Evidence and Empathy

There was a time, says Harvard history of science professor Naomi Oreskes, when governments accepted scientific evidence and used it to make good policy. Interestingly, though, she points out that the disparaging of science and the creation of alternative facts didn’t start with the current occupant of the White House; rather, it goes back to the 1930s and the origins of public relations and mass marketing media and, the tobacco industry had a lot to do with it.




Professor Oreskes was discussing the US response to climate breakdown, but her thesis could just as easily be applied to Washington’s handling of industrial scale livestock production and its role in the creation of the public health crisis we find ourselves in. Science journalist Maryn Mckenna explains: Since at least 1976, she says, we’ve known that antibiotics given to farm animals produce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the guts of the animals that receive them. Those bacteria then move through the environment and enter other animals and people. And when a few million of us each year become infected with these drug-resistant “superbugs” our illness is one which is harder to treat and often deadly.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Eveline was a young girl in the Netherlands whose life was threatened by MRSA – which, the evidence showed, she contracted from the pigs on her father’s industrial farm. “This moment changed the life for me,” he says, and, as it turned out, because of a grassroots movement, it also led to a countrywide reduction in the use of antibiotics in food production resulting in healthier animals and people. The Dutch, in other words, driven by the facts, changed their animal food production policy because of empathy – they didn’t want what happened to one young girl to happen to anyone else.

Eveline, fortunately, survived and is interviewed in the story, below. But the question Americans and Canadians have to ask themselves is, why haven’t we made the same beneficial policy shift as the Dutch?

We have the evidence. Where’s the empathy?


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