On 29 March, during the ‘When wizards meet prophets’ seminar, WUR’s techno-optimists and strict ecologists debated food and agriculture. What results did this meeting yield? Participant Hidde Boersma shares his thoughts.
Hidde Boersma during the discussions. Photo: SpreadtheWURd
‘It was a good seminar, but it’s still difficult for supporters and opponents of biotechnology to hold a clean debate’, Boersma reflects. ‘Most of them tend to enter trench warfare, are drawn to the contrapositions and substantiate why they are right in the most minute details. People are affected by a comment of “the opponent” and immediately react to that. In my opinion, this approach does not help to move forward, as both sides are right. That is: each point of view can be substantiated with scientific studies, and no one is entirely right.’
Hidde Boersma is a science journalist who clearly spoke out for new breeding techniques, but who also enters dialogue with critics who want to restrict these techniques. Together with “ecologist” Joris Lohman, he searched for a common perspective: ‘We need to think beyond the facts. A good starting point is to get acquainted with the other side’s story, because we tend to search confirmation of our being right. Following that thought, I now agree there should be additional money for research into polyculture, and Joris can now live with the fact that we use CRISPR-Cas. We perceive it as a mating of ideas.’
‘It helps to ask the question: what would one’s ideal world look like? The answer generally involves values and ideology instead of facts. The wizards – the technology adepts – see themselves as rational and see the eco-prophets as emotional, but the latter are also very smart people who want the best for the world. That seems like a good start.’
What part of the meeting really stuck with you?
‘During the discussions, Chinese student Suzy suggested developing both worlds simultaneously, without fighting nor trying to convince one another. If both sides want to create a better world, just start with both. I thought that was a beautiful approach. Another great thought came from professor Rogier Schulte: look at the opponent as a human being. There are people behind both the Monsanto company and the Greenpeace lobby group. And although companies and lobby group have financial interests, both employ idealistic people. One could try addressing these people on their values and ideals.’