Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Good Science vs. Bad Science - How do you tell the difference?

Within activism it is common to hear one side dissing the other with claims of "bad science."  The truth is, there are "good science" studies on both sides of the GMO argument.  Meanwhile, we activists have some homework to do, so that our statements are founded in "good science" rather than mere opinion.

All science is rooted in exploration: a basic curiosity about how the world works.  In the past few hundred years, modern science has developed certain tools so that humanity's investigation of how the world works is a bit more systematic and organized, so that humanity can build a cumulative body of knowledge.

Some of these tools are the Scientific Method (which you learned about in middle school), controlled experiments (which you tried out in high school), and peer-reviewed studies (which you encounter in college).  There are established methods for researching the historical body of science, and for building upon that cumulative knowledge.

Peer-reviewed studies mean the work of the authoring scientists was looked over by another group of scientists, typically experts in a particular field.  Peer-reviewed studies are published in special scientific journals.  This is the highest level of science ( = "good science")
Here's an article on how to recognize peer-reviewed studies.

In mainstream media (newspapers, magazines) and on the internet, you find opinions.  Lots of 'em.  Anyone can say anything, based on life experience, personal observation, or mere whim.  Opinion can (and is usually) colored by emotion and passion.  Activists will quote other activists, and quote internet articles with tremendous enthusiasm.  In court it's called "heresay," and in activism it piles one upon the other like the child's game of "telephone" such that after several requotes, it is no longer an accurate quote.  This is "not science."

There's a third category which lies somewhere in-between.  Nonprofits may research a topic in depth, and publish a white paper or Report of their findings.  Scientists themselves may write opinon articles, or give public talks.  These may provide informative perspectives, but they do not carry the authority of a published, peer-reviewed paper.  This doesn't make them "bad science," but they aren't really solid "good science" either.

Within GMO activism, it is very hard to sort out the facts.  The biotech industry's publicity machine would like to pretend that the "good science" is all in their favor; it is not.  Activists often quote famous activists, confusing themselves over what is scientifically proven versus passionate opinion.

The truth is the jury is still out.  There are peer-reviewed studies and scholarly articles on both sides of the GMO argument.  The worldwide scientific community is still learning about genetic engineering and its widespread repercussions -- on health, environment, sociology, economics, law, culture.

Meanwhile, the biotech industry has done a lot to muddy the waters of scientific investigation: many of the biotech-favorable studies which they quote were funded by them.  (Meta-studies have statistically established that those specially-funded studies are more likely to reach conclusions which cast favorable light upon the funding industry.  While not necessarily "bad science," these certainly become suspicious.)  Additionally, the biotech industry has exerted its considerable political power in attempts to discredit and taint any scientific study which reaches conclusions that are not in favor of biotech.  This makes it doubly hard to do our job as good activists.

continued at How to be an activist based on "Good Science"

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