Feb 27

We All Need More Science

more scienceI wrote earlier about the irresponsible journalism of the Toronto Star. One quote from the columnist, Heather Mallick’s, statement about the original story rattled my cage. She said, “I’ve been trying to teach myself about statistics and science.” If this wasn’t a serious story, I’d think that quote was a punch line in a blonde joke. It proves my point: we all need more science.

More Science to Get at the Facts

Understanding science goes a long way toward helping you filter out the crap with popular media. Get your shovel because a lot of so-called science reporters don’t get it.

To the plea for more science, I believe all reporters should take a basic statistics class. And that doesn’t just apply to science stories. These days, stats infiltrate everything. Have you listened to the commentary during a football game? Or a baseball game? You’ll soon learn what weather, temperature, and humidity work best for the pitcher. And you’ll know how many rushing yards a running back averages per game by stadium, if it’s outdoor or indoor.

We need more science and statistics to understand the difference between causation and correlation. This is where journalists frequently stumble. Yes, the meaning is nuanced, but that doesn’t give license to misreporting. The verbiage walks a fine line between the two.

As a wacky example, you could say that having a beard is linked to prostate cancer. Or wearing dresses is associated with breast cancer. You get the point. They blur the definition of correlations to imply something causes another thing to happen.

The Value of Understanding

More science knowledge can help you navigate the media better, along with the stories they publish. You can make the logical connections—or not—between what is reported and what is in fact, true. You’ve probably heard the adage about not believing everything you read on the internet. The same advice applies to “news stories.”

Anyone can write a science news story. It’s another thing entirely to be able to understand what you’re writing and its implications. More science can help you. For the journalists, it begins with a responsible headline and not one that sensationalizes for the sake of selling newspapers or generating ad revenue. It’s called integrity.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: 105070 via photopin (license)

Feb 23

The Great Apple Dilemma

nonbrowning apple dilemmaThe USDA announced that the agency would deregulate two varieties of of GMO apples developed to resist browning. This news may shock some individuals in the anti-GMO crowd. It creates the great apple dilemma.

Defining the Apple Dilemma

Granted, one could argue that browning apples are a first-world problem. Browning, after all, is an aesthetic issue rather than one of safety. But, there is a strong case for pursuing this research.

Food waste is a major problem globally. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption or about 1.3 billion tons per year, never makes it to the table.

Unsafe food aside, a lot of food ends up in landfills because of aesthetic reasons. We don’t like how it looks. We perceive it as bad, spoiled, or unpalatable. That’s why a decision by the USDA to allow nonbrowning apples is important.

The Relevance of the Anti-GMO Movement

The apple dilemma calls into question the relevancy of the anti-GMO movement. We’re not talking about pesticides here. We’re talking about an apple that looks good to eat. It’s not a bad thing.

Apples are not the only produce to benefit from GMO research. The USDA has also approved genetically-engineered potatoes that resist browning and bruising. There’s sure to be other developing biotechnology in the future.

The fact is that with each of these baby steps toward reducing food waste the anti-GMO message becomes more irrelevant and foolish. The way some people talk, you’d think genetic engineering was witchcraft. It’s not. It’s technology making our lives better.

The Problem with Food Waste

Going back to food waste, let’s consider the costs in the discussion of the apple dilemma. That food waste means wasted energy, a cruel spin on its role in climate change. The energy includes fossil fuel emissions that produce greenhouse gases.

Food waste is a complicated issue because it occurs all along the supply chain. We can’t control things like the weather. But we can influence consumer behavior to reduce food waste.

The apple dilemma pokes some big holes in arguments against GMO products. The anti-GMO crowd uses a political cause as a weapon against an issue. However, isn’t the greater issue reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a way that can also help tackle food waste? The anti-GMO issue is another example of the ugly nature of hangers-on.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: Apple via photopin (license)

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