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Why do some of the public reject novel scientific technologies? A synthesis of results from the Fate of Biotechnology research programme

Fairweather, John R.
Campbell, H.
Hunt, Lesley M.
Cook, Andrew J.
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::1001 Agricultural Biotechnology
This report synthesises outputs from a five year programme of research on public perceptions of biotechnology. In interpreting the overall results, a pressure-response-assessment-outcome model is introduced to explain reactions to biotechnology. Biotechnology pressures or challenges peoples' attitudes and values. It invokes deep-seated reactions from people in New Zealand and there are a number of dimensions to these reactions. One is the ethical or moral question about whether the biotechnology is right and proper to use. Closely related are the spiritual issues that biotechnology raises, and while these were not strong with pakeha they were important to South Island Maori who linked these to core cultural concepts of whakapapa and mauri. Also invoked are ideas about nature, which for pakeha were linked directly to concerns about the impact on New Zealand's clean green image. Finally, biotechnology challenges the boundaries between plants and animals and between humans and non humans. These ideas derived from reactions to biotechnology play a vital role in the perceptions and assessments of biotechnology, that is, how people make sense of biotechnology. In making these assessments people believe that they lack information and in its absence they mistrust science. People draw a distinction between themselves and scientists, and they consider the scale of the biotechnology, that is, the breadth of impact it might have. They draw on their own experience, and they have concern for animals. Regulations are not seen as addressing their concerns. One of the most important factors in assessing biotechnology is national and personal identity or sense of place. People use all these factors to make sense of biotechnology. Each biotechnology is then assessed to judge its acceptability, to consider risks and to assess who benefits from it. In making sense of biotechnology, people are sceptical of the benefits, and they couch assessments in provisos. Typically, they do not see any personal benefits to them, and they see that it is mainly as a consumer that they can influence biotechnology development. In making their assessments of biotechnology, New Zealanders, on balance, have concerns about GM and give more support to the beliefs that GM is wrong than they do to the beliefs that biotechnology can fix problems or that it can benefit society. Nature is seen potentially as biting back and catching us out for making mistakes. They see risks from using biotechnology, and many cleave to post materialist values (e.g., society where people count more than money) which were not compatible with biotechnology. The outcome of this assessment was, in general, a low acceptance of new biotechnology. They were negative about GM technology and GM food in particular. Surveying over time showed little change in assessment. Some biotechnologies were preferred over others and some groups of people were more accepting of biotechnology than others.