Week #9 - Social and Ethical Issues (due 3/27)

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Vaccine-autism claims, "Frankenfood" bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public's growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.
http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_specter_the_danger_of_science_denial.html
Comment on something you like or don't like about this talk.

Comments

week 9

I like how he targets many things that are useless to our health. Many people believe that the supplements they are taking everyday are good for them. I'm glad he actually takes initiative on the matter and explains it thoroughly to the people. The people do not know why he cares about what they do, but he makes it clear that this is a serious fraud placed on them. He believes that the people deserve to know the truth.

Week 9 Blog

I agree with the majority of Michael Specter's points in this talk. We need scientific progress to be continually successful on the planet, and we're only hurting ourselves if we resist or stop to hesitate on the verge of major medical, physical, and chemical discoveries. The world's population is still on the rise; we're only going to be able to keep everyone fed and healthy with such things as vaccinations and transgenic food. We need to have a more faith in what scientific studies are telling us. The MMR vaccine has not been found to cause autism, yet people still refuse to vaccinate their children. Though Mr. Specter's delivery can be seen as a little dramatic, I think he's fundamentally correct.

Week #9 Response

I think that Michael Specter brought up many points that should be considered by people who immediately dismiss the ideas of genetically engineering food. While I personally base my decisions and some actions on cold, hard scientific proof, I understand why people might be skeptical of genetically engineering food in terms of long-term effects. While studies show that they might have no or even a beneficial effect on peoples’ health, it doesn’t seem like many things could have been tested for a long enough time to know if some genetically engineered products could have negative long-term effects. While I understand this point of view, Specter’s examples of the addition of vitamin A into rice and nutrients into potato-like foods, subsequently saving the lives of millions, is hard to argue with. People also don’t realize how many foods they eat daily which are only in their familiar form because of modifications that man made hundreds of years ago. Man altered the “natural” growth of these things at the very least by selecting foods with desirable traits and planting only those, decreasing variation in these crops. If it’s true that in the future we will need to produce 70% more food than we do now in order to survive, something needs to change, and people should consider genetic engineering, if nothing else, at least as an alternative to starving to death.

Week 9 Blog

I think, in this talk, Michael Specter presents data to support human progress as a great thing and discusses the refusal to conform (the counterpoint) as modern day colonialism. I think the way he presented the information about genetically engineered food was good. He was sure to include all the points that scare the laymen and explain reasons to have less fear for the subject. I think his entire presentation was overly biased and he didn't touch on a single negative point about modern progression but insisted on allowing science to dig itself out of the hole it is in currently. I think, though important to recognize the triumphs of modern progress, it is unfair to omit the failures (he did make very brief mention to some disasters). I'm not sure if the talk actually would persuade a persons thinking, which I'd assume was the goal.

Michael Specter

I like what he had to say about progress and how science is more or less at a standstill. I also strongly agree with his arguments for vaccination. There is a lot of information about vaccinations out there and it is hard to know what is true and what is not because the world's population are basically laymen when it comes to vaccinations. What I didn't like is that he basically called alternative methods of medication ridiculous because science trumps all. His speech seems to be asking why do we even have a choice of any other option than science and my answer to that would be because we can. I enjoyed what he had to say and it was true but evolution didn't happen in a day. It took time and with this issue its obviously going to take time.

Week 9

I found Spector's talk interesting and thought-provoking but also somewhat preachy. I was put off by his attack on natural medicine as complete fraud. I agree that Scientific remedies are necessary, especially when it comes to saving lives, but herbal remedies are used widely across the globe for those who have no access to expensive medications. His complete disregard for this was ignorant as was his exclusion of science from greater institutions. Science is powered by capitalism, by our societal views, and by those in political power. He was right in assuming that Americans have trust issues with Science because we also have trust issues with authority. I also agreed with his point that it is good to be skeptical and it is good to question but that we need to get better at changing our views when solid evidence is presented to us.

