Word selection affects perceptions of synthetic biology
1 Department of Biology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA
2 Department of Psychology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA
3 Department of Sociology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA
4 Department of Mathematics, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035, USA
Journal of Biological Engineering 2011, 5:9 doi:10.1186/1754-1611-5-9Published: 21 July 2011
Members of the synthetic biology community have discussed the significance of word selection when describing synthetic biology to the general public. In particular, many leaders proposed the word "create" was laden with negative connotations. We found that word choice and framing does affect public perception of synthetic biology. In a controlled experiment, participants perceived synthetic biology more negatively when "create" was used to describe the field compared to "construct" (p = 0.008). Contrary to popular opinion among synthetic biologists, however, low religiosity individuals were more influenced negatively by the framing manipulation than high religiosity people. Our results suggest that synthetic biologists directly influence public perception of their field through avoidance of the word "create".