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Nature: The science myths that will not die

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A Fish Aficionado

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I found this interesting as they're not the usual myths, like vaccines and autism, 10% brain usage, etc. I only summarized some of the findings.

Myth 1: Screening saves lives for all types of cancer
“People seem to imagine the mere fact that you found a cancer so-called early must be a benefit. But that isn't so at all,” says Anthony Miller at the University of Toronto in Canada. Miller headed the Canadian National Breast Screening Study, a 25-year study of 89,835 women aged 40–59 years old that found that annual mammograms did not reduce mortality from breast cancer. That's because some tumours will lead to death irrespective of when they are detected and treated. Meanwhile, aggressive early screening has a slew of negative health effects. Many cancers grow slowly and will do no harm if left alone, so people end up having unnecessary thyroidectomies, mastectomies and prostatectomies. So on a population level, the benefits (lives saved) do not outweigh the risks (lives lost or interrupted by unnecessary treatment).

Still, individuals who have had a cancer detected and then removed are likely to feel that their life was saved, and these personal experiences help to keep the misconception alive. And oncologists routinely debate what ages and other risk factors would benefit from regular screening.

Myth 2: Antioxidants are good and free radicals are bad

In December 1945, chemist Denham Harman's wife suggested that he read an article in Ladies' Home Journal entitled 'Tomorrow You May Be Younger'. It sparked his interest in ageing, and years later, as a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley, Harman had a thought “out of the blue”, as he later recalled. Ageing, he proposed, is caused by free radicals, reactive molecules that build up in the body as by-products of metabolism and lead to cellular damage.

Yet in the early 2000s, scientists trying to build on the theory encountered bewildering results: mice genetically engineered to overproduce free radicals lived just as long as normal mice, and those engineered to overproduce antioxidants didn't live any longer than normal. It was the first of an onslaught of negative data, which initially proved difficult to publish. The free-radical theory “was like some sort of creature we were trying to kill. We kept firing bullets into it, and it just wouldn't die,” says David Gems at University College London, who started to publish his own negative results in 2003 (ref. 6). Then, one study in humans showed that antioxidant supplements prevent the health-promoting effects of exercise, and another associated them with higher mortality.


None of those results has slowed the global antioxidant market, which ranges from food and beverages to livestock feed additives. It is projected to grow from US$2.1 billion in 2013 to $3.1 billion in 2020. “It's a massive racket,” says Gems. “The reason the notion of oxidation and ageing hangs around is because it is perpetuated by people making money out of it.”

Myth 3: Humans have exceptionally large brains

The human brain — with its remarkable cognition — is often considered to be the pinnacle of brain evolution. That dominance is often attributed to the brain's exceptionally large size in comparison to the body, as well as its density of neurons and supporting cells, called glia.

None of that, however, is true. “We cherry-pick the numbers that put us on top,” says Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Human brains are about seven times larger than one might expect relative to similarly sized animals. But mice and dolphins have about the same proportions, and some birds have a larger ratio.

Human brains are different from those of other primates in other ways: Homo sapiens evolved an expanded cerebral cortex — the part of the brain involved in functions such as thought and language — and unique changes in neural structure and function in other areas of the brain.

Myth 4: Individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style
People attribute other mythical qualities to their unexceptionally large brains. One such myth is that individuals learn best when they are taught in the way they prefer to learn. A verbal learner, for example, supposedly learns best through oral instructions, whereas a visual learner absorbs information most effectively through graphics and other diagrams.
...

“Learning styles has got it all going for it: a seed of fact, emotional biases and wishful thinking,” says Howard-Jones. Yet just like sugar, pornography and television, “what you prefer is not always good for you or right for you,” says Paul Kirschner, an educational psychologist at the Open University of the Netherlands.

In 2008, four cognitive neuroscientists reviewed the scientific evidence for and against learning styles. Only a few studies had rigorously put the ideas to the test and most of those that did showed that teaching in a person's preferred style had no beneficial effect on his or her learning. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the authors of one study wrote.

Myth 5: The human population is growing exponentially (and we're doomed)
Fears about overpopulation began with Reverend Thomas Malthus in 1798, who predicted that unchecked exponential population growth would lead to famine and poverty.

...

“Overpopulation is really not overpopulation. It's a question about poverty,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC. Yet instead of examining why poverty exists and how to sustainably support a growing population, he says, social scientists and biologists talk past each other, debating definitions and causes of overpopulation.

