Scary Pictures

Some campaigners exaggerate the impact of the issues they champion in order to force a single solution to the forefront of public debate. But the problem with scaring the public into embracing a predetermined answer is that, when people realize that they are being misled, they lose confidence and interest.

PRAGUE – Campaigners on important but complex issues, annoyed by the length of time required for public deliberations, often react by exaggerating their claims, hoping to force a single solution to the forefront of public debate. But, however well intentioned, scaring the public into a predetermined solution often backfires: when people eventually realize that they have been misled, they lose confidence and interest.

Last month, there were two examples of this in a single week. On September 19, the French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini attempted to fuel public opposition to genetically modified foods by showing the public how GM corn, with and without the pesticide Roundup, caused huge tumors and early death in 200 rats that had consumed it over two years.

Supplying an abundance of pictures of rats with tumors the size of ping-pong balls, Séralini certainly captured the public’s attention. France’s health, ecology, and agriculture ministers promised a prompt investigation and threatened to ban imports of Monsanto’s GM corn to the European Union. Russia actually did block imports of Monsanto corn.

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