Dr Clare Robinson was responsible for science communication and education at the John Innes Centre, Norfolk, UK.
Clare Robinson worked with Phil Dale on the JIC's GM Issues website. She was also Team leader on the project Biotechnology in Our Food Chain, an on-line schools' project as part of Biotechnology in Our Future, which is said to be 'a public information service of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK'.
The project involved creating a website intended to assist 16-17-year-old students 'with their research projects on how biotechnology is used in our food chain, by providing them with relevant information and a means to canvass public opinion'. The website was launched in April 1998. The project was funded by Lord David Sainsbury's Gatsby Charitable Foundation.
The schools' project claims to take note of the 'various viewpoints. But such viewpoints are not taken note of in a balanced way, although superficially it may appear so. In the section on GM and the developing world, for example, there are two sections: Plant biotechnology: meeting the needs of the developing world? and Plant biotechnology: new problems for the developing world? As both are of about equal size, this appears to provide equal coverage of both possible benefits and concerns.
Closer inspection, however, reveals that while the possible benefits of GM are presented without any reservation, while the possible concerns are presented with strong reservations. Moreover, the listing of concerns is immediately followed by a slightly longer subsection reporting a strongly worded attack on those who raise such concerns. This means that more than half the space devoted to the question of concerns is, in fact, taken up with bringing them into question.
Dr Robinson is also co-author of the Sweet As You Are Information Pack produced in 1999 by the John Innes Centre with the Teacher Scientist Network based at the Centre. This pack complemented a play on GM, Sweet As You Are, commissioned by the John Innes Centre, and intended to tour UK secondary schools. The purported aim of the project was to provide young people with 'unbiased' information on GM.
According to Dr Robinson, 'The aim is not to 'convert' the audience to hold different views on GM. Rather, it is to encourage careful consideration of the factors that influence our attitudes, objective assessment of information, and recognition that decision making can involve trying to reconcile conflicting goals or views.'
Dr Jeremy Bartlett, a scientist with a doctorate in plant genetics from John Innes, attended a production of the play and the accompanying debate. He described the event as a carefully crafted exercise in manipulation: 'The GM campaigner looks ridiculous, behaves deviously, has no proper arguments against GM and loses the girl. His fiancee listens to the rational scientist and furthers her career by promoting GM foods. We're told that science is pure and unbiased and that only scientists are qualified to comment on GM.'