By Gene Hall
Here I am, trying to communicate complex ideas about the science of agriculture, navigating a broken political system and looking for serious people to debate in a serious way. Then, turn a rhetorical corner, start making progress, and you are bludgeoned with the deadly “one-word argument.”
I’d really like some help here. Looking for answers on immigration reform? NO! #AMNESTY!–in all caps shouting. Start laying out the overwhelming evidence supporting the safety and environmental benefits of biotechnology (GMOs) in food and you get–#MONSANTO!–as if that settled the argument.
This way of arguing has several advantages. It diverts the debate away from facts that might be uncomfortable onto a playing field that tilts toward emotion and hyperbole. This is often where fundraising is maximized, or you can stop a political compromise that might actually work, dead in its tracks. The one-word argument is a straw man. If you don’t like arguing an issue on the facts, pull out the one-worder, with a hashtag (#) and you are in business. Honest debate is way overrated.
But, what I’d really like are some suggestions on one-word arguments. For the anti-science crowd, how about #HUNGRY! or #OVERPOPULATED! Maybe #STARVE! Immigration reform is harder. How can one word illustrate exporting large chunks of our food production capacity offshore? I can get this far–#IMPORTEDFOOD! Fruits, vegetables and dairy products would be harder to raise here without labor—also horticultural plants.
I’ll work on it, but I think I’ll stick with the facts. It’s harder to break through, but if we are ever going to figure this out, we’ll need more than a one-word argument.