Genetic Futures and the Media


Today, public debate over genetic futures takes place within a new societal context. There is a greater emphasis from policymakers on promoting engagement between sciences and public, and mass media play a key role in this shifting relationship. Media representations of genetic futures are often subject to both positive and negative hypes. This tendency towards ‘genohype’ results from the economic imperative of journalistic and entertainment media production. Moreover, symbolic representations from science fiction continue to influence mainstream news coverage of genetics, present and future and can be effectively used to communicate complex scientific findings. However, social media are altering how audiences engage with discussions concerning genetics. The ways in which media representations of genetic futures influence audiences are only partially known; however, it is clear that there is a complex negotiation between existing attitudes, knowledge and values and the messages communicated about genetic futures by both factual and fictional media.

Key Concepts

  • Media coverage of genetic futures takes place within a new context for sciences–society relations.
  • The conventional ‘fact/fiction’ division cannot be consistently upheld in media representations of genetic futures, given the considerable traffic of symbols and ideas across this divide.
  • The production of media representations of genetic futures relies on information subsidies including press releases, news conferences and other methods of communicating institutionally preferred public relations information directly to the media.
  • Journalists infer meanings from science fiction literature and films to frame genetic futures news.
  • Social media enables individuals to share information and discuss genetic futures thereby contributing to the media landscape.
  • Media can raise the salience of particular issues or aspects of the implications of genetic research, but they cannot consistently or straightforwardly change the opinions that public hold.

Keywords: news media; public understanding of science; science journalism; science fiction; public engagement with science; human cloning; genetically modified food; social media


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Jensen, Eric, and Price, Catherine(Nov 2016) Genetic Futures and the Media. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005863.pub3]