Political and Policy Implications of Technology Optimism about Genomic Science
Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 4 Feb 2015
Date Written: August 22, 2012
Genomic science is likely generate great societal benefits, and to entail considerable risks, over the twenty-first century. Public opinion will not determine the direction or content of research and application. But Americans’ attitudes may affect the shape of public policies about the new science, and will certainly contribute to the construction of political parties’ (possibly disparate) response to it. Genomics also provides a rare opportunity for scholars to track the creation and structuring of views about a totally new policy arena.
This paper explores Americans’ attitudes toward genomics. It is organized around the concept of technology optimism or pessimism, and considers four arenas of genomic science and the comparison case of global warming. We explore the distribution of technology optimism [pessimism], and how it is associated with support for government funding and regulation, trust in several elite sectors, and willingness to participate in research or forensic databases. We also explore the associations between optimism or policy views and respondent characteristics. The analysis is based on a new online survey of 4,300 U.S. adults.
Findings include: the public is relatively optimistic about genomic science; Americans consider forensic biobanks separately from medical genomics; and Americans see funding and regulation as mutually reinforcing rather than antithetical. Race or ethnicity, partisanship, awareness, and genetics knowledge are associated with levels of optimism and political or policy views; gender, religion or religiosity, and self-interest have little to no relationship.
We conclude that public attitudes toward genomic science are coherent and intelligible, perhaps surprisingly so given how new and complex the substantive issues are. Some conflicts may be developing – between non-Hispanic whites and people of color, Republicans and Democrats, the knowledgeable and the ignorant. Views about genomics may also become more differentiated according to arena, with an especially clear distinction between forensic biobanks and medical or scientific uses. Above all, citizens differ from social scientists, legal scholars, and policy advocates in their overall embrace of genomics' possibilities for societal benefit; in this regard, if no other, they resemble bench scientists.
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