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Eric Montpetiton 24 October 2014
Transcript of Magnified Disagreement
the Media Coverage of Biotechnology Policy-Making Versus Its Practice
Aversion to Political Disagreement
When individuals rely on the media to obtain information on policy-making, it is as if they were using a magnifying glass that makes political disagreements appear much bigger than they really are. By featuring their most extreme manifestations, the media magnify disagreements, over biotechnology in particular. The disagreements reported in the press misrepresent the distance that truly separate biotechnology policy actors, notably interest groups, experts and civil servants. The media unfairly tarnish the perception of political disagreement by associating it with stalemates harmful to any progress in the evolution of policy.
The Media Coverage of Biotechnology Policy
Median Probability of Policy Disagreement Reported in Major Newspapers
Who Disagrees with Whom in Press Coverage
Wordscore Analysis of the Tone of Reports of Disagreement in Major Newspapers
We should be concerned by the degree of aversion to political disagreement because this aversion rests on a misrepresentation of disagreement by the media, more than on the reality of policy-making.
: There is a risk [the debate] will be hijacked by fundamentalist lobby groups. This could prevent scientists, policy-makers and the public from properly assessing the potential threat of genetically modified crops to our countryside.
: Since the middle of the 1990s, the GMO debate has grown in importance with the publication of press articles, books and reports. Far from heading toward a solution, this debate stalls in confrontations that are both passionate and sterile.
The Washington Post
: The authors made mistakes that first-year grad students learn to avoid, which further demonstrates that their commitment was not to data and science but to a religious commitment to an [anti-biotechnology] dogma.
The National Post
: The EU claimed they are entitled under WTO rules to impose provisional measures because the scientific evidence about GM products is uncertain. Although the EU got plenty of help from the NGOs on this point, the scientists generally seemed unconvinced.
The Washington Post
: Several participants in the discussions said they were deeply disappointed at the failure to reach a deal, but they also emphasized that they had accomplished some important goals nonetheless. Warring parties built new relationships with one another that may yet lead to compromise agreements on piecemeal issues, they said. And the group has agreed to reconvene in a year or 18 months to see if positions have shifted enough that a compromise might be possible then.
How real is actor polarization over biotechnology?
The Biotechnology Actor Survey
Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France
2006 and 2008
civil servants, interest group representatives, expert-scientists
Distribution of Beliefs about the Risks and Benefits of Biotechnology
Distribution of Beliefs about the Risks and Benefits of Biotechnology by Country
Evolution of the Distribution of Beliefs about the Risks and Benefits of Biotechnology in Europe and North America
Do actors who hold extreme positions cause stalemates?
Percentage of Respondents Displaying Attitudes of Compromise and Stubbornness
Plot of Attitudes and Beliefs
The Marginal Effect of Beliefs on Attitudes, All Else Equal
Do scientists disagree less?
Distributions of the Respondents with the Strongest Convictions along Categories of Actors
Who Disagrees with Whom: Dyadic Disagreement per Country
Interaction between Dyadic Disagreement and Disciplinary Background
We know from studies in political communication that the media distorts the reality of policy-making. Now we have a better idea of the size of the distortion.
Theories of public policy either ignore or exaggerate disagreement. Ignore when cooperation is the focus and exaggerate when social psychology and exclusion are the drivers. Now we know that accounting for disagreement can teach us important things about policy-making, and not about catastrophes.
Politics and political disagreement suffer, undeservedly, from negative perceptions among the public. The book can serve as a defense of politics.