Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Christopher Wirz, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
In May 2016, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a Report on Genetically Engineered Crops, summarizing the consensus of scientific research on genetically engineered (GE) crops and their health, environmental, agronomical, and societal implications. Consensus reports aim to provide the public and policy-makers with information on the state of science in a societally-relevant, and sometimes controversial, field. This analysis examines what effect the report had on public perceptions, Twitter discussion, and news coverage of GE crops. We ran regression analyses on national-level pre- and post-report survey data to examine changes in public perceptions of GMOs in the three days before and after the report’s release. We complement this with large-scale content analysis of news articles and Twitter posts to determine the main topics of conversation and sentiments expressed about the report and GMOs in general. The results reveal that the release of the report correlate with reduced risk perceptions of GMOs and lessened negativity of GMO-related discussion on Twitter. These changes indicate that overall public opinion moved in the direction of the report’s findings concerning the low risk of GE crops for human health and safety. Interestingly, those individuals who are less likely to believe scientific studies are reliable or that university scientists would provide credible information on GMOs were significantly more likely to have reduced risk perceptions of GMOs following the report’s release. This could be evidence of traditional and social media coverage of the report’s findings shaping individuals’ perceptions rather than the report itself. Our analysis of the news coverage finds the GE crop report received considerable coverage, but did not appear to have an impact on the overall coverage -- or news cycle -- of GMOs in general. On Twitter, the report was also a prominent topic of conversation and appeared to temporarily shift the discourse surrounding GMOs away from labeling and regulation and toward the health and safety of the technology. Combined, the content analysis and reduced risk perception reveal the report did have an effect on public perceptions of GMOs, bringing them closer to consensus, in line with the findings of the report. The report at least temporarily moved public opinion and discussion toward greater ambivalence, seeing both potential risks and benefits, toward the impacts of GMOs.