ISSN: 1550-7521

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Research Article Open Access

Framing the Biotechnology Debate: A Textual Analysis of Editorials and Letters to the Editor in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


This paper examines how the subject of agricultural biotechnology is framed in editorials and letters to the editor in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1997 to 2006. Editorials and letters to the editor were textually reviewed and coded according to a frame typology that included the following frames: Progress, Economic prospect, Ethical, Pandora’s box, Runaway, Nature/nurture, Public accountability, and Globalization. The overall tone of each text was also qualitatively assessed according to whether it mentioned risks, mentioned benefits, or reported controversy. Whereas previous research has found the “progress” frame to predominate coverage of biotechnology, results suggest that the “public accountability” frame now largely organizes discourse on agricultural biotechnology, both in editorials and letters. Findings further show that both risks and benefits are commonly reported, but letters are much more likely to offer radical alternatives to applications of agricultural biotechnology than editorials. The implication of this finding is that readers are more likely than official editorial opinion to express subjectivist, non-technical solutions to the problems that biotechnology purports to solve, while editorials are more likely to maintain positivistic associations with the technology.

Hannah C. Reinhart

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