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Feb. 21, 2012, Pittsburgh, PA - Policies regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) need to take biodiversity and regional attributes into account, according to Sandra Mitchell, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Mitchell made her case in a presentation titled “GMOs and Policy in a Complex, Diverse World,” delivered Feb. 19 during the Global Knowledge Session she coordinated at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

“The problem with generating ‘global’ GMO policies is that policy makers are failing to consider the local variations of a particular region,” says Mitchell. “I’m proposing an adaptive policy that’s more in tune with the knowledge we’ve gained about the biodiversity of a specific area.”

At the meeting, Mitchell discussed the effects of the bacillus thuringiensis (BT)—a soil-dwelling bacterium commonly used as a biological pesticide—on such different host plants as corn and cotton. There are nearly 600 strains of BT, each producing a different effect on modified plants, along with the variance of pesticide reduction. “Reasonable policy needs to take into account such complexities,” Mitchell said during her presentation. “The consequences for biodiversity of introducing a GMO are relevant to successful regulation.”

Instead of a predict-and-act approach, Mitchell suggests multiple, iterated scenario analyses to provide models better attuned to the factual complexity and diversity that GMOs display.  

“Policies are also faced with stakeholders who exhibit a range of conflicting values,” said Mitchell. “Mediation and management of differences should influence the shape of reasonable policy in the context of value diversity.”

Mitchell—internationally renowned in the philosophy of history and science field for her work on the scientific study of complex structures and associated policy implications—is the author of Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity, and Policy (University of Chicago Press, 2009).

Mitchell has served in elected positions in AAAS; the Philosophy of Science Association; and the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology.
She received her Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in philosophy from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., and her Master of Science degree with a mark of distinction in logic, philosophy, and scientific method from the London School of Economics. She earned her PhD from Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science. 

About AAAS

Founded in 1848, AAAS serves some 272 affiliated societies and academies of science and publishes the peer-reviewed general science journal Science. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives that include science policy, international programs, science education, and public understanding of science. The annual AAAS meeting is one of the most widely recognized global science events, with hundreds of networking opportunities and broad global media coverage.

February 21, 2012  By University of Pittsburgh


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