The political views and scary information reflected by Chinese cartoons about genetically modification
Prof. Wang Guoyan's science communication team of Soochow University researched cartoons on Chinese genetical modification (GM).
They found that topics on GM in China peaked from 2013 to 2016 when controversies on GM food fueled the spread of political conspiracy theories.
GM cartoons in China reflect strong political views and contain scary information. The findings and opinions presented in this article have been published on Public Understanding of Science.
The study analyzed 257 GM cartoons that appeared on the Internet in China from 2012 to May 2018. Only 19 new cartoons were added after a retrieval conducted in August 2020.
The findings showed that the number of China's GM cartoons is consistent with the Baidu Media Index on the headline news about GM. The hottest GM events, e.g., the debate between Cui Yongyuan and Fang Zhouzi and the “Golden Rice” incident that lasted from the end of 2012 to 2016, generated enormous media attention and public opinion, resulting in numerous cartoons associated with GM. However, after that, the heated debate over GM food in China decreased.
According to the cartoons, the consumption of GM food was presented as the primary story context. The carriers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were mainly based on edible organisms, such as corn, soybean, chicken, duck, and fish. This finding suggests that “to eat or not eat GM food” was a common concern across China.
In general, the attitude conveyed by relevant cartoons was primarily neutral (43.7%) or against GM (41.3%), whereas the support for GM food was only 15.0%. Mainstream media portrayed a more neutral attitude, while social media was more opposed to GMOs.
|Examples of scary information. Image credits: https://doi.org/10.25384/SAGE.13536668.v1|
Furthermore, 50.7% of the cartoons contained scary information. Laboratory mice with medical symbols (see Figure 2C) obtained the strongest opposing emotion.
The mainstream media was more inclined to the choice dilemma, publicity, and promotion of GM food. In contrast, social media conveyed more scary information and focused on health risks and conspiracy theories.
|Examples of themes and controversial events. Image credits: https://doi.org/10.25384/SAGE.13536668.v1|
Interestingly, the paper showed that the involvement of scientists and the government did not increase public understanding of GMOs. For example, 61 academicians who supported GMOs were accused as traitors. Moreover, the “Golden Rice” incident and the return of GM corn to the USA opened an avenue for the dissemination of conspiracy theories. While GMOs were originally a scientific issue, in the context of China, GMOs were highly politicized.
The research was supported by the key project of the Chinese National Social Science Fund.