I learned a new word the other day: agnotology, the study of ignorance. Or more specifically, “willful acts to spread confusion and deceit,” often through false or misleading scientific studies.
It's certainly relevant in these days of “alternative facts,” when beliefs and feelings are given the same credence as facts, and misinformed citizens (and their elected officials) gain equal standing with experts.
But what's really disturbing is seeing 10 politicians — Kauai Councilman Mason Chock, Maui Councilmembers Elle Cochran, Alika Atay, Kelly King and Don Guzman; and Hawaii Councilmembers Jennifer Ruggles, Maile David, Karen Eoff, Valerie Poindexter and Eileen O'Hara — engage in this intentional, willful deceit of the people they are pledged to represent.
These 10 elected officials today used the commentary section of Civil Beat to outright lie, claiming Hawaii's “most vulnerable” citizens are being exposed to agricultural pesticide drift and that the state has ignored Joint Fact Finding recommendations on soil and water sampling. Neither is true. There is no evidence anyone is being exposed to drift, and the state has launched environmental studies to monitor for pesticides.
Then they intentionally sought to confuse by saying that air sampling has consistently detected the pesticide chlorpyrifos at Waimea Middle Canyon School, without mentioning the levels were "well below health concern exposure limits or applicable screening levels" and the chemicals present in stinkweed were found, too. They went on to claim that chlorpyrifos caused the hospitalization of 10 farmworkers last year, without also noting that not one of the workers was actually injured. Instead, they were taken to the hospital solely for observation.
They further sought to deliberately confuse by saying “27 schools in Hawaii are within 1 mile of open agrochemical research fields where large amounts of RUPs are sprayed,” while conveniently failing to note that these fields haven't caused one school evacuation, or a single case of student pesticide exposure.
But these 10 politicians saved their biggest lie to bolster their call for statewide buffer zones and mandatory pesticide disclosure:
“This can be done without burdening small farmers or food producers, because most food farmers do not use high levels of RUPs.”
Wrong. These demands burden small farmers most of all. Though the seed companies and other large operators may have the land, personnel and revenue to comply with such requirements, small farmers do not. These measures, which are totally unwarranted, will seriously harm Island agriculture, which is already struggling to survive.
These 10 politicians know the facts. They also know they are intentionally distorting the facts. Their willful deceit is a page taken straight from the playbook of anti-GMO groups that worked to secure their election.
We all know it's wrong to lie and deceive, and it's especially disturbing to see it in public servants. It's really quite shocking to see these 10 elected officials actively seeking to perpetuate ignorance in order to satisfy a special interest group.
It's telling that only Mason Chock, whose very entry into politics was accomplished through dirty dealings, was the only one who signed on from Kauai. Voters there have finally gotten wise to these despicable tactics and largely rejected the politicians who embraced them. Mason barely squeaked into office last November, and he is extremely vulnerable in the 2018 race.
Now it's up to voters in the rest of the state to throw off the cloak of ignorance that has been so carefully woven by well-funded, mainland-based anti-GMO groups. Unless, of course, they like being fooled and duped.
So why do people believe what they do? Even in the face of facts that point otherwise?
Well, as I learned listening to researchers at the recent AAAS confence, young people are largely unable to discern the credibility of information they encounter in media. Activists work this naivete by making extensive use of deceptive memes and social media to spread false messages.
And as explained by Yale law professor Dan Kahan, a specialist in cultural cognition, taking a certain position on an issue is a badge of loyalty to a group. It invests the person strongly in maintaining that view, and the investment is cemented through the use of argumentative, polarizing memes.
We've certainly seen that play out in Hawaii, where newcomers and others eager to achieve a sense of belonging have aligned themselves with special interest groups that use appealing phrases like “aloha aina warriors” and “aina protectors” to attract followers.
But ultimately, they remain ostracized by a community that has been appalled at the negativity, polarization and hate perpetuated by the anti-ag/anti-GMO activists. Secure in their little echo chambers, and fed a relentless diet of propaganda, they start to believe they're the majority, when in fact they're the lunatic fringe.
To counter the polarization, Kahan said, one must find ways to disentangle people’s identities from the issues, or use their alignment with the group to shift them toward the scientific consensus, such as getting knowledgeable people from the groups they identify with to share the truth.
In the meantime, those in the know must keep speaking out. The future of Hawaii agriculture hangs in the balance.