Improving the agri-food biotechnology conversation: bridging science communication with science and technology studies

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At a time when agri-food biotechnologies are receiving a surge of investment, innovation, and public interest in the United States, it is common to hear both supporters and critics call for open and inclusive dialogue on the topic. Social scientists have a potentially important role to play in these discursive engagements, but the legacy of the intractable genetically modified (GM) food debate calls for some reflection regarding the best ways to shape the norms of that conversation. This commentary argues that agri-food scholars interested in promoting a more constructive agri-food biotechnology discussion could do so by blending key insights, as well as guarding against key shortcomings, from the fields of science communication and science and technology studies (STS). Science communication’s collaborative and translational approach to the public understanding of science has proven pragmatically valuable to scientists in academia, government, and private industry, but it has too often remained wedded to deficit model approaches and struggled to explore deeper questions of public values and corporate power. STS’s critical approach has highlighted the need for multi-stakeholder power-sharing and the integration of diverse knowledge systems into public engagement, but it has done little to grapple with the prevalence of misinformation in movements against GM foods and other agri-food biotechnologies. Ultimately, a better agri-food biotechnology conversation will require a strong foundation in scientific literacy as well as conceptual grounding in the social studies of science. The paper concludes by describing how, with attention to the structure, content, and style of public engagement in the agri-food biotechnology debates, social scientists can play a productive conversational role across a variety of academic, institutional, community-level, and mediated contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-938
Number of pages10
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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