Royal Society role in GM debate

March 31, 2000

Tom Wakeford suggests that the British Association for the Advancement of Science rejected his article for Science and Public Affairs on the grounds that we did not want to upset the Royal Society because it provides financial support for the magazine (Soapbox, THES, March 24). This is not the case. The article was rejected - by me - because I was not prepared for the BA to publish what I believed to be false accusations against the Royal Society.

That has nothing whatever to do with whether the society gives us money, which it does. The article stated that the society had established a rebuttal unit during 1999. These allegations surfaced some months ago in The Guardian and were explicitly refuted by the society at the time.

Wakeford does not use the term "rebuttal unit" in his article. Instead he says that the society emails some of its fellows with information that "helps them mould public opinion along pro-genetic modification lines".

If the society does email its fellows, I am confident it sends them the best available scientific information about the issues concerned. And if it does this to encourage its fellows to become active in the debate about these issues and thereby make the debate more informed, the society should be applauded, not derided.

Peter Briggs Chief executive, British Association for the Advancement of Science, London

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