This month's National Geographic cover story is The War on Science. In the article, author Joel Achenbach points out that with polarized topics, higher educated people tend to shift toward either end of the spectrum, seeking out science to support their own views. This topic hits close to home in my field of nutrition, where many topics are highly polarized among educated consumers and sometimes professionals. Debates rage about risks and benefits of genetically modified foods, safety and effectiveness of non-nutritive sweeteners, sustainability in food systems, whether toxic and addicting are terms that can be used to describe sugar, grain-adverse Paleo diets, avoiding gluten, whether the Dietary Guidelines have caused obesity...the list goes on.
What is striking is the the level of distrust in science and the scientific method. But when we eliminate the scientific method, we are left only with faith, conspiracies and magic.
As Achenbach mentions, the human brain has evolved to seek patterns. It's a survival mechanism. So it's hard even for trained professionals and scientists to go against that instinct of seeking out data to support a preconceived belief. As a trained registered dietitian nutritionist with a background in nutrition and food science communications, I, myself, have to work to overcome biases and be open paradigm shifting science.
As the global population grows, and resources become more scarce, we, the people, must be able to embrace the scientific method. Otherwise, how can we ensure the future of an open and transparent democracy that puts to use the best available technology and science to solve complex problems?