Abstract: Finkel


Feeding The 9 Billion, Well

26-28 August 2014



Conference home


Modern technology: saviour or threat?

Elizabeth Finkel
Chief Editor, Cosmos Science Magazine

Journalistic ethics requires objectivity and balance. Sound straightforward? The reporting on GM crops and biotechnology is anything but. The terrain is full of paradoxes.

Notional good guys like NGOs – would-be guardians of the environment and human well-being – have no qualms about distorting information about GMOs even when they lead to benefits for the environment and people. Witness the campaigns again vitamin A rice and Bt cotton.

Card-carrying scientists champion research that is poorly designed and whose conclusions bear no statistical significance. Witness the circus around the publication, retraction and republication of Giles Seralini’s paper.

One might think that people approach the issue on the basis of evidence. That seems not to be the case. Rather, pre-existing world views seem to dominate.

Politicians and NGOs appear to exploit these attitudes – fanning the flames for their own ends. As with climate science, it seems dismayingly easy to distort logic and evidence.

Staggeringly the attack on GM crops seems to know no bounds. Recently European NGOs including Greenpeace, called on the abolition of the position of the EC Chief Scientific Officer.

Accusations of conflict of interest and undue corporate influence resonate and stick like mud. And there is a view that providing information barely helps: it is only filtered to fortify pre-existing positions.

Disheartening, but that’s the nature of public discourse. Journalists can only continue to explain the issues and the science as objectively and clearly as possible. The battle is not just about GM crops but for science itself.