Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Scientific Judgment and Value Judgment: The Wall Street Journal, predictably, frames the World Trade Organization’s ruling against a European Union ban on genetically-modified food as “a blow for science over scare-mongers.”

As it happens, I believe genetically-modified crops have tremendous, perhaps transformative potential. If that potential is realized, they could conceivably provide a solution to the worst of world hunger. But I don’t think the cause of spreading the technology is well served by the Journal’s presumably willful distortion of the debate.

First, the WTO ruling was considerably narrower than the editorial would have you believe: it does not impact current EU guidelines, which are still extremely conservative in terms of approving GM foods.

But more to the point, it deliberately obscures the difference between scientific judgments and value judgments—echoing much of the distorted discussion of “junk science” and “sound science” propagated by corporate interest groups in the U.S.

The fact is, there’s relatively little disagreement between the U.S. and Europe: neither side believes there is any scientific evidence that GM foods are harmful. The disagreement is over what to do with that information. The U.S. believes the absence of evidence should give companies a green light to push ahead; the EU would prefer to wait for more evidence. That’s a value judgment, not a scientific one—and the Journal is smart enough to know the difference. If it wants to criticize European values, that’s fine, but framing the issue as a scientific one is just rhetorical posturing.

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