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Fraley: 3 Reasons We Must Solve the Perception Gap Around Science

17:00PM Mar 02, 2015


Dr. Robb Fraley

by Dr. Robb Fraley, Chief Technology Officer, Monsanto, World Food Prize Winner

I'm a scientist, and I believe in the scientific process as a way to help us understand the world.

I don't think scientists have all the answers, nor do I think they're always right. But I do think it's good to listen to what science has to say.

Recently, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey on what scientists and the American public think about several issues. On some topics, these two groups largely agreed. But on many others, they didn't. Sometimes the gap was pretty wide. And unfortunately, we're already seeing consequences of these gaps between what science tells us and what people believe.


I have three kids, and they all got their shots. It's no exaggeration to say that vaccination is one of the most important innovations in human history. There is probably no way to calculate the number of lives it has saved.

The Pew survey found that the general public and the scientific community both support strong vaccination policies. But because some people are choosing to disregard the scientific consensus on vaccines, we're seeing a dangerous resurgence of measles and other diseases in the United States.

I believe parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids are just trying to do what's best to keep them safe and healthy. When faced with sometimes conflicting information, this can be a difficult task for anyone. But I also believe the science supporting vaccines is clear, and that disregarding it is putting children at risk.

Climate Change

The Pew survey found 87 percent of scientists believe climate change is mostly due to human activity. In contrast, only 50 percent of the general public agreed - a 37-point gap.

We don't have to look far to see the results of the gap. Efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions have been opposed in the United States and elsewhere, even as the average global temperature continues to break records.

I worry about this a lot because agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change. We're working on ways to help farmers grow food in the face of extreme weather fluctuations and related challenges from insects and plant diseases.

But, I'd much rather people engage around what science says about climate change and take action to stop it...because we need to act now to address the causes - not just the effects - of climate change.


The Pew survey's findings on GMOs are striking. Eighty-eight percent of the scientists surveyed agree that it's safe to eat foods containing GMOs - a higher consensus among scientists than for vaccines and climate change. Despite this consensus, only 37 percent of the general public agreed.

This one is especially personal to me because I was one of a handful of people who helped develop the first GMOs.

This post isn't just about me or Monsanto though: disease, climate change and access to food are among the biggest challenges facing us all. But the perception gap between the scientific community and the public hinders our collective ability to solve these challenges.