ChapterPDF Available

Opinion climates, spirals of silence, and biotechnology: Public opinion as a heuristic for scientific decision making

Authors:
A preview of the PDF is not available
... However, the public rarely has direct access to GMO-related studies or scientists in this discipline (Scheufele, 2007); besides, without relevant professional training, it is almost impossible to process such sophisticated scientific information. Thus, the media, especially the legacy media, play an essential role in the transmission and interpretation of GMO-related knowledge and information (Listerman, 2010;McCluskey et al., 2016), affecting the public's opinions and attitudes towards GMOs (Clark and Illman, 2006) as well as the policymaking process concerning biotechnology (Lundy and Irani, 2004;Maeseele and Schuurman, 2008;Pollock et al., 2017). ...
... McCombs and Shaw (1972) found that, although coverage in newspapers cannot determine how people think about different issues, it can affect what people think. In the case of scientific issues such as biotechnology, nuclear technology, nanotechnology and climate change, which the public has little direct access to or cognitive experience of, people rely heavily on news media (McCluskey et al., 2016;Scheufele, 2007). The public's reliance on media for information about biotechnology, in particular, has been shown by several studies (Marks et al., 2003;Marks et al., 2007;Priest, 1994). ...
Article
Biotechnology, as an emerging technology, has drawn much attention from the public and elicited hot debates in countries around the world and among various stakeholders. Due to the public's limited access to front-line scientific information and scientists, as well as the difficulty of processing complex scientific knowledge, the media have become one of the most important channels for the public to get news about scientific issues such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to framing theory, how the media portray GMO issues may influence audiences’ perceptions of those issues. Moreover, different countries and societies have various GMO regulations, policies and public opinion, which also affect the way media cover GMO issues. Thus, it is necessary to investigate how GMO issues are covered in different media outlets across different countries. We conducted a comparative content analysis of media coverage of GMO issues in China, the US and the UK. One mainstream news portal in each of the three countries was chosen ( People's Daily for China, The New York Times for the US, and The Guardian for the UK). We collected coverage over eight years, from 2008 to 2015, which yielded 749 pieces of news in total. We examined the sentiments expressed and the generic frames used in coverage of GMO issues. We found that the factual, human interest, conflict and regulation frames were the most common frames used on the three portals, while the sentiments expressed under those frames varied across the media outlets, indicating differences in the state of GMO development, promotion and regulation among the three countries.
... Specific frames were designed for clustering the worldviews of the Spanish and Polish citizens. Media frames have been comprehensively analysed in the fields of media, communication and political communication studies (Entman, 1993;Scheufele, 1999Scheufele, , 2007Benford & Snow 2000;Dirikx & Gelders, 2010). In the 1980s, Gamson and Modigliani (1989) understood frames as 'interpretative packages in the context of social movements', explaining that the packages consisted of rhetorical devices, such as metaphors, visual images and symbols. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The main objective of this chapter is to compare the political discourses of Polish and Spanish citizens on science issues such as vaccines and climate change expressed by the citizens participating in the public consultations held in València (Spain) and Łódź (Poland) during the autumn of 2019. As the general elections were held very close to the public consultations in both countries, it was expected that there would be references to election campaigns, political parties, or public policymaking during the debates. Then, those statements explicitly expressing political views on climate change and vaccines were selected from the debate transcripts before applying five specific frames and variables for analysis and interpretation. The results show that more political opinions were expressed in the debates on climate change than on vaccines. Moreover, the citizens' views on the science-politics dichotomy mainly were negative, with the men mixing science with politics more than the women.
... Such coverage can provide context that could shape residents' perceptions of GMOs, their relevance, and their impact on the state. This media coverage may be an especially important cue for lay audiences forming attitudes about GMOs, because the likelihood they have personal experiences with or are knowledgeable about the topic is very low (Jennings, 2018;Scheufele, 2007). ...
