Back when rhythm and blues great Sam Cooke sang the smash hit, “It’s a Wonderful World,” with the catchy line “Don’t know much about science book,” he was singing about yearning for love, and wondering if a mediocre student such as himself could be worthy of the affections of the girl he desired most.
These days, however, “Don’t know much about science book” seems to be a loud and proud declaration from the general public in America, and there’s nothing whimsical or romantic about it. More specifically, it could be a major detriment to our ability to feed a growing world.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center – a highly respected, nonpartisan think tank – a majority of the general public (57 percent) says that genetically modified (GM) foods are generally unsafe to eat, while only 37 percent says such foods are safe. By contrast, 88 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science say GM foods are generally safe. The gap between citizens and scientists in seeing GM foods as safe is 51 percentage points.
This is the largest opinion difference between the public and scientists in the polling that covered several timely topics, including pesticide use and global warming. On eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20-percentage-point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and scientists.
Also of interest to farmers are the survey results as they relate to pesticide use. Sixty-eight percent of scientists said it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, compared with only 28 percent of the general public.
According to Pew, The gaps found in the polls didn’t correlate to any liberal-conservative split, with scientists at times taking more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal ones.
Scientists who participated in the survey faulted the media and the public itself for the existence of these gaps. The “public doesn’t know much about science” was reported as a major problem by 84 percent of scientists, and 79 percent considered “news reports don’t distinguish well-founded findings” as a major problem. About half of scientists said oversimplification by the media and a public that expects solutions too quickly were major problems.
And if you’re asking yourself, “What does it matter what most people think?” We all know our representatives in Washington, D.C., base the majority of their major policy decisions on poll numbers, science and/or empirical evidence be damned.
It adds up to a tall order as far as continuing to educate the public on modern production agriculture.