Michael Spencer: TED talk

Michael's Specter's speech was definitely interesting and entertaining to watch- it caught the attention of the audience, and held it for 16 and a half mins. While I think that he certainly made some good points, I would have liked to see a little bit more specifics in the speech. I thought his point about Genetic engineering being a debate about politics, laws, "wording" and morality was a great point, but I would have liked him to back up his arguments with more facts. He says that the vaccine-autism claims, and the herbal cure craze are not backed up in any facts, but he doesn't state any facts to disprove them either. While I completely agree with what he's saying- I've read about the vaccine-autism claims- I think that he could have made his speech even stronger if he used more facts, more numbers. I know that he says that society doesn't like the facts- that people don't vaccinate because of stories of friends, despite what the studies say- but I disagree. I think thats its because the facts haven't made it out there yet, in a way that is understandable to the general public. I think that Michael should use his charisma, and his great public speaking skills to present more facts in a way thats convincing and entertaining for a wide audience.

Week #9 - Social and Ethical Issues (due 3/27)

In the talk given by Michael Specter a particular point that seemed to overhand his discussion was the inability of the populous to distinguish science from authority. This was a particular interesting take on why people are so resistant to advancements in certain scientific fields. Especially genetics and vaccine production. As he states people haven’t been given any reasons to trust or rely on their authority figures. This in turn leads to the dogged rejection of new scientific breakthroughs on the basis of improper evidence. This is a major problem because we cannot continue to advance scientifically when there is opposition to it, not only from religious groups but also from normal people because of an incorrect connection between science and authority.

week 9 blog response

His ideas about science with regard to public perception are refreshing and thought-provoking. He isn’t afraid to hold anything back, at the risk of being bashed by many ignorant people in our world. Overall, I agree with his ideas. That is, we need to be able to embrace science to enhance the lives of the millions and millions of sick or malnourished people in our world. [Provided we do so in a way that won’t negatively impact ecosystems and the natural genetic balance of plants, we should be able to embrace GMOs (grown within an isolated environment).]

I did find a few of his points a bit presumptuous. The “herbal cure craze” is not fabricated BS. There are indeed very potent phytochemicals in certain plants that are effective in promoting health/ well-being. In a sense, he also contradicts himself through his stance on GMOs. If he wants to embrace GMOs enriched with key essential nutrients, how can he disagree with other herbs already rich in beneficial nutrients (i.e. ginko biloba, acai)? [No, I don’t think that these plants can magically cure diseases. But when consumed in their natural form on a consistent basis, and coupled with other healthy foods and positive lifestyle habits, they can help promote good health.]

Again, overall he had very solid arguments and a refreshing perspective on the world. He was a bit preachy, but very interesting and entertaining nonetheless.

Week 9 Response

Specter makes especially compelling arguments about vaccinations and genetically engineered food. I admire the way that he presents facts in a clear and concise manner, enabling people to hopefully realize that their previous misconceptions are in fact not true. The media certainly presents conflicting stories about these issues, so the public should benefit by hearing a more straightforward account. At the same time, his effectiveness may be reduced because of his aggressiveness. He exclaims that “we should be ashamed of ourselves” due to the declining vaccination rate for measles. As a result, he further alienates his listeners because they may not be receptive to someone with such harsh criticisms.

Michael Specter talk

I believe he made some interesting points on the topic of genetic engineering. It is becoming exceedingly more and more difficult to educate the general public on scientific processes such as cloning and changing genes to increase the life of a fruit. It amazed me to hear that even the educated are fearing progress. I can definitely understand that an uneducated population wouldn't be able to understand what scientists are doing with genetic engineering but I don't see it as much different than trusting a doctor to doing his job well. If we make a mistake in science it could kill millions so there is a lot of responsibility in what we do. I think the public just needs to understand that what we are doing is going to benefit them and our future generations.

Week 9 Blog

Michael Specter presents several valid points in this speech. The most salient points for me involved the fear of the administration and the fear of those in power. There are numerous examples where those in higher positions have caused havoc and disaster without acting on the part of others. However, there are many more examples with no disastrous consequences, but they do not get called readily into mind, and Science becomes a scapegoat. I believe this can be alleviated by people becoming more versed in science, which could be provided by changing and adapting the science curriculum to make subsequent generations be well informed enough to distinguish scientific progress from Shelley's Frankenstein.

week # 9- Social and Ethical issues

I think that there are some good points that Michael made about science and GMOs in general. I agree that with education people can understand some of these better. However, I think that people do have valid concerns. Sometimes components of vaccines may pose some threat and people have every right to be concerned. Perhaps certain diseases have declined because of vaccines as Michael puts it, but that doesn’t mean that we may not be facing new kinds of diseases which maybe can be attributed to some of the things we are using, made scientifically- who knows for sure. So I believe that there is a need for people to be skeptical and not just accept everything on paper (that too can be false at times) until there is really no doubt.