Article
Full-text available
A bstract This study analyzes the relationship between state-level variables and Twitter discourse on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Using geographically identified tweets related to GMOs, we examined how the sentiments expressed about GMOs related to education levels, news coverage, proportion of rural and urban counties, state-level political ideology, amount of GMO-related legislation introduced, and agricultural dependence of each U.S. state. State-level characteristics predominantly did not predict the sentiment of the discourse. Instead, the topics of tweets predicted the majority of variance in tweet sentiment at the state level. The topics that tweets within a state focused on were related to state-level characteristics in some cases.
... Other established predictors of GE food perceptions include attention to media (e.g. Brossard & Nisbet, 2007;Gaskell et al., 1999;Marques, Critchley, & Walshe, 2015;Scheufele, 2007) and trust in specific actors or stakeholders (important for a variety of technologies and hazards, see Covello, 1998;Siegrist, Cvetkovich, & Roth, 2000), especially those connected to the food system (e.g. Ding, Veeman, & Adamowicz, 2012;Lang & Hallman, 2005;Traill et al., 2004) or prominent seed companies such as Monsanto (Charlebois & Van Acker, 2016). ...
Article
Recent gene editing technologies advances, such as CRISPR/Cas9, will continue to shape the future of agriculture and genetically engineered crops. Using a representative survey of a North American Midwestern state, we examine the relative weights of specific risks and benefits associated with GMO foods in impacting potential rejection of the technology. Controlling for established predictors, we find perceptions of specific risks and benefits of the technology have a significant and substantial impact on GMO rejection, with risk aspects playing a relatively greater role. Two risks, viewing GMOs as benefiting food manufacturers and causing allergies and illness, are among the strongest predictors of GMO food rejection, suggesting social dimensions are important to consider and present in the public mind. Supplementing this, people also consider aspects related to health and nature. We discuss implications for communication efforts about GE foods and crops, and for the future of gene editing in food production.
... Modern media tools like social media also give critics (or supporters) a platform, which can draw viral attention. In such cases, controversial science issues may be depicted as more controversial than they are among the scientific community, with a vocal minority appearing to have greater support for its opinion than it actually has (Scheufele 2007). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
... This way, personal political views and interests, both of which are located within a private space, are transferred to a public space through the act of disclosure on SNSs. Former studies on political expression focus merely on people's willingness to express political opinions and participate in political discussions (Scheufele 2007, p. 233-238, Woong Yun and Park 2011, p. 212-213, Halpern and Gibbs 2013, p. 1161, Gil de Zúñiga, Molyneux et al. 2014, but an important perspective is neglected: political expression happens both in the development of personal relationship and political participation. As such it is quite necessary to add this perspective into this dissertation, where the boundary between "the Private" and "the Public" is interpreted as the result of social interaction. ...
Book
Full-text available
As people across the world increasingly reveal private information and political opinions on SNSs, the boundary between “the private” and “the public” becomes blurred while different understandings of this boundary across countries begin to exhibit some similarities. Based on these phenomena, this dissertation aims to answer the following questions: 1) where is the boundary between “the private” and “the public” on SNSs? 2) Is there a difference or a similarity in the boundary between “the private” and “the public” on SNSs across different countries? By reviewing different notions of “the private” and “the public” using different social approaches and procedures, I select the framework of sociability to investigate the distinction between private and public. Research using this theoretical framework is conducted by online surveys and interviews with selected SNSs users in Germany and China. My study points out that the clear boundary of “the private” and “the public” on SNSs is a result of acts of disclosure and/or withdrawal of personal information and political opinions. Globalization and mediatization, to a certain extent, contribute to similarities among different countries but do not erase the differences in their respective boundaries.
... Finally, media is an important source for information on GM foods and agricultural biotechnology (Brossard and Nisbet, 2007;Scheufele, 2007) and often has a strong connection to attitudes toward GM foods over time (Gaskell et al., 1999;Marques et al., 2015). Media coverage is, therefore, vital for understanding the relationship between knowledge and attitudes. ...
