Friday, January 15, 2010

Debating an Etch n Sketch & Feeding a Mannequin...

Right off the bat, let me say this: I had the pleasure speaking to @follownathan on Twitter the last few days and today(Friday), I called him and did a recorded audio interview. The interview went well, aside from my rambling and my voice, which annoys even me. Also there was a feedback that, thankfully, didn't translate to the recorded audio but it did trip me up a couple times and caused me to lose my line of thinking. My blog title is the link to Nathan's website where you may hear the roughly 30 minutes of audio.

Just a note: my blog titles are usually clickable links relating to things that I'm talking about.

Normally, the people I talk to about food science and the food industry are receptive to what I have to say. Even when they disagree, they hear me out, ask follow up questions, and walk away with a better understanding of the subject at hand and more receptive to hear/reading/seeing more to educate themselves. That's how it should go, and most of the time, that's how it is... most of the time.

I've dealt with a couple people over this last week that approached the discourse with a certain amount of disrespect and immaturity. In both cases, they were convinced they were right and it seems like nothing will ever convince them otherwise.

This is completely at odds with how science works. It should start with a curiosity about something in the world that you can test...a hypothesis. This can be skeptical, but it's usually a scientists nature to be skeptical, so it shows in the design of the study, not in the hypothesis. We tests a hypothesis by eliminating all but one variable. We record all possible data in a consistant manner, report on that data, publish that report in a scientific journal, and other scientists (skeptics) try to duplicate the study and see if the results reproducable. If so, then until proven otherwise, this is accepted as fact. If not, then the experiment is tweaked to try to eliminate more variables, report more data, and tighten up the controls to reduce the chance of error.

That is science. When an idea survives the scientific method, a fact is born. At this point, it is the responsibility of any remaining skeptics to prove it's wrong , not for the scientists to prove it's right. Now imagine you are talking to someone less than mature about some study and it's outcomes. What do you do if they keep saying, 'No, that's wrong. Prove it. Prove it again.'?

We had #agchat on Tuesday and I hope it went well. I got a comment in before it was running too slow for me to follow. Many of you had a chance to interact with and I had an interaction with @culinaryhatchet.

My interaction was saying that on the whole, more people prefer grain fed beef to grass fed. This is a fact based on a test that Cornell did. I think it was a single blind forced preference taste test. I also mentioned that a grain diet offers a more complete nutrition, while grass fed is entirely dependent on the nutrient levels of the pasture land. Most of the time, some kind of supplements are necessary.

This person had a major fit and demanded to see proof. He's/she's right unless I can prove him/her wrong. I did as far as taste goes, but I never found an actual study for the remark about nutrition. My logic there was the fact that the roughage is sampled and tested with dairy cattle. You need to know the nutrient level of the silage so you can put what's missing in the feed you order. But anyway, the person never believed me. I also hit him/her with the fact that grass fed have a 50% larger carbon footprint. He/she wanted to know who I was working for. I guess in his/her mind, if you work for someone that supports the view you have... then your view doesn't count.

This is a fundamental fallacy in a scientific debate. Science has no employer. Just because a guy for the National Pork Council makes a statement about pork being safe, doesn't mean he's lying. He can be lying, but who he works for doesn't matter. There is this accepted idea that everything and everyone is in on some sort of fix. Somehow, everything is a conspiracy.

I'm getting off track here.

Many of you interacted with @culinaryhatchet in good faith that you were having an honest and helpful dialogue, that your views were respected and that person was listening to what you said as you were listening to them.

I found that @culinaryhatchet has a blog and posted excerpts from the #agchat discussion. Many of the remarks made were catty in nature and made me think that @culinaryhatchet is the type of person that reads those entertainment weekly's and makes catty comments about what the people in the pictures are wearing.

Here's some of what this person put in his blog:
'On to the players and their Tweets:

#agchat is hosted by Michele Payn-Knoper, principal of Cause Matters Corp.

#agchat is a “weekly moderated conversation on Twitter for people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel, fiber.”

Hmmm… distinct omission of “consumer.” And that’s how I felt on #agchat.

Last’s night’s topic was “Antibiotics and their use in food production.” A topic about which I am most passionate.

Question 1: Can someone explain why we use antibiotics in livestock?

Great question! Time for some honest answers…(NOTE: not in chronological order, well, except for the first one.)

First answer: AgriBlogger (Chuck Zimmerman is the professional agriblogger, farm podcaster and President of ZimmComm New Media): For the same reason we use them in people. Doesn't that make sense?

Pure genius. NOT.

'Time for some honest answers' Classic conspiracy theory. Only the answer he/she wants to hear is good enough, all else is a lie in his/her mind.

Of course, even though I was unable to participate, I wasn't immune to his/her vitriol.
'This guy is easily the most annoying person in #agchat (other than me), plus you just have to love his explanation samvance (Sam Vance Cincinnati, OH; Edible Intelligence OSU degree Re: Food Science & Tech. Also sarcastic/smells of cookies): anti-bio's used for herd/farm/food safety. You can't process an animal that is already dead or sick.

I think his blog name, Intelligence is an oxy-moron.

I'd like to point out that you need two things for an oxymoron, so no... Intelligence is not an oxymoron.

So what do rational, science minded, sane people do when confronted with such a person?
Take a deep breath, be patient, and don't give up.

Invite @culinaryhatchet to tour your farm.
We also need to share research studies.
Don't hide who you work for.
Admit when something you say is incorrect or where a company you work for has gone wrong.

Most of all, don't engage in debate when you are unsure of where it's going. Take a minute and be a little measured when you speak/tweet. Be professional. Keep links to studies that prove your point. Use tabbed browsing, it is your friend. If there isn't a study, explain the science and why something can't be the way someone is convinced it is. Don't lie.

We have to be at our best when engaged in conversation about food and ag issues.. Make sure you are drawing a distinction between an opinion and a fact.

And like I have been saying(borrowed from Al Franken):
We are entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts.

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