to argue that because I play table top wargames as a hobby I know about military operations and battles and people should give anything I say on those matters more weight than someone who doesn't play with toy soldiers.

My response is being "held for review".

You can read it at: Enough pissing match with Skeptico for me.

..............................................

Note:

Comment released - see above. btw, the comment was not held by me for review, it was held by TypePad's spam filter that I have no control over.

... Skeptico

Mr Huben:

Skeptico (and others) quoted my statement: "I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school)". He wrote:
"LMAO. Oh you don't think you're infallible, noooo. You need to write to express not to impress[....]"
Ah, a perfect example of that old creationist favorite, quote mining. In context, I wrote that sentence as part of an explanation of why I would not waste my time answering demands for explanation from every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Not as a statement of authority in agricultural economics.

Once again you miss the point.

What is the difference between the following:

I get paid to teach (at an elite public high school), and my students work a hell of a lot harder than you do.

And:

I get paid to teach, and my students work a hell of a lot harder than you do.

In meaning? None. In terms of your stated aim? None.

Why then was it necessary to include the statement in parentheses? What was the purpose? If you have been quote mined you should have no problem explaining why it was necessary to include that statement, and why there is a difference between the sentence that includes it, and the one that does not.

You can tell a lot about a person and a person's aims from not just what they write, but how. The point in question could have been made by not mentioning a school, we know what getting paid to teach usually means. It could have mentioned getting paid to teach at a school, at a high school, at a public school. But instead you chose to add elite with all that implies.

Taken in the context of the entirety of your posts here (and not in isolation as you would like us to), the statement clearly stands out for what it is.

Holy crap, a bunch of essays! Run for your lives!

Jimmy Blue:

You make a good point. I would also add that “I get paid to teach” means just the same as “I teach” or “I’m a teacher”. I guess “I get paid to teach” sounds more important. And he accuses me of being pompous. Although I’m sure he’ll have his own definition of “pompous” that won’t apply to him.

You know, it’s almost as if he reads his own posts, determines all the errors and fallacies in them, and then writes that I am employing he exact errors and fallacies he has just identified in his own writing.

@Mike Huben

Please clear up this curious string of exchanges:

You wrote (on the first page):
"Maybe free-market uber alles ideologues demand farmers deal the way other businesses do, but farming is an exceptional sort of business."

Skeptico called this reductio ad Hitlerum:
"what other context of the German phrase "uber alles" is there but "Deutschland uber alles" and Hitler?"

You rightly point out that it is a misconception that "Deutschland über Alles" is connected with the Nazis. Indeed, it was originally a call for unification and became the national anthem during the Weimar years. (The über Alles part has long been dropped because of this misunderstanding.)

You attack Skeptico, saying:
"Your contention that there is no other context is merely due to your own cultural ignorance, susceptibility to WWII propaganda and lack of research."

But look again at your original wording and tell me exactly what connotation you intended, if not a Nazi connotation:

"Maybe free-market uber alles ideologues demand farmers deal the way other businesses do, but farming is an exceptional sort of business."

I read that exactly the same way Skeptico did. To me your usage looks exactly like the normal ignorant stereotypical usage. Now it could be that I am ignorant of some new usage of "über Alles" which does not have Nazi connotations. (I live in Germany and the only I English I get is through the web, so I'd be quite happy to find out if that's the case.)

.....So, if you were NOT comparing free-maket ideologues to Nazis, what were you comparing them to? Free-market uber alles ideologues of the kind who were extant in the Weimar Republic? Free-market uber alles ideologues of the kind who promote national unity?

What is this new non-Nazi meaning of "über Alles", of which I am so foolishly ignorant?

Oh, well, I may be a worthless, grovelling know-nothing, but at least I know how to spell "weasle" ("weasel"), and the fact that plurals do not take the apostrophe (Hari Krishnas, not Hari Krishna's).

Irrelevant to the argument, perhaps, but interesting that Mike seems to love using words like defeasible, pyrrhonic, claque, et al in a seeming attempt to parade his erudition. Standard terms would do, but there seems to be a deliberate choice to use less accessible vocab.

