April 25, 2017
More than 500 years ago we moved out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, where poets, writers, scientists and others suddenly seemed to have their brains turned on. And there have been other times of great scientific leaps forward, with the Industrial Revolution and the Space Age being two others. And always with progress in key areas we needed. In the interim, it was status quo, but no real "backward move."
However, this time it feels like there's another Dark Ages ahead, as the voice of scientific reason is silenced by naysayers who would rather believe what they want to believe than hear the truth. And this is happening in a lot of areas.
A few weeks ago there was a March for Science, celebrated on Earth Day, but the aim was to move forward and maintain focus on science and its value beyond a single day. And the march was to show the world those scientists aren't crazies in a back room coming up with world domination plans, but real people working on serious issues.
Yet science has come under fire, in part because it doesn't always get things right; or some fear-monger with a different agenda pushes away from factual data. And it can have real-world consequences.
Here in Minnesota as I write this we have a measles outbreak, which is news. When I was a kid it wasn't news, it was coffee talk. We all got the measles; it was a rite of passage. But when an effective vaccine was developed, the disease basically went away. Until the antiscience, antivaccine folks got going. Ignoring good science, they've polluted the conversation, claiming vaccines cause autism (not only debunked by further study, but the original study making the claim was discredited).
Yet here in Minnesota, the Somali population was told of those risks, and they bought that claim. While about 90% of non-Somali children in Minnesota get vaccinations, the number is just above 40% for the Somalis. Now they have an outbreak, most of the children are heading into the hospital, and there's concern for their lives. It's a tragedy because a low-cost injection would have prevented the problem. Science works!
So going forward, farmers — who are, in their way, environmental scientists — have to tell the science story. The technology you use is valuable, tested, regulated and works. The crop protection products you use are minute amounts per acre versus older legacy products, where the phrase "pounds on the ground" meant something. The biotech crops you raise save land, water and other resources.
Science is important, and this is a lousy time to turn our backs on good information.
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