A Journey Through Science Communication

Our journey through science communication, which we took in the process of addressing how uptake of technologies is a barrier facing synthetic biology biosensors, is documented here.

Synthetic Biology Dialogue

To gain awareness of previous work which has been completed in understanding public and stakeholder attitudes towards synthetic biology, we have read and reviewed the BBSRC’s 2010 study ‘Synthetic Biology Dialogue’. This has led us to carry out further research into certain points which were particularly pertinent for Newcastle University’s iGEM project, including concerns surrounding transparency in communication and how synthetic biology is covered by the media. Our key conclusions from this can be read here.

Language, Communication and Education Sciences

As part of our research, we had conversations with staff members at Newcastle University’s school of Language, Communication and Education Sciences. These provided further inspiration and technical advice for how we could study science communication.

One of these was Dr Spencer Hazel - a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics. Dr Hazel also completed British Science Association Media Fellowship, working for a month as a science writer at The Times. Hearing of his experiences, and learning about the process involved in publishing a story about science, is another thing which inspired us to further research science communication in the media. We decided to use corpus linguistics study language use in action during science communication.

Corpus Linguistics

Corpus linguistics is a method which can be used to access and analyse large bodies of text, and uncover patterns within them. In our research, we used corpus linguistics to complete searches for the terms Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology, GMO and biosensor . We searched two main corpora which contain texts published in the media from 1995- present day, and completed analysis which allowed us to see how the media uses language to discuss these topics, and which attitudes are presented.

The corpus linguistics research made us more aware of the lack of coverage of synthetic biology within media texts. It also showed how discussion around synthetic biology is populated with both positive and negative viewpoints, whilst giving indications of how we can use language to accentuate the positive, and increase clarity and transparency in communication.

The report linked here is a detailed discussion of the corpus linguistics research and findings: A Corpus Based Investigation Into Science Communication.

Synthetic Biology Communication Guidelines

As a culmination of our research into science communication, we have complied a set of guidelines for communicating synthetic biology to the public. These guidelines can be used for different purposes, including: to advise scientists when communicating about their work to the press; to guide in how to present to the public; and to help iGEM teams writing up their work!

The guidelines start with some more general points to consider when you start to communicate synthetic biology. They also make use of the information we gained during the corpus linguistics research to suggest some more specific linguistic features to consider when communicating synthetic biology.

Read the guidlines here: Breaking down the barriers: How should we communicate SynBio to the public?

Science Communication Seminars

To share our work in science communication with an audience of scientists, we held seminars with two research groups. In these seminars, we presented our research, and then opened up for discussions and debate about the issues we had raised. A lot of the scientists had stories to tell about personal experiences they’d had with science communication, and it was interesting to hear how they felt our research could have an impact!

Transform and Translate

We wrote a blog about the science communication areas of our research. The blog, Transform and Translate, can be found here.


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