Dr Rebecca Bowden works in the Office of Science and Technology, headed by Lord David Sainsbury. Bowden was previously senior manager of the Royal Society's science policy division.
An article in The Guardian of Nov 1, 1999, commenting on apparent efforts by members of the Royal Society to discredit and prevent publication of Dr Arpad Pusztai's research showing harmful effects on rats fed GM potatoes, said:
- According to a source the Royal Society science policy division is being run as what appears to be a rebuttal unit. The senior manager of the division is Rebecca Bowden, who coordinated the highly critical peer review of Dr Pusztai's work. She joined the society in 1998, from the government biotechnology unit at the department of the environment, which controls the release of genetically modified organisms.
- The rebuttal unit is said by the source to operate a database of like-minded Royal Society fellows who are updated by e-mail on a daily basis about GM issues. The aim of the unit, according to the source, is to mould scientific and public opinion with a pro-biotech line. Dr Bowden confirmed that her main role is to coordinate biotech policy for the society, reporting to the [then] president, Sir Aaron Klug. However, she and Sir Aaron denied it was a spin doctoring operation.
According to the journalist Andy Rowell, who helped research The Guardian article, not included in the article was an admission Rebecca Bowden had made to the paper, 'We have an organization that filters the news out there. It's really an information exchange to keep an eye on what's happening and to know what the government is having problems about its just so that I know who to put up - more of a forewarning mechanism If we've already got a point of view then we push it.'
This would appear to tally with other indications that there was a coordinated pro-GM line from both the Blair government and the Royal Society, and that part of the Society's role was to put up experts to the media in order to help the government defend its position on GM.
In her current job at the Office of Science and Technology, Bowden has been involved in setting up a steering committee for a project on improving communication with the media over science policy and risks associated with new technologies. Among the steering group members are Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre and the BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.
While working for the Royal Society, Bowden attempted on several occasions to subscribe to e-mail lists for critics of GM crops, sometimes using her home e-mail address for this purpose.