‘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 beneath a controversial news story

Article English OPEN
Crosswaite, Madeline ; Asbury, Kathryn (2016)

An article published in the UK Guardian on 11/10/2013 with the headline ‘Genetics outweighs teaching, Gove advisor tells his boss’ 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 reader comments from the public. These reader comments offer a naturalistic opportunity to understand public opinion regarding Cummings’ controversial suggestions and ideas. We conducted a content analysis of n = 800 reader comments, coding them on the basis of level of agreement with the ideas and opinions expressed in the article. Of all aspects of education mentioned, Cummings’ reported views on genetics were commented upon most frequently and were subject to the most opposition from commenters, but also the most support. Findings offer some insight into the challenges involved in conducting public discourse about the relevance of genes in education. We discuss the accuracy with which Cummings’ views were presented and the effect this may have had on reader responses to the points being raised.
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