I'm already familiar with the terms, but the "educated" vocabulary, allied to the dense and prolific verbiage, makes difficult reading for most people, which is not warranted by the limited abstruseness of the subject matter. I would hope that a qualified and paid teacher at an elite school makes his points a little more clearly and concisely to his students!

It's not difficult to write like that (pseudo-highbrow and impenetrable), but it sounds more like an attempt to try to blind with science than the work of a teacher - "Look how educated I am!". It's actually best to teach something using the briefest, clearest examples that get the concept across.

The impenetrable writing style along with some basic spelling mistakes makes me wonder about Mike's claimed educational status.

As for being on the front page of the Boston Globe, how long has that been a mainstream peer-reviewed science journal?

If he was on the frot of Scientific American at least, that would make me feel more confident.

If he's a teacher, and he writes like this, I'd hate to have any kids of mine go to his classes.

However, I don't seem to know how to use end-italics tags properly. I am humbled.

........................................
Fixed - Skeptico

Mr Huben:

Assume two farmers, A and B, both of whom have identical farms and grow identical traditional crops. Both net $50K/year.

Ok, let's. This will be fun.

Farmer B switches to GM seed, which gives him a lower cost of production (we'll assume that he produces the same yield, though that's not necessary.) The lower cost of production comes from less use of fuel that offsets the higher cost of seed. Now, A makes $50K, and B makes (lets say) $70K. Oooo, looks like GM is a good thing and doesn't hurt farmer A!

Or, here's the less simplified and biased version:

Farmer B switches to GM seed, which could be (according to the paper you cited) up to five times more expensive, which should give him a lower cost of production. Provided the GM seed has been designed to offset one of the problems he has had - say poor soil, low precipitation, pest or insect problems (we won't assume he has the same yield because the evidence for this appears to be overwhelmingly against GM seed providing either equivalent or higher yield. It is more likely his yield is reduced by 5-10%. So now he has two reducing factors acting on production - lower yield and higher seed cost). Farmer B will probably have a lower cost of production [why just saved fuel incidentally?] provided all things are equal.

However, what if they aren't? What if farmer A gets a lucrative contract to provide commodities to organic businesses who don't want GM crops in their supply chain? What if the demand for non-GM crops increases as the prevelance of GM crops grows? What if, as part of his new contract, farmer A no longer uses pesticides and insecticides? What if there is no pest or insect problem this year and farmer A is still buying his cheap seed but no longer buying pesticide and insecticide? What if this year has better growing conditions than normal and farmer A does not need the drought resistant GM crop to produce a higher than normal yield?

Now A could make $50k, or $60k, or $100k, and B makes (lets say) $70k, or $40k, or $30k, or $90k. Oooo, looks like the risk of buying GM crops is not as simple as Mr Huben wants us to believe, because it could or it could not harm either farmer.

But wait! Farmer B has shown that this land can be more profitable. That means that the value of the land goes up, which means that the rent or taxes or both go up. No matter how little they go up, farmer A is worse off. The GM seed company observes the profitability, and as a monopoly, raises its price to consume that new profit. Indeed, the seed company can raise the price until farmer B makes as little as farmer A, because B's alternative is to do the same as A and make as little. Now both farmers are worse off. But because of the stickyness of land prices and long terms of loans, mortgages, and property tax rates, the lower earnings can stick.

But wait! Farmer B has shown that this land could be more profitable if everything is the same as it was the year before and there are no extenuating circumstances. Hold on though! Farmer A has shown that there are alternatives to increasing productivity or income even if you don't use GM seed, so farmer A has shown that his land can be more profitable. That means that the value of the land goes up, which means that the rent or taxes or both go up. No matter how little they go up, and depending on any number of other possible occurences, farmer A or farmer B could be worse off. Or neither of them could be. Or both could be. The GM seed company observes the profitability, and as a monopoly, raises its price to consume that new profit. Farmer B then decides not to buy the GM seed next year (as farmers in Argentina did, see your paper for the evidence) and instead takes one of the routes that farmer A did to increase his profitability. Or he decides to use illegal GM seed, which isn't as productive, but is cheaper. Or he lives in a country that didn't grant a patent on the GM seed he uses and there is no monopoly (once again, check your own paper for the evidence of this). Indeed, the seed company can raise the price until farmer B makes as little as farmer A did originally, because B's alternative is to do the same as A and make as little as A. Or maybe as much as farmer A potentially can through directing his operation in new ways. Now both farmers are worse off. Provided farmer A isn't better off. And provided farmer B hasn't decided to change to farmer A's new farming and business practises. And provided the monopoly, if there is one, doesn't have to lower prices because the price of the equivalent non-GM crop has fallen (check your cited paper for how this works). And provided that national governments don't relax intellectual property laws to an extent that makes using illegal GM seed a viable option because fines are negligible or rarely enforced (check your cited paper for how this is a possibility). But because of the stickyness of land prices and long terms of loans, mortgages, and property tax rates, the lower earnings can stick. If there are lower earnings. And there might be. It's possible anyway.