Cohen adds that “even people who know the facts use it as an excuse not to pay attention to the problems we have right now”, pointing to the example of economic systems that favour the wealthy.

The science myths that will not die
 

Toxi

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Myth 3: Humans have exceptionally large brains

The human brain — with its remarkable cognition — is often considered to be the pinnacle of brain evolution. That dominance is often attributed to the brain's exceptionally large size in comparison to the body, as well as its density of neurons and supporting cells, called glia.

None of that, however, is true. “We cherry-pick the numbers that put us on top,” says Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Human brains are about seven times larger than one might expect relative to similarly sized animals. But mice and dolphins have about the same proportions, and some birds have a larger ratio.

Human brains are different from those of other primates in other ways: Homo sapiens evolved an expanded cerebral cortex — the part of the brain involved in functions such as thought and language — and unique changes in neural structure and function in other areas of the brain.
This isn't really a myth though when humans do have exceptionally large brains compared to other primates.
 

Madness

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Disagree with the overpopulation comment as well. The fact that we're gonna be pushing 10 billion humans by 2050, is ridiculous because of the sheer unsustainability now. The highest birthrates are in the poorest nations, when you have to send humanitarian aid to prevent mass deaths due to malnourishment and starvation, it's not sustainable.

More food is also wasted weekly in countries like the US than can feed the entire population, but that'll never happen because of the modern consumer industry. I mean we just had a thread where it was about humans theoretically pushing lifetimes to 120 years old. That's just crazy, coupled with the sheer ecological damage that humans do, we're in another mass extinction event of not only fauna, but flora as well. People cutting down old growth forests to grow palm oil plantations for products, several important apex predators like Tigers, lions and sharks on verge of extinction, while other animals like blue whales, elephants hunted to extinction. You have people grenading waters killing reefs just to get fish to eat and survive etc. Maybe the top 20 countries in the world can feed their nations, but many are struggling, even in the US poverty is at an all time high.
 

Sakura

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Human brains are about seven times larger than one might expect relative to similarly sized animals. But mice and dolphins have about the same proportions, and some birds have a larger ratio.
Aren't dolphins (and mice?) considered pretty intelligent though?
 

A Fish Aficionado

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This isn't really a myth though when humans do have exceptionally large brains compared to other primates.

Neanderthals had larger brains that Homo Sapiens but the point is that it doesn't exactly correlate with intelligence, or rather evolutionary fitness.
 

Sesuadra

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Vaccines cause autism
Although there are some risks associated with vaccines, the connection to neurological disorders has been debunked many times over.

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) works through known mechanisms
Although it is widely used, there are only hints as to how it and other common drugs actually work.

The brain is walled off from the immune system
The brain has its own immune cells, and a lymphatic system that connects the brain to the body's immune system has recently been discovered.

Homeopathy works.
It doesn't.

lol. love the article. thanks!
 

Toxi

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Neanderthals had larger brains that Homo Sapiens but the point is that it doesn't exactly correlate with intelligence, or rather evolutionary fitness.
We still do have exceptionally large brains by primate standards, but yeah I missed the greater point they were trying to make.
 

Brakke

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We still do have exceptionally large brains by primate standards, but yeah I missed the greater point they were trying to make.

OP excerpted the wrong part of that one.

The myth that our brains are unique because of an exceptional number of neurons has done a disservice to neuroscience because other possible differences are rarely investigated, says Sherwood, pointing to the examples of energy metabolism, rates of brain-cell development and long-range connectivity of neurons. “These are all places where you can find human differences, and they seem to be relatively unconnected to total numbers of neurons,” he says.

The overall point is that a straight neuron count isn't particularly enlightening. Which like. I dunno if that's a thing it's really important to stand strong against? If people still walked around believing phrenology or saying that women are dumb because their brains are smaller maybe that's worthwhile?
 

A Fish Aficionado

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The overall point is that a straight neuron count isn't particularly enlightening. Which like. I dunno if that's a thing it's really important to stand strong against? If people still walked around believing phrenology or saying that women are dumb because their brains are smaller maybe that's worthwhile?

Some fMRI studies are modern day phrenology, especially the ones that get a lot of media attention like sex and brain size.
 

HORRORSHØW

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is the malthusian population-growth model inaccurate now? i remember glossing over it in a literature class in relation to smith's wealth of nations and the body politic a long time ago.
 

8-Bit Sunset

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So this is really just opinions going against other peoples opinions!

