Author: Emily Howell – University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States


  • Claire Holesovsky – University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
  • Dietram Scheufele – University of Wisconsin-Madison,
  • Shiyu Yang – University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Advances in human gene editing (HGE) through CRISPR Cas-9 raise concerns necessitating broad discourse across stakeholders on what are appropriate paths forward. Research on different forms of communication on HGE is still sparse, however, and none, to our knowledge, examines views in scientific and expert communities, or the effects of such communication through film.

Here, we present results of an experiment testing the impact of a documentary on scientists’ views of HGE. We worked with the filmmakers behind a new documentary on CRISPR, called Human Nature, to assess the film’s impact on scientists’ views of HGE. We collected data at pre-release screenings for research communities at Harvard and UC-Berkeley – birthplaces of CRISPR. All respondents took a survey before and after the film: half receiving risk/benefit questions pre-screening and items on views of the film post-screening, and half receiving items on views of documentaries pre-screening and risk/benefit questions post-screening. Within the risk/benefit questions, we also had A/B formats in which respondents were randomly assigned items on either how risky/beneficial human gene editing is or how risky/beneficial it could be.

Results indicate the film made scientists more ambivalent: seeing more risk and more benefit. These increases in risk and benefit perceptions were predominately among those who responded to items on how risky/beneficial gene editing could be. Increased risk perception was also more likely in views of risk to society, compared to risk for individuals, but benefit perceptions increased more in perceived benefit to individuals. The scientist audiences were also significantly more likely to indicate that the public would see higher levels of risk than benefit, even though they themselves were more likely to see benefit than risk. We will discuss these and additional studies planned for non-scientists audiences to understand the impact of documentaries for communicating complex issues in science and society.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Technology