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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.



Cancer and the Secrets of Your Genesby Theodora RossThe New York TimesAugust 16th, 2014The recent discovery that mutations in a gene called PALB2 greatly increase the risk of breast cancer is one of the biggest developments since the discovery in the í90s of the role of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Society: Don't Blame the Mothersby Sarah S. Richardson, Cynthia R. Daniels, Matthew W. Gillman, Janet Golden, Rebecca Kukla, Christopher Kuzawa & Janet Rich-EdwardsNature CommentAugust 13th, 2014There is a long history of society blaming mothers for the ill health of their children. The latest wave in this discussion flows from studies of epigenetics.
Biologists Choose Sides In Safety Debate Over Lab-Made Pathogensby Nell GreenfieldBoyceNPRAugust 13th, 2014A smoldering debate about whether researchers should ever deliberately create superflu strains and other risky germs in the interest of science has flared once again.
Questions Raised Over DNA Evidence to Secure Murder Convictionsby Candice MarcusABCAugust 13th, 2014A High Court ruling that DNA evidence was not enough to convict a man of murder could have wider implications on DNA convictions across Australia.
As Data Overflows Online, Researchers Grapple With Ethicsby Vindu GoelThe New York TimesAugust 12th, 2014Itís the frontier of social science ó experiments on people who may never even know they are subjects of study, let alone explicitly consent.
Over-Optimistic Portrayal of Life-Supporting Treatments in Newspapers and Internetby Thaddeus PopeMedical Futility BlogAugust 9th, 2014Newspapers and the Internet have the potential to influence patients' knowledge and attitudes toward medical decision-making by providing over-optimistic medical information.
Geneticists Say Popular Book Misrepresents Research on Human Evolutionby Ewen CallawayNature News BlogAugust 8th, 2014More than 130 leading population geneticists have condemned a book arguing that genetic variation between human populations could underlie global economic, political and social differences.
Banks of Blood and Spermby Rebecca J. RosenThe AtlanticJuly 31st, 2014Banking on the Body investigates how the idea of a "bank" shapes the way we think about storing and distributing blood, sperm, and breast milk.
Making Sense of the BRAINby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesJuly 24th, 2014As criticisms of the brain projects on both sides of the Atlantic ramp up, what lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of the Human Genome Project?
A Paragraph in Slow Motion: Three-Person IVF in The New York Timesby George Estreich, Biopolitical Times guest contributorJuly 10th, 2014A close look at the rhetoric used to justify experimental technologies, and particularly at the way reasonable objections are dismissed.
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