Everybody Hates Vegans, More Accurate CRISPR Gene-Editing, and Welcome to the Anthropocene

A scitech research and policy round up for January 8, 2016



Omnivores Discriminate Against Vegans/Vegetarians

The dislike that dares speak its name: Omnivores tend to express negative evaluations of vegans and vegetarians.* This is the startling finding reported by Canadian psychologists in their new study, "It ain't easy eating greens: Evidence of bias toward vegetarians and vegans from both source and target," in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relationships. From the abstract:

Vegetarianism and veganism are increasingly prevalent in Western countries, yet anecdotal expressions of negativity toward vegetarians and vegans are common. We empirically tested whether bias exists toward vegetarians and vegans. In Study 1 omnivores evaluated vegetarians and vegans equivalently or more negatively than several common prejudice target groups (e.g., Blacks). Bias was heightened among those higher in right-wing ideologies, explained by heightened perceptions of vegetarian/vegan threat. Vegans (vs. vegetarians) and male (vs. female) vegetarians/vegans were evaluated more negatively overall. In Study 2 omnivores evaluated vegetarians and vegans more negatively than several nutritional outgroups (e.g., gluten intolerants) and evaluated vegan/vegetarians motivated by animal rights or environmental concerns (vs. health) especially negatively. In Study 3, vegetarians and especially vegans reported experiencing negativity stemming from their diets. Empirically documenting antivegetarian/vegan bias adds to a growing literature finding bias toward benign yet social norm-challenging others.

Gene-Editing in Humans Gets Closer

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston report that they have created an even more precise version of the fantastically versatile new CRISPR gene-editing technology. As Nature reports the new version produces no detectable genome-wide off-target effects. Conceptually this moves the technology closer to being used to treat human beings. Late last year researchers reported using it to successfully treat a version of muscular dystrophy in mice.

Good-bye Holocene

Science is publishing an assessment by 24 prominent geoscientists who have concluded that we humans have sufficiently placed our marks upon the planet  such that we can declare that we have left behind the Holocene and have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The stratigraphic evidence includes "unprecedented combinations of plastics, fly ash, radionuclides, metals, pesticides, reactive nitrogen, and consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations."

One final note: Federal government nutritionists now say it's OK to eat eggs. Makes lacto-ovo vegetarians happy.

*Disclosure: I lived for many years with a woman who was a vegetarian and learned that a tasty meal does not necessarily require a meat dish. Also, some of my better friends are vegetarians.