Human Practices - Survey
We sent out a survey to try to answer questions mainly about the following two aspects of biology and ethics :
- Association of the level of knowledge with the feelings towards synthetic biology
- Opinion of people on whether they think humans have the right to manipulate genes, and similar issues
Here is the Survey
It consists of 16 little questions, all multiple choices.
- The 4 first questions are general information about the person answering the survey (age, sex, education level and scientific background).
- Then we have 2 questions about synthetic biology, to see if people know what it is and what kind of concepts they associate with it.
- The 4 next questions are here to evaluate the level of knowledge about some basic biologic concepts.
- The 6 last questions are here to collect the opinion of people about cloning, whether human have the right to kill animals and similar ethical issues.
In this part we wanted to gather the opinion of various people. Here are highlighted the major conclusions of this survey :
- We managed to have access to opinion of people of different age group and different background in a very short time. Our survey thus seems representative.
- We can see the opinions are very divided. We were surprised of certain answers.
- The knowledge question were very well answered.
- Many people have a negative or neutral feeling about cloning, and even more if they don't come from a scientific domain.
We closed the survey on 16th of October, we have 469 answers to the survey.
How old are you?
The majority of our answers come from people between 18 and 21 years old.
What is your sex?
However, we manage to find a pretty representative panel of people in regard to their sex.
What is your study level?
While the majority of asked people have come to the end of high school, we have people with all kind of study levels.
Are you in a scientific domain?
However, most of them come from a scientific area, in a large sense.
Do you know what Synthetic Biology is?
The correlation between being in a scientific domain and knowing what Synthetic Biology gives us -1, which means there is no correlation between the two, and being a scientist does not involves a better knowledge of what is synthetic biology.
Tick 3 words that best explain what is Synthetic Biology
The three most chosen words are:
- Cloning (215 votes = 46%)
- Genetics (317 votes = 68%)
- Engineering (191 votes = 41%)
We have to highlight the fact that GMO is very close with 171 votes (36%). Note that people had to choose 3 words, so the sum of percentages may add to up than 100%.
The following percentages are : GMO 37%, Simulation 20%, Bacteria 19%, Informatics 17%, Plastic 16%, Illness 12%, Textile 10%, Experimentation on animals 10%, Botanics 7%.
We have some people that have apparently no idea of what synthetic biology is. For example people that choose textile or plastic did it because it sounds like synthetic...
Do plants have genes?
This question (as the two following ones) intend to evaluate basic knowledge in biology: we were pretty happy to see that people knows for a great majority basic biology.
Brothers and sisters have the same genetic material, only their environment make them different: Right or wrong?
This is the question that was the least well answered. 52 persons picked the wrong answer. There was 82 persons coming from an non-scientific area, which means that at least one third of them had some basic genetic knowledge and could answer this question.
What are GMO?
63% of the answers were Transgenic organisms. Then comes Organisms resulting from the mating of different species with 17%, Plants which have had their growth rate optimized with 11%, then Modified organisms that contaminate natural species got 8% of the answers. Finally we had still 1% of answers Containers containing a compressed video flux and/or an OGG audio flux (which is a true definitive !!).
What is your impression when one says "cloning"?
It is interesting to see that opinion are extremely divided, the majority being either neutral or negative (with 41% of the answers). Then comes the negative impression with 37% and finally only 22% of the people had a positive impression when they hear the word cloning.
Do you think that humans have the right to manipulate genetic material?
53% of the people thought "rather yes", then we have 21% of "rather no", 15% of "yes, absolutely", 5% of "absolutely not" and 5 % of "I don't have an opinion on the subject". Again we have a divided opinion on the subject, it would be interesting to see the correlation between the age or the scientific area (or not) and this opinion.
Do you think that humans have the right to kill animals for scientific research?
Again the opinion is very distributed, with 37% of "Rather yes", 30% of "Rather no", 14% of "Absolutely not", 13% of "Yes, absolutely" and 5% of "I don't have an opinion on the subject". It is interesting to see that, compared to see the last question, we have significantly more "Absolutely not" and less "Rather yes". It seems that the animal cause is still a sensitive subject for certain person !
Do you think that scientific research in the field of biology is:
The answers to this question were mostly divided into two : 54% of "Good, if one puts limits to it and it remains under control" and 42% of "Necessary, to understand the world around us". Then comes "Dangerous, because it could go too far" with 3% and 1% "Useless and inessential, our money could be better used elsewhere". Thus, very few people are totally against research and most of them understand that it is important... 54% think it is very important to control it very well and 42% just think it is necessary.
Do you think that scientific research in the field of biology goes against your religious/cultural principles?
53% of the answers were "Not at all", 26% "Rather no" and 11% "I don't have an opinion on the subject". Then it is interesting to see that there is still 7% of "Rather yes" and 2% of "Yes, absolutely", which makes a total of 46 persons that see some conflicts between scientific research and their religious/cultural principles. It will be interesting to see who is this population.
What do you think of the act of using the living to ends of industrial production?
Here more than one answer was possible. The answers were very variable. We got 59% of "Laws are necessary to control it", 39% of "It is good, but only in certain cases", 28% of "It's useful", 20% of "It's dangerous", 14% of "It's immoral", 13% of "It's necessary", and 8% of "I don't have an opinion on the subject".
Analysis of the results
We will investigate the relationship between knowledge, opinion and background of the people. To do this analysis, we used the excel functions, as the result of our survey is in the excel form. Here is the detailed analysis :
Scientific background and level of knowledge
We first divided our sample between people which have a scientific background and those who are not. For each group, we tested they basic knowledge in biology with 3 questions: Do plants have gene?, Brothers and sisters have the same genetic material, only their environment make them different: Right or wrong?, All bacteria elicit diseases: Right or wrong?. If a person responded right to the three questions, we consider it has a basic knowledge. The result are shown in this table:
- Knowledge vs people being in the science field
|In the scientific domain|
50,8% of people saying that they are in the scientific domain have basic knowledge in biology, while 41% of those who are not have nevertheless basic knowledge.
