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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.



Hateful politics infiltrate human genome editing debate in Franceby Elliot HosmanJune 29th, 2016New campaign calling for an international moratorium on CRISPR embryos experiments launched by prominent anti-abortion, anti-LGBT French group.
A book about the superiority of mixed-race people is going into a second printing, and the internet is pissedby Charles Pulliam-MooreFusionMay 24th, 2016Breeding Between the Lines relies on eugenic ideas to assert that mixed-race people are more attractive and healthy.
What the man in the street thinks about human enhancement[citing CGS consultant Pete Shanks]by Michael CookBioEdgeMay 7th, 2016Polls show that more than 80% of people surveyed thought babies should not be genetically modified for increased intelligence or sporting ability.
Public Opposes Human Germline “Enhancement” by Overwhelming Majorityby Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesMay 5th, 2016New polls confirm that the public remains opposed to "enhancement" and is still not convinced about other proposed genetic interventions.
With CRISPR in Humans On the Horizon, Will the Public Back Intellia?by Alex LashXconomyApril 29th, 2016Intellia and Editas both lack what so many biotech investors crave: data from human clinical trials. As they race to the clinic, it's hard to tell if either company will pay off.
The disturbing reason some African American patients may be undertreated for painby Sandhya SomashekharThe Washington PostApril 4th, 2016A recent study shows that many white medical students and residents believe inaccurate and at times "fantastical" differences based on race.
The Limits of Personalized Medicineby Timothy CaulfieldThe AtlanticMarch 16th, 2016A new study suggests that knowing their genetic risk of disease doesn’t motivate people to change their behavior.
STAT-Harvard poll: Americans say no to ‘designer babies’by Sharon BegleySTATFebruary 11th, 2016Most Americans oppose using powerful new technology to "alter the genes of unborn babies," according to a new poll, even to prevent serious inherited diseases.
Down's Syndrome people risk 'extinction' at the hands of science, fear and ignoranceby Tim StanleyThe TelegraphJanuary 18th, 2016The true moral test of a society is not how pretty, sober or well organised it is – but how it treats its most vulnerable, even its most difficult, citizens.
The problem with science journalism: we’ve forgotten that reality matters mostby Brooke BorelThe GuardianDecember 30th, 2015It is the reporter's job to maintain skepticism, look beyond hypotheses and data, find conflicts of interest, trace the money, look at power structures, and see who is excluded or marginalized.
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