1) The Earth is round, not flat.
2) The Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around.
3) Persons of African descent are human beings, not some kind of sub-human animal.
4) Cigarette smoking increases your risk of cancer.
5) The Earth is getting hotter.
6) Pesticides are dangerous to living things and ecosystems including the humans who inhabit them.
It is likely that it is obvious to you that the first four are fact.
However, go back in history and you find that this was not always so. To be sure, nobody had any idea the Earth was not flat for a long time, but then some clever Greeks began to realize that the observable data didn’t fit that preconception anymore. Of course, this new idea was not accepted immediately or without controversy, to say the least.
Later, Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy, when he dared to suggest that Copernicus was correct about the sun being center around which the Earth and the other planets revolve. The idea that the Earth revolves around the sun was declared, “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical …” [Only recently has the Catholic Church vindicated Galileo].
Most, but unfortunately not all, people today would be embarrassed to admit that they think that blacks are sub-human. But this was not the common or popular understanding a few hundred years ago in the South (or even in the 1950s in some areas).
The link between cigarette smoking and cancer has been well-established just in my lifetime. Most people now understand the efforts by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the dangers of smoking as simply the desire to continue to make money selling products.
For a couple of decades now, as the evidence has made itself more difficult to ignore, concerns over global warming or climate change have been mounting. The vast majority, 97 percent, of scientists now accept this as fact. Unfortunately, vested interests and entrenched power are busy denying that there is anything going on. Never mind that the last 27 months have been hotter than any of the averages of the same months over the last 100 years, or that many glaciers are melting for the first time in recorded history.
Historically, you see a progression, for each of the above statements from unconsciousness, to a few people recognizing the new truth, through increasing awareness by an increasing number of people, until enough information is available for rigorous proof and the idea is recognized as fact.
In every case, naysayers and those with vested interested denounced the new [correct] idea as false and those who recognized its validity as misguided. Sound familiar?
Now we come to number six about pesticides. It is too early to declare this as provable scientific fact, but the same patterns of denial behavior are all there in the populace. The parallels to number four are disturbing. Nobody knows for sure just how dangerous these pesticides are, but it is clear that the public is being manipulated by industry. For example, Syngenta is now asking the EPA to raise the accepted limit of exposure to their chemical thiamethoxam, a chemical linked to the decline of honey bee populations, by 400 times — not 400 percent, but 400 fold! And, they want to do it quietly and without any government or public response. Can they prove it won’t affect the honey bees? No way! Do we need honey bees? Absolutely!
We must not be distracted by the denouncers of today who complain about the use of anecdotal evidence. That argument has certainly been used by the tobacco companies, and climate change deniers alike. True, you cannot prove something with anecdotal evidence, but ignoring it altogether is a myopia of convenience – you might as well put your head in the sand. Besides, the burden of proof lies not with those at risk, but with those who assert that their poisons are safe. There is no denying that!
Ned Dana is a resident of Lawai.