On issues like GMOs and climate change, reference is often made to the ‘scientific consensus’ on these issues. This reference is most often made in response to someone who might be denying that climate change is real, or asserting that GMOs have adverse health effects.
Fairly recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) members participated in a Pew research study that gauged their perception of certain political issues and on the state of science education in the United States. This study gets quoted a lot in the media, and in this article in particular that I’d like to talk about.
The author of the article cites in the first line that 89% of scientists believe that GMOs are safe. I am a scientist, and I believe that GMOs are safe, so I would count myself among that 89%.
Here’s the thing, though: I am a chemist. I am completely unqualified to talk about GMOs at all. I know enough about them to know that I barely know how they work. There are as many kinds of scientist as there are kinds of science, and expertise usually doesn’t translate from one discipline to another. Some of those 89% are experts in the field, but I would wager that most are not.
In light of that, what do you think about references to that kind of study? What function do you think polling all scientists is fulfilling? Is it worthwhile to get more specific? How can a journalist paint a more accurate picture of the state of the debate?