As high school English teachers hand out research paper assignments to eye rolls and sighs, they must know that their students feel nearly certain that the knowledge gained in carefully sourcing their final assignment will never serve them later in life. This attitude remains pervasive into adulthood it seems as many legislators, food elitists and a broad array of anti-ag activists have forgotten one of the keys to a successful assignment: Always base your thesis on information from academically credible sources.
Right now, arguments against corn-based ethanol, corn sugar and production agriculture have gained a significant amount of public attention. What we must do is question the information the nay-sayers build their arguments upon because, as high school also taught, popularity does not equal substance.
But it seems legislators forgot these valuable lessons as the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment decided to invite chicken lobbyists, environmentalists and Big Oil to testify during a hearing examining the science behind E15. While each of these groups most certainly has an opinion, albeit a self-serving one, on ethanol, none can claim to have conducted the unbiased, scientific research that would lend their arguments credibility.
If the subcommittee had truly intended to take a hard look at the scientific knowledge on E15, there were many groups who could have offered more pertinent, reliable data. Institutions that publish actual research that holds weight in scientific circles, including the Rochester Institute of Technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have conducted extensive research on the matter. Yet, somehow, our elected officials chose to listen to groups with obvious agendas and little expertise in the matter.
Food elitists have taken the same route as the armchair activists who perpetuate the idea that corn sugar, also known as high fructose corn syrup, somehow adds to the obesity epidemic, predisposes persons toward diabetes or is just generally bad. A majority of the HFCS-bashing public cannot accurately explain why they believe it to be worse beyond knowing that they heard something about some study.
Performing a routine Facebook search for the term yields telling results immediately. The very first result offered is a page advocating a complete ban of HFCS. Put together by a high school graduate with no discernible other credentials, the page explains that corn sugar differs from other sweeteners as the body metabolizes fructose and glucose differently. He even cites scientific evidence.
While this appears credible on the surface, it isn’t. What this vocal activist, who has been written about in publications as lofty as the New York Times, fails to understand is that corn sugar, cane sugar and beet sugar are nearly identical in their ratio of glucose to fructose, approximately 50 percent of each. Dieticians, physicians and reputable voices throughout the industry already know that corn sugar does not differ from other sweeteners. So why are more than 20,000 people fans of this inaccurate, bitter propaganda? The only logical conclusion is that they too decided to lazily accept whatever information they were handfed rather than critically evaluate the source.
It is time that we ask as much of ourselves as was required in high school – that we act as critical thinkers. The assignments today include developing sensible policies that serve the public good and are based in science and not propaganda-driven hysteria. Much more is at stake than an A this time so follow your English teacher’s instructions and make sure that the information you share comes from a source deserving of your trust.