The genetic modification of crops and foodstuffs (GM) is one of the most contentious issues of public science policy. In 2002, the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) organised a public debate on GM, which included the creation of a website to which members of the public could post comments between August 2002 and May 2003.
The research described in this paper entails analysis of the responses to this consultation, using qualitative social science techniques, aimed at identifying both the range of views which exist on the substantive issue of GM technology, and the ways in which they are understood by the participants.
An earlier stage of the research found that differences of perspective may embody differing assumptions concerning degrees of belief, time and the types of criteria on which truth claims may be made. The present paper extends the understanding of these dimensions by using them to classify and interrogate the contributions further.
The research has implications for other issues characterised by controversy and polarisation of views; for the effectiveness of public policy on such issues; and for the relationship between science, the public and government.