Yesterday morning, I read an article shared by Holly Spangler over at Prairie farmer, titled “When did science become a dirty word?”
The article, written by Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology, appeared on CNBC.com and hit on some of today’s most hotly debated topics, including climate change, vaccinations and GMOs. The week before last, The Truth About Trade and Technology posted a similar article, titled “On Vaccinations and GM Food: It’s Time to Accept the Scientific Consensus.”
It’s not the first time I’ve discussed this topic here on the Illinois Farm Bureau blog. In fact, just last month I wrote about how many of us seem to have trouble marrying scientific information with our own emotions and beliefs.
And in many cases, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation. Take, for instance, the three topics Enright discussed in her article. Most people don’t believe or disbelieve the data behind climate change, vaccinations and GMOs all together. In many cases, they may whole-heartedly believe in the science behind vaccinations, yet disregard the same peer-reviewed science backing GMOs.
As Enright said:
“Increasingly, consumers have been standing up for scientific evidence as being reliable on one issue, but questioning its validity on another, even when there’s an equally rigorous body of evidence. That’s because in the age of Google, social media, personal blogs and partisan media, it’s easy to find sources that reinforce a personal point of view. Sometimes it’s more convenient to believe your favorite blog with a similar perspective than time-tested scientific evidence to the contrary.”
So what’s the deal? Why do we continue to encounter the outright refusal to believe science-based information? Especially when, I would argue, this same predicament wouldn’t have happened a generation ago.
Enright believes it’s because, in the internet and social media age, it’s becoming easier and easier to find information that backs our own personal opinions, whether or not they’re right. In other words, we’re making up our minds on a topic, then finding the research, or non-research as the case may be, to support our own opinion. That, my friends, is decidedly unscientific.
Such is the case with vaccinations and GMOs. For both, the ‘research’ against is about as airtight as a fishing net. The difference, however, is a larger majority of Americans believe in the science of vaccinations than that of GMOs.
The reason? Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said, basically, it’s because Monsanto got too big for its britches.
In a recent article published in UK’s The Independent, Grant said the company’s ‘hubris’ played a role in consumers’ distrust for GMOs and the company had failed to appreciate public concerns over GM technology when it was introduced nearly 20 years ago.
“There never had been a lot of trust in companies, particularly not big companies and certainly not big American companies,” he said.
“[But] we were so far removed from that supermarket shelf, that was never something we gave a lot of thought to. We never thought about our place in the food chain.
“I think as an agricultural community in general — and Monsanto in particular — there is so much more to do to explain where food comes from and how it is produced and how much more we’re going to have to make.”
So how do we fix this? And maybe fix is the wrong word. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So maybe the better questions is, how do we bring science back? How do we underscore the importance of the scientific process, the data and the end results that show a particular finding is not only correct, but well-researched and safe?
I think Monsanto is on the right track by starting out listening to consumer concerns and answering questions.
You can’t un-ring the bell, but you can do everything in your power to make sure you’re prepared the next time the bell does ring. So ask the questions and listen to the answers. If you’re still certain that GMOs aren’t for you, that’s fine. But make sure you’re basing that opinion on peer-reviewed, sound science.