Science vs soundbites and sensationalism #IFT16

Late last year, I had the pleasure of meeting outgoing IFT President, Colin Dennis, at a talk I gave at the 2015 SAAFoST conference in Durban. For those of you who are interested in food science and nutrition, and who don’t know of SAAFoST, I’d like to point you in the direction of their “Food Facts Advisory Service“, where you can find a number of informative pieces on food facts and fears.

In any event, Prof. Dennis suggested that he would be keen on inviting me to speak at a future IFT event. To my great surprise and pleasure, that invitation ended up being to give one of the keynote talks – alongside such luminaries as Dr Ben Goldacre – at the IFT  congress in Chicago, which has just concluded today.

The talk went well, I think, and the 800-strong crowd seemed to appreciate it. It’s unfortunately only going to be made available to IFT members, but I hope to write it up sometime, and will post it here if I do. In the meanwhile, Toni Tarver has written up a useful summary of it, containing many of the key messages, which you can read on the IFT website. As she/I point out:

Rousseau explained that society is participating in a state of “aware unawareness,” which is based on selective reception and transmission of knowledge, uncertainty, and an unwillingness to know facts. The internet and social media have become highly effective tools for people who participate in “aware unawareness.” Through confirmation bias, a person can use the internet to find more and more information that corroborates his point of view and, through social media, get many people to accept and adopt his distorted beliefs. Rousseau said that humans are naturally predisposed to finding confirmatory beliefs that prove their beliefs. This is why food bloggers with no formal education in food science, nutrition, or related area of expertise feel confident in espousing erroneous information.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.