So there is a little difference between people which are in scientific domain and those who aren't, but not as much as we thought. It can come from the fact that some high school students of 15 years old can be oriented in a scientific domain but they haven't studied this kind of knowledge yet.
Scientific background and opinion
We first looked at the answers to the questions : Do you think that humans have the right to manipulate genetic material?
- Genetic material vs people in a scientific domain
|in a scientific domain|
|I don't know||16||5|
|Total||456 without the I don't know|
So 70,9% of people saying that they belong to a scientific domain are favorable to genetic material manipulation, wile on the other hand 54,1% of those who are not are favorable. If we don't consider people which are without opinion, the statistics doesn't change.
So we can say that scientists have a tendency to have a positive opinion about gene manipulation.
Then we can look at the question : Do you think that humans have the right to kill animals for scientific research?
- Right to kill animals vs people in science
|Right to kill animals?||Yes||No|
|I don't know||20||5|
|Total||452 without the I don't know|
51,8% of people in the scientific domain are favorable to killing animals for science, while 42,4% of those who are not are favorable to it. The number of people without opinion don't change statistics.
There is almost no difference in opinion between people from science and not science domain. Even though there are a bit more people favorable in science that people in not science domain. But we can see that the question about using animals for research is still important in our society.
We also looked at the opinion about cloning.
- Opinion about cloning vs Scientific domain
|In a scientific domain|
|Total||284 without the I don't know|
24,2% of people in a scientific field are favorable to cloning, while only 11,8% of those who are not are pros. And if we don't consider people who feel neutral the result is respectively 41,7% and 17,9%.
So scientists have a tendency to have a positive opinion about it but we see that there is a big proportion of people which are neutral about this question (41,8% for scientists again 34,1% for non scientists).
Finally, the question Do you think that scientific research in the field of biology goes against your religious/cultural principles?.
- Against religion vs Science
|In a scientific domain|
|I don't know||40||11|
|Total||426 without the I don't know|
10,8% of scientists think biology is going against their personal believes or religion, while 12,2% of those who are not think the same (while excluding people without opinion).
So we see that there is no difference in the two populations.
Sex and opinion
Then we wondered if there was a certain relation between the sex and certain opinion. For example, it could be believed that woman are more attached to some sentimental causes such as the animal one.
We looked at the question Do you think that humans have the right to kill animals for scientific research?.
- Sex vs right to killing animals
|Right to kill animals?||Male||Female|
|I don't know||11||14|
|Total||452 without the I don't know|
Nearly 63% of men answered they were favorable to kill animals for science, while only 42,3% of women are! The results are obtained without people which are without opinion.
There is a significant difference in the result, so women are more sentimental about such question.
Age and knowledge
We could also think that older people answer better the question. So we can compare the basic knowledge of young person and old ones.
- Knowledge vs Young
46,4% of young people have basic knowledge, while 49,6% of older people have.
So there is no significant difference between old and young person when we compare their basic knowledge in biology.
Sex and knowledge
Do women have less knowledge in science ??
- Knowledge vs sex
53% of men have basic knowledge in the biology field, while 44,5% of women have.
So there is no significant difference between the basic knowledge of men and this of women. Even though in our survey, men answered better than women.
Knowledge of what is synthetic biology and opinions
As we have seen before, the correlation between some opinions and an orientation in a scientific domain is not as high as we expected. This could be due to the fact that the "orientation in a scientific area" is a very broad term. For example, students of 15 years that took as option mathematics and physics (but only had a month of these classes) would answer yes to this question, but they don't have a full scientific formation... Here we will rather do the relation between the people that know what synthetic biology (hoping they didn't pick yes randomly) and their opinion.
Here are some main results of this section.
- Opinion about cloning vs people in synthetic biology domain
|in synthetic biology domain|
|Total||284 without the Neutral|
So 28% of people saying that they know what synthetic biology is are favorable to cloning, while 18% of the one who do not know what synthetic biology are favorable. And if we see the result without neutral person we have: 53% of people knowing what Synthetic Biology is are favorable to cloning, while 30,3% of those who don't are favorable.
In this case we see an increase of people with positive reaction in comparison to the result of people from scientific domain.
- Genetic material vs people in synthetic biology domain
|in synthetic biology domain|
|I don't know||8||16|
|Total||453 without the I don't know|
85,5% of people saying that they know what synthetic biology is are favorable to genetic manipulation, while 64,9% of those who don't know are pros, if we don't count people which don't know, even though it doesn't change statistics.
Here again, we see an increase if compare to the result of people in scientific domain.
We see that the opinions are very divided in the major questions we asked. Even if over than 80% of the participants were oriented in a scientific domain, they don't all have positive opinion about cloning, they don't all think that humans have the right to manipulate genetic material etc. So we have very diverse opinions !
We were surprised that as many people answered correctly to the knowledge questions.
No major correlations were discovered : even if being in a scientific domain "predisposes" to certain opinions, this is not strongly the case. It is the same for all the other relationships we thought would occur between different age groups, sex or orientation. So globally, we can conclude that clichés aren't always true! Indeed, many people might imagine that biologists would think that cloning is less of an issue, just because they deal with cloning daily. From this survey, however, we can see that this is not necessarily true: the area in which people work perhaps shows what they are interested in, but it apparently doesn't change their beliefs and convictions. In general, it is a rather reassuring conclusion, it demonstrates that scientists remain critical towards what they are working on, and that they do understand the issues that might arise from areas such as synthetic biology.