Technology Optimism or Pessimism About Genomic Science: Variation among Experts and Scholarly Disciplines
29 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2013 Last revised: 5 Aug 2014
Date Written: July 24, 2014
Members of the general public, as well as experts, express varying levels of technology optimism or pessimism about scientific endeavors. Tolerance for risk may vary according to cognitive or affective characteristics of the individual, the social context, the content of the enterprise being evaluated, or some other dimension; the theory is underdeveloped. In this paper, we explore technology optimism and pessimism through the lens of responses to various arenas within genomic science. The novelty of genomics in the public realm -- along with its unusual combination of life-and-death implications for individuals, stupefyingly complex technology, and broad but as-yet-unknown societal implications -- make it an excellent subject for the study of policy formulation, political consolidation, and individual’s responses to the frontiers of knowledge.
We use three new sources of evidence: in-depth elite interviews, content analysis of prominent articles, and a new public opinion survey. The paper focuses on three features of technology optimism -- the impact of scientific knowledge and value predispositions in the American public, the impact of value dispositions (given high levels of scientific knowledge) in genomics experts across various academic disciplines, and tensions between public and expert opinion. We find that the most knowledgeable citizens and liberals or Democrats are the most optimistic about genomics, and that religious conviction is associated with less optimism. However, scholars in more liberal disciplines are less optimistic about genomics than scholars in relatively more conservative disciplines. We offer suggestions to explain the disparity between public and expert views, and raise questions about the political and policy implications of the tension between ordinary citizens and academic elites with regard to genomics and other scientific endeavors or technologies.
Keywords: genomics, public opinion, expert valence, technology optimism, content analysis
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