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Respected Analyst Says GMOs Could Destroy Life on the Planet

‘Invoking the risk of famine as a justification for GMOs is “a deceitful strategy, no different from…Russian roulette,” according to a statistician and professor at New York University.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar, statistician, Wall Street analyst and advisor, professor at New York University, and the bestselling author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He predicted the 2008 financial crisis by pointing out that commonly used risk models were wrong. (He was correct, and he became quite wealthy from the strategic financial decisions he made at that time.)

Now his analysis of our use of genetically modified organisms shows that GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet.” Taleb and his two co-authors argue that calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays “a very poor–indeed warped–understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.”

Taleb believes GMOs fall squarely under the rule that we should always err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous. This is not just because of potential harm to the consumer, but because of systemic risk to the system, which in this case is the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet:

Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom-up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.). There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.

The interdependence of all things in nature, Taleb points out, dramatically amplifies risks that may initially seem small when studied in isolation. Tiny genetic errors on the local scale could cause considerable–and even irreversible–environmental damage when the local is exported to the global. The lack of understanding of basic statistical principles, he says, is what leads GMO supporters astray:

The interdependence of components [in nature] lead[s] to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones…Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.’

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