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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.

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.
Giant study poses DNA data-sharing dilemmaby Sara ReardonNature NewsSeptember 1st, 2015As the US Precision Medicine Initiative pushes forward, whether to provide sequenced genetic information to biobank donors is an unresolved question of ethics, privacy, and medical utility.
The Facts Behind #CRISPRfacts and the Hype Behind CRISPRby Jonathan ChernoguzBiopolitical TimesJuly 28th, 2015WIRED's hyped CRISPR cover article triggered a wave of tweets and criticism.
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS: NAS and NAM Initiative on Human Gene Editingby AnnouncementCommittee On Science, Technology, and LawJune 24th, 2015The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine are launching a major initiative to guide decision making about controversial new research involving human gene editing.
CRISPR: Move Beyond Differencesby Charis ThompsonNatureJune 24th, 2015Researchers and ethicists need to see past what can seem to be gendered debates when it comes to the governance of biotechnology.
CRISPR: Science Can't Solve itby Daniel SarewitzNature CommentJune 23rd, 2015Democratically weighing up the benefits and risks of gene editing and artificial intelligence is a political endeavour, not an academic one.
A Community Bio-Tech Lab Offers a Crash Course in Designing Life — Open to the Publicby Adam WernickPRIJune 5th, 2015Genspace, in downtown Brooklyn, is the world's first "community bio-lab." It offers a three-class crash course in synthetic biology to anyone who is interested.
CIRM Pursues “Prudent Path” Forward with Genome Editing Technologiesby Jonathan ThomasThe Stem CellarJune 1st, 2015CIRM Board Chair Jonathan Thomas will convene a public workshop on genome editing technologies this November.
The Lessons of Asilomar for Today’s Scienceby Alexander CapronThe New York TimesMay 28th, 2015Attempts to use new gene editing techniques to "improve" our descendants raises profound ethical and social issues, and a group dominated by scientists is too self-interested and unrepresentative to take them on.
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