Out of his depth, Nassim Taleb bungles risk assessment of GMOs

In a July 13 commentary in the New York Times, financial gurus Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Taleb, neither of whom boasts any expertise in or understanding of the history or techniques of genetic modification, posit the possibility of it causing “complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem” that could lead to worldwide catastrophe.

They deserve the same level of credibility as the apocalyptics who regularly—and inaccurately—predict the end of the world. Maybe less.

Spitznagel and Taleb fail to understand the pedigree of “naturally occurring tomatoes.”

Breeders routinely use radiation or chemical mutagens on seeds to scramble a plant’s DNA to generate new traits. This contradicts Spitznagel and Taleb’s assertion that before the advent of modern molecular genetic engineering you “built a tomato” by “tinkering in small steps.” There’s nothing small about hybridizations that move thousands or tens of thousands of genes from related species into tomatoes.

The newest methods of genetic engineering–recombinant DNA technology and the new gene-editing techniques–are far more precise and predictable than their predecessors.

Related article:  Nassim Taleb is right: Supporters of genetically modified foods ignore uncertainties

It’s noteworthy that the imprecision of the earlier, pre-molecular techniques led to several prominent mishaps, including the introduction of a disastrous susceptibility of corn to mold (which in 1970 caused a significant reduction in the U.S. harvest), and new varieties of potatoes, squash and celery with (inadvertently) elevated levels of endogenous toxins. These kinds of unforeseen problems are vastly less likely with the newest techniques.

Because mishaps, significant or inconsequential, are far less likely with the late 20th century and 21st century genetic modification techniques, Spitznagel and Taleb have gotten the logic exactly backwards.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: The Most Imbecilic And Pretentious Commentary Ever Written About Genetic Engineering

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