For some time we’ve been wanting to expand the I’m a Scientist format and allow the general public to participate. The hysteria generated over the Rothamsted GM Wheat trials in May 2012 presented us with the opportunity to run a GM Food Zone.
We’ve written up our evaluation of the project. There are 4 sections in addition to this page:
You might find this incomplete. Please ask more questions in the comments.
For those who are too impatient to read the entire evaluation here is
The short version…
Driven by some hysterical writing in the national press we decided to run a special I’m a Scientist GM Food Zone and open it to the general public. We wanted to create a neutral space where a constructive and civil discussion could take place.
We knew that we were placing ourselves in the line of fire. We knew we had to be neutral and seen to be neutral and balanced. We recruited an advisory panel and asked for nominations for the experts who would answer the questions. We had 70 nominations and despite an enormous amount of work to ensure we had the right range and balance of experts we were still accused of being Pro-GM. It’s possible that assumptions were made because of the I’m a Scientist name or the 3:2 ratio of experts in favour of GM.
As the questions came in they were fairly balanced. Slightly more were anti-GM than Pro-GM. Almost half the questions were from teachers and school students. A different set of visitors then started leaving comments. Three determined anti-GM visitors left just over half the comments we received. There was very little cross-over between the group of people asking questions and those leaving comments.
The site has so far been visited 3,977 times by 2,370 unique visitors. They averaged 3.4 pages per visit, but most pleasing is the stat that on average visitors spent 3:19 min on each of the 5 most popular questions. Visitors were spending a reasonable amount of time reading through the answers and comments.
7,900 visits from 5,900 users.
So was the GM Food Zone successful?
Yes. We did create a space where discussion could take place. The discussion was polite and mostly respectful. Many people read the discussions and a small group contributed towards it. Whilst it would seem that comments tended to be left by people who had already made up their minds a significant proportion of the questions were from people genuinely seeking information.
Did we change minds? Move the debate forward?
I’m not sure. The debate over GM Food has been going on for a long time and many people’s view are firmly entrenched. That said we think many visitors will have come away better informed about the wider issues associated with GM Foods.
The format worked. The technology worked. It would be good to run a zone on a topic where the battlelines are not already drawn. To find a topic where experts are still working out the issues, where they don’t yet know how best to articulate the issues, where feedback from interested parties and the public has some real value.