On May 24th, 1844 a telegram was sent from the Capitol because Samuel Morse, the inventor, wanted a government contract. Because he was diplomatic, he let the daughter of Henry Ellsworth, first Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, draft the message. And because young people need to Live In Important Times, the message proposed by young Annie was "What Hath God Wrought.” (1)
There was fear. Fear of electricity in wires and its effect on humans, fear of rapid communication meaning more false claims making their way around the world - "Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth?" - and the paucity of thought telegrams required, like older people fear emojis that replace words in text messages. Humans have an evolutionary mandate to fear, nature is out to kill us and everything else, and science has always battled that fear the same way it has battled nature when it comes to disease and the elements and food.
While science and technology always fight for progress, there have also always been people who worried about that. Sometimes for good reasons. Early steam trains had to be tested using dogs because it was unclear if the human body could go 25 miles per hour for long periods of time without our organs being affected. Testing solved that and progress marched on. Yet in the modern era, where people act not out of public concern but because they are paid to promote fear and doubt, no amount of testing will help. A train would not get approved due to lawsuits and claims that such an evil FrankenHorse 'needs more testing.'(2)
Weedkillers like atrazine and glyphosate, and therefore farmers and shoppers, suffer due to such thinking now. Lacking any evidence of harm, activists and their carefully placed allies in epidemiology insist the harmful effects are real, scientists have just not found them yet. They embrace homeopathic beliefs like endocrine disruption and dream up stories of chemical cocktails. It is not just chemicals, being anti-biology is also wildly profitable. The Non-GMO Project is a financial juggernaut, but GMOs, the most recent form of genetic engineering on the market, have never harmed plant, human, or other animal in decades of use. Despite the science proving GMOs completely safe, Non-GMO Project sells stickers for nearly 70,000 products. There are only 11 GMOs on the market. To line their pockets anyway, they sell stickers for products like salt. Anti-science Luddites who buy their clients' products are so clueless they think salt is an organism with a gene that can be modified. Salt.(3)
To future generations, people who embrace this folklore and shamanism about agricultural progress are going to be derided the way we now look at old articles claiming that too many books were going to cause the brains of children and women to rot. Parents were told by the same kind of social authoritarian busybodies that now dominate states like California to worry if their children played outside too much.
It seems ridiculous(4) but so is the notion that a weedkiller which only acts on a biological pathway found in plants can cause human cancer. Or that a drop of a weedkiller in water equivalent to 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools will turn frogs 'gay', as famed weedkiller activist Professor Tyrone Hayes of Berkeley termed it. Or at least change their voices. Neither of which he ever showed data to prove.
He didn't need data, he had a group of professional protesters repeating the weedkiller equivalent of the claim that the telephone would create bad manners in those who used it.
People who fear progress never know how backward they look while claiming they see something scientists can't see. Yet young people of the future will.
(1) His effort failed, government did not fund it. Good thing too. After its failure to get government money, the private sector took over and put up 10,000 miles of line and communication took off. Had the government taken it on, we'd have a porkbarrel mess like cable television and solar power.
Issue changes, but young people still need to live in important times. American actor Timothée Chalamet is equally convinced the apocalypse is just around the corner and buying a ticket to his new film will make you feel better about that.
(2) The plight that holds back beneficial products like Golden Rice for poor countries - because it was a free effort by scientists, no company behind it, environmentalists easily blocked it with their own highly-paid attorneys.
(3) Meanwhile, mutagenesis, the less-precise precursor to GMOs, created when plants are dunked in chemicals and bathed in radiation to force mutations, is certified organic. Literally thousands of products are on the market, but since they already were before the anti-GMO craze took off (blame King Charles III) they get the fancy sticker sold to them by 80 companies in the US who stay in business by selling organic stickers.
(4) Writing in The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance details worries like that the telephone would make the left ears of people different than the right. Sound crazy? It actually sounds a lot like the many weird epigenetics claims we have had in the last 15 years. Epigenetics is a valuable tool for anti-science activists because it covers so much ground, literally any change due to anything, it can't be proved wrong.
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