View from the fence

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

Bias, advocacy and communications


Two articles have just caught my attention, about the challenges of communicating science and its policy implications. Firstly, Susan MacMillan has written about advocacy communications.

Many science communicators (professional or otherwise) find themselves advocating particular positions, and we probably don’t stop to think about the implications. In fact, if advocacy is our specific objective, we can ask ourselves whether it’s appropriate and how we will achieve it.

Science isn’t the only consideration in policy making, but if the science says badger culling is a bad idea (it does) then it is fine for scientists to say so.

This post also points to a second one, this time by Tamar Haspel. Her ways to fix the food system are well worth a read, but in this context it’s interesting to see how many rely on communication. Teaching about food in schools, introducing labels with information about how the food was produced, and more inclusive conversations are all on the list.

Inclusive conversations should probably be on the list of how to fix any system. Her specific suggestions, such as organic advocates talking to conventional farmers, could very well apply to opponents of migration talking to refugees.

These issues seem connected to a question I’ve been asking myself: what is bias? It’s thrown around in GM circles (well, let’s be honest, I mainly mean anti-GM circles) in a way which suggests that bias means ‘an opinion I don’t agree with’. As I’ve blogged before, news outlets don’t necessarily improve things by their attempts at balance.

Does bias mean failing to take other points of view into account, or could it mean failing to recognise the evidence?

We’re all biased, it’s human nature. Recognising our biases, however, is the first step to overcoming them, and more inclusive conversations will help bias give way to understanding.

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:

3 thoughts on “Bias, advocacy and communications

  1. Pingback: View from the fence

  2. This is such a difficult area and I get very fed up with both sides in a debate on a polarising issue exaggerating or misrepresenting their cases. The neonicotinoid issue is a case in point; both the pro- and anti-lobbies have misrepresented their stories and it’s so important to try to be accurate.

  3. I completely agree. It has left the neonicitoid debate with some key questions an answered. ‘You’re killing all the bees’ ‘no we’re not’ has pushed out questions about what we could do to minimise this, and how yields might be affected if we didn’t use neonics.

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