Data for a Brave New World: Stem Cell and Cloning Cartoons amid Information Overload

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Martin, Cynthia
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Mount Saint Vincent University
The emergence of cloning and stem cells from science into the public realm came with overtones of science fiction, for the announcement of a cloned sheep’s birth in 1997 lodged in peoples’ minds, preceding new research into stem cells and likely resisting communications to possible health benefits. In this study, cartoons were sourced from syndicates and examined as to evolving sophistication in scientific, political and cultural content in three periods from 1996 to 2011. Coding of 517 unit samples was completed in four spheres of concerns; culture, humanity, politics and metamorphose. Findings determined that cartoonists responded to media and public discourse in early years of Dolly’s announcement, the image of that cloned sheep providing comedic as well as worrisome fodder for cartoons. Findings from the first period of study were overwhelmingly expressed in cultural and metamorphose concerns. In the second period, politics rose substantially to become equal to culture, mirroring the time period’s political confusion and funding restrictions in the United States. In the final period, politics leads culture, indicating increased and more sophisticated understanding in and of the ramifications of cloning and stem cell issues. Throughout, the representation of humanity remained low: the two spheres within the social construction of reality, codes of Culture and Politics, were significantly dominant over the two spheres within natural laws and nature as the primary order, in Humanity and Metamorphose. A revised “image word sense” concept for coding the entirety of communication in cartoons was demonstrated, with overall content shifts determining the sophistication of messages within cartoons altered significantly over the period of study largely related to political events circa 2001. The study suggests that cartoons, which contain narratives that tell us to think not how to think, can indeed be constructed and used as communication aids. Results of this study indicate that just as in science where the cell determines what it is to be, science is informed by data and humanities theory as to nature and society. Findings also show that cartoons may aid in increasing scientific communications and citizenship and be useful to communicators as an antidote to scarcity of attention and information overload.
Cartoons , Scientific communication , Political , Cultural , Public discourse , Dolly , Stem cell research