Some opinions are better than others

Some opinions are better than others

 Peter Mailler is a grain and cattle farmer on the NSW/Queensland border.

Peter Mailler is a grain and cattle farmer on the NSW/Queensland border.


In this week's The Gauge, Peter Mailler says the agricultural sector can't afford to 'pick and choose' the science they endorse.


Opinion | The Gauge 

Opinions are very common, nearly everyone has one. However, in the contest of hearts and minds one has to consider just whose opinions are worthy and how you might work that out.

Agriculture is facing constant threats to both enterprise and community from volatility in weather, markets and, increasingly, public opinion. It is clear that we need strong, courageous and effective advocates to rise above the pressure cooker of social media driven public opinion.

In the long term, successful advocacy relies on maintaining credibility in the public eye and it is vital that we don't undo good work on one issue by pursuing poor policies on another.

"Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" is a Latin phrase meaning "false in one thing, false in all things" and it is an incredibly important concept in the battle of public opinion.

Many of us have been critical of radical environmental groups over time for their lack of credibility because they pick and choose what evidence they endorse or reject. They often ignore the science that informs much of our modern agriculture systems, which is particularly evident in the debate around GMOs and pesticides like glyphosate.

Sadly, we are no better. Ag policy discussions are too often based on uninformed or unchecked opinions of loud proponents that can't be supported with credible and robust evidence and/or empirical data.

Some industry advocacy stalwarts would argue our ag policy processes are legitimate because they are democratic, but democracy only really works when it is robustly informed. Populism has become the lazy substitute for robust discovery and courageous leadership, and it has undermined the integrity of the democratic process.

Objective peer review is the key to qualifying the rigour of any position. The greater the consensus amongst qualified peers, the greater confidence you can have in the evidence and subsequent conclusions.

There is now more scientific consensus around the fact that climate is changing dangerously as a result of human activities than there is around the dangers of smoking or asbestos. On this basis the science around climate is now irrefutable.

I am bewildered that people give more credence to the opinion of a dissenting geologist or a biologist (let alone a loud mouth on social media) on climate science over that of experts who specialise in climate research. It is akin to preferring the advice of a proctologist over a brain surgeon when you have a brain tumour.

The climate policy discussion should have shifted past a debate on if climate change is real to a discussion on what we are going to do about. Any agricultural leader undermining climate science and/or decisive action on climate mitigation and adaptation in this country either doesn't understand the magnitude of pending problem or is being wilfully ignorant.

As a result of this ignorance, meaningful progress on drought policies that should be able to provide certainty in an increasingly uncertain environment will continue to be confounded.

The work to build community trust around less technical issues affecting social licence is also being undermined. If you can't trust farmers to be honest about climate, how can you trust them on anything?

That's my opinion anyway.

- Peter Mailler is a third generation grain and cattle farmer on the NSW/Queensland border.


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