Unsubstantiated Claims are Everywhere

A good internet browse is like a good conversation. Before you know it, you’ve stumbled upon something interesting and don’t know how you got there.

Tonight, my internet surfing led me to a TEDx presentation about food. How I got there, I’m not really sure, and I don’t think I could ever retrace my steps. The video I found featuring Robyn O’Brien (called food’s Erin Brockovich by some) quickly captured my attention. Watch it for yourself below.

I’ve watched many other TED Talks presentations in recent years, and I enjoy the interesting and inspiring messages that many of them share. While I may not have agreed with the points the speaker in this instance was making, I cannot deny that she certainly shares her points in a convincing manner.

Yet, her discussion was lacking in one critical area – the facts behind the statistics. How can she make the claim that the introduction of rBST in 1994 is directly related to the increased incidence of milk allergies when there is no scientific difference in milk produced by cows given rBST (a naturally-occurring hormone in every dairy cow)?!

Of course, she related this same discussion to GMO crops and how they have single-handedly resulted in all of today’s health problems (…OK, maybe I am overemphasizing her point, but she certainly has strong feelings about the issue).

I wish that I could recollect the term from my college statistics class that discusses this exact issue – trying to correlate one factor to a result while there are countless other factors that should be considered! A lot has changed since 1994, and while yes the statistics show that the incidence of milk allergies has increased, you cannot deny the 100 other issues that may have also had an impact on that result.

It irritates me that there are many people sharing similar messages everyday to consumers that don’t know any better – although it’s not the consumers fault.  Yes, emotion sells, but hopefully a savvy consumer would question a one-sided argument that only points at one cause of a problem.

As I reflect on the video, I think the take-away message for advocates in agriculture is to make sure that that we back up our arguments with all of the facts, unlike our critics. When we take a stand for our industry, let’s provide transparency and fully recognize all sides of the argument.

After watching this video this evening, I’ve officially determined that a goal that I want to achieve one day is to be a presenter on TED Talks (or at least one of the community TEDx presentations). And when I achieve this goal, I will certainly back my discussion with facts that fully support my argument.

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4 Responses to Unsubstantiated Claims are Everywhere

  1. Scott says:

    If I can recall, it was George Carlin that said we’ve all lost good bacteria and should take a dip in the East River in NYC to take care of the problem, Could this be the issue?

  2. Marie Cartwright says:

    There is nothing that bothers me more when statistics are twisted, sources are not cited, and data is being “farmed” to suit ones need. I agree that backing up statements with all the facts (and sometimes even agreeing with parts of “the other side’s” stats!) is key! Love your blog, keep up the good work!

  3. Drew says:

    I agree with what you are saying and have innumerable frustrations with this myself. We have so many issues in agriculture, but it seems 99% of the population look in the wrong direction to where the problems really lie. So… it’s been a year since this was posted, are we any closer to seeing you speak at a TED talk?

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