A new approach needed to change ‘anti-science’ activists’ minds

Recently, some 40 people in the Philippines trampled experimental trial crops of GM ‘golden rice’ over fears for biodiversity and human health. An activist representative says they are unapologetic, and researchers worldwide have expressed appalled outrage.

Rod Lamberts, Deputy Director of the Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science at ANU, says the issue isn’t GM foods, the issue is people and why they disagree. There are a plethora of arguments for and against GM food, but this isn’t about the science, he says, it’s about failure to communicate. Rather than painting these activists as ‘knuckle-dragging’, ill-informed, or anti-science, those who feel they are ‘pro-science’ need to persuade, not antagonise.

Science communication has tended to the old logic of ‘if you meet resistance to science, throw facts at those who resist. If that doesn’t work, throw more facts at them, and throw them harder.’ Ultimately, the scientists behind this vitamin-enriched ‘golden rice’ and the protestors want the same thing: the well-being of those who will eat the rice. The disagreement isn’t about what, it’s about how, and it’s not about science, it’s about values. Scientific rationality won’t win arguments about values, Lamberts points out.