A controversial question that you can help answer

We’re a little late with news of an interesting experiment. The people at Biofortified are crowdfunding research into whether animals really can tell the difference between GMO and non-gmo corn.

Biofortfied's corn cobs.
Biofortified’s corn cobs. Could a squirrel spot the difference?

By the time you read this, the experiment will be funded, but you can still join in, if you live in the USA.

It’s an idea I like a lot, with one or two small quibbles. For a start this is clearly an experiment of great public interest, though I imagine getting it funded through traditional channels would be near impossible. It also involves the public in running the experiment. I imagine there will be conspiracy theories if the result conflicts with vested interests, but putting the experiment into the hands of the public is about as open as you can get. Working with the public to find out what the truth is beats telling people.

My quibble is that each participant gets one corn cob of each type. If cobs were randomly assigned then half should show no difference in consumption anyway. They’d be a pair of either GMO or non-GMO corn cobs. This would help quantify the noise in the experiment to compare with the signal.

This cannot be done now. The participation was sold on the basis of everyone getting one of each. Someone getting two of one type could feel misled or ripped off, even if their data is equally important.

However, I’m being reviewer 3 here. The experiment will work well enough to test the idea anyway. It won’t convince anyone who knows they have all the answers already, but it will give a great demonstration into how science works.

Edit: And Karl Haro von Mogel has said that putting ears of each type in won’t be a problem, which would confirm that I’m being unreasonable.

While the fundraising has hit its target, you can still help by joining in yourself or funding a kit for a school.

  • The experiment would be of a better design if ears were randomly assigned into pairs. If the two ears cannot be identified as to NON or GMO that helps, but must agree here with Alun.