Plant biotechnology: the importance of being accurate. Twyman, R., M.; Ramessar, K.; Quemada, H.; Capell, T.; and Christou, P. Trends in Biotechnology.
abstract   bibtex   
Barely a day seems to go by in the world of politics without a senior official needing to clarify an earlier statement that has been misconstrued or taken out of context, especially with an ever-vigilant media ready to jump on any perceived error or imperfection. But although politicians might often suffer under the burden of misinterpretation, they cannot really complain because they exploit the same phenomenon. The dissemination of information to the public is always loaded with spin, softening the impact of bad news and deflecting criticism using carefully crafted words, an effect magnified and exaggerated by the media obsession with sound bites. Semantics has a lot to answer for and context is everything. So, really, does the precise meaning of a word have any relevance at all when a meaning, implied or otherwise, can be explained away by context? Thankfully science is not politics and in science words have specific meanings. Or at least that should be the case. Language evolves quickly with popular use and words take on new meanings, so a word coined within the pages of an austere science journal might not carry the same meanings and connotations when it escapes into mainstream language (Table 1). And herein lies the problem with plant biotechnology and the public acceptance of genetically engineered (GE) plants, specifically those generated by recombinant DNA technology. Words are weapons of propaganda and words or phrases such as “deliberate release” or “genetic pollution” that have a precise meaning when used by scientists have entered mainstream language sounding like a terrorist threat to destroy civilization, with certain stakeholders eagerly seizing on the opportunity to use such terms inappropriately to gain the maximum emotional impact. As an example, the term “genetic pollution” was initially used to describe a natural process of gene mingling that occurs when an invasive species comes in contact with a sexually compatible indigenous population [1]. Although it is fair to presume that the author might have coined the term to create a sense of dramatic impact, perhaps encouraged by a certain level of expectation to achieve publication in a high-ranking journal, there was no negative connotation until the advent of GE crops, when the term was co-opted by environmental pressure groups to describe the undesirable process of gene flow from transgenic to non-transgenic plants. This changed it from a precise scientific term to a term whose main purpose is to assign value judgments. However, this transition from neutral to loaded terminology was already in progress in the conservational context, a fact noted as early as 1996 [2]. The danger of slipping from science into propaganda is heightened when such loaded terms find their way into official documentation, especially regulatory guidelines. The term “genetic pollution”, with all its negative connotations, is routinely used, both in a conservational context and when specifically referring to gene flow from transgenic plants, in documents approved by governments and non-governmental organizations [3] and [4].
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 title = {Plant biotechnology: the importance of being accurate},
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 abstract = {Barely a day seems to go by in the world of politics without a senior official needing to clarify an earlier statement that has been misconstrued or taken out of context, especially with an ever-vigilant media ready to jump on any perceived error or imperfection. But although politicians might often suffer under the burden of misinterpretation, they cannot really complain because they exploit the same phenomenon. The dissemination of information to the public is always loaded with spin, softening the impact of bad news and deflecting criticism using carefully crafted words, an effect magnified and exaggerated by the media obsession with sound bites. Semantics has a lot to answer for and context is everything. So, really, does the precise meaning of a word have any relevance at all when a meaning, implied or otherwise, can be explained away by context?  Thankfully science is not politics and in science words have specific meanings. Or at least that should be the case. Language evolves quickly with popular use and words take on new meanings, so a word coined within the pages of an austere science journal might not carry the same meanings and connotations when it escapes into mainstream language (Table 1). And herein lies the problem with plant biotechnology and the public acceptance of genetically engineered (GE) plants, specifically those generated by recombinant DNA technology. Words are weapons of propaganda and words or phrases such as “deliberate release” or “genetic pollution” that have a precise meaning when used by scientists have entered mainstream language sounding like a terrorist threat to destroy civilization, with certain stakeholders eagerly seizing on the opportunity to use such terms inappropriately to gain the maximum emotional impact. As an example, the term “genetic pollution” was initially used to describe a natural process of gene mingling that occurs when an invasive species comes in contact with a sexually compatible indigenous population [1]. Although it is fair to presume that the author might have coined the term to create a sense of dramatic impact, perhaps encouraged by a certain level of expectation to achieve publication in a high-ranking journal, there was no negative connotation until the advent of GE crops, when the term was co-opted by environmental pressure groups to describe the undesirable process of gene flow from transgenic to non-transgenic plants. This changed it from a precise scientific term to a term whose main purpose is to assign value judgments. However, this transition from neutral to loaded terminology was already in progress in the conservational context, a fact noted as early as 1996 [2]. The danger of slipping from science into propaganda is heightened when such loaded terms find their way into official documentation, especially regulatory guidelines. The term “genetic pollution”, with all its negative connotations, is routinely used, both in a conservational context and when specifically referring to gene flow from transgenic plants, in documents approved by governments and non-governmental organizations [3] and [4].},
 bibtype = {article},
 author = {Twyman, Richard M and Ramessar, Koreen and Quemada, Hector and Capell, Teresa and Christou, Paul},
 journal = {Trends in Biotechnology}
}
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