It gets worse. Because there seems to be new profitability due to GM, more farmers plant more acres to GM and the supply increases. Pushing down the price of the crop, and reducing profitability still further for A and B.

It gets worse. Or possibly better, depending on what else has or is going to happen. Because there seems to be new profitability due to GM (why just GM, haven't you be paying attention?), more farmers plant more acres to GM and the supply increases. Provided that farmer B didn't actually choose badly because of any of the things outlined above. Pushing down the price of the crop (possibly), and reducing profitability still further for A and B. Why A as well? I already said he might be doing better. If there is now more GM, he'll be doing even better now because the price of his non-GM crop might go up.

So, did everyone keep up? It might have gotten a little confusing, but bare in mind I only scratched the surface of possible alternatives to Mr Huben's little tale of dire GM induced woe.

I guess this might just be more complicated than some people might want us to believe after all.

Again I have to ask with Skeptico, why must a farmer buy GM seed?

Mike Huben says he’s tired of the “pissing contest”. I don’t blame him; so am I. But perhaps Mike needs to be reminded of exactly who it was who started the pissing contest in the first place: it was him. To quote Mike’s own words back at him, if you can’t take it, maybe you shouldn't dish it out.

I do agree with him on one thing though, that there’s probably no point in replying to his points line by line. But I will respond to a couple of pieces that were just so dishonest, that I really can’t let them go without some rebuttal.

First we have this. Mike wrote:

[Quoting me]"In fact, I don't think I've ever mentioned low food prices before, although I could be wrong." Well shucks, perhaps you should learn to search your own postings, or perhaps maybe even remember what you said. "If GM actually did produce low food prices, most people would view this as a good thing."

OK, I’ll now refresh Mike’s memory as to what actually happened:

  1. Mike writes “Commodity prices drop…”
  2. I reply with several points, including “If GM actually did produce low food prices, most people would view this as a good thing”.
  3. Mike replies, “Sure, people would view low food prices as nice. But there are other things people view as nice also, and confining your view to only one set of benefits is stupid.”
  4. I reply that I never said price was the only set of benefits I was considering (ie Mike was making a straw man – one that he still denies btw).

    I also replied that I didn’t think I’d even mentioned low food prices “before”. By “before” I obviously meant “before this exchange we were now having” – ie “before” Mike’s recent mention of commodity prices that I was replying to. Obviously I knew I had just mentioned prices, because if I hadn’t we wouldn’t be talking about it would we? Denying that wouldn’t make any sense. But I hadn’t mentioned it as a benefit of GM before Mike himself brought up the subject of commodity prices.


  5. Mike sarcastically cites my mentioning prices in point (2) above, as if he’s caught me out actually mentioning food prices “before”, contrary to what I wrote in point (4). Sheesh Mike – is your reading comprehension really that bad or will you really write just anything to make yourself feel good even when it’s patently crap?

Then we have this piece of nonsense, that Mike has repeated more than once. Addressing me:

That's why you bungled the difference between yield per acre and productivity.

Nonsense. The difference between yield and productivity are fairly simple to understand, and it is clear I do understand these different things from what I wrote in my original post:

”Please tell me, why would farmers continue to pay for GM seeds if they don’t get back that monetary investment either in reduced costs (labor, herbicides) or in increased yields?