Blog 9

The point that Specter made that really struck me was when he was talking about the fear and distrust of genetically modified foods. He is right; the things that most people distrust, whether they know it or not, are the big companies and conglomerates that control the food industry. Science is not that problem. The food is safe to eat and is beneficial in so many ways, not the least of which is providing nutrients easily to third-world countries through fortified foods. We distrust “the man” ie the government, the big corporations, the “scientists”, which, like Specter said, there is good reason to. Therefore when he says that we need to modify our food industry, and how its run and controlled, I wholeheartedly agree. As some other people mentioned, he has a harsh way of presenting these ideas but overall, I can’t help but agree with him.

Week 9 Blog Entry

Specter makes valid points about how we have much to gain from scientific innovations, and how our success in the future depends on them. While I understand why he gets upset at those who shun scientific progress, he comes off more as an annoyed journalist rather than an inspired scientific writer. In a democratic society like ours, people will always disagree, and many will express their opinions to a large or small extend. Some will take their opinions to the extreme. I think that having an outspoken opposition is a negligible price to pay for the ability to make scientific progress. Instead of expressing distaste towards these people, Specter could have talked about how to work around them, how to talk to them, how to make them happy, etc. His time would have been better spent focusing on the pursuit of progress instead of dwelling on its obstacles.

Week # 9 blog response

I agree with the points that Michael Specter has brought up in his Ted talk. What alarms me the most in particular is that people sometime will form biases that are rooted in incorrect or fabricated facts which can not even be shaken by independent scientific studies. Take for example the MMR vaccine situation, multiple independent studies have come to the same conclusion that there is no correlation between MMR vaccines and autism yet there continues to be a drop in the national measles vaccinations in the United States. I think the main issue is that lack of dissemination of good education on such topics to generate public awareness. Another interesting topic that Mr. Specter raised was about the resistance against GMO crops. Part of the problem I believe is still the lack of education. However, the point raised by Mr. Specter that there is a need of stronger regulations around GMO in order to disable companies from harding patents on crops is a conflicting one. If companies were not allowed to have a financial gain out of a GMO crop then the incentive for bright young minds to enter the biotechnology field will diminish which will have dire consequences on the future. But I do concur that there should be laws and regulations in place so that undue advantage is not taken by commercial companies. In conclusion, I believe better education of the masses and better regulatory laws can lead to greater adoption of solutions being fathomed.

Week 9

"SCIENCE BITCHES, IT WORKS. YOU'RE STUPID IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN IT."
That's pretty much what I got from that talk. While I agree with pretty much everything in terms of content of the video, I did not like the militant, extreme way in which the issues were pressed.
In my opinion progress needs to founded on reason and rational discourse. This particular TED talk seemed more angry and emotional than calm and pragmatic. While I understand that the deaths of thousands, if not millions as the result of pure idiocy is something worth getting angry over, I don't think it belongs in civilized discourse in a public forum. In fact, I think such harsh rhetoric (using words like "raping the land" and yelling out "FRAUD" etc.) is only adding to the issue. It's true, people don't like being wrong, and they especially don't like being put down. But by being angry and forceful (which amounts to fighting fire with fire) I feel that a lot of people would get alienated and simply reject the premise of his arguments because it makes them feel bad. Yeah, it sucks that people act irrationally like that, but it's not something you can change with just harsh rhetoric, it often simply results in people acting more irrationally and pressing against reason with the same fervor which worsens the issue. (On a side note, this is also exactly why I think American politics have gotten so dysfunctional)
In short, I think the extremism and polarization of issues in mass media needs to stop. It solves nothing. In fact I'll bet that none of the people that watched this will stop taking expensive herbal remedies, and at worst it will make people dislike and distrust science even more.
Instead I think we need to calm down, realize that people are inherently flawed and irrational and try to work around that with consistent, educational discourse instead of vitriolic attack. The only way that I see ourselves getting out of the social hole we've dug ourselves in is not with more digging, but by cohesively working together to pull ourselves out through understanding and education.

