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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.



Written evidence for the Genomics and Genome-Editing Inquiry of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee[cites CGS]by Edward Hockings and Lewis CoyneEthics and GeneticsJanuary 20th, 2017UK’s bioscience policy has been framed in terms of commercial value at the expense of substantive public consultation and broader deliberation.
Rewriting the Code of Lifeby Michael SpecterNew YorkerJanuary 2nd, 2017Combining gene drive and CRISPR/Cas9 technologies, Kevin Esvelt is in an unusual position. There has never been a more powerful biological tool, or one with more potential to both improve the world and endanger it.
With 21st Century Cures Act, the Future of Regenerative Medicine Is “Inject and See”by Megan MoltenWiredDecember 13th, 2016Critics say it’s deregulation in sheep’s clothing — and worry that both science and patients will suffer.
Why the hype around medical genetics is a public enemyby Nathaniel ComfortAeonDecember 12th, 2016The progress of science is the steady realisation of how little we actually know. The more we, the public, understand that, the more we will see through the hype.
NY senator from LI introduces ‘familial DNA’ legislationby Chau LamNewsdayDecember 9th, 2016Critics of familial DNA searches point to high rates of false positives, invasion of privacy, and racial disparities.
New ​Chair of ​our ​Diversity ​and​ Health Disparities​ Research Cluster​ on Colorblindness and the Need for a New Biopoliticsby Sara GrossmanHaas Institute, UC BerkeleyDecember 2nd, 2016In a faculty profile interview, CGS Fellow Osagie Obasogie discusses colorblindness and biopolitics.
Human Gene Editing: A Timeline of CRISPR Cover StoriesWith recent gene editing tools, a number of high-profile media are featuring CRISPR on their covers and front pages. We gather highlights since early 2015, along with opinion polls, TV shows, and editorial board statements.
'No solid evidence' for IVF add-on successby Deborah CohenBBC PanoramaNovember 28th, 2016A year-long study finds that nearly all costly add-on treatments offered by UK fertility clinics are unreliable, misleading, and risky.
Should We Rewrite the Human Genome?by Alex HardingXconomyNovember 28th, 2016Critics worry that a synthetic human genome could be used in unethical ways. Unlike for clinical trials, there is no regulatory body for basic science research.
Why the Deaf Community Fears President Trumpby Sara NovicVICENovember 18th, 2016According to his biographer, Trump subscribes to a racehorse theory of human development and the superiority of certain genes — an echo of eugenics.
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