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About Public Opinion & Human Biotechnology


Observers often ask, "Where does the public stand on human biotechnology? How do people feel?"

These important questions present challenges for pollsters. Most of the technologies in question are new and often poorly understood. They engage deeply held values, but there is not yet a well-developed vocabulary for their deliberation.

Polls tend to show that public sentiment about human biotechnologies is strongly ambivalent. Most people value their potential to alleviate suffering, yet are apprehensive about the social consequences of some applications.

Views on human biotechnology are strongly shaped by cultural experiences. For example, in the United States, many people focus on the moral status of the embryo, mirroring the abortion debates of recent decades. In contrast, Germans are more likely to interpret powerful biotechnologies though their country's experience with the Holocaust.

One of the most consistent findings of opinion studies is that respondents' answers depend heavily on how questions are worded. For example, two separate surveys in the United States taken one month apart showed contradictory results: one found that 70% supported human embryonic stem cell research while the other found that 70% opposed it. Reading the questions reveals why: The study sponsored by a research advocacy group emphasized the potential for cures, whereas the one sponsored by opponents of abortion rights dwelled on destroying embryos. Thus, survey results must be carefully evaluated and put in an appropriate context.



The disturbing reason some African American patients may be undertreated for painby Sandhya SomashekharThe Washington PostApril 4th, 2016A recent study shows that many white medical students and residents believe inaccurate and at times "fantastical" differences based on race.
The Limits of Personalized Medicineby Timothy CaulfieldThe AtlanticMarch 16th, 2016A new study suggests that knowing their genetic risk of disease doesn’t motivate people to change their behavior.
STAT-Harvard poll: Americans say no to ‘designer babies’by Sharon BegleySTATFebruary 11th, 2016Most Americans oppose using powerful new technology to "alter the genes of unborn babies," according to a new poll, even to prevent serious inherited diseases.
Down's Syndrome people risk 'extinction' at the hands of science, fear and ignoranceby Tim StanleyThe TelegraphJanuary 18th, 2016The true moral test of a society is not how pretty, sober or well organised it is – but how it treats its most vulnerable, even its most difficult, citizens.
The problem with science journalism: we’ve forgotten that reality matters mostby Brooke BorelThe GuardianDecember 30th, 2015It is the reporter's job to maintain skepticism, look beyond hypotheses and data, find conflicts of interest, trace the money, look at power structures, and see who is excluded or marginalized.
Mexican State Votes to Ban Surrogacy for Gay Men and Foreign People by Associated Press in Mexico CityThe Guardian [UK]December 15th, 2015Tabasco was the only Mexican state to allow surrogacy, supposedly on a non-commercial basis.
Stem Cell Researcher to Reddit: "Ask Me Anything" on Human Genetic Modificationby Elliot Hosman, Biopolitical TimesDecember 10th, 2015UC Davis researcher Paul Knoepfler fielded 100s of questions on the social and technical implications of genetically modifying human cells.
Future proofingby Editorial BoardNatureDecember 8th, 2015Global discussions on human gene editing and climate change should not sidestep hard decisions on issues that will affect future generations.
After Asilomarby EditorialNature NewsOctober 14th, 2015Scientist-led conferences are no longer the best way to resolve debates on controversial research, and scientists who wish to self-regulate ignore public outcry at their peril.
The Messy, Complicated Nature of Assisted Reproductive Technology[cites CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by J. Wesley JuddPacific StandardSeptember 28th, 2015A California court ART case shows that even when there is a contract, the issues are far from black and white.
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