4 meaningless words: toxin, natural, organic, and GMO

The Logic of Science

News articles and blog posts are often full of buzzwords that are heavy on emotional impact but light on substance, and for scientific topics such as nutrition, health, medicine, and agriculture, four of the most common buzzwords are “toxins,” “natural,” “organic,” and “GMO.” These words are used prolifically and are typically stated with clear implications (“toxin” and “GMO” = bad; “natural” and “organic” = good). The problem is that these words are poorly defined and constantly misused. Their definitions are so arbitrary and amorphous that they are functionally meaningless. In other words, they do not add anything useful to a discussion without first attaching a list of qualifiers to them. They are often used in a way that shifts them into the category of what are referred to as “weasel words,” meaning that their use gives the impression that the author said something concrete and meaningful, when in fact the…

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