Science must provide answers to consumer fears

It’s been speculated that consumers are losing faith in science, but maybe they are just seeking information that science doesn’t provide.

Maybe we need to use science to ask better questions, which consumers help us define.

To better connect with those who may be viewed as divergent, we need to encourage discussion and let the science follow rather than wedge science between us.

After all, science is a tool created and controlled by humans, and distrust naturally follows if the humans conducting the science are not considering consumer questions or communicating the results as effectively as they could.

A recent article by James Marsden, a food safety professor from Kansas State University, discussed the increasing acceptance of pseudo-science as opposed to the trusted and validated process of real science.

Tempting as it may be to follow that line of logic and blame skepticism of production related science on consumer ignorance, it seems to me that such an approach will further feed the skepticism rather than quell it.

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Ultimately, the scientific process is fed by structured doubt, so rather than dismiss doubt as ignorance, why not embrace it as an opportunity to better define the questions?

The lack of trust surrounding production related scientific research is partially fuelled by a discomfort with the intent or implementation of the research. This is not a scientific problem. This is a human problem.

A project designed to test the impact of a product may provide clarity on the effect of using the product but may not answer questions surrounding food safety, environmental impact, welfare or market impact.

Answering these consumer questions only with production driven research fuels skepticism. This does not reflect a lack of understanding of the science but rather an unbalanced approach to implementing and communicating the science.

So, rather than attempting to cram science down the doubters’ throats, those in positions of scientific leadership should embrace that doubt as part of the process.

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Canadian producers contribute directly to research funding, and it is important that we ensure that the relevant questions are being asked, evaluated and communicated.

Science is merely a product of human’s quest for answers, so rather than belittle those who question the process, why not embrace such challenges and do our best to implement management practices that balance consumer demands and our ability to provide.

If we don’t work to maintain and build consumer trust, someone else will.

Ross Macdonald, M.Sc., P.Ag., ranches in southern Saskatchewan.

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Ross Macdonald, M.Sc., P.Ag., ranches in southern Saskatchewan.

  • richard

    Well stated…and likely truth…..The author says it all in his first line….”consumers losing faith in science”….implies the cult like status of science in the modern world….When the discourse is hijacked and the language co-opted to suit the purposes of commerce only….truth is the victim… Productivity, efficiency, sustainability in agriculture have become relative, ideological terms having more to do with convenience and expediency than physics and calculus……The reductionist approach dictated by modern science is simply inadequate to describe the myriad of complex ecological interactions that take place in real time before our eyes….. That informed humans understand far more about the power of the foodstream than cloistered academics is hardly a surprise, neither is the fact that some intellectuals are compelled to talk down to citizens rather than with them…..True progress in agriculture cannot occur in the context of war on nature….thats entropy….. The immutable logic of evolution will eventually prevail or we will simply be reduced to yet another epic agrarian apocalypse….. (see Edward Hyams’ Soil and Civilization)