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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.



Arizona GOP Official Resigns After Controversial Commentsby Sean SullivanWashington PostSeptember 15th, 2014Russell Pearce is out after controversial comments about contraception and Medicaid.
New Poll Finds Only 18% of British Adults in Support of "3-Person IVF"by Jessica CussinsBiopolitcal TimesSeptember 15th, 2014A newly released poll finds substantial reluctance among British public to change UK law to allow the genetic modification of future generations.
From “the Dangerous Womb” to a More Complex Realityby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesAugust 21st, 2014Heightened attention to epigenetics, while important, also carries the danger of being used to place undue blame on pregnant women. A special issue in Science on parenting provides a more complex overview of parental and societal influence.
Microbiology: Microbiome Science Needs a Healthy Dose of Scepticismby William P. HanageNatureAugust 20th, 2014To guard against hype, those interpreting research on the body's microscopic communities should ask five questions.
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 ’90s 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-EdwardsNatureAugust 13th, 2014There is a long history of 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, 2014It’s the frontier of social science — 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.
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