Trottier Symposium: Why the Public Needs Science | The Body of Evidence

Trottier Symposium: Why the Public Needs Science

The importance of science communication was made clear these past two days. The 11th edition of the Trottier Public Science Symposium ended with a standing ovation for Dr. Kevin Folta, the much maligned food scientist who delivered to our Montreal audience an outstanding speech. He understands that facts alone do not convince a population which has been sold on fear and emotional anecdotes. By asking us what our values were before he even started to explain what genetic engineering can do for our food supply, he ensured we were all on the same page. This debate, like many others that were tackled at the symposium, is not an "us versus them" dichotomy; rather, it's about debating the risks and benefits of technological solutions that will improve all of our lives. Dr. Folta highlighted a quote that needs to be repeated: anti-GMO activists seem to hate corporations more than they love people.

His presentation served as a fantastic showcase for a scientist who has mastered the art of communicating his knowledge to a lay public. We need more voices like his out there. Unnecessary and predatory Freedom of Information Act requests, like the ones that have recently targeted his email account, can only scare away the voices of reason which we desperately need to participate in this public debate. Of course, the democratization of the traditional media--with podcasts, videos and blogs being made available to the general public--ensures that these scientists can continue to articulate their arguments to a public hungry for answers, since traditional media may shy away from actually practicing decent journalism on scientific issues. Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the moderator for the evening, revealed that our very own CBC decided to cancel its interview with Dr. Folta in light of the recent bad publicity he has received. We should all be worried that a shrill, fear-mongering minority is having such an impact on the public discourse on important issues.

On a lighter note, Chris and I got to record a live version of The Body of Evidence from the main stage during the symposium and interview not only Dr. Folta, but also Dr. Paul Offit on the topic of vaccination and Dr. Geoffrey Kabat on the health risks behind radio and microwave frequencies. But before all this goodness, we were approached by a fan, an actual fan with the right "fan" credentials, who recognized Chris' voice. And she wanted a picture with us. So we now have concrete evidence that we have at least two listeners: Chris' mom and Rachel Santos.

The taping of The Body of Evidence was a whirlwind experience, balancing videos, slides, stats, jingles, rapid-fire interviews, banter, and an AV crew who needed to know all of our cues and who were coordinating three cameras, five microphones, and a screen. But we made it out alive and I can't wait to watch the recording to see what it looked like for the public. Both the audio recording and the video will be made available in the coming weeks. Check this space for more details.

Finally, if you missed the event, you did not get to hear "The Ballad of Kevin Folta". Joseph Hackl, our go-to singer-songwriter-musician, recorded a song for our favorite Salem witch, and we think you should hear it too: