Experts answer my question: How do I talk about the science of agriculture?

Posted on November 27, 2013

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by Kari Doerksen

Yes, I want to talk about the science of agriculture. I want to engage in conversations, whether it is with a local politician, a Twitter follower or my neighbour over the fence.

The world is changing. The way we communicate is changing. Misinformation and fear mongering are spreading. Polarized debates continue to shape the public dialogue and influence public policy.

The next generation of farmers and ranchers, scientists and ultimately consumers will be impacted. I want to (and I know I am not alone in this) support the next generation in any way I can. Now.

Not tomorrow. Not after government decisions have had a negative impact on farmers and prevented us from being able to feed those in need. Not after my children grow up and make their food choices based on fear, rather than really understanding where there food comes from. Now.

The question is how.

On October 24th I had the opportunity to spend a half-day with three of the most wonderful agvocates and science communicators I have ever known. Dr. Kevin Folta (University of Florida), Michele Payn-Knoper (Agvocate, Cause Matters) and Dr. Cami Ryan (University of Saskatchewan) led a discussion from various perspectives. Forty-four people joined us. People like me – who want to communicate the science of agriculture but don’t know how to have these courageous conversations.

I wish the entire ag research community could have been there. It was an engaging and thought-provoking workshop. We worked in groups to try to explore how best to communicate. Here are just a few things we learned during the workshop: -

There are certain people you will never reach. These people will always want an argument. Take the high road. You may never change the opinion of these confrontational people, but someone else may be watching.

- Most people don’t think the way a scientist does. The average person loves a conspiracy theory and responds to simple pictures more than to scientific evidence.

- No one cares about science or evidence unless it connects with his or her personal life. Listen, learn, understand, and then talk. -

Use real-life examples

- Network with other people who care about this! Whether it is a great blog or an email list of your closest ag-science friends, working with others helps to get information when you need it, and they can provide a critique of your material.

Above all, what I learned from the workshop is that there is strength in numbers. I may not change the entire discussion about GMOs or animal welfare on social media by myself. But together we are so much stronger. And the discussion is much more balanced when we are a part of it.

As Michele Payn-Knoper said during the workshop “If we don’t speak for ourselves, someone will speak for us.”

Who is speaking for you?  

Resources to get you started

Biology Fortified - http://www.biofortified.org/
Academics Review - http://academicsreview.org/
Cami Ryan - http://doccamiryan.wordpress.com/
Sense about Science http://www.senseaboutscience.org/
Michele Payne-Knoper http://www.causematters.com/
Dr. Kevin Folta http://kfolta.blogspot.ca/

Kari Doerksen
is a Senior Project Manager at Genome Prairie
  • Ellen

    Posted on 11/12/2013

    Will this event be hosted again, I would love to attend. I follow each of them online.

  • Kari

    Posted on 28/11/2013

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments Joni. We stand stronger together. It is also so much easier to become involved as part of a community. I hope this workshop, and blog, inspire others to join the conversation.

  • Joni Rose

    Posted on 28/11/2013

    I totally agree that there is strength in numbers. The problem we have here in Hawaii is that there is a small number of activists that take over the conversations and people are scared to speak up. I'm speaking up already towards politicians and other policymakers to really show who is telling them their information. The more I have been out there, the more I have seen others start speak up in the social media. I even got my own dad to get involved with advocacy at a ripe young age of soon to be 72! We have to do this if we are to be heard.