A Right to be Known (Accurately)

Sarah Evanega

October 7, 2015

The Cornell Alliance for Science has built its mission around a core value: ensuring that science and science-based thinking inform solutions to environmental and food security challenges.

Many advocacy groups share our desire to address these pressing global issues, which is why they shouldn t automatically assume they re in conflict with the Alliance. Sometimes, they just need to know accurately who and what we really are.

Even Food and Water Watch, in a blog post that was otherwise critical of the Alliance, identified similarities between our organizations mission statements, reflective of shared values around improving the environment.

So when U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) issued a press release last week that mischaracterized the Alliance for Science, its mission, affiliations, and work, I saw it as an opportunity to explore our common ground.

I called Gary Ruskin, the organization s executive director, eager to point out our shared values around the right to know, transparency, and access to information all of which support the commitment to evidence-based decision-making that is at the heart of the Alliance for Science.

I wanted to help Mr. Ruskin understand that the Alliance for Science actually endorses much of what his organization s namesake advocates for: the right to know.

We believe everyone has a right to know about innovations that can help farmers increase productivity, adapt to climate change, and minimize the negative impact of agriculture on the environment.

We believe everyone has a right to know about the sound, scientific evidence that allows us to make informed decisions about what to eat or grow.

And we believe that public sector scientists in both the developed and developing world have a right to access the tools of modern science to create technologies that will help us address the grand environmental challenges that we face today, while improving lives globally.

The Alliance for Science is based in large part on this desire to ensure that people around the world know their options.

That s why, as I told Mr. Ruskin, USRTK was wrong in claiming the Alliance was formed to promote GMOs. So-called GMOs are not a monolithic thing. For example, it makes no sense to cluster together such diverse technologies as bacteria engineered to produce insulin and papaya engineered to resist a virus.

We support access to innovation and the information that will help people make sound decisions based on science and evidence not fear, emotions, or unfounded claims.

USRTK was also wrong, I told Mr. Ruskin, to claim the Alliance for Science has a relationship with industry. We do not write for industry, and we do not advocate for or promote industry-owned products. As our website clearly and fully discloses, we receive no resources from industry.

On the contrary, we are working to level the playing field so public sector scientists around the world including those at home serving our U.S. Land Grant mission can access tools necessary for innovation, free from the grip of industry.

Like USRTK, we are concerned about the concentration of power in the seed industry. But our solution is to highlight public sector efforts and push for open access to the technology. If USRTK truly sees itself as a public interest group then it should not be preventing farmers in the developing world from accessing technology publicly or privately owned that could increase their standard of living to even a fraction of the level that Mr. Ruskin and I both enjoy in our food-abundant corners of this continent.

The Alliance for Science, like USRTK, holds the vision of a better world. We hope to help create it by sharing evidence-based information and ensuring that farmers, scientists, and citizens around the globe have both a voice, and a choice, in exercising their rights.

And as I told Mr. Ruskin, that includes our right to be accurately known.