18-34 year olds are dominating the discussion in these areas, and sentiment towards the topics of Complex Systems Science and Future of Education is more positive than the other Knowledge Foundations of Future Economics and the Science of the Origins of Life and Synthetic Biology.
Citizens are excited about new forms of education and learning opportunities and see them as necessary to stay relevant. Sentiment around future education is particularly positive in Asia, with a focus on how it can enhance skills and employability. This is driven in part by the general public, which points to strong competition in future job markets. However, there is disagreement on the accessibility of new education formats, with some arguing that they are accessible to all, while others criticise unfair disparities in access to digital platforms. There is also growing interest in understanding social development in wider society, which could be driven by current global crises. But discussions on the importance of social sciences are often limited to experts, suggesting a need for moderation between the two groups.
18-34 year-olds are dominating discussions about future economics, with men participating more often than women. Interestingly, rising automation and the implications for some jobs are not always seen as negative: there are discussions on how digitisation could open up new opportunities, while requiring new skills. Interest in future economies, trade and globalisation has grown considerably in the past 5 years, with a surge in interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Suez Canal blockage and the zero-COVID policy in China accelerated discussions around supply chain disruptions caused by single points of failure, and there are growing concerns about the stability of the globalised world as new crises occur. Interest in supply chains is higher on news sites and blogs, the circular economy is discussed more on social media. There is rising interest in the decoupling of economies, with support for less interlinked economies. This would increase resilience but could threaten free trade.
For our new topics, there is a disconnect between discussions on social media versus discussions on news and blogs. Social media discussions carry a stronger negative sentiment and are centred around the origins of life, while news and blogs report more heavily on synthetic biology. Social media discussions are also more influenced by publicity (for example, the publicity surrounding space missions) than by scientific research. Sentiment around the launch of the James Webb telescope is overwhelmingly positive, opening the possibility of using this topic to inform the public about related research.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, sentiment is generally more positive on professional forums than in the wider public. But it is clear that the term “synthetic” carries a strong negative connotation due to mRNA vaccines against COVID-19: addressing such concerns may help increase public acceptance.
Within the sentiment analysis clouds below each node represents one article and the linkages between dots show relations between topics in the analysed data.
Negative sentiment is centered around:
- mRNA vaccines, thanks to the long-lasting negative implications of the pandemic on the acceptability of synthetic mRNA technology.
- Water resource management and how climate change is exacerbating the risk of flooding and drought.
- The financial implications of supply chain disruptions, particularly for the manufacturing industry.
- Advances in gene editing that could allow scientists to bring back species that have become extinct.
Neutral/mixed sentiment is centered around:
- Single points of failure in supply chains, which have been revealed in recent crises via congestion or shutdown of ports, dependencies on single countries and blockades of trade routes.
- How climate change is affecting farming and what is being done to mitigate its impacts.
- Innovations that are making educational data, including attendance and performance, easier to track: this has triggered conversations about consumer privacy and whether schools have the right to monitor students in this way.
- Whether cognitive function and neuroscience are important to education.
Positive sentiment is centered around:
- New technologies for collecting and generating data that will facilitate discoveries in space exploration and provide insights into the origins of life and the potential for discovering extraterrestrial life forms.
- Investment in platforms that make it easier for other companies to get involved in synthetic biology.
- Foundational advances in synthetic biology, such as development of the first synthetic cells that can divide and multiply, and mimic the behaviour of natural cells.
- Finding pathways to more resilient supply chains, and the circular economy, with first circular businesses (fashion, for example), particularly business opportunities and global cooperation.
- Opportunities to exchange tips about upskilling on social media, new formats to listen to educational topics on-the-go and the increasing ability to track progress.
- New technologies that promise to improve teaching outcomes.
- New academic research publications and reports on computational social science, such as studies that model the effects of controversial social media topics and study human behaviour on apps.