View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

Book Club: Did Sally make the right decision?

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This is one of the book club questions for my novel A Column on Smoke. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below – I will be very interested to read them.

I’m talking about her primary moral dilemma here (I do think she made the right decision regarding Paul).

This is the main theme of the book: will Sally go along with her colleagues’ choices. She battles with the decision, as loyalty to her colleagues (and being sucked into the ways they justify themselves) over-rides her basic moral and scientific values of honesty and integrity.

There are lots of situations where she could have revealed the truth and she chooses not to. To me, the option of telling another co-author was a clear choice, whatever it meant for her colleagues’ reputations.

In the end she does make what I believe to be the right choice, not to go through with any deception, it just happens far too late. It could have been done in a much less dramatic way had she said no to Darren and Vangelis earlier on. As it is, she compromised her integrity for far too long.

Do I think she made the right decision? No. Would I have made a different one? It is easy to say no from the comfortable position of a hypothetical situation, but research shows time and time again that humans often act very differently to how they believe they will act. I realise how strong the pressure of your friends can be and I can’t promise I would be any different.

(For anyone who’s interested in this last point I can recommend Professor Bruce Hood’s book The Self Illusion and this interview in which he says “We all think we would act and behave in a certain way, but the reality is that we are often mistaken”)

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

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