A survey of more than 2,000 British adults found that confidence in genetics is high and has increased dramatically during the pandemic. It also found that there was a hunger for more coverage of genetics.
The pandemic has gone hand in hand with the growing public image of science — genetics in particular. Whether it is the rise of PCR testing or the development of vaccines, genetics has been in the spotlight in an unprecedented way. In light of this, researchers from the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Aberdeen wanted to find out how the public felt about genetics and whether this new exposure to the science had made a difference.
The Genetics Society funded and commissioned a survey of more than 2,000 randomly selected British adults through the public opinion polling company Kantar Public. The researchers found that, as a baseline, most people trusted genetic technologies before the pandemic. Almost half (45%) reported that they trusted it to work for the benefit of the community, 37% were neutral on this question, while 18% said they did not, and very few (1-2%) were very suspicious.
When asked if their confidence in genetics increased during the pandemic, four times more people said their confidence increased than those who reported it decreased. Confidence in science in general has increased strongly, with a third of people saying it has increased.
The results indicate that not only has trust in science increased, but people want to hear more about it. Less than 10% thought there was a lot of coverage of science in the media, while 44% said they wanted to hear more about it.
Anne Ferguson-Smith, Vice-Chancellor for Research and International Partnerships and Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics at the University of Cambridge and Chair of the Genetics Society, said: “These findings really challenge us to redouble our efforts. We need to rise to the new opportunity and challenge created by the results of this survey.”
Associate Professor Lawrence Hirst of the University of Bath’s Milner Center for Evolution said: “It’s possible that someone knows this – scientists tend to stay in their labs, but it seems the public often doesn’t. Just trust us but that confidence has gone up a notch and many want to They hear more from us about our work.”
Professor Jonathan Pettit, co-chair from the University of Aberdeen, said: “It’s hard to see any reversals of the pandemic but maybe this is one? We never knew that so many people wanted to hear from scientists.”
We believe we have set the boundaries of science communication. For all the talk about PCR over the past several months, we found that 30% had never heard of the term or knew it was a virus testing tool. It is hard to see how any science could be more exposed than PCR. We have to be realistic and understand that no matter what happens, we will never reach everyone. It’s important to let people know about things like vaccines.”
Professor Alison Woolard, Associate Chair, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford
“We often hear that trust in science has reached a low point, but what we found is that most people trust genetics as the basis for how we tackle global issues like pandemics,” said Dr. Adam Rutherford of UCLA’s Department of Genetics, Evolution, and Ecology. Scientists should not slack off: We also found that gene disclosure during a pandemic made those who question science more paranoid, despite the evidence.In a world where these voices can be easily amplified, we must be vigilant that our processes, methodologies, and results are being communicated. clearly and transparently.”
Dr. Cristina Fonseca, project coordinator at the Genetics Society, said, “Having a really representative randomized survey is vital and allows us to gain insight into the true diversity of opinions.”