Interesting but at the end of the day, just that.... opinions.
One day Broccoli is good for you and the next it's evil.
Eggs are good for cholesterol, and the next day it's as bad as smoking etc..etc...
 

bobbytkc

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Grimløck;189601433 said:
is the malthusian population-growth model inaccurate now? i remember glossing over it in a literature class in relation to smith's wealth of nations and the body politic a long time ago.

Now? It it were ever accurate, we will be scraping algae off walls for food right now.

It was never accurate. A prime example of how extrapolation into the far future is wrong.
 

cameron

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The overpopulation myth is the one I see more often. Didn't know about the other four being widespread.
People attribute other mythical qualities to their unexceptionally large brains.
Tee hee. The article has a level of snark that I can appreciate.
 
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The article is conflating early screening with the actual operations to remove cancer tumors. Early screening can let you keep tabs on cancerous growths so if something does go wrong you have a better chance to survive with ones that can be cured through early detection. Am I wrong?

That said "agressive" early screening could be harmful but I want to know the exact limits of what agressive means. And also risk factors should weigh in on your descision for early screening right? I guess this could be an overall benefit but I'd still get checked for cancer. Maybe stricter regulations on benign tumors getting treated.

Maybe I'm just ignorant on the subject and need more info. If someone wants to correct me on this.
 

A Fish Aficionado

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Grimløck;189602240 said:
i guess malthus didn't account for science's ability to warp foodstuffs into suitable and more-easily replenishable resources.



The article is conflating early screening with the actual operations to remove cancer tumors. Early screening can let you keep tabs on cancerous growths so if something does go wrong you have a better chance to survive with ones that can be cured through early detection. Am I wrong?

That said "agressive" early screening could be harmful but I want to know the exact limits of what agressive means. And also risk factors should weigh in on your descision for early screening right? I guess this could be an overall benefit but I'd still get checked for cancer. Maybe stricter regulations on benign tumors getting treated.

Maybe I'm just ignorant on the subject and need more info. If someone wants to correct me on this.

A few articles worth exploring, way over my head.
Does mammography save lives? A new study shows that this is a harder question than you might think

The American Cancer Society’s new mammography guidelines: Déjà vu all over again
 

Lamel

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The learning styles one is very important. Often times I heard people complain in college that the professor does not use their specific learning style, but most of them were just being lazy. Learning styles matter more for the subject being taught than the person that is learning it. For example, organic chem should be taught in a visual learning style, not written out in prose.
 

Prophet Steve

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So this is really just opinions going against other peoples opinions!

Interesting but at the end of the day, just that.... opinions.
One day Broccoli is good for you and the next it's evil.
Eggs are good for cholesterol, and the next day it's as bad as smoking etc..etc...

Uh, no, you can't consider them just opinions if they are statements based on studies.
 

BocoDragon

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Disagree with the overpopulation comment as well. The fact that we're gonna be pushing 10 billion humans by 2050, is ridiculous because of the sheer unsustainability now. The highest birthrates are in the poorest nations, when you have to send humanitarian aid to prevent mass deaths due to malnourishment and starvation, it's not sustainable.

More food is also wasted weekly in countries like the US than can feed the entire population, but that'll never happen because of the modern consumer industry. I mean we just had a thread where it was about humans theoretically pushing lifetimes to 120 years old. That's just crazy, coupled with the sheer ecological damage that humans do, we're in another mass extinction event of not only fauna, but flora as well. People cutting down old growth forests to grow palm oil plantations for products, several important apex predators like Tigers, lions and sharks on verge of extinction, while other animals like blue whales, elephants hunted to extinction. You have people grenading waters killing reefs just to get fish to eat and survive etc. Maybe the top 20 countries in the world can feed their nations, but many are struggling, even in the US poverty is at an all time high.

The reason why it's a poverty issue is that humans uniformly under-populate when they live in developed nations. Middle and upper class don't have enough kids to even sustain the population. As you say, it's the people in poor nations who have the most kids. Raise their standard of life and they'll have the usual 0-1.5 kids that richer humans tend to have.

On the other hand... people in developed nations use 5x the resources as those who are in poverty. Oops!
 

uncelestial

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Overpopulation has nothing to do with poverty. What kind of Ayn Randian idiot wrote this crap? We are past the sustainability threshhold and there's no such thing as 100% of the world having a less-than-replacement-level birth rate, and that's what it's about. It has a lot more to do with controlling production than consumption; we have over-cultivated every useful resource in the planet and collapsed the entire ecosystem. Greenhouse gases don't give a fuck what the minimum wage is, nor do they care about the food-insecurity rate per capita; all they know is 10 billion people are going to be making them soon and they like hanging around in the atmosphere. "Myth" my motherfucking ass.
 

