The language of the GM technology debate
Prof Guy Cook
1st October, 2008
The great GM debate is a complex one. Professor Guy Cook examines the ways in which the issue is often tackled - verbally that is.
The language of the GM debate is nearly as complex as the science. Five years ago I published a book analysing the way people use words to make their case when arguing about genetically modified food.
It was based on the findings of two research projects in which I and my research team interviewed ‘major players’ in the debate (scientists, biotech companies, politicians and campaigners), collected a half-million-word database of newspaper articles, and conducted focus-group discussions to see how members of the public really reacted to the arguments – rather than how those involved in the debate imagined they did.
Some findings were rather surprising. While both sides agreed that, in the words of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, ‘it is important for the whole debate that it is conducted on the basis of the scientific evidence, not on the basis of prejudice’ (as though everything outside ‘science’ were ‘prejudice’), the use of language was anything but rational and scientific. Everywhere, proponents of GM smeared their opponents by associating them in highly emotional language with the worst kinds of mindless extremism.
In 2002, Blair talked of...
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