Crop Biotech Update

Language, Key in Communicating about Genome Editing

September 18, 2019

To get it right in communicating about genome editing, African editors have advised scientists to use appropriate language in their conversations with non-technical audiences. This was during the Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC2019) Symposium held from  August 29-30, 2019 in Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.

During a Science Café with genome editing researchers attending the Symposium, media editors emphasized that meaningful dialogue on genome editing will rely heavily on effective communication facilitated by clear language and choice of words.

Both the scientists and editors concurred that, primarily, genome editing is an unfamiliar technology to most non-technical and yet important stakeholders in harnessing and delivering potential of the technology. Hence, as genome editing development progresses, use of appropriate language, non-emotive terms and images will be essential when engaging with a complex array of stakeholders.

Joe Ageyo, Editorial Director at Royal Media Services, Kenya, observed that effective communication of this technical subject will necessitate unpacking scientific terminologies into a language comprehensible by a range of audiences. He likened the information from scientists while communicating technical subjects such as gene editing to "high voltage electricity" where the journalists must serve as the "step-down transformers" that translate that immense power into usable domestic energy. As well, journalists must understand the science well enough for them to simplify it without making it simplistic or reducing its value.

"To foster common understanding and successfully demonstrate technology benefits, genome editing must be contextualized in a language that speaks to the needs of the people," he added.

Running under the theme "Getting it Right in Communicating about Genome Editing", the symposium was attended by over 100 delegates comprising members of the academic and research community, media, lawmakers and policy advisors, science communicators, civil society, life science and industry players from sixteen countries across the world. The Symposium was capped with a declaration to establish an African Coalition on Communicating Genome Editing. The next ABBC will be held in Senegal in 2021.

You can join the conversation on Genome Editing using #GetCRISPRight or visit the ABBC website. For more on this and other developments at ABBC2019, contact Dr. Margaret Karembu at mkarembu@isaaa.org.

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