Science news writers usually define technical terms to make the readers understand the content of their articles. The choice of words, as well as definition of concepts, often has influence on how audiences respond to biotech stories.
The study Seventeen Years of Media Reportage of Modern Biotechnology in the Philippines, published in the April 2017 issue of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science, found that Filipino news writers define modern biotechnology differently, but most of them do not define it at all.
The study analyzed articles on modern crop biotechnology released from 2000 to 2016 in major Philippine newspapers including Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer and Business Mirror (2010-2016 only).
The first set of data covering 2000-2009 (10 years) showed that out of the 1,355 articles published during that time period, only 17% or 231 articles contain explanations of the term biotechnology. Of this percentage, most of the definitions were simplified (155 articles), and a few (76 articles) used scientific definitions.
For the second period of analysis covering 2010-2016, only 30 (1%) of the 864 articles contained definitions of biotechnology. The decline in the percentage of articles containing definitions of biotechnology may imply that the writers assume that the readers already understand the concept. Of the 30 articles, 47% used popularized definitions, with simplified terms to explain the technology. Another 47% mentioned technical terms such as recombinant DNA technology and gene splicing. The remaining 6% had definitions with negative implications such as “dangerous”, “creating disorders such as autoimmune disease, allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, and organ damage.”
Based on the results of the study, the low number of articles with definitions of biotechnology may indicate that the writers assume that biotechnology is already a general term that do not need much explanation to be grasped by the public. However, it is still recommended that such scientific terms be defined using simple terms to ensure public understanding of biotechnology.
Tome, Kristine Grace N., Mariechel J. Navarro, Sophia M. Mercado, and Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena. 2017. Seventeen Years of Media Reportage of Modern Biotechnology in the Philippines. Philippine Journal of Crop Science 42(1): 26-35.
ISAAA. 2017. From Fear to Facts: 17 Years of Agri-biotech Reporting in the Philippines (2000-2016). http://isaaa.org/resources/publications/fromfeartofacts/download/From_Fear_to_Facts.pdf.