“When people don’t seem to use science to make decisions, it is tempting to assume that it’s because they don’t understand the underlying science. In response, scientists and science communicators often just try harder to explain the science in the hope that eventually the facts will persuade people to change their behaviours or beliefs.”
People have multiple roles that affect the way they make decisions: citizen, consumer, scientist, and carer, to name a few. The role of science in our “post-truth” world is more contentious than ever. Our recent qualitative research on women’s attitudes to genetically modified (GM) food, attempts to unpack a few of these issues. We focused on women because previous research had shown them to be generally more negative about GM foods as a result of lesser education in science, and their caring roles that tend to make them more concerned with food risks. It was thrilling that for all of the women in our study, they preferred food that was unprocessed, locally produced, healthy and nutritious, and free from additives. Almost all of the other women in the study – even the highly science-literate women who worked in health science – saw GM food as being in conflict with these core food values. In addition, all of the women with science backgrounds used evidence to support their stance. For women without science backgrounds, GM food presented unknown risks, and as such was to be avoided. From this research, it can be deduced that; the multiple roles each of us plays also influence our choices; helping people to navigate different disciplinary approaches to risk is vital; one of the consequences of the deficit model has been to limit conversations about GM foods to how they are made, and how risk is assessed by regulators, rather than discussion of broader issues. Furthermore, our work points to shared food values between those who eat, and those who do not eat, GM foods. Shared values are an important foundation for engagement, and we believe that our work can contribute to the development of better engagement strategies across different sciences and sectors of the public.