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Science and Technology Oversimplified

John Jamieson in his op-ed, Undermining Science and Technology in the Guardian of May 18 made it sound so simple. Follow the science and technology, and all will be well with the world. The problem with such simplification is that it ignores so many of the others factors in the equation, such as, humans do make mistakes, and what is the motivation of the people behind the science.

Unfortunately not all humans display unselfishness coupled with a genuine concern for the welfare of others. Personal and corporate gains often play a large role behind the science. For that reason, science is not infallible and history has shown us it is not always wise to blindly embrace something simply because of the science. The terrible human suffering caused by the anxiety and morning sickness drug Thalidomide would be an example, as is the current opioid crisis, and as was the scientific development of the herbicide Agent Orange. Then there is the questionable science of food flavouring to make some foods addictive. There are many other scientific mistakes, including some of the science based agricultural practices we have employed to mass produce food to free up human labour for other economic endeavours.

The science knew another pandemic was coming as humans had created the conditions. Yet apparently it was not profitable to be prepared. The spread of misinformation around vaccines is unfortunate, but is it a surprise considering that the spreading of medical falsehoods has become a form of warfare against the western world? Is it a surprise considering people have been given many reasons by their own governments to lose trust? Is it a surprise considering people have observed science being used by industry to exploit common resources, while other scientists speaking out against such practices are ignored or muzzled?

Don’t get me wrong. Science has done incredible wonders for our world, as has technology, but in the wrong hands it can cause great harm. As the species capable of intellectual thought, we should not blindly accept the science especially when our own survival instincts tell us differently. Perhaps that is what many Islanders are doing these days. Mr. Jamieson states that “What is missing from many conversations on food is that farmers in P.E.I. establish production methods based on verified scientific data, are on a path of continuous improvement, and share the same concerns the public have for the environment, climate change and animal welfare.” This is a true statement about many farmers. However, there are others whose margins are so thin that they must use practices that are detrimental to our soil and water resources. Regarding this latter group, I ask you, Mr. Jamieson, if they have done as you say or are they following in good faith the science that the agro- industry has sold them for its own profitability? Do they have the freedom to do as you say since farmers are at the bottom of the food production chain? I am wondering why so many in the industry seem fearful of the debate around their science. It would seem debate should be encouraged especially when it means mistakes can be corrected. We must indeed make sure we have the right information, which is not easily accessible when profit motivates the science. But we must never stop questioning. It is what makes us human.

Edith Ling, NFU Women's District Director Lives on her farm in North Winsloe

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National Farmers Union

Prince Edward Island

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