Metaphor usability for clarifying synthetic biology in upper secondary education
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Synthetic biology is a new and rising scientific field in which multiple disciplines are involved. This field will, in the near future, give rise to new applications and implications in society and in personal life. In a democratic society, the public should be aware of such major implications, so that they are able to make well-informed decisions. In order to engage the public and clearly communicate what synthetic biology entails, the use of metaphors is required, due to its abstractness and invisibility. Previous studies showed what specific synthetic biology metaphors are most used at this moment, however not which metaphor(s) are most useful to clarify this complex and abstract field of research. This study aims to determine which synthetic biology metaphor(s) are most useful for clarifying synthetic biology to upper secondary school students. In order to accomplish this goal several methods were used, (i) scientific literature and civil society organization publications were reviewed, (ii) five experts on synthetic biology were interviewed and (iii) a questionnaire was administered among secondary school students (N = 212) of which some students were thereafter interviewed for more in-depth information (N = 14). The literature study showed that the three most used synthetic biology metaphors are the book, industry and computer metaphor. The expert interviews determined which categories of synthetic biology are most important for education of upper secondary school students. Besides this, the experts advised caution with the use of metaphors in general and mainly the book metaphor. However, no differences between student associations between the three metaphors were found. However, students preferred the use of the book metaphor greatly and had a relative preference to the metaphor it was first presented to. Therefore, at this moment, it seems wise to use univocal communication with the book metaphor for education in upper secondary schools.