How Kevin Folta got entangled with Monsanto, created a shady podcast alter ego, and spurred a hot public debate over conflicts of interest in big ag.
This article by Brooke Borel from Buzzfeed does a really good job of pulling apart the fragments of a complicated and messy situation. Stepping away from the industry funding issue, let’s focus on audience.
Talking about GMOs in public is hard, no matter which side of the fence you’re on (even if you haven’t taken a side). More than most other science topics, you need to be aware of who is listening to what you say, how they might perceive it and where they might be coming from.
Most importantly, I think, you need to be even more generous than normal in assuming that the people you’re supposedly “fighting against” have reasonable motivations, fears and worries. Their disagreement with you does not make them evil. Breaking down a multidimensional and complex discussion (such as GMOs) into a for-or-against mentality is bad for every single person in that discussion.
The only way to progress both science and our science communication practices is to actively acknowledge the diversity of our audiences in the work we do and things we say.
It’s more work in every single way to continually add nuance and perspective to your communications, to make your work accessible to ever more people, to turn a simple statement into an accurate portrayal, but that’s what is required of science communicators. Acknowledge your audience. Really truly acknowledge your audience, in all of its diversity and complexity. That’s where effective communication comes from.