The Flounce You Least Expect

golden_flounceThe most amazing thing happened to me last night. I got my first ever Facebook Flounce!

Earlier in the day, I made an exasperated post on Facebook about how irritated I am with online debate of GMOs when people on both sides keep spouting complete bullshit. It was simple, really: “I swear, I’m really going to unload a tome on the next idiot that tells me that “selective breeding and hybridization aren’t genetic manipulation”!” The irritant isn’t that I think direct genetic manipulation is perfectly identical to selective breeding and hybridization, it’s that those who oppose GMO’s can’t even be rational enough to accept basic science, i.e. that they *are* genetic manipulation, if much less precise and with higher risk of unintended consequences.

The content of the thread is neither here nor there (if you care, you can find it at, but the results of the discussion are. A friend I know in real life from our local atheist/agnostic community is both a published author and fairly well read blogger. We’ll call him ‘Hank’. Hank is, generally speaking, a fairly rational fellow, if a bit dated in a few of his attitudes (he is, I believe, in his late sixties), but of late, he’s become a bit tin-foil hattish about the GMO debate, rejecting logical, science-backed arguments with ill temper and insults rather than actual discourse. Well, apparently my post rubbed him the wrong way, and he jumped in, metaphorical fists flying, telling me that a) I was saying that direct genetic manipulation and breeding are the same thing, b) that I was literally lying to people, and c) that I was not a “science-minded person”.

I have a diverse group of Facebook friends, because I enjoy spirited debates. I find that friends who are willing to challenge my positions force me to research them and think them through much better than I might otherwise. This diverse group descended upon Hank’s comments with surprisingly good temper, but little respect for his aggressive and ill-considered statements. He really got into it with them (all while I was AFK). When I returned, I followed through on my threat to ‘drop a tome’, with the following text (which I only include snippets of to show that I was trying to be mellow about the whole thing in retrospect):

Selective breeding is genetic manipulation. By selecting specific traits in an organism, inadvertently or not, you are picking genes you wish to express in *all* members of the breed. You isolate the gene or genes by selection, then breed the selected organisms to produce a new generation. You then again isolate the gene or genes by isolating the individuals with the best expression of the trait, meaning the gene or genes you desire. Rinse and repeat for several generations, until you have the best possible expression of the trait/gene. …..

Hybridization, on the other hand, is almost identical to direct genetic manipulation. You take a species that has a desired gene or genes and breed it with a member of the desired destination species’ original stock. From the children, you execute selective breeding as described previously, until all members have the trait. ….

Here’s the fun bit. Sometimes, the source species for the trait is too far away from the stock species to allow a first generation hybridization. When that is the case, you first hybridize the source species with an intermediate species that is closer to the stock species. Sometimes you do this via *multiple* intermediate hybridizations, allowing the gene to be scooped out of an entirely incompatible species, and placed into your desired stock species anyway….

Now, you can argue that direct manipulation is not *exactly* the same as breeding and hybridization, and you are trivially correct, in the sense that the definitions are not perfectly identical. However, if you argue this, you are, either through poor understanding or willful disembling, basically playing a semantic game, rather than reasonably contributing to the discussion. A good argument would include some kind of scientific evidence of an actual risk posed by GMO species (of which none exists).

Again, the content is not of issue, but the tone should be, in the context of what happened next. After this main response (there were other friends who had “called me” on my threat) I directly responded to a few of Hank’s comments from the thread, correcting several of his mis-characterizations of my position and outright counterfactual statements. Within minutes, one of the friends posting to the thread made a comment about how Hank had hidden his comments from them, so the thread looked a bit insane. I was kind of shocked, and pressed for details. A few moments later, I discovered that I too could only see a crazy patchwork of non-sequiturs in the thread, all of Hank’s comments missing. I checked, and realized that his last, aggressively angry, kinda crazy comment had only been for me (it was kind of a piece of insane art, I wish I had screen-captured it!), and he had subsequently not only unfriended me, but then blocked me from his profile as well!

SO, this mature, multiply published author and noted atheist blogger showed up on my wall, started a fight with my other friends, blithered ignorantly for a couple of hours, then, when no one would take his side or accept his arguments on faith, like a high school “mean girl”, he posted a barrage of personal insults just before unfriending and blocking everyone. I should probably be offended, but somehow, I feel like I’ve achieved something!

Great job, ‘Hank’, you’ve helped me win the internets!