Public opinions about human enhancement can enhance the expert-only debate: A review study

Anne M. Dijkstra, Mirjam Schuijff

Human enhancement, the non-medical use of biomedical technologies to improve the human body or performance beyond their ‘natural’ limitations, is a growing trend. At the same time, the use of these technologies has societal consequences. In societal debates about human enhancement, however, it is mainly the voices of experts that are being heard, and little is known about the public’s understanding of human enhancement. The views of the public can give valuable insights, and can, in turn, supplement experts’ voices in political decision-making as has been argued before for other emerging technologies. This study presents a systematic literature review of current public perceptions and attitudes towards technologies for human enhancement. Results show that the public’s view has not been assessed often. Studies originate mainly from western-oriented countries and cover a broad range of enhancement technologies. In the studies, the majority of respondents hold moderate to strong negative attitudes towards enhancement technologies for non-medical applications, although the type of technology influences these opinions. The study provides an overview of what is known about citizens’ attitudes towards technologies for human enhancement.



A comparative analysis of media reporting of perceived risks and benefits of genetically modified crops and foods in Kenyan and international newspapers

Christopher DeRosier, Iddisah Sulemana, Harvey S James Jr, Corinne Valdivia, William Folk, Randall D Smith

We empirically examine the reporting on biotechnology in Kenyan and international newspapers between 2010 and early 2014. We identify news articles that reported on biotechnology and analyze their use of words to determine whether there is a balance in the reporting of perceived risks and benefits. We also consider how the sources used in news articles and how the publication of the Séralini study of rats fed genetically modified maize affect the balance of reporting of perceived risks and benefits. We find that in Kenyan news reporting, more articles mention perceived benefits than risks, but when risks are mentioned, new articles contain more references to risks than to benefits. We also find that sources affect the reporting of perceived risks and benefits and that the Séralini study increased the likelihood that perceived risks are reported in Kenyan news reporting, but not in international newspapers.


Unravelling emotional viewpoints on a bio-based economy using Q methodology

Susanne Sleenhoff, Eefje Cuppen, Patricia Osseweijer

A transition to a bio-based economy will affect society and requires collective action from a broad range of stakeholders. This includes the public, who are largely unaware of this transition. For meaningful public engagement people’s emotional viewpoints play an important role. However, what the public’s emotions about the transition are and how they can be taken into account is underexposed in public engagement literature and practice. This article aims to unravel the public’s emotional views of the bio-based economy as a starting point for public engagement. Using Q methodology with visual representations of a bio-based economy we found four emotional viewpoints: (1) compassionate environmentalist, (2) principled optimist, (3) hopeful motorist and (4) cynical environmentalist. These provide insight into the distinct and shared ways through which members of the public connect with the transition. Implications for public engagement are discussed.


Analogies, metaphors, and wondering about the future: Lay sense-making around synthetic meat

Afrodita Marcu, Rui Gaspar, Pieter Rutsaert, Beate Seibt, David Fletcher, Wim Verbeke, Julie Barnett

Drawing on social representations theory, we explore how the public make sense of the unfamiliar, taking as the example a novel technology: synthetic meat. Data from an online deliberation study and eighteen focus groups in Belgium, Portugal and the UK indicated that the various strategies of sense-making afforded different levels of critical thinking about synthetic meat. Anchoring to genetic modification, metaphors like ‘Frankenfoods’ and commonplaces like ‘playing God’ closed off debates around potential applications of synthetic meat, whereas asking factual and rhetorical questions about it, weighing up pragmatically its risks and benefits, and envisaging changing current mentalities or behaviours in order to adapt to scientific developments enabled a consideration of synthetic meat’s possible implications for agriculture, environment, and society. We suggest that research on public understanding of technology should cultivate a climate of active thinking and should encourage questioning during the process of sense-making to try to reduce unhelpful anchoring.