The science of division vs. the pursuit of truth

Is it just me, or is it getting harder to tell the difference between fact and fiction?

Thanks to the internet and social media, we have more information and more opinions at our fingertips every day.

But as the amount of information available to us increases, it takes more time and mental energy to sort through the good and the bad — to figure out what’s true and what’s not.

Today, everyone’s got a soapbox to stand on.

And legitimate or not, they have the ability to profess their views far and wide, with the click of a mouse or the tap of a smartphone.

Compounding the confusion is the proliferation of junk science.

At its worst, junk science is not science at all.

It’s opinion posing as science, a perspective that’s either partially or entirely based on fiction or personally held beliefs.

Junk science can also include research funded by companies or special interest groups — organizations that have a vested interest in ensuring a specific and pre-determined “scientific” outcome.

And, since we’re assigning blame, let’s also throw United States President Donald Trump under the bus for his contributions to the epidemic of “global incredibility.”

Through his use of Twitter and his popularization of the term “fake news,” Trump can instantly and conveniently label as “fake news” any news source that questions his actions, his wisdom or his policies.

The ability to quickly and effectively discredit one’s detractors is the hallmark of the world’s most skilled propagandists.

It was Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who uttered the famous phrase: “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.”

Of course, the ability to differentiate between fact and fiction, truth and lies, is extremely important.

It allows us, as individuals and as a society, to make logical, informed decisions about our collective future.

It affects our own lives as well as the lives of future generations.

Which leads to an important question.

How are we, as consumers of information, supposed to make logical measured decisions when we’re being bombarded with lies, half-truths and biased research outcomes?

Figuring out who to believe has always been a tough task.

But nowadays, it’s tougher than ever.

In agricultural circles, we’ve been hearing for years that Canada’s global trading partners need to base their trade and agri-food policies on science.

As the mantra goes, policy makers at home and abroad need to make informed, science-based decisions.

But what happens when scientific research on the same topic offers two distinctly different sets of findings.

Which science should serve as the foundation of our beliefs and policies when scientists and so-called experts disagree?

For example, should we believe the science that claims glyphosate, the world’s most widely used agricultural chemical, may be linked to cancer?

Or should we believe the science that says glyphosate is perfectly safe to use and causes no ill effects to human food consumers or the environment?

Should we believe that genetically modified organisms have the potential to irreversibly disrupt natural ecosystems and change the global environment as we know it?

Or do we believe the science that suggests GMOs are not only safe but are absolutely necessary to support our rapidly increasing global population?

Do we believe the majority of the world’s climate scientists, who claim that global climate change will have real and costly consequences for the planet and its inhabitants?

Or do we believe those who say climate change science is bunk — a fictional construct whose only purpose is to reorganize wealth through carbon taxes and other commercially restrictive policies?

Choosing a belief system is one of life’s most difficult, most important and most time-consuming occupations.

And while identifying the truth behind any matter is never done quickly or easily, it becomes a less-daunting task if certain principles are upheld.

First, regardless of what topic is involved, remember that good, dependable science does not emerge overnight, or even over the course of a few years. It evolves over decades or centuries with the help of great minds, curiosity, imagination, theorization, and unbiased, independent research and discovery.

Second, don’t be afraid to engage in debate. Listen to all statements of claim, but listen to them critically. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is the basis of scientific discovery.

Third, deeper knowledge is gained by listening to different perspectives, including those that don’t conform with your own. Read books, listen to opposing viewpoints and keep an open mind. And if you don’t think you’re getting the full picture in 140 characters or less, then put away your smartphone and seek out a more intelligent source of information.

And finally, beware of those who claim to speak definitively on any subject.

In reality, those who profess to know the absolute truth about anything are likely to be the biggest fools and shysters among us.


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