One of the problems we face in an increasingly interconnected global society is that bombarded as we are by competing opinions it can be difficult to properly distinguish between perception and reality, falsehood and truth.
This is especially so when well-qualified professionals - scientists, for example - take divergent tacks and make misleading or downright erroneous statements in support of some favoured hobby-horse.
As we in Hawke's Bay have witnessed with the Ruataniwha dam saga, when it comes to maintaining water quality and making the best use of that resource emotion and self-interest can quickly overwhelm fact, regardless of "sides".
Certainly farmers are not helped by sweeping generalisations that are (or should be) easily seen as non-factual responses to these issues - far less so when someone like the recently-appointed chief scientific adviser to the Environmental Protection Authority, Jacqueline Rowarth, is the one making them.
Dr Rowarth, a professor of agribusiness at the University of Waikato but also a dairy farmer and Fonterra shareholder, was reported as cherry-picking data to make the outrageous claim that the Waikato River is one of the "five cleanest" rivers in the world in terms of nitrate concentrations, and moreover was improving in quality thanks to changing farming practices.
While she might argue the 2002-04 OECD figures she based this statement on held it to be true, it is hardly robust to use a very limited (88 rivers) comparative data-set that is 12-15 years out of date to support an argument that dairy farming is not having a huge impact on the waterway.
As Niwa's Dr Bryce Cooper immediately responded, "the Waikato River doesn't even make the top 30 cleanest waterways in New Zealand", and water quality in its lower reaches ranks in the bottom half of 500 sites nationally for key indicators such as nitrogen, phosphorus, E.coli and water clarity.
Moreover, as New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society president Dr Marc Schallenberg pointed out, Dr Rowarth's statement contradicts Environment Waikato's 2009-14 data showing the river's nitrate concentration was rapidly climbing.
In noting Dr Rowarth isn't a freshwater scientist and her statement would confuse the public, Dr Schallenburg said the NZFSS "encourages the media to consult its members whenever non-experts attempt to address freshwater issues publicly".
This debacle is disturbing not only in light of the EPA position Dr Rowarth has taken up, but because vested interests (such as your average farmer) may be only too happy to believe what someone in her position tells them, especially given the implication "dirty dairying" can carry on doing what it does worst without much impact - the sort of apologist line Federated Farmers continues to peddle.
Consequently the perception of science itself is undermined, leading to less reliance on fact and more on opinion. That's a vicious downward spiral.
And it's exactly the type of argument currently raging in regard to the health of the Tukituki River, where unmonitored feedlots are portrayed as "clean".
These are the sort of "background" positions that need to be identified and challenged in order for our new regional council to adequately reassess the RWSS and the general need to provide water storage solutions in the face of climate change.
And if the science says the best solution re the proposed scheme is a "Plan B" dam that ameliorates the river's problems but without an irrigation scheme attached - an option which I am told has been costed at $60 million - then vested interests might have to take a back seat to ensure the environmental problems, alone, are fixed.
It's possible the council's first full meeting (November 9) could be an odd mix of celebration and disappointment - for either side.
Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.
This column is the opinion of the columnist on a matter of public interest and does not necessarily represent the view of Hawke's Bay Today.