Blinding Me with Science

When I was fifteen I came across an animated film called “The Point” by Harry Nilsson which first aired on TV in 1971. It is about a boy named Oblio, the only round-headed person in a village where everyone’s head was in the shape of a point and where, by law, everyone and everything in the village had to have a point. Hence, the main activity of the village was making points.

Oblio is banished to the Pointless Forest and sets out on an adventure to discover what it means to have a point versus no point at all. Along the way he meets the Rockman and, as the Rockman puts forth his perspective, he explains to Oblio, “you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.” I hear great truth in these simple words and often find myself quoting the Rockman when I am attempting to explain what’s going on in the world.

Take science for instance. There is a lot of scientific study being conducted in the world where the outcome is strongly tied to who is paying for the research. It appears you can always spin things scientifically if you desire to do so.

Like with climate change. Many, many scientists have determined that 1) the chemical composition of the atmosphere has been severely altered by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide pouring into it and 2) this is going to have a profound effect on life on Earth. There is enough scientific evidence and consensus to convince me that we need to be doing something about this ASAP.

Yet, there is other “scientifically proven” research out there that says climate change is not real. And there are people in government, business as well as regular citizens who are still not convinced that climate change is seriously worth addressing. Points are being made and, as the Rockman points out, people are seeing what they want to see and hearing what they want to hear.  

My thoughts move to genetically engineered food, as they often do. I’m thinking specifically about genetically altered salmon. The FDA has recently been reviewing whether or not genetically engineered salmon is safe. They are also deciding whether or not genetically engineered salmon legally needs to be labeled. The main “scientific research” the FDA is reviewing is the research done by Aqua Bounty Technologies, the makers of AquaAdvantage salmon.

Of course, Aqua Bounty determined that the salmon is safe to eat, despite the fact that the salmon’s hormones are being manipulated by additional DNA from two other kinds of fish that will cause the salmon to grow bigger faster. Only one study conducted, and it looks like the FDA is going to give it the green light.

Personally, I am going to be staying away from AquaAdvantage salmon. The name alone scares me. Of course, the salmon won’t be labeled AquaAdvantage salmon, which scares me even more.

Corporations and industries determining whether their products/services are safe is why we are in the mess we are in. But why, I ask myself, why would anyone want to obscure the truth if human and planetary health are in question?

Like the mining industry that is insisting it review the 15-year government epidemiological study of possible ties between diesel exhaust and lung cancer in miners, in which they evaluated more than 12,000 current and former workers from eight mines that produce commodities other than coal. The mining industry wants time to conduct and present their own research before the government report is released. Now, need I tell you what their research will show? Money over miners. Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say I ain’t so.

The examples are endless, and I think I’ve made my point. Or have I? What is my point?

My point is we have a choice as to what we see, hear and believe. We can spend countless hours, years and lifetimes analyzing certain points, but given the current state of our planet, we don’t have the luxury of time. Though I clearly spend time in my brain thinking about the many points made on critical issues, it is my gut that I ultimately listen to, my intuition which tells me I don’t need any more proof.

Global warming is real and in full swing. Coal is nasty stuff and we need to move on to clean energy. Pesticides are highly toxic to soil, to those who pick the food and to those who eat it. I won’t say full out that genetically engineered food is completely off the table, but I will say that we need serious, objective testing on its safety before it is legally allowed to be food. I will also say that my gut tells me we should stop genetically manipulating food.

One more thing about the hormonally manipulated salmon. I have read that if one of these transgenetic salmon were to escape from the Aqua Bounty farm and start breeding with wild salmon, it could damage native populations even to the point of extinction. According to Salmon Nation, estimates of farmed salmon escapees in British Columbia total at least 400,000 fish from 1991 to 2001.

There is therefore a reasonable possibility that one of those big ol’ AquaAdvantage salmon will make their way out to the sea. Hence, as far as I’m concerned, genetically engineered salmon are a risk not worth taking.

Eco-theologian and mentor Thomas Berry said that the Earth is an amazing engineering accomplishment and “humans need to become integral with that technology.” We humans are failing to recognize the brilliance of the Earth, making it secondary to human innovation. We need to humble ourselves quickly and start working in a mutually enhancing partnership with the Earth. As Thomas says, “you cannot have well humans on a sick planet.” Besides, the Earth is so very beautiful, don’t you think?

In his closing advice to Oblio, the Rockman says, “it’s the here and now I’m talkin’ about.” We are being called right now to stop, look and listen to what is going on around us, understand intuitively what’s going wrong (with the help of honest science) and change our life ways if we are to create a promising and viable future. We need to do whatever we are able to do, and do it more and more often.

There are generations of innocent children that are waiting for us to course correct. I sense Thomas Berry and the Rockman would both agree, it’s worth pursuing with joyful vigor and clear commitment, for the sake of the children, for the sake of this magically spinning planet we call home.

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