Team:WITS-CSIR SA/Outreach/Survey


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As an attempt to interact with the public and to promote a conversation around the topics of synthetic biology and genetic engineering, a simple survey was conducted. The online survey tool, surveymonkey, was used to design, distribute and collect responses from the survey. The survey, which can be found here, attempts to glean an understanding of public opinion towards the field of synthetic biology.

The survey consists of ten simple questions:

    (1) How old are you?

    (2) What is your highest level of education?

    (3) To what religious denomination do you belong?

    (4) How would you rate your understanding of "synthetic biology"?

    - I have no idea what it is

    - I have some idea of what it may entail

    - I know what it is

    - I have a deep understanding of the field

    (5) Which of the following have led to your understanding of synthetic biology?

    - Television news

    - Newspaper articles

    - Internet articles

    - School or university

    - Friends and family

    (6) In your opinion genetic engineering is:

    - Unethical

    - Ethical but necessary

    - Ethical and very useful for humanity

    - I have conflicting opinions

    (7) Would you ever use a medicine if it was a genetically engineered bacterium?

    (8) As a member of the public do you feel that scientists, in general, approach technologies such as stem cell research, genetic engineering and synthetic biology:

    - Ethically

    - Neutrally

    - Unethically

    (9) As a member of the public, do you feel that new advance in science are communicated to you in an understandable way?

    (10) Which of the following areas do you consider most important for humanity?

    - Agriculture, food and beverage

    - Health and Medicine

    - Computer science and mathematics

    - Engineering and architecture

    - Sociology and philosophy

    - Education

    - History and politics

Of the 168 responses to the survey, 46 % were undergraduate university students, and 30 % postgraduates. Indeed, almost 70 % of respondents were aged 19 – 25. This does not nullify the results of the survey, but it should thus be understood that any results gleaned from the survey are heavily biased toward to a younger, educated audience.

20 % of respondents did not know what the field of synthetic biology involves, whilst 26 % did. 43 % did not know exactly, but felt they had some idea of what it may entail, whilst 11 % considered themselves possessing a deep knowledge of the field. The understanding of the field was found to originate mainly from school or university education (38 %), internet articles (25 %) and word of mouth by friends or family (22%).

Almost 60 % of correspondents felt that the field of genetic engineering is ethical and useful for humanity, whilst 30 % had conflicting opinions on the matter. Only 7 % felt that genetic engineering was unethical. Correspondingly, 63 % of responding parties indicated that they would use a medicine in the form of a genetically engineered bacterium, whilst 30 % would only do so if they were suffering from a life-threatening illness.

43 % of people felt that new advances in science are communicated to them in an understandable way, whilst 36 % felt that they are not. 21 % felt that they are not communicated at all.

The three main areas that respondents felt were of the greatest importance to humanity are the fields of health and medicine (34 %), education (27 %) and agriculture, food and beverage (26%).