Daily Reads: Labeling Knowledge

This article in the Washington Post by Ilya Somin proposes an interesting idea about the scientific literacy of the general public: we don’t need to be highly knowledgeable about science – or many other topics, for that matter – to get by in our daily lives. So when a survey comes out such as the one with which the article opens, illustrating that 80% of the American public would support labeling of foods that contain DNA, it is misleading for us to assume that 80% of Americans are stupid. Yes, it pains me greatly to realize that that many people don’t know what DNA is and that it is present in just about everything we eat, but Somin is correct in concluding that with the vast quantities of information that exist, it is unrealistic to expect people to be knowledgeable of everything. (This principle is used in tongue-in-cheek “warnings” about the substance dihydrogen monoxide – otherwise known as water – and how dangerous it can be. This capitalizes on people’s lack of knowledge about chemical names and trades in the rather elitist assumption that people who don’t know the chemical structure and name of water are stupid, rather than merely untutored.) That said, I think this is why critical thinking is so important. People need to be taught to admit that they don’t know things and that they may need more information before coming to a conclusion. If we all realize and admit how much we don’t know, rather than forming opinions without doing more research, then I think perhaps a lot of our problems with scientific misunderstandings would end.

Over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA”

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