The “reduced costs (labor, herbicides)”, are the increases in productivity Mike thinks I don’t understand. That I included in the original post.

Ah, that’s all I can be bothered with and I’ll bet that’s more than most people care about at this stage anyway. If anyone thinks Mike made a good point in his last post that I need to answer, then by all means let me know and I will. Otherwise, I’m content to let anyone read the exchange and decide for themselves who they think is making the more sense.

Mike’s Hypothetical

I do want to respond to Mike’s attempt to answer (finally) the actual question from my original post. Mike presents what he admits is a “hypothetical example”. Now, hypothetical examples are great things, and I’m sure we could all come up with hypothetical examples of our own, each ending differently from the one Mike presents (for example, see Jimmy Blue’s example above). But the thing we have to ask ourselves is, how does the hypothetical example stack up with reality? Because, no matter how logical the example is, or how plausible it sounds, for it to be valid you still have to compare its conclusion with what happens in the real world. Unfortunately Mike gives us absolutely no reason to suppose his hypothetical example reflects reality. Certainly no reason to suppose it is anything even resembling the norm. Remember, Mike’s original claim was the false dilemma he created (that he denies), that farmers are “compelled by the stark choice of GM or bankruptcy”. And yet, as both Jimmy Blue and I noted, there are numerous examples (some even from the paper Mike cited), where farmers decided not to buy GM, or they decided to go from GM back to non-GM, and yet by all accounts they are still in business. But Mike gives us no real world examples to support his latest attempt to explain what he thinks happens. Mike’s silly simplistic answer is therefore busted.

In summary, Mike, for all his purported expertise in this area, was in the end a dishonest debater, a whiner, and ultimately completely unconvincing.

Some final comments:

yakaru:

Thank you – that was exactly what I was getting at. You just expressed it much more eloquently that I did. Of course I knew that Deutschland über Alles wasn’t written by the Nazis nor is it connected solely with them. I was referring to Mike’s use of the words uber alles, which I believe was a Nazi reference, although he (of course) denies this.

Big Al:

You noticed that too? As I told Mike, write to express not to impress. Although actually, Mike ends up doing neither.

Jimmy Blue:

I can see why Mike said you were an excellent life-long student. Do you think he regrets saying that now?

I noticed an interesting error in Huben's example. He wrote:
Indeed, the seed company can raise the price until farmer B makes as little as farmer A, because B's alternative is to do the same as A and make as little. Now both farmers are worse off.

Nope. If the seed company somehow manages to raise the price exactly enough to capture B's entire consumer surplus - that is, by $20k/year - then B's net income is the same as A's: $50k/year. Which means the value of the land does not increase as potential land buyers should be indifferent between earning $50k/year (while spending a lot on fertilizer and/or pesticides) and earning $50k/year (while spending a lot on seed). And in that scenario there are also no extra profits to draw in more farmers whose output would drive down the value of the crop. In short, given that premise neither A nor B are worse off for the existence of the GM crop.

For the rest of the argument to work B really does need to keep at least some of his consumer surplus. So let us stipulate: Farmer B has a surplus due to the new tech; part of his surplus gets captured by others (tractor salesmen, taxmen, bankers, seed salesmen); part of what remains after that gets competed away due to price competition with other farmers driving down the value of the crop. At the end of it all on net Farmer B is still somewhat better off than before.

But Farmer A might not now be better off unless he's willing to sell the farm or switch to GM. Assuming A owns his own farm, his property taxes will go up because of B's higher productivity. If the GM crop is a substitute for whatever he's growing he'll also be hurt by the price drop. His best bet is to sell the farm (at the new higher price!) to someone who'll probably use it to raise more GM crops.

So in Huben's example the existence of GM does make *some* people worse off. But not the people who use it. The people made worse off are those who refuse to use the new technology and also refuse to sell their farm. (This argument of course "proves too much" in that it applies equally well to the introduction of any new farming technology. It's not GM-specific.)

There are undoubtedly some farmers whose livelihoods are negatively impacted by any technological change you can imagine and a sufficiently convoluted thought experiment might be able to isolate a few of them, but that's not the way to bet for the general case of new adopters. Especially given the near-impossibility of even a "monopoly" seed company capturing more than a small fraction of the value their product provides to those who purchase it.

