Photo:

Andy Stirling

Here I am and raring to go!

My CV

Education:

Westfield Comprehensive (to 77); Yeovil Tertiary College (77-9), Edinburgh University (80-4); Sussex University (90-4)… I’m old!

Qualifications:

Science ‘A levels’; then started out in undergraduate astronomy; shifted to a masters in ‘archaeology and social anthropology’; then a doctorate (and now a prof-ship) in ‘science and technology policy’

Work History:

many farms, building sites, a factory, a hospital, a care home, a museum, peace movement, prison, many archaeological digs and field surveys, Greenpeace, university, advisory committees

Current Job:

Research Director for SPRU (“science policy research unit”) and a Co-Director of the ‘STEPS Centre’ (www.steps-centre.org)

Employer:

the University of Sussex

Me and my work

I teach, research and give policy advice on issues to do with scientific uncertainty and the politics of technology

I’m one of those scientists who morphed early into a social scientist – not sure whether that’s “poacher turned gamekeeper”, or the other way around?

I’ve since spent my working life as an activist and academic – getting stuck-in on all kinds of issues around nuclear power, weapons, toxic chemicals, gm foods, nanotechnology, neuroscience and so on…

This has lead to various adventures, anecdotes. laughs and embarrassments… Key threads thro’ all this, tho’, are challenges of uncertainty and democracy. What happens when science and technology meet political and economic power? I’m especially keen on developing practical tools and frameworks for analysing this.

This is not so much about being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ any particular technology, but about how to  choose the best directions for research and innovation?

My hopes for GM

A slightly strange question, if you think about it: technologies are means not ends. My hopes are for people and the environment, not any particular technology!

In a way this question sums up a key thing that’s wrong with much of the discussion of GM. By fixating around “hopes for GM”, we get too easily polarised into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’. We miss giving due attention to the other means to address the same ends (like human wellbeing, social justice and ecological integrity).

If I were persuaded that a GM technology could really help on these scores better than other means, to improve the lot of the poorest and most vulnerable people, then I would support it. I guess this is a kind of hope…

But, as it stands, my main “hopes for GM”, are that we find a way to invest as much money, skill, attention and political support in arguably more effective  (but sadly neglected) ways to tackle global food challenges (like security, injustice, and environment). I mention some of these below.

 

 

My fears for GM

GM could lead to a world where food supply is controlled by a few very powerful corporations – at the expense of environment, health, wellbeing… and other innovations.

As it stands, GM technologies are  driven mainly by pressures to make money by controlling ‘property rights’ in new forms of life – or by using these to sell other products like branded pesticides. For all the talk, this means that most of the effort goes into products that miss the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable folk.

Where – as is sometimes the case – particular lines of GM research are more enlightened, I find them much more interesting. But they still tend to suffer from  assumptions that we can control the world by engineering it at the ‘most fundamental’ level. In fact, the real world is a much more complicated, dynamic and sensitive place. This can leaves us vulnerable to the messy uncertainties and complexities. If we deny this, we’re even more vulnerable.

The basic fear is, that a  fixation with GM can crowd out other ways of doing things: giving people greater rights over their own land; allowing farmers to select and exchange their own seed; ‘open source’ plant breeding; ecological farming and so on. These don’t offer ways for business to make so much money, so – like Cinderalla – they don’t get invited to the policy party.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

happy, scruffy, boffy

What is your favourite film?

Gladiator

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

integrity, wellbeing, fulfillment – why waste a wish on anything less, they don’t come around too often!

What's your favourite view in the world?

Out past Cornish cliffs and over the dunes to the Atlantic

What's the best thing you've done in your career?

helped give science advice that helped reduce people’s exposure to some kinds of toxic chemicals