Plural rationalities, contested expertise : UK scientists and GM crops
One important aspect of the UK societal debate regarding genetic modification (GM) of food crops is the non-acceptance by the public of 'science-based' assurances by spokespersons from Industry and Government. A feature of the GM controversy has been scientific experts on opposite sides of the debate disagreeing in public. This research examines factors underlying that dispute.
Scientists who have expressed their views on GM in the public arena and who represent different positions on the spectrum of opinion were interviewed in depth. Rather than simply pointing towards a pro-GM technocratic government-industry coalition, challenged by anti-GM protagonists calling for a more democratic, participative approach, the data are interpreted here as showing a more complex interaction, which corresponds to that predicted by cultural theory.
A cultural theory interpretation of the data has theorised that the scientists' different perspectives on the risks and benefits of GM technology and on the causes and preferred solutions to the GM controversy, are based on cultural biases and the associated four 'myths of nature'. The key features of these four different perspectives can be summarised as being an emphasis on: coercion/holism (autonomous), participation (egalitarian), regulation (hierarchist) and competition (individualist). The scientists offer conflicting accounts about the influence of values on the nature of scientific knowledge used in GM technology. Further, each holder of a particular perspective does not understand the basis for the positions of their opponents.
The cultural influence on scientists' perspectives identified in this study may be under-recognised, unacknowledged or misunderstood by policy makers. The implications are that the status of a dominant rationality of a single, objective, identifiable 'sound science' on which policy-makers base regulation and risk management decisions should be questioned. An improved understanding of these influences may lead to a realisation that GM decisions are actually choices made between plural rationalities.
PLURAL RATIONALITIES, CONTESTED EXPERTISE: UK SCIENTISTS AND GM CROPS
Maggie Scott Bsc (Hons) Faculty of Technology The Open University
31 May 2005