Week 9 response- Alice Trei

This talk is persuasive because so much of it (if not all) is truth, and the sort of truth people tend to not look at too closely. I particularly liked his point about the public's growing distrust of authority, government, and government-sanctioned and approved products or methods. Unfortunately for science, especially medical science, it is considered a tool of the government (either to do what it is supposed to do or some other nefarious purpose) and no matter what it tries it will be wrapped up in the red tape hassle, programs people dislike but assume it is at fault for, or for the most part, ignored. The vast majority of people simply don't watch Nova or buy the latest issue of Science to see what's up.
What Mr. Specter doesn't address is ignorance. Most people simply do not know what is going on in the scientific world, what has been tested, what approved, or most importantly- /why./ On top of that, we were each raised with a certain set of rules for how the world works or should work, and editing these preconceptions is extremely difficult. So when the world goes crazy because through a game of academic telephone and paper misquotation the public hears eating genetically altered foods alters YOUR GENES TOO they catch on to it, remember it, but don't hear a peep about where that information came from or what information contradicts it. It's not that the world is turning away from science, it's that in a world filled with celebrity drama and natural disasters and teen moms science doesn't vie for most people's attention. And when you don't know where a medication comes from, it's a lot easier for someone who grew up getting better off of mom's chicken soup and sunshine to pick up a bottle of herbs and trust it than an expensive, government-regulated, mystery pill they need to get a prescription for, go and pick up, sign forms to get... and so on. Same with foods- natural products became the rage when people wanted to take the human influence (pesticides etc.) out of their food. Now you put modified tomatoes on the shelf and who is going to investigate to see if they are actually better? Who is going to choose one of them over the /natural,/ wholesome organic tomato they KNOW is safe and good?
The answer to Specter's problem is Education... and Confidence. Confidence in the specialists who know how to do things you don't. And how is that gained? Only by being able to trust those same specialists to tell you what they are doing and why, so you know their methods and their morals. Confidence in a system that works, eventually, I hope. But for now education is key. People need to be excited by the future, rather than nodding cynically to it and moaning "don't blame me, I voted for the other guy." Make the future exciting and they will turn to /you/ for education.

-Alice Trei

Blog 9 Response

For the most part I agreed with many of the statements made. I strongly believe that the fear of change does help to slow progress although I do disagree that science should run free. Of course there is need for change and push for change, but it still needs to have some sort of control about it as it needs to be remembered that not necessarily everyone and every government has the same goals in mind. I agree that we need to keep pushing change forward and it has too many restrictions on it, but I am not ready to concede and allow free reign of science.

I agree with his speech and

I agree with his speech and the points he talks of such as people are afraid of new changes, they do not want to try new things because of the chance that something may go wrong thus they stick with the old methods. When he talks about science and how they're should be freedom around science in order to discover new methods/vaccines but balance and order is needed. This is done through the skeptic people who keep progress in check, this way the world is not destroyed or mutilated by on-going/failed experiments.

Blog 9

Michael Spector brings up some valid points such as his example with the people being afraid of vaccines when there is evidence that refutes a correlation between vaccines and autism. He does not mention the role that media plays in spreading the fear while it fails to spread the scientific reports that refute the claims that caused the fear. Spector says at some point that science is a process but fails to mention that an essential part of that process is questioning the goals of research and the motivations behind some aspects of science and research. He mentions in a condescending tone people who use herbal medicine and take vitamins and in another point says it is important to engineer foods which contain higher levels of some vitamins or nutrient which seems contradictory. He mentions that people turn to herbal cures and that it isn't good but many of the pharmaceutical drugs that are used today are based off of naturally occurring substances found in the herbs used for herbal remedies. Also he only mentions one example of a pharmaceutical drug that had been disastrous. When he mentions that progress is said ironically with quotation marks he fails to mention the implications that follow the word progress and that it is also said with quotes, especially in the field of anthropology, because things considered progress by one point of view aren't considered progress by all. I think Spector does bring up some points of interest but fails to take a bigger picture look at the things he says. His talk points out that sure we have problems but other than that it doesn't really say that much more.

