[ASC-list] Science, or Persuasion? (was: [ASC-media] New research project to produce salinity tolerant crops)

Charles Willock charlesw at cse.unsw.EDU.AU
Wed Nov 13 16:08:58 UTC 2013

Hi Amanda/All,

Amanda:  This isn't an attack on your integrity nor your writing style 
but your media release yesterday gives yet another example of what seems 
to be an unresolved problem for the ASC - that of "corporate" rather 
than science communication.

All:  I guess the obvious question is:

  Is this a GM project, or a non-GM project?  (Afterall, The GRDC/
  Monsanto seem to be putting a substantial amount of money into it.)

>From the point of view of communication of science there seems to 
be a difference between research into the science of plants (for 
example understanding their genetic make-up - and using that 
understanding to grow better crops) and "corporate" science in 
which the knowledge is used to genetically modify crops and market
them as fast as you can. 

So to the issue of ASC communication:

The language used in each case is different.  Normally, if one is 
looking at "corporate science" media releases, the name of the
corporation features prominently - as does the name of the technology.
However, where the name of the corporation is problematic (eg Monsanto)
that needs to be elided.  Likewise if the techology (GM) is somewhat
controversial, then best to conceal that too ... and talk in terms 
of opportunities and product attributes rather than techologies.  This
is one means of shifting that particular Overton window for the public
- but it is not necessarily about science - often it is about persuasion
and sometimes about manipulation.  Is it really appropriate for the 
ASC to host that sort of communication?

We have seen with the recent Catalyst issue the problems that can arise 
when money driven opinions seem to decide policy - or for that matter
when they question it.  

Is it more appropriate that Australian Science Communicators continue 
to communicate science in an open scientific way or, if there is a 
demand for it, would it be more appropriate for ASC to create another,
separate, organisation which deals with PR?  (Some kind of self-selected
accuracy in labelling I guess.)  


On Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 01:41:02PM +0000, Amanda Hudswell wrote:
> Media Release
> Adelaide, Australia, 14 November 2013
> New research project to produce salinity tolerant crops
> A new research project announced today will identify how bread wheat and barley can tolerate saline soils. The project, being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation will deliver resources to breeders for novel salinity tolerance traits for incorporation into their breeding programs. Salinity is estimated to affect approximately two thirds of Australian agricultural land.
> The project utilises knowledge gained through past research projects and will identify the next generation of salinity tolerance traits to help farmers.
> 'Importantly, experiments will not only take place in the greenhouse but also in the field to validate the effects of these salinity tolerance traits on grain yield,' said Dr Stuart Roy, Program Leader at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. 'The researchers will develop markers for novel salinity tolerance traits and then test the effect of these traits in field trials in SA, WA and ACT.'
> The project, worth $2.5million over three years, is a collaboration between the ACPFG, the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide, CSIRO Plant Industry (Canberra) and the University of Western Australia (Perth).
> 'Introducing salinity tolerance in cereals is not straightforward as salinity causes multiple problems for the plant,' said Dr Matthew Gilliham, project investigator from the University of Adelaide. 'When salts build up in the soil they reduce plant growth and make it harder for plants to take up water. Salts can also accumulate in the leaves and damage the ability to plants to harvest sunlight. Our project is about discovering the best of what nature offers so we can offer that to our farmers.'
> The collaboration between researchers across Australia provides a significant opportunity to make the optimal use of resources and available expertise to accelerate the development of salinity-tolerant crops.
> For media contact, interviews and images:
> Dr Stuart Roy
> Program Leader
> Ph: +61 83 13 71 59
> stuart.roy at acpfg.com.au<mailto:stuart.roy at acpfg.com.au>
> Dr Matthew Gilliham
> School of Agriculture, Food and Wine
> University of Adelaide
> Mob: + 61 431 663 614
> matthew.gilliham at adelaide.edu.au<mailto:matthew.gilliham at adelaide.edu.au>
> About ACPFG:
> The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), focuses on improving the resistance of crops to stresses that impact agriculture in Australia, including drought, salinity, high or low temperatures and mineral deficiencies or toxicities. These stresses, known as abiotic stresses, are a major cause of cereal crop yield and quality loss throughout the world. ACPFG's head office is at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. Visit www.acpfg.com.au<http://www.acpfg.com.au> for more information.
> About University of Adelaide:
> The University of Adelaide is one of Australia's leading research-intensive universities and is consistently ranked among the top 1% of universities in the world.
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      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done, 
           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"

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Charles Willock                                 charlesw at cse.unsw.edu.au
c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering       
University of New South Wales,                  
New South Wales  Australia  2052    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~charlesw

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