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'The Ugly Truth'

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News and Comment

A one-stop-shop for plant science questions

14 December 2012

From today people will be able to question researchers directly on any aspect of plant science that comes up in public discussion, from one simple portal.

Ash Dieback disease, GM crops, bees and pesticides, mycotoxins in food, biofuels... Plant research is central to decisions about future energy, land use, wildlife, environmental protection, pest problems, nutrition and food safety. People care a lot about these subjects but get frustrated by conflicting stories and research reports and find that information is rarely in a form that responds to their questions.

Now, leading research institutions and learned societies across the UK have come together to make themselves available in a public panel, where people can put down questions and opinions for response.

Frances Downey of Sense About Science established the panel following recent debates: “Plant research institutions had brilliant outreach going on. But the many questions attracted by our recent land use debates, and on Rothamsted’s GM wheat research, revealed two problems. One was that you have to be quite ‘in the know’ about the most suitable place to find answers. The other was that researchers responding privately to individuals isn’t feasible when lots of people want to be involved. With a public panel, where everyone can read and follow up, we can persuade experienced researchers that the time is well spent. This kind of public-led, expert-fed approach means the agenda is also set by what people are actually concerned by, which sometimes contains a few surprises.”

Panel members have been nominated by: BBSRC, the Biochemical Society, Genetics Society, James Hutton Institute, John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research, Society of Biology, Society for Experimental Biology, National Farmers Union, Society for General Microbiology, UK Plant Sciences Federation and Royal Horticultural Society.

The Plant Science Panel is here

Questions can be sent via Twitter: @senseaboutsci  #plantsci, or email: plantsci@senseaboutscience.org


Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology:

“Plant science offers the potential to help address many of the global challenges we face and it is essential that the research is discussed in an open and transparent way. This expert panel has a major role to play in facilitating that by giving plant scientists and other specialists the opportunity to say to the public we’re here, ask us.”

Kate Baillie, Chief Executive of the Biochemical Society:

“We must take care to listen to and respond to the public on the issues surrounding plant science innovations. The creation of the plant science panel is an important step forward, allowing the public to directly question scientists on important and controversial scientific issues in this area.”

Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research: 

"We are very pleased to be part of this plant research panel, which will give scientists at Rothamsted Research further opportunity to engage on agricultural science issues that the public may be concerned about. The support we received from Sense about Science over the summer demonstrated the importance of this type of approach and allowed our small team of scientists the opportunity to connect with the many members of the public to explain our work and listen to their views." 

Professor Dale Sanders, Director of John Innes Centre:  

"The John Innes Centre is delighted to support the establishment of the plant science panel. It creates a great opportunity for scientists to provide informed answers to questions from the public."

Professor Iain Gordon, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute:

“It is a privilege for us to participate in the plant science panel. This outreach activity is fundamental in creating awareness about the issues facing the provision of food, energy and water to meet the ever increasing global human population at the same time as protection our precious environment.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC:

“Plants have a huge impact on our lives, from producing food, fuel and medicine to providing the oxygen that we breathe. Scientists are working to increase our knowledge about these important organisms and are finding new ways of using the resources that they offer. It’s vital that this research is conducted in light of public attitudes to bioscience research and BBSRC supports a range of activities to enable this. This new panel provides an additional tool for scientists to listen and respond to people's views and attitudes while helping to address questions and concerns.”

Dr Helen Ferrier, Chief Science & Regulatory Affairs Adviser National Farmer’s Union:

“It’s great that people in the plant science community are taking part in this initiative. Farmers and growers rely on plant and crop science to deliver the food and environment that society demands. It is a fascinating subject and fundamental to life as we know it.”

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