IFT16 Profile: Bev Postma Addresses Pseudoscience

April 26, 2016

CHICAGO – Food professionals from all over the globe will gather together at McCormick Place South for IFT16: Where Science Feeds Innovation, July 16-19 in Chicago. Bev Postma, an international policy specialist with more than 25 years of experience in the agri-food sector, will deliver a featured session titled Taming Dragons in the Age of Pseudoscience. In an interview with IFT, Bev outlined what attendees can expect to learn from her session. 

IFT: What is your session about?

Bev Postma: There has never been a more exciting time to have an opinion about food. Whether you enjoy being an armchair warrior or aspire to be a Nobel prize-winner, food scientists have a unique and important opportunity to shape the conversation about our planet. The aim of my talk is to encourage food technologists to step beyond their peer groups and lend their voice to the public debate. Many are already doing so, yet others find it daunting. I have been fortunate to work at the interface of food science, business and public policy all over the world and I will draw on these experiences to show that anyone – regardless of age, sector or standing, can have a positive impact on the future of our global food system. 

IFT: What does “pseudoscience” look like around the world and why are we so susceptible?
BP:
The word "pseudoscience" is derived from the Greek root ‘pseudo’ meaning false. The term itself has been around since the late 18th century, where it was first used in reference to alchemy. It is now enjoying a new ascendancy in social media. Our obsession with pseudoscience is purportedly driven by a growing distrust of corporate science and the ease with which anyone, regardless of qualification or experience, may gain popular support for a scientific claim – even if they fail to adhere to the norms of empirical research. Ironically, despite two centuries of scientific development, the debate itself – between science and pseudoscience is still as polarized and feudal today as it was in 1796. We may have banished the burning of witches but we are still no better at sitting down and resolving our differences about the mysteries and benefits of food science.

IFT: What public communication challenges are ahead for scientists?

BP: In the words of Marie Curie “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” As food technologists and scientists, we all have the capacity to eliminate fear and replace it with understanding. This may call on us to tame a few dragons and unite against the common enemies of fear and distrust.  As scientists, we can achieve great things by putting aside our combative tendencies whenever we feel threatened or angered by so-called ‘pseudoscience’ and instead, direct our efforts to promoting an informed and joined up debate. All around the world, we are starting to see the fruits of multi-sectoral partnerships, where peer-reviewed science is being used to unite the efforts of governments, companies and civil society to solve the world’s most pressing food challenges. There has never been a more important time for science to conquer fear.  

Bev’s session will take place Monday July 18, 2016 from 4:00 p.m.-4:45 p.m. 

About IFT
Founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists is committed to advancing the science of food. Our non-profit scientific society—more than 17,000 members from more than 95 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professionals from academia, government, and industry. For more information, please visit ift.org.