Science and Popular Media: How Cartoonists Visualize Crop Biotechnology

crop-biotechnologyCrop  Biotechnology: Cartoons and other popular art forms such as comic strips and animation can sometimes be more powerful than words in conveying messages. They go beyond just giving information. By reflecting on popular contemporary ideas, cartoons elicit emotions that encourage interest, inquiry, and empathy. Readers are attracted to cartoons because of its subtle humor and ability to communicate several messages in a visual and simple way. ISAAA’s fourth and newest monograph in its Biotech Communication Series titled “Science and Popular Media: How Cartoonists Visualize Crop Biotechnology” explores cartoons and how they are used in communicating science.

Cartoons as Popular Media

Studies have shown that the mass media is the most frequently used source of information on science and technology. Reporters and cartoonists interpret events and societal concerns which may border on perception and perceived reality. These symbolic representations contribute to the formation of public opinion. It is important therefore to understand how media “defines” biotechnology as it contributes to informal learning and decision making.

The value of cartoons lies in the fact that public perception is often defined by a visual image. For example, the visual portrayal of “scientist” is often a detached, impersonal character in white lab coat and eyeglasses or stereotyped as having powers to wreak havoc on mankind. Neither of these two stereotypes is accurate but the general images are what the public sees and ascribes to the word “scientist”. On the other hand, cartoons can be effective channels in science education. A novel tool in science communication is the combination of caricature and satire in presenting science concepts. Cartoons are able to humor and at the same time convey scientific information in a simple, understandable, and interesting manner.

Visual Media and Biotechnology

ISAAA conducted an online and manual search of articles on biotechnology from 2000 to 2009 to determine Philippine media coverage. From a list of 1,355 articles collected from three national newspapers, a sample set of 22 cartoon illustrations or editorial cartoons was evaluated in terms of message, tone, and use of framing device, characters, and visual metaphors.

While the Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star accounted for about 70% for all newspaper articles on crop
biotechnology, about 59% of cartoons were generated by at least five artists of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI). The cartoons provided the visual counterpart to the text in the absence of photos. The PDI had the only female artist among the 11 cartoonists, however, she was responsible for contributing the most number of cartoons for the period. Four of the identified cartoonists were senior artists who also did the editorial cartoons of their respective newspapers or had regular individual comic strips.


Courtesy ISAAA Blog

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