Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Guidelines for protest in Rothamsted park


A team of  Rothamsted scientists will be at Rothamsted Park, Harpenden AL5 2EF to answer questions from 11.30 on Sunday the 27th of May - do go and talk to them, they're nice people.

If you're coming from London, when you get off the train go out the station exit to the left of the direction you were travelling, then follow the hill down. There's a pub on the corner called the Harpenden Arms - turn left after that, cross at the crossing, cross the green then follow the road to the left.  The entrance to the park is just after the town hall/

It looks as though there will now be three protests happening in Rothamsted Park on Sunday the 27th of May - the anti-gm protest which aims to destroy the field trial, an alternative peaceful protest which wants to express oposition to genetic modification without vandalising the trial and a #geekmob counterprotest in support of the trial.  To the first group I would obviously say please don't, but I hope something positive can come out of this by offering an opportunity for dialogue between the second two groups if everyone follows these guidelines:

  • There aren't many trains into Harpenden, so you'll probably end up travelling with members of the other camp. This is a great opportunity for dialogue but please remember there'll be other passengers on the trains who just want to nurse their Saturday night hangovers in peace so please keep it calm.
  • By all means bring placards, banners, pixel poi and Arduino LED displays but keep the messages attacking points not people. "Down with this sort of thing" is good, "your muzzer was an amstere, and your fazzer smelled of elderbereees" is not helpful.
  • The same goes for engaging people in discussion - remember that the person you're talking to may not have the same grounding in the subject you do or access to the same information, but they're an intelligent person doing what they sincerely believe to be best for planet and people. As an entomologist I'm not so keen on the phrase "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" - vinegar will work perfectly well if you're after vinegar flies, and you catch most Musca sorbens with shit which doesn't make a very good cliche, but it is true that if someone is wrong you're more likely to change their mind through rational argument than by insulting their intelligence.
  • Listen. Let the other person explain their concerns.
  • If someone isn't extending you the same courtesy, walk away. You will not be able to have a productive discussion.
  • If things are getting heated, and you feel safe doing so, you can deescalate the situation by sitting down.
  • Do not attempt to physically prevent anyone from destroying crops. Not only might this lead to ugly confrontations, the more people there are on the site the harder it will be for the police to stop people intent on destroying the trial and the more likely it is that something important will be trampled accidentally.
  • Finally, and most importantly, PLEASE DON'T DESTROY THE TRIAL..

Thank you.


Rebecca Nesbit said...

Just a thought - if Rothamted want us to play it cool, should we suggest no banners?

Jules said...

Perhaps - I'm sort of going on the assumption that this'll happen anyway though, I also think it'd be a bit harder for people to get in each others' faces if they're carrying things?

punkscience said...

"it is true that if someone is wrong you're more likely to change their mind through rational argument than by insulting their intelligence"

As a scientist I'd like to see some evidence of that. This isn't satire: I'd really, dearly love to see solid evidence that your claim is true, because it would give me a something to counter the profound misanthropy that life in the UK has cultivated within me.

You see, also as a scientist, I'm sure that your statement is true: when it is applied exclusively to other scientists. The thing is the majority of the planet aren't scientists. And in the UK they all have a vote.

Will said...

Just a quick suggestion: maybe some brief directions/pointers of how to get there from the station? It's not entirely obvious when you get off the train. Perhaps something like along the lines of "if you're coming from London, when you get off the train go out the station exit to the left of the direction you were travelling, then follow the hill down."

Jules said...

@Will thanks for the suggestion, I've put some directions in now.

@Punkscience ok you got me, I can't support that scientifically. I just have anecdotal evidence from my own life, that I've managed to persuade a few people of things by listening to what they're saying and treating them as intelligent human beings, but I've never managed to change anyone's mind through an angry row, and that personally if someone is civil to me and explains things I'm more likely to listen than if they start out with insults.

Jim Jepps said...


it would be interesting to see some studies into this, I'm sure there are some but I've not read any.

What I would say is that it doesn't seem very likely that you'll be able to change someone's mind if you a) don't listen to what they actually say, rather than what you may have decided is the sort of thing you think you they say and b) don't actually say anything beyond I don't agree with you or like you.

Both approaches are likely to entrench people in their views, I think.

If I'm told I'm an idiot I'm quite likely to write off the opinion of the person speaking, if I'm shown I'm an idiot (perhaps through demonstrating something I think doesn't make sense) then I at least have the opportunity to go "Oh bum, I'm an idiot!" and change my mind on a topic... obviously I might just pretend not to have heard you but at least it *might* work.

Jennifer @noteasy2begreen said...

I think Punkscience has a point, sadly. In the years I've been green blogging, I've begun to see how people don't respond to facts (which they are likely to claim have been manipulated by corrupt scientists / corporate interests); they're speaking from emotion. Two things might work. I found the Rothamsted YouTube appeal quite compelling, since it appeals to emotion (please don't destroy my years of work; I am a real human being who would be devastated by this) while including rational reasons. There's also something called Non-Violent Communication, which starts by identifying the emotion with which the other speaker is speaking (fear, confusion, anger) and listening to why so it becomes an empathetic conversation rather than a debate. I'm not very experienced at it, but I have seen it work for myself.

Good luck.

Jules said...

Thanks for that Jennifer, I'll definitely look up non-violent communication

punkscience said...

Jim, George Monbiot's work frequently considers why people reject evidence, vote against their interests and generally behave irrationally.


punkscience said...

Back on topic, this post explains in detail why Greens might reject GM.