PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Framing and scientific controversy
Exploring the effect and mechanism of question wording about agricultural biotechnology

Hepeng Jia  

Despite activists' continued negative framing of the controversial agricultural biotechnology with the term GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or genetically modified (GM) foods, few efforts have been made to investigate the impact of these terms on the public attitude to the technology. In this paper, we investigated the framing effect of the alternative names "biotechnology food" and "genetically modified food." We found anti-agribiotech activist and consumer groups tend to use more "genetically modified food" or its abbreviations than "biotechnology food" while a majority of pro-agribiotech organizations use the terms contrarily. In an online experiment involving an US sample, we found respondents have more negative responses when questions referred to "genetically modified food" than "biotechnology food." But for participants' policy choice to label such foods, there is no statistically meaningful difference, perhaps because of an awareness to maintain the consumers' right to know in the food domain. People's deference to scientific authority, naturalness and genetics knowledge were all found to moderate the framing effect, changing their benefit/harm perception of transgenic food. Consistent with previous findings on the polarized attitudes in the public debates of GM crops and foods, this study reveals the framing effect of social stigma of GMOs might be a source leading to such polarization. Thus, it has important implications for the surging public participation in science activities that often involve sensitive science and technology controversies. Further studies among different samples and with more contributing variables are needed to confirm the framing effect and mechanism. Suggested theme: Science communication for social inclusion and political engagement

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.