The "Frankenfood" debate has hit the Valley Isle squarely in the dinner plate, with thousands of protestors recently marching against genetically modified organisms, the food products containing them and the bio-tech companies using Maui as a site for their seeds.
Anxious to explain the escalating, emotionally charged, politicized discourse about GMOs, certain members of the media may have concluded that people are simply too uninformed to understand the complex implications of bioengineering.
Although many akamai Maui residents have a grasp on the facts, the source of polarization may be that our reasoning powers have become compromised by a polluted science-communication environment.
How did that happen? Social-science research indicates that people draw different inferences from the same evidence, based on their cultural and values. So even when presented with a highly credentialed scientist, many will disagree on whether that person is really an "expert" depending on whether these views are in alignment with those of their own peer group.
Most people tend to acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting like-minded friends who share their values (and whom they therefore trust and understand), not by studying impartial research reports. Thus, we widen the cultural chasm as we unconsciously filter out information that does not conform to our own ideas and those of our peers. We don't want to be out of synch or risk being labeled as weirdos in the eyes of those we value.
And sometimes the positions of groups on opposing sides are based on feelings, not scientific study, and may bear little relationship to reality. On the other hand, most of us know that the "truth" has a certain ring to it--a ring that evasive spin and cherry-picked factoids often lack.
Although we live in a world where the Internet provides us with instantaneous access to a huge range of information, the trouble starts when the science-communication environment fills up with toxic tendentious views that effectively seem to say: "If you are one of us, you believe what we do; otherwise, you are one of them."
Whether you think we are fortunate beneficiaries of the best technology science has yet created, or conversely, that we are merely serve as guinea pigs for a giant biotech machine that does not have our own best interest at heart, we each have a responsibility as consumers and voters--to think with our mind and not our gut. Our decisions will affect the future of biotechnology and its applications to food, medicine and the environment. So our decisions should be based on real science, not science fiction--no matter which side is spouting it.
It's obvious that a great many people care about the outcome, and have strong feelings about our food supply and the implications that biotechnology holds for the future of Maui. What is less clear is the accuracy of the information upon which many of those opinions rest--bogus science abounds on both sides.
Think for yourself and take the time to sift through the information. Don't just go along with the crowd. Come to your own conclusions.