Wendelyn Jones is executive director of ILSI North America. She has a background in the food, agriculture and chemical industries, with more than 20 years of global experience in industry and government. She applies her Ph.D. in life sciences to extend ILSI North America’s contribution to, and impact within, diverse scientific and health communities.
The scientific process is a proven way to gain knowledge about the world — constructing new understandings that illuminate the world around us more clearly. How do we know science works? Cars drive, airplanes fly and satellites communicate.
In the food arena, we know pasteurization kills harmful microbes. We also know that nutrition makes a difference. For example, vitamin C is essential to avoid scurvy, and folic acid prevents major birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida.
Initially, research-driven ideas are tentative, but as they cycle through the process of science again and again — and are tested and retested in different ways — our confidence in them increases. Furthermore, through these cycles, ideas are modified, expanded and combined into more powerful explanations and greater knowledge.
This knowledge allows us to develop and refine new technologies — like satellites. It allows us to solve practical problems and make confident decisions both individually and collectively. Because the products of credible science are so useful, the scientific process is intertwined with those applications. There is a cycle between scientific knowledge, technological advancements and new areas of scientific inquiry — which often leads to unexpected insights.
- New scientific knowledge leads to new technologies. For example, while fermentation of foods and beverages dates back to earliest human history, scientists thought that fermentation was a purely chemical process. Louis Pasteur's research into fermentation led him to the discovery that it was yeast, a living organism, that turned juice into alcohol. This understanding opened up new processes to prevent food from spoiling.
- New technologies lead to new scientific discoveries. Further work with yeast showed that it was not live yeast that caused fermentation. Rather, it was enzymes in yeast that ferment a sugar solution, forming carbon dioxide and alcohol. This expanded options for greater industrial applications of fermentation.
- Applications give rise to new areas of scientific investigations. As research and investment in fermentation has continued, an expansion of applications has emerged — including food ingredients used in baking. This fermentation technology is foundational to current efforts to produce food products from cultured animal tissues.
However, in today’s world, when we need credible science more than ever, scientists are being attacked. Proven scientific processes are ridiculed. And, perhaps most disturbing, scientists who contribute to public dialogue for public benefit (by serving on advisory panels and other volunteer activities) are increasingly targeted.
So how can we know the difference between credible science and “junk” science? As noted above, credible science is testable. Junk science is not.
Credible science is not deemed credible because of the outcome. It is not deemed credible because of who funded the research. Credible science can be confirmed as credible because it follows the scientific process.
Junk science is designed to reinforce and confirm assumptions. Credible science is open to being verified or proven wrong through further study. There is no way to test junk science to see if it is false. This means you can do a test to disprove conclusions made by credible science when you gather more information, more test subjects or have better samples.
Will join me in defending credible science? Will you question reports that judge science based solely on who funded the science? Will you question reports where non-scientists attack scientists because the results do not agree with their own biases?
Advances in science generate knowledge. This knowledge provides solutions. Together, we can both elevate credible science and find new solutions.