Dr Frances Downey, Public Liaison at Sense About Science, writes about the Biology Week event: Environmental scientists answer your questions: How does farming affect the environment?
This summer, when plant scientists from Rothamsted Research appealed for discussion not destruction when their GM wheat crop was under threat, the public came out in support. More than 6,000 people, from stay-at-home mums to insurance brokers, air traffic controllers to film makers, signed the Don’t Destroy Research petition. Most of them left comments expressing different views about GM food but unanimously in support for the research. Hundreds of people also asked questions, about the wheat experiment, about ecology, pollination and the food chain. The researchers at Rothamsted, helped by scientists from other institutes, set to work answering these questions via podcasts, Twitter and during online question and answer sessions.
The questions were enthusiastic, sometimes rude, and they meant the discussion on the GM wheat trial was set by what people actually wanted to talk about. We realised that people had lots of questions but did not know who to ask. By encouraging people to ask us so that we could relay them to researchers, we created an opportunity for an ongoing conversation. We are still working through all the correspondence and now we want to start answering the questions about other areas.
On Thursday 18 October, 3-4pm, we will be carrying on with that conversation, by putting people’s questions on the environmental impact of farming to scientists. Questions we will ask the scientists to answer include: Is organic farming better for the environment? Why isn’t best practice from all farming methods used to increase harvests? Why should I give my family food grown using pesticides so farmers can increase their profits? What is the impact of agricultural environmental policies on bird populations? Professor Jonathan Foley and Dr Hanna Tuomisto will be online to answer them so send your questions to us now via Twitter or email. Tweet them to @senseaboutsci using #landuse, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the next few months I will be launching an expert plant science panel, a collaboration with professional and learned societies, research bodies and institutes across the UK, who will provide answers to questions people ask us as and when they arise. I will tell you more about this soon. In the meantime we have a permanent, open invitation to anyone who wants to contact us on a plant science related issue. What topics are you interested in and what questions do you have?