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Fear of Science Will Kill Us

April 15, 2010
CNN carried on its web page this week a “Ted Talk” video that features author Michael Specter speaking positively about biotech products and about the public fear of science. 

Specter is staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of the book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.  TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its Web site,

In the video, Specter takes on public attitudes against technology: 
People wrap themselves in their own beliefs, and they do it so tightly, that you can’t set them free.  Not even the truth will set them free.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, they’re even entitled to their opinion about progress. But you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

 Specter talks about his experience with public backlash following articles he wrote extolling the virtues of biotechnology. 
I wrote a story about genetically engineered food…and people were going crazy.  I couldn’t understand why people thought this was “Frankenfood,” why they thought moving molecules around in a specific – not a haphazard way – was trespassing on nature’s ground.” 

 Specter also takes on organic arguments against ag biotech. 
The most mindless epidemic we’re in the middle of right now is this absurd battle between proponents of genetically engineered food and the organic elite…it’s ideology – it’s not science.  Every single thing we eat – every grain of rice, every sprig of parsley, every brussel sprout has been modified by man.  There weren’t tangerines in the Garden of Eden.  There wasn’t any cantaloupes.  There weren’t Christmas Trees.  We made it all.  We made it over the last 11,000 years.  Now we can do it in a more precise way.  We can put something like Vitamin A into rice, and that stuff can help millions of people prolong their lives.”

The idea that we should not allow science to do its job because we’re afraid is really very deadening, and it’s preventing millions of people from prospering.”

 Michael Specter is scheduled to speak at BIO’s International Convention on Wednesday, May 5.  More information is posted on the BIO International Convention website.