Madrin

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The one about learning styles makes sense. The more effort you put into learning new material, the better you retain the information. Catering to someone's "preferred" learning style means catering to the style that's easiest for them and requires the least amount of effort.
 

bobbytkc

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Overpopulation has nothing to do with poverty. What kind of Ayn Randian idiot wrote this crap? We are past the sustainability threshhold and there's no such thing as 100% of the world having a less-than-replacement-level birth rate, and that's what it's about. It has a lot more to do with controlling production than consumption; we have over-cultivated every useful resource in the planet and collapsed the entire ecosystem. Greenhouse gases don't give a fuck what the minimum wage is.


Developed countries have birth rates less than replacement. Therefore the solution is to develop developing countries and poor nations. The end.
 

A Fish Aficionado

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Overpopulation has nothing to do with poverty. What kind of Ayn Randian idiot wrote this crap? We are past the sustainability threshhold and there's no such thing as 100% of the world having a less-than-replacement-level birth rate, and that's what it's about. It has a lot more to do with controlling production than consumption; we have over-cultivated every useful resource in the planet and collapsed the entire ecosystem. Greenhouse gases don't give a fuck what the minimum wage is.

you want might to cite some sources.

Also, many countries are just overpopulated from lack of basic social services and sex ed.
It's absurd to think that those working for better sustainability aren't also working for a reduction of greenhouse emissions, or that the goals are at odd.
 

uncelestial

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BocoDragon

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Yes, only when all the world's poor people consume as much as Americans will our woes end. (eyeroll)

What will really reduce their birthrate is the higher education and higher standard of living...

...it is too bad it often comes along with high rates of resource consumption.....
 

uncelestial

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lol.

ok I fell for the troll.
So the London Zoological Society are trolls?



Stanford biology professors: Trolls


Marine biologists: Yep, trolls



PricewaterhouseCoopers: I *know* they love to troll


The UN: Those guys are fuckin HILARIOUS bro, check this dank troll out:


And this will all be fixed once every nation on earth is consuming at the same rate as the first world. Sure! I'm sure that's defintely a) a rechable goal, and b) the proper order in which to tackle these problems -- develop and consume like crazy now, so "overpopulation" solves itself -- wait to deal with sustainability until after everyone has cars, that'll work. Wait several generations for that birthrate to decline while we have the pedal to the metal. Sounds like a plan we can all agree on -- overpopulation myth DEBUNKED amirite?
 

A Fish Aficionado

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So the London Zoological Society are trolls?



And this will all be fixed once every nation on earth is consuming at the same rate as the first world, so "overpopulation" is a myth?

Must be nice.

mac does it better.
No. Mice are dumb. They're practically tiny, little, furry, cute robots.

Crows do have problem solving and tool using intelligence.
 

A Fish Aficionado

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Oh, I know, crows are like my favourite animal, and have been since I was a kid. If I hadn't gone into medial research, I'd be studying birds.

I'm also drawn to cuttlefish and octopus intelligence.
Yeah, I still eat them and that presents a moral quandary.
 

curls

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And this will all be fixed once every nation on earth is consuming at the same rate as the first world. Sure! I'm sure that's defintely a) a rechable goal, and b) the proper order in which to tackle these problems -- develop and consume like crazy now, so "overpopulation" solves itself -- wait to deal with sustainability until after everyone has cars, that'll work.

People will continue to bury their heads in the sand.
 

Oberon

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Neanderthals had larger brains that Homo Sapiens but the point is that it doesn't exactly correlate with intelligence, or rather evolutionary fitness.

In my biology class, we discussed about the theory that Neanderthals may have had tools first, and that Sapiens may have just copied them. (well my teacher did say that it's mostly speculation, and that we don't know much about the possible interactions between Homo Sapiens and and Neanderthals )
 

HoodWinked

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i thought this was going to be like bat arent actually blind stuff about nature not primarily medical studies.
 

A Fish Aficionado

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i thought this was going to be like bat arent actually blind stuff about nature not primarily medical studies.

I'm mostly working towards a medical degree, so tend to have my attention towards that, but I'd be willing to read any non-medical stuff.
 

uncelestial

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mac does it better
What are you even talking about?

People will continue to bury their heads in the sand.
So it would seem. And it also seems people who don't know what the word "biocapacity" means will start threads based on shitty clickbait listicles that hand-wave away the consensus of the world's scientific community. Such is life.
For now.
 

TheRedSnifit

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Maybe the top 20 countries in the world can feed their nations, but many are struggling, even in the US poverty is at an all time high.

Hmm.

The answer to the question "Do people in the United States ever die from malnutrition" is "Every day."

The answer to the question "Do people in the United States ever die from malnutrition chiefly as a result of not being able to afford food as opposed to other, less purely economic reasons," the answer is "Not really" or at least "Extremely rarely."

In the US, actually dying from lack of food is quite rare and generally involves other problems. If a person is incapable of feeding themselves, either because they're too young or infirm, lack of care can easily lead to starvation. This happens far too often, but doesn't generally indicate that the caretaker was unable to afford food as much as they were negligent or worse. A person who is mentally ill--as far too many of the homeless are--may wind up starving to death, but again, access to food isn't necessarily the primary problem there. There are sufficient shelters, soup kitchens, and hospitals in most communities that a person who truly has no money can keep body and soul together for an indefinite period provided they actually eat every few days.

As a purely economic situation, starvation does not really exist in any significant way in the US today.

---

Anyways, there's zero evidence that poverty rises in correlation with population. The World Bank, for example, suggests that poverty is hitting an all-time low despite our population. By almost any human measure—food consumption, life expectancy, access to clean water, etc.—life is getting better, not worse. Insistence that we've reached our limit has been around for centuries (you may remember the declaration in the '70s that "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death" in just a few years. Of course, no such thing happened), and there's no indication that they're suddenly right this time.

The ultimate irony here, however, is that population alarmists have been responsible for more human suffering that the catastrophe they claim to be preventing. You may remember India's massive and brutal sterilization campaign (with about 2000 women killed in botched procedures), or China hunting down women and forcing them to abort, or women in Africa being forcibly injected with contraceptives. The victims of this are invariably poor minorities - when they say there are too many people, they don't mean too many Swedes, they mean too many Africans or Asians or Arabs. These are unrecognized tragedies in the name of some bullshit pseudo-science, and those babbling about "overpopulation" should not be held in any higher regard than climate change deniers or anti-vaccers.
 
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Interesting. The learning styles one is kind of a trip.

They aren't saying it's objectively false, they are saying "We don't know". Ideally, there would be a good amount of articles, papers and evidence supporting it, but right now there isn't. Which makes perplexing the assumption that's clearly the best way to do it.
 

bomma_man

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People that panic about overpopulation remind me of people that panic about the debt, The argument rarely progresses beyond "don't you see?! Look how big this number is!!!"

That, and the problem is always attributed to the poor.
 
Feb 24, 2008
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Disagree with the overpopulation comment as well. The fact that we're gonna be pushing 10 billion humans by 2050, is ridiculous because of the sheer unsustainability now. The highest birthrates are in the poorest nations, when you have to send humanitarian aid to prevent mass deaths due to malnourishment and starvation, it's not sustainable.

More food is also wasted weekly in countries like the US than can feed the entire population, but that'll never happen because of the modern consumer industry. I mean we just had a thread where it was about humans theoretically pushing lifetimes to 120 years old. That's just crazy, coupled with the sheer ecological damage that humans do, we're in another mass extinction event of not only fauna, but flora as well. People cutting down old growth forests to grow palm oil plantations for products, several important apex predators like Tigers, lions and sharks on verge of extinction, while other animals like blue whales, elephants hunted to extinction. You have people grenading waters killing reefs just to get fish to eat and survive etc. Maybe the top 20 countries in the world can feed their nations, but many are struggling, even in the US poverty is at an all time high.

I agree with you. Human population may not grow exponentially, but it still grows too much. They say "it's a problem of distribution, as we already produce enough food for everyone!", except right now we produce that much food because we are doing in a unsustainable way. And the same with water, energy, other resources like forests...
 
Apr 10, 2007
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I agree with you. Human population may not grow exponentially, but it still grows too much. They say "it's a problem of distribution, as we already produce enough food for everyone!", except right now we produce that much food because we are doing in a unsustainable way. And the same with water, energy, other resources like forests...

Now I agree with you that we need to be more sustainable now but you discount how much technology can change things and how it isn't stagnant. Well, unless you are one of those anti-GMO people.
 
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