Article
The impact of knowledge on public attitudes toward scientific issues remains unclear, due in part to ill-defined differences in how research designs conceptualize knowledge. Using genetically modified foods as a framework, we explore the impacts of perceived familiarity and factual knowledge, and the moderating roles of media attention and a food-specific attitudinal variable (food consciousness), in shaping these relationships. Based on the differential effects on “negative attitudes” toward genetically modified foods, we provide further evidence that the measures of knowledge are separate concepts and argue against a one-dimensional view of scientific knowledge. We discuss implications for understanding the relationship between knowledge and science attitudes.
Article
To understand online discussions of agricultural and environmental gene editing, this study undertook a thematic analysis of 107 Facebook comments and a frequency analysis of 1,290 Facebook comments on news posts posted by news media outlets about agricultural and environmental gene editing. Several themes emerged: gene editing as challenging a higher power, pro-science arguments, the conflation of gene editing with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and comparisons to science fiction. These findings provide insight into the particular context of Facebook comment sections as a way to understand the social media environment surrounding this emerging biotechnology.
Chapter
Interactions within groups of people lead to many forms of aberrant social psychology. One is pluralistic ignorance (PI), in which the majority of people in a group express opinions that differ from their real beliefs. PI occurs for various reasons: one is the drive to belong to a group. To understand how PI emerges, this study presents an agent-based model that represents PI as the outcome of the trade-off between agents’ group conformity and cognitive dissonance (psychological discomfort). We show that the trade-off can lead to various outcomes, depending on agents’ choice, or bias towards one tendency or the other.
Article
Genetically engineered food has had its DNA, RNA, or proteins manipulated by intentional human intervention. We provide an overview of the importance and regulation of genetically engineered food and lay attitudes toward it. We first discuss the pronaturalness context in the United States and Europe that preceded the appearance of genetically engineered food. We then review the definition, prevalence, and regulation of this type of food. Genetically engineered food is widespread in some countries, but there is great controversy worldwide among individuals, governments, and other institutions about the advisability of growing and consuming it. In general, life scientists have a much more positive view of genetically engineered food than laypeople. We examine the bases of lay opposition to genetically engineered food and the evidence for how attitudes change. Lay people tend to see genetically engineered food as dangerous and offering few benefits. We suggest that much of the lay opposition is morally based. One possibility is that, in some contexts, people view nature and naturalness as sacred and genetically engineered food as a violation of naturalness. We also suggest that for many people these perceptions of naturalness and attitudes toward genetically engineered food follow the sympathetic magical law of contagion, in which even minimal contact between a natural food and an unnatural entity, either a scientist or a piece of foreign DNA, pollutes or contaminates the natural entity and renders it unacceptable or even immoral to consume. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Nutrition Volume 38 is August 21, 2018. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Two survey data sets test a model of Risk Information Seeking and Processing, informed by Eagly and Chaiken’s (1993) Heuristic-Systematic model, that describes characteristics of individuals that predispose them to seek and process information about health and environmental risks in different ways. Results indicate that information insufficiency relates positively with active seeking and systematic processing of risk information and negatively with avoidance and heuristic processing of it. Individuals are more likely to process systematically if they believe that media channels contain essential validity cues.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Core variables and propositions from a model originally designed to describe information seeking and processing about risks are applied to energy issues. Results indicate that perceived social pressures to learn about energy information, information sufficiency motivation, individuals’ perceived processing abilities, and their beliefs about available channels of information can be useful for examining the ways individuals seek and process energy information. These results suggest that the model may be fairly robust in applications beyond risk.
Article
Full-text available
We analyse around 15 000 responses from 11 countries to the open survey question `please tell me in your own words, what does it mean to study something scientifically' in order to show cultural diversity in public representations of science. In past studies this question has been coded on a five-point rating scale that is used to rank scientific literacy across different countries. We develop, apply and evaluate an alternative coding frame. We show that our coding is more adequate, more reliable and produces less noise than the frame used by others to analyse responses to the same question. Multiple coding on five dimensions allows us to characterize people's understanding of science in terms of methods, institutions, effects, examples and level of differentiation of the response. We use correspondence analysis to characterize distinct response patterns in ten European countries and the USA. The data shows that no simple cultural division such as Protestant versus Catholic, or north-south divide, or Latin versus Anglo-Saxon fits the variance in the data. The paper closes with an agenda for future research in the area of public understanding of science and technology.
Article
To date, most analyses of risk perceptions have focused on the characteristics of individual perceivers, but given the societal changes that have occurred since the early days of the industrial revolution, there is need for greater attention to the institutions that are responsible for risk management. Risks of death have been dropping significantly for more than a century, but during that time, there has been a dramatic growth of societal interdependence and hence of the potential for recreancy — the failure of institutional actors to carry out their responsibilities with the degree of vigor necessary to merit the societal trust they enjoy. In the case of facilities for handling nuclear waste, analyses of survey data find that the recreancy perspective explains roughly three times as much variance in levels of concern as do sociodemographic and ideological variables combined. The recreancy concept may also have significant applicability in other contexts involving the potentially problematic performance of specialized responsibilities.
Article
Culture influences action not by providing the ultimate values toward which action is oriented, but by shaping a repertoire or "tool kit" of habits, skills, and styles from which people construct "strategies of action." Two models of cultural influence are developed, for settled and unsettled cultural periods. In settled periods, culture independently influences action, but only by providing resources from which people can construct diverse lines of action. In unsettled cultural periods, explicit ideologies directly govern action, but structural opportunities for action determine which among competing ideologies survive in the long run. This alternative view of culture offers new opportunities for systematic, differentiated arguments about culture's causal role in shaping action.
Article
The function of participation in institutionalised technology assessment is discussed using the example of the Danish consensus conferences. The results of a postal survey of, and in-depth interviews with, Members of the Danish Parliament are reported. Additionally, results are given of a representative public opinion poll regarding the public's awareness of the consensus conferences. The paper concludes that participation should be understood as a facilitating mechanism of, rather than a substitute for, technology assessment by the representative decision-making institutions; and that it is more likely to be effective if it relates to a strong and articulate civil society.
Article
One model for direct citizen participation in science-based policy issues is the consensus conference. This article presents a cross-national comparative analysis of three consensus conferences on food biotechnology (in Denmark, Canada, and Australia) held in March 1999. We conclude that the consensus conference model "travels well" (works in multiple national and socio-cultural contexts), being useful beyond its origins in northern Europe. We also provide more detailed conclusions about the food biotechnology issue.
Article
In West Germany the `information disaster' after Chernobyl offered an opportunity to study the credibility of different information sources. A representative survey conducted in May 1987 of the West German population showed that on average the Federal Government—although heavily criticized because of its information policy and risk management—was rated most credible while the nuclear industry was judged least credible. On the whole, mean credibility ratings differed surprisingly little between sources; ratings of competence and public interest orientation varied more. These variables, interpreted as the classical credibility factors `expertise' and `trustworthiness', were important predictors of credibility. But beliefs and expectations recipients posess about individual sources also appear to influence credibility.
Article
Partisan groups, highly important actors in public discourse and the democratic process, appear to see mass media content as biased against their own point of view. Although this hostile media effect has been well documented in recent research, little is understood about the mechanisms that might explain it. Three processes have been proposed: (a) selective recall, in which partisans preferentially remember aspects of content hostile to their own side; (b) selective categorization, in which opposing partisans assign different valences to the same content; and (c) different standards, in which opposing partisans agree on content but see information favoring the other side as invalid or irrelevant. Using new field-experiment tests with groups of partisans who either supported (n = 87) or opposed (n = 63) the use of genetically modified foods, we found evidence of selective categorization and different standards generally. However, only selective categorization appeared to explain the hostile media effect.