Synthetic Biology from the lab to the public mind: Laypeople's reactions to information on an unfamiliar emerging technology
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35th 4S Annual Meeting
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Based on data collected in a natural experiment in the ?Communicating Synthetic Biology? project (COSY) and on data from the latest Eurobarometer surveys, this contribution sets out to analyze laypeoples? Collective Symbolic Coping with an unfamiliar emerging technology. Synthetic Biology is an important emerging field applying an engineering perspective to biology, which is gaining increasing prominence. In this project, eight scientists in the field of Synthetic Biology were asked to write press releases, which then were offered to journalists who wrote newspaper articles on SB, which in turn were presented to everyday people in focus groups. As synthetic biology has received little public and media attention so far, it provides a unique opportunity to study public reactions towards an emerging technology from the very start. The results show that, from the lab via the media to the broader public, communication is characterized by two important tendencies: first, communication becomes increasingly focused on concrete applications; and second, biotechnology represents an important benchmark against which Synthetic Biology is being evaluated. More information on Synthetic Biology does not necessarily lead to more positive attitudes. In a focus group study, the groups? general stance towards biotechnology led to a polarization of the groups? opinions towards Synthetic Biology after getting more information on this issue. In all off the groups, metaphors and narratives were pivotal in the creation of a shared representation of and a joint stance towards Synthetic Biology. The results of the focus group study were extensively discussed with scientists from the field of Synthetic Biology. Also data from the Eurobarometer surveys shows that there is not necessarily a linear relation between knowledge about and positive attitudes towards Synthetic Biology.