Blog Entry 9

For the most part of Michael Specter talk I would have to agree with him. People that are afraid of change can hinder the progress for humanity. It is true that people have there own people and that you can change that fact how people think, but they should not be able to hinder the progress for others that embrace the advances in science. In deny science in our life there are grave consequences in which many people well have to suffer due to this denial of science. People must realize transgenic food they’re nothing really wrong with it if they are learn the science behind they will realize there is no danger. As soon as people realize how much science has in fact help our society progress and help countless in way that improve our way life it will help in the long wrong how we progress into the future.

Week 9 Blog

I agree with Michael Specter view. Everyone has their opinion and you are entitled to it but when someone has a fact you cannot run away from it. We need to learn to accept the proof. It is true, millions of people are starving everyday because of some people are afraid of genetically altered food. We are not only stopping science from making progress but also causing millions of human to suffer. It makes sense that people don’t want to try new product that out in the market but just because you are afraid of trying new genetically altered food doesn’t mean they have the right to stop other consumer from having it. People forget that it is because of science that has cured millions of disease and save other millions life every year. Saying no to science is same as stopping the world from progress. Today, we need science even more than we needed it before.

Week #9 Comment

I agree with most of the points that Specter makes, but I just don’t like his condescending tone as he talks. I understand that he’s raising some really serious issues, but his tone is far from convincing. I’m sure he doesn’t solely want to address the people who agree with him (why give a talk then?), and it’s been proven that making people feel stupid or addressing them in a condescending manner is a poor way to convince them of anything.

Anyway, I agree with the points he makes. People are afraid of sudden new changes, which is why they stick to the old products/methods even after they’ve been proven to be not as effective as the most current products/procedures. There’s another psychological concept that could explain this behavior. I forget what this concept is called but once someone is told something to be true (e.g. vaccinations cause autism) then even after they are told that the truth is actually quite the opposite, they continue to believe what they first heard to be true. And when it comes to something that has such dire consequences as autism, they are more likely to continue believing it. He’s right since rubella is not very common in the U.S. but the rate at which children are now being diagnosed with autism is increasing, parents worry more about autism than other “not-so-terrifying” health concerns that could be avoided with a simple vaccination.

I agree with Specter that science should be given complete freedom so it can provide us with new ways to improve the world, but I also believe that we do need the skeptics that Specter just ‘can’t understand.’ Because these skeptics keep the progress of science in check so it really does help improve the world and not destroy. Yes, the same skeptics many times do come in the way of real, genuine progress, but that might just only delay the process. Sooner or later, any advance that helps will make its mark, but this way we can at least make sure that the power of science and technology is not abused.

week 9

I agreed with a lot of what Specter say and especially one of his points that one of the main reasons people are willing to not get their kids vaccinated from diseases like the measles and polio is because neither is a threat in the US anymore. The out of sight factor makes it seem less devastating whereas the comparatively high number of children with autism is visible and thus seems like the worse of the two evils. I do not totally agree with his attempt to say science is fact and we should let it progress as such however and deal with the politics etc as separate. It is naïve to think that science doesn’t operate within political and social spheres being greatly influenced by both, whether it is due to funding or socially constructed ideas that inform the science being done. I think it is our responsibility to look at science both for the new information or ‘facts’ it produces as well as for the social repercussions progressive science may yield.

Week 9 Response

I for the most part I agree with what Michael Spector is saying. I believe people who are not educated in the sciences are the people that fear genetically altered foods. However, there is really nothing wrong with transgenic food. And once they have their mind set, it is hard to convince them of this. Science denial is a danger. It is ashame other countries have to starve because people are afraid to outsource transgenic foods.

Week 9

On many levels I agree with his position. Ignorance and the fear that stems from it would certainly hinder any progress. One can imagine it would be very easy to become anxious if people were racing ahead to destinations unknown, unseen and unfathomable. To inform the fearing populations so they understand what is going on with and going into progress isn't so scary is a nearly impossible undertaking. More often than not, once someone assumes a position on a subject, they are not easily swayed and may even go as far as to decry attempts to persuade them to be proganda. But I dont really agree with how he phrases/paints the situation. It's not the fault of the uninformed or unfamilar. Science is advancing at an exponential pace and scientists have not the time and patience to wait for the laymen to catch up. And naturally people get scared when they feel they are being left behind.