Especially given the near-impossibility of even a "monopoly" seed company capturing more than a small fraction of the value their product provides to those who purchase it.

Just hold on there a minute... See, for example, this:

"The marketing strategy developed by biotech firms has been focused on farmers, the first customers interested in agronomic traits of GM crops. They have shaped farmers profitability expectations. In the case of herbicide tolerant crops, the marketing strategy was based on the concept of "technological package". Many biotech firms are selling both the GM technology/seed and the associated crop protection product. This allows for "combined marketing", including adjusting prices of seeds and chemicals and using the same distribution channels.

[...]

Some authors (Alexander and Goodhue 1999) have analysed the breakdown of profitability of GM corn between biotech/seed firms and farmers. For Bt corn, "although [their] analysis provides suggestive rather than conclusive evidence" they consider that "seed companies capture a significant, but by no means all of the net revenue advantage of Bt corn""

[My bold]

Whether that's really in disagreement with what I said depends on what those authors consider "significant" and "by no means all" versus what I consider "small". :-)

In theory if the seed companies had perfect information and could costlessly negotiate separate contracts with every individual farmer they could capture almost all the added value of their product. (Though there would then be little incentive for new customers to join or for existing customers to expand their use.)

In practice, even with additional information about chemical purchase amounts they won't have perfect information so they can't do perfect price discrimination. The reason they can't do it is that the value of the product varies from one farm to the next. Some farms are particularly well-suited to gain from their product and have a very large consumer surplus, others have a small one. If you try to set prices to capture all the surplus from the high-benefit farms, you don't get any sales to the low-benefit farms.

Some restaurants charge $500 for a meal but the "McDonald's" strategy (low margins, low per-transaction negotiating costs, higher volume) usually earns more overall even if it leaves money on the table with particular customers.

Still, even if they were to set a single commodity price and didn't sell a "package", there are going to be some farmers right on the margin, where the value of the product is close to the price being charged. If you could go find and survey just those farmers, your analysis will probably show the seed companies getting "most" of the profit rather than "a significant part, but by no means all".

Well, I'm having trouble digging up the primary source right now, but I don't see much chance of "significant but by no means all" having much overlap with "a small fraction"... The former to me implies (weakly, admittedly) on the order of 50% - maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less.

I'm really not interested in batting about hypothetical analogies. There is no particular shortage of solid primary literature on the topic out there if anybody cares to look for it.

you write:
Pusztai’s work is well known as pseudoscience many years ago and your quoting his name speaks a lot of your ignorance and/or dishonesty on this subject.

what is the evidence that Pusztai is a pseudoscientist? did the gmo potatoes damage the animals or not?

your statement contains basic grammatical mistakes and for me, at least, damages your
credibility.

A) Grammatical mistakes should never damage someone's credibility. We should give credibility based on the validity of a person's ideas.
B) I guess by your standards we shouldn't give you any credibility.
C) That was a minor point forever ago. Besides that, it wasn't even a neccessary point; a more damning one is that jeffery dach md's point directly contradict each other.

Jeff Smith's book, Seeds of Deception, compiles 20 years of data on the health risks of genetically modified foods from scientists such as Arpad Pusztai and Trudy Netherwood who reported that feeding GMO food to laboratory animals resulted in thousands of sick, sterile and dead laboratory animals.The book also reports on allergic reactions and toxicity in humans from GMO foods.

While American consumers remain oblivious, GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing or even labeling. Already 70% of our US food supply is GMO, affecting corn, soy, cotton seed oil and canola oil.

You wrote about Mr Huben's choice of words: "I would also add that “I get paid to teach” means just the same as “I teach” or “I’m a teacher”. I guess “I get paid to teach” sounds more important."


No, that's not it. It is simply that he is saying that time is money. You aren't paying him, so he is not going to bother with you. If he had just said "I'm a teacher", it would not make the same point. Some teachers might very well teach without being paid. He doesn't want to teach you unless he gets something out of all the effort put in. So I think his phrasing is better. It is not just because he wants to sound important.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search site