Cornell Alliance for Science – Broadening the GMO Debate
by Joan Conrow
After co-moderating the recent Alliance for Science “Ask Me Anything About GMOs” discussion at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca, I again found myself wondering how we can defuse the acrimony that swirls around this topic.
The format — five of the nation’s top agricultural scientists volunteering their time to answer the public’s questions about genetic engineering — was innocuous enough, and intended to share Cornell resources with the larger community. But GMO opponents seemed determined to derail it from the start, fostering controversy that resulted in a last-minute venue change, social media misrepresentations and audience members more interested in pontificating than participating in a dialog or gathering information.
The event was made more tense by the recent social media attacks and death threats leveled against Dr. Kevin Folta, one of the panelists, which prompted us to consider security measures.
How has biotechnology become so emotionally charged that it’s uncomfortable, even potentially dangerous, to discuss it in a public forum, especially in a generally progressive and collegiate environment like Ithaca?