[Viewpoint]Teaching must touch the heart

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[Viewpoint]Teaching must touch the heart

For food scientists, it would not be an exaggeration to say that 2008 was a year of disasters. In May, fears of mad cow disease sparked massive protests opposing U.S. beef imports, a rat’s head was found in a popular Korean snack and melamine was found in food products imported from China.

The government was not able to reassure consumers, and people became increasingly worried about food consumption. The media only added to consumers’ emotional reactions.

Scientists said such reactions were “exaggerated instability caused by an incomplete knowledge of the situation.” Furthermore, they said people needed to be properly educated about science to prevent confusion.

But the scientists, who are supposedly experts, seem to have only added fuel to the fire. Some defended the government, while others sided with industry. Still others stood with consumers. Scientists had different opinions, but none of them persuaded a majority of the people.

They did not act like the general public expected. Most people expected scientists to present their opinions on the basis of objective facts, and that the scientific opinions presented would be clear rather than biased.

People can be easily misled into thinking there is only one explanation for a phenomenon, but because natural scientific knowledge is based on evidence discovered through endless studies, the results continuously change as the methods of analysis develop.

Therefore, it is not right to only encourage scientific thinking among the general public to prevent social unrest. Consumer actions are based not only on facts that can be scientifically analyzed, but also on psychology and emotion.

Throughout history, we have seen that a controlled public response cannot be achieved through reason alone. Some of the atrocities committed during World War II were done by very rational and scientific people.

It is time to think about the words of David Hume, an empirical philosopher, who said, “Responsible action does not come from rational training, but from emotional training where one learns to sympathize with other people’s pain and joy.” Although scientists try hard to make robots feel, they do not seem to see the need to teach people to be more considerate of others.

As is widely acknowledged, Koreans are highly emotional. Emotions can power a nation or an individual when they are expressed positively. Koreans showed what benefits can be derived from positive emotion during the last financial crisis.

However, emotion’s destructive power can also be vast. The damage becomes unimaginable when emotions are expressed collectively. In the past, when Confucian traditions were stronger in our society, adults taught younger generations self-control in everyday life. However, parents these days do everything for their children from a very young age and tell them to focus only on their studies. As a result, children do not know how to control their emotions and do not even try to do so.

Because young people are avoiding careers in science and engineering, the government overemphasizes science education and scientific thought, leading the younger generation to lack the capacity to empathise with others. We risk producing adults who follow orders blindly.

The times stress the need to remove barriers among fields of study and promote technology fusion. The nation’s competitiveness will rise, and our people will be recognized internationally when young people are equipped with diverse viewpoints and knowledge. The ability to control emotions comes through education and training; it is not something we are born with.

Korean scientists have to break away from the mistake of stressing only scientific thinking, and make the people aware of the importance of emotional education, too.

*The writer is the president of the Korea Food Research Institute and vice president of the Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Moo-ha
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