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Checkbiotech: GE research probes community and scientists' views
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: December 08, 2004 07:40AM ;

A 'rethink' is needed about the risks of genetic engineering and how the
issue is debated in society, says researchers in Victoria University's
Environmental Studies Programme in a major report, Dezember 2004.

The 18-month study was completed in mid 2004. The final report, Hands
Across the Water, is now available and is being distributed to participants,
interest groups and the public. The Ministry of Research, Science &
Technology, funded the project under a two-year ?Dialogue? programme to
improve communication between scientists and the community.

The researchers, Karen Cronin, Research Fellow in Environmental Studies and
Dr Laurie Jackson, Director of the Environmental Studies Programme in the
School of Earth Sciences, interviewed more than 60 scientists and members of
community interest groups. They asked them how they saw the risks of GM
technology and what they thought about the quality of public debate on this
issue, and around science issues generally.

They found a significant ?crossover? in opinion between scientists and the
community about the risks of GM, why it is being developed, who will
benefit, and how we should make decisions about its use. In some respects,
there were greater differences within the science sector than between the
science sector and the general public.

Ms Cronin: ?We found scientists and community people who were aware of this
dilemma themselves and could see a gap between the public construction of
the GM debate ? and the positions they are expected to adopt in that arena ?
and their actual position. People from both ?sides? were looking for a new
space in which to engage in debate and take the issue forward.?

Dr Jackson: ?The GE debate is often seen as a conflict between ?science,
facts and rationality? on the one hand ? and ?irrationality, fears and
emotion? on the other. We have seen that scientists are strongly motivated
to do work that is good for the environment and society, and want to be
respected as ethical and responsible people. On the other hand, the public
is asking challenging questions about the social usefulness of some forms of
biotechnology and wants to see reliable scientific information on its
potential effects.?

There were recognisable differences between the two groups, with scientists
generally more supportive of GM than the community. But underneath these
?public positions?, the researchers found some surprising results:

? Many scientists expressed concern about the potential effects of GM on the
environment and society, and raised questions about the ethical dimensions;

? Members of community interest groups clearly valued some uses of GM
technology, especially in the medical area. But they wanted more science
funding to investigate the effects of GM, and called for greater use of risk
management principles in decision-making;

? Both groups showed greater support for keeping GMOs under contained
conditions, than for the release of GMOs into the environment;

? Many scientists said that, ultimately, technology decisions have to be
made by society;

? Both groups expressed concerns about the economic pressures driving
science and technology choices in New Zealand; and

? Both scientists and community interest group members were critical of the
quality of debate in New Zealand about GM - and science issues generally.
This included criticism of the news media. They called for better processes
for public dialogue and input into government decision-making.

Ms Cronin says the study indicates how science communication might be
improved in future, which will be essential in the face of emerging new
developments, such as nanotechnology. It also gives an insight into the
dynamics that may drive other major public debates in New Zealand,
especially those with a strong values component.

Dr Jackson says social conflict over science could be reduced, through
identifying social and economic criteria that the community can endorse
before technologies are developed and put into in the marketplace.

The report will be discussed with science organisations, and community
interest groups, in an outreach programme in the first half of 2005.



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