That seems to be where we are these days — at the intersection of science and emotion.
When it comes to the fork in the road where we have to choose between science and emotion, it seems as though most Americans are more comfortable following the emotional road.
According to a Jan. 29 NPR article, consumers like you and I view some of today’s most controversial scientific topics in a completely different way than do America’s top scientists. In fact, the two groups are on opposing ends when it comes to the safety of GMOs, climate change, human evolution, the use of animals in research and vaccines.
The report, published by Pew Research Center, was based on surveys of adults and, separately, a survey of scientists belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Take, for example, the public’s view on GMOs. It’s no secret that the use of GMOs in food is a hot topic. But for scientists, it’s a non-topic.
According to the report, only 37 percent of the public viewed GM foods as safe to eat, while 88 percent of the scientists viewed GM foods as generally safe.
And here’s the remarkable part: 67 percent of the consumers surveyed acknowledged that they lacked a “clear understanding” of the health effects of GM crops.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics found that more than 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA” —about the same number as those who support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.”
Here’s the thing: almost all food contains DNA, just like every human contains DNA.
We’re at the intersection of science and emotion.
Most adults pick the road marked emotion and most scientists don’t. In other words, it’s the scientists who, according to George Mason University communications professor Edward Maibach, can draw from a larger scientific knowledge base. They are able to detach themselves from the issue and, without emotion, understand the risks versus the benefits.
And why is that? Why are we more comfortable siding with our hearts than our brains? Why do we rely more on intuition than on the cold, hard facts? Are scientific studies not accessible to consumers? Or are they accessible but not easily understood?
The situation isn’t helped by the fact that seemingly, for every study that proves a theory, there’s another study to dispute it. And one can’t discount the powerful role that being a parent plays. Deciding on everything about an infant’s or child’s environment is an awesome responsibility. As parents, there are no do-overs. We get only one chance to get it right.
In the end, maybe we need to do the impossible and take both roads and consider our feelings as well as the science behind an issue, too.