Science or science fiction? Perceptions of genome-editing on social media

    24 August 2020

    Love it or hate it, social media plays an important role in the way people learn about and view technology and innovation. A recent study* sheds light upon how agricultural and environmental genome-editing is perceived and discussed by social media users.

    The authors focussed on Facebook comments on news articles related to genome-editing published across 11 news outlets. Interestingly, most commenters were not interested in the shown science or debating facts. Rather, three main groups emerged. Those that used science as a tool to shame others, those that disregarded the science based on their personal beliefs, and those that interpreted science through a sometimes-humoristic science fiction lens. These distinct groups essentially speak different languages about the same issue.

    The findings show that using only scientific arguments while communicating about genome-editing may only speak to users who already see the topic through a scientific lens. Those who process the topic through conceptions of nature or beliefs may be put off if shamed for their perceived unscientific views. The authors describe being aware of a scientific elitism in debates as a key lesson for productive discussions.

    References to humour and science fiction, the study suggests, might be a way for people who are ambivalent to cope with the topic. Therefore, communication about genome-editing should avoid scientific media hype not to feed into perceptions of biotechnology as a funny, science fiction-related, fantastical topic.

    *Brittany Walker & Jennifer Malson (2020): Science, God and Nature: A Textual and Frequency Analysis of Facebook Comments on News Articles About Agricultural and Environmental Gene Editing. Environmental Communications.


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