Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vandana Shiva teaches how not to communicate science

Kevin Folta | January 8, 2015

We can learn a lot about people from not just what they say, but how they choose to say it. Communication scholars claim that something like 75 percent of meaning comes from non-verbal cues.  When we critically view the non-verbal performance of Dr.Vandana Shiva on China’s CCTV, (beginning at 23:00 min) we learn a lot about the person. Portrayed by her supporters as a kind-hearted and gentle defender of the downtrodden and the environment, we see her true colors. We can analyze her communication style and rhetoric and draw some important conclusions.  The discussion was on biotechnology, particularly the interface between biotech and China’s policies.

The host was aware of the limited time for the conversation and she asked specific questions. Rather than answer directly, Shiva took the opportunity to grandstand, speaking loudly and angrily over the host while other guests sat quietly.  She’s a hard-line activist that is not afraid to distort facts, play to old myths and rely on conspiratorial thinking. She will raise her voice when she can’t elevate her argument. She avoids the questions, and comes off as an agenda-driven politician more than a knowledgeable scientist.

What can we learn as biotech communicators? Soft is persuasive. To win hearts and minds we can’t come off as hard and angry. We have to respect the forum. It is important to actually end a sentence, and speak directly to the question.  Most of all, it is not only the words that have meaning. It is also how the words are presented.

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