The incidents are all too similar to what several people experience every day.
I logged on to Facebook to skim through the newsfeed of shared information of my friends. In the last few years, bar photos and party scenes have been replaced with engagement announcements, baby bumps, career achievements, first homes and an increasingly growing interest in health.
A shared article caught my eye.
It was promoting the March against Monsanto and warning fellow friends against the dangers of eating genetically modified corn. Since this has been over a year ago, the paraphrased statement shared that was burned into my memory was, “To all those I care about, please stop consuming GMO’s.”
This stopped me in my tracks. Here was someone I considered very intelligent, this someone I will refer to as “James.”
During college I moved to Bozeman, Mont., to work for the American Simmental Association for a semester. James and his fiancé kindly took me in as a roommate, and we bonded over a care for responsibly raised food and science based information. He was a Montana boy, born and raised, cared passionately about food and health – eating just about as much meat as he could deadlift (a lot). Shortly after I moved back to Kansas, James was accepted into a prestigious culinary school in Portland, Ore., where he perfected his already sharp culinary skills, and returned to Montana to help launch a very successful fast-casual restaurant in Bozeman.
Since then, James and I have interacted a few times on social media over his anti-GMO posts, and my pro-GMO posts. While both of us have remained civil in these exchanges (which unfortunately is not always the case when people discuss these topics) neither of us will budge, and the only common ground found has been an unofficial air to agree to disagree.
And then there is “Rachel.”
I met Rachel while working for an agricultural publication (not Vance Publishing), where she worked on the design team. In every essence, Rachel is very much a modern day pioneer woman. From canning food from her own garden, milking her own cow, chopping wood for the stove, to putting protein on the dinner table with a single shot of her bow – she possess and utilizes many skills to survive “off the grid.”
Yet, Rachel has a huge mistrust in science.
Not only has she openly shared warnings of GMO’s with her social media friends, she has taken a stance against vaccines.
Rachel has been one of the biggest shockers. Here is an educated woman who worked closely in production agriculture with a huge mistrust in production agriculture technology. And even more shocking of all, Rachel will keep her livestock up-to-date on health practices, but when it comes to the human side of things, will shy away.
But here are two productive and intelligent members of society who have been exposed to factual information and pseudoscience, choosing to die in the name of the latter.
Flipping through the pages of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic, I was greeted with the same question that has been taunting the thoughts of many in the scientific community. “Why Do Many Reasonably People Doubt Science?”
Author Joel Achenbach walks readers through a journey of the long-lasting wage on science by public misconception, which historically can be pinpointed when Galileo dared to say the Earth rotates around the sun. This stems to modern-day issues, such as a handful of American cities, including Portland, not treating the water supply with fluoride due to policy that was passed on a campaign of fear for human health due to extra chemicals in water – never mind the science that backs its claims on strengthening tooth enamel. The same distrust demonizes GMO’s, with caution given to the point of irrational behavior in opposition of the technology that has been occurring in nature since the dawn of time.
James and Rachel have no longer become the exception that flickers through social media newsfeeds – they are part of an increasingly rule.
But why? That is literally the multi-billion dollar question in an age of holding scientific information at arms-length, while proclaiming information based off of half-facts and discredited studies.
In Achenbach’s article, he digs up and presents this thought provoking information:
- “In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. “Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.
- Even when we intellectually accept these precepts of science, we subconsciously cling to our intuitions—what researchers call our naive beliefs.
- Most of us do that by relying on personal experience and anecdotes, on stories rather than statistics.
- We have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning. Science warns us, however, that we can deceive ourselves.
- Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. Like the rest of us, they’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias—the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe.
- Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.
- “Science will find the truth,” Collins says. “It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the second time, but ultimately it will find the truth.” That provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with.
- The “science communication problem,” as it’s blandly called by the scientists who study it, has yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believe—and why they so often don’t accept the scientific consensus. It’s not that they can’t grasp it, according to Dan Kahan of Yale University.
- Science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining tight with our peers.
- How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help.
- In science it’s not a sin to change your mind when the evidence demands it. For some people, the tribe is more important than the truth; for the best scientists, the truth is more important than the tribe.
Based off the information shared by Achenbach (which happens to be pulled from researchers), not every opponent of sound, scientifically based information is an ignorant, uninformed person. Misinformed? Most likely. Knowledgeable from some basis? Very. Confused? Absolutely.
While there are radical members of these opposition groups, who ignore constant outreach from scientists because they can turn a pretty penny by being the pot stirrers, (Food Babe and Jenny McCarthy are classic examples), there are countless others lost in the crosshairs of their targets, left to sort through endless trails of a heavily mixed scientific and false information – literally getting lost in translation.
Maybe now it’s easier to understand this.
A couple of months ago, at the start of the measles outbreak in California, Rachel was at the forefront of the anti-vaccine group, fueled by a posse of followers who dared anyone to oppose their reasoning. As more cases became published, more articles shared, by opinions spouted, something happened. The woman who openly protested against the benefits of vaccinations, seemed to shift. Rachel quickly became the knowledgeable leader of a solid pack, to a confused, concerned mom, only wanting the best for her child, but caught in the crosshairs with a simple, “I don’t know what to think anymore.”
Take the time to read “Why Do Many Reasonably People Doubt Science?” from the March 2015 issue of National Geographic. Your science may depend on it.