Survey on Public Attitudes to Genetic Modification
We were very pleased with the number of responses from our survey, with over 275 responses. We were surprised with the range of responses, both in age and in location, therefore showing the reach of our survey due to iGEM collaboration page, and our iGEM team sharing it to their friends on social media, as well as the Cardiff iGEM twitter account.
Our survey was aimed to understand the public’s perception of the production of medicines, and how that changed with the use of genetic modification to produce these medicines. We also focused on whether the use of different organisms to produce the medicines affected approval. We were interested in understanding if the level of education, along with scientific education would change the public approval of GM.
Our results found that people did overall prefer to take medicines not produced by genetic modification rather than medicines produced by GM, but would rather take medicines from GM plants over GM bacteria or animals. This supports our project using plants rather than bacteria, as the public feel more comfortable with GM plants over GM bacteria and animals. When asked about the problems that GM has, 10% of responses believed that GM was unnatural, or would mess with nature. This would not be an issue with our project as our GM plants would be limited to lab or greenhouse conditions, so are unable to affect other plants, and as our product is produced using transient gene expression it would be processed to contain no genetically modified material.
We were interested in how the public perceived the media’s portrayal of GM, as supporters of genetic modification, we often believe that GM is broadcasted negatively, often scaremongering, and were interested to see if the public also believed that. The results from the survey supported our beliefs with 70.1% of participants believing that the media portrayed GM in a negative light, and 54.5% of people saying the media should change how it presents GM. When asked what changes the media could make, the most common response was to reduce scare mongering, and to prevent more balanced arguments based on facts, rather than opinions. After reading these responses, we spoke to Dr Andrew Williams from Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Sciences, who is a member of the Science, Health and the Media Research Group. He provided many interesting papers for us to read about how the media presents GM, and what factors can affect GM’s portrayal.
On reflection, to further improve our survey, we would try to reach a further audience. As our survey was largely completed by iGEM teams or friends of the Cardiff iGEM team, there may have been skewed data, with more people supporting GM, compared to the wider public. Therefore, there is a possibility that our data is not fully representative of the whole public. We would also change the wording on the questions about level of education and level of scientific education. After reading the comments of the survey, some participants found the wording to be unclear, as it did not consider the current level of education, i.e. if someone was studying for a BSc/PhD.
The full results of the survey can be seen in the PDF below.