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Admitting You're Wrong Is Hard to Do

They say that breaking up is hard to do, but what's infinitely harder is to admit when you're wrong. When somebody publicly issues a heartfelt mea culpa, many people wrongly celebrate with an "I told you so" dance. However, that's not the proper response. Celebrating is okay, as long as we celebrate the "conversion" and welcome the person into the fold. 

Yesterday, Slate reported that long-time anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas admitted he was wrong about genetically modified food. His opening remarks were particularly poignant:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

Wow! That takes guts. He goes on:

What happened...that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

shutterstock_70521655.jpgChanging your mind when the data doesn't support your opinion is vital not only to being a good scientist or journalist, but a good human being. Indeed, as RealClearScience assistant editor Ross Pomeroy wrote, it is one of the keys to life. Because many facts have a half-life, all of our opinions should be subject to change. Besides, as astrophysicist Ethan Siegel correctly noted, there is tremendous power in admitting that you're wrong.

But Mr. Lynas wasn't the only one to issue a high-profile mea culpa in recent times. Here are some other famous "my bads" from 2012:

  • Physicist Richard Muller, author of the BEST study, now believes that humans are the primary drivers of climate change. He even refers to himself as a "converted skeptic."
  • Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer apologized for promoting the idea that gay people could be "cured."
  • Two political scientists admitted their model was wrong after they incorrectly forecasted a Romney victory in 2012 based on economic data.

Admitting wrongness is such an admirable quality that all of us should make it our (belated) New Year's resolution for 2013. 

Then, just maybe, there wouldn't be so many people breaking up in the first place.

(Image: Wrong via Shutterstock)