This is a three-part series on radical skepticism and the rise of conspiratorial thinking about science. Unfortunately it is all too familiar. As Alex notes, the series discusses how certain people (i.e. climate skeptics, the ID movement, and the tobacco industry) have cultivated a notion of super-skepticism in an attempt to discredit current scientific consensus. Sadly, crop genetic engineering has also often been the target of such attacks.
The book I wrote with my husband Raoul, Tomorrow’s Table,was only out on the stands for 2 weeks when I was accused of being a “corporate shill” because I proposed in the book and on this blog that food labeling should be informative and dared suggest that this is not always so easy to do.
Why do some people avoid debating the scientific evidence and instead fall back on reactionary responses? Jim Holt, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, cites a survey indicating that less than 10% of adult Americans possess basic scientific literacy. For nonscientists, it may be the sheer difficulty of science, its remoteness from their daily activities, “that make it seem alien and dangerous” (Holt 2005). Yet, the societal values that science promotes–free inquiry, free thought, free speech, transparency, tolerance, and the willingness to arbitrate disputes on the basis of evidence–are exactly the qualities needed when debating the future use of GE in generating new plant varieties. In the words of Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria and past Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development of the World Bank, an understanding of the scientific process is important “not just to promote the pursuit of science, but to yield a more tolerant society that adapts to change and embraces the new” (Serageldin 2002).
Misrepresentation of science for ideological or political purposes simply muddies the debate, and sadly, with respect to the GE foods, this often occurs.
Reposted from April 2008