Are scientists right and non-scientists wrong? Reflections on discussions of GM

Abstract
The aim of this article is to further our understanding of the “GM is unnatural” view, and of the critical response to it. While many people have been reported to hold the view that GM is unnatural, many policy-makers and their advisors have suggested that the view must be ignored or rejected, and that there are scientific reasons for doing so. Three “typical” examples of ways in which the “GM is unnatural” view has been treated by UK policy-makers and their advisors are explored. These are the Government’s position (DEFRA Report), the account of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and the position of Nigel Halford, a scientist with an advisory role to the Government. I show that their accounts fail to mount a convincing critique. Then, I draw on an empirical research project held during 2003–2004 at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north east of England. Scientists met with non-scientists in a range of facilitated one-to-one conversations (“exchanges”) on various environmental issues, one of which was on GM. Our findings show that some scientists who rejected the “GM is unnatural” view struggled to do so consistently. Their struggle is interpreted in terms of a conflict between a so-called “scientific” worldview, and a different worldview that underlies the concerns of those who held the “GM is unnatural” view. This worldview is explored further by an examination of their concerns. What distinguishes this worldview from the “scientific” worldview is that the instrumentalization of the nonhuman world is questioned to a larger extent. I conclude that, because the underlying concerns of those who held the “GM is unnatural” view were not with GM as such, yet with a worldview that was considered to be problematic, and of which many GM applications were held to be expressions, policy-makers and their advisors should reflect on the critical worldview of those who claim that GM is unnatural if they want to engage seriously with their concerns.
Keywords biotechnology  deliberative exchange  policy  science  unnatural  worldviews
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