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Biofantasies: genetics and medicine in the print news media

Petersen, A. (2001) Biofantasies: genetics and medicine in the print news media. Social Science & Medicine, 52 (8). pp. 1255-1268.

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The contemporary news media is an important site for exploring the diverse and complex cultural images of genetics and its medical possibilities, and of the mechanisms by which these images are (re) produced and sustained. This article investigates how the print news media 'frames' stories on genetics and medicine. It is based on a discourse analysis of articles appearing in three Australian newspapers in the late 1990s. Gene stories were found to be prominent in each of the newspapers, and to emphasise the medical benefits of genetic research. Stories frequently cite and quote scientists, who explain the nature and significance of the research and/or its implications for treatment or prevention. Many stories focus on new genetic discoveries, and portray genetic researchers as involved in a quest to unlock nature's secrets. Stories of hope, and depictions of geneticists as warriors or heroes, appear regularly. The positive vision of genetics is supported by the use of particular metaphors, accompanying illustrative material, 'human interest' stories, and reference to credible sources. There is rarely mention of the influence of non-genetic factors and 'multifactorial' interactions on disorders, or questioning of the goals, direction, methods, or value of genetic research. Scientists made extensive use of the media in their efforts to maintain a positive image of research in the face of public concerns about scientists 'going too far', following the announcement of the cloning of Dolly. Boundaries were drawn between 'therapeutic cloning' - implicitly defined as 'good', useful, and legitimate - and 'reproductive cloning' - seen as 'bad', dangerous, and illegitimate. By framing news stories as they do, the print news media are likely to exert a powerful influence on public responses to health problems. With new genetic technologies becoming more integrated in preventive medicine and public health, it is important to investigate how news stories help shape the agenda for public debate.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Copyright: © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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