by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
Here’s a human tendency it’s important to be mindful of when news media trumpet that some large supermajority of people polled want a restrictive safety regulation. (It’s also important to be mindful that answering poll questions tend not to include actual costs to people, and that stated preference shorn of an actual cost-informed decision is far less important than revealed preference.)
As I described it in my Policy Report “Facts on Fracking,”
chemical names devoid of their familiar context tend… to sound extremely dangerous to the general public. Conscientious researchers must be aware of this tendency. Unprincipled polling firms, special-interest outfits, and demagogues not only know it, they exploit it.
Researchers have demonstrated how easy it is to generate significant public support for an absurd ban of an unfamiliar-sounding chemical with certain dangers. The chemical, identified as “dihydrogen monoxide” to interviewees, is said to be “routinely used” by the chemical industry “in significant quantities,” “often leads to spillages and other leaks,” and worse, “regularly finds its way into rivers and into our food supply.”
Furthermore, this chemical’s listed effects include being a major component of acid rain, a contributor to erosion, a major greenhouse gas in its vapor state, a presence in the tumors of terminal cancer patients, and often fatal if accidentally inhaled. Given that information, over three- fourths of respondents favored banning the substance.
“Dihydrogen monoxide,” or H20, is more commonly known as water.
It has happened again. A poll by university researchers in the Department of Agriculture Economics at Oklahoma State University found that, well,
“83.46% of respondents stated that they support mandatory labels on foods that would indicate the presence or absence of—”
Of? Of what?
Worse, this was a consistent finding.