Course 1: Making Yogurt the Scientific Way

Lesson Goals

  • To introduce a series of videos about opinions in the GMO debate.
  • To consider how synthetic biology impacts people and the world.
  • The study the GMO debate with an open mind and reserving political judgement.


Key Terms

  • Hippies
  • Neckbeards




Hi everybody!  Welcome back to Synthetic Biology One. In this series, we are trying to understand the GMO debate by presenting different points of view in a non-boring way. The GMO debate is boring and here’s why: It always comes down to the same two sides: Hippies vs. Neckbeards.

What is hippie? A hippie is someone who knows nothing about science and therefore hates it. They have an irrational fear of technology and believe that everything that humans do to change nature is evil. They want to return to the pre-scientific age, back when disease and famine killed everybody all the time and a single tooth ache could kill you.

What is a neckbeard? A neckbeard is someone who loves technology more than people. This is an arrogant person, who thinks we have perfect control over the natural world. They trust every corporation and every scientific authority, forgetting that they can be careless, greedy and selfish just like anyone else. The neckbeard doesn’t care about nature or community because they never leave their basement, their computer, or their potato chips.

If you have ever followed the GMO debate, you have seen these two sides presented. Of course, it is always the other side who calls you a hippie or a neckbeard, never yourself. And the secret reality is: neither of these people exist.

The GMO debate has more than two sides, and more than two kinds of people who engage in it. If you are going to study synthetic biology, that means the GMO debate is part of your life. Whichever “side” you are on, you should do your best to understand what different people believe and why.

Maybe this will lead to a better GMO debate and a better GMO policy. Maybe it will mean we can compromise, work together, and find a GMO policy that works best for all the people of the world. Or maybe not. Maybe the GMO debate will go on for a long time and that’s OK too.

But at least. At least. I won’t have to read as many stupid boring comments on the internet about who hates science who cares only about corporate profits. All that crap got boring long ago.

So, for these videos I am going to take different opinions on GMOs from around the internet and present them. That’s all – just present them. I’ll try to get opinions from different backgrounds and different points of view, both supportive and critical of GMOs in different ways.

When you watch these videos, I ask that you you to not worry about whether you agree or disagree with the opinion being presented. Just turn that part of your brain off. It’s OK, you can have opinions again when we’re done.

Instead: ask yourself some questions designed to give you a deeper understanding of the debate.

First question: Where does this opinion come from? Who does it represent? Is it a business, a government agency, an activist group or something else? What country or regions are represented? Is this a single person speaking only for themselves or is it a large organization presenting shared ideas.

Second question: What is this person or group’s relationship with GMOs? How do they encounter, touch, or work with GMOs. Maybe they make or sell GMOs. Maybe they work to understand them through research. Maybe they buy them in the grocery store.

Third question: What do they want or advocate for specifically? It is easy to recognize when someone is pro-GMO or anti-GMO. But there is a lot more to it than that. What kinds of GMOs applications are they talking about. Research? Medicine? Food? What kinds of regulations or policies are they for or against?

Fourth question: What are their broader goals and how will their proposal help to achieve them? In other words – what is the point? How will their ideas make their world better, and in what way? Try to focus on their goals and logic, and not on whether you agree.

Our goal in asking these questions is to appreciate the GMO debate for the large and complicated animal that it is. It is not a question of two sides battling for dominance. It is about many actors giving the best opinions that they can from their position.

If you look at the GMO debate in this way, you may find connections that the stupid internet trolls can’t see. Different groups that appear to disagree will often share some common ground. Groups with different goals may find that they can benefit from the same policies for different reasons. Allies can become enemies and enemies allies. You’ll see how people can work together for a while but then break up and turn on each other and go and work with other groups.

Basically its like Game of Thrones except for science. And while that may not be easy to understand and it may not make everybody happy in the end, at least it’s not boring.

So until next time: please don’t send me political hate mail.



Course Curriculum