A comment on GMOs and perception of Risk

but the blog’s comments section isn’t working for me at the moment. So, I’m back to make an unscheduled guest post. I guess that means I should make it a little more substantial than it was. Here’s the original comment text:

“Hi Jen, I’m hoping to get more into research around these types of events. We recently had a forum for the students in the College of Agriculture around GMOs, too, and I heard many of the same arguments for (suppressing bad genes, golden rice) and then a little bit of advocacy at the end for GMOs.

The interesting thing I’ve learned lately is that GMOs aren’t really a big risk in the public’s mind, according to Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project:
http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/1/21/mapkia-episode-31-answer-culturally-programmed-risk-predispo.html

At the very least, it’s not a left-right split like some contorversial issues (climate change) are.

Anyway, I have a question about the event itself; was there facilitated discussion amongst the attendees, or was it more of a “lecture in public” with traditional Q&A? The ones here in Gainesville are super popular with a certain crowd; the RSVP list fills fast and often with the same folks regularly!”

Blog readers may know I’m now at the University of Florida building my research program around science communication and public engagement with science. The ideas of risk perception and cultural cognition are ones I’ve been exploring lately as I get to expand beyond my dissertation work. Dan Kahan has recently made a couple of really important methodological points for those of us working in these areas, which I think also point to the importance of the work the Free-Choice Learning Lab does in particular with users in the real world:

1. Trust but verify, aka check your assumptions – the example of GMOs is an important lesson about transfer; just because we think that GMOs are a controversial issue, doing real work with real people shows their ideas may not stack up to media hype:

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/3/10/who-fears-what-why-trust-but-verify.html

2. Just out: we need to get out of the lab and study real people, getting empirical data about the models we’ve developed of how communication happens:

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/4/18/want-to-improve-climate-science-communication-i-mean-really.html

I’ve been enjoying the positive reception I have been getting about my work from my new colleagues. Here’s to even more work with real people, messy and frustrating as it may be. Case in point: when you plan data collection on the one day the museum doesn’t have an event and you can get your schedule and your volunteer researchers’ schedules to match, then show up to campus only to find out a) your men’s basketball team is playing in the Sweet Sixteen at noon, b) there is another event at the Stadium as you start your drive to the museum on the other side of campus, c) there is a softball game just across the street from the museum, and d) there is also an event at the Performing Arts Center RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the museum. We couldn’t even park ourselves, let alone leave space for our potential research participants. Sheesh.