This paper takes a critical approach to public participation in technological decisionmaking. I argue for the separate and concurrent consideration of technical and politico-ethical domains. The “GM Nation?” public debate conducted across the UK in 2003 failed to increase powerful public participation because the policy under scrutiny – the commercialisation of GM crops – could only be determined by science, technocratically. This effectively marginalized alternative citizen framings or understandings of the issue. Observations from 11 GM debates however showed that the majority were adversarial and participants mostly debated propositional and technical matters; but the technical sophistication of citizens was not sophisticated and experts often outmanoeuvred them. It is better that citizens are involved in political and ethical judgement for which they have genuine expertise, whilst technical aspects of a decision are best left to those with certified or experiential expertise. However, unlike regulations as they stand, this technical evaluation should feed into the broader political decision, not be it.

">
 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The democratisation of a 'scientific' decision
The 'GM nation?
' experiment in the UK

Matthew Harvey   Cardiff University

This paper takes a critical approach to public participation in technological decisionmaking. I argue for the separate and concurrent consideration of technical and politico-ethical domains. The “GM Nation?” public debate conducted across the UK in 2003 failed to increase powerful public participation because the policy under scrutiny – the commercialisation of GM crops – could only be determined by science, technocratically. This effectively marginalized alternative citizen framings or understandings of the issue. Observations from 11 GM debates however showed that the majority were adversarial and participants mostly debated propositional and technical matters; but the technical sophistication of citizens was not sophisticated and experts often outmanoeuvred them. It is better that citizens are involved in political and ethical judgement for which they have genuine expertise, whilst technical aspects of a decision are best left to those with certified or experiential expertise. However, unlike regulations as they stand, this technical evaluation should feed into the broader political decision, not be it.

[PDF 41.19 kB]Download the full paper (PDF 41.19 kB)

BACK TO TOP