Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is the public as stupid as you think?   posted by p-ter @ 9/23/2007 09:54:00 AM

The other day, I mentioned a silly article in Nature Review Genetics complaining about the state of science journalism. The author seems to think that journalists are promoting "genetic determinism", so let's consider her evidence. The study she cites asked focus groups, "What does 'a gene for heart disease' mean?", and coded their answers as "No risk", "Absolutely determined", or "Heightened risk".

Now, before I tell you the results, here's Condit's interpretation of them: "Most people interpret statements of genetic causation in a highly deterministic fashion...Avoiding deterministic implications is consequently challenging." So most people must have fallen into the "absolutely determined" category, right?

Here are the results:

No risk: 15%
Absolutely determined: 28%
Heightened risk: 56%

So the majority of the individuals got it right! In a world where 1 in 5 Americans believes the sun revolves around the Earth, that is absolutely astonishing, and perhaps a sign that the public is getting the message about genetics on its own. Of course, if that were the case, there would be no need for scientific communications experts like Dr. Condit...