Critical thinking failures in published works
I've been watching for examples of poor critical thinking, and here are a couple of items to share, found in an article by Janet Lee, in Consumer Reports, via the Washington Post (August 23, 2022). Article title: "4 questions to ask about organic food".
"Is it healthier?" includes the following: "Bringing produce, whether conventional or organic, from a distance can have a bad effect on nutrients... And the United States imports organic food from many countries -- almost 100 in 2021...". Notice how the category of "produce" is subtly implied to be synonymous with "food". But of course "food" includes many items, such as grains, dry beans, dry pasta, canned meats, oils, and canned foods, some of which are highly stable and not eaten fresh whether produced locally or imported. Does this statement imply that organic produce is more likely to lose nutrients because it's more likely to be imported? Not if you parse it carefully. Then, what IS the point of juxtaposing these two factual statements?
"Does it have fewer pesticides? Yes. A small study ... revealed that people who switched from a conventional diet to an organic one had lower levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine. And, ... agricultural pesticide exposure has been associated with asthma, bronchitis, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson's disease, and certain cancers." What's missing here? There's no connection between the quantitative levels of pesticide acquired from food, and that acquired in other ways, such as by spending your workday mixing the pesticides and spraying it on the fields (where the level of exposure could be thousands of times higher). It goes on to say "Some research also suggests that children with greater exposure to certain pesticides are more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and that synthetic pesticides may disrupt endocrine systems...". Again, there's no quantification of the "greater exposure", and no assertion that these levels of exposure result from prepared food (and not, for example, attending a school next to a sprayed field, or being cared for in the field by a working mother).
"Is it bad for the environment? Yes. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can damage soil and pollute water. ... Nitrogen-based fertilizer ... is a major contributor to air and water pollution." What's missing here? There's no discussion of the potential for organic fertilizer to be washed out of the field into the water, too. A horse-owner of my acquaintance described the "nutrient management plan" that her farm needed to file with the county government, to ensure that the manure produced on her farm (which would be fine organic fertilizer) did not contribute to pollution. Maybe it's more likely to pollute with chemical fertilizers, but there's no comparison in this article. (And look again at the question: "Is _it_ bad for the environment?" The topic of the piece is "organic food", but in this question, the pronoun resolves to "conventional production"... I think.)
Now, I'm not arguing for or against organic food production. (I grow organically for home use, and buy organic food much of the time, in fact.) But today's point is to examine the rhetoric around this issue, and try to distinguish testable statements of fact from illogical constructs.