Two attributes, both undesirable, are common to most of the human beings. The first is FEAR – the fear of the unknown not based on any logic or reason. The second is the RESISTANCE TO CHANGE as a result of which no new thing is readily accepted. In addition to these to there is also a tendency of opposing, or putting a spoke, just for the sake of opposing. This is a characteristic of many highly educated and influential people. Historically there are a great number of such instances. The joint effect of the above three has been to retard human progress and is true today also.
These are the topics of a TED talk delivered by Michael Specter, an American journalist and a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine. The talk can be listened here.
The transcript of the talk can also be downloaded from the site (recommended for full comprehension). The talk is excellent and comes from Michel’s heart as he appears to be genuinely concerned and disturbed by the state of affairs.
I am reproducing here a few key passages of the speech.
The world is facing a huge food problem, It is estimated that the food production has got to increase by 70 per cent over the next fifty years. It is possible to meet the target by making use of progresses made in science. The prerequisite, however, is that people change their attitude and embrace the technological progress and look ahead positively.
A kid born in New Delhi today can expect to live as long as the richest man in the world did 100 years ago. Think about that, it's an incredible fact. And why is it true? Smallpox. Smallpox killed billions of people on this planet. It reshaped the demography of the globe in a way that no war ever has. It's gone. It's vanished. We vanquished it.
People wrap themselves in their beliefs, and they do it so tightly that you can't set them free. Not even the truth will set them free. And, listen, everyone's entitled to their opinion; they're even entitled to their opinion about progress. But you know what you're not entitled to? You're not entitled to your own facts. Sorry, you're not. And this took me awhile to figure out.
I wrote a story about genetically engineered food. Same thing, only bigger. People were going crazy. So I wrote a story about that too, and I couldn't understand why people thought this was "Frankenfoods," why they thought moving molecules around in a specific, rather than a haphazard way, was trespassing on nature's ground.
But these stories bothered me, and I couldn't figure out why, and eventually I did. And that's because those fanatics that were driving me crazy weren't actually fanatics at all. They were thoughtful people, educated people, decent people. They were exactly like the people in this room.
There are questions and problems with the people we used to believe were always right, so be skeptical. Ask questions, demand proof, demand evidence. Don't take anything for granted. But here's the thing: When you get proof, you need to accept the proof, and we're not that good at doing that. And the reason that I can say that is because we're now in an epidemic of fear like one I've never seen and hope never to see again.
The United States is one of the only countries in the world where the vaccine rate for measles is going down. That is disgraceful, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. It's horrible. What kind of a thing happened that we could do that?
Now, 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 an idiotic debate. It has to stop. It's a debate about words, about metaphors. It's ideology, it's not science. Every single thing we eat, every grain of rice, every sprig of parsley, every Brussels sprout has been modified by man. You know, there weren't tangerines in the garden of Eden. There wasn't any cantaloupe. (Laughter) There weren't Christmas trees. We made it all. We made it over the last 11,000 years. And some of it worked, and some of it didn't. We got rid of the stuff that didn't. Now we can do it in a more precise way -- and there are risks, absolutely -- but we can put something like vitamin A into rice, and that stuff can help millions of people, millions of people, prolong their lives. You don't want to do that? I have to say, I don't understand it.
It's true, we've got a huge food problem, but this isn't science. This has nothing to do with science. It's law, it's morality, it's patent stuff. You know science isn't a company. It's not a country. It's not even an idea; it's a process. It's a process, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but 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.