Engineering consent in Switzerland (26/7/2007)

In November 2005, the Swiss people voted via a national referendum for a five-year moratorium on the commercial planting of genetically engineered plants. But if anyone thinks that this commendable piece of genuinely democratic decion making means that is the end of the matter, think again.

A whole programme of national research (known as NFP 59) is underway into the "benefits and risks" of the deliberate release of GM plants. This has already sparked controversy due to the exclusion of a prominent researcher with a track record of genuine investigation of the risks of GM plants in highly questionable circumstances.

In that context, the following job advertisement related to NFP59 is very interesting. A psychologist is sought for a post involving the study of the public acceptance of biotechnology (read: GMOs). The implicit assumption, as you will see is that resistance to GM is not rational but the product of emotions/perceptions that can be "better taken into account" by researchers when publicising the deliberate release of GM plants.

Such a perspective tallies with the highly manipulative research we recently reported on in "Engineering acceptance of GM - Oz, U.S. and Canada."

It also tallies with the findings of the research of the social scientist Prof Guy Cook,, as reported in his book, "Genetically Modified Language: The Discourse of Arguments for GM Crops and Food".

Cook's research on GM scientists as a group showed that they perceived the "public" as homogeneous, as passive, and as frequently emotional, rather than rational. Cook also found that while many GM scientists, when asked directly, expressed interest in a public "debate", what they meant by that was a one-way "debate" in which members of the public would be "educated".

"This apparent readiness to open the GM debate to the public is thus deceptive," writes Cook, "as it conceals strongly held beliefs that members of the public are interfering when they ask to be heard and to be actors in (instead of spectators of) the decision-making processes."

It is a perspective that ultmately sees the public as not just having no legitimate reasons for opposing GM but as essentially malleable, which of course opens the way to attempts to engineer consent.


Doctoral research post

[translation into English of German original below]

Beginning in July 2007, the Department for "Consumer Behavior" of the ETH Zürich [= Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich, that is the University for Technology and Natural Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland; official English name: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich] offers a doctoral post in a project of NFP 59 [NFP = Nationales Forschungsprogramm, that is National Research Program] on the issue "Fairness, trust and the perception of genetically modified plants".

Scope of the project

The introduction and implementation of biotechnology depends on public acceptance. Through various studies, this project is intended to analyse how public trust and powerful emotions affect the perception of biotechnology. For this purpose new implicit measuring methods are to be developed. Whether confidence building procedures lead to more acceptance of the introduction of biotechnology is to be explored and analysed by means of a field experiment. This issue will also be explored by means of a longitudinal study - interviews before and after a GM field release experiment. Comparative interviews with laymen and experts should also provide clues about different risk perceptions. The goal of the project is to improve risk communication in biotechnology by better taking into account strong emotions and fears within the population.

Your main task will be to assist in the design, organisation, performance, evaluation and publication of empirical studies. Your profile: graduate of psychology with interest in biotechnology - very good knowledge of quantitative research methods - very good knowledge of statistical evaluation procedures - interest in scientific publishing - good mastery of the English language - ability to work independently - cooperation in a team. The doctoral post is limited to 4 years.

Your main task will be to contribute to the design, organisation, implementation, evaluation and publication of the empirical studies. Your profile:

- graduate of psychology with interest in biotechnology

- very good knowledge of quantitative research methods

- very good knowledge of statistical evaluation procedures

- interest in scientific publishing

- good mastery command of the English language

- ability to work independently

- ability to work in a team.

For more information ask Prof. Dr. Michael Siegrist ([email protected]; +41 44 632 63 21).

Address your application with the usual documents until June 30th to Prof. Dr. Michael Siegrist.

Prof. Dr. Michael Siegrist ETH Zurich

Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED) Consumer Behavior Universitätsstrasse 22, CHN J75.1 CH-8092 Zurich Switzerland phone: +41 44 632 6321 fax: +41 44 632 10 29

Doktorandenstelle Ab Juli 2007 ist an der ETH Zürich am Lehrstuhl für Consumer Behavior in einem Projekt des NFP 59 zum Thema Fairness, Vertrauen und Wahrnehmung von gentechnisch veränderten Pflanzen"

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