The purpose of human practices is to engage with the public about iGEM and synthetic biology, which we did via a questionnaire. In addition, we engaged with experts to get feedback on our project, shown on the Integrated Human Practices page and interacted with different media for interviews and other articles, shown on the Public Engagement page
Views on synthetic biology questionnaire
Creating a questionnaire was a learning experience for our team, and we later understood that our original questionnaire could have had a much better structure. But we did manage to gather data during the corona pandemic and to produce some interesting results from that data. We now know better how to go through the whole process next time.
After gathering data with a questionnaire, we decided at a later date to change the research question to: how does knowledge of synthetic biology affect views on research and innovation in the field? Some of the survey questions were unrelated to this new goal and are therefore excluded from the analysis shown here. For our purpose these questions can be assumed to be independent and will therefore not change what the data presents. While the questionnaire itself was not created with the new purpose in mind, the data collected does contain relevant information that gives insight into the perception of synthetic biology by the public.
We asked 100 people to fill out our survey in Oslo both at a shopping mall and a public library. While it is hard to argue that this is representative of the Norwegian population, the sampling locations were separated geographically, and within two different institutions, so it might be a good approximation for the population of Oslo. While age was not a specific question, the participants ranged from 20 to 65 years of age and consisted of 57 women and 43 men. One might expect the demographics to significantly affect one's knowledge of synthetic biology (For example, when sampling at a university). But there is no obvious reason why the relation between knowledge and perception should be affected by demographic factors. Considering the above, we assume that some bias should not influence the obtained data to a large extent.The Questionnaire
All questions are exclusive
Question 1 is supposed to assess the level of knowledge on synthetic biology, one of the potential answers “playing with nature” is easily interpreted as a perception of the field. From our point of view, if interpreted as a perception the group that answers “playing with nature” might have a big overlap with the other groups.
There is also a simple interpretation of this as a linear scale of knowledge. In which case the participant might view the answers as simply knowledge level 1,2 and 3, reflecting mostly on how they see themselves compared to their peers.
Finally, we have questions 2 and 3. In both cases the participant might feel pushed to answer “more innovation”, “more research” as both of the questions seems to imply that this will reduce suffering and increase welfare of fishes.
Hypothesis and prediction
First hypothesis; question 2 and 3 appears to be of the same type, and we expect them to be heavily correlated. Second hypothesis; looking back at our potential interpretations, as well as interpretation by the participants we hypothesize that subjects who answer, “I know nothing” and “playing with nature” will have similar outlook on question 2 and 3. When “playing with nature” reflects one's perception of the field.
As represented on this graph 64 of the participants answered I know nothing, 57 of those supported more research and 59 supported more innovation. Further statistical analysis is deemed unnecessary as the results are too homogeneous for such a small sample size. It is unlikely that we would detect any significant differences that could provide us with greater insight on the subject.
Conclusion and discussion
Our first hypothesis seems to be correct, nevertheless there are some discrepancies between “more research” and “more innovation” in groups “know nothing” and “think I know”. However, given sample size they are too even for us to determine if there is an actual difference here.
Interestingly our second hypothesis was wrong. Those who answered, “playing with nature” and those who answered, “I know nothing” do not seem to correlate more strongly than with the group “Think I know”. To the contrary, it seems as if “know nothing” and “Think I know” are more similar. It seems evident that “playing with nature” was not interpreted as a negative perception of synthetic biology since there is a 1:1 correspondence with this answer and believing there should be more research and innovation. Nevertheless, there is a chance with such small sample size that this group perceived questions 2,3 as being weighed heavily on fish well-being.