I ran into a very interesting article on Reddit. It was talking about the gross negligence of both reporters and scientists who are writing about the harmful effects of GMO (genetically modified organism) foods. The scientists gave the reporters access to the study before it was published, as long as the reporters didn’t talk to anyone about it.
So, these reporters were given one story, the story this body of scientists wanted to get into the media, and they weren’t allowed to double check with anyone who might disagree.
This is not good science. The whole point of sharing results is so people find potential mistakes. Some of the most spectacular experiments turn out to be one hit wonders.
All these machinations of the scientists who published the GMO story were simple: they wanted to control the public narrative. With a general public that finds wading into matters scientific akin to wandering into a quagmire, getting in the first word is more important than getting the facts straight.
Look at the anti-vaccine movement. No science, all emotion. It preys upon the insecurity of parents, their terror that something they’re doing to help their child might actually harm them. The man was run out of England, the paper redacted, ulterior motives exposed, but still, people persist in the belief that MMR vaccines are linked to autism. No research supports this, the causes of autism are slowly being discovered, and the world is experiencing outbreaks of measles.
Another good example is the climate change narrative which is being driven by partisan politics. In the US, a larger percentage of Republicans do not believe in climate change. That’s because our scientific conversation about the topic was hijacked by people unconcerned with scientists. Thanks kids! Let’s hope all these scientists are just flipping out about nothing.
Of course, that leads into what popped into my head reading about GMO foods and their press problems—nuclear power needs to hire a better publicist. It’s actually a good option in an era of clean power, something which certainly deserves research dollars. Instead of building cleaner, newer, more efficient facilities, we have old ones. Why? Because nuclear power is scary. I’m not going to try and downplay the disasters that have happened, but many things we do have risks associated with them, such as offshore oil drilling. Wind and solar are great options for clean energy, as are modern nuclear power plants. Still, fear dominates the narrative; classic Homer Simpson fumbling obscures the science.
Hopefully, there will come a time when we put the facts first and our feelings second. I dream of a time where children are educated to dissect news articles, to question the results, to look to see if papers about science include links. Can you imagine if the general public was armed with a basic understanding of the psychology of media? The effect it would have on the scientific discourses of this country would be amazing. We’d be talking about science, and not our feelings or political convictions.