What Happens When We Don’t Like the Science?

Recently I’ve seen some criticism relating to Dr. Temple Grandin from a few people who are opposed to her ideas on animal welfare – namely that we need to listen to the consumer and understand what they think and want. It doesn’t seem like rocket science, does it? Ignore your consumers wishes and pretty soon you don’t have a market.

Just show consumers the science, not the emotion…” seems to be the battlecry. “If somebody hasn’t published a peer-reviewed paper on it, they shouldn’t be allowed to say it!” Except it’s not as simple as that, is it? Just look at the furore over LFTB (lean finely-textured beef or so-called “pink slime”). A safe, technologically-sound, scientifically-approved product that, once it was labeled pink slime, was utterly undesirable to the consumer. Never mind that they were still happy to eat Twinkies, Slim-fast (just what is that pink powder?) or kelp juice (green slime?), the perception was out there that LFTB was gross, and no matter how much science was quoted, bang, out of beef products it went.

We can talk about science all we like, but sometimes that just isn’t going to get the message across. I can’t imagine that any consumer who goes into a battery chicken (caged layer) house or sees a photo of a pig in a gestation crate says “Wow, what a beautifully efficient and scientific system!” That response becomes even less likely when all they see is a photo of it on Facebook.

So what happens when the science doesn’t play nicely into our perceptions and beliefs? When about social science papers that show that consumers evaluate foods based on emotion, not science? Or survey data that shows that we can take consumers to a farm and explain agriculture…but that it doesn’t change the preconceived ideas that 75% of them already held?* Do we ignore the inconvenient science because we don’t like the answers? Keep banging the same drum and hope that we can maintain the status quo?

Here’s a thought. Rather than looking at agriculture through your own eyes, try and see it through the eyes of somebody else. Part of Dr. Grandin’s success can be attributed to that fact that, because of her autism, she can empathize with animals in handling systems. Isn’t time we followed her example and tried to think outside the cattle chute?

*SHS Foodthink (2012). Building Trust in What We Eat. Available here: http://shsfoodthink.com/white-papers/
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18 thoughts on “What Happens When We Don’t Like the Science?

  1. There is no more “science” in the pure sense. Everything is viewed, researched and promoted through a political prism.

  2. It’s quite amazing what people tell me. I had one person tell me that they would rather “walk thought their grass barefoot with chicken poop on it than with some nitrogen pellets on it.”. Others have told me that GMOs cause cancer! And these people are well educated medical folks. But the drugs they prescribe are ok. I think we need to have open conversations with people like Michael Pollen. They seem to spill a lot of misinformation that makes people feel good about what they think is true. It’s a long road to hoe.

    • I agree Rod. So much misinformation out there. Having had the “pleasure” of being on a radio panel discussion with Mr Pollan, it seems that he’s not open to much discussion – but then I haven’t had the opportunity in-person. Perhaps we’re all less open in sound bites when promoting a new book, than in real life…I hope! Otherwise, we may have to turn our efforts elsewhere.

  3. Thanks for your post, Dr. Capper. Two thoughts – Show me someone else who can address a local crowd at a small liberal arts school or a group of moms at an outdoor museum both in the heart of New England and talk about how excited she is about facility she designed that will do 10,000 kills per day with a 99.9% first-shot rate owned by McDonalds without flinching or without things thrown at her, but rather gaining new fans each time she speaks, (sorry if the lingo isn’t quite right). And a quote always stays with me as I try to explain the science behind some of the things we do on the farm – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is someone we should continue to work with and show her what we’re doing to take care of our animals.

  4. Thank you. Dr. Grandin is a tremendous asset and I’ve very tired of that wanna be cowboy from Nebraska bad mouthing her on the radio and newpapers. He needs to go home, take care of his livestock and give his poor wife a break.

  5. Ms. Grandin lost her credibility as far as I’m concerned about a year ago when she joined HSUS/mercy for animals in criticizing the farm in Wisconsin that was using a hip lift to completely lift a cow off the ground. Anyone who’s ever used one has probably done that same exact thing in order for the cow to get her front feet under her, so she’ll stand. In fact you can see one cow doing exactly that as the video clip gets cut off(I’d imagine it wouldn’t help their cause to show an animal get up and walk away.) Temple Grandin has turned into someone who will sell out to anyone in order to prolong her 15 seconds of fame, even those who seek to end the very industry that gave her that fame.

    And as far as your topic of this article and the catch phrase “thinking outside the cattle chute.” perhaps you should change that to thinking inside the chute, That’s where the cow is.

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