‘Mr Cummings clearly does not understand the science of genetics and should maybe go back to school on the subject’: An exploratory content analysis of the online comments section beneath a controversial news story

This study explored how the general public reacted to an article published in the UK Guardian on 11/10/2013 entitled ‘Genetics outweighs teaching, Gove advisor tells his boss’. The article reported a leaked document written by special advisor Dominic Cummings to the then UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. The article generated 3008 on-line comments from the public. These comments offered a naturalistic opportunity to understand public opinion regarding Cummings’ suggestions and ideas. A content analysis of n=800 of these comments was conducted, coding them on the basis of their level of agreement/disagreement with the ideas and opinions expressed in the article. Of all of the aspects of education mentioned, Cummings’ views on genetics were commented upon most frequently and were subject to the highest level of opposition from commenters, but also the highest level of support. Findings offer insight into the challenges faced when conducting public discourse about the relevance of genes in education.
Hopefully, by sharing this research through a presentation, fellow academics will get the opportunity to experience some research in the relatively under-researched field of public perceptions of genetics in education but also the chance to see an example of online content analysis – an